Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.
Kerrigan and Klaw of the F.B.I.'s ace trio, came to mourn at the grave of their murdered comrade... and stayed to follow a fighting ghost to war—against the Twentieth Century Nero who held a third of the nation in abject slavery!
DAN MURDOCH was without doubt the handsomest of that trio of daredevil hellions who were known as the F.B.I. Suicide Squad. Dark-haired, tall and supple, he was the one whom the ladies admired most when pictures of the Suicide Squad appeared in the newspapers.
Not that he permitted his looks to interfere with the quality of his marksmanship. On the pistol range, neither Kerrigan nor Klaw could beat his record. In fact, those three ran so close together that they had given up trying to compete with one another.
But tonight, Dan Murdoch was enjoying a distinct advantage over his two partners, due to the fact that he was "tall, dark and handsome." He was in Silverton, on the most dangerous end of an assignment, while Johnny Kerrigan was in Cleveland and Stephen Klaw in Cincinnati, both bored stiff on dead-end angles of the same case.
The way it came about was that Martha Gray had written a letter addressed to Dan Murdoch, saying that she had seen his picture in the papers last month, and that if he would come to see her in the place where she was hiding out in Silverton, she would give him information that would help him to break the power of Nicholas Lafflin's immense crime empire.
The pictures of Kerrigan and Klaw had been printed in the newspapers at the same time, with accounts of their successful thwarting of the sabotage plans of the Nazi-Russian spy-ring headed by the notorious Von Spegler. But it was Murdoch's photograph which had drawn the letter. So here he was in Silverton, laughing up his sleeve at Johnny and Steve.
He knew he was being followed, the moment he stepped off the train. A man with a bulbous nose, who had sat across the aisle all the way from Washington, got into the cab directly behind his. To confirm his suspicion that Bulbous-nose was interested in following him, Dan told his driver not to start at once, but to wait a minute or two. Sure enough, the cab behind, which had started already, pulled over to the curb farther down the block, and waited.
Dan grinned to himself. He tapped on the window and said, "Drive slowly, and go through the Silverton Park. There'll be a cab following us."
"Want me to lose 'em, mister?" the cabby asked.
"On the contrary," Dan said softly. "I want to make sure we don't lose them. I have a few words to say to that gentleman—when we get some privacy."
"Look, mister," said the cabby. "I'm an honest man."
"So am I," Dan told him, showing him his F.B.I. badge.
"That's different!" the other grinned. "Let's go!"
He sent the cab ahead slowly, and turned west toward the Park. Bulbous-nose's cab tailed them, about fifty feet behind.
Dan Murdoch figured he had the situation well under control. But there was one thing he didn't know—that a convertible cabriolet, with the top up, was following the second cab, another fifty feet behind. And that a man with a sawed-off shotgun sat next to the driver of that convertible, while another man with a sub-machine gun was crouching in the rear.
IT was only when they were well into the Park, in a fairly secluded and dark section, that Murdoch found out about the cabriolet. His intention was to stop Bulbous-nose's cab, a little farther on, and have a heart-to-heart talk with him.
There was no doubt in Dan's mind that Bulbous-nose was an agent of Duke Lafflin, the infamous newspaper publisher whose sixty-odd papers all over the country were only a screed for an immense lottery racket. Lafflin would be very anxious to locate Martha Gray and silence her before she could talk. The best way to do that, naturally, was to follow Dan Murdoch. But Dan's idea was to turn the tables and put the screws on Bulbous-nose, in an effort to make him spill some information that would incriminate Lafflin.
Dan was just about to lean forward and instruct his own cabby to slow up when he became aware of a fresh set of headlights sweeping on from behind, in addition to those of Bulbous-nose's cab.
He twisted around in his seat, and saw the convertible, gunning forward to pass the taxicab. Bulbous-nose was leaning out and pointing at Murdoch's cab. Then, as the cab's lights splashed across the convertible, Murdoch saw the man with the sawed-off shotgun.
There were only about ten seconds to spare before that car would come abreast of them. A glint of satisfaction came into Murdoch's eyes. It was said of Kerrigan and Murdoch and Klaw, that no three Federal agents who had ever worked together were as much alike in their pursuit of danger, and their enjoyment of deadly battle. There was good reason for the nickname of the Suicide Squad. They got only those assignments from which there was little chance of returning alive. That was the way they wanted it.
If Duke Lafflin knew that the Suicide Squad was after him, and those men in the convertible were Lafflin's hirelings, they would start blasting at once. They wouldn't take any chances. In those few seconds before they came abreast of him, Murdoch's only thought was for his own cab driver, who was only an innocent party to the whole thing, but who surely would be killed, together with himself, in the first blast.
The driver had sensed what was coming, and was frantically swinging his cab over to the right side of the road, in a panicky effort to get away.
Dan Murdoch yanked open the door on the left hand side of the cab, and leaped out to the pavement, in this way he hoped to draw the fire from the cabriolet away from his driver. Two heavy service revolvers appeared in his hands, and he stood spraddle-legged alongside the now-halted cab, sending twin streams of slugs into the speeding convertible.
His first slug took the man with the shotgun squarely in the chest, smashing him back against the driver, who tried to shove the dead body aside and at the same time keep the wheel steady. The muzzle of a machine gun appeared in the rear window, in the hands of a man crouched behind the driver's seat. Murdoch emptied both his guns into the rear aperture. He saw the first blast of lead pour from the machine gun, and go wild. Then the deadly muzzle dropped from the inert hands of the gunner, and the cabriolet sped away with roaring motor.
Dan Murdoch laughed out loud. "Score one for the weak side!" he said to his cabby, who came scrambling out of the cab, with quaking knees.
Then he swung toward Bulbous-nose's cab. It had come to a stop, and its driver had tumbled out and disappeared into the woods at a dead run. He wanted no part of this gunfight.
Bulbous-nose was scrambling around to get in under the wheel and escape, when Dan Murdoch came running over, with both empty guns in his hands. Dan poked one of the unloaded weapons into Bulbous-nose's side.
"Shall I pull the trigger?" he asked sweetly. "Or do you cross your arms over your chest?"
BULBOUS-NOSE gasped, and quickly crossed his arms over his chest. If he had bothered to count the flashes from Murdoch's guns, he would have known that there was nothing lethal in them now. But he wasn't interested. All he knew was that this man, whose revolvers had beaten a machine gun, was telling him to do something. And he was eager to do it—before Murdoch got really angry.
Dan grinned. He grabbed Bulbous-nose by the collar, and shoved him in under the wheel.
"I think I'll use your cab for the rest of the night," he said. "And you'll drive!"
"W-whatever you s-say!" Bulbous-nose stuttered.
Murdoch called over his own driver, and gave him twenty dollars. "It goes on the F.B.I. expense account, so don't worry about it. Anyway, you earned it."
He watched the man get in the other cab and drive away, and then climbed in the rear of his new taxi.
"You may drive on, James," he said. "Straight ahead, the same way that convertible went."
Bulbous-nose was so nervous he could barely keep the wheel steady. "They'll be w-waiting at the Park exit." he stammered. "They'll t-try again."
"What's your name?" Murdoch demanded.
"You work for Lafflin?"
"So help me, mister, I don't know who I work for. I—I got a number—C-54. All I know is, I take orders from another agent, a dame, and her number is B-70. She gets orders from someone else, I don't know who. Believe me, mister, I don't know a thing!"
"I haven't started asking you yet," Murdoch said softly. "You'll remember a lot, all right—when I start asking!"
Murdoch had finished reloading his guns by the time they reached the Park exit. Sure enough, there was the convertible cabriolet, parked at the curb across the Circle. It started moving as soon as they appeared.
There was a lot of traffic on the Circle, and its rumble almost drowned out the querulous voice of Hulick as he said over his shoulder, "They're gonna try again, mister. For God's sake, lemme outta here!"
But Hulick was talking to thin air. Dan Murdoch had quietly opened the door of the cab, and stepped out on the far side, as they slowed down for traffic. He closed the door gently, and strode quickly over to the curb, mingling with the crowd.
He looked over his shoulder. The convertible cabriolet had made a wide U turn, disregarding the oncoming traffic, and was now drawing alongside the cab. They must have picked up reinforcements here at the Circle, for two sub-machine guns were poked out of the windows, and a concentrated blast of fire was directed at the cab. Slowly, the convertible pulled past the cab, while the gunners inside raked it, fore and aft. They made certain no one could remain alive, and then pulled away.
Hulick slumped over the wheel, and the cab veered over and collided with a car in the next lane of traffic. Soon a crowd was gathered around it.
MURDOCH joined the crowd. Hulick's body was riddled with bullets, and one of the bursts had carried away most of his face. In the confusion, several people dragged him out onto the pavement, thinking there was a chance to save his life, but when they saw his face they gave up.
The police, who arrived in a few minutes, thought that Hulick had been a passenger in the cab. Murdoch, listening, did not disillusion them. He watched them go through the dead man's pockets. They found nothing. Apparently, the agents of Duke Lafflin were instructed to rid themselves of all identification when they went out on a job.
Dan Murdoch got an idea. He fished some unimportant letters and a telegram out of his pockets; most of them bore his own name. Swiftly, he stooped and rubbed them around in the dirt and blood on the ground, and then called in a loud voice, "Here, Officer! Here's some papers that must have fallen out of his coat."
The police grabbed them, not even casting a second glance at Murdoch, and began to examine them eagerly. From their faces, it was evident to Dan that they were looking for a certain thing. And they found it. With a grunt of satisfaction, a police captain who had been addressed as Captain Draper, pointed to the name of Dan Murdoch on the letters.
"It's him, all right," he said to another policeman. "It's Murdoch, the G-man. They got him, after all."
There was a very smug and satisfied expression on Captain Draper's countenance as he carefully put the papers away, and directed the removal of "Murdoch's" body to the Morgue.
Dan Murdoch flicked an invisible speck from the lapel of his coat, and turned away. In a few moments he was out of the Circle, and in another cab. He drove to the east side of the city, and then walked four blocks. Now he was only a block from the address which Martha Gray had given in her letter.
With an appearance of casualness, he eyed the street. At least two of the men he saw loitering along the block looked as if they had been posted there for a purpose. One of them leaned negligently against the doorway of a candy store, another was pacing up and down alongside a parked car, and smoking a cigar, examining everyone who came out of the building in front of which he stood. This block consisted of a row of four apartment houses on one side, and a row of two-family brick houses on the other.
Martha Gray was holed up in Number Fourteen, the second of the apartment houses. She had written in her letter that Lafflin's watchers knew she was somewhere in this block, that they were watching everyone who came out, and that she had no chance of evading them. Murdoch saw that she had been right. The only thing Lafflin's agents didn't know, was which apartment she was in.
He couldn't take the chance of going boldly in, past the watchers. They might recognize him. As far as he himself was concerned, he didn't mind attracting their attention. But he had no right to lead them to Martha Gray's hideout.
HIS glance swept up the street, and settled on a fire box at the corner. His eyes glinted. He sauntered past the fire box, looked around to make sure no one was watching him, and broke the glass with the little hammer hanging alongside by a chain. Then he reached in swiftly and pulled the lever.
In less than four minutes, red-painted engines were clanging into the street, and the men in white rubber coats were swarming all over, looking for the fire. Everyone, including the gunmen, turned to watch the excitement. And Dan Murdoch stole swiftly into Number Fourteen, unobserved.
It was a walk-up flat. He hurried up the three flights to the top floor. He rapped three times on the door of Apartment 4A, then four times, then twice, then three times again. This was the complicated signal Martha Gray had given in her letter.
Almost as if she had been waiting for the signal with her hand on the knob, the door came open. Murdoch smiled at the young woman who stood there. She looked terrified, with one hand at her breast, the other holding a revolver. The revolver was wobbling all over the place, and she would have been certain to hit anything but the person she aimed at.
Dan Murdoch showed her his badge, and stepped inside. He patted Martha Gray on the shoulder, took the gun out of her hand.
"You can put that away now, Martha," he told her gently. "The Marines have arrived."
He closed and locked the door, and when he turned around to face her, she began to sob silently. Like a trusting child, she buried her head against his shoulder, crying frankly, without shame.
"That's it, girlie. Cry," Dan said.
After a moment, she stopped. She looked up at him, without drying her eyes, and he saw that she was very pretty. Even the strain of being hunted by Duke Lafflin's ruthless organization had not detracted from her loveliness.
"I shouldn't have sent for you!" she said. "I've—only brought you to your death. We'll never get out of this house alive. Even you—couldn't get me past those killers outside!"
"Those guys aren't as tough as they look, Martha. If you have information that will help to convict Duke Lafflin, I'll see that you get into court to testify."
"But—but you can't shoot your way out through them all—with me!"
"Well, no. But I can go out and phone Washington. I've got a couple of pals who'll be here tomorrow—"
"You can't! You can't do that! I know. They follow every stranger who comes out of these houses. They've been here a week, and they know all the regular faces. If they saw you go out now, they'd follow you till they found out who you were. And if you went to use a phone, they'd shoot you down!"
"H—m!" said Dan. "Lafflin is pretty thorough, isn't he?"
"More thorough than you suspect," she said bitterly. "I don't know why I sent for you. I—I should have given up. It's no use fighting Lafflin."
"We'll see about that," Murdoch said grimly.
NICHOLAS DUDLEY LAFFLIN—known throughout the newspaper world as Duke Lafflin—reached out a well-kept, well-manicured hand, and selected a custom-made cigar from the onyx-and-silver humidor upon his desk. The band around the cigar was embellished with a coat-of-arms surmounted by a gold crown. Beneath the gaudy emblem appeared the initials 'N.D.L.'
His secretary, Armand Taussig, came up with alacrity from a chair beside the desk, and held a lighter for him. Momentarily, the purple flame of the lighter illuminated the hawk-nosed, predatory countenance of the great publisher in a luminosity that seemed almost evil.
Lafflin puffed the cigar to a glow and sank back in his chair.
Armand Taussig withdrew the lighter, replaced it on the desk. "Thank you, sir," he said. He stood stiffly erect, his spine like a ramrod.
Nicholas Dudley Lafflin leaned back with the cigar between his thin, ruthless lips, and allowed his eyes to survey the office.
Covering one entire wall was a big map of the United States. There were sixty-four small pins stuck in the map, and each pin had a red enameled head. They were in sixty-four of the most important cities of the country, and each one represented a Lafflin-owned newspaper.
In addition to those, there were other pins—some green, some yellow, some black. Nobody except Lafflin and Armand Taussig knew the meaning of those other pins.
Around the other walls, were portraits—of the Emperor Nero, of Napoleon Bonaparte, Julius Caesar, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Joseph Stalin. Nicholas Dudley Lafflin's eyes came to rest on the picture of Nero. A slight, twisted smile played upon his bloodless lips. He allowed a thin trickle of aromatic smoke to curl upward from the cigar.
One of the four telephones on Armand Taussig's desk rang with a little, muted peal. Taussig said, "Excuse me, sir," and went over to the desk. He picked up the phone and said, "Well?"
He listened for a moment, then said into the instrument, "Wait!" He put down the phone and turned to Lafflin. "It is B-16, reporting from Cleveland, sir. B-16 says that our paper there, the Cleveland Star-Herald, has lost more than a thousand circulation a day in the last month. It is not the fault of the Star-Herald's manager. It's due to the fact that the rival paper, the Cleveland Eagle, has been taking readers away from us by hiring high-priced feature writers."
Lafflin listened with narrowed eyes. "Buy the Cleveland Eagle," he said laconically.
Taussig shook his head. "B-l6 tried to buy it, but they wouldn't sell. He offered them a million dollars. They claim their paper is worth more than two million."
Lafflin's cold, hard face did not change its expression. "Very well," he ordered. "Destroy the Cleveland Eagle!"
Taussig bowed. He picked up the phone again. "You are authorized to take action along the lines of Plan Four," he said. "That is all, B-16."
HE hung up and came back to the larger desk. He began to read to his employer from a set of report sheets. "The net figures are as follows, sir. Last month we lost eight hundred thousand dollars on the publication of our sixty-four papers. But we made one million seven hundred thousand dollars on our—Dr—other operations. Leaving a net profit of nine hundred thousand dollars."
"Not enough," Lafflin said coldly. "We must increase our other operations. Instruct A-3 to recruit additional agents in other cities. Let me see..." He arose and went over to the wall map. "Let me see. We have fifteen green, or A agents, two hundred yellow, or B agents, and nine hundred black, or C agents. Our A agents must recruit another hundred B agents, who will in turn enlist five hundred more blacks. That will permit us to extend our operations to at least fifty more towns. It should raise our net profits by fifty percent."
"But, sir," Taussig interrupted, "isn't that going at it a little too strong? The F.B.I. is already beginning to notice. They're going a little easy at first, because of all the important people involved. But if we spread out, they're sure to stumble on something—"
"Bah!" exclaimed Lafflin impatiently. "Nobody can touch me. I am too powerful. The F.B.I. can be handled—like any other organization. They're only human."
Taussig looked a little doubtful. "At least a dozen of their men have already had to be done away with, in different cities, sir. I understand they've assigned that infernal trio—the Suicide Squad—to investigate further."
Lafflin uttered a short, barking laugh. "The Suicide Squad, eh! Nothing pleases me better. Those three reckless fools will be easier to dispose of than any others. Everybody knows they take wild chances, and nobody will be surprised if they meet an untimely end. Are you following their movements?"
"Yes, sir." Armand Taussig picked up some pink sheets from his desk. "Their names are Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw, sir, as you know. Kerrigan has gone to Cleveland, Klaw to Cincinnati, and Murdoch to Silverton. Murdoch's task was to find Martha Gray, and convince her that she should talk."
"Martha Gray! Is she still alive?" Lafflin turned an angry glance at his secretary. "Didn't I give orders a month ago that she was to be put out of the way?"
Taussig quailed before that look. "I—I'm sorry, sir. I set twenty men on the job of finding her, but she seems to have gone to cover. They know she's in Silverton, and they're searching the city. But she must have communicated with the F.B.I. in some way, for Murdoch was going to see her. I—I took the liberty of ordering Murdoch killed—"
"Fool!" Lafflin thundered. "Why didn't you let Murdoch lead you to Martha Gray? Damn you, you've bungled this completely. Murdoch is not to be killed! See to it that he is followed and—"
One of the phones rang, and Taussig picked it up. He listened for a moment, and his face went white. He licked his lips, and covered the mouthpiece. "It—it's B-70 from Silverton, sir. He—she reports that my orders have been carried out. Dan Murdoch is dead. His body is in the Silverton Morgue."
Lafflin's anger was so great that he bit the cigar clean in two. But in a moment he controlled himself. "If Murdoch has been killed, then Kerrigan and Klaw will surely go to Silverton. We must make the most of it. Concentrate all available agents in Silverton. Put the screws on those city officials we control. See to it that neither Kerrigan nor Klaw leave Silverton alive. And, above all, Martha Gray must be found and destroyed!"
"Y-yes, sir," Taussig said. He put his mouth close to the mouthpiece, and began to issue swift orders to B-70 in Silverton...
STEPHEN KLAW and Johnny Kerrigan arrived at the Silverton City Morgue at almost the same time. Kerrigan had had the greater distance to come, from Cleveland, so he had flown and taken a cab from the airport. Steve Klaw had driven over from Cincinnati in an F.B.I. car. He parked opposite the Morgue, and turned out his headlights. In less than two minutes, he saw Kerrigan descend from the cab down the block, blinked his lights twice, quickly, and Johnny came right over.
There was something ominous and terrible in the swing of those big stevedore shoulders of Kerrigan's, and in the tightness of his bronzed features. Similarly, there was a cold and foreboding glint in the slate-grey eyes of Stephen Klaw.
There was no jubilant greeting between these two, tonight. Instead, when Johnny got into the car, he said in a hushed voice. "Steve, it can't be true, can it? God! They couldn't have got Dan that easy!"
Klaw's hands were white on the steering wheel. "The newspaper item said they found positive identification on him, Johnny. Papers with his name on them—and letters."
"But not his badge, Steve," Kerrigan reminded slowly. "Not his badge."
For a minute they both sat silent. Then Stephen Klaw stirred. "I'll go in and look at the body, Johnny."
"Better let me go in," Kerrigan said.
They turned and looked at each other. Each knew what was in the other's mind. The same powerful forces which had attacked Dan Murdoch would be waiting for Kerrigan and Klaw to appear. Those forces would never be content, would never feel safe, until Johnny Kerrigan and Stephen Klaw were also wiped out. It would be inviting death to go openly to the Morgue and ask to see Murdoch's body.
Without a word, Stephen Klaw took out a silver dollar. Kerrigan nodded. Klaw flipped the heavy coin in the air, caught it in his left hand, and smacked it down on the back of his right.
"Heads!" said Johnny Kerrigan.
Steve uncovered the silver dollar. It was tails.
Steve smiled faintly. Johnny Kerrigan scowled. "All right, Shrimp, you win. Go on in. But if you don't come out in twenty minutes, I'm going in there and tear the damned place wide apart!"
"Make it a half hour," Steve said.
He opened the door of the car, and stepped out. Kerrigan moved over under the wheel.
"Keep the motor running, Johnny," Steve said. "I may be coming out in a hurry."
Kerrigan only nodded.
Steve thrust both hands in his jacket pockets, and started across the street.
"So long, Mope!" he said in a forced voice.
"So long, Shrimp! Keep your ears dry!" Kerrigan called after him, with an effort at joviality.
STEVE was halfway across the street when the powerful headlights of an automobile, parked down the street, splashed their high beams up the length of the block, silhouetting Steve between them. Gears clashed, and a motor roared under the pressure of swift acceleration. The car came speeding up the street like a streak of lightning, bearing straight for Stephen Klaw.
As it passed under a street lamp it was revealed as a newspaper truck, with high sides plastered with posters advertising the Silverton Star-Gazette. It veered a bit to the left, so as to catch Klaw before he could reach the curb. The man at the wheel was distinctly visible, hunched forward, his face a cold mask of murderous intent.
As it bore down on Stephen Klaw, a second man swung out on the running board, cradling a sub-machine gun under his arm. He clung to the windshield frame with one arm, and raised his ugly-snouted weapon, lining it on Klaw.
They were making sure to get him—one way or another. There was no way to avoid that man-guided projectile, nor even to escape the hail of lead which would pour from the machine gun in another half-second. Even if Klaw should turn to run—which was farthest from his thoughts—the truck would smash into him before he could hope to reach cover. And failing that, the machine gun would surely cut him down.
Klaw stopped short, and swung to face the hurtling double doom. His right hand came out of his jacket pocket, gripping a flat, black automatic. But he was blinded by the headlamps. He could see the bulk of the machine gunner on the running board, but he could not see where to place an effective shot that might stop the speeding truck.
Nevertheless, Stephen Klaw held his ground. Upon his lips was that same faint smile which had been there when he had won the toss from Johnny Kerrigan.
He fired four times in quick succession, holding the automatic high, and to one side of his face, so that it partially shielded his eyes from the glare of the headlamps. He shot coolly, methodically, four shots in the space of four seconds. He did not expect to escape death this time. But the instinct of the fighting man made him want to take at least one enemy along with him on the Long Journey. And all four of his shots found their mark in the body of the machine gunner, smashing the man head over heels off the running board, to perform a backward somersault in the air, with the machine gun flying off at a tangent, unfired.
Klaw smiled grimly. He had got his man, anyway. Now, let the hurtling death strike him.
The imminence of death was no new thing to him. Kerrigan and Murdoch and Klaw had the reputation, in fact, of even seeking death. And it was whispered, in the dark and murky alleys of the underworld, that the Grim Reaper avoided them out of pure pique. They were called the Suicide Squad of the F.B.I., those three, and they had amply earned the name. No stale, routine assignments for them; only those jobs from which there was very little chance of ever coming back alive.
A year ago there had been five of them on the Suicide Squad. Six months ago, four. Yesterday, three—Kerrigan and Murdoch and Klaw. Today, if the report of Murdoch's death were true, there were only two. And if this murderous, hurtling newspaper truck made good its vicious attempt upon the life of Stephen Klaw, there would be only one.
But if Stephen Klaw could not see to shoot accurately against the blinding brilliance of those headlamps, there was another who could. Johnny Kerrigan was not in the line of the lights. Almost before the truck had got into motion, his heavy service revolver was in his hand. He moved without panic, without undue hurry—even though it seemed that only a second intervened before Klaw would be crushed to death. Kerrigan was used to gauging time in split-seconds. He knew that he would be vouchsafed one single shot—and if that shot missed, there'd be no use in a second, except for revenge.
CAREFULLY, Johnny Kerrigan rested the long barrel of the service revolver on the sill of the auto window, and bent his head to peer along the sight. He lined his gun on the right front tire of the speeding truck, held his breath, and pulled the trigger with a soft, gentle motion—and a prayer upon his lips.
The explosion blew a gust of powder back into his eyes, and the recoiling butt struck him in the forehead, so that for an instant he could not see the effect of his shot. The truck had been only twenty feet from Klaw when he fired. There was a chance...
He raised his head and leaned far out, in time to see the truck careening, as the right front tire exploded. The truck swayed sharply down on the flat, and the driver fought the wheel madly, desperately, in an effort to swing it back so that it would not miss Stephen Klaw. But the drag of the flat was too much for him. It carried the truck far over to the right, tearing the steering wheel from the driver's hands. The left front wheel missed Klaw by a matter of inches, and then the truck smashed into a hydrant. It tore the hydrant out by the roots, and a geyser of water spouted upward.
The vehicle didn't stop, but smashed ahead, to crash into the stone fence in front of the Municipal Park. It teetered for an instant on the two left wheels, then tipped, and crashed over on its side. Flames burst from the front part of it, and the driver tittered a scream which was heard even above the sudden tumult of noise which arose all around. Then the man's scream was smothered in the flame.
Kerrigan's face was a set mask of cold marble. He did not look in the direction of the burning truck, but over toward Stephen Klaw, who still stood in the middle of the street.
Klaw had put his gun back in his pocket. With that faint, little smile upon his lips, he framed two words: "Thanks, Mope!"
Kerrigan winked, and waved his hand. He put the service revolver away.
No one knew where the shots had come from. Indeed, it was questionable whether any of the passers-by even knew what had caused the wreck of the truck. Certainly, no one even noticed the slim, wiry figure of Stephen Klaw in the middle of the street, or connected him in any way with the flaming vehicle.
Slowly, he continued across toward the Morgue. He did not look back toward the wreck, nor did he feel much sympathy for the man who had died in it so horribly. That man had tried to commit murder in the most callous and heartless way. And he was only the first of many, Steve felt sure, who would make similar efforts, under orders from Duke Lafflin.
All of Stephen Klaw's faculties were concentrated upon his surroundings as he approached the front entrance of the gloomy old Morgue building. A crowd was gathering to watch the burning newspaper truck; people were running toward the scene from all directions. It would be a perfect set-up for a second murder attempt. And though Steve knew that Johnny Kerrigan would cover him until he got off the street, he didn't want Johnny to leave himself open to attack from behind. So he quickened his steps, and hurried into the dimly lit corridor of the home of the dead.
THERE was not a soul in evidence, inside. And this was strange, because the smash-up out on the street had made enough noise to wake anyone who was not dead. It was queer that some of the attendants had not come out to see what had happened.
The Medical Examiner's office was on the right of the corridor. The door was wide open, and Steve could see that no one was in there. Two other doors on the same side of the corridor were closed. On the left was an arched doorway with a small hall leading to a door upon which was lettered:
At the end of the corridor there was a staircase leading down into the basement. That, Steve decided, would probably be where the bodies were kept.
He hesitated a moment, wondering whether to have a look into the autopsy room, before going downstairs. As he stood there he could feel the slowly creeping cold which mounted from the refrigeration chamber below. He started toward the stairs in the rear.
A woman appeared, hurrying up those back stairs. Steve stopped with a jerk.
She was attired in a light summer dress, and the lines of her figure indicated that she was not wearing much of anything underneath it. Her hair was dark, and very carefully done. There was about her an air of expensive luxury.
She smiled very winningly, and came hurrying over to Steve.
"How do you do?" she said throatily. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
"Why, no," said Steve. "I guess not. I was looking for someone in charge—"
"I'm the one you want, then," she broke in. "I'm Wilma Rogers, the Medical Examiner's secretary. Can I help you?"
Steve Klaw raised his eyebrows. He looked her over once more. The dress she was wearing hadn't cost a cent less than fifty dollars. Her tooled-leather handbag was worth at least ten dollars, and her shoes and hat must have accounted for another twenty-five between them. The string of pearls around her throat was worth a small fortune, if he was any judge, and there was a diamond ring on one of her fingers that even an inexperienced eye would have estimated as being two carats or over.
"Lady," Steve told her, "the Medical Examiner must pay you a hell of a good salary."
She became frigid, and her chin tilted. "That's none of your business!"
"Sure," Klaw said pleasantly. "Let's skip it. Excuse me."
He made to pass around her and continue on toward the stairs, but she said hurriedly, "Oh, I—I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. Please—let me help you. Were you looking for anyone in particular?"
"Yes," said Steve. "A corpse. My name is Klaw. Stephen Klaw, of the F.B.I. I'm looking for the body of Dan Murdoch."
She sucked in her breath, sharply. "Oh—yes. Come—right this way!"
SHE led him toward the autopsy room on the left, and he followed, with his hands in his jacket pockets.
"What did you say your name was?" he asked.
"Wilma Rogers," she told him.
"Glad to know you, Wilma," he said.
"Wasn't it dreadful," she hurried on, "about—about your friend, Mr. Murdoch? He—he was killed with a sawed-off shotgun. Most of his face was blown away." She shuddered very prettily, and opened the door of the autopsy room. "Right in here." She motioned for him to go first.
Steve grinned thinly, and took her arm. The sleeves of her thin dress did not reach her elbows, and her skin felt strangely flushed and hot, for such a cool place as the Morgue. Her face, too, was flushed. Her eyes avoided his.
Steve's fingers gripped her arm, and he propelled her into the autopsy room ahead of him. "Ladies first!" he said pleasantly.
"Don't you trust me?" she asked, in a hurt voice. "Do you think—I'd lead you into a trap?"
"Lady," Steve said, "you're too beautiful to trust... And too anxious to please," he added.
She made no other objection to entering first, except to say, "I give you my word—there are only corpses in here."
Inside the autopsy room, Steve nodded, as he closed the door behind them. "My apologies, Wilma. I guess you were telling the truth."
There were four dissecting tables in the room, and a shrouded corpse lay on each of them, with the sheets hanging low over the sides. Otherwise, the room was vacant. Cases of surgical scalpels, chemicals and dissecting instruments lined the walls. The place had the appearance of a quiet, well ordered laboratory, far removed from the threat of violence and crime.
Wilma Rogers cast a reproachful glance at Steve Klaw. "You G-men are terribly suspicious."
Steve had grown suddenly serious. "Which of these bodies is supposed to be Dan Murdoch?"
"I'll tell you in a minute, as soon as I look it up on the chart."
He followed her to the desk at the far end of the autopsy room, and she picked up a ruled sheet of paper. But instead of reading from the paper, she suddenly ducked around the other side of the desk, and ran, as swiftly as a deer, toward the door. She reached it, and snatched it open. Then she shouted, "All right, give it to him!" and sped out into the corridor, slamming the door behind her.
STEPHEN KLAW had started in pursuit, but when he heard her shout, he guessed what he was up against. He stopped dead in his tracks and swiveled around, both hands digging deep into his jacket pockets. A slow, tight grin of admiration tugged at his lips. Even now, he could give due credit for a good trick.
The four corpses on the dissecting tables had suddenly come to life. They threw off their shrouds and sat up, each one of them gripping a long-barreled automatic, which they swung toward Steve Klaw. Flame began to belch from those guns.
Steve didn't attempt to get the two automatics out of his jacket pockets. He merely thumbed off the safety catches, thrust the muzzles as far forward as he could against the lining of the pockets, and began to pull the triggers.
He was, therefore, about a second and a half ahead of the bogus corpses in opening fire. A bellowing blast of continuous thunder filled the room. Lead zinged past his ears and smashed into the wall behind him. He stood with legs wide apart, slim, yet firm as a rock against that four-fold barrage. His own automatics bucked in unison.
He got the two end men with the first two shots, sent them rolling off their dissecting tables—and this time they were really candidates for the coroner. Then his guns swung inward toward the two middle men.
Those two were shooting fast and furious, in sudden panic. From their faces it was evident that they had expected to cut him down before he could fire a shot. This business of trading bullets with a cool, collected fighting man was something different. If they could have got up and run away at that second, they probably would have done so. But there was nowhere to run, so they kept on shooting in desperation.
Suddenly the door was flung open, and the giant figure of Johnny Kerrigan appeared there, with a heavy revolver in each hand, and a fighting grin upon his face.
The deep, sonorous thunder of Johnny's two revolvers joined the sharp blasts of Stephen Klaw's automatics. Steve didn't look around. By the sound of those guns, he knew who was there. Together now, their weapons lanced blistering streamers of flame at the two remaining gunmen.
In another moment, the fight was over.
Four dead men lay on the floor, entangled in the shrouds in which they had posed as corpses. The echoing gunfire still reverberated through the building.
KERRIGAN slapped Steve on the back. "So now you take to fighting dead men, eh, Shrimp?" he roared at his partner.
"Did you have to butt in, Mope?" Steve asked sourly. "I was handling it okay."
"That's the thanks I get!" Kerrigan grumbled. "I heard the shooting, and came on the run. And I get bawled out for butting in!"
"Did you see a girl out there in the hall?" Steve asked.
"Yes. She was high-tailing it out the back way. I let her go, and came in here. She's not bad on looks. Is she a friend of yours?"
"In a way," Steve grinned. "She provided this entertainment."
They stepped out into the hall, without bothering to search the four dead men. Johnny kept his guns in his hands, and Steve wiggled the muzzles of his automatics through the holes in his pockets.
Not a soul was in evidence. For some strange reason, no one had come to investigate the shooting.
"This is a hell of a town!" Kerrigan said. "Everybody must be deaf. First there's a shooting outside, and no one comes out of here to look. Then there's a shooting inside, and no one comes in from out there!"
"They must be cooking up a new one for us," Steve remarked. "What do you think they'll try next?"
Johnny shrugged. "It's all the same to me. Let them bring on anything they can think of—as long as they keep it interesting."
"Let's take this place apart," Steve said. "I want to see if they really have Dan's body in here."
The two of them started toward the staircase that led down to the refrigerator room. As they descended, they took turns reloading their guns, so that one of them was ready to shoot while the other loaded.
"What's the name of that dame that put you on the spot?" Johnny demanded.
"She has nice ankles," Johnny said. "I'd like to know her better."
"So would I," Steve replied grimly. "But not for her ankles."
At the foot of the stairs there was a door with a sign which said:
Except with Medical Examiner's Pass
"This is where they store the stiffs till they're buried," Johnny Kerrigan said. "If Dan is really dead, he'll be in here."
HE tried the door, and it opened under his touch. He kicked it wide open, and the two of them stepped through, side by side, guns in hand.
The temperature down here was frigid. A cold blast of air struck them as they entered. Three walls of the chamber were lined with niches, each furnished with a sliding slab which could be pulled out of the compartment for the purpose of viewing a corpse.
Three men stood beside one of the slabs, which had been drawn out of its niche. A shroud-covered body lay upon the slab.
Two in the group were in police uniform, and the third wore a frock coat and a pair of gold-rimmed pince-nez. They were bending over the body on the slab, but it was very evident that they were more interested in who was coming through the door than in the corpse. They stiffened as Kerrigan and Klaw appeared in the open doorway. A look of incredulous surprise appeared on their faces.
Johnny Kerrigan whispered to Steve, out of the side of his mouth: "These bozos heard the shooting, all right. They didn't expect to see us alive!"
"Must have been waiting for the girl to come down and report," Klaw replied.
The two of them sauntered across the room, with their guns dangling carelessly at their sides. The three men watched them, fascinated.
The one with the pince-nez glasses licked his lips. "Do—you have passes?" he asked. "No one is allowed in here without a pass."
"Sure," Johnny told him, with a grin. "Sure we have passes." He turned to Steve. "Haven't we, Mr. Klaw?"
"Why of course, Mr. Kerrigan. Let's show the gentleman our passes."
In unison, the two of them raised their guns and covered the others.
"These passes usually get us in anywhere, mister!" Kerrigan said. "Or would you like to argue about it?"
The man with the pince-nez took an involuntary step backward. But one of the uniformed men, who had police captain's bars on his collar, exclaimed, "See here, you two! You're laying yourselves open to arrest. Put those guns away. I'm Captain Draper, and this gentleman—" pointing to the one with the pince-nez—"is Doctor Fenwick, the Medical Examiner. Put those guns away!"
"Not yet, Captain," Stephen Klaw said grimly. "There are too many people in this town who use guns carelessly. Did you know, there was a little shooting upstairs?"
"Shooting?" Captain Draper frowned. "I—we—didn't hear a thing!"
"That's funny," Steve said tightly. "Damn funny!" Johnny said.
As they talked, they kept crossing the room, shoulder to shoulder. Captain Draper and the other policeman kept their hands conspicuously away from the holstered guns at their sides.
Medical Examiner Fenwick coughed nervously, and took off his pince-nez glasses and wiped them. "I'm sure there must be some mistake. You two gentlemen are F.B.I. agents, of course. I recognize the names. No one would try to shoot you in this town."
"No one," Steve broke in, "except your own secretary. A little girl named Wilma Rogers. She put me on the spot, all right. By the way, Doctor Fenwick, there's a little work for you upstairs. Those four phony corpses are real ones now."
Fenwick began to splutter denials. "I—I assure you, I don't know what you're talking about. I have no secretary named Wilma Rogers."
"That's fine," said Steve. "Let's forget about that for a minute. We're here to look at the body of Dan Murdoch. Where is he?"
"Right here," Fenwick said hastily, pointing to the covered body on the slab. "We—ah—were just about to—Dr—examine it—"
Steve stepped to one side of the slab, and Johnny to the other. They motioned the three men back, and stood in such a way that they could keep them covered. The faces of the two G-men were set and grim as Stephen Klaw reached down and slowly pulled the sheet off the body.
They both shuddered at sight of the mutilated face. The features had been entirely obliterated by the hail of slugs which had struck it.
They both looked swiftly away from the face, and down at the naked torso of the dead man. Their glance swung to the chest and arms. They had both fought side by side with Dan Murdoch, dozens of times. In those battles, none of them had gone unwounded. They knew where each other's wounds had been received, and where the scars of those injuries should be. They knew of at least five places where Murdoch had been hit, on different occasions. There should be a long scar high up on the right side of his chest, and two on his right arm above the elbow, and another across the hip.
But this body had none of those old wounds.
A thrill of fierce joy coursed through Stephen Klaw's veins. His face showed nothing of what he thought, but his eyes flickered as they rose to meet the eyes of Johnny Kerrigan. The look they exchanged was significant. Each knew that the other understood.
This was not the body of Dan Murdoch!
CAPTAIN DRAPER'S hand was sneaking toward his holstered gun as Steve and Johnny swung to face the three men. Draper hastily snatched his hand away from the holster.
Kerrigan gave him a tight grin. "Any time, Captain Draper. Any time you like."
"What do you mean?" demanded the police captain, with an air of innocence.
"He means," Steve explained, "that he'd just like to see you pull that gun."
"I'll not be bullied like this!" Draper exclaimed indignantly. "Not by any four-flushing G-men. I demand that you put those guns away!"
Kerrigan didn't take his eyes off the captain, but he spoke to Steve. "He wants us to put our guns away, Mr. Klaw. Do you think we should oblige the gentleman?"
"Why certainly, Mr. Kerrigan. I think we should always try to oblige a gentleman, Mr. Kerrigan."
They both put their guns away, simultaneously—Johnny into his shoulder holsters, Steve into the jacket pockets with the holes in them.
"Now," Johnny suggested softly, "if you want to go for your guns—"
But none of the three men seemed willing to try that. Fenwick coughed again, and once more began to wipe his pince-nez.
"I hope you'll both remain for the inquest," he suggested mildly.
"Sure," said Steve. "We'll be around. We have some business to take care of in this town. And now, if you'll pardon us, we must be going."
He nodded to Kerrigan, and started across the room. Johnny waited, watching the three men, until Steve reached the door. Then, while Steve turned and watched them, Johnny crossed to join him.
"We'll be seeing you, gentlemen," said Steve.
They backed out of the door, and went up the stairs in leisurely fashion. Nobody came after them from down below.
Up in the corridor, their eyes met and they grinned. Johnny grabbed Steve's hand, and pumped it up and down violently.
"He's not dead, Shrimp! Dan's not dead!"
"So far, so good," Steve Klaw said, suddenly serious. "But where is that handsome Romeo? I'd like to kick his pants for the worry he's given us."
"He's probably holed up, somewhere in town, with that girl—Martha Gray. Probably can't get her out past Lafflin's men. Have you got the address she gave him in her letter?"
"Hell, no!" Steve said disgustedly. "She enclosed that in a second envelope inside the letter, and it was for his eyes alone. You can't beat a woman for getting screwy ideas. They beat all hell."
"Screwy is right!" Kerrigan grumbled. "And our Handsome Dan is so touched by the trust she places in him, that he swears he'll respect her confidence!"
"So that leaves us with no place to go," Steve decided.
"We could take this damn town apart, street by street," Kerrigan said hopefully, "till we find them. It might take us quite a while. But it'd be fun."
Steve grinned. "You won't have time for that. Lafflin's little boys will be busy making it very hot for us from now on."
JUST then a Western Union messenger boy came in through the front entrance, and looked around helplessly. He was holding a telegram. He came down the corridor toward Johnny and Steve, and on the way he passed the open door of the autopsy room. He saw the four dead men on the floor, and he suddenly went yellow in the face. His knees began to wobble.
Johnny Kerrigan caught him under the arm. "Take it easy, sunny," he said. "Don't look in there any more. You'll be all right. I was sick as a dog too, the first time I saw a dead man."
"I—I'm looking for Mr. Kerrigan and Mr. Klaw," the boy stammered.
"That's us," Steve told him.
The boy handed over a telegram. Steve signed for it, gave the lad a quarter, and helped him to the door. Out front, there was still a crowd. A wrecking car was working on the smashed newspaper truck, and a crew was trying to extricate the burned driver.
Johnny joined Steve at the doorway, and Steve ripped open the envelope. The telegram said:
JOHN KERRIGAN & STEPHEN KLAW SILVERTON CITY MORGUE
COME QUICKLY AS I AM IN TERRIBLE DANGER. DO NOT DELAY OR IT MAY BE TOO LATE. MEN SURROUNDING WHOLE STREET. NOW THAT MURDOCH IS DEAD I DEPEND ON YOU TO GET ME OUT OF HERE. COME AT ONCE. AM STILL AT COOPER STREET ADDRESS.
"Now that's damned funny," said Johnny Kerrigan. "How could Martha Gray have got the flash that we're at the Morgue? And how come she just says Cooper Street, instead of giving us the house number? She ought to know that she gave Dan that address confidentially."
"Also," Steve said thoughtfully, "she seems to think Dan is dead, and we know it's someone else. But Lafflin's men don't know that. They think they've got Murdoch's corpse down there."
"Therefore," Kerrigan finished, "we must assume that this telegram comes from Lafflin, and not from Martha Gray. Lafflin's little playmates know what street she's on, but not the house. They think we know. So they figure we'll be all excited by this telegram, and go straight to the Cooper Street house. They're counting on us to lead them to Martha Gray!"
A taxicab with the flag up swung around in front of the Morgue, and the driver leaned out to open the door. "Cab, mister?" he called.
Steve was about to wave him away, for his own F.B.I. car was still parked across the Street. But Johnny stopped him.
"This guy seems pretty anxious to get us for passengers, Shrimp. Let's accommodate him."
Steve shrugged. "Why not? The way things are breaking tonight, I'd rather have both hands free to shoot, than tied up on a wheel!"
So they came out of the Morgue, and entered the cab.
"Drive over to Cooper Street," Kerrigan ordered.
THE driver nodded, and swung the car around. As soon as he was in high, he glanced over his shoulder. "What number on Cooper Street, sir?" There was a slightly anxious edge in his voice, which both Steve and Johnny noticed.
"What numbers have you got?" Kerrigan asked.
The man scowled. "I don't get you, mister—"
Stephen Klaw suddenly got an inspiration. He poked Johnny in the side. Then he said out loud, "Why don't you stop kidding the poor man, Mr. Kerrigan? Tell him where you want to go."
Johnny looked at Steve blankly for a second, and then he stifled a grin as he got the idea.
"Sure, sure! I'm sorry, driver. It's my infernal sense of humor. We want to go to Sixty-one Cooper Street." He had chosen the first number that came into his head.
"Yes, sir!" said the driver, and turned his face forward again.
He drove rather slowly, which was extraordinary for a cab driver, and it seemed that their route took them exclusively through mean and dark streets.
Johnny gave Steve a significant look.
There was an evening newspaper on the seat beside them, and Steve picked it up. It turned out to be the Silverton Star-Gazette, which was owned by Duke Lafflin. On page one, Steve spotted an item, and pointed it out silently to Johnny:
NOTED PUBLISHER TO VISIT SILVERTON
Nicholas Lafflin, the famous publisher, owner of a chain of newspapers of which the Star-Gazette is a member, is flying to Silverton for a personal visit. He will arrive tonight, for a short stay. Mr. Lafflin feels that he has not given as much attention so the Star-Gazette as it deserves, and he plans to inaugurate a series of innovations which will make this newspaper the most influential in the city. He has already mapped out a program to pep things up...
"I bet he'll pep things up!" Kerrigan whispered.
Stephen Klaw nodded grimly, his eyes sparkling. "And we'll do our best to make things lively for him!"
Their attention was taken from the newspaper by the sudden antics of the taxicab. It started to buck and rattle, and the motor backfired, then spluttered, and went dead.
"Aw, hell!" grunted the driver. "Can you imagine that? I'm outta gas!"
"You don't say!" said Johnny Kerrigan. "Does this happen to you often?"
"Naw. It's the first time in my life. I guess I forgot to fill up when I pulled out tonight."
"Will we have to walk home?" Steve asked.
"Naw. See, it's lucky we got stalled right here, in front of a garage."
He indicated a dark, squat building, with only a dim bulb above the double doors, which were closed. The sign over the doors said:
"I'll just go in there an' get a can of gas, an' then pull in an' fill up. It'll only take a minute."
"Sure, sure, go right ahead," Johnny told him, blandly.
The driver looked at him suspiciously for an instant, then turned and hurried into the garage.
As soon as he was inside, Steve said quickly, "Okay, Mope. Let's go!"
THEY jumped out of the cab and raced across the sidewalk to the garage entrance. They were not a moment too soon. Hardly had they reached the protection of the runway, when a bell somewhere inside sounded three sharp peals. Immediately, all hell broke loose about them.
A round, black object, about the size of a large grapefruit, came hurtling down from an upper window of the garage. Before it struck the cab, it was followed by a second and a third. The three missiles hit the roof of the cab a second or two apart, erupting with a series of terrific explosions which shook the ground and shattered the taxicab into a twisted mass of unrecognizable wreckage.
Johnny Kerrigan and Stephen Klaw instinctively dropped to the ground, as bits of twisted metal flew all around them. The shattering reverberations almost split their ear drums.
Johnny uncovered his head and winked at Steve, as the thundering blast died away, and wreckage ceased to drop from the sky.
"Mills grenades!" he said. "Boy, those guys sure are trying hard!"
Steve grinned, and got to his feet. "Let's go in and congratulate them!" he said.
They took their guns out, and ran up the steep ramp. A few rumbling echoes of the explosion were still playing around the walls, but otherwise the big garage was silent.
At the top of the ramp they stopped a moment, and looked around. There were about two dozen Star-Gazette trucks parked up here—all similar to the one that had almost run Steve Klaw down in front of the morgue. Over toward the front were the windows from which the Mills grenades had been thrown down upon the taxicab. And two shadowy figures were hurrying along the wall toward the other end of the building.
At the far end there was a glassed-in office, from which light was streaming. Those two men hurrying toward the office were probably the grenade throwers.
Steve and Johnny slipped silently behind one of the parked trucks, and watched the pair disappear into that office. Then, when the way was clear, they ran on silent, rubber-soled shoes, across the cement garage floor. They stopped just outside the office door. A jumble of voices was coming from within, and one voice rose higher than the rest, apparently talking on the telephone. It was the voice of their taxicab driver.
"This is B-90 reporting!" he was saying in a high-pitched, excited tone. "Well, we got 'em, B-70! Wiped out the two of them—like flies. It worked like a charm. They gave me the address of that Martha Gray dame, an' then I drove around in front of the garage, like you said. I stalled, an' told them I was going in for gas, and they swallowed it. As soon as I got inside I rang the signal bell, an' the boys heaved the grenades. There ain't anything much left of that cab. It's a total loss—but so are those two damned G-men!"
B-90 paused for a moment, apparently listening, and then said, "Yeah. I got it, all right. Sixty-one Cooper Street. That's where they said they wanted to go, so that's where the Gray dame is holed up. Listen, B-70, do I get a bonus for this job? It finishes up the whole damned Suicide Squad!"
There was a little more talk, and then B-90 hung up.
They heard him discussing the job with the other two, and then one of them said, "Let's clear outta here. The cops have been tipped off to come in slow motion, but we might as well not be around. Put that typewriter away, Whitey. We won't need it no more—"
STEPHEN KLAW, outside the door, looked at Johnny Kerrigan. "That's our cue, Mope!"
Johnny grinned, and put his hand on the knob. He turned, and pushed hard. The door swung wide open. The two G-men came through like a whirlwind.
The three men inside uttered startled yelps. B-90, their taxi driver, was spinning the cylinder of a revolver, while another of the trio was patting a sub-machine gun which he was about to place in a case on the desk. This one, whom they had heard addressed as Whitey, had a long, pinched face, and murderous little eyes. His hair was a dull black, but there was a long streak of white down the middle. The third man was behind Whitey, occupied in packing half a dozen Mills grenades into a valise.
Kerrigan and Klaw stopped just inside the doorway with their guns drawn, watching with amusement the effect of their abrupt appearance.
B-90 jumped two feet in the air, and swung his revolver up, pulling the trigger instinctively. Whitey leaped backward, and raised the sub-machine gun to his shoulder. The third man squealed and dropped the Mills grenade he was holding. It struck the floor, but luckily the pin had not been drawn, so it landed harmlessly, without exploding.
Whitey's finger was on the machine gun trip when Steve Klaw shot him through the head. Kerrigan turned his fire on B-90, and let him have a slug in the heart. B-90's first shot had gone into the floor because he had pulled the trigger too fast, and he never had a chance to fire another.
The third man pushed his hands high up in the air and yelled, "Don't shoot! I quit!"
Stephen Klaw grinned thinly. "I'll say you're quitting—for a long time!"
He crossed over the two dead bodies, and snapped a pair of bracelets on the man's wrists, running the chain around the radiator pipe in the corner. Johnny picked up the Mills grenade and put it in the valise with the others.
"We may need these tonight," he said.
"What's your name?" Steve demanded of the prisoner.
"Snell," whined the man. "Leo Snell."
"Who was B-90 talking to on the phone just now?"
"So help me, mister. I don't know. It was the one that gives us orders—B-70. It's a dame, but I don't know her name."
"Do you work regularly for the Star-Gazette?"
"Yes. I'm one of the lottery collectors. All the boys in town who collect for the lottery have to be trigger men—in case of trouble."
"And you don't know who you work for?"
"Gosh, mister, everyone in town knows that Duke Lafflin is behind the lottery. But no one can prove it. All I could tell you is that I collect the lottery dough, and turn it over to Tony Bragg. That's this guy here, that you shot—B-90. He turns it over to B-70. If he was alive, he might be able to tell you who she is."
"I think I know!" Steve Klaw murmured.
He turned to Johnny Kerrigan. "So now it would appear that Wilma Rogers, if she's B-70, is under the impression that we are good and dead. She'll so report to Lafflin, when he arrives here."
"You know," Johnny said thoughtfully, "that makes an interesting situation. They've got Dan down for dead, and now they have us marked off the slate. Which makes us practically ghosts. As ghosts, we can operate with a great deal of freedom. Ghosts can go through walls and things, and get into places that living men can't reach. We might even arrange a seance—with revolver obbligato!"
"My thought, exactly!" Steve said, with a grin. "Let's go!"
Kerrigan picked up the valise full of Mills grenades, and Steve took the sub-machine gun.
"Now be a nice boy," Kerrigan told Leo Snell, "and stick close to that radiator pipe. Don't go out tonight. There'll be lots of fireworks, and guys getting shot up. You'll be much better off staying right here—till we come back for you!"
They went out, and closed the office door behind them. Then they examined the newspaper trucks parked on the floor, and selected one that seemed to be in good condition and had a tankful of gas. They deposited the Mills grenades and the sub-machine gun in the back, and then Johnny got behind the wheel.
"Here go a couple of ghosts!" Johnny grinned.
Kerrigan drove the truck skillfully down the ramp, out past the wrecked taxicab, and headed east toward Cooper Street.
SIXTY-ONE COOPER was only a block from Fourteen, where Murdoch was holed up with Martha Gray, but Kerrigan and Klaw didn't know it. They drove the truck past Sixty-one, and at sight of what had taken place there, they began to have additional respect for the ruthless efficiency of Duke Lafflin's organization. It was only twenty minutes or so since B-90 had transmitted the address over the phone to B-70, who was presumably Wilma Rogers. Yet, in that short space of time, they had struck.
The street was full of fire apparatus. Thick smoke was emanating from the basement, as well as from one of the third floor windows. Lafflin's men had evidently hurried here, and started fires in the building. They had deliberately committed arson to flush Martha Gray from her hiding place.
Kerrigan drove on, grim-faced. "What will they do when they discover Martha Gray isn't in there?" he murmured.
Steve shrugged. "They'll probably keep their army of gunmen on watch in Cooper Street. The whole street is only four blocks long."
Near the corner, Kerrigan suddenly uttered an exclamation, and nudged Steve Klaw. He nodded to a blue roadster, parked facing the fire. Sitting at the roadster's wheel was beautiful Wilma Rogers.
"Well!" Steve said. "Here's your chance to become better acquainted."
Johnny made a complete U turn at the corner, came back and pulled up directly behind the roadster. The blue car's top was up. Wilma Rogers couldn't see who was in the truck behind her.
Many Lafflin gunmen, who had been watching the block, had gone over to assist those at the fire. No one paid any attention to the truck. Johnny remained at the wheel, while Steve climbed out and got on the roof. There he could see up and down the street.
He had barely reached his perch, when something small and hard plopped down on the roof at his feet, and then bounced off into the gutter. The thing was a small frying pan.
He frowned, and looked up in the direction it had come from.
"For the love of mud!" he yelled. "Hey, Johnny!"
IN a moment, Johnny Kerrigan was at his side, and the two of them stared up at the fourth floor window of Number Fourteen, two doors down. The familiar mug of Dan Murdoch, smeared with a wide grin, was peering down at them. Over his shoulder, they saw the blurred figure of a girl. Murdoch waved, motioned them to come up, then disappeared.
But in that short space of time, the damage was done. A man on the roof of a private house across the street began to shout and gesticulate. He had a pair of binoculars, and it was evident that he had been posted there to watch for just such a thing. No doubt he had spotted Martha Gray with his high-powered glasses.
Kerrigan and Klaw sprang down from the roof of their truck. Already, four or five gunmen were flocking into Fourteen. Other men were on that roof.
"Let's go, Johnny!" Steve said. "This is the pay-off!"
They set out at a dead run for Number Fourteen, but arrived a second too late. The gunmen who had thronged into the building, had locked the door from the inside. There was no time to stop and break it down, for other hoodlums were racing from the burning building in the next block, and already shots were spattering around them.
"Let's flank them!" Steve shouted, and raced for the doorway of Number Sixteen, next door. He reached it first. Johnny stopped twice to cover them, turning and emptying one gun at a time at the approaching gangsters. That slowed them up till he, too, reached the doorway. Then Steve turned and gave them a volley.
The wide, suburban road was echoing and re-echoing to the thunder of gunfire. A sub-machine gun, somewhere in the street, opened up on them with its staccato rat-a-tat, but they were already inside the hallway of Number Sixteen, had closed and locked the door.
They took the steps two at time, racing for the roof. Doors opened and closed as they passed. No householder was going to stick his neck out.
At the top, Johnny climbed the skylight ladder first. He thrust the trapdoor open with a mighty lunge of his shoulder. He leaped up on the roof. Steve was beside him.
Machine gun fire blazed at them from the roof of Number Fourteen. It was a little high, the hail of slugs crumbling the chimney behind them.
Both Johnny and Steve threw down on the gunner, fired at the same time. The man had been crouched behind the parapet of Fourteen's adjoining roof, with only his eyes showing. Four slugs hit him, and there was nothing left of his head.
Kerrigan and Klaw took the parapet in a flying broad jump, and raced for the skylight of Fourteen. It was open, but someone down in the hall started sending a hail of machine gun slugs up through the opening. Two gunners evidently commanded the skylight, for the vicious rain of lead never ceased. Merely to look over that skylight meant death, let alone trying to climb through it. Apparently, the gunners were determined to keep help from coming down, till they could finish Murdoch in the apartment below.
Johnny Kerrigan, watching the bullets fly, shook his head. "I should have brought one of those Mills grenades," he said.
STEVE motioned toward the front of the house, and ran in that direction. He looked over the parapet, saw they were just above the fire ladder. Three gunmen were on the ladder in front of Dan Murdoch's window. Two had sub-machine guns, the third a revolver. Other thugs were coming up the ladder. The gangsters were pounding the apartment interior with machine gun fire. It was apparent that Murdoch and the girl had been driven either into another room, or into a corner not exposed to the deadly slugs.
"I'm going down, Johnny!" Steve yelled. "Cover me!"
He scrambled over the parapet and fairly leaped down the ladder, his guns thundering. Above him, Johnny Kerrigan's two heavy revolvers roared, as he fired, skillfully and accurately, past Steve's hurtling form.
A thug screamed, threw up his hands, and went toppling over the side of the fire platform. Another clutched his stomach and doubled over. But others had already reached the landing from below, and they turned their guns up at Stephen Klaw.
Steve emptied his automatics into them, then hit the platform like an avalanche. He grappled with one gunman on the floor of the fire escape, as another, with a sub-machine gun, and a third, with a blasting automatic, clambered up on the landing.
Lead fanned Steve's cheek as he clinched with the gunman on the floor. His opponent was powerful, but Stephen Klaw's slim, wiry body possessed terrible strength. Steve got a grip around the other's neck with his right arm, pounded with his left fist. The thug tried a kick in the groin, but Steve knew all about that.
The other two hoods had turned their weapons on the roof, where Johnny Kerrigan, guns empty, had started clambering down the ladder. The torpedo with the Tommy gun swung it up, and grinned wickedly. His lips curled in a snarl.
"Take it, Sucker—"
That was all he said, because suddenly an avalanche erupted onto the fire escape from the window. Dan Murdoch, relieved of the withering machine gun fire which had kept him out of line with the window, came into action.
He reached out, seized the gunner's leg, and yanked. The man came down, grappling with Dan, while the third hood bent over them, trying to get a shot at Murdoch's back. Then, something like a comet came hurtling down the ladder from the roof.
Kerrigan hit the man with all of his hundred and ninety pounds, smashing him against the wall of the house. Then he picked up the thug who was grappling with Steve, lifted him by the collar, and drove a big fist into his face. The man collapsed, and Johnny let him slide to the floor. Dan Murdoch had his man under control—but, for good measure, he smacked the gunmen's head once against the wall.
They were victorious—temporarily.
Murdoch grinned. "Hiya, Shrimp? Hiya, Johnny?" he said.
They grinned back. Johnny patted him on the shoulder.
Steve looked in through the window, and saw the scared face of Martha Gray peering out at them. He smiled, and whispered to Murdoch, "How's the little love nest getting along?"
Murdoch scowled. "Love nest, my eye. Martha Gray is a sweet little kid. But she's scared as hell. I couldn't get her to take a chance on my shooting our way out of here, and she wouldn't even let me go out alone and try to contact you mugs. So all I could do was sit here and hope someone would show up."
"And then you said hello with a frying pan!"
They were talking, out there, with as much unconcern as if the street and the roofs hadn't been filled with men bent on killing them.
It was Johnny who spied the first of them peering over the roof, the stock of a Tommy gun alongside his face.
Johnny snapped a revolver up, but it was empty, and only clicked. Steve did the same, but both his automatics were empty. The gunman grinned down at them, aimed carefully, with his hand on the trip.
MURDOCH hadn't done much shooting from inside the apartment, and he still had cartridges. He snapped a shot upward, and the gunner's face disintegrated under the impact of the heavy .45 slug.
"Nice work, Dan," Johnny said.
"I think we better go inside," Steve said. "The air is not as good inside, but it's quieter."
They climbed in, just as men in the street opened fire with high-powered rifles. Powerful .30-30 slugs ripped through the window, smashed the ceiling and the upper part of the walls. At the same time, gunmen in the hall loosed a barrage into the door. Lead flew through the apartment, piercing the lightly plastered walls from the hall into the living room, where they were gathered.
Martha Gray cowered against Dan Murdoch, shivering. Murdoch winked at the boys, and put an arm around her shoulder.
"Take it easy, Martha," he told her. "We'll get you out of here with a whole skin—or none of us will get out. That's a promise!"
They didn't bother watching the window, for as long as those high-powered rifles continued to fire, no one could come down from the roof.
"I'll be damned!" Kerrigan rasped. "Lafflin must own this whole town. Imagine a battle like this going on, and the cops don't even show up!"
Martha Gray raised her head from Murdoch's shoulder. "You—you better hope the cops don't come. That Captain Draper commands them, and he takes orders from Lafflin. He—he'd tell his men that you were fugitives from justice or something, and they'd attack with tear gas!"
"Sounds very unpromising," Stephen Klaw said. "I think we better be going. There's too much noise around here to suit me!"
"Okay by me," Murdoch clipped.
"By me, too," Kerrigan echoed, shouting to make himself heard above the racket of the gunfire.
"What'll it be?" Murdoch asked. "Window or door?"
"I think the door is best," Steve decided. "Let's go—"
But Martha Gray clutched at Dan's sleeve. "Wait! You—you're going to leave me here?"
"Not a chance, baby," Murdoch told her. "We'll take you right with us."
"But—but all the shooting—"
Dan pressed her arm. "It's the only thing to do, Martha. If you stay here, they'll get you eventually. Always remember what Napoleon said: 'The best defense is to step right up and smack your opponent in the schnozzle!'"
"Nap—Napoleon w-wouldn't have used s-such language!" she sobbed.
"He would," Dan assured her, "if he were alive right now."
THE three loaded their guns swiftly. Then Kerrigan and Klaw stepped toward the hall door. Murdoch brought up the rear, keeping Martha Gray behind him.
Steve and Johnny stopped for a minute, peering around the corner into the hall. The hail of slugs sweeping in through the door was about waist high, apparently coming from two alternating machine guns. After each drum was exhausted, there was a pause of a few seconds. It took less time to empty a drum that to load one. They waited, timing the switch of guns. The looked-for pause came. Steve and Johnny, both crouched low, raced down the short hall to the door.
Johnny raised both guns. Steve twisted the lock and yanked the door open. As soon as it opened, Johnny began triggering his two heavy revolvers. In a split-second he was joined by Stephen Klaw. They sent a sudden hail of sweeping lead out at the two stunned machine gunners, who had thought they were in absolute security, never dreaming that the Suicide Squad would make a break.
That blast from the four guns in the hands of the two G-men cut the gunners down in a trice. Four others were out there on the landing, apparently waiting for a chance to rush the apartment when the door caved in. A couple of gunmen were up on the roof. They came running to the skylight when they heard the deep, sonorous roar of the revolvers taking the place of the sharp staccato drumfire.
Kerrigan concentrated on the men on the landing, while Klaw turned his twin automatics up toward those near the skylight. Dan Murdoch came up behind them and stuck his guns out, to augment the deadly threnody of doom which his partners' weapons were singing.
The four men on the landing went down like wheat under a scythe. Klaw's guns brought one of the thugs toppling down through the skylight to crash on the landing. The other hung limply over the edge, blood dripping down from his neck.
Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw stopped shooting. With flying fingers they reloaded their weapons. Then, Steve and Johnny went among the dead, picked up two sub-machine guns, and fitted drums of cartridges into them.
"Contact established with the enemy," piped Johnny Kerrigan. "Advance elements of the enemy forces have been met and annihilated. Large quantities of arms and ammunition have been captured. Send that out on the wires, Corporal Klaw, and inform the War Department that we expect to contact the main body of the enemy within X minutes. Have you got that, Corporal Klaw?"
"I have it, Colonel Kerrigan. The general sends his compliments, and wants to know what you'll have for dinner."
"If I eat with the angels tonight, I want ambrosia. If I eat on earth, make it a juicy medium-rare steak, with French fried potatoes and onions."
"Phooey!" said Dan Murdoch. "Me, I want a shrimp cocktail, and then some tender broiled lobster."
"Scrambled eggs and toast for me," Klaw said. "You shouldn't eat heavy, unless you do heavy exercise. You guys want to get fat, and be retired on a pension?"
Martha Gray looked from one to the other of them with wide eyes. They were doing it for her benefit, to keep her spirits up, but it did even more than that. She suddenly started to smile. "I—I think it would be wonderful—just to die with you three!" she gulped.
"Attagirl!" approved Murdoch, clapping her on the back. "Here's a gun. Know how to use it?"
"Certainly. You point it at someone, and then you pull the trigger."
"You learn fast, Martha," Dan told her. "We may yet make a man out of you!"
"God forbid!" she laughed.
The four of them went clattering down the stairs, with guns ready for whatever might be awaiting them in the street.
FOR a long time to come they will talk about the "Battle of Cooper Street." The story of that fight, the story of four men and a girl against the forces of Duke Lafflin's immense crime empire, seized the popular imagination with irresistible appeal.
They came storming out the front door of Number Fourteen with guns flaming like the artillery of hell.
It was Dan Murdoch who yanked the street door open, while Kerrigan and Klaw knelt just inside, with the sub-machine guns at their shoulders.
Outside, Lafflin's snipers were still peppering the window with high-powered rifles, not knowing that the apartment up there was deserted. The first intimation they had of the counter-attack was Murdoch's shrill whistle, which cut through the continuous, spiteful barking of the rifles like the shrieking of an airplane's wing-struts in a high wind.
The riflemen looked over to the doorway, and saw the two grim G-men, sub-machine guns ready.
Some hoods screamed, threw down their rifles, and ran. Others, out of reflex impulse, swung their rifles to the new point of danger. It was only then, when the rifles were actually pointing at them, that Steve shouted, "Give it to 'em, Johnny!"
They pulled their trips together, sent a withering blast of lead across the street. Those riflemen were cut down like so much chaff. And then, the three G-men came marching out of the doorway, shoulder to shoulder, guns blasting, Martha Gray behind them, covering the rear. There were still half a dozen machine gunners in the street, and these turned their weapons on the advancing trio. But Kerrigan and Klaw, on either side of Murdoch, kept their drumfire rolling, sweeping burst after burst down the length of the street.
The hoods could take so much, and no more. After three or four of them dropped, the others threw away their weapons and ducked for safety into any doorway that offered refuge. They didn't stop going, either, but disappeared out the back way and were never heard from again.
In a matter of minutes, the street was cleared of opposition.
Kerrigan and Klaw still had half a drum apiece in their rapid-firers, and Murdoch hadn't even used all of the cartridges in his revolvers, when they ceased firing.
Murdoch swung around and patted Martha Gray's arm.
He was interrupted by a hoarse shout from Johnny Kerrigan.
Johnny was pointing at the blue roadster they had seen before, with Wilma Rogers at the wheel. It was racing toward them now, Wilma still driving. There was someone in the seat beside her. The man was leaning far out, and he had a machine gun resting on the sill. All three of them recognized that man.
They had seen his picture a hundred times in the papers.
It was Duke Lafflin himself!
LAFFLIN had come to Silverton, personally to direct the killing of Martha Gray and the annihilation of the Suicide Squad. He had sat here, with Wilma Rogers, and had watched that headstrong trio wipe out his armed gunmen, and bring Martha Gray out to safety—Martha Gray who could talk and incriminate him!
This must have been too much for Lafflin to bear. His face, now screwed up into a mask of terrible venom as he sighted along the gun, was a reproduction of hatred that surpassed anything human. He was witnessing the break-up of his vicious empire of crime, and he was going to make one more last try—personally—to destroy the Suicide Squad and the girl who could ruin him.
Wilma Rogers sent the blue roadster spinning down the street toward the trio, crushing the bodies of dead and wounded. Nothing mattered now! The Suicide Squad must be wiped out!
Kerrigan and Klaw once more raised their guns. Murdoch thrust Martha Gray behind him, and threw down with both revolvers on the hurtling roadster.
Lafflin began to shoot at the same time. But he was shooting from a racing car, and they were standing still. He was in the grip of deep and hateful emotion, and they were still the same cool and collected fighting men they had always been.
The result could not be in doubt. They only regretted that it was impossible to avoid hitting Wilma Rogers.
Both of them were dead before the blue roadster, out of control, mounted the sidewalk and crashed into a brownstone house across the street. It bent like a tin can, and burst into flame.
Kerrigan and Murdoch and Klaw stood solemnly with Martha Gray, and watched the blazing funeral pyre of Wilma Rogers and Duke Lafflin—Duke Lafflin, the man who had likened himself to Nero, to Bonaparte, to Hitler and Stalin. Like all men who seek inordinately after power to which they have no right, he had come to a bitter and terrible end.
It was long after the fire engines from down the street had succeeded in putting out the fire in the wrecked machine, that Kerrigan and Murdoch and Klaw got into a cab with Martha Gray.
All were sober and quiet.
"God help us," Dan Murdoch said, "we've killed a lot of men tonight!"
Steve Klaw nodded. "And as long as we stay in the Service, we'll have to kill more—and more. It's—our job!"
Martha Gray clutched at Dan Murdoch's sleeve. "Dan!" she whispered. "Why—don't you give it up! Leave this terrible job! You—we—could be so happy—"
Dan stroked her shoulder. His eyes softened. Then he looked up and saw Kerrigan and Klaw watching him quizzically, with an amused glint in their eyes.
He flushed. Then he took the girl's hand off his sleeve.
"Martha," he said firmly, "I'm practically married to these two roughnecks. I'm tied to them—till death do us part!
He looked up and met the eyes of Kerrigan and Klaw once more, and the lips of the three of them formed the words:
"Till death do us part!"
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.