a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership
Title: The Suicide Squad Reports for Death Author: Emile C. Tepperman * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 0603881h.html Language: English Date first posted: Jul 2006 Most recent update: Mar 2013 This eBook was produced by Richard Scott and updated by Roy Glashan Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
GO TO Project Gutenberg Australia HOME PAGE
JOHNNY KERRIGAN was not as drunk as he looked. Russ Kimber had bought him a lot of drinks. Johnny didn't seem to notice that the bartender was filling Kimber's glass nine-tenths with water, Johnny's was nine-tenths Scotch. But what Russ Kimber didn't know was that when Johnny Kerrigan really set his mind to it, he could handle more liquor than any man living—with the possible exception of Stephen Klaw and Dan Murdoch, his two sidekicks on the F.B.I. Suicide Squad.
Russ Kimber's small, fox-like eyes bored into Kerrigan's. His shill lips there twisted into an abortive attempt at a friendly smile.
"So you're not here officially as a G-man, Johnny?"
Johnny Kerrigan blinked at him owlishly. "Jus' as a private citizen, Kimber ol' boy. My friend Frank Robbins told me you eloped with his kid daughter, Selma. Now she found out what kind of guy you are, she wants to go home, but you won't let her. So I'm here to sort of convince you."
Kimber's little eyes were sharper than ever. "Take a tip from me. Kerrigan. Forget about the whole thing. Believe me, there's too much involved for me to give Selma up."
"Sure, sure. I know," Johnny said. "You figure to get Frank Robbins knocked off, so Selma will inherit the estate. Then you'll take it from her."
The other stared.
Johnny Kerrigan shook his head ponderously. "'Tisn' right, Kimber. I'm making you a friendly prop—proposition—let Selma come home with me. And give her a divorce."
A shrewd gleam came into Russ Kimber's eyes. He moved closer along the bar, and dropped his voice. "You don't make much salary with the F.B.I., Johnny. How can you live on the salary they pay you?"
Johnny seemed to think that over for a little while. Then he nodded ponderously. "'Swhat I always ask myself, Kimber ol' boy. How can I live on my salary?"
"Would you like to make some real dough?"
"How, much real dough?"
"Say, ten grand."
Johnny grinned fatuously. "What must I do?"
"Nothing much. Just walk out of here and go home," Kimber said. "You can tell Frank Robbins that he hasn't got a leg to stand on. I didn't violate any law when I married Selma. Tell him it's okay, and you make ten grand!"
"Nix," said Johnny Kerrigan. "I came here to find Selma and take her home. Won't go without her. I'll take this joint apart to find her."
Russ Kimber scowled. "Don't be a sap, Kerrigan. She's not here. I sent her away."
"Then—" Johnny grinned with the shrewdness of the true drunk —"why you wanna pay me ten grand to go away?"
"Because we don't want trouble with you," Kimber said. "You got a reputation. The boss doesn't want to tangle with you—if possible."
"Who's your boss?" and now Johnny's eyes narrowed.
Kimber hesitated. He looked around the room. Kimber's Bar and Grill was well-filled tonight. There were thirty or forty people at the bar and tables, mostly men. Kimber exchanged glances with several of them. These were his plug-uglies, toughs he could rely on to see to it that Johnny Kerrigan never left this place alive if he learned too much. There were only two men whom Kimber didn't know. They were sitting at a corner table, drinking beer. One was dark-haired anal dark-eyed, slim and handsome. The other was smaller, wiry-looking, but hardly more than a kid—or so Kimber thought. If anything started, those two would have to be taken care of, too—so there'd be no witness to tell what had happened to the big drunken G-man.
Kimber grinned thinly, and turned back to Johnny. "You've heard of —the 'General'?"
Johnny Kerrigan whistled. "So you work for the General?"
"Yes. Now you know. The General offers you ten grand to step out of the picture right now. Lay off. Go home. It'll be healthier for you—and more profitable."
Johnny Kerrigan peered bleary-eyed at Kimber. "Ten grand is a lot of dough. That girl—Selma Robbins—must be here. Otherwise you wouldn't offer me all that dough."
"Okay," Kimber snarled. "Have it your way. Selma is here. She's upstairs, guarded by machine-guns. Neither you nor the whole F.B.I. could get to her. Now, do you take the ten grand and lay off? Or do we have to get tough with you?"
Suddenly Johnny Kerrigan started to laugh. He put out one huge paw and wrapped his fingers around Russ Kimber's neck.
"Get tough!" he said.
Kimber's face grew red as the circulation of blood was choked off by that terrible grip. He pawed at his shoulder holster and dragged out an automatic.
Johnny Kerrigan laughed again, and took his wrist in his left hand and bent it backward. Kimber's lips whitened with the new pain, and he let the automatic fall to the floor.
"Now," said Johnny, "you and I are going upstairs and find Selma Robbins!"
He pushed away from the bar, holding Kimber in the air effortlessly by the back of his neck. But he had not taken two steps, when the attack came. Half a dozen of the thugs seated at the nearest tables sprang to their feet and began to close in on him.
Johnny Kerrigan didn't even look at them. He just kept moving toward the rear.
One of the thugs reached over to the bar and picked up a half-full whiskey bottle. He raised it by the neck, started to bring it down in a smashing blow to Johnny's face. Johnny Kerrigan didn't try to duck the blow. He just kept going.
Somewhere in the room an automatic barked once. The thug remained standing with his hand in the air. The whiskey bottle slid from his grip. An expression of intense surprise was stamped on his face. Then blood spurted from a small hole in the center of his forehead, and he toppled right at Johnny Kerrigan's feet.
The other gunman turned around, startled.
The two men who had been sitting in the corner had kicked back their chairs and jumped on top of the table. It was the smaller of the two who had fired the single shot. He had two automatics, one in each hand. He was grinning wickedly, and there was a hard gleam in his slate-gray eyes.
"Everybody please stand still!" he said.
Johnny Kerrigan laughed his deep, booming laugh. "Not bad, Steve. I couldn't have shot straighter myself!"
He stepped over the dead thug, still carrying Kimber by the scruff of the neck. He straight—armed one of the astounded gunmen in his path, and made for the rear.
The bartender came up from behind the bar with a wide-mouthed .45, which he pointed at Johnny.
Steve Klaw, still grinning, fired once more. The bartender went crashing backward against his bottles, with a slug in his chest.
That seemed to be the signal for the paralyzed gunmen to swing into action. Guns flashed, feet slithered along the floor, as they spread out to take these imprudent intruders.
And for the first time the tall, dark-haired man beside Steve Klaw spoke... "Shoot me first, you lugs!" he drawled.
They stopped, struck dumb with the terror at sight of the thing he was holding up in the air.
It was a small hand grenade.
He had already drawn the pin. The only thing that kept the detonator from striking was his finger on the safety lever on the side of the grenade.
Dan Murdoch smiled very engagingly at the pallid crowd of thugs, and flipped the pin out among them.
"Observe," he said in his soft-spoken manner, "that if I should be shot, I would naturally drop the grenade. When I drop it, the lever is released. When the lever is released, the grenade goes—plop. And so does everybody in this room. Also, if you try to shoot either Steve Klaw or Johnny Kerrigan, I will certainly throw this little toy out among you. We'll all go to hell together!"
There was grim silence in the room for a second. Then a voice said sneeringly, "He'll never do it—"
Another voice, inspired by awe, broke in.
"He will! He will! That's Murdoch. And the little one is Killer Klaw. My Gawd, the whole damned Suicide Squad is here!"
"That's right," said Stephen Klaw. "The Suicide Squad. We're getting the Robbins girl. Who wants to stop us?"
At least a dozen of the gunmen had their weapons out. But nobody raised a gun. The reputation of the F.B.I. Suicide Squad was too terrible to be trifled with by these gutter-snipes.
Everybody in the underworld had heard of them—Kerrigan and Murdoch and Klaw. The three Black Sheep of the F.B.I.—three men who were never sent on a regular routine assignment, but who always rated the calls where death was almost a certainty. Not so long ago there had been five of them. Now there were only three. Tomorrow there might be only two—or one—or none But one thing was sure—those three devils wouldn't die easy. They weren't easy to kill. They'd take plenty of men to Hell with them when they died. And the gangsters in Kimber's Bar & Grill right now, didn't want to die.
So they stood still and tense while big Johnny Kerrigan moved his way across the room, and kicked open the door at the rear. He shook Russ Kimber like a rat, and set him on his feet.
"You first, pal!" He turned and waved to Murdoch and Klaw. "Keep the rats interested, boys. I'm going up." He gave Kimber a shove, sent him stumbling into the hallway. Then he snaked out his gun, followed him.
Almost at once, a door opened at the far end of the hall, and a man was framed there, with a sub-machine gun at his shoulder.
Kimber uttered a frightened squawk, and dropped to the poor Johnny Kerrigan fired five times fast at the machine-gunner, But the typewriter was already stuttering. It sent a hail of lead pouring into the hall. The slugs swept a little high, and by the time the gunner got his sights adjusted, blood was pouring from his body where Johnny's shots had hit him.
He stumbled forward, and a last burst escaped from the machine-gun. One shot nicked Johnny Kerrigan along the ribs, another caught him in the thigh. Then the rest of the hail swept down lower and riddled Russ Kimber, where he cowered on the floor.
Johnny Kerrigan was sent staggering sideways against the wall. He steadied his revolver against his elbow, and emptied it into the doorway, where a second man had appeared. This one dropped, and a third stepped into his place, also with a machine-gun. He raised it.
Johnny Kerrigan's gun was empty. He could not retreat, because of his injured leg. He could not charge, either. He shrugged.
"Okay, mug," he said. "I can take it!"
"Here it is, sucker!" said the machine—gunner, and reached for the trip...
OUT in the bar-room, Stephen Klaw and Dan Murdoch listened to the sounds of the battle in the hallway. Dan held the grenade high in the air, grinning affably at the tense and watchful gunmen, who were crowded together against the bar. Steve Klaw held his two automatics ready, in case any of then should get up courage enough to rush them.
They heard the first burst from the machine—gun, then the second. They heard Johnny Kerrigan say, "Okay mug, I can take it!"
Steve Klaw's lips tightened. "I'm going after him, Dan!" he said, and leaped from the table.
He cleared the space in front of the cowering gunmen, and sprang through the doorway. He saw Johnny Kerrigan facing the machine-gun, saw the gunner ready to pull the trip.
Steve Klaw's two automatics began to roar in beautifully synchronized time. One, two—one, two—one...
The gunner never pulled the trip. He went hurtling backward, his arms flailing the air, the machine-gun dropping from nerveless fingers.
Steve Klaw jumped over the supine body of Russ Kimber. "Get out, Johnny," he shouted. "I'll get the Robbins girl for you!"
He raced down the hallway, and through the door. There was a steep flight of stairs here, and Steve took them two at a time, with his guns leading the way. Halfway up, he fired twice, to discourage anyone who might be waiting at the top.
Then he was on the landing. Nobody was there. He looked around, and saw Johnny Kerrigan painfully dragging himself up the stairs, one at a time. "Go back, Johnny," he called. "I can handle this."
"Nix," groaned Kerrigan. "Always—like to finish—what I start!" He kept coming up.
Steve Klaw shrugged. He started down the hall. There were doors on either side. He tried each in turn, flinging them open, peering inside. He looked in three rooms that way—found nothing. As he came to the fourth room, he heard a shuffling inside, and the quick sound of a scuffle. Then a girl's voice came clear and loud.
"Don't come in, Johnny. They're waiting for—" Her words were cut off suddenly.
Steve Klaw's eye glittered. He reached over, turned the knob and pushed the door open. As he did this, he stepped quickly to one side. At once a fusillade of shots burst through the open doorway. They spattered against the opposite wall, smashing away the plaster.
Steve Klaw dropped to his knees. At the far end of the hall he saw Johnny Kerrigan crawl up the top step, drag himself forward. He motioned to Kerrigan to lie still, then poked his gun and face around the edge of the open doorway, from which the shots were still coming. He was close to the floor. He saw two men in the room. One was holding the girl, Selma Robbins, around the waist covering her mouth with his other hand. The second man was shooting steadily with two heavy revolvers at the doorway.
Steve Klaw got only a quick glimpse of the interior of the room. The man holding Selma Robbins saw him, yelled a warning to his partner. But he yelled too late.
Steve fired twice. He got the two-gun man high in the stomach. His second shot, fired more carefully, caught the other man full in the face—over Selma's shoulder.
Steve Klaw came lithely to his feet and sprang into the room just in time to catch Selma Robbins as she swayed.
"Hold everything, kid," Steve told her. "This is no time to faint!"
Selma Robbins was a slim-waisted, chestnut-haired girl of nineteen or twenty. She stared at Steve, gulped. "You—you're not Johnny Kerrigan. I —I thought Johnny was coming for me."
"Johnny's here, all right. Come on. We have to get out of this!" He started to drag her toward the door—suddenly he stopped short.
The whole building was shaken by a tremendous concussion. The floors shook. Plaster fell from the walls and ceiling. Window panes were shattered.
"Dan Murdoch!" Steve exclaimed. "Those rats must have tried to rush him and he threw the grenade!" He rushed out into the hall with Selma, almost fell over Johnny Kerrigan, who had crawled up to the door.
Flames were already roaring up the stairs at the far end of the hall. They could not get out that way.
"God!" groaned Johnny Kerrigan. "Dan'll burn to death—if he's not dead already!"
He pushed himself up to his feet. "I'm going down there and see what's left of him."
"Like Hell you are!" said Steve Klaw. "You're shot up. You could never make it. Here, take one of my guns—and get Selma back in that room. You can go down the fire-escape with her."
He gave Johnny Kerrigan no chance to argue. He thrust the gun in his hand, dashed down the hall. When he got to the stairs, the flames were lancing up hungrily. He took off his coat, wrapped it around his head, and plunged down the stairs.
Kerrigan groaned. He swayed on his feet, and glared at Selma Robbins.
"Damn it," he said, "why did you have to get mixed up with Kimber? You've cost the lives of two of the best men living. You're not worth it!"
There were tears in her eyes. "I didn't know—" Kerrigan gave her no chance to finish. "Come on," he said gruffly.
He led her back into the room where the two men lay whom Steve had shot. He was swaying on his feet, and there was sweat on his face. Blood seeped through his coat on the right side, and also down his right trousers leg. But he held himself erect.
He knelt over one of the dead men, pulled back his coat. A small button was pinned to the man's vest. It was a cheap brass button, stamped out by machine. The stamped figure on the button represented a man in shirtsleeves, standing, and holding two swords, which were crossed over his breast. There was no lettering on the button.
Grimly, Johnny Kerrigan thrust the button into his pocket. Then he got painfully to his feet and motioned Selma Robbins to the window. He peered out past the fire-escape bars, and frowned.
The street below was filled with the gunmen who had been in the barroom with Dan Murdoch. They were thronging the sidewalk and the gutter, and some of then were looking up at the window.
As his head showed, they fired. Just in time, he ducked back. He looked blankly at Selma.
"I don't get it," he said. "I thought Dan Murdoch threw the grenade down there. I thought he killed all those rats—and himself as well. But they're out there—alive!"
He turned back to the window, and saw that a policeman had come running around the corner. The officer was tugging at his gun as he ran. But he got no chance to use it. A half-dozen shots took him full in the chest, and he went down.
Kerrigan snarled, and fired three times. Each shot was well-aimed, and three of the thugs fell. Johnny didn't know how many cartridges were left in the clip, but hoped there were at least a couple more.
"Get out on the fire-escape," he told Selma Robbins. "Climb down. I'll follow, and cover you. It's the only way out of this trap. The flames will reach us in about two minutes—and I doubt if the fire engines will get here in time."
Selma nodded wordlessly, and started for the window.
At that moment, a wide gun-barrel was suddenly thrust in at the window, and Johnny caught a glimpse of a man with a cap, leering at him. It was a tommy-gun. The man must have come down the fire-escape from an upper floor, to get him.
Johnny thrust Selma Robbins away, and fired at the same time. He pulled the trigger again and again, but only one shot was left. That single bullet was enough, however. It took the machine—gunner directly between the eyes. He fell forward, and lay half in, half out of the window.
Johnny Kerrigan's eyes were gleaming. He reached over now, seized the tommy-gun.
"Go ahead, Selma," he said.
He pushed her toward the window, and, at the same time, turned the tommy- gun down toward the street. He pulled the trip. Lead sprayed from it among the gathered gunmen below. It cut through them like a scythe, and they scattered in panic, leaving a dozen of their number in the gutter.
Selma Robbins was out on the fire-escape now, and climbing down. Kerrigan followed her, keeping the gun trained on the street. A couple of desultory shots came his way, but they were too far away to do any damage. In a moment he and Selma Robbins had reached the street.
The whole building was in flames. Fire was pouring from the street entrance.
Johnny Kerrigan looked toward the doorway, somberly. Steve Klaw and Dan Murdoch were in there. He was filled with a terrible, murderous desire to avenge them.
He forgot about Selma Robbins, crouching against the wall. He saw only the figures of the scattered gunmen—watching him, like vultures, from a distance. He felt dizzy. His two wounds were throbbing, sending fiery messages of pain to his brain. Another man would have been unconscious by this time, but Johnny Kerrigan was holding his feet by sheer brute, astounding strength.
He took a swaying step forward, aimed the machine-gun, and pulled the trip. He sprayed lead all the way down the street, and had the satisfaction of seeing two men fall before the rest of them could scamper to safety. The machine—gun drum was empty. He flung it from him, uttered a sobbing cry, and turned to go back into the flaming inferno of the building. He picked up a discarded gun that lay in the street—fired a final shot at a lingering thug.
Fire-engine bells clanged in the distance, and a police patrol siren screamed.
Johnny Kerrigan heard none of those. He was out on his feet. Only one thought persisted in the subconscious part of his mind—to go in there and die with Steve and Dan. He took two staggering steps forward, then stopped. His mouth opened.
For a ghastly, flaming figure came marching out of the burning doorway. It was Steve Klaw. He walked with difficulty, because he had Dan Murdoch over his shoulder. Both his and Murdoch's clothes were on fire, and Stephen Klaw's face was blistered, burned. But he walked,—his gun still in his hand. He kept going until he got clear of the blaze. Then he keeled over, with the unconscious Dan Murdoch on top of him. Johnny Kerrigan uttered a queer, choked cry, and sprang forward. He pulled off his own coat, began to beat out the fire in Steve's and Dan's clothing. He kept up those mechanical slapping motions long after there was actually any need for them.
It was thus that the fire engines and the police emergency cars found him. As soon as they took the coat from his numb fingers, he closed his eyes and collapsed.
Selma Robbins, sobbing softly, took his head in her lap and stroked his face. She watched them carry Steve Klaw and Dan Murdoch into the ambulance, then return for Johnny Kerrigan.
"They did it all for me!" she said—and fainted.
SUNLIGHT was streaming in through the hospital window, and splashing across three beds. Steve Klaw lay in the first bed, his face all swathed in bandage, like a mummy. Only a narrow slit enabled his eyes to peer out.
Dan Murdoch lay in the next bed smoking a cigarette, with one eye on the door, lest the nurse come in and catch him.
Johnny Kerrigan was sitting up in the last bed, with a newspaper which he was reading to them. It was a four-day old newspaper, but Murdoch and Klaw listened avidly to the lead story on page one.
SUICIDE SQUAD DOES IT AGAIN FIVE KILLED, SEVEN WOUNDED BY KERRIGAN, MURDOCH AND KLAW IN SPECTACULAR GUN BATTLE
Last night, the three notorious desperadoes of tile F.B.I. staged an attack upon a peaceable place of business, without benefit of a search warrant. The fact that all their victims were criminals with long records not excuse the conduct of these notorious gunmen.
This paper has often wondered why these professional killers have not long ago been summarily dismissed from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. No doubt, their brilliant previous accomplishments have influenced the Director to keep then on the rolls. But the time has come...
Johnny Kerrigan stopped reading, groaned. "I dragged you two guys into this. It was a personal matter with me. And now we're all in Dutch. I can just imagine what the Director will have to say when he gets here."
Dan Murdoch grinned thinly. "Forget it, Johnny. It was a swell time while it lasted. If we're canned, we'll go to China. They'll make the three of us generals."
Suddenly, Johnny Kerrigan snapped his fingers. "Generals! That's it! I knew there was something I had to remember!"
He popped out of bed, and limped on his wounded leg to the closet. He fumbled in his coat pocket, came back with the small pin he had taken from one of the dead man in Kimber's Bar and Grill. He showed this to the other two.
Steve Klaw and Dan Murdoch were pretty well recovered from their burns, but they had asked the doctor to leave their bandages on in the hope that sympathy for their condition might restrain the Director from really going to town on them when he visited the hospital today.
They sat up without much difficulty, examining the pin.
Steve Klaw peered at it through his mummy bandages, whistled. "It's the badge of the Army of Death!"
Johnny Kerrigan nodded. "Kimber told me he was working for the General."
All three recalled whispers, which had been going the rounds for months, that a genius of criminal organization had arisen in the underworld, who called himself the 'Genera', and who aspired to build an army of criminals which would be powerful enough to checkmate the F.B.I.
Rumors said that the gang Ieaders of a dozen large cities had been bludgeoned into joining the Army of Death. Here was proof that Kimber's murderous outfit were already enrolled. Several times recently, Kerrigan and Murdoch and Klaw had begged the Director to assign them the job of tracking down the Army of Death. But the Director had steadfastly refused—for the reason that he was extremely reluctant to assign them to any job unless absolutely compelled. Kerrigan had once punched a senator's son in the nose. Murdoch had shot a croupier to death in a gun duel in a crooked gambling house —where he shouldn't have been at all. And Steve Klaw had told a Senate investigating committee to go to hell because he didn't like the tone in which he was questioned as to why he had shot to kill in a gunfight with three bandits instead of trying to capture them. Any other agents who had committed such heinous offenses, would have found themselves out of a job the next day. But Kerrigan and Murdoch and Klaw had records which few men could equal. The public would never have stood for their dismissal. So the Director, secretly glad of an excuse to the powers-that-be for not firing them, kept them on the payroll. But he used them only for those cases which he was reluctant to ask the other agents to undertake. And so Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw became the unofficial Suicide Squad of the F.B.I.
Johnny Kerrigan took back the button of the Army of Death from Steve Klaw, and proudly pinned it on his pajamas.
"It looks," Steve said through his bandages, "like we were up against a pretty tough outfit that night. We had no right to come out alive."
"Never mind about coming out alive," said Dan Murdoch. "What'll we tell the boss when he comes? We're guilty of everything on the book—even to using department grenades without authorization. I would never have thrown the damn thing, if they hadn't started to streak for the door. I let them go, figuring I'd be able to go up and give you two blokes a hand. But when they got out, they started to pepper me with slugs from the doorway. So I simply eased the grenade out among them."
Steve Klaw chuckled. "You looked awful funny, sitting under the table, with a mug of beer perched on your dome, and the flames licking at you." He stopped as the door knob rattled.
Dan Murdoch hurriedly stuck his cigarette under the blanket, and Johnny Kerrigan leaped into his bed.
It was only the nurse, with an envelope. She smiled at them.
"This is addressed to Messrs. Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw. Who wants it?"
Johnny Kerrigan put out his hand for it, and she gave it to him, left the room.
Klaw and Murdoch watched while he ripped open the envelope and extracted a large yellow sheet. He looked it over, whistled. Then he got out of bed and came over between Dan's and Steve's beds, and showed it to them.
At the top there was a printed emblem representing a man in shirt sleeves, with two swords crossed in front of him. Underneath was printed:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF DEATH
Beneath the heading was a typewritten message:
General Order to All Division Commanders:
WHEREAS: The three F.B.I. Agents, Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw have willfully killed a member of this Army, to wit, Russ Kimber, together with several of his men, and
WHEREAS: All members of the Army of Death are entitled to full protection and vengeance,
NOW THEREFORE: It is ordered that a reward of fifty thousand dollars be placed upon the body of each of the aforesaid men, and that they shall each and severally be marked for death. Any member of the Army of Death who delivers to his District or Division Commander the body of Kerrigan, Murdoch or Klaw —dead or alive—shall receive a cash reward of fifty thousand dollars, and shall also be promoted to Sub—Commander.
Underneath this startling notice there was a further typewritten postscript:
Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw:
Just as the F.B.I. posts "wanted" notices for so-called criminals, we are posting a reward for your bodies. Now you shall know what it means to be hunted men. Your hours of life are numbered. You shall serve as examples to all others who may wish to molest the members of the Army of Death!
"Great stuff," said Dan Murdoch dreamily. "I hope it isn't a practical joke. I bet it would be real fun to have a reward on our heads!"
They heard voices in the corridor outside, and Johnny Kerrigan leaped back into bed.
This time it wasn't a false alarm. The Director had arrived. He stood for a minute just inside the door, and looked the three of them over.
Johnny Kerrigan groaned realistically, as if in great pain. Dan Murdoch squirmed in his bed. Steve Klaw croaked a husky "Good morning, sir," through his bandages.
The Director's face was inscrutable. "A fine bunch of sissies you turned out to be!" he growled. "Suicide Squad—bah! Letting yourselves get invalided by a bunch of hoodlums!"
His scowl became fiercer. "If you men weren't so sick, I'd have plenty to say to you."
"What right did you have to go into Kimber's place like that? What right did you have to use a Bureau grenade? Do you realize that I'm being subjected to pressure to fire you all?"
Johnny Kerrigan groaned again. "It was all my fault, sir. Frank Robbins is a friend of mine. He begged me to do what I could for him."
"So you staged a minor war!" the Director snorted. "I suppose you men are too sick to report for duty?"
"Duty?" There was a gleam in the two eyes of Steve Klaw, which were all that was visible of his face. "Have you an assignment for us, sir?"
The Director shrugged "I was thinking of giving you a little job. Evidence has been piling up that this organization known as the Army of Death is more than a rumor. You've asked for permission to handle it. I assigned a detail of men last week, and all four of then have mysteriously disappeared. I thought maybe I'd let you three take it."
He sighed. "It's too bad you're all incapacitated. Well, I'll be down stairs in the superintendent's office for a few minutes. Take care of yourselves—so you'll be strong enough to take your medicine when you recover!"
He waved to them. There was a twinkle in his eyes as he turned and went out.
For a long minute after his departure utter silence filled the hospital room. Then anyone who looked in, might have witnessed a strange sight— the spectacle of two wounded men and one mummy scrambling out of bed and throwing on their clothes with furious speed.
Within six minutes, a strange procession was running—not walking —down the hospital corridor. Dan Murdoch and Johnny Kerrigan looked like stuffed kewpie dolls, due to the fact that they had put their clothing on over their voluminous bandages. Steve Klaw resembled some weird apparition out of an Egyptian nightmare, for he had not removed the mummy-wrappings from his head and face. Only his eyes showed.
The three of them trooped into the superintendent's office, and came to attention facing the Director.
Steve Klaw was the spokesman.
"Kerrigan and Murdoch and Klaw reporting for duty, sir!" he said.
THE offices of J. Augustus—Efficiency Expert, occupied the entire third and fourth floors of the old, out-moded Realty Building. The ground-floor store was tenanted by the Rialto Auctioneers, a flashy, blatant auction room where cheap jewelry and assorted job lots were sold to a credulous public at outrageously high prices. The second and fifth floors were vacant, and large "To Let" Signs were plastered over the windows, preventing anyone from looking inside from the nearby buildings.
The windows of J. Augustus, on the third and fourth floors, were all equipped with Venetian blinds, rendering it likewise impossible to see what went on in those sumptuous offices. And strangely enough, whenever a prospective tenant inquired about renting the vacant second or fifth floors, he was quoted such a high rental that he didn't even bother to go up and look.
Thus, complete privacy was assured for the operations of J. Augustus.
Anyone with an inquiring mind, however, who took the pains to check up, would have noticed that many people who entered the building never seemed to come out again. Further investigation would have revealed a secret exit from one of the offices on the third floor. This exit led out on to the roof of a two-story taxicab garage in back of the Realty Building, with an entrance on the next street.
There was something worthy of note about this taxicab garage, too. The sign on the front of the building read:
GOLD STAR TAXICAB FLEET
And though there were at least two hundred of their black-and-gold taxicabs on the streets, it was never possible for an outside applicant to obtain a job—not even as a relief driver. In fact, no one was ever admitted into the building. Two, men stood on guard day and night at the door, their sole purpose apparently to turn away applicants for jobs. And very often, when the black-and-gold cabs rolled out of the garage, it might have been noticed that their flags were already down, signifying that they were hired.
In fact, the Gold Star outfit was the envy of the other taxicab operators of the city, for they seemed to have a lot of private calls, and did not need to cruise the streets for patrons.
Whether by design or by accident, one of these black-and-gold taxicabs was waiting outside the Therapeutic Hospital on the very morning when Kerrigan and Murdoch and Klaw arose so precipitously from their beds to report for duty.
The flag was down, and the driver resolutely refused all passengers, declaring that he was waiting for a fare. This driver was a heavy-set, swarthy-faced individual, with a livid scar across his left cheek. Sitting at the wheel, he kept his gaze tensely fixed on the hospital entrance.
Suddenly he straightened in his seat, for he saw the lithe, boyish figure of Stephen Klaw emerge Steve's face was still swathed in the mummy-bandages, so that only the eyes showed.
For a moment, the cab driver's eyes expressed doubt. He seemed to be expecting that Steve would not be alone. But when he saw that no one else came out, he shrugged, put up the flag. Then he tooled the cab forward abreast of the hospital entrance, reached back and opened the door.
"Cab, sir?" he asked.
Stephen Klaw's bandage-swathed head nodded. He got in and said, "Fifty- two East Ninetieth Street"—giving the address of Frank Robbins. Then he settled back in the cab, oblivious of the stares of several passers-by, who wondered what a mummy might be doing in a taxicab.
The cab started, and Steve leaned back in his seat, hands in his coat pockets. His eyes behind the bandages darted to right and left, watchful and keen. He turned and glanced behind, through the back window.
Kerrigan and Murdoch were supposed to be following him in a Bureau car. But they were not there.
In the hospital, they had decided on a course of action typical of their bold and reckless natures. Since the General had marked them for death, they would give him a chance to try. One of them would stick his chin out for it. The other two would be in the background, ready to step in.
As always when there was a choice of dangers, they had tossed. And once again little Stephen Klaw had won. He was to be the spearhead...
Kerrigan and Murdoch watched him go down the hospital steps and get into the Black—and-Gold taxi. "The little shrimp always gets the breaks!" Dan Murdoch said sourly. "Come on, Johnny. Let's get on his tail, quick. We don't want anything to happen to that mummy!"
They hurried out to the side entrance, where the F.B.I. car was waiting for them, with a Bureau chauffeur. It would only be a matter of seconds to swing around the corner, and take up the trail of the black and gold cab.
They came running out of the building, and Johnny Kerrigan waved to the chauffeur. The chauffeur saw them coming and climbed quickly into the car, stepping on the starter.
Kerrigan and Murdoch were still twenty feet away.
A closed truck, which had been parked down the street, suddenly accelerated into motion. It roared past them. And as it passed, two peepholes in the side came open. A machine-gun barrel was thrust out of each. At once the whole street was filled with the deadly din and clatter of those two rapid-firers. Hot lead swept along the side of the Bureau car, and smashed it into the walls and windows of the hospital.
Kerrigan and Murdoch acted with the instantaneous reactions of trained fighting men. Even before the machine-guns began to chatter, they threw themselves prone on the sidewalk, under the shelter of the armored F.B.I. car.
The truck raced past with its vicious hail of death, and pulled up fifty feet away, with screaming brakes. The guns stopped hammering. Its driver maneuvered it around. It was clear that he intended to make a complete turn and come back for another broadside.
Kerrigan and Murdoch were already on their feet, firing steadily and methodically at the truck. But their bullets glanced harmlessly off the sides. It was armored.
The truck was halfway around.
"We can't stop him with bullets, Johnny!"
Their driver was slumped at the wheel, blood spurting from his neck and head. His window had been open, and he had taken the fusillade full in the head.
Kerrigan's lips were tight, thin. He climbed in and pulled the driver over, got behind the wheel. Dan Murdoch stood on the running-board, swiftly reloading his gun.
In spite of his wounded leg, Johnny Kerrigan got the big F.B.I. car in motion before the truck was turned all the way around. He slipped it in first, and stepped all the way down on the gas.
The big car shot like an arrow, straight for the front part of the slowly turning truck.
The driver of the truck saw that catapult coming, and his mouth dropped open. Frantically he twisted at the wheel to avoid the collision. The truck shot forward at an angle across the street, climbed the curb, and crashed head-on into the building opposite.
Johnny Kerrigan, laughing deeply and bitterly, stepped hard on the brake as the F.B.I. car slipped past the tail of the truck, barely missing it.
The driver of the truck had been thrown forward, and his head had split against the windshield. But the two machine-gunners inside the truck were evidently more frightened than hurt.
The rear door came open precipitately, and they leaped out, still carrying their tommy-guns. They started to run, then saw that Murdoch and Kerrigan were already out of the Bureau car and racing toward them.
Snarling like cornered beasts, they turned now and raised their lethal 'typewriters'.
Johnny Kerrigan, whose gun was empty, kept on running toward them, his face hot with fury.
But Dan Murdoch stopped. Coolly, deliberately, he swung up his revolver. He fired once, twice. The two gunmen dropped. Murdoch's shooting was deadly accurate. They were dead before they hit the ground.
Kerrigan and Murdoch did not spare a glance at the two. They looked at each other.
"The rats killed our driver," said Johnny.
Dan nodded. "And they made us lose Steve. God knows now what the shrimp is up against!"
Stephen Klaw was already a block away in the black-and-gold taxicab. He distinctly heard the rat-tat-tat of the machine-guns, and the deeper thunder of Kerrigan's and Murdoch's thirty-eights.
He tapped on the partition glass.
"Turn back!" he ordered the driver.
The driver gave no acknowledgment of his order. Instead, he swung west at the next corner. Even if he had not heard he should be going east instead of west.
Stephen Klaw grew taut. He said nothing to the driver, but reached out, tried the door. It would not open. He moved over, grasped the left—hand door handle. It, too, was locked from the outside.
Klaw's eyes were two sparkling points in the recesses of the bandage. He bent forward and brought out one of his automatics from his coat pocket. He reversed it, struck a resounding blow with the butt against the partition glass in front. The glass did not break.
The driver slowed down to a crawl. He turned and looked over his shoulder. He was grinning as if over a huge joke.
Stephen Klaw raised his automatic and fired into the glass, straight at the driver's face. The glass splintered, but did not break. The lead slug glanced off it and ricocheted into the upholstery.
The driver laughed, and put a thumb to his nose. He brought the cab to a stop, and bent down and adjusted something alongside his seat, which Steve could not see. Then he climbed out.
He made a mocking salute, and calmly crossed the street. Then he turned around to watch.
Steve looked at him puzzled. They were parked a block from the river, alongside vacant lots. The driver across the street lit a cigarette and waved sardonically.
Steve Klaw got up and peered through the partition glass. He saw that there was a small phonograph on the floor alongside of the seat, and there was a record on the turntable.
It was that phonograph which the driver had adjusted before getting out. Steve also noticed, with dispassionate interest, that the driver had left the motor running.
Almost at once, a voice began speak. It was emanating from the radio in the cab, and he realized that the phonograph was connected with it.
"Attention, Mr. G-man—or men; I don't know how many of you my driver has trapped in the cab. But whether there are one, or two, or three of you—you have exactly sixty seconds to live. There is a time-bomb attached underneath the chassis of this car, hooked up to the battery, which you cannot reach. When my voice ceases speaking on this record, the timing apparatus of the bomb, which is connected to the fan of the motor, will be set in motion. Thirty seconds after I sign off the bomb will explode. It contains one pound of tri-nitro-toluene. Do you understand? One pound. I am giving you the extra thirty seconds to reflect upon your rashness in opposing the Army of Death. This, gentlemen, is the General—signing off!"
The voice ceased speaking.
Steve Klaw looked at his wrist watch, started watching the second- hand.
"Chalk up one for the General!" he said.
He raised his automatic and emptied it into the glass window. The gun thundered in the close confines of the cab, almost deafening him. The smell of burnt powder became thick and choking. But the laminated glass resisted the bullets. It cracked, and the cracks spread in a spider-web. But it did not break.
Steve shrugged, threw the gull away. Then he waved airily to the driver, who was watching him from the opposite side.
The driver grinned, and gave him an ironic bow. He was waiting there to watch the end of Stephen Klaw.
Steve looked at his wrist watch. Eight seconds to go,
"This is a hell of a way to die!" he muttered, and started to strip the bandages from his face.
ON the third door of the old Realty Building, twelve men were gathered in a large office. They were seated around a directors' table, with cigars and cocktails at their disposal.
The heart of any law-enforcement officer in the land might have stirred with foreboding at sight of those twelve. For they were the kingpins of crime in widely separated parts of the country.
From Chicago, Big Mike Pellucci had come in a chartered private car. Jake Cadman, thin and vinegary, and vicious as a cobra, had driven to this meeting from Milwaukee in an armored sedan. Lou Sorgum, bald-headed and calculating, had flown from Frisco in his own plane. From Miami and Pittsburgh and Duluth and Baltimore, the others had come to gather here at this hour.
They had all come in through the Gold Star Garage in-the back street, and had been conducted to this room. And in spite of the fact that each was armed; that each had bodyguards waiting near by; in spite of the liquor and cigars provided them, all felt ill at ease.
When the door at the far end of the room opened without warning, they jerked nervously. Then a sigh escaped from them, as if in chorus.
A tall man stood in the doorway. He was powerfully built. His bearing bespoke self—assurance.
It was his face, however, that attracted all their eyes, like a magnet. That face was lined and creased. The lips were thin, hard, cruel. And in the depths of his eyes those twelve men read a capacity for evil to which even they had never dared.
All recognized him.
"Gus Jarger!" gasped Lou Sorgum.
The man by the doorway inclined his lead. A faint smile of contempt flicked at his lips. "Augustus Jarger—in person, gentlemen. Now doing business as J. Augustus!"
Who in that room did not know Augustus Jarger! Ten years ago he had ruled a stupendous empire of crime, with ramifications in dozens of cities. At his word, men had died under machine—gun bullets, or encased in concrete at the river bottom. But, where local law had failed, the F. B. I had caught up with him. He had gone to Alcatraz for ten years. He was eligible for parole in seven, but had viciously refused such clemency.
"I'll owe nothing to anybody!" he had snarled to his lawyer, and would not sign the parole application. "I've learned my lesson. When I come out, they'll hear from me. I'll laugh in their faces. I'll make the F.B.I. pay for these ten years—in blood. And no living man will be able to lay a finger on me!"
So they said that Gus Jarger was going crazy in stir. They said that he had softening of the brain. When Jarger's time was up, he walked out of jail and disappeared. They thought that was the end of him.
It was not...
Now his faintly contemptuous glance rested, in turn, on each of those twelve nervous men.
"You are here today because you have no choice," he said. "You found your rackets going to hell in each city that you control. Your gorillas were killed in mysterious fashion, your hideouts bombed."
He stopped talking, came slowly up to the table. Then he leaned slightly forward.
"Gentlemen, I did all that to you. From now on, not one of you will operate independently. I am the General. You are subordinates in the Army of Death. I already have fifty cities in line. Your twelve cities are the last of the larger ones. With you twelve as part of the Army of Death, we will have an organization greater than anything in the world. We will have a gross annual income of four billion dollars. We will be able to smash everything in our path —including the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We will be able to elect mayors and governors and congressmen. Who knows—maybe even the President!"
When he paused, a ripple of gasps went round the table.
"W-what do we get for joining up?" Jake Cadman asked.
J. Augustus fixed his eyes on Cadman. "What do you get? Ask rather what I will give you. I will dispense all the rewards. I will divide the income. In return, you will be assured that no one can molest you. You will carry out my orders in each of your cities, without opposition. Anyone who stands in your way will be removed at once. You heard how Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw shot up Russ Kimber's outfit. Well, those three G-men are living on borrowed time from this moment on. There's a price on their heads. I aim to make the Army of Death as feared by law officers as the F.B.I. has been feared by criminals. And all of you will enjoy the protection of the Army of Death!" They stirred uneasily. In their vicious and venomous hearts they were enthralled by the picture of power which J. Augustus had painted. They would have been willing to acknowledge him as their overlord—provided they were certain he could deliver. But they still remembered those rumors that Gus Jarger had gone nuts in stir.
Mike Pellucci voiced the secret sentiment. "You're loco, Jarger. Nobody can do what you claim. You can't buck the whole United States government—"
"You are mistaken, Pellucci. It can be done," was the answer. "Up to the present, the F.B.I. has had little opposition worthy of its mettle. Hoodlums, illiterates like most of you—who work without real plan or organization —are easily licked. We will see what the much vaunted F.B.I. can do when it is opposed by a real efficiency expert of crime—plus an ability to organize along military lines. We can't fail, Pellucci."
"I still think you're nuts!" Mike Pellucci said stubbornly.
"It doesn't matter what you think. You must join the Army of Death. You have no choice."
"And what if I refuse?"
"I advise you not to refuse."
"To hell with you!" said Big Mike. "I'll run my own town in my own way. Now I know who's been throwing the monkey wrench in the works, I'll put a quick stop to it—"
J. Augustus raised a hand. "I'm sorry, Pellucci. There's no room for you any more. You must be liquidated." He nodded once, as if in signal. There was a popping sound from one side of the room, and a puff of smoke. Big Mike threw his arms out in a dreadful, frantic gesture. His mouth dropped open in frightful ludicrous fashion. Blood spurted from a wound in his heart. Slowly he crumpled and fell across the table. From an opening in the paneled wall, a rifle barrel protruded, with a silencer screwed on the end. Little wisps of smoke spiraled up from the muzzle. The eleven men at the table stared at that rifle in stunned silence.
J. Augustus smiled thinly. "Is there any one else," he asked silkily, "who wishes to raise objections?" Each one shook his head violently in the negative.
"Excellent," said J. Augustus. "If some one will please push Pellucci's body off the table, we can make our final arrangements. You must all return to your home cities at once. Tomorrow at noontime is the zero hour. At zero hour we shall launch our campaign throughout the country. You will all have instructions. The first blow will be to smash the F.B.I. Then we take over the country!"
EIGHT seconds are not much in the lifetime of a man. Yet many things can happen in that short span. In the Argentine, a baby is born; in Shantung a sentry is shot by a sniper; in Kwangsi a warplane is shattered by shrapnel high in the air; in Madrid a man standing blindfolded before a wall is riddled by the bullets of an execution squad. In the same eight seconds of time, men are born and die in all parts of the earth.
Yet it is too short a time for one man to make his peace with God.
But a man can have a thought in a fraction of a second. For a thought is not a thing, or even a word; but a flash—a God-given spark which can course through the convolutions of the mind with the speed of light. It is execution of the thought which takes the time. Eight seconds are hardly enough to convert thought into action.
Stephen Klaw understood this.
So when the thought came to hall—how he could save himself from the trinitro bomb under the taxicab, he did nothing for a precious fraction of a second.
But because he was one of those who by nature must keep on fighting while there remained any chance at all, he swung swiftly into action. The bomb might go off while he was trying. But he couldn't ignore the chance.
He stopped stripping the bandages from his face.
And then, with hands which did not hurry too much, but which wasted no single motion, he raised his automatic and smashed out the glass covering the dome light in the roof of the cab. Then with swift fingers he unscrewed the small bulb and let it drop to the floor.
At the same time, his other hand was fishing a penny out of his pocket —a precious copper penny which was going to stand between himself and extermination... if there was time.
He thrust the penny up into the empty bulb socket, pressing it against the two terminals.
His wrist watch showed the eighth second. There was a flash. But it was not the explosion. It was the flash caused by the short-circuiting of the current through the penny. The ignition died. The motor jerked, and ceased to throb.
Stephen Klaw stood there with the penny in the socket, and waited. If the fan-belt continued a full revolution after the motor stopped, it would still acuate the timing-mechanism, and cause the bomb to explode. A half-second, a quarter—second, would tell the story.
Stephen Klaw let the penny drop out of the socket. He sighed through his bandages.
"Boy!" he whispered. "This is the second birth of Stephen Klaw!"
He turned around and looked across the street, where the driver with the scar on his face was beginning to look worried. Steve put a thumb to his nose in an expressive gesture. The man realized that the motor had stopped running. He knew now, that the bomb would not explode. His mouth twisted into a vicious line. A gun came out of his pocket. He dropped to one knee, and fired.
The shot clanged against metal somewhere under the car.
Steve Klaw understood. The man was aiming at the bomb. He was going to explode it with a shot. His eyes, through tile bandage slit, showed nothing of what he felt. He merely rested elbow on the window ledge, and his chin on his palm. He watched the driver's marksmanship with calm detachment.
The man aimed more carefully for the second shot. He was grinning as he aimed.
It was apparent from his look of confidence that he couldn't miss this time...
But he didn't fire the second shot, because a siren started to scream down at the corner. The driver turned to look.
Steve Klaw followed his glance. Steve's eyes sparkled. It was the F.B.I. car. He couldn't see who was driving it, but he saw Dan Murdoch on the running-board. He needed only one guess as to who was behind the wheel.
The car came careening down the street, and Dan Murdoch opened up with his revolver. The scar-faced driver yelled in panic and turned to run. The F.B.I. car raced past Steve's taxi, and caught the running driver, easily. Johnny Kerrigan, at the wheel, slowed down, kept abreast of him, and honked.
The driver turned around, snarling, and began to shoot. Dan Murdoch, with no trace of expression on his face, shot him in the head.
Then Johnny Kerrigan brought the car to a stop, and they ran back to the taxicab. They stopped alongside it, and Johnny tried the door handle. It opened. The lock had been reversed, so that it locked from the outside instead of the inside.
Steve Klaw came out, still swathed in his mummy-bandages.
"Hiyah, Shrimp?" said Dan Murdoch.
"Hiyah, Shrimp?" echoed Johnny Kerrigan.
"Okay, Mopes," said Stephen Klaw.
Steve Klaw didn't give Kerrigan and Murdoch a chance to ask any questions. He ran around to the front of the cab and lifted off the record from the phonograph.
Kerrigan grinned. "What's that, Shrimp—a souvenir?"
"It's only made of wax," Steve told him. "But it'll hang somebody pretty soon!"
He looked swiftly up and down the street. Nobody was in sight yet.
"Come on, guys!" he ordered, and raced to the Bureau car. "Pile in," he said. "And take the wheel, Johnny!"
So accustomed were these three to working together, that no one asked questions. Kerrigan got behind the wheel, and Murdoch took the record from Steve, climbed in the back Steve dropped to one knee, and took the automatic from his pocket. He squinted at the taxicab, saw the dark bulk of the tri-nitro bomb that was slung underneath.
"Hold your hats, boys!" he yelled, and fired once.
The bark of his shot was drowned by the thunderous detonation which blew up the taxicab. The street literally rocked under them, and they were deafened by the blast. The cab was dissolved into a million pieces of hurtling steel, upholstery and motor parts.
Shredded metal shot up into the air as if from a geyser, and then began to rain down upon them! Echoes of the terrific explosion rolled back from the river like the thunder of distant artillery.
Stephen Klaw hopped into the Bureau car. "Let's go, Johnny!"
Johnny Kerrigan sent the sedan flashing down the street, turned the corner and drove south along the river front for a half-dozen blocks. Then he pulled up. He glared at Steve Klaw, who was sitting innocently beside him.
"What's the gag, Shrimp? Why'd you blow that thing up? It was evidence."
Steve grinned. "I'm officially dead now. Your story will be that you got on the scene just one minute too late. You shot that driver, and then the cab exploded—with me in it."
Johnny Kerrigan nodded with dawning understanding. "So the General will think he's one up on us!"
"Right—and two to go. He'll concentrate on you two mopes. He won't be looking for me in the background."
"Not bad," said Murdoch. "Where do we go from here?"
"To the garage where that hack came from," Steve told him. "We'll see what makes the black—and-gold cabs go round!"
Johnny Kerrigan's eyes glittered. "Let's go!"
AN hour later, when the big Bureau car pulled up in front of the Gold Star Garage, only two men were to be seen in it. Johnny Kerrigan was at the wheel, and Dan Murdoch sat beside him. However, if the guard at the garage door had taken the trouble to look in the rear, he would have seen a suspiciously bulky object on the floor, covered by an auto robe.
Kerrigan swung the car right up on the ramp, and stopped with its nose touching the heavy chain slung across the entrance. Two guards who stood at the doorway, came around to the car, hands hovering close to their shoulders.
One was hard-faced, with a low forehead and bushy eyebrows. The other had thin, pinched features, a pointed chin.
"What do you want here?" Bushy-eyebrows demanded,
Johnny Kerrigan did not move from behind the wheel, but his hand dropped to the service revolver in his lap. "You take it from here, Dan," he said.
Dan Murdoch opened the door on his side, and got out. "We want in," he said.
Bushy-eyebrows scowled. "No strangers allowed, mister. Scram."
"Did you ever see one of these?" Murdoch asked mildly. He slowed his F.B.I. badge.
Bushy-eyebrows grew taut. He threw a quick glance at Pointy-chin, then turned back to Dan. "So what, mister? You still can't come in—without a search warrant."
"My friend in the car has the search warrant," Murdoch said. "Show them the search warrant, Johnny."
Johnny Kerrigan smiled broadly. He lifted up his service revolver, held it carelessly pointing at the two guards. "How do you like this for a search warrant, lugs? Want to put up an argument?"
In the moment that the two men turned to stare at the big muzzle of Johnny's gun, Dan Murdoch drew his own. He stepped behind the two men.
"An hour ago," he said, an odd, frosty deadliness in his voice, "one of your cabs picked up a friend of ours by the name of Stephen Klaw. It was blown to bits. It had a bomb planted in it. If you think I wouldn't' shoot you down like a couple of rats, you're crazy."
Bushy-eyebrows began to shake. "Y-youse guys must be Kerrigan and Murdoch."
"That's right, friend. Steve Klaw was our partner."
"W-what do you want?"
"We're going in and ask a few questions of the manager. You can try to stop us—or not. It's all the same to us."
"We ain't stopping you, mister."
Dan Murdoch sighed almost regretfully He stepped back, unhooked the chain, and nodded to Johnny Kerrigan, who drove the Bureau car into the garage. Then Dan motioned to the two guards. They marched inside under the muzzle of his gun.
Johnny tooled the car over into a dark corner at the rear of the garage, and climbed out. He left it facing out, with the motor running. Then he walked over to where Dan stood with Bushy-eyebrows and Pointy-chin "Take us to the manager's office!"
The two gunmen were licked, scared stiff. Meekly they led the way to a staircase. "It's up at the head of the stairs," said Pointy-chin.
"What's the manager's name?" Murdoch asked.
Dan Murdoch raised his eyebrows.
"I've heard of the guy. He used to be the boss of the taxicab rackets in Chicago. Then he was indicted, and got the case quashed—but he had to leave Chicago. I heard he was dead broke. Where'd he get the dough to go in this business?"
Bushy-eyebrows shrugged. "I wouldn't know."
Dan grinned. "Lemson wouldn't be financed by—say, the General, would he?"
He watched the two men carefully as he said it, and caught a tremor in the face of Pointy-chin.
"We wouldn't know," said Pointy-chin.
Johnny Kerrigan sighed. "I think we should work these two guys over a little, Dan, before we go up. Kind of shake up their memory."
Half a dozen cab drivers had moved over near them, watching with ill- concealed animosity. Dan Murdoch had pinned his F.B.I. badge on his coat lapel, so they all knew that these men were law officers. Besides, the efficient manner in which Johnny and Dan handled their artillery, would have been enough to discourage them anyway. It was easy to see, though, that these drivers were more than mere hackmen. Their faces were hardbitten, vicious.
But as vicious and dangerous as they were, they had no urge to face the two cold-eyed men who covered them. For word had somehow spread around the garage that Kerrigan and Murdoch were here—on the kill, to avenge their partner, Stephen Klaw.
JUST then a hard, uncompromising voice spoke harshly from the head of the stairs. "What's going on here?" Tony Lemson, the manager, had come out of the office, and was standing at the top, close to the banister, gun in hand.
Johnny Kerrigan seen him walk out of the office up there, but said nothing. He had merely moved over a bit, so that he had a clear shot up the stairs in case of trouble.
"Here's the guy we want, Dan!" he said, and started up the stairs.
Dan Murdoch nodded. He leaned back negligently against the wall, eyeing the ugly-faced drivers. "Make it short and snappy, Johnny," he called up to his partner.
Tony Lemson scowled down at the ascending Kerrigan. He raised his gun a little. "Stop where you are!" he ordered. "You got no right in here. Take another step up, and I'll shoot you. I'm within my rights!"
Johnny Kerrigan grinned happily, and kept advancing. "Looks like some real opposition, for a change. You think you can shoot to kill, Lemson? It'll be too bad, if you miss."
He said it genially, like some one giving brotherly advice. But Tony Lemson, looking down at him, met his cold eyes, and gulped. He licked his lips.
"I don't want no trouble with you guys. You got no right coming in here without a warrant. I'll call the cops."
That was as far as he got, because Johnny Kerrigan was already at the top step. The big G—man just reached out with the flat of his hand and pushed Lemson in the face. The manager staggered backward, through the open door of his office. Johnny came after him, and caught a bunch of his coat in one huge paw. He shook the man like a rat.
"Use that gun," he said coolly, "or drop it!"
Lemson let the gun fall.
"That's better," said Johnny, and released his grip on the manager's coat.
Lemson was gasping for breath. "You damn gorilla! You can't come in here and use strong—arm stuff. I'll have you fired."
Johnny holstered his service revolver, and hit Lemson with his fist. He hit him in the mouth, sending him smashing into the desk.
Lemson's lip started to bleed. He put up a hand to ward off another blow. His voice lost all its bluster. "Lay off me!" he whined. "I'm clean, so help me!"
Johnny Kerrigan laughed harshly. "Clean? It was one of your cabs that exploded an hour ago. Stephen Klaw was in that cab. A bomb was rigged in it. It wasn't your fault that you didn't get all three of us."
"I swear I don't know what you're talking about!" Lemson gasped. "I —I heard about the cab being blown up. But I don't know about no bomb. Somebody musta thrown it."
"Nobody threw it. It was planted in the cab. It was your cab. You know who planted that bomb. You're going to tell me—now."
Lemson licked his lips. He looked at Johnny Kerrigan's solid bulk, shivered. He was as big as Johnny—but he wasn't thinking of putting up a fight.
"I swear I had nothing to do with it. Maybe the driver did it on his own."
"Come on," said Johnny. "I'm taking you in—as a material winless. You'll talk before tonight!" He took Lemson by the arm, dragged him roughly out to the stairhead.
Down below, Bushy-eyebrows and Pointy—chin were standing in a huddle with the rest of the tough drivers, watching Dan Murdoch, sharply.
Johnny grinned down at Dan. "What—no action yet?"
Murdoch shrugged. "The rats won't start anything."
Kerrigan nudged Tony Lemson down the stairs to the garage floor. "We're taking Lemson in as a material witness," he announced. "Anybody want to stop us?"
"What the hell!" exclaimed Bushy-eyebrows. "We can take these two guys."
"Shut up, Marko!" Tony Lesson spat through his bleeding lips. "Don't you see these guys are on the kill? They're just looking for an excuse!"
Dan Murdoch laughed. "That's right, Marko," he said softly. "Just an excuse. Any little excuse will do!"
The bushy-browed Marko shrank within himself as he saw the look in Dan Murdoch's face.
Kerrigan snapped handcuffs on Lemson, pushed him out to the street. Dan Murdoch backed out after him. Marko and the others followed slowly, watching for a possible opening. Murdoch gave them none. He kept facing them while Kerrigan cuffed Tony Lemson to the coat rack behind the front seat, got behind the wheel.
"Okay, Dan," he said calmly.
Murdoch backed into the sedan, constantly facing the crew of drivers in the doorway.
SO absorbed were Marko and the cab drivers, that they did not notice what was going on inside the garage, behind their backs.
The suspicious-looking bundle in the rear of the Bureau car had suddenly come to life. The rug which covered it was shucked off, and a man climbed out of the car. This man's face had four long scars on it, apparently caused by severe burns which had not completely healed as yet. One was across the forehead, two on the right cheek, and one along the right side of the jaw. They did not look very pretty, but they served a very useful purpose, for they made the face of Stephen Klaw unrecognizable to anybody not expecting to see him —for instance, anybody who might have thought him dead.
Taking advantage of the fact that all the men in the garage were at the door watching Kerrigan and Murdoch, Steve Klaw slipped along the wall, then upstairs. He grinned as he noted that Johnny and Dan were taking their time about pulling away with their prisoner. They were giving him as much opportunity as possible to get up the stairs without being observed.
The whole idea of invading the garage had been solely to get Steve Klaw planted in there. They had known in advance, that, if the garage was really headquarters for a gang working under the directions of the General, it would be impossible to make any of the men talk. Much more could be accomplished, they hoped by getting inside, unobserved.
Steve Klaw saw the open door of Lemson's office, but did not go in. He moved down the hall, with his hands in his coat pockets, wary lest there be any more gunmen up here. He heard the Bureau car accelerating as it drove away. Then came the voices of Marko and the others, returning inside. There was a grinding, rasping noise... The rolling doors of the garage were being shut, to keep out any other possible intruders. These men did not intend to be caught napping a second time.
Stephen Klaw stopped in the hall and listened, to see if any of the men might be coming up. But at the moment they were apparently too busy conversing in excited voices.
Steve smiled. Kerrigan and Murdoch had put the fear of God in them. He'd have a few minutes to investigate.
There were four more doors along this hall, after the open door of Lemson's office. Then there was an iron ladder leading up to a skylight in the roof. Past the ladder was a big iron fire—door. Steve inched this open, saw that it led to the second-floor storage space of the garage. There were thirty or forty black-and-gold taxicabs up here, and in the front of the building was a repair shop where several mechanics worked on cars.
Steve closed the fire-door carefully, making no noise. Then he turned his attention to the other doors along the hall.
The first door was locked, and key on the outside. Steve's eyes glittered. He turned the key carefully, pushed the door open. Then he stopped stock-still on the threshold, his eyes narrowed to mere slits.
THERE was an army cot in the room, up against one wall. A man lay on the cot. He wore only an undershirt and trousers There was a crude bandage around his head, another across his stomach. The undershirt had been pulled up on his chest to make room for the bandage, and had not been pulled down again. Blood was on both bandages.
It was not that which held Stephen Klaw's attention, however. It was the face of the semiconscious man. His features had been battered almost to a pulp. Both eyes were closed and swollen, the nose broken. His lips were split, and there were long gashes down both of his checks, from which blood was now seeping.
As the man heard Steve step into the room, he groaned. Then feeble words came from his bleeding mouth.
"To hell with you all. You can beat me to death. I won't make the phone call..."
Stephen Klaw closed the door softly behind him, and came up to the cot. There was a terrible look of cold fury in his slate-gray eyes. He knew this man. "What have they been doing to you, Daly?" he asked.
The man tried to raise himself on his elbow. "Damn you," he croaked, "I tell you I won't make the call I won't trap my brother officers. You can kill me by inches..."
"Take it easy, Daly," said Steve Klaw. "Nobody's going to kill you. Nobody's going to hurt you—not any more!"
Daly was one of the four Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who had first been assigned to investigate the Army of Death —then, like the other three, had disappeared without leaving a clue. Where the other three were, it was easy to guess. And the fiends had been working on Daly, trying to force him to make a phone call. Steve could also guess what kind of phone call they had wanted him to make.
He dropped to his knees beside the cot. "This is Steve Klaw. Take it easy, and you'll be all right. I'll get you out of here."
Daly's blackened eyes and bleeding face were expressive of the tortures he had undergone. He was done for. Steve knew, looking at him, that he would never live. But he tried to make himself sound cheerful.
"I'll get you to a hospital."
Daly's voice, strangled and gasping, interrupted him. "No use, Klaw. I'm... through. That General... look out for him. A devil. His name is Gus... Augustus..."
Special Agent Daly's voice trailed off into a hacking rattle. Blood gushed from his mouth. He grew limp, and his mouth fell open. He was not dead yet, but death was probably only a short distance away.
"I promise you I'll get the General!" Steve said grimly.
He held on to Daly's land for almost five minutes. He was aware of motion outside in the hall, of voices and footsteps. There was always danger now of some one noticing that the key had disappeared frown outside the door. Men might come.
But Stephen Klaw was oblivious of everything. He knelt beside Gregg Daly, held his hand until the final spasm of death contracted the unfortunate man's body. Then he slowly and reverently crossed his hands on his chest, pulled a sheet over him.
He stood up, came to attention before the body. His eyes were hard, lips grim.
"Gregg Daly," he said, "I'll square accounts for you. I'll get the General!"
He turned and made for the door. He was about to open it, when he heard voices on the other side. Marko and Pointy-chin were talking. "I've got to go over and ask the Boss what to do," Marko was saying.
"The boss is in conference," Pointy-chin replied. "Those twelve guys ain't gone yet. He won't like to be disturbed."
"For this he won't mind being disturbed," Marko said. "We can't stay closed up forever. There'll be cabs coming back. We got to let them in. And we got to get Lemson sprung before Kerrigan and Murdoch tear him to pieces."
Steve Klaw's eyes were glittering, as he listened.
"Okay," Pointy-chin agreed. "Go ahead. I'll go in and see if that G-man is dead yet. If he ain't, maybe I can work him over a little. He can't stand a whole lot more. Maybe he'll weaken and make that phone call."
Stephen Klaw heard Marko's heavy footsteps receding. He listened carefully, but did not hear the opening of the fire door at the end of the hall. Instead, he thought he detected the scraping of shoes against iron —moving upward.
Then he heard Marko's voice from somewhere above in the hall, speaking to Pointy—chin, "Don't use the sap on him no more, Smiley. You'll kill him for sure. Try burning his toes."
"Okay," chuckled the pointy-chinned Smiley.
Stephen Klaw stood tautly behind the door. He heard Marko's heavy feet scraping on iron. He knew now where Marko was going—up the that ladder. That was the way to the Boss. What was it Daly had said with his dying breath —Gus... Augustus. Had he given the General's full name, or had he been trying to utter a last name when he died?
Steve had no more time for speculation, because he saw the knob turn, as Smiley started to come in. Then he saw the knob stop turning, heard a muttered ejaculation on the other side of the door. Smiley must have discovered that the key was missing.
Stephen Klaw yanked the door open. He grinned into Smiley's startled face, took one of the automatics out of a pocket. "Come in, Smiley," he said softly. "Come right in!"
Smiley's pointed chin dropped as his mouth fell open. His face turned a ghastly green. Klaw reached out and caught him by the coat, pulled hard. Smiley came tumbling into the room and Steve let go of him and sent him sprawling on the floor. Then he closed the door, locked it. When he turned around, Smiley was on his knees, dragging a gun out of a shoulder holster.
Green fire flashed in Steve Klaw's eyes. He took a quick step forward, and kicked hard at Smiley's hand. There was a sharp snap as the wrist-bone broke.
Smiley yelled with pain, and fell on his face, hugging his shattered wrist. The gun fell to the floor.
Steve kicked the gun out of the way. "Get up!" he said tonelessly.
Smiley yelled again, raising his voice so that the men downstairs could hear him. "Hey, guys—"
It was all he was able to get out, because Steve Klaw bent down, wrapped fingers around his throat and squeezed the wind out of him. Steve held the throat until Smiley's face began to grow purple. Then he let go.
"Get up!" he said.
Smiley whimpered with pain, but got to his feet. "Gawd! My hand—"
Steve grinned evilly, thrust him forward until he was standing close to the cot upon which lay the dead body of Gregg Daly. "So you were going to work him over some more, eh? You used a sap on his face, didn't you? You beat his face to a pulp, trying to force him to make a phone call. And now you were going to burn his toes, weren't you?"
He smashed a fist to Smiley's face, sending him to the floor.
"Take off your shoes and socks!" he ordered.
"W-what you gonna do?"
"Give you the same treatment you were going to give poor Daly. Burn your toes off. Like the idea?"
"Gawd, no! Give us a break—"
"Sure. Sure," Klaw said. "I'll give you the same kind of break you gave Daly. I'll leave you here to die—after I finish with you!"
"Gawd, mister, I'll do anything. Anything. Only give me a break. I got a weak heart. I'll die!"
"Not too soon, I hope," Klaw said. "Take off your shoes and socks— or I'll tie you up and take them off myself."
Smiley's trembling hands began to fumble with his shoe laces.
"Maybe," Steve said thoughtfully, "I'll lay off you—if you sing a nice song."
The thug's pointed chin actually wiggled in excitement. "Yes, mister. I'll sing. I'll talk. Anything. Anything you wanta know!"
"All right. Start talking. Who's the General?"
"Gawd, mister, I don't know. Only the big shots in the outfit know. Marko knows—and the guys who run the other cities."
"How do you get to the General?" Klaw demanded.
"Over the roof."
There was a queer, cunning look in Smiley's eyes. "You cross over to the old building in back. It's the old Realty Building. You press a button, and a door opens in the wall. After that I don't know what you do. I never went through that door."
Steve didn't seem to notice Smiley's look of cunning. He pressed on with his questions. "What kind of a phone call were you trying to force Daly to make?"
"We were gonna have him call the F.B.I. office and ask for Kerrigan or Murdoch," was the answer. "He was to say that he was a prisoner in a cellar down the street, under the Greek restaurant near the corner. The cellar is wired with a couple of bombs. When Kerrigan and Murdoch open a door or window, they get blown to pieces."
"I see," said Stephen Klaw. He motioned to Smiley. "Take off your belt."
He used Smiley's belt to strap his arms to his sides. Then he took the sheet off Daly's body, and tore it in half. He put half back on the dead man. The other half he tore into strips. He used these to tie Smiley's wrists and ankles and gag him cruelly.
Smiley fainted—with the pain when he tied strips on his wrists, but Klaw went right ahead. When he had him well trussed up, he left him on the floor and went out, taking the key. He locked the door on the outside, but put the key in his pocket instead of leaving it in the door.
There was nobody in the hall. He looked up, and saw that Marko had left a trapdoor open in the roof. It was through that trapdoor that he had climbed out, and the fact that he left it open indicated that he intended to return soon.
Stephen Klaw went back to the open door of Lemson's office. Standing in front of it, he could look down onto the main floor of the garage. He saw that the drivers were grouped together, talking in whispers, near the front. Two of them had tommy-guns, and one of their number was looking out into the street through a peephole in the big rolling doors. It would be impossible to get out that way. There were at least twenty of the drivers, and there was no doubt that they were all armed. They were preparing, in case Kerrigan and Murdoch came back. It was evident that they intended to put up a fight here, if necessary, and then retreat through the secret exit over the roof.
Steve's lips were tight. He turned and went into Lemson's office and picked up the telephone. But instead of getting the outside operator, he heard the low growl of a man's voice, "What number you wanna get?"
There must be a switchboard somewhere, through which all the phones in the building cleared.
"Who's this?" the man's voice demanded. "What number do you wanna get?"
Steve smiled wryly. "Rector two-three-fivetwo-o," he said.
There was a second's silence, then, "What the hell! That's the F.B.I.!"
"Sure," said Steve, sharpening his voice a bit. "This is Smiley. I got that G-man eatin outta my hand. He's gonna make the phone call."
"Are you nuts, Smiley? You can't phone from here. The G-men will trace the call. You got to take that guy around to the cellar."
"He can't be moved," said Steve. "He'll die."
"Well, I'll connect you with the General. He's in conference, but I'll put you through. Ask him—"
"Never mind," Steve broke in hastily. "I'll wait till Marko comes back." He hung up and went out of the office. He went down the hall, and climbed the ladder up to the skylight. Then he took out one of his automatics, climbed up on to the roof.
Almost at once he saw the reason for the cunning light in Smiley's eyes when he had told about this exit.
The Realty Building abutted against the rear of the garage, and loomed four floors above it. There was a door in the high wall and a button alongside it, just as Smiley had said.
But what the thug had not mentioned, was the fact that there was a small peephole about three feet away from the door. If anyone rang that bell, there was certainly a guard who would look through the peephole. And if he saw a stranger, he would certainly shoot him down.
That must have been what Smiley counted on.
Stephen Klaw crossed the roof, stood close to the door. He touched it, and felt cold steel. It would be impossible to break it down without a torch. Almost at the same instant, he heard a grating of metal as the peephole alongside the door started to open.
Steve dropped to his stomach on the floor, hugging the wall. He heard a man inside say, "Okay, Marko. All clear."
The big steel door began to open, and Steve heard Marko's voice, "Be ready to open the door again, Pete. All the boys are coming across. The General says we got to evacuate the garage. It's no good now that Kerrigan and Murdoch know about it."
"How the hell," Pete's sharp voice demanded; "did they get wise? That cab was blown to bits."
"It gets me," Marko replied. "Those babies are devils. They can guess what's in your mind—unless Klaw came back from the dead and told them."
Marko had the door open now, and was stepping out on to the roof.
That was the moment which Stephen Klaw chose to rise up from where he was crouching.
He stuck an automatic in Marko's stomach, and grinned.
"You called it, Marko," he said cheerfully. "Here I am—back from the grave!"
Marko let out a screech, fell back. Steve Klaw came in after him.
They were in a sort of closet, probably a secret room on this floor. It was bare, except for a single chair upon which sat the man, Pete.
PETE had a short-muzzled shotgun under his arm. He was alert, sharp-eyed. He swung the shotgun up to cover Steve and Marko. Steve knew what he was going to do. He was going to shoot, even if he had to hit Marko as well.
Stephen Klaw didn't give him a chance to get the gun all the way up.
He gave Marko a shove, sent him hurtling into Pete. Pete pushed his chair back to get out of the way. Steve came right after Marko, with his right arm pushed out stiffly in front of him, and with the automatic gripped in his fist.
The automatic struck flush into Pete's face, smashing his nose, ripping his cheek.
Pete screamed with agony, dropped the shotgun and raised both hands to his face.
Marko recovered his balance, and clawed for a gun.
Steve grinned thinly and hit him on the side of the jaw with his left- hand automatic. Bone cracked in Marko's jaw, and the big man went down, unconscious.
Klaw swung around, reversing his automatic, and brought the butt down hard against the side of Pete's skull. Pete's scream died in his throat, and he folded over and slid off the chair alongside of Marko.
The G-man stood there for a moment, hefting his automatics, and looking down at the two badly battered and unconscious men.
"Part payment for Gregg Daly!" he murmured softly,
He turned around and closed the big steel door to the roof, then pushed home the two heavy bolts that locked it. He grinned crookedly. Those men in the garage wouldn't be able to evacuate it for a while. If Kerrigan and Murdoch did come back with a raiding party, they'd find a nice nest of rats waiting down there to be smoked out.
He stepped over the body of Marko, to a door in the opposite wall of the closet. It opened under his touch.
He peered out into a small room. There was a switchboard here, and a beefy-jowled man sitting in front of it, manipulating the plugs. This must be the man who had answered him when he picked up the phone in Lemson's office.
The beefy switchboard operator was facing the door through which Steve entered. He sprang up from the board and snatched a gun which had been lying close to his hand.
He swung the gun up, and Steve shot him through the heart.
The man spun backward, threw his arms in the air, and hit the wall behind him, then slid down the wall to the floor.
Steve waited, holding his breath, listening. The bark of his .32 must have been heard elsewhere on the floor. But it could very well have been mistaken for backfire.
A minute passed, and no one came in.
Steve went over to the switchboard and picked up one of the terminals and plugged it in.
"Rector two-three-five-two-o," he said to the operator.
In a moment he had the F.B.I. Field Office, and was talking to the Agent in charge. "I'm on the inside," he reported, "and getting close to the General. Where are Kerrigan and Murdoch?"
"They've taken a raiding party to the Gold Star Garage," the agent at the other end told him. "Lemson refused to talk, saying that he had pull, and would be free in an hour. But we found one of the badges of the Army of Death pinned inside his vest, so we used that as evidence to get a Federal judge to sign a search warrant. Kerrigan and Murdoch are on the way to the garage now."
"Okay," said Steve. "Better send some men to cover the block. There's a secret connection with the Realty Building, in back of the garage. I'm in here now. I think it's the third floor. Don't come in. Just cover the entrance, and stop everybody going out. Kerrigan and Murdoch and I will smoke out these rats."
He pulled out the plug, started to turn, and felt something hard jabbing into his back.
"This is a gat, mister," some one said behind him.
"GLAD to hear it!" said Steve Klaw. He swiveled on his left heel, jamming his elbow into the midsection of the man behind him. Steve felt the man's gun slide crosswise along his back, just as it exploded. The slug scorched his ribs, sending a hot lance of fire up his side.
He had put down one of his automatics when he was making the phone call. But always, from force of habit, he kept one hand in a pocket, gripping one of his automatics. He shot now, through the pocket... The slug smashed into the man's stomach.
Stephen Klaw was drenched with the blood spurting from that wound. The man gurgled hoarsely, doubled over, bleeding like a stuck pig. He fell face down on the floor, rendered unconscious by the shock of the shot fired at such close quarters.
Steve picked up his other automatic, walked around the body, and went out of the switchboard room.
What he beheld caused him to halt in amazement. He found himself in a huge office, almost half a floor in size. There were perhaps fifty desks here, all occupied by typists and stenographers, busily working at their machines. At the far end was a glassed-in row of offices where sat busy executives. Along the near wall was another row of offices, but these were not glassed-in. They boasted solid oak doors, with gold lettering.
One bore the legend, Office of the President. Next to it there was another door with the lettering, Director's Room. Glancing across to the corridor door in the opposite wall, Steve made out the name on the glass, reading backward, J. Augustus, Inc., Efficiency Experts.
Many of the girls had stopped typing, and were staring at Steve's bloody clothes and scarred face. Near the door, two guards in uniform got up and started to stroll casually across tile room toward him. They were wearing Sam Browne belts with holstered revolvers.
Stephen Klaw blandly disregarded them, as well as the stares of the typists. He walked over to the nearest girl's desk, and looked at what she had in the typewriter. It was circular letter to a brewery in Milwaukee, offering the services of J. Augustus, Inc. to put their business on a more efficient basis.
The girl shrank away from him.
Steve smiled down at her, and showed her his badge. "You don't have to be afraid of me, sister. But I guess your job is about over. Tell me, why do they need armed guards in a place like this?"
"B-because we handle a lot of collections for c-clients," the girl stammered.
He turned around slowly, just as the two guards came up to the desk. He pinned the badge to his coat lapel, and then thrust both hands into his pockets. He faced the guards.
"The F.B.I. is taking over here," he said tonelessly, his slate-gray eyes moving from one to the other of the two men. "Resistance will make you liable to prosecution to the full extent of the law." He started toward the door of the directors' room.
One of the guards stepped in his path, barring the way. He was sliding the gun out of his holster. He was a big fellow.
"I represent the United States of America," Steve said mildly. "I warn you—don't draw that gun."
The other guard already had his gun out. The one with the thick lips was just clearing the gun out of his holster.
There was no flicker of emotion in Stephen Klaw's face. He fired both automatics from his pockets.
Cauliflower-ear took the slug in his stomach. The other one got it over the heart.
Immediately pandemonium broke loose in the busy office. Girls began to shriek. Men shouted, and typewriters fell off their movable stands as the typists sprung up in panic. It was clear that all these people working in the outer office had no inkling of the sinister inside set-up of the firm by which they were employed.
Stephen Klaw stooped, picked up the revolvers of the two guards and thrust them into his breast pockets. Then, with his hands still in his outside coat pockets, he strode across the room, through the milling, panicky crowd of girls. He pushed open the door of the Directors' Room.
Twelve men stared at him from around the Directors' table. They were already on their feet, alarmed by the shooting.
Steve Klaw kicked the door shut behind him, and stood with his back to it.
"Hello, Jarger," he said. "So you're the General!"
Jarger began to laugh. His gnarled fingers were on the table. They were touching a row of buttons. "I'll make a deal with you, Klaw."
"You can't make any deal with me, Jarger. I saw what you did to Daly."
"Don't be too sure, Klaw. Do you hear that shooting? It's in the garage."
Steve Klaw had heard it. There was the quick rat-tat-tat of sub-machine guns, and the booming thunder of .38's.
"I hear it," said Steve. "That's my partners, Kerrigan and Murdoch. They're taking over your rats in the garage."
Jarger leaned forward over the table. For a moment his eyes nicked toward the wall at his left, where a little peephole yawned open. Steve caught that glance.
Jarger went on, "Observe where my fingers are, Klaw. I'm touching two buttons. These two buttons are wired to the same kind of bomb that was rigged in your taxicab. Only these bombs contain ten pounds each of tri-nitro-toluene. They are planted in the garage."
Steve's glittering eyes swung around the circle of taut men who were watching him. Lou Sorgum, Jake Cadman, and the others, had not dared to move since he entered. But as they heard Jarger's confident voice, they seemed to take on new hope.
"You understand, Klaw?" asked Jarger. "That's why I ordered the garage evacuated. I knew Kerrigan and Murdoch would come back. I can blow it up now with a touch of my finger Suppose fifteen or twenty of my own men go with it? It's worth the exchange. Kerrigan and Murdoch must have as many F.B.I. men with them."
He stopped, then added triumphantly, "You see, Klaw, a good general always has a trick in reserve. I'll trade you—the lives of your partners for the lives of everybody in this room. We walk out of here, and you guarantee that we won't be touched."
"I can't guarantee that," Steve told him tonelessly. "The building is covered. You'll be stopped."
"You needn't worry, Klaw. I have another way out of here. I have offices on the same floors in the next two buildings. The third building is the Paravox Theater on the corner. We'll slide in there, and slip out with the crowds."
"You're telling me too much," Steve said. "You wouldn't trust me to know that much."
"Of course not," Jarger said, smiling. "Part of the bargain is that you don't leave here alive. I know you and your friends. You'll gladly give up your life for Kerrigan and Murdoch, won't you?"
"Yes," said Steve Klaw. "Gladly."
"Then put your guns down on the floor."
Steve grinned. "How do I know you won't push those buttons anyway?"
Jarger threw a quick glance toward the peephole in the wall. He let out a sigh of relief, then chuckled. "I knew all along that we couldn't make a deal, Klaw. I was just stalling for time—till my bodyguard came back. Now it won't be necessary to make any deal. You are to be liquidated."
He nodded once, in a sort of signal.
Steve Klaw's eyes were on the peephole. He saw the silenced rifle poke out.
He fired six times with his left-hand gun, straight into the peephole, alongside the rifle barrel. The rifle sagged aside, and a man screamed behind that peephole, his scream almost drowned by the thunderous reverberations of Steve's guns.
His right-hand gun was spitting flame, too. Six times it barked, in perfect synchronized time with the other one. And all six slugs smashed into Augustus Jarger's chest with the force of battering-rams, hurling him back from the table, and away from the deadly row of buttons.
Roll of thunder and stench of cordite assailed ears and nose. The room shook with the din of gunfire.
The eleven men at the table were galvanized into action.
"His guns are empty!" yelled Lou Sorgum.
They all started to go for weapons.
Stephen Klaw laughed harshly. His hands darted in and out of his breast pockets, and appeared with the two revolvers he had taken from the uniformed guards. At the same time the door was violently thrust open. Steve, whose back had been to the door, was sent sprawling.
In the doorway appeared two wild and terrifying figures.
Johnny Kerrigan and Dan Murdoch, each with a tommy-gun, standing shoulder to shoulder.
Eleven men raised their hands precipitately in the air, letting their weapons clatter to the floor. Almost as if in chorus they yelled, "Don't shoot!"
Stephen Klaw got up from the floor dusted his trousers.
Johnny Kerrigan heaved a sigh of relief. "I thought they got the Shrimp!"
"Hi, Shrimp!" said Dan Murdoch.
Steve Klaw grinned. "Hi, Mopes!" he said. "Pretty good going— What're you say?"
This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia