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Title: Death's Mistress Author: Arthur Leo Zagat * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1304641h.html Language: English Date first posted: Aug 2013 Most recent update: Dec 2015 This eBook was produced by Paul Moulder and 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
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Dan Lorraine feared the death which nightly stalked the streets of that terrified seaside city. But terror came only after he had met Marge—Death's Charming Mistress!
OFFICER JOHN HAYDEN shrugged big shoulders as if the stiff cloth of his tunic bothered him, but his uneasiness had nothing to do with the fit of his uniform. Something in the wee-hour stillness of Exterior Street was getting him, something ominous in the black loom of the freighters squeezed between pier sides, in the continual lap-lap of greasy water against their hulls, distinct in the silence. The bay seemed to have a million tongues tonight, and each one whispered a warning.
A warning of what? Hayden's narrowed eyes slid along the deserted expanse of cobbles he patrolled. Illuminated patches hugged the wide-spaced street lamps closely. Between them shadows lay heavily...
The officer's unquiet glance roved to the right, skimmed blank facades of dingy warehouses, paused hesitantly at the black maw of an alley. He knew he ought to take a look in Acre, yet a curious reluctance restrained him. Anything, almost anything might be hidden in that tar-barrel murk!
Hayden shrugged again. "Hell of a cop I am," he muttered half-aloud. "Ye'd think I was a rookie doin' his first twelve-to-eight tour." He swerved toward the alley mouth, digging into a pocket for his flashlight; but his other hand took a tighter grip on his nightstick... There was a prickle of cold across the back of his neck as he sensed, rather than saw, a flicker of movement within the alley toward which he slowly thudded.
His torch-beam shot out. Crazily-leaning wooden walls leapt into being. The light-disk danced along scummed flag-stones, broken and up-ended, probed a pile of heaped refuse, moved further back—and was suddenly notched by a heavy-soled shoe, the blue hem of a trouser-leg. It stopped, quivered a bit, moved again, held in the center of its luminance a prostrate, oddly twisted form in a police uniform! The body lay face down in the alley filth; one arm was flung over the sprawled figure's head, and at its end a revolver barrel snouted.
Hayden's jaw hardened. His stick beat a rapid tattoo on the sidewalk, then he was plunging forward, cat-footed, toward the thing in there while his flash-beam stabbed into emptiness beyond.
The cop reached the unmoving form of his comrade, stood half-crouched above it. His eyes followed the lance of his light. Neither sight nor sound betrayed any living presence in the alley, but through the multifarious salty odors of the sea-breeze a faintly acrid tang stung his nostrils, a pungency that was somehow alien, exotic. It pulled his gaze down again to the body at his feet, and something he had been unable to see from the alley mouth struck the blood from his lips.
The fallen cop's hand, the fingers that gripped the butt of his useless gun, were brown, shriveled—had the texture and sheen of old parchment! The nails were blackened, curled oddly outward.
"God!" Hayden groaned, and dropped to his knees in the slime. He touched the strangely discolored hand with a tentative thumb, snatched it away as a crackle like that of dried tissue paper came startlingly loud in the silence. But the sere feel of withered skin clung to his fingertips, and the hardness of bone beneath. "God," the cop said again, in a hushed, shocked voice.
A hot spot of wrath burned in Hayden's skull at the same time that his skin crawled with unacknowledged fear. There was no whisper of sound in the alley as he pulled air into tightened lungs; but he felt eyes upon him—hot, inimical eyes. His light toured the narrow passage; slid along blank, windowless walls; skimmed mildewed, debris-strewn paving. There was nothing there, nothing!
"Good Lord," he grunted. "Why in hell don't Fred come? He oughta heard my raps and snapped into it pronto." Officer Fred Kane's beat ended only half a block from here and the two always timed themselves to relieve the tedium of the dawn patrol with mumbling talk. Hayden fumbled for his whistle; his dropping glance went almost furtively to the body's shriveled hand. And he gasped!
A tiny movement, when he had touched it perhaps, had pulled back the sleeve, revealing flat silver links of a wrist-watch band and the watch itself. Hayden stared pop-eyed at the odd, octagonal timepiece and his mouth worked. He knew that watch, had compared it numberless times with his own. It belonged to Fred Kane, to his buddy, his side-partner through half a decade of sidewalk pounding! But only an hour ago he had been chatting with Fred...
The policeman forced his arm to move, his hand to touch the flattened shoulder of the corpse, pressing it so that the head rolled limply and he could see its face. Its face! Good God! That which stared sightlessly at him was the face of no human thing!
The skin, brown and shriveled like that of a long-dried apple, had fallen into cheek-hollows, as if there were no flesh beneath. Blackened lips were retracted from stained teeth. The nose-tip was gone, the nostrils had vanished and their cartilage had shrunk tightly closed. Lid-less eyes were glazed white marbles in deep black pits. This was the face of a mummy, long dead, of a cadaver exhumed from an age-eroded tomb! Horror rocked the stalwart policeman back on his heels. He whimpered in his throat, fought nausea.
At that moment voices sounded behind him. He exploded to his feet, whirling as his free hand plunged to the holster for his gun! From the darkness of the alley, came the gruff rumble of a man's voice, the shrillness of a woman's.
The woman's: "No! No! Not again! Don't make me..."
Hayden's flash-beam searched for the voices, lashed into a billow of blackness, a swirling cloud of black vapor rolling toward him. Tendrils reached out for him, coiling ebony tendrils, monstrously alive! The cop's scalp tightened, the cold breath of fear beat on him, and the woman screamed "Help!" Screamed shrilly, agonizingly from beyond the cloud!
Hayden swayed a lightning instant, terror of the black mystery clamping his limbs. Then, snarling, white-faced, he plunged into the impenetrable mist.
He plunged, and his skin was suddenly a living flame that seared. Black fire scorched his face. A lightless blaze charred his eyes, nostrils, mouth! He drew flame into bursting lungs, his trigger-finger jerked spasmodically. Shot-Shot-crash pounded within the lethal cloud. And the flare of his gun was drowned in black vapor that swirled, thinned, and was gone.
Somewhere a woman laughed stridently, hysterically. Laughed till the sound of her mad cachinnation was drowned in the roar of a motor leaping away from the dark alley where two mummies lay—two horror-faced mummies in the blue uniform of the Granport police force.
Grim-visaged young Dan Lorraine, captain of the freighter Lomand, twisted with a weather-reddened hand the doorknob of Praying Joe's, hottest spot on Granport's waterfront. Erstwhile hot-spot, that is—for the usual tumult was silent behind the portal he was opening and the flaring neon sign above him lit with its red glare a deserted, eerily hushed street. Dan's yellow eyebrows knitted in puzzlement.
The door came open on a cavernous, dim-lit, low-ceilinged hall. The sailor's footfall thudded loudly, echoing, and a white-aproned bartender pounded across the floor toward him, a bulldog automatic jumping from a hip pocket. The man's face was a hard mask, but his little eyes glittered oddly, and his ordinarily florid features were filmed with a sickly green cast. Were it not for the thick-necked, jutting-jawed bull's head topping gorilla-like shoulders, Dan would have thought that fear lurked in Praying Joe's tiny orbs. Then recognition dawned on the dive-owner's face.
"Hell!" Joe grunted. "Dan Lorraine. Didn't know you was in."
The ship-captain watched Joe slide his gat back to its covert. "Yes," he growled. "I'm in, and I'm going out again on the dawn tide." He rolled past the saloon-man to the bar, got a foot up on the brass rail. "Whisky sour, Joe, and be damn quick about it."
In seconds the concoction slid across the mahogany, and Dan had gulped it down with a shudder. "Lousy as ever," he grunted. He let his eyes wander through the big cafe and came back to Praying Joe. "What," he said heavily, "is the matter with you and this whole rotten town?"
Joe swiped a foul-smelling rag across the wood-top, leaving a greasy film of dampness. His heavy face glowered. "What's eatin' yuh, pal?" he said at last. "What makes yuh think anything's wrong wid Granport?"
"Think!" the seaman exclaimed. "I damn well know it." He threw a big-thewed arm out in a sweeping gesture, indicating the dim-lit, nearly empty room, the few furtively whispering, tight-mouthed men who were its only other occupants, the vacant stage beyond the long bar. "Nice, lively spot this after ten months slogging the waves with the everlasting stink of Patagonian hides in your nose. Praying Joe's, the rip-roaringest dive on the waterfront, gloomy as a funeral parlor—and the rest of the port just like this. Nobody on the streets except the cops, and they going around in pairs with their hands on their gun butts, eyeing a fellow like he was a public enemy number one. Half the theaters closed, the rest empty. Hell—when I came in you went green-gilled and grabbed out your gun as if you thought I was Stan Kanio himself prowling for a stick-up."
The aproned one's eyes jerked to the tables and back. "Stan Kanio's not stickin' this joint up, nor any other. He's six foot under."
Lorraine straightened, interest momentarily brightening his broad-planed, wind-wrinkled features. "Oh, yes? Your dumb police force got him finally, did they?"
The bartender spat into the sawdust on the floor. "Not so dumb, Dan, not so dumb. They blasted him at the docks, caught him flat-footed wid a bag in each hand."
"Uh-huh." Lorraine's mouth twisted wryly. "Never gave him a chance, I suppose. Shot him like a dog when he couldn't pull his gat."
"Well," Joe shrugged, "they wasn't takin' no chances." He seemed relieved at the turn of the conversation. "His moll got away, somehow, in the rumpus. She—"
"So it isn't Kanio that's scared Granport gutless," Dan interrupted. He pushed thick fingers through his shock of yellow, rumpled hair. "What is it then? What are you afraid of, you and the rest of the burg?" His fingers were magically around the saloon-man's wrist, jamming him up against the counter. "Spit it out or, by God, I'll break your arm." The captain's narrowed eyes burned with a cold blue flame as they probed the other's tiny orbs.
Joe gulped and licked white lips. "Gripes," he whined. "No call for yuh gettin' tough. I thought yuh knew. Dere ain't nuttin' else in de papers but de mummy death."
"The what?" Dan leaned forward, his eyes glowing. "I've just landed, haven't seen a paper. What's that you said?"
"De mummy death. Two weeks it's been gain' on now, cops bein' found all over town all dried up like dem mummies in de museum. Dey ain't got no noses, deir ears is all dried up, deir faces—cripes—I seen one an' I ain't slep' fer t'ree nights with it lookin' at me in de dark." The saloon-man spilled whisky into a glass and threw the fiery liquid down his throat.
"You saw one. How—?"
"Yeah! I seen one an' I wish I hadn't. Tim Rollins it wuz, he wuz at me side door slucin' his t'roat wid a schooner o' lager when a dame steps up ter him. 'Officer,' she sez t'rough her veil. 'Officer, dere's a man in de hallway o' Number Twenty-six. I t'ink he's dead.' Her voice wuz soft an' she talked like a toff.
" 'Dead drunk, more likely," Tim sez an' he finishes his drink before goin' over. I watched him go up the stoop, an' inside de hall. Sudden-like I hears a yowl like nuttin' human. I wuz too damn scared ter do anythin' fer a minute, den I grabs me gat an' beats it over. Dere he wuz—Oh Gawd—don't ast me ter tell yuh what he looked like!..."
"And the woman?"
"She wuzn't anywhere aroun'. I didn't see her go, an' nobody else did." The narrator's voice was a husky whisper now, a whisper in which ancestral terror quivered. "An' I didn't see her come neither, dough I wuz standin' right next to Tim, lookin' out. She wuz dere one minute, nowheres de next." His next words were barely audible. "If yuh wuz ter ast me, I t'ink she wuzn't no woman at all."
"A man? But you said—"
"Nor no man, neither." Save for its network of wormlike red capillaries, Joe's face had gone fish-belly gray and his eyes were livid. He looked past Dan, seeing things that were not of the real world. "Nor no man," he repeated solemnly.
The sailor was all alive now, his big frame athrill with a tremor of excitement. His grip on the other man's wrist relaxed. "Wait," he said. "Wait. You said this mummy death takes only cops. What's everybody else scared about then?"
"Gees, guy, don't yuh get it? Here's a harness-bull paradin' his beat. Dere's a holler fer help somewheres, er someone comes runnin' up tellin' him about a prowler climbin' a fire-escape. Eight chances outen ten it's straight enough, but de udder two chances is dat it's de mummy death baitin' him. W'addya t'ink de cop's gonna do?"
"He's not going to be in any too great hurry to go looking for trouble," Lorraine answered, musingly. "He'll stop to think it over, to question his informant."
"Uh-huh. An' in de meantime de prowler gets away, or de stick-up's finished. Dat's what's happenin' in Granport de last two weeks, an' dere's plenty takin' advantage o' de set-up. Dey've even cleaned two banks, wid de squad-cars showin' up a half hour late."
"So that's it," Dan said softly. "So that's the layout. The police force paralyzed by fear, and the crooks running wild."
THE pall of fear lying over Granport was almost tangible as Dan Lorraine, somewhat later, rolled through gloomy, vacant streets on sea-legs that were only a trifle unsteady. He was on his way back to the Lomand, a bare three hours' shut-eye ahead of him before he must turn out to sail on the dawn tide. This morning he had swallowed wrath as he read the radio that would take the freighter down to New Scotia with not twenty-four hours' lay-over. He had raged at the stevedores emptying her holds, had glowered through the business of obtaining clearance at the Barge Office. But the port toward which he had strained his weather-worn eyes all through the long coastal trip was a place accursed, a city shuddering under the threat of a nameless horror. He was glad, now, that everything was ready for a speedy departure.
A high board fence loomed at his right, huge white letters proclaiming that behind it lay Morrison's Ship Chandlery Yards. Dan glanced up and down the street. No one was in sight. He wheeled swiftly, pulled aside a loose board whose location he had discovered earlier in the evening, and squeezed through. Trespass or not, this was a short cut to the Lomand's berth and he was in no mood to take the long trek around. Dan was fed up of Granport.
Piled anchors, huge mounds of rope, all the various appurtenances of the seafaring trade, were shadowy in the dimness. The captain sniffed the tarry, familiar odors luxuriously. He was through the store yard. Behind this other fence was Exterior Street, and across its cobbles were Pier Nine and the Lomand. With the surefootedness of the sailor, Dan ran up a leaning scantling that braced the barrier, swung a leg over—and froze to the spot.
Approaching footsteps thudded along the sidewalk beyond the fence. He was a trespasser, and it would be troublesome if his unauthorized presence in the store-yard were discovered. In Granport's present state of mind it might be worse. Dan pulled his leg back, crouched so that only the top of his head and his eyes were above the fence-top.
There they were, two policemen flat-footedly pounding pavement toward him about half a block away. They were on either side of the roadway, hugging the curbs well away from the shadows that lay along the pier entrances and the chandlery-yard fence. Dan could see their grim-set faces distinctly, their hands hovering near holsters buckled outside their uniform coats rather than within as was the usual custom. Their heads jerked ceaselessly from side to side in quick, fearful scrutiny of every possible source of lurking peril. Lorraine's scalp tightened as the tensity of their bodies, their stiff-legged walk, conveyed to him across intervening space a contagion of the icy fear quivering within them. He knew, without being told, the terror that animated them, the depths of courage they were dragging to be here at all. Death—violent death—was a commonplace to them; their business was to face it. But the mummy death...
If they spied him up here those ready guns would leap from their holsters, unquestioning, and crash leaden death into him. Any movement to retreat would make sound enough to bring them after him on the jump. His only safety lay in their passing him unnoticing. Dan crouched lower, holding his breath. The thump of the patrolmen's brogans came nearer, nearer...
Dan's left foot started to slip, skidded off the narrow scantling!
His fingers dug into their hold on the fence-top. The toes of his right foot worked in their shoe, ape-instinct striving for a prehensile grip that civilized leather defeated. If they'd only walk faster! He could hold on only seconds longer. Then he'd have to twist, to drop, and...
The distant thrum of a speeding motor shocked the night silence. Even as Lorraine's remaining foothold gave way the sound crescendoed, was a roar of thunder beyond the fence. The sailor dared a contortion that banged his toe-caps alarmingly against wood, but brought his legs up and under him again. The sound was like artillery fire in his ears. A shout from the unseen street heralded it, and the blast of a police gun.
Dan held on grimly. That bullet had missed. He waited for another. It would be useless now to jump and try to run...
But the second shot did not come. There was instead the squeal of brakes, the scrape of skidding rubber, and a bellowed, "Stop, damn you! Stop!"
The Lomand's captain pulled his head above the fence-top. A big gray sedan was halted fifty feet from his vantage point, nosing toward him, so that it was evident to him that it had been roaring along the wrong side of the street. The near officer was just putting a thick-soled boot on its running board, the other was turning, starting to come across.
"Where's the fire?" the cop began. "Want the whole street for yourself? Whatcha doin' here this time o' night anyway? Gimme yer license."
"Oh, officer," a girl's fresh voice came from the front of the sedan. "I was just—"
Black smoke belched from the open rear window, enveloped the officer in a mushroom of murky haze! The engine roared into action, the car leaped out of the ebony cloud. Smoke belched from it again, billowing toward the second cop. Dan saw a form catapult out of the first cloud, thrown from the outleaping running-board, a sprawling form whose face, instantaneously, was brown-charred, shriveled like a dried apple!
Then Dan had leaped from the fence-top, had crashed down on the car roof and was sliding off, sliding down over the side and toward the cobbles that reeled past as the auto gathered speed in a swift surge of power.
The captain's leap had been instinctive, automatic, an explosion of his muscles undirected by his brain, touched off by the horror he had witnessed. But now he was clawing at smooth metal that gave no grip, was squirming overside and down?—down to be dashed against leaping rock by the swift speed the death-car had attained in seconds...
The wind of its passage beat at him, whistled a doom-message in his ears. His feet went over the edge, his legs were following, slowly but inevitably. The rain-gutter caught at his belt for an instant, let go. He slid further as the auto twisted, and roared into some quiet street leading away from the water-front. Its speed slackened, and with that slackening his toes found purchase on a door handle, purchase enough for the sea-trained man to clamp knees on a doorpost, hold himself tight against the car side, and dip, finally, to firm footing on the running-board of the gray sedan.
He clung to sill and fender of the still fast-moving motor, and brought his head down to peer through its front window. A woman was driving the murder-machine. He glimpsed her reddish, luxuriant hair, her tip-tilted nose, mouth muffled by the turned-up fur of her coat. She was turning to look at him, her eyes startled...
Dan's gaze was jerked away from her by the sound of a rear window opening.
The window was down, and a hand was pushing through it A hand that held—not a gun, but something gun-like, with a three-inch barrel that seemed to swallow light!
"The black-gas projector!" Dan thought. "The mummy death!" Terror flared in him.
The woman's voice screamed through his terror, "No, Pete. No! He's not a cop! No! Please!"
"Hell," a man's voice growled, irresolute. "You can't let him go, he—"
"I'm not letting him go." She whirled to Dan. "Here you!" she snapped, her voice crackling as no woman's voice should, virulently. "Get in here or I'll let him blast you!"
There was nothing to do but obey. Lorraine managed to get the front door open, to crawl into the car, beside the woman. The sedan leaped into high speed, flinging him backwards into the seat. Hands clutched from behind, forcing him down, forcing his cap down over his eyes so that he could not see. Rough hands fumbled rope around him, bound his arms to his sides, pulled cloth tight over his eyes. The thrumming roar of the motor in front of him crescendoed ever higher as the murder car sped through streets he knew to be night-bound and deserted, sped to a fate he could only imagine. He shuddered...
Dan felt the car sway as it swerved, swerved again. The cold night air of open country came in to him now, but his throat was parched, dry with fear. The fearful speed of the sedan slackened; he could hear rustling foliage scrape as it pushed its way through some narrow country lane, bumping and swaying. His eyes ached under the pressure of their blindfold, and the fur of the woman's coat irritated his cheek, his hand. But he sensed the warmth of her body, and a little of his fear seeped away.
The car slowed. A hand groped along his side. A throbbing contralto voice said in his ear, "No gun, Pete! He has no gun." The hand slipped inside the flap of his pea-jacket, pulled the ship's papers out of his pocket. He heard them rustle. Then, "Captain of the Lomand, are you?"
"Yes," Lorraine muttered. "Yes."
"Seventy-five-foot freighter, Diesel engined." She was evidently reading from the documents. "Five men in the crew. All cleared to sail."
There was a snort from the back. The man's voice husked, chuckled evilly, "Too bad her captain won't sail with her..."
"I wonder..." the feminine voice mused. "I wonder..."
The voice in the rear hardened to cold threat. "What's the idea, Marge? Thinking of letting the mutt go?"
"Well, Pete,"—tentatively—"he's not a cop."
"Forget it. He knows too much; he's seen your face, and the car. I'm not taking any chances, and don't you forget it."
"Hell!" She laughed abruptly, and there was something in the sound of it that made Dan shudder. "That's the last thing I'd do. Only reason I didn't let you blast him back there was because I've never really seen how the mummy death worked. We've always had to beat it before the smoke cleared away. I've only been able to read about it in the papers afterwards and—and I'm curious."
"Oh." Pete's tone was relieved. "I was beginning to think—"
"Nothing like that. Look... Here's a good spot—let's do it here." Brakes squealed, the car skidded, stopped.
"Oke. I'd like to work it right, just once, myself." Sadistic eagerness quivered in the gruff tones of the man. The door behind grated, then the one at Dan's right. His scalp tightened and he was cold all over. The sound of peepers crashed in to him from countryside stillness, and the far-off, melancholy hoot of a train. There were people on that train, he thought, for whom there would be a tomorrow...
"Come out of there," Pete growled. Dan felt steely fingers clutch his arm, lurched out under the impulsion of their pull. His foot caught in the running board and he crashed down into slimy mud. The woman laughed and a heavy shoe thudded into his side. "Get up, you dog. Get up and take it."
The seaman's arm struck fender-metal. He pulled himself erect, stood swaying. His throat worked, but the sound that squeaked out was not what he was trying to say. He bit his lips. Nothing he could say would do any good—they wouldn't listen. He heard the click of a cocked trigger...
"Wait, Pete. Wait," said the woman harshly. "Let him see what's coming. It'll be funnier that way."
"Cripes," the other protested. "You're nuts." But a hand worked at the knot back of Dan's skull and the blinding cloth pulled off. The seaman blinked; sight came back and he saw light from the car-roof tangle in the auburn net of the woman's hair. She had slid over to the seat he had occupied. Dan saw an oval, piquant face, a tiny mouth parted minutely, scarlet as a flower of evil. Avidity quivered in that white face, excitement danced in gray eyes wherein little lights flickered.
"Walk up the road, ten paces, then turn around." White teeth gleamed between ruby lips as she said it. A sense of unreality flooded Dan. Impossible that this girl—she seemed no more—was staging his end in the black death that would blast him to a charred, faceless mummy.
"Get busy. We can't wait here all night."
Dan shrugged, turned away and started off. As he did so he glimpsed at his feet a huge, apelike shadow from which jutted a thick arm and the silhouette of a grotesquely enlarged gun.
"One... two... three..." Meticulously he counted the steps of his death march. "Four... five... six..." Headlight glare made the thick foliage on either side of the road seem artificial, stagey. This was all stagey, unreal. His numbed brain hadn't fully grasped, yet, that it was he, Dan Lorraine, who was about to die. "Seven... eight..."
If he jumped sidewise, into that thicket... an honest-to-God revolver might miss, but the gas-gun would belch its cloud about him before he could reach concealment. Why make further sport for the fiends who played with him? "Nine..." The last step. Despair dropped its black pall over Dan. "Ten." He whirled to meet the black death smoke...
The scene before him photographed itself on his mind. Pete—half-crouched at the car side, his head monumental on tremendous shoulders, his nose a blob of unshaped dough on a pallid, dead-white face, his shaggy eyebrows penthouse eaves over tiny, glittering black eyes—was stabbing the club-like gas-gun at him for the kill. Dan tensed to take it.
But above the snarling killer a white arm arched abruptly out. Metal gleamed, vanished into the man's back. Blood spurted from between thick lips, burbled over yellow fangs! Pete crumpled. Marge's quick hand flashed out, caught the gas-gun from him as he thudded to the earth. The girl slid lithely out.
"God!" Dan grunted. "God!" Had she been acting a part, playing for a chance to save him...?
But her eyes blazed at him, a vulpine fury banished beauty from her countenance. "You," she snapped. "You!" Get back here. Quick. Or..." The weapon lifted, was steady in a slim hand. "Or I'll finish you myself."
Her voice was thinned by excitement, shrill. Dan started back toward her. The elation that had pounded in his veins when he saw Pete go down under the girl's knife was replaced by a new fear as he drew closer and saw the lines of cruelty at her mouth corners, the shadows lurking beneath her eyes. He recalled how swiftly, how surely, her dagger had gone to its mark, remembered that this was the woman who had acted as lure for the mummy death, and shuddered. It was not for his sake that she had intervened to save him, not for his sake that she had plunged the knife into Pete's back!
"Can you drive?" she asked as he reached her. "Can you drive a car, sailor?"
"Yes." He could scarcely get it out. "Yes." He fancied that the red on her lips was the stain of blood.
"Then get under the wheel. Hurry." Some urgent need for haste crackled in her voice, and the black nose of the murder-gun snouted at his midriff.
Dan fought for control. "I can't drive with my arms tied."
"We'll fix that," she murmured. She glanced swiftly down at her victim, sprawled face down in the mud. Dan started to move; her eyes flashed warningly back to him and he froze.
Her knees bent, the fingers of her free hand closed about the knife-handle projecting from Pete's blood-soaked back, jerked at it. It resisted her pull. Her little foot lifted; one sharp heel was planted between the shoulder-blades of her victim, and she tugged again. The knife came free, sliced through the ropes binding Lorraine's arms.
"Now get busy," Marge said, without a quiver in her even voice. "Hop to it."
Somehow, Dan got into the car, though his limbs were water-weak and his brain quivered with revulsion. The girl, Marge, slid in after him, supple as a panther. The door slammed, the light behind clicked out.
"Go," her voice lashed in the sudden darkness. "Straight ahead." Dan felt the hard muzzle of the gas-gun pressing against his side. The car leaped into motion, almost of itself.
Close-planted trees flicked by as the gray sedan's headlights bored a tunnel through darkness. Almost at once—they couldn't have gone more than a quarter-mile—the girl snapped out, "Slow." Her hand darted to the dashboard and the headlamps clicked off, on, off, on, and off again.
"To the right," she whispered. "Here."
A darker opening loomed against the dark of the bordering trees. Dan tooled the sedan into it, feeling as if he were driving through the gate of his own tomb. Gravel crunched under the wheels, and a curving driveway glimmered palely in starlight.
Something showed in the driveway ahead, the dark figure of a man. Dan braked. The fellow held a stubby shotgun at ready; a vagrant light-gleam showed his gash of a mouth and his prognathous jaw. "Marge?" he called.
"Yes, Sam." The woman's tone was light, pleasant. "The boys been here yet?"
"Yeah, and gone. The junk ought to pay twenty grand, I figger. But dey had to bump the watchman."
"Swell! Come here a minute."
"I've got something for you. Come here, will you?"
The man lowered his weapon, strode forward, swerving to the right.
Then abruptly the guard vanished in a swirling black cloud that billowed over him, over the car-front! Marge laughed, and the gun-pressure was back in Dan's side. "Hope he likes that present," the woman giggled. "But I'm afraid he won't thank me for it."
The wheel-rim was hot to Dan's hands and his skin crawled. "Good Lord!" he grunted. "You didn't give him a chance."
Marge laughed again. "No. I didn't," she agreed. "No more than I'll give you if you try any tricks."
The death cloud thinned rapidly, was gone. A shape of horror was draped over the sedan's hood, a faceless thing whose cavernous eye-pits stared with sightless reproach at the windshield.
"Drive on!" the woman snapped.
"But—" Dan yammered. "But—"
"Drive on!" Her voice was relentless, urgent, and the evil weapon stabbed meaningly into the seaman's ribs.
Dan's foot went down on the pedal. The car jerked forward, and the shriveled mummy slid from its perch. The rear wheels of the sedan bumped over something and Dan heard the crunch of bone.
The driveway curved again, a vague structure loomed blackly to the left. "All right," Marge whispered. "Here." Dan braked, switched off the ignition.
"Now listen, sailor," Marge said. "We're going in there and we're going to attend to some things. Remember I'm not taking my eyes off you or my hand from this gun. If you behave you'll be all right; if you don't you'll get the same dose Sam did. It doesn't matter to me, either way. Understand?"
There was no mistaking her earnestness, her intent to do that which she threatened. Dan knew he was helpless, was in the power of an implacable captor who thrilled with the lust to kill, to kill horribly with her over-sized weapon that belched a noiseless black cloud and stripped its victim of all human semblance. She had the face of a woman, beautiful, infinitely desirable, but her soul was that of a devil incarnate. He had seen her kill ruthlessly, horribly, had heard her laugh as she killed.
"Dan nodded. "I understand," he muttered. "Perfectly."
"Come on, then." She slipped something metallic into his hand. "Here's the key. You'll walk ahead and open up."
THE door to the house slammed to behind Dan Lorraine, shutting out even the vague starlight, and the sound reverberated in hollow emptiness. The air here was heavy with dust, with darkness. Dan hesitated, heard the scrape of fabric against fabric behind him.
Suddenly a warm, soft body was pressed against his, moist palms were against his cheeks, pulling his head down. Lips brushed his lightly, tingling! Then, almost before he was aware of her, Marge had slipped away, and her light laugh rang out. "You're a dear boy," she thrilled. "You're just like—" Her voice broke, queerly, into a sob.
Blood pounded in Dan's temples. He was a sailor, just in from a long voyage. And he was young, virile. For an instant he forgot—many things—flung out an arm, groping for her. Then he dashed the back of his palm across his mouth to erase the taste of that kiss, swore under his breath.
A switch clicked and a single bulb spilled dingy yellow light over drab, damp-streaked walls; a splintered, bare floor. A window was covered by black cloth, clumsily nailed. On a wooden kitchen table there were chipped plates, a half-cut loaf of bread, some slices of ham on greasy paper. Dan looked at these and his spine prickled as he realized that the man for whom it had been intended would never finish that meal.
Marge was at the further wall, facing him. Her fur coat was gone and a filmy, gossamer frock only half concealed the rounded, voluptuous curves of a youthful body. Long lashes drooped sensuously over her lustrous gray eyes, and a tiny smile just touched the wings of her lips. But the grim gas-gun was firmly gripped in one hand, while the other fumbled, oddly, behind her back.
Something grated, and Dan was startled to see the solid-seeming wall move. A panel lifted like the curtain of a marionette theater, and a square black hole gaped behind the woman.
Light filtered into the wall-hole, edged a trunk-like box, steel bound. Marge gestured to it with her weapon. "Get it out. Quickly. We haven't much time... tide's full in an hour."
The box was heavier than Dan had thought. It scraped out and thudded to the floor. He turned to her. Her under-lip was caught by pointed little teeth, her eyes glared feverishly. "Take it out to the car." She snapped the command.
Dan heaved the case to his shoulder, staggered out. What was she up to, where was she taking him, taking the chest? What was in store for him when she no longer needed him? The black gas? Why go all through this if that were so? Why not drop the thing, turn on her, take a chance on one good blow before the mummy death claimed him? Yes... His muscles knotted.
"Put it in the back seat." No, not now... It would be suicide, and Dan didn't want to die. Not like that, anyway—not as those policemen had died, and the guard out here... He'd get a break later. He'd wait for it.
"And now, Dan darling, for our honeymoon." Saccharine sentiment, mocking, slurred her contralto. "Drive me to your ship, my dear."
Lorraine twisted, his fists clenching. "My ship!" He had been overawed, powerless under the incongruous threat of her somehow reptilian beauty and the doomful omen of the gas-gun. But when she menaced his craft... "I'll be damned if I will!" he said.
Her face was a white mask, a Medusa's head that turned him to stone, and the black gun, lifted, was a tunnel of doom. Only her eyes were alive. Gazing into them Dan saw hell itself leering at him. Suddenly the strength went out of his limbs. "All right," he gulped.
COUNTRY roads ran under the wheels of the car, endlessly, and as endlessly the treadmill of his thoughts ran through the seaman's brain.
The small houses at the edge of Granport flicked past, then they were in the city. Two police officers on a corner looked at the gray car curiously, and never knew how near death had passed them by. The car vibrated to the cobbles of Exterior Street, curved into the shadows of the pier where the Lomand lay, slithered to a halt. Marge whispered, and Dan called, choking, "Ahoy the Lomand! Turn out the crew. We sail at once. And get down here for a trunk out of this car."
"Mister Carem's not aboard, sir."
The gun poked into Dan's side. "The mate's joining us at New Scotia," he said quickly. "My wife's taking his bunk till there."
His crew was well trained. In minutes Dan was moving along a dim deck to the after house, Marge close beside him. Bill Hallam, the thick-necked boatswain, had peered curiously at the woman Dan introduced as his wife, had mumbled evasive congratulations. Then he had gotten the mysterious box out of the rear, had slung it easily to his shoulder. He was padding behind them now. Below deck, the Diesels thrummed.
Fine fellows, these men of his, shipmates for the five years he had owned and commanded the Lomand. Friends rather than subordinates. Dan felt oddly hopeful, despite the gas-gun that he knew still threatened him from the concealment of Marge's wrap. They'd sense something was wrong, he was sure, would soon realize that he was not master of his own ship. Only one familiar with the sea could prevent his giving some sign to them that he needed help.
That remark of his about New Scotia, for instance... Once out of the harbor the helmsman would become aware that the course he laid would not take them there. Lorraine grinned covertly. The she-devil had overreached herself by pirating his vessel. He had been wise to wait...
The Lomand was designed for compactness and a minimum crew. Perched on her high stern, the after house included the officer's cabins, the chartroom and, in a recess, jutting forward from the latter, the wheelhouse and bridge-telegraph. Midship was the single well-deck with its derricks, and forward the bow rose to the tiny fo'c'sle. Below were the cargo holds and the engine room. No bunkers were needed; the Diesel's fuel was carried in the skin of the ship's double bottom as ballast. A trim ship, well found...
Dan grimaced inwardly as Hallam thumped the heavy chest down on the floor of the chartroom.
"Send Hal Keegan forward to take the wheel, and prepare to cast off."
"Aye, aye sir." The sailor turned on his heels, went out into the dark. Dan turned to the woman.
"You're doing fine." She smiled slowly. "Get out of the harbor and I'll tell you what to do next. I'm going into this room." She indicated the mate's cabin—"but don't forget I'm keeping the door and my ears open, and the gun ready."
Grizzled Keegan came in, his weatherworn eyes devoted. Dan gestured him to the wheel, picked up his megaphone. "Stand by to cast off," he ordered.
His heart had lightened momentarily as the routine of leaving port proceeded along its familiar course. Then his eye fell on the chest, and he remembered the girl sitting in the darkened cabin, the gas-gun with its charge of horrible death clutched in her slim fingers. Fear tightened once more around his heart. What wild scheme was brewing in her distorted, evil brain? Where was she taking his ship, his crew?
Riding light, the Lomand pitched a bit to the swells as her prow cut across choppy water. The sky had thickened. Except for the channel lights the dark was impenetrable, velvety. Silver Head's white-green-white winked by.
"Hold her head Nor' nor'east," ordered Dan. He jerked away from Keegan's "Aye, sir," as he felt a touch on his arm.
"Where are we, darling?" Keegan would scarcely notice the mocking tone.
"Out of the harbor—on the open sea."
"Then you have time to talk to me. Come back here, please."
Her right hand was hidden under a long cape. Dan knew what it held. He stepped back into the gloom.
"What course do you want me to lay?" he whispered. Anywhere but south-by-east, he prayed, the direction of New Scotia. Keegan had gumption, would obey the orders without a word, but when he was relieved he'd carry the news forward of the captain's aberration. And then—maybe things would happen.
"Wait." Reflection from the binnacle-lamp just edged her face with luminance. Dan saw uneasily that she was looking at the helmsman, five feet away, and that her eyes glittered strangely. Her arm came out from under the cloak—and abruptly Lorraine knew what she was about to do. He started toward her...
Black smoke poured from the gun's orifice—not at him, but at old Hal, intent on the compass! It blotted out the light there, billowed around the stalwart figure of the old tar. The ship yawned as shriveled hands let the wheel twirl.
Feet pounded along the deck below and someone called, "Is anything wrong, sir?"
Dan was voiceless with horror, staring at the prostrate, distorted form of his old shipmate sprawling out of the—death-cloud. The gun swept around to him. "Tell him no. Quickly!" Marge snapped, and her face twitched with fierce threat. "Or I'll blast you, and him, and all the others!"
"No, Bill. Hal slipped, that's all. You can turn in now."
"Aye, aye, sir." The shadowy form turned away.
"Take hold of it, quick. Fix it!"
No denying the urgency in her command. Dan leaped to the wheel, twirled it back till the swinging compass-card showed the ship was back on the course he had set. "What did poor Keegan ever do to you? Why did you do that?"
"Because I wanted to be alone with you..." Another kaleidoscopic change had come into the strange woman's tone. It throbbed now with languor, with tingling promise.
Dan kept his gaze steadily ahead, while his brain raced. He had been weak, a fool. He should have let her kill him back there at the house. His great body shook to the pound of his heart. He must find some way to circumvent her, to save his crew from her murder-lust.
"I didn't want anyone else in here," she said. "Look, you can do something to that thing so you don't have to hold it, can't you?"
That suited him, it would leave him free for the desperate attempt he meditated. Deftly he adjusted the requisite fastenings and turned.
Marge had retreated to his cabin, had snapped on a light within. She was just within the doorway. Her free hand went to her neck, her fingers jerked at a collar fastening. The long, dark cloak that had covered her slipped to the floor. Dan gasped, his cheeks burned hotly.
Bared white shoulders sloped to a heaving chest that swelled in turn to rounded breasts. An abbreviated, silken garment made pretense of concealing deep, voluptuous hips, and its lacy lower edge frilled along the tops of white thighs whose flat muscles pulsed...
The shaken man forced his eyes away, forced them up to the woman's face... Her perfect lips were half-parted with strange ecstasy; the pink membrane within her flaring nostrils was startling against the dead whiteness of her skin. Her eyes had darkened, were narrowed and slumberous, alight with promise.
Dan's fingernails cut into his palms, his tongue licked dryness. "God!" he groaned.
Triumph twitched minutely at the corners of Marge's mouth. "Dan," she husked. "Dan. Come..."
In his wrists, his temples, Lorraine's pulse throbbed painfully. At the inner bend of his great arms the very skin ached with longing for her. Step by step he went toward her, and desire blazed in his shaken soul, blotted out memory, fear...
One little cell in his reeling brain noted that the black gun still swung at the end of one nude arm, that one finger was still curled about its trigger.
He was within the warm aroma of her, the fire within him leaped to meet her fire. She was in his arms, pressed close to him. They were one flame, swirling...
For a single instant Dan's vision cleared. He was facing outward through the door of the cabin. Light lay in a broad band across the dark chart-room floor, just reached the prostrate form of Keegan. From the brown, parchment horror of that which had been the old sailor's face two black pits stared up at his captain, and shriveled lips seemed to move...
"Dan," the woman on his breast sobbed. "Dan, my love. You will take me far away—and I will make you rich. We will be so happy, Dan, together. So happy. Kiss me, Dan." Her head turned upward, he saw deep down into the depths of her eyes where passion burned. Her hot lips sought, found his...
Dan's palm drifted slowly down the coolness of her arm that hung loosely along her side, felt its skin quiver to his touch. Her wrist-pulse pounded...
Dan's fingers touched cold metal. They clenched and jerked... The barrel of the gun was in his hand, was free!
The muscles of his other arm exploded, flung the girl from him. She reeled across the cabin, stopped herself, twisting. She haunched and sprang at him, like a white panther, her hands clawing, her eyes a blaze of silent fury.
The leap was unexpected, lightning like. Dan had no time to reverse the gun, to use it if he could. He slashed it as a club at the woman's head. She twisted in mid-air, dodging it, and thudded against him. Her nails raked across his cheeks.
Dan staggered back, the gun jarred from his insecure grip by the impact. He glimpsed it skidding across the floor, out of the hatchway, and the woman swarmed over him, snarling, biting, scratching, a naked maelstrom of fury.
They crashed about the cabin. Dan recovered himself, got a grip on the woman, thrust her away from him.
"You fool," she snarled, gasping. "You damned fool!" Her face was contorted, fiendish. Her nails ripped for his eyes, and his jerked-back head barely avoided them. He rolled, bringing her under him, got his hands on her arms, holding her down, helpless.
"Fool!" she spat at him. "You're throwing away what a hundred men would have given their lives to get!" She writhed under his grip, but it held.
Dan's hand lifted, fisting, but murderous fiend as she was, he could not crash it down into a woman's face. Her head lifted, her teeth clicked viciously a half-inch from his arm. He slapped her cheek, open-handed. Her head thumped against board. She was motionless...
Lorraine lifted himself, glanced around. A coil of light sounding-line hung from a hook on the bulkhead. In seconds his deft sailor's hand had trussed her arm, her leg.
As he finished, her eyes opened. Tears glinted in them. Her voice was like a little child's grieving. "I thought," she sobbed, "you would take me away to peace—and love..."
Dan did not reply. Abruptly he realized that a strange silence brooded over the vessel, that the quiet thrum of the Diesels was stilled. Queer! He strode across the chartroom floor to the engine-room speaking tube, jerked its mouthpiece.
"Tom," he called. "What's wrong?"
He listened. No answering voice came from the tube. "Tom! Joe!" he yelled. "What the hell's the matter?"
Dead silence answered him.
The Lomand was drifting, no way on her. From somewhere in his subconscious Dan pulled recollection of a distant shout, sometime during his struggle with Marge—a shout of terror. He plunged to the after house entrance, looked out over the dark, silent deck, toward the black loom of the forecastle.
"Hallam," he bawled. "Bill!"
He might have commanded a ship of the dead, for all the response he got. Icy fingers clutched his heart. What had occurred aboard while he had been engrossed with melodrama in his own quarters, what had happened to his crew?
Minute sound, an almost unhearable thud, came to his ears, pulled his eyes to the oblong of the engine-room hatch, somber against the glimmer of the deck.
Dan pounded down the after house companion, to that dim opening. He peered down into darkness, his scalp tightening.
"Tom," he bawled, and listened. Only the swash of bilge-water in the Lomand's scuppers answered him. The ship lurched drunkenly, and Dan heard the thump of something soft below.
The smell of grease stung his nostrils, of hot oil. And another odor, sweetish, vaguely familiar. The smell of blood. Dan swallowed, let himself down the ladder. There was a switch just here... He found it, clicked it on.
Dan was staring, white faced, at what lay on the grating at his feet. A stocky form in blue dungarees, supine, limp. A head pulped, smashed beyond human recognition as a human head. A bloodstained spanner, and a sloshing pool of gore in which lay all that was left of Tom Bailey, engineer!
DAN LORRAINE pulled the back of his hand across his forehead, but he didn't know it. An iron band was around his brow, and shivers ran through his stalwart frame. The woman, Marge, couldn't have done this—she had neither opportunity nor strength. Who, then...?
An eerie feeling that something lurked in the gloom, that someone was watching him warily, came dully through the murk of Dan's stunned brain. His eyes shifted, tried to probe the mystery. There was nothing to see back there but darkness. The captain half-crouched, moved forward around the corner of the motor.
A thin thread of yellow luminance sifted through crossbars, pistons of the Diesel. It fell across a black heap ominously motionless, slumped over a guard rail. Dan moved closer, his spine prickling. A white face looked up at him—the face of Joe Neill. But beneath its chin was the black-shirted back of the oiler! Lorraine rocked back on his heels. Some tremendous force had twisted Joe's head clear around on his shoulders!
In the dead man's unblinking eyes was mirrored horrors; soul-shattering fear. From the corner of his mouth saliva drooled...
What was that? Dan whirled to the scraping, furtive sound at his left.
He stared at the blank, sheer wall of the engine-room bulkhead. It was from there the sound had come! Whatever, whoever had slain these men this brutally must be in the cargo hold beyond!
There was an entrance to the hold right ahead, little used. Dan's eyes found its dim outline, stared at it. It was closed. His fingers opened, shut. He was weaponless; the killer was powerful, merciless...
Dan got the flat of his hand on the bulkhead panel, shoved sidewise. Dim luminance spilled only a little way into the hold ahead; beyond was Stygian gloom. Dan's hand came up, jutting to simulate the blunt barrel of an automatic.
"Come out of there," he boomed. "I've got you covered."
His voice plunged, reverberant, into emptiness. Its drum-thump ceased, and nothing happened. But far forward, where the hull of the vessel pinched in to its knifelike prow, something moved.
A chuckle came out of the blackness. "Come and get me," someone husked.
Distorted, strangely blurred, Dan knew that voice! It belonged to a man whom he had seen killed! His mind flung back to the two dead men behind him. Tom Bailey, an all but headless corpse! Joe Neill, his head twisted as nothing natural could have twisted it! In God's name, what was it that hid in the blackness?
Again that gruesome, grim chuckle! Dan lunged, suddenly, lunged through the open hatch and into blackness. Darted, at a lumbering run, toward that unearthly chuckle!
"I'll get you," he howled defiantly.
Crash! The heavy bulkhead door had crashed shut behind him, shutting off light! Dan whirled around.
A mocking, hoarse laugh sounded hollowly, like the laugh of a dead man, come back for vengeance!
Fiend from hell, or living madman, ghost or human, Dan was shut in with the killer, shut in a pitch-dark hold, closeted with weird and horrible death. For death was here—death turned pirate—death that had conquered the Lomand, all but its master, and hunted that master now. Panic seized Lorraine, swept through him like an icy flood, and ebbed.
Of course. His lips twisted, he almost shouted aloud. If he could not see the killer in that absolute darkness neither could the other see him. And this was his ship. He knew every inch of it. Craftiness born in utter fear came to the sailor's aid. If that which stalked him were human at all, the advantage was on his side. This was his ship!
Softly, softly, with never a sound, Dan moved through that darkness. Silently, though every nerve was taut, every muscle quivering.
At last his foot found the ladder rung that was his goal. He whirled, darted up the companion! His hands, lifting above his head, struck the hatch-cover he knew was there, thrust it up and over. A final lunge and he was out on the deck. The hatch-cover crashed down again and Lorraine's quick fingers had battened it down.
Now the other, the engine-room hatch, the only other way out for the killer. Dan lifted, whirled aft to dash to that. And saw a white form flick across the window of the after house.
Good Lord! Marge was on her feet, was free! Marge! Killer too! And the gun, the gas-gun was somewhere there, on cabin floor or companionway. If she found that! Dan swerved in his run, sprang up the bridge companionway, plunged through the door of the chart-room.
The woman, still unclothed lifted to him from her searching stoop. "You," she snarled. She backed to the further wall. "You!"
Dan's eyes flicked around the cabin, saw cut rope on the floor, saw the sharp blade of Tom Keegan's knife.
He started in. He must overcome her, truss her up again, get back to the engine-room hatch and fasten that before the other killer could find his way up and out. "Come here, you she-devil."
Crash! Something thudded against his skull from behind. The world exploded in whirling stars. Dan tottered, sank to one knee, shook his head to clear it. He wasn't out, but he hung there, not up, not down, and his legs, his arms would not obey the frantic commands of his brain.
A shadow fell across him. Great Jupiter! It was Pete, huge, repellant, his face blood-bathed. Pete whom they had left, weltering in mud and gore, miles back across the tossing sea! His lips were drawn back in a bestial snarl, his eyes blood-shot. And in his hairy hand the thick black muzzle of the gas-gun snouted! The gas-gun—Pete, ghost or living man, had found it!
But Pete wasn't looking at him, the gun was not pointed at him. Its black muzzle was aimed at Marge; at Marge, standing statuesque in her near-nakedness.
Miraculously, the fear was gone from her face. She was smiling, actually smiling...
"Hello Pete," she said, quite calmly. "Where did you come from?"
"From hell." The man's voice was hoarse, pain-shot. "By way of the big trunk on the back of your car, and the stinking hold of this lousy ship. I came from hell, to take you back with me."
Oddly enough Dan found that he could think quite clearly, though his limbs were paralyzed. The man, sorely wounded, had dragged himself a quarter of a mile to the hangout, had gotten into the car-trunk while the two were inside! But Marge was talking...
"I'll go with you, Pete," she said, "but not there. Look..." Her movement, as always was lightning quick. She had bent, flung back the lid of the iron-bound chest, had lifted again. "Look, Pete, the loot's all here..."
The man's red eyes strayed to the chest, but the gun remained cocked, steady on Marge. Dan looked too, saw bundles of green bills, a coruscating heap of gems, flashing a blaze of color. "It's all here, Pete, all that your mob collected while we kept Granport dazed, and we won't have to split it."
The big man grunted. "No. I won't have to split it. You're through, double-crosser. You're through. You're going to get the mummy death you gave the cops."
"Wait!" Marge said sharply. "Wait!" Dan could see her breast heave, but her face was calm, steady. "That isn't for me, Pete. Not for me. It was for the cops that hauled me into their back room and gave me the third degree trying to get a line on Stan Kanio. For the cops that blasted down Stan when he was all through and going away with me to run straight. But it's not for me."
"Oh yes it is," Pete growled. "I'm going to use it on you and then I'll laugh while you lie there, your pretty skin brown paper, your eyes white marbles." His mouth twisted. "White marbles—they won't haunt my dreams any longer..."
Marge moved a little, and a sinuous wave ran through her body. Dan saw Pete's eyes flame. "Oh yes, they'll haunt you, Pete. They'll haunt you, and my lips that you might have kissed, and my body that might have been yours—if you hadn't destroyed it. Look!"
Her white arms rose and fell, her hair dropped, a cascade of red gold, snaked along her white, glorious shoulders, slid lower till it half-cloaked the glow of her body. The semi-concealment enhanced, somehow, the lure of her, the blood-heating aura that shimmered about her. "You can't destroy this..." she purred, and came closer to Pete. "Not this..."
Lorraine could see the terrible struggle in the blood-smeared visage above him, the killer-lust fighting with that other lust the white form of the woman engendered. "You can still have it, Pete. You can have me and the loot your mob gathered while the cops shivered for fear of us."
She moved slowly closer, while Pete's thick lips worked. "You'll double-cross me again," he growled.
"I won't!" She was very close to him now. "Wasn't I straight with Stan in those police back rooms? Wasn't I straight with Stan even after they murdered him? You wanted me, Pete—and"—her eyes were veiled—"I wanted you, but I told you you had to wait till I had avenged him, till I'd made them pay for what they did to me. And now"—her fingers touched the gun in his hand—"if you don't use this we can both have what we wanted..." Her hand closed around it. "Or you can pull the trigger and have only the loot. Go ahead, Pete." Her voice throbbed, challenging. "Pull it."
"I can't," Pete groaned. "I can't—God help me!" She had the gun now. "Marge—" His big-thewed arms spread wide. "Come to—"
She leaped back. "I'll come—like hell!" The fiend was in her eyes again. "You devil... I found out yesterday that it was you that tipped the police to Stan's getaway, so they'd kill him and leave me for you. Well... I did a bum job with the knife, but this won't fail."
"No, Marge. No!" the man shrieked.
The black discharge of the gun caught him as he jumped. A single scream came from within the ebony cloud, and the thud of a falling body.
The woman slipped around the edge of the thinning cloud. Her eyes darted to Dan, still half-crouched. "Now you!"
Dan exploded from his crouch. His fist flailed the gun from her hand, he crashed into her.
They catapulted across the cabin, crashed against the bunk. Dan heard the sickening snap of bone, felt the woman's form go limp beneath him. He pulled himself away, saw gray eyes glazing in a white face, saw blood dyeing red lips.
Those lips moved. "Stan," she whispered. "Stan dear. Wait for me... I'm coming to you. And the cops can't get us there..." The great glazing gray eyes looked up into Dan's face, a smile touched the pain-tortured mouth. "Stan!... You've come for me." A white arm swung up, swung around Dan's neck, pulled his head down. "Kiss me, Stan dear..."
And with pity strong within his heart, he kissed her...
The bloody lips against which his own were pressed went suddenly cold. The form within his arms quivered, was still.
Looking up, Dan Lorraine saw, through a porthole, drab dawn break in a clouded sky.
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