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Title: The Suicide Squad - Dead Or Alive Author: Emile C. Tepperman * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 0603901h.html Language: English Date first posted: Jul 2006 Most recent update: Aug 2016 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
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ON OCTOBER 1, John Stafford, mayor of Hill City, was shot and instantly killed by a dope-crazed assassin named Dill.
The next in line for the mayoral job was Lawrence Hall, president of the City Council. But, for some unaccountable reason, Hall refused the honor. In order to avoid becoming mayor, he resigned from the City Council and left at once for Florida, taking his wife and son with him.
It now became the duty of Judge Samuel Rotherwell, chief justice of the Superior Court, to appoint someone to fill the unexpired term of the mayoralty until the next election. There were a number of substantial business men and civic leaders in Hill City whom Justice Rotherwell might have chosen. But to the amazement and consternation of everyone, he named—Hugo Bledd.
That was how the Era of Terror came to Hill City.
Hugo Bledd owned the Hill City Race Track. He was a disbarred lawyer who had dipped his fingers in almost every form of shady activity. He had been disbarred for conspiracy to help a notorious racketeer client defraud the government of two million dollars in income taxes. And when his racketeer client went to jail, Bledd had continued to manage the vast sub rosa enterprises of the Big Shot. Disbarment meant nothing to him, as long as he was able to keep out of jail... And this was the man whom Justice Rotherwell appointed to be mayor of Hill City!
Naturally, there was a good deal of criticism. The editor of the morning Journal announced that he would ask the Governor to look into it. But that night, the editor of the Journal was accosted by a group of thugs, who beat him with a lead pipe and left him unconscious in the street. The same night, there where a dozen other assaults upon citizens who might have been expected to oppose the appointment.
Hugo Bledd was sworn in the next day. He demanded the immediate resignation of the police commissioner, as well as of all the other commissioners who had been appointed by the preceding mayor.
He also discharged a great number of the older policemen and detectives, claiming that the police department needed revamping.
Then there began an influx of strange and ugly looking men into Hill City. From all parts of the country they came—men with tight lips and killers' eyes, men with guns bulging under their armpits, men who had done time in all the major prisons. Before the city awoke to its peril, it was in the grip of as vicious a mob of storm troopers as had ever taken possession of a European land.
One of these new arrivals, a man named Rory Fenn, was appointed police commissioner. Fenn immediately swore in a hundred of the newly-arrived thugs as policemen and detectives, raising some of them to captains' and inspectors rank over the heads of the old-timers on the force.
The next day, at the meeting of the City Council, a contingent of these uniformed thugs was present in the meeting room. Significantly also, seven of the thirty-nine councilmen were absent. Two of the seven were dead. The other five were in the hospital, so badly injured that they would not be able to leave their beds for weeks.
Little wonder, then, that those councilmen present quickly voted to pass all the measures submitted by Mayor Hugo Bledd. A tax was imposed on all business transactions in the city, as well as on all pay checks. The money derived from this tax was to be placed in a relief fund, to be administered by the Mayor. In addition, Mayor Bledd was given the power to create five hundred new appointive positions on the police force and in other city departments, the salaries to be fixed by himself.
By the time the Council meeting was over, absolute dictatorial powers had been voted to Hugo Bledd. His thugs, wearing their brand new police uniforms, began making the rounds of all the retail stores in the city, selling tickets for a mythical police ball, at ten dollars each. No one refused to buy.
As if by magic, gambling houses opened over-night. Slot machines appeared in every store and hotel lobby. Bookmakers began to transact business openly. Night clubs advertised obscene burlesque entertainment. Beady-eyed, slick-haired men began to peddle marijuana cigarettes near the public schools.
A fortune began to pour into the private coffers of Hugo Bledd and Associates.
SOME few citizens still dared to voice an objection. Among these was Norton Gregg, district attorney of Hill County, who was not an appointee of the mayor, but was an elected State official. He drew up an indictment to present to the grand jury, but Judge Rotherwell refused to allow him to present it. He was blocked.
Angrily, he Ieft Judge Rotherwell's chambers and hurried to his office. He put through a long-distance call to Governor Daniel Elsing at the State capitol.
"Dan," he exclaimed hotly, "you've got to do something. It—it's fantastic, unbelievable. Bledd and his crew are looting the city. They're making it the crime headquarters of the whole country. You've got to stop it!"
"What do you want me to do, Norton?" Governor Elsing asked.
"Declare martial law in Hill City!" District Attorney Gregg exploded. "Send in the troops—"
"You know I can't do that," the governor interrupted, "unless the request comes from the mayor."
"Well—well—" Gregg fumbled for ideas—"call a special session of the Legislature to appoint an investigating committee."
"Sorry, Norton, I can't do that either. You forget that this State has home rule. The demand for a special session has to come from the local authorities."
District Attorney Gregg gripped the phone blindly. He ran his free hand through his fast-graying hair. "Good Lord, Dan, there must be something we can do. The law is being violated every minute. And Rotherwell—I don't know what's come over him. He's as honest a judge as I've known, yet he blocks my every move!"
"Why don't you call the F.B.I.?" Governor Elsing suggested. "Perhaps they can find a way."
District Attorney Gregg's hands were trembling as he hung up. For a long time he sat staring blankly into space. Then he picked up the phone once more and said harshly, "National—5303!"
In a moment, he was talking with the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, of the United States Department of Justice.
He talked for twenty-five minutes. At the end of that time he sighed and said, "Then there's no legal way in which you can send Federal agents here to break this up?"
"I'm sorry," he heard the director say. "There is no evidence of violation of a federal law. But wait. There's one thing I may be able to do. I have three men in the department who work independently, on a roving assignment. I'll ask them if they'd be willing to accept a furlough and go into Hill City as private individuals. I'm almost sure they'd accept—they're that kind..."
District Attorney Gregg interrupted: "Good Lord, are you mad? Three men! What can three men do—"
He stopped as he heard the director's voice in bleak amusement. "You don't know these, three men, Gregg. If they accept, they'll arrive in Hill City tomorrow, and contact you. Their names? Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw!"
SLIGHTLY bewildered, Attorney Gregg put down the phone. He didn't know what to think. The names the F. B. I. director had mentioned meant nothing to him. He felt tired, beaten, let down. There was no place he could turn for help. Still, he'd keep on fighting....
The door of his office was thrust violently open, and four men entered. Their leader was a big, bull-necked man with a flat nose and a pair of mean and vicious eyes which looked out from under bushy, unkempt eyebrows. Gregg recognized him as Rory Fenn, the new police Commissioner. The other three were in plain clothes, but they were wearing new badges pinned to the lapels of their coats. They were no more prepossessing than their commissioner. They were three of the thugs who had been appointed to police posts—Hugo Bledd's storm troopers.
None of the four said a word. But there was something ominous in the way they stared at District Attorney Gregg.
Slowly, Rory Fenn crossed the room to the desk. One of his men remained at the door. The other two came around the desk and stationed themselves on either side of Gregg's chair.
A little line of perspiration appeared upon Gregg's forehead.
"What do you want?" he asked hoarsely, looking up across the desk at Rory Fenn.
Fenn didn't reply at once. He glanced around the office, then his gaze returned to the gray-haired district attorney.
"Get up!" he said.
"See here, Fenn," Norton Gregg exclaimed indignantly, "you have no right to come in here with your bullies—"
Fenn said, "Shut up!"
He leaned across the desk, and a big, hairy hand came up in a swift, open-handed blow to the side of Gregg's face The slap sounded like the crack of a whip.
Gregg was thrown sideways, almost off his chair, but the two thugs standing alongside him caught him under the arms and hauled him to his feet. They dragged him to the middle of the room, facing Fenn.
"You've been making a nuisance of yourself, Gregg," Fenn told him, in that cold, toneless voice of his. "Your switchboard operator just tipped us off that you called the boss G-man in Washington. Now we'll show you what we do with guys who make trouble for us."
He drove his fist into District Attorney Gregg's face. All the power of his beefy body was packed behind the blow.
Gregg's breath escaped in a rush as his head was snapped back. His nose began to bleed. He would have sagged to the floor but for the support of the two thugs.
Fenn reached out and took a grip on Gregg's gray hair with one hand, pulling his head up, then drove his fist once more into the hapless man's face. This time he split both the upper and the lower lip.
Gregg squirmed, trying to break loose from the two ruffians who held him, but he was like a child in their hands. They laughed at his feeble efforts, and held him up while Rory Fenn smashed blow after blow into his face, gashing his cheek, lacerating his lips, loosening teeth, flattening his nose. Soon, Gregg's face was unrecognizable, bloody and battered. Twice they stopped and threw water on him to revive him, then continued.
At last, Rory Fenn's lips twisted in a smile of satisfaction. Gregg was hanging limp between the two gunmen, and blood was dripping over his clothes, down to the floor. He was moaning feebly.
"All right," said Rory Fenn.
The two thugs dragged their victim back behind the desk, and plumped him into the chair. Fenn got more water from the cooler, and splashed it across his face.
GREGG raised his head groggily. His eyes were puffed. "You devils!" he muttered. "You'll go to jail for this!"
Fenn laughed. "What jail, Gregg? We run the jail—like we run the rest of the town. Nobody goes in that we don't put in. Get wise to yourself. You can't buck Hugo Bledd. What you just got is only a sample. You play ball with us, or we'll really go to work on you."
"Never!" exclaimed Gregg, through swollen lips. "You'd better kill me now. Because if you don't, I swear I'll get every one of you—"
Fenn's laughter shook the room. "You got a daughter, haven't you, Gregg?"
The district attorney's pain-wracked body stiffened.
"Susan! What—what about her?"
"How'd you like her to get a dose of what you just got?"
"No! God, no! You couldn't—"
"She's in jail, Gregg. We had her picked up on a charge of reckless driving. There's two of my boys outside her cell right now. All I have to do is pick up the phone and say one word—and they go to work on her!"
"You devil!" Gregg shouted, and sprang up.
Fenn laughed and, with an open-handed blow, smashed him back into the chair. Grinning, Fenn reached for the phone.
"Wait!" Gregg screamed.
Fenn stopped, with his hand on the phone. "Well?"
The district attorney's face was ghastly, clotted with blood, and torn with anguish. "Don't—don't hurt her. I—I'll do anything you ask."
"That's better!" grunted Fenn. "You'll write an article for the paper, saying that you had no right to draw up that indictment. You'll say that Hugo Bledd is a fine mayor for Hill City, and you'll urge everybody to get behind him and support him. You'll say that hereafter, as district attorney, you will vigorously prosecute anyone who attempts to oppose Mayor Bledd... And you'll write it now."
Slowly, with trembling hands, District Attorney Norton Gregg took paper and pen and began to write. He was a beaten and broken man.
"You—you'll not hurt Susan?" he begged.
"Not if you do what you're told," Fenn assured him.
When Gregg had finished, Fenn took the paper and put it in his pocket.
"Now," he said, "pick up that phone and call the F. B. I. Tell 'em to forget the whole thing. Tell 'em you were talking through your hat."
Gregg obeyed. In a moment he was talking once more with the director of the F. B. I. He spoke for only a short while, and then he hung up, lifting a battered face to Fenn.
"It's too late," he said. "Those three men have just left. They took the train for Hill City. They'll arrive at 7:40 tonight."
"Three men?" Fenn asked, puzzled.
"Yes. They're coming unofficially."
"Ah, so!" said Fenn, his eyes glittering under the thick brows. "And their names?"
"Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw."
Fenn repeated the names thoughtfully. "Kerrigan and Murdoch and Klaw, eh? Well, we'll handle them. They shouldn't be any trouble at all. As for you, Gregg, go home and stay there till your face gets better. And watch your step!"
"Your daughter stays in jail. We'll cook up a couple more charges to hold her on. And in case we should become dissatisfied with the way you work for us, why—" to emphasize what he meant, he smashed his right fist into the palm of his left hand—"whack!" He winked. "Get the idea, Gregg?"
He turned and motioned to the gunman at the door. "You stay with Mister Gregg, Patsy. Go home with him. You'll be a sort of—er—bodyguard for him, in case he gets any notions. I'll send someone to relieve you at night."
Patsy grinned. "A pleasure, Mister Commissioner!" he said.
Rory Fenn went out, followed by the other two thugs.
"Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw!" he was saying amusingly as he walked down the hall. "Three guys who think they can work wonders! Well, well! We'll have to give them a little idea of what it's all about!"
WHEN the Washington train arrived at Hill City at 7:40, Stephen Klaw emerged from it alone. As he made his way from the train platform to the vast concourse of the brilliantly lighted Union Station, his hands were dug deep in his coat pockets. He walked with an easy, swinging stride.
Stephen Klaw was so slim and wiry that one might have taken him, at first glance, for a kid just out of college. One good look at his cold, slate-gray eyes, though, would have told anyone that here was no callow youth, but a trained fighting man.
He appeared to be lost in thought as he made his way across the station toward the row of telephone booths. Yet he did not fail to notice the four hard-faced men standing near the information booth in the center of the station. The dominant figure in the group was a huge brute of a chap, with a flat nose and black, vicious eyes under heavy, bushy brows. Two of the others looked like thugs, but there was the flash of shields under their carelessly opened coats. The fourth was a small, pinch-faced man with frightened eyes. Klaw knew that one. It was Neddy Teek, who had once done time in Leavenworth for impersonating a Federal officer. Klaw had arrested him. He guessed that Teek was here for the sole purpose of identifying him.
On the way to the phone booths, Klaw allowed his glance to swing around the entire area of the spacious concourse. He spotted a big, blond, narrow-waisted man with the shoulders of a stevedore, sitting on a bench and reading a newspaper. Another man, dark and handsome, with the lithe grace of a jungle beast, was standing at the magazine stand, talking with the sales girl.
Both those men gave Stephen Klaw a quick, almost imperceptible nod. Klaw went on as if he had not seen them, and entered one of the phone booths in the row against the east wall.
He inserted a nickel in the phone, and dialed a number. Watching out of the corner of his eye, he saw the four men at the information desk walking over toward the booth. The little, pinch—faced informer turned and made for the street exit, as if he wanted no part of what was to follow. The big fellow with the flat nose hurried over and stepped into the booth next to Klaw's, while the other two loitered just outside, their right hands fidgeting up near their neckties.
Stephen Klaw smiled. He waited till he got his connection, and then spoke in a very loud voice, so that the man in the next booth would have no trouble hearing.
"Hello. Is this District Attorney Gregg?"
A thin, faltering voice came back to him over the wire: "Yes. This is Gregg."
"This is Stephen Klaw. I've just arrived at Union Station, and I'm contacting you according to instructions. Where can I meet you?"
There was a moment's silence. Then Gregg said, "I'm very sorry, Mr. Klaw, but the situation has changed since I spoke to your director. There is really nothing you can do here in Hill City. I—I'm afraid I was laboring under a misapprehension. Mayor Bledd has done nothing illegal. Please forget the whole matter."
KLAW'S eyes narrowed. He lowered his voice. "Did they get to you, Mr. Gregg? Did they put the screws on you?"
"Can you talk freely now?"
"Is someone there with you?"
"Can you answer my questions?"
"All right. Do you still want to go on with this thing?"
"Have they got something on you?"
"Well, not exactly."
"All right," said Steve. "Don't go away. I'll be over to talk to you."
"No, no!" Gregg exclaimed. "You mustn't. You must leave Hill City by the next train, and go back to Washington. You must drop the whole thing—"
"Sure," said Stephen Klaw, raising his voice once more. "I'll drop it after I've cleaned it up! Good-bye, Mr. Gregg."
He hung up, pushed open the door of the booth, and stepped out.
At the same time, the flat-nosed man came out of the next booth. He signaled to the two thugs, and they moved in swiftly, arranging themselves on either side of Klaw. The one on the left grinned and pulled back his coat, showing a badge. In his right hard he held a gun.
"This is an arrest, mister," he said.
Steve smiled pleasantly. "How nice! What's the charge?"
Fenn pushes around in front of him. "You'll hear the charge soon enough, Mister Klaw!" he said. "Come on!"
He turned and led the way, not to the street, but toward the south end of the building, where the executive offices of the railroad station were located. The two thugs seized Klaw's arms, and propelled him after Fenn.
Steve allowed himself to be led across the station. Several people turned to stare at the group, eyeing the naked guns in the hands of the two thugs. But no one dared to interfere or to ask questions, for the city had already been given a taste of the brutality of Mayor Bledd.
Rory Fenn led the way up a flight of stairs, and pushed open the door marked, "Public Relations Manager."
He grinned and said, "I got the railroad to lend me an office for this little interview. I'm sure you'll like it, Mister Klaw."
He waited until the two gunmen had brought Klaw inside, then he closed and locked the door.
"If this is an arrest," Steve suggested mildly, "you ought to take me to a station house."
Fenn looked him over thoughtfully. "When we get through with you, Mister Klaw," he said, "you won't care where you're taken." He motioned to the two thugs, "Grab him!"
Each of them seized one of Klaw's arms, holding him tight.
Fenn, grinning wickedly, raised his right fist, bunched in a hard knot. He smashed a blow at Steve's face.
Stephen Klaw's body did not move in the grip of the two gunmen. But his head jerked an inch or two to the right, and Fenn's huge fist whistled harmlessly past his ear. At the same time, Klaw's left foot kicked out in a lightning movement, catching Fenn squared in the shin.
The big bruiser uttered a yell of pain and began to dance around. The two gorillas held on to Steve.
Rory Fenn burst into a string of profanity and came lunging at Steve, with his big fist swinging viciously.
Someone began to pound on the door, and Fenn's fist stopped in midair.
"Who is it?" he growled.
"It's me—Neddy Teek!" the informer's whining voice came from the corridor. "Lemme in, quick, Rory!"
Fenn scowled and went to the door. He unlocked it and yanked it open. "What the hell do you want?"
The stumbling figure of Neddy Teek came hurtling into the room, propelled by a violent shove from behind.
And then, following Neddy, two men came into the room like thunderbolts, shoulder to shoulder, with guns in their hands and cold, set smiles on their lips. They were the big, blond man and the dark, handsome man who had exchanged nods with Klaw out in the station concourse. They were Johnny Kerrigan and Dan Murdoch—the other two-thirds of the Suicide Squad.
In one swift glance, Kerrigan and Murdoch sized up the situation in the room. They did not have to exchange a single word with Klaw. These three men had worked together so long that they operated like clockwork. They constituted the smoothest-running fighting machine that had ever come to grips with the overlords of crime. And their team-work was half the reason.
For instance, when they had left Washington that day, Klaw had taken the train, while Kerrigan and Murdoch had hopped the late plane, arriving an hour earlier. And Klaw had known, with supreme confidence, that his two sidekicks would be in the Union Station waiting for him, ready to back up any play he might make.
All three of them should have been dead long ago. It was a legend in the underworld that they went out seeking death deliberately—but that the Grim Reaper always appeared to be ducking them.
Unofficially, they were known as the Suicide Squad, the Three Black Sheep of the F. B. I. Johnny Kerrigan had once punched a Senator's son in the nose. Dan Murdoch had shot a croupier to death in a crooked gambling house, when the croupier thought he had the drop on Murdoch. And Stephen Klaw had once told a Congressional Investigating Committee to go to hell when it tried to reprimand him for shooting to kill in a fight with gangsters.
Any other three men guilty of such high misdemeanors would have been summarily dismissed from the service. But the personal reputations and accomplishments of Kerrigan and Murdoch and Klaw was such that public opinion would have been aroused to fury if they had been discharged. So the director of the F. B. I. had seized upon the excuse to retain them in the service. But as a sop to the powers that be, he had promised that they would not be assigned to any routine jobs in which they might give offense to people in high places. He had agreed that they would be used only for undertakings so dangerous that volunteers had to be asked for.
And that was the way Kerrigan and Murdoch and Klaw wanted it. No routine bank embezzlements or investment trust frauds for them. They lived dangerously, and they lived fast, and for them tomorrow was a day which might never come.
As they stood now in this room, Rory Fenn and those others must have felt something of the dynamic fearlessness and the challenge to life which these three breathed. Certainly the cringing Neddy Teek felt it.
He had fallen to the floor at Rory Fenn's feet, and he was whining, "I couldn't help it, Rory. I hadda trick you to open the door. These two guys are Kerrigan and Murdoch. I never saw them in the station, because I was watching the train gate. They grabbed me just now, and made me call out to you. If I hadn't done it, they'd have killed me."
Rory Fenn ripped out an oath, and went for his gun. At the same time, the two gorillas who were holding Steve Klaw let go of him and swung their own weapons to shoot at Kerrigan and Murdoch.
Dan Murdoch, with that grim smile still upon his dark and handsome face, fired once. The big gun jumped in his hand, and the hoodlum on Stephen Klaw's right was hurled backward as if he had been struck by a ten-ton sledgehammer. Simultaneously, an automatic appeared in Klaw's right hand, and somehow its muzzle was up and belching flame at the second thug. The shot caught the man in the left shoulder and spun him around like a weather-vane, with his arms outstretched. He went sliding across the floor and ended up against a desk, huddled on the carpet, and moaning. Klaw's gun and Murdoch's had barked almost in unison.
A split-second later, Johnny Kerrigan reached Rory Fenn in a flying leap. Fenn had his gun out of its holster. Johnny smashed down with his revolver, struck Fenn's wrist. The big bruiser let go of the gun, uttering a cry of pain. He stood disarmed, staring vindictively at Kerrigan.
Johnny chuckled, kicked the fallen gun over toward a corner. Then he looked at Klaw and said, "Hello, Shrimp. Looks like these lads aren't so tough after all."
DAN MURDOCH was blowing smoke out of his gun barrel. "What happened before we got here, Shrimp?" he asked.
"Nothing much," said Steve "Just that this nice man was telling me a few things. The interview was beginning to get interesting when you Mopes barged in."
He looked over at Fenn. "You can go on with that lecture you were giving me," he said amiably.
Rory Fenn glared at him. "You and your two pals are cooked," he rasped. He glanced over at his two gunmen, who were groaning on the floor and trying to stop the flow of blood from their wounds. "You can't get out of this station. I got police all around. There'll be a charge of assault with intent to kill. You three birds will go in the can—where we have ways of breaking tough guys!"
A crowd of people were running toward the room from all directions in the station, and among them were half a dozen uniformed patrolmen, as well as a couple of plain clothes men with riot guns.
Johnny Kerrigan closed the door in the faces of the mob and locked it. Then he turned around, grinning.
"Let's hear all about this jail of yours, mister," he said, and advanced ominously upon Fenn, putting his gun away. There was a hard glint in his eye.
Rory Fenn backed up. "Hey! What're you gonna do?"
"Why, as long as you're going to be so tough with us in your jail," Johnny said silkily, "I figure we might as well take it out on you in advance."
He feinted with his left; and Fenn blocked awkwardly. Johnny stepped in and smashed a right to Fenn's heart. It staggered him. The man was big, but he wasn't in condition. He began to gasp for breath from that single blow. All the weight of those powerful stevedore shoulders of Kerrigan's had been behind the punch.
Johnny stepped in after him, his big fists hammering like riveting machines—one, two—one; two—one, two. He bore the burly Rory Fenn backward until he ended up against the wall, trying ineffectually to cover himself. Johnny landed a sweet one on the button, and Fenn folded forward and sank to the floor, his eyes rolling.
Johnny massaged his knuckles, turned his back on the motionless figure of Fenn. He grinned.
Stephen Klaw nodded. "Very nice work, Mope. Only I would have enjoyed the privilege myself. Now—let's see about getting out of here."
The clamor outside the locked door had become terrific. Someone was shouting, "Open up! Open up or we'll shoot the lock out!"
ONE of the two wounded thugs was groaning, writhing on the floor in pain. The other had fainted. Rory Fenn did not move. But the pinch-faced Neddy Teek scrambled to his feet.
Dan Murdoch, who was nearest Teek, grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, and lifted him off the floor.
"Where do you think you're going?"
"Lemme go with you!" Neddy Teek gasped. "Rory Fenn will never forgive me for tricking him into opening the door. When he comes to, he—he'll beat my skull in!"
Murdoch let him down to the floor. "So you want to come with us?" He laughed harshly, and jerked his head toward the door, where they could hear the mob yelling.
"Hear that? When we go out of here, we go out shooting. You still want to come along?"
A sly look came into Teek's face. "You don't have to go out that way," he said.
Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw looked quickly at one another.
Neddy pointed to a closet door in the left wall of the office. "That ain't no closet. Rory looked over the layout here before figuring the play. He figured if the three of you came off the train together, he'd want some back way to get extra men in here, if necessary. That's why he picked this room. That door leads into a storeroom. There's another door there that takes you out to the Dispatcher's Room."
"Well!" said Murdoch. "In that case, what are we waiting for?"
A voice outside was bellowing. "Okay, turn that riot gun on the lock. Everybody stand back. Look out for ricochets!"
"Listen," said Johnny Kerrigan rebelliously. "Should we run away from a gang of yellow-bellies like those out there? I vote we go out the front way."
"Well," Murdoch said, with a speculative gleam in his eye, "you've got something there. Johnny. I believe we could account for a nice batch of those birds before they got us all—"
"No, no!" yelled Neddy Teek. "For God's sake, don't be fools. What's the use of getting yourselves killed? It'll leave me up in the air. Come on out the side way!"
Murdoch's eyes had an anticipatory look in them, which the others knew only too well. It was the familiar gleam that came when he began to smell a good fight. "What do you say, Shrimp?" he asked Klaw.
Neddy Teek whirled around to Steve. "Don't let them go out there, Mr. Klaw. For Gawd's sake, don't. How can you help anybody in this town if you're all dead?"
"I think he's right, Mopes," Klaw said to Kerrigan and Murdoch. "We owe it to Gregg, and the others in Hill City who need help, to stay alive. We go out the back way."
Johnny Kerrigan sighed regretfully.
"Okay, then. The back why it is."
An authoritative voice outside was calling, "You in there! We got a riot gun trained on the lock. We give you one minute to come out with your hands in the air—if you don't, we come in with guns blasting!"
Murdoch led Neddy Teek out through the storeroom door, going none too willingly. Klaw waited for Johnny, to make sure he didn't yield to one of his sudden, rash impulses. But Johnny was thinking of something else which had just occurred to him.
"Wait a second," he said.
He was stooping over the unconscious body of Rory Fenn, and going through the man's pockets. He came up with a bunch of keys.
"These may come in handy," he grinned. "Maybe one of them is the key to the jail. And who knows—we may yet need to get out of a jail in this town!"
The first burst of gunfire thundered outside, smashing into the lock, as Kerrigan and Murdoch and Klaw, with Neddy Teek in tow, passed into the storeroom. They threaded their way, in darkness, among piles of baled circulars, to a door at the other side.
Kerrigan went first, with drawn gun. But apparently the crowd hadn't thought of blocking this back way. The Dispatching Room was quiet.
The group of scared clerks offered no opposition, and the four men hurried through into the great, vaulted sheds behind the station. Inside, the sound of gunfire had ceased, but now there was a concentrated blowing of police whistles and a wailing of sirens.
Murdoch half carried, half dragged, Neddy Teek through the train sheds and out into a back street. It was dark here, and deserted, except for a couple of trucks that were backed up to the loading platforms. But around the corner there was noise and commotion, and it was drawing closer.
"Well, Mopes," Stephen Klaw said grimly, "it looks like the fun is about to begin."
"We could hop a freight train," Neddy Teek offered, "and scram outta town."
He stopped. They were paying no attention to him. Standing there in the dark street, with the hue and cry rising all about them, those three men were coolly laying their plan of campaign.
"We've got to get a headquarters," Klaw was saying. "Some place where we can hide Neddy Teek here, in safety—and a place from which we can operate. If they've got Gregg stymied, we can't depend on him."
"We better find a place in a hurry," said Murdoch. "Here comes a squad car around the corner."
"Okay, Mopes," Klaw decided. "There's no better place for us than the station. Back we go."
"Not a bad idea," said Johnny Kerrigan.
He seized Teek by the shoulder, pushed him along in the shadow of the station to an unused loading platform. Stephen Klaw led the way inside. Murdoch brought up the rear, facing backward with drawn gun, in case the occupants of the approaching police car should spot them. Just as Murdoch backed into the protection of the huge sliding door of the loading platform, the clerks from the dispatcher's office, together with the police from inside, came tearing out onto the street. They sighted the squad car.
"Those guys came out this way!" someone shouted.
"Okay," yelled a cop from the police car. "They must have gone down toward the river. We'll get 'em easy!"
The car shot away, with two additional policemen on the running boards. Guns were in their hands.
Murdoch grinned in the darkness. "This station," he said over his shoulder, to Klaw and Kerrigan, "is the last place in the world they'll think of looking for us!"
The four men felt their way through the dark and empty shed, to a small door at the far side. It opened onto a runway. On the other side of the runway was a luggage desk, and alongside the baggage desk was a door marked "Night Traffic Superintendent."
Stephen Klaw peered out, and saw there was no one in the runway. The baggage clerk must have left his post to see what the shooting was about.
"Wait here," Steve told the others. "I'll go in the Super's office and see if I can locate a blueprint of the station. There must be at least one nice quiet spot where we can leave Teek."
Neddy Teek was shivering with terror. "I tell you, there's no place in the whole town to hide. Hugo Bledd will find us. And if Rory Fenn ever gets his hands on me—"
"Stow it!" Kerrigan said grimly. Then, to Steve, "Go ahead, Shrimp!"
Klaw slipped out and darted across the runway. He turned the knob of the traffic superintendent's door and pushed it open. He stepped into the office.
There was no one inside but a girl. She was red-headed, slim and pretty. She was seated at a typewriter desk, facing the door. On one end of the desk stood a small portable radio receiving set. It was tuned into the short-wave band on police calls, and a raucous voice was coming out of the receiver. It was apparently one of the cops in the radio car, talking on a two-way circuit. He was saying:
"Men escaped toward river. Car 14 in pursuit. Send more cars into river-front territory to help bottle them up!"
Another voice, apparently speaking from police headquarters, acknowledged the report, then barked:
"Orders! All cars converge on riverfront section. Block all streets from Twenty-third north to Fortieth along the river. Let no one through without proper identification. If necessary, search every house where these three men might be taking refuge, They are dangerous and desperate. Shoot to kill! These are my personal orders. Any police officer who kills or captures one, or all of these men will receive a bonus of a year's pay, plus immediate promotion to a captaincy. Remember, I want them dead or alive! I repeat: All cars converge..."
Stephen Klaw heard that much over the radio as he came into the office. Then the red-headed girl stood up behind her desk. With her left hand she shut off the radio, breaking the speaker's voice in the middle of a word. With her right hand she picked up an automatic pistol from alongside the typewriter, and slipped off the safety catch She pointed it at Klaw. Her eyes were flashing.
"Stand still and raise your hands to the air," she ordered, "or I'll shoot you to death!"
STEPHEN KLAW gave the girl a bleak grin. He had his right hand in his coat pocket. He did not take it out, and he did not raise his hands above his head.
Instead, he came slowly toward the desk. "Go ahead and shoot, sister," he said softly. Her eyes never left him. She was standing stiffly, one hand at her breast, the other gripping the pistol tightly, pointing it straight at his heart. Her fingers curled around the trigger. She was biting her lower lip.
Stephen Klaw came up within three feet of the desk. He faced her directly across it.
"Well," he asked, "why don't you shoot?"
She kept the gun steady. He noticed that her hand did not shake. But she was breathing fast.
"You—you don't look like a thug," she said doubtfully.
"Thank you." He smiled. "Are you afraid of thugs—here in the heart of the railroad station?"
"I'm not afraid of anyone!" she flashed. "I—I can take care of myself—with this gun. None of Hugo Bledd's murderous thugs will get in here."
"I'm glad to hear you say that," Steve told her. "I'm not one of Bledd's thugs. I'm one of the men they're hunting."
There was a look of doubt in her eyes. But there was also an expression that seemed to indicate she would like to believe him.
"Can you prove that?" she asked.
He shrugged. "Suppose I were one of Bledd's gunmen. I would have shot you by this time."
Her lip curled. "With what?"
"With this!" He took his hand out of the right hand coat pocket. It was gripping a black .25 caliber gunmetal automatic.
Her eyes widened. For a moment she was off guard.
Steve reached over in a lightning motion with his left hand and gripped the butt of her pistol, curling his fingers around the trigger guard and turning the muzzle away from his heart. She began to struggle, saw it was useless. She let go of the gun, and slumped.
"Well," she said, "you fooled me. For a minute I thought you were an honest man. Well—what are you going to do to me?"
"Nothing," said Stephen Klaw. He put his own gun away, and laid her pistol on the desk.
"Pick it up!" he ordered.
She stared at him, unable to comprehend.
"Pick it up!" he repeated.
Sourly, she obeyed.
"Go ahead," he said. "You can shoot me now if you want to."
Her lower lip began to tremble. "I—I don't understand."
"I'm Stephen Klaw," he told her harshly. "Special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. My two partners, Johnny Kerrigan and Dan Murdoch, are outside. We're being hunted all over town by Mayor Bledd's men. If you've been putting on an act for me, claiming you're an enemy of Bledd's, now's your chance to earn a big reward, by shooting me. But I think I've sized you up right, and I'm taking a chance on you."
"Oh!" was all she said. A bit of moisture appeared in her eyes. She slumped back into her chair, put the pistol down, and began to cry.
"Cut it!" said Steve. "This is no time for hysterics. What are you crying about?"
She raised her eyes to his. Bravely, she wiped the tears away. "You don't understand. I—I've been waiting for five days—waiting for them to come and kill me. I—I thought you were their executioner!"
"What are you talking about?" Steve demanded.
"I'm Elsie Hope. My father, John Hope, was night traffic superintendent. He—he was also a city councilman. When Hugo Bledd became mayor, my father was one of the councilmen who were killed. They—they beat him to death! I saw it from the window of our home. I—I recognized the men who did it. But when I went to the police station, they told me I'd better forget about it if I wanted to stay alive. I tried Judge Rotherwell, too, but he wouldn't listen to me. Ever since father's death, I've been coming down here to the office. I know the work, because I acted as father's secretary. I'm keeping things running till the railroad appoints another night traffic superintendent."
"I see," Steve said softly.
SHE rose impulsively. "I'm sure they intend to kill me. They know I'll try every means possible to avenge father. And they know, if there's ever a real investigation, I'll be able to identify his killers. That's why I've been waiting every day, with a loaded gun."
Steve came around the desk and put a hand on her shoulder.
"Keep your chin up, Elsie," he said. "My partners and I are here to clean up this town. We'll pay off for your dad."
Her eyes were shining. "I'll do anything to help you!"
"All right. What I want is a blueprint of the layout of this station. There must be some spot in here that we can use for headquarters."
"You don't need a blueprint!" she exclaimed. "I know just the place. There's a private car sidetracked in the shed. It used to belong to Nick Torlona, the gangster Hugo Bledd worked for. When Torlona went to jail, the rent was never paid to the railroad, and we had to seize it. It's never been used since. It's equipped with a generator for independent light, and it has a radio and an electric kitchen..."
Steve seized her hand. "Enough said. It's made to order. Come on!"
He barely gave her a chance to get her hat and coat and purse, and fairly thrust her out of the office.
They got out onto the runway, and stopped short. Kerrigan was standing in the open, with a gun in each hand, covering two uniformed policemen—one a patrolman and the other a sergeant. Both cops had their hands in the air and looked shame-faced and uncomfortable. Behind Kerrigan, Steve Klaw could see Murdoch and Neddy Teek peering out from the interior of the loading room.
Steve chuckled. "Bag something, Mope?"
Johnny Kerrigan grinned. "These two gents have a radio car outside. They got the notion they ought to look in here for us. They made the mistake of not seeing us first."
"Well," said Steve, "I guess we'll have to take them along. Follow us, Mopes. We're going to live on the fat of the land—with the help of Elsie, here."
Ten minutes later, they were installed in a luxurious private car named "HONEY."
It was a long and spacious car, with four private bedrooms, a lounging room, a kitchenette, toilet and bath and an observation platform.
"Not bad," Johnny Kerrigan said admiringly. "But what happens if someone spots the lights in here?"
"Nothing happens," Elsie Hope said with a smile. "There are half a dozen private cars in this shed, and very often the owners occupy them the night before starting on a trip. When their time of departure arrives, the brakemen get the traveling orders and simply couple them onto the train, without even waking up the occupants. So until a traveling order comes through, no one will disturb us."
Neddy Teek was prowling around nervously, peering out past the edges of the drawn blinds, and sweating profusely.
"I'll never feel safe," he muttered, "till I'm about a million miles from Rory Fenn."
They had tied up their two policeman prisoners, and put them in one of the private bedrooms. Now Kerrigan and Murdoch and Klaw got in a huddle and whispered for five minutes. When they came out of the huddle they were grinning.
"We're leaving you for a while, Elsie," Steve announced. "Put out the lights and sit tight. Well be back soon. But first, we have to make a little quick change."
KLAW and Kerrigan went into the bedroom with the two prisoners. In a few minutes they came out, and Murdoch started to laugh. Elsie Hope and Neddy Teek just stared. Steve and Johnny were wearing the captured men's uniforms. Johnny made a very handsome looking sergeant, but Steve Klaw's uniform was just a bit too large for him.
Neddy Teek groaned. "My Gawd! Are you guys going into town?"
"Uh-huh!" said Johnny. "Okay, Dan, grab him."
Dan Murdoch, who was standing nearest to Neddy, seized his arms, and lifted him off the floor.
"Hey!" yelled Teek. "What you gonna do?"
"Sorry, Neddy," Stephen Klaw told him. "But we have to make sure we can trust you. The three of us are leaving for a while, and we don't want you getting any ideas."
They fixed up a nice gag for him, and tied his hands and feet with towels, and put him in another, larger bedroom. "I guess you'll be safe for a while," Steve said to Elsie.
She showed him her gun.
Steve nodded. "You'd make a nice addition to the F.B.I., kid!" The three of them climbed out of the private car, and Elsie locked the door.
"Okay, Mopes," said Steve.
They made their way through the shed and out to the runway. There were people here now, and the baggage clerk had come back on the job. A police detective was standing at the door of the night traffic superintendent's office.
He saw the three of them, and waved his hand. "Come here, will you?"
They went over, Dan Murdoch in the middle, and Klaw and Kerrigan on either side. The detective scowled.
"You guys know where the girl is that works, in this office?"
"Ain't she in there?" Johnny asked.
"Naw. I got a warrant for her. Were you inside the station just now?"
"Yeah," said Johnny. "But we didn't see her."
"Who's this?" the detective asked, jerking his thumb at Dan.
"Aw, just a bum we picked up."
"Listen," said the detective. "I never seen you two guys before."
"So what?" said Johnny. "We never seen you before, either. Come to think of it, maybe you're one of those three guys that's on the lam."
The detective grunted. "You're crazy. Here's my shied!"
He flashed the badge in the palm of his hand It was gold, and it said, "Lieutenant."
"There's lots of new guys on the force these days." He grinned.
"Hmm," said Johnny Kerrigan. He turned and looked at Murdoch. "Like it, Dan?"
Dan nodded. "It'll do. I always wanted to be a lieutenant."
"Right," said Johnny. He stepped up and took the lieutenant by the arm. "Come with us, please."
"Hey! Are you nuts?"
Stephen Klaw stepped up and took his other arm in a grip of iron. "Naughty, naughty," he said. "You mustn't call my partner nuts."
"What the hell is this?" demanded the detective.
He tried to yank himself free, but couldn't budge their grip. Between them, Steve and Johnny hustled him down the runway, with Dan trailing along.
There were several people on the platform now. They stared.
The struggling lieutenant yelled, "Help! Help me, someone! These guys are kidnapping me! I'm Lieutenant Lemson! Them guys are impostors!"
But behind them, Dan was smiling, and motioning to the passers-by.
"Drunk!" he said to one of them.
They took their man through the shed and back to the "HONEY."
"Open up, Elsie!" Murdoch called.
In a moment they had Lieutenant Lemson inside, and proceeded to treat him like the other prisoners, while Elsie watched. Dan took his badge, gun, handcuffs and identification papers, and stowed them in his own pockets.
"It looks like they weren't going to kill you right off, Elsie," Steve told her "They were arresting you first. Here's the warrant."
It was signed by Judge Rotherwell, and it specified no criminal charge, but ordered her arrest as a material witness in the investigation of her father's death.
Elsie's face was white. "It's the same as killing me. Terrible things happen to people in the Hill City jail, now that Bledd's toughs are in charge. Men and women are tortured and beaten. The police make arrests on the flimsiest charges. Only today they arrested the daughter of District Attorney Norton Gregg, on a complaint of reckless driving. I—I'm wondering what's happening to poor Susan."
Steve gripped her shoulder. "You're sure Susan Gregg was arrested today?"
"Yes. Susan and I went to school together. I called the house this morning, and Mrs. Gregg told me."
Steve gave Dan and Johnny a significant look. "That explains about Gregg!"
They left without further explanation.
Once more they made their way out of the shed, and this time they went into the street behind the loading platform. There, at the curb, was the radio car they had captured.
Johnny Kerrigan took the wheel.
"First stop, Hill City Daily News, Johnny!" said Steve.
Dan grinned as they pulled away. "And don't forget, you punks, to give me the respect due to a lieutenant of police."
Johnny's answer was a loud and eloquent raspberry.
THE streets were full of police. The hue and cry for the Suicide Squad was in full swing.
Johnny turned on the radio, and they caught the police orders, which were issuing from headquarters with staccato speed:
"Confidential to all police cars. It is Mayor Bledd's personal wish that the three men known as Kerrigan and Murdoch and Klaw be captured or killed before midnight. There is a rumor going around town that these men are agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This is untrue. These men are criminals, posing as Federal Agents. No police officer need feel any fear about shooting to kill. Mayor Bledd promises full protection to any officer who does so. Treat these men like mad dogs..."
"That's us," said Johnny. "Now we're mad dogs. Wow! Let's go up and take a bite out of Hugo Bledd's pants!"
"Not yet," Steve said grimly.
"Well, we better do it quick," said Johnny, "before they get the dog catchers after us. What about phoning the Chief in Washington?"
"Nix," said Steve. "How would we sound, telling him we just got here and they've got us on the run already?" He was interrupted by the police announcer over the radio once more:
"Car 41, why don't you report? Car 41, where are you? Why don't you report? Car 41, call in at once. Standing by..."
Murdoch frowned. "Car 41. Could that be us?"
Steve opened the window at his side and leaned out and looked at the number painted on the door.
"It's us all right," he said. "Precinct 18 Car 41. I guess we ought to report in." He flipped over the switch of the two way radio, and spoke into the transmitter: "Car 41 reporting. What the hell do you want?"
"Sergeant Gumber!" exclaimed the voice of the police announcer. "What the hell do you mean by talking like that? Where are you?"
"This ain't Sergeant Gumber," Steve said. "Gumber is driving. This is Patrolman Nuggin." He was using the name of the man whose clothes he had usurped.
"What's the matter with you, Nuggin?" the announcer asked. "Why is Gumber driving?"
"I hurt my arm."
"All right, all right, why didn't you call back before? Did you meet Lieutenant Lemson at the Union Station? Did you arrest that girl yet?"
"Yeah," said Steve. "We got her."
"Okay, you and Gumber know your orders. You know what to do with her."
"Sure. We'll bring her in."
"No, no, you fool."
"You mean you want her knocked off?"
"Listen, Nuggin," said the announcer. "If you're gonna start being a wise-guy, it ain't going to be healthy for you around this town. You know what you were told to do. Let her try to escape, and then put a bullet in her back. Do it in a busy part of town, where people will see she was trying to get away. Just give her a chance, and she'll grab it. She's a spitfire. Did you have any trouble?"
"No," said Steve, his blood boiling.
"All right, then," the announcer hurried on. "Get through with it, and rush over to the riverfront. We need every car to round up those three mugs."
"Okay," said Steve.
He shut off the radio, and threw a side glance at Johnny and Dan.
"Boy," said Johnny, "If I had known what that Lieutenant Lemson and those two guys were up to, I'd have—!"
He was guiding the car through the busiest section of the city, and it was readily apparent that the town was in a turmoil. People were congregated at corners, talking and gesticulating.
But the excitement over the river-front manhunt did not interfere with the nightly pleasure-pursuits of the city. The streets were well-filled with throngs on their way to the theatre or to the many gambling and vice dens which had sprung up within the few days of Mayor Bledd's administration.
Johnny swung into a side street and pulled up at the curb in front of the rambling building of the Hill City Daily News. The building was a beehive.
There was a crowd in the street here, too, all craning their necks to see the bulletins which were being posted outside the first floor windows. These bulletins were printed in big, foot-high letters, and two floodlights streamed down upon them so that it was easy to read the news. One bulletin said:
BOGUS G-MEN TRAPPED IN RIVER FRONT DISTRICT! SWIFT CAPTURE EXPECTED. CITY COUNCIL VOTES MAYOR BLEDD UNLIMITED POWER TO DEAL WITH DISORDER AND CRIME
The one next to it read:
DISTRICT ATTORNEY GREGG PRAISES MAYOR BLEDD FOR EFFORTS TO SECURE ORDER. GREGG STATES THAT ALL TROUBLE IS BEING FOMENTED BY POLITICAL ENEMIES OF MAYOR BLEDD.
A man was out on the platform up there, tacking up a third notice:
F.B.I. CHIEF DENIES SENDING G-MEN! DIRECTOR SAYS THREE MEN WHO ATTACKED COMMISSIONER RORY FENN AND SHOT TWO DETECTIVES IN UNION STATION ARE NOT SPECIAL AGENTS. THEY ARE BELIEVED TO BE GUNMEN BROUGHT IN FROM OTHER CITIES TO DISCREDIT MAYOR BLEDD'S ADMINISTRATION.
Stephen KIaw got out of the police car, straightening his ill-fitting uniform. Dan Murdoch and Johnny Kerrigan followed.
Steve gestured up toward the bulletins. "Nice propaganda," he said bitterly "They'll have us eating babies next."
The three of them pushed their way through to the doorway.
A uniformed policeman was standing on guard at the entrance. He touched his cap, at sight of the sergeant's stripes on Johnny's uniform, and let them through.
They went up in the elevator to the second floor, and walked through the hall, being elbowed about by hurrying copy boys and reporters. They entered the news room, and Johnny stopped a sweating man in shirt-sleeves.
"Where'll we find the owner?"
The man pushed Johnny out of the way. "Don't bother me!" he growled. "We go to press in fifteen minutes!"
Johnny grabbed his arm. "It'll only take you a fifth of a minute to be polite, mister."
The man stopped short, took a look at his uniform, and gulped. "I—I'm sorry, Sergeant. I thought you were another one of those discharged cops coming in here to belly-ache about being canned off the force without pension. I guess you're one of Mayor Bledd's new men."
"Yeah," said Johnny. "We're new men. Where's the owner's office?"
"There's Mr. Rick's office, over at the back of the news room. He's the managing editor—"
"Not the managing editor," Kerrigan said. "The owner."
"Oh. You mean Watson Blount." The man grinned. "He don't count any more. He's got nothing to say. You better do your business with Mr. Rick."
Kerrigan sighed. "Look," he said patiently. "We don't want advice. We just want to know where to find Watson Blount."
The man shrugged. "Okay, okay. Go out that side door and up one flight of stairs. His office is at the top."
"Thanks," said Johnny, and let the fellow go. Then the three of them went through the news room and up the stairs to Blount's office.
"Okay, Steve," said Johnny. "You take it from here."
Steve nodded. He put his hand on the door knob, and pushed the door open without knocking. He stepped inside with Kerrigan and Murdoch.
A gray-haired man was sitting at his desk, with his face in his hands. Over at one side, in a chair, with his feet on the window-sill, was a very hard-faced mug.
"Remain at ease, mister!" Stephen Klaw said pleasantly, producing an automatic.
The mug put his feet down on the floor, opened his mouth in surprise, but did not go for a gun.
Smiling affably, Dan Murdoch went over to him, took the revolver out of his holster, fanned him for other weapons, and then stepped back.
The gray-haired man at the desk had raised his head. He was watching the proceedings dully.
"What do you want from me now?" he asked. "Hasn't Bledd done enough to me already?"
Stephen Klaw came over to the desk. "What do you mean, Mr. Blount?"
"What do I mean?" Blount exploded. "I'll tell you what I mean! Bledd has taken my newspaper away from me! He's put his own man in as managing editor, and a dozen discredited newspaper men from all over the country are in here now, assisting Rick. They've replaced my old employees. Rick runs the paper—my paper, that I spent forty years building up—and I have to sit here with a thug guarding me, and sign everything that's put in front of me. I have to okay the publication of lying stories about my friends, and I have to sit by while Rick writes editorials praising Bledd's murderous activities. That's what I mean!"
Steve threw a side glance at Kerrigan, who nodded. "Tell him," Johnny said softly.
"Okay!" Steve nodded. "Mr. Blount, you've got your paper back from now on, it's your paper again."
Watson Blount stared at him, then swiveled his glance to Johnny Kerrigan's uniform. "I—I don't understand. You—you're new men on the force. You must be Bledd's men..."
Steve laughed. "We're new, all right. But we've not exactly working for the mayor. This—" he indicated Johnny—"is Kerrigan, temporarily a sergeant in the Hill City police force. Over there," he waved toward Dan—"is Murdoch, temporarily a lieutenant. And I—" he bowed gravely—"am Klaw, a humble patrolman."
Watson Blount's eyes widened. "Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw! The men they're hunting for all over town!"
"Exactly," said Steve. "And we're giving your paper back to you—lock, stock and barrel!"
Blount came out of his chair. "You don't know what you're talking about, Klaw. You can't do it. You don't realize what you're up against. This man," he motioned toward the mug, who was looking very deflated without his gun, and a little scared at discovering he was in the hands of the Suicide Squad—"this man is only one of a number of armed thugs in charge of the building. They have one of their men at each door, preventing my friends from entering. There are armed hoodlums in the press room, and in the editorial office. I don't dare make a move, because Bledd threatens to destroy the whole building if I don't play ball with him."
"That's fine, Mr. Blount," Steve told him. "We like it tough. Now—are you willing to take a chance with us, or not? Make up your mind quickly. We haven't much time. If you don't want to risk your hide, if you'd rather sit here and watch your paper run by gunmen and murderers, all right, we'll go elsewhere..."
"Wait!" said Watson Blount. His shoulders were suddenly straight, and his head was up. "I'm with you! I don't know what you're going to do, or how you're going to do it. But give me a gun!"
Dan Murdoch grinned, gave him the guard's gun.
"Let's go," said Johnny Kerrigan.
He took the mug by the shoulder and pushed him out the door. "Start something," he begged. "Just start something."
"I ain't starting a thing, Mister Kerrigan," the fellow blubbered.
THEY went down the stairs and along a corridor, avoiding the busy editorial room. Blount led them to the back door of Rick's office.
Steve pushed the door open, took Blount by the arm, and walked in.
Chauncey Rick was at the desk, drinking rye whisky with three yeggs.
Rick was saying. "Five minutes before press time, and they haven't caught those three guys yet. What the hell, we'll announce their capture anyway." He was writing a headline as he spoke. "I'll say all three were killed resisting arrest. Rory Fenn will never let them get to headquarters alive—"
He stopped, with his mouth open, his pen poised in the air, looking at the group that had come barging in.
"What the hell is the matter now?" he demanded. "Can't you knock?"
Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw had guns in their hands.
"Anyone who wants to make something of this," Stephen Klaw said softly, "is welcome to try!"
The three thugs put their drinks down gently. They didn't make any unnecessary or sudden motions.
"What the hell is this?" demanded Rick. "Are you guys nuts?"
One of the thugs said huskily, "Lay off, Rick. These ain't our guys. They—they're the Suicide Squad!"
Stephen Klaw's eyes never left Rick. "Get out of that chair," he ordered.
Rick swallowed hard, and tried to bluster. "You can't get away with—"
Stephen Klaw came around the desk and stood alongside his chair. "Do you want it the hard way?" he asked softly.
"Wait!" blurted Rick. He got out of the chair.
Dan Murdoch smiled affably at him and the three gunmen. "Now, if you gentlemen will all line up, with your faces to the wall, I'd by greatly obliged."
They obeyed quickly. Murdoch's courtesy was like the iron hand in the silk glove. He didn't threaten, but they knew he meant business.
Johnny Kerrigan stepped from one to the other, and relieved them of their guns. "In all this artillery that we're gathering," he said pleasantly, "I wouldn't be surprised if we find the cannon that killed Elsie Hope's father."
He watched them keenly, and saw one of the gunmen shift uneasily. He grabbed the man by the shoulder and swung him around. It was the man who had identified them for Rick.
"I seem to know you," said Johnny, who never forgot a face. "Weren't you one of Nick Torlona's hoods in the old days, before he went to Alcatraz? We picked you up once in an automobile racket, but you squeezed out of it. You're name is Gildey, isn't it?"
Gildey avoided Kerrigan's eyes. "I want a lawyer," he said. "You got no right to arrest me. I ain't broke no federal laws."
"You're wrong there," Kerrigan said softly. "We find you here, intimidating a newspaper owner. The Hill City Daily News goes through the mail. That makes it interstate commerce, which puts it in our jurisdiction!"
Stephen Klaw pushed Watson Blount into the seat vacated by Chaunecy Rick.
"Go to it," he said. "Do your stuff!"
BLOUNT'S eyes were glittering. He snatched up the phone. "Press room!" he snapped. "Break up page one. Hold for new plates!" He listened a moment, then said, "Hold it, Pete!"
He looked up at Stephen Klaw. "Pete, my press foreman, says there's a man with a sawed-off rifle down there, who won't let him take orders from anyone but Rick."
"Ah, so!" said Steve. He looked over at Rick, who was grinning smugly.
"I told you so," said Rick. "You can't pull this and get away with—"
He didn't have to finish, because at a signal from Steve, Dan Murdoch took Rick by the hair and dragged him over to the desk and pushed his face down to the phone.
"Tell that mug with the sawed-off rifle to come right up here!" Dan ordered. "And if you say one word we don't like. I'll chuck you out the window!"
"Damn you," Rick gasped, "let go of me! Gildey, Lobb, Flick! Help—"
Gildey, Lobb and Flick didn't make a move, because Johnny Kerrigan was standing very close to them, with a gun in his hand. He was grinning.
Dan Murdoch sighed. He pulled Rick away from the phone by the hair. "I see you have to be convinced, my friend." He dragged him over to the window and started to push his head through.
"No, no!" Rick screamed. "Don't—"
Murdoch said nothing. He got a grip on the seat of Rick's pants.
"Stop!" gasped Rick. "Stop. I'll—I'll do whatever you say!"
"All right," said Murdoch.
He dragged the man back to the phone. Rick gasped into it, "Put Harris on the phone."
He waited a moment, then said, "Harris, this is Rick. Come right up here. I've got to see you."
Murdoch took him away from the phone. Blount was writing busily. They waited three minutes, and then Harris came into the office through the front door. He was carrying his sawed-off rifle under his arm, and scowling.
Just as he stepped into the room, Stephen Klaw, who had been waiting behind the door, stepped out behind him and poked a gun in his ribs.
"You can drop that rifle or not—just as you choose," Steve said indifferently.
Harris stood frozen for an instant, looking at his pals lined up against the wall and at Murdoch and Kerrigan.
"I quit," said Harris. He bent down, and carefully put the rifle on the floor.
Steve pushed him over to the wall to join the others.
WATSON BLOUNT waved the sheet he had completed. "Man!" he exclaimed. "This will explode a bomb under Bledd!"
He scribbled a note to the composing room designating the use of huge, block-lettered type that would cover the entire front page. The sheet read:
CITIZENS OF HILL CITY, AWAKE! ARISE! THROW OFF THE DICTATORSHIP OF GUNMEN AND GANGSTERS! MASS MEETING TONIGHT AT ELEVEN P.M. CITY HALL SQUARE. ALL COME. LEAVE YOUR WOMEN AT HOME!
"Nice stuff," said Steve. "Shoot it."
Blount pressed a button, and a copyboy appeared. "Down to the prep room!" Blount ordered. "Tell Pete to break up page two for the story. Hold the presses till I write it, even if the paper is late!"
When the boy was gone, Blount swung to Steve. "I'll give them the whole story on page two. But I need proof. The only man who has proof is Norton Gregg."
"Go ahead with the story," Steve ordered. "We'll get the proof."
"But wait," Blount protested. "You three can't go away. The minute you leave, these thugs will take over."
Steve was at the bookshelf in the corner, pulling down a fat volume. It was the City Service list of Hill City, giving the name and address of every man on the police force, the fire department and the other city services.
"How many of the old men have been fired off the force by Mayor Bledd?"
"About eight hundred," Blount said.
"Fine," said Steve.
He took the book and went out into the front office. Murdoch came with him. Kerrigan stayed with the thugs.
When Steve appeared, the editorial room became silent at sight of the guns in his and in Murdoch's hands.
"Attention, everybody!" Steve thundered. "Mr. Blount has once more resumed active management of this paper. All those who want to work with him stand up!"
Almost everybody got up.
Steve went from desk to desk, tearing a half dozen pages from the directory at a time, and handing them to each person with a phone at his desk.
"Get on those phones!" he ordered. "Call every cop and fireman in the list. Tell them if they want their old jobs back, and are willing to fight for them, to come right down here and report in Mr. Blount's office."
When he was through distributing the pages, he and Murdoch returned to Blount's office. Already, the clerks, reporters and re-write men were busy.
Inside the office, Johnny Kerrigan had done a nice piece of work. He found that most of the prisoners, having been appointed policemen by Bledd, were equipped with handcuffs. So he used their own handcuffs to link them together in a long chain, with the end men on the line cuffed to the two radiators in the room.
It was less than fifteen minutes before the first of the discharged policemen and firemen began to appear at the News Building, thirsting for a chance to fight back at the racketeer administration which had deprived them of their livelihood.
Murdoch organized them into squads, placing each squad in a strategic position in the building, and disarming the thugs who were posted there. In a short time the entire plant was in their hands, and the presses were turning swiftly, with Blount's black headlines filling page one, and the story of corruption and murder on page two.
"All right, Mopes," said Klaw. "Let's go." The faces of Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw were like granite.
They shook hands with Watson Blount, who had a rejuvenated look in his eyes, and went out into the street. The crowd out there had been augmented considerably, for the rumour had spread that big things were doing at the News Building. A group of a hundred and fifty old-timers on the police force was drawn up in military formation, with an ex-captain of police at their head, all dressed in their uniform, with guns belted at their hips.
A lusty cheer rose when they saw Kerrigan and Murdoch and Klaw.
And then they saw a white-haired man with a haggard face pushing through the crowd.
Someone said, "Gregg! That's District Attorney Norton Gregg!"
District Attorney Gregg looked like a man who has endured the tortures of hell. His face was swollen and discolored from the beating he had received at the hands of Rory Fenn, and his white hair was disheveled and matted.
He came straight toward Steve Klaw, and gripped his sleeve.
"Good God!" he exclaimed "you've got to call this off. You can't go on. They've got my daughter, Susan, in jail. They'll beat her to death if you don't stop. Rory Fenn is ready to go to work on her. Bledd himself phoned me—told me to come here! He told me to stop you, or they'll send me Susan's broken body!"
"LET'S march on the jail!" someone shouted. "We'll take it apart!"
"No, no!" Gregg cried in an agonized voice, "They'd kill Susan!"
Stephen Klaw put a hand on his shoulder. "Gregg," he said gruffly, "have you got the proof to back up your indictments of Bledd and his crowd?"
Gregg's stance met Steve's squarely. "Yes, I have it. But I'm not turning it over while Susan is in their power."
"No," Steve said thoughtfully. "I can't blame you." Suddenly he looked up. "If your daughter were out of there—"
"I'd go the limit!" Gregg exclaimed. "By God, I'd give you enough to put Bledd in jail for a thousand years!"
"All right, then." Steve looked inquiringly at Murdoch and Kerrigan. Both nodded.
As soon as they nodded, Stephen Klaw raised his hands and shouted to the yelling men in the street. "Quiet, everybody! You heard what Gregg told us. Marching on the jail will mean his daughter's death. I ask you all to remain right here. Do nothing until you hear from us. Will you do that?"
There was grumbling among the uniformed men. But in a moment it subsided. The captain at their head said, "We leave everything in your hands. You three men started this, and you can do it your own way—so long as you give us your word you won't quit on us."
"We won't quit!" Steve told them.
He motioned to Gregg to go inside the News Building. The uniformed men remained in the street, with the mob growing denser every minute.
Steve drew the captain aside "Spread your men out in the Square," he said "and tell them to keep order, just as if they were on duty. Keep the mob in hand till you hear from us."
The captain nodded acquiescence, and Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw climbed into the radio car they had left at the curb.
"To the jail," Stephen Klaw said.
As Johnny drove, Murdoch switched on the short-wave radio. He caught the announcer's voice on the police broadcasting station just finishing an order, and saying, "I will repeat..."
The man went on, "All cars give up hunt for Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw. They are in the News Building, and have control of the paper. All cars and all police appointed by Mayor Bledd are ordered to report at once to the City Jail. It is possible that an attack will be made on the jail. Report at once!"
Grimly, silently, the three men sat in the car as it sped across town to the City Jail. When they were within half a dozen blocks of it, they saw straggling men hurrying in the same direction on foot.
"It looks like Bledd is going to hold the jail," Steve said. "We could have got there with those old-timers in time to capture it."
"Yeah," said Johnny. "But what about Susan Gregg?"
"Well," said Steve, "we'll have to go in and get Susan ourselves."
They left the car a block from the jail, and walked. At the main entrance, a crowd of men was going in, but each one who entered had to pass inspection. In the courtyard, two submachine guns were trained on the entrance, and half a dozen men with riot guns were on watch.
Johnny Kerrigan looked glum. "What do we do?" he asked. "Go right through?"
"Not a chance," said Murdoch. "The idea right now is not to get ourselves killed, but to get inside."
"What about those keys you took from Rory Fenn?" Steve asked of Kerrigan.
Johnny pulled them out. There was a thoughtful look in his eyes.
"You think maybe it'll work?"
"We can try."
The three of them faded around the corner, and walked down the side street, close to the jail wall. The prison building was an old structure, massive and weather-beaten, occupying a square block, with the County Court House directly behind it. Like many of the old jails of the period in which it had been built, it had a main entrance at the front, and a side entrance on each of the side streets. At the rear it was connected, by an overhead, enclosed bridge, with the County Court House.
Kerrigan wanted to try his keys in the door of the side entrance, but there wasn't a chance, for a man with a sawed-off shotgun stood on guard just inside. They passed by nonchalantly, then hurried down the street and across to the County Court House.
The Court House was closed for business, of course, but the front door was open, and they went right in. No one was around, except a couple of cleaning women who paid no attention to them.
They climbed the stairs to the first floor, and Kerrigan silently indicated the passage leading to the overhead bridge. Halfway along the bridge, there was a steel door.
Klaw and Murdoch took their guns out, while Johnny tried key after key from Fenn's bunch, in the keyhole.
Suddenly he said, "This is it!"
The key turned, and the lock squeaked. Kerrigan pushed the door in, and Murdoch and Klaw slipped past him, with their guns pointing ahead. There was no one in the corridor on the other side of the door.
They could hear a lot of noise, and the sounds of the movements of many men, and voices raised in command. Coming out of the corridor, they found themselves in the jail mezzanine, looking down into the lobby below, which was thronged with the men who had been admitted at the front gate. Weapons were being handed out from racks by Rory Fenn.
"Remember, you mugs," Fenn was saying, "this is different from any racket you've ever been in. You ain't working for any outlaw racketeer now. You've got the law on your side. Your boss is the mayor of this town, and everything you do is legal. You can go out there and shoot the guts out of those suckers, and they can't do a thing to you. The only ones we got to worry about are the Federal guys. And we've got them stopped, because there ain't a Federal offense that can bring them legally into this town. So shoot to kill, an' kill plenty of the suckers!"
Johnny Kerrigan was scowling. He took a quick step forward and lifted his gun. Steve Klaw grabbed his arm.
"Hold it, Johnny."
Kerrigan nodded. "Okay. But I want Mr. Rory Fenn for myself when the time comes."
The three of them made their way along the mezzanine, and turned into the cell block. The prisoners were all quiet tonight.
Kerrigan led the way into the cell block, and he almost ran head-on into a jailer with a gun holstered at his side.
The jailer sprang back when he saw Kerrigan, but relaxed at sight of the uniform. "What you doing up here?" he demanded. "Get downstairs."
"Not yet!" Johnny said softly.
He stepped closer to the man, who jumped back in sudden alarm. But he almost fell into the arms of Dan Murdoch, who had sidled in beside him. Murdoch clipped him behind the ear.
Steve Klaw stooped, took a small Yale key from the man's belt, and went down to the other end of the cell block, where there was a locked electric switch-box. He used the key to open the box, and then pulled over the lever. Immediately, the electrical connection opened the locks on the long double row of cell doors.
Murdoch went down the line, talking in a low voice, telling the prisoners that they were free, and to file quietly out through the overhead bridge.
Among all these prisoners there was not a single genuine criminal. Men and women had been thrust indiscriminately in the cells, without bothering to separate them. Some were wives and daughters of city officials; some were small business men who had refused to pay tribute to Bledd's thugs. Among them was a twelve-year-old boy, the son of Judge Rotherwell, who had appointed Bledd to the mayoralty. That explained the jurist's acquiescence in the reign of terror.
Klaw went among the prisoners as they filed out, asking for Susan Gregg. He was told that she had been taken to the mayor's office half an hour ago.
"All right," said Steve. "We'll get her, too." They aided the prisoners to leave, waiting until the last one had passed across the bridge. "Get over to the News Building," Steve told them. "Tell the cops there to march down to the jail and wait, a block away, till they hear fireworks and then to come in shooting!"
As soon as the last of the prisoners was gone, the three G-men made their way around the mezzanine toward the other side of the jail, where the warden's office was located. Below, in the lobby, they could see the crowd of men receiving their weapons.
Steve turned the knob silently, then eased the door gently open, a fraction of an inch, enough to peer in.
Two people were in there, a man and a girl. The man was tall, muscular, with a high, clever forehead and thin lips. He was holding the girl, whose arm he had twisted behind her in a painful grip. He was holding her with one hand, pushing her imprisoned arm up almost to her shoulder blades, where a little additional pressure would snap it. With his other hand he was holding the telephone.
"It's up to you, Gregg," he was saying into the mouthpiece, "in what shape you want your daughter back. You heard her talk to you. You know we've got the jail covered. You and those cops could never get in here. And while you were trying, your daughter would be screaming—like I made her scream a little while ago, only worse. You can't win, Gregg. You—"
Stephen Klaw's hand tightened on the knob. "Okay, Mopes," he said over his shoulder.
He pushed the door violently, and stepped inside.
Bledd jumped up from the desk, dropping the phone and reaching for a gun which lay in front of him. At the same time his hand pushed Susan Gregg's arm further up against her shoulder blade.
Susan gasped, and fainted.
Stephen Klaw stood in the doorway and waited for Bledd to pick up the gun. Then, when Bledd had the weapon pointed at him, Steve raised the muzzle of his automatic, and fired once.
The slug caught Bledd in the stomach, doubling him over onto the desk.
Kerrigan and Murdoch, coming in behind Klaw, looked at Bledd.
"Nice wound," said Murdoch. "He'll live to fry in the chair."
Kerrigan said, "That was lousy shooting, Shrimp. You could have got him in the shoulder just as well."
"Yes," said Steve, "come to think of it, I could have."
Kerrigan picked up the unconscious body of Susan Gregg.
Steve went to the phone and picked it up. He heard Norton Gregg's anxiety torn voice pounding into the receiver: "Bledd! For God's sake, answer me! What are you doing to Susan?"
"He's doing nothing to Susan," Steve said with a grin. "Come and get her!"
Already there was a rush of feet on the stairs outside, as some of Rory Fenn's men came storming up the stairs.
Out on the mezzanine, Dan Murdoch was coolly picking them off.
Johnny Kerrigan, with the girl over one shoulder, was keeping her body in behind the door of the office while he shot with his free hand.
Stephen Klaw looked around the office, and smiled when he saw what he wanted—a rack of grenades.
He went over and took one. Then he stepped around Bledd's writhing body and went to the door beside Kerrigan.
"Okay," he said. "Let's go!"
Johnny stepped out onto the mezzanine with Steve, and the two of them came up alongside Dan Murdoch, who had just emptied his revolvers. Steve and Johnny kept shooting while Murdoch reloaded. The thugs were coming up the stairs.
Shoulder to shoulder, they advanced to the mezzanine rail, where they could look down on the massed mob of gunmen below. Rory Fenn was raging.
Kerrigan yelled down, "Hey, Fenn!"
Fenn stopped storming at his men, and they all looked up, weapons raised to shoot. But they let their mouths drop open when Stephen Klaw showed them what he was holding.
"If I pull the pin and drop this down there," he taunted, "you boys know how many of you will be alive one minute after it explodes."
"To hell with him!" shouted Fenn. "He'll never throw it. The explosion would kill them, too. It would wreck the building. He's only bluffing. Shoot! Shoot to kill!"
He raised his own gun, and Johnny Kerrigan, who had been waiting expectantly for that moment, snapped a shot down at him. The steel-jacketed .45 caliber slug tore off most of Fenn's head.
On the heels of the thunderous explosion, Steve Klaw leaned over the railing, with his hand on the grenade pin.
"Throw down your weapons!" he ordered. "Your mayor is our prisoner, and Fenn is dead. You have nothing to gain but death if you resist. Surrender, and you may escape with jail terms if you are not implicated in murder!"
Some half dozen of the men down there began to shout defiance. They were the ones who had committed murder in Bledd's service, and would face death anyway. They wanted to fight it out.
But the other men swiftly over-powered them. In a moment, weapons were dropping to the floor. "We surrender!"
No one moved while Stephen Klaw went down among there, with the grenade still in his hand. They opened a wide lane for him. He went out into the yard and unlocked the main gate to the first of the old-time cops, who were just approaching, led by Norton Gregg.
Gregg tenderly took his daughter from Kerrigan. There were tears in his eyes.
"We're going to re-name City Hall Square after you," he told them. "We're calling it Suicide Square."
"Thanks," said Steve. "You can handle things now. We'll be going. See you soon."
"Where—where are you going?"
Klaw winked at Kerrigan and Murdoch. Then he grinned at Gregg.
"We're going to have a little private celebration with a red-headed girl—in a private rail road car!"
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