by Theodore Tinsley
MAJOR John Tattersall Lacy was seated comfortably in the spacious
library of his duplex penthouse suite in the towering pinnacle of the
Cloud Building. The door opened soundlessly. A hesitant figure came in.
It was Private Caxton, one of the ex-marines on the secret payroll of
Caxton clicked his heels together and snapped a salute. There was a
wavering smile on the man's lips, a peculiar furtive boldness in the
way he stepped forward.
“Halt!” the major barked.
Tattersall Lacy's face tightened with annoyance. He laid aside the
copy of the Cavalry Journal he had been reading.
“You wanted, to see me?” he said in a cold voice.
“You obtained permission from Sergeant Hogan to do so, I presume?”
The cold voice turned icy.
“Then what the hell do you mean by leaving your quarters and
intruding on me without the sergeant's permission?””
The man in the tan-colored shirt and gray civilian trousers
hesitated and wet his dry lips. He, knew perfectly well that he had no
right to be there, that his quarters were confined to the barrack area
in the rear of the duplex penthouse. Yet he continued to smile queerly
and he took another step forward.
“It's something so absolutely important, sir,” he muttered, “that I
had to see you right away. I— er—”
A heavy step sounded in the doorway. A voice cried sharply: “About
It was Sergeant Hogan. The anger of the major was reflected in
Hogan's honest eyes. As Caxton faced slowly about, the sergeant said
awkwardly to Lacy: “I'm sorry, sir. I saw him going down the corridor,
but I never dreamed he'd have the gall. Then to the interloper, “Get
back to your quarters, Caxton! Report at once to your corporal and tell
him I said—”
“Look out!” the major roared.
Caxton's right hand flicked swiftly with a .45 automatic in its
grasp. Hogan's startled jump was a second too late. The heavy slug
struck him in the arm and spun him around. He fell bleeding to the
floor, his left hand tugging weakly at his own holstered weapon.
The intruder whirled instantly like a cat. His eyes were blazing
with determination. The heavy gun in his taut grip spat twice and
bullets ripped through the brown leather of Lacy's chair.
The major was on the other side of the table, crouched vigilantly.
Caxton's murderous attack on Hogan had been wholly unexpected, as swift
as a stab of lightning. But the major's brain worked equally fast. His
lean body hurtled from his chair barely an instant before the bullets
drilled the leather. As he dropped to one knee his gun slid into his
hand and he fired under the table at the fleeing Caxton.
The shot was hasty and it missed. Caxton hurdled the fallen Hogan
and was instantly out in the hall, racing with clattering feet toward
the kitchen in the rear wing.
Hogan stirred weakly on the rug. “Get him,” he groaned. “Get the
Tattersall Lacy's face was a sickish pallor.
Treachery! One. of his own trusted men! A marine and a traitor!
As he sped down the hall, gun in hand, his silver whistle darted to
his lips and he blew a shrill blast. He sprang at the kitchen door and
rattled the knob fiercely. It was locked.
THE sound of the major's whistle brought armed men pouring up the
stairs from the squad room. Lacy jumped past them and ran toward the
heavy dining room doors. They were locked.
“Steady, men!” the major roared. “Caxton's running amuck with a gun.
He shot Hogan a moment ago. He's either stark raving crazy or a filthy
traitor! Break down those dining room doors!”
Rifle butts began to thud against the stout oaken panels. A marine
appeared from the squad room, hastily snapping a drum on a Tommie gun.
Lacy's finger jerked imperiously.
“This way, Corporal! McManus! Jackson!”
He ran with them around the L of the corridor to the kitchen door.
“Blast it off its hinges, Corporal!”
He could hear the steady thudding of rifle butts at the dining
room's oaken barrier. It would take time to break through that solid
timber. Here was the place to attack! The traitor was bottled up inside
these two connecting rooms. Swinging doors inside the kitchen led
directly to the locked dining room.
The corporal nodded at Lacy's crisp order and pointed his
businesslike bullet mill. Ratatatatatatl The Tommie sprayed the
door apart like rotten cheese. Holes gaped, splinters flew, the lock
Lacy's own shoulder gave the final push that sent the wrecked door
tottering from its snapped hinges.
He sprang forward. McManus and Jackson leaped after him. Lacy's long
legs carried him with a rush across the tiled floor of the kitchen. He
batted the swinging doors open and raised his weapon for a final duel
with the crazed Caxton.
Caxton wasn't in sight.
The dining room was empty. Outside the locked doors the steady
thudding of rifle butts made a dull thunder like sneering mockery in
“The terrace!” he thought savagely. “What a fool I was to forget the
terrace! He'll try to double back into the penthouse through the
library windows and blast his way to the elevator or flee down the
enclosed stairs of the fire tower . . .”
Lacy crossed the dining room and threw open the wide French
windows.. Cool air gushed in his face and there was a brilliant
reflection of sunlight from the paved terrace. Again he paused in
bewilderment. The terrace was bare except for the blinding sunlight and
the blue arch of empty sky.
No sign of Caxton ...
A queer call from McManus spun the fuming major around with his Colt
level and steady.
McManus was crouched at the outer edge of the terrace, peering
cautiously over the top of the low palisade of wooden stakes. His left
hand was gesturing fiercely, insistently.
“For God's sake!” McManus shrilled softly.
“Look, sir! He's nuts. He's a maniac!”
A single story below the major's terrace a smaller projection
jutted. Caxton was down there, poised backward on the dizzy edge. Below
his teetering heels was a sheer, hideous fall to a distant canyon where
pedestrians were tiny dots, where cross-town cars were slow moving
Caxton was like a swimmer braced on his toes for a back dive. His
arms were stiffly outspread to balance himself. His face was staring
upward and his stark eyes glared murderously at the major with the lust
Tattersall Lacy sucked in his breath sharply.
Not at the man's hideous peril. Not at the gun in his hand. It was
the belted harness Caxton was wearing. The fool was strapped in a
HE must have climbed into the thing in the dining room in the few
minutes respite he had. Madman, nothing! He must have deliberately
hidden the thing beforehand as the only possible mode of escape from a
desperate murder. He was going to jump a thousand feet into a city
The wild daring of the planned escape, the swift attempt at
treacherous murder in the very heart of the major's guarded
headquarters. Only one man could be responsible for this. The Scarlet
Ace! The mysterious “Master” who had sworn to kill Tattersall Lacy and
destroy Amusement, Inc. forever.
Lacy's lips jerked quickly to McManus, the man at his side.
“Get downstairs fast in the elevator and get out into the street.
I'll try to temporize with this fellow. If he jumps and doesn't smash
to jelly, get in close to him. Don't try to collar him! Shadow him if
he gets away. Don't lose sight of him.
Report back to me by phone when you can. You're on continuous duty
until relieved. Understand?”
McManus ducked low and sped back into the penthouse like a flitting
streak in the sunshine.
Lacy lifted his head cautiously above the palisade.
He kept his gun out of sight. His voice was calmly persuasive.
“Listen, Caxton! You're cornered! You can't possibly get away alive
if you jump in that crazy harness. Listen to me! If you surrender—”
A bullet ripped the air above his head and he heard Caxton jeer.
“Why don'tcha come and get me if I'm cornered?”
“Don't be foolish, Caxton! I promise you that—”
The glaring traitor emptied his pistol with blind hate at the
pleading face above him. He threw the useless weapon away. Lacy sprang
to his feet in time to see the man's right hand clutch stiffly at his
chest and stay there.
With wide open and bulging eyes Caxton threw himself headlong
backward into space.
In spite of his iron nerve the major shuddered.
“Good God!” he breathed. He watched.
Caxton's plunging body whirled over and over like a twisting dummy.
He dwindled with appalling swiftness to a distant dot. Down, down.
Suddenly a tiny flick of white flashed from the dot.
Far below in the dizzy depths the pilot chute ripped open a huge
spinning parasol. Down toward the cluttered street dropped man and
“Cold guts!” Lacy shrugged. “The fellow couldn't have been ten
stories high when the thing opened . . .”
For some queer reason he thought of him as “the fellow”—not Caxton.
His eyes stayed glued on the falling figure and his brain buzzed with
the mystery of the man's inexplicable and treacherous behavior. What
was the secret of the Ace's power?p
To reach calmly into the heart of the major's loyal organization and
corrupt a steady-going and dependable marine ... It was uncanny. It
made Lacy's head reel.
He saw the jumper land in the center of the street on the tiny
car-tracks and lie there for a moment. It must have been a terrific
jarring impact in spite of the opened chute. A trolley car stopped
short. People were flood-ing into the street in swarms, a black
outpouring like ants—hundreds of them!
In the very center of the milling crowd the man on the car-track was
up on his feet, slashing at the cords of the billowing chute that
flapped on the pavement like a shrunken mushroom.
A small blue-clad ant pushed through the press of people. That would
be a cop! The crowd fell back and Lacy could make out the two men
shoving back and forth. They seemed to be arguing. Caxton handed the
The cop was looking it over. His hand stayed on the jumper's
Suddenly, with a twist and a wrench, Caxton fled. From his perch on
the penthouse terrace Lacy could see him edging swiftly through the
excited mob like a cork in a millrace. Then he lost sight of him
O did the cop, apparently. The cop stopped short and stared up at
the cloud scraping the pinnacle of the building. The faces massed about
him lifted too, a sudden white foam on the blackish sea of humanity.
The cop pushed his way across the sidewalk toward the building
“Damnation!” thought the major fretfully.
“This is going to be rather awkward.”
The staff officers of Amusement, Inc. were grouped behind him on the
terrace. Charlie Weaver, with his spare, nervous little body and his
crab-apple face. He looked like an inoffensive insurance broker and
wore the congressional medal of honor. Pat Harrigan, grinning coldly,
his red hair tumbled like a torch in the wind. Ed Corning, big and lazy
and silent. All three of them were tested friends of the major and
active participants in the secret war on crime that began on that
solemn night when Amusement Inc. was born.
They looked astonished and uneasy. Behind them a handful of men with
glistening rifles stood stolidly waiting for further orders.
“Have the men rack their guns and get out of sight. Remove the
sentry from guard duty in the entrance foyer. Batten everything down
There'll probably be a patrolman up here in a moment or two, damn it
Weaver issued an order and the men vanished at a swift trot. .
Lacy swung around to Corning and Harrigan.
In the absence of subordinates his usually crisp voice softened and
became human and friendly.
“Ed, you and Pat will have to work fast too.
Poor Sergeant Hogan's got a .45 slug in him. He's on the floor in
the library. Get him out of sight at once and fix a temporary dressing
on the wound.
Smuggle him down to the basement garage. Have Dillon drive him to
the private hospital on West End Avenue. Tell Dr. Barton I'll call him
Same arrangements as usual. No record of admission, no publicity.”
He turned away but Harrigan lingered a moment. The big Irishman
“I saw McManus high-tailing it for the elevator before the guy
jumped. If Mac trails him to wherever he's going, do you think there's
a chance we'll lock horns with the Ace, Jack?”
“I shouldn't be at all surprised, Pat.”
“God be praised for that,” Harrigan said softly. “I'm plenty tired
of chewin' oats in me stall.
You think the Ace is behind all this?”
Lacy chuckled. A dry, mirthless sound.
“I shouldn't be at all surprised, Pat,” he repeated tonelessly. “I
intend to find out. I don't like treachery any more than you do.”
He smote Pat's shoulder. His eye went frosty.
“Shove off! Get back from the hospital as soon as you can. War
conference in the library as soon as we can get together without
Harrigan hurried off and the major shrugged and stood watching the
turmoil in the distant street.
Finally he crossed the terrace, stepped through the French windows
and closed them behind him with a calm methodical precision.
Except for himself the library was empty. The bleeding sergeant was
Lacy selected an expensive Havana special from an inlaid box,
snipped the end with finicky care, applied flame to the weed.
He was in his leather armchair, one leg crossed comfortably over the
other, when Hawkins knocked softly and entered.
HAWKINS was Lacy's butler, his most prized bit of loot from the late
war. He had won Hawkins at cards at one of those wild week-end parties
in London that followed the armistice.
Hawkins had been with Lacy ever since. He was a heavy featured, soft
spoken man with a faint hint of the military under his discreet
Since the formation of Amusement, Inc., Hawkins had seen many queer
things. He had even, on one memorable occasion, pumped bullets side by
side with Lacy; but even then his eyebrows never lifted.
Always the correct gentleman's gentleman. That was Hawkins to a “T.”
He coughed slightly. “Beg pardon, sir.”
“Yes? What is it?”
“A gentleman—or rather, a person, sir. A uniformed policeman. Wants
to see you immediately. He seems rather upset, if I may say so.”
“Dear me. A policeman, eh? Send him in.”
“Very good, sir.”
Hawkins bowed woodenly. If Lacy had said:
“Shoot the policeman and shove him down the incinerator shaft,”
Hawkins would have bowed just as formally, and obeyed the order.
The cop came in with a heavy tread and a growling voice. “What the
hell's going on in this joint, anyway?”
He stopped short as he caught sight of the magnificently furnished
library and the fastidious gentleman seated calmly before the crackling
fireplace. The cop's eyes were sullen and angry in a big raw-boned
Tattersall Lacy kept his legs crossed. He feathered the ash from his
cigar into a shallow lacquered tray at his elbow. It was a lazy,
indolent gesture but the voice that accompanied it crackled like
“Take off your hat!”
Instinctively the cop's hand flew upward and the hat came off. His
face reddened. His big jaw jutted ominously.
“Listen, wise guy! Don't pull any cracks like that or you'll git
inta fast trouble. I wanta know just what the hell—”
“And kindly moderate your language,” Lacy cut in wjth a musical
murmur, “Or you can get out of my house right now. I don't care very
much for either noise or profanity. Is that clear, my friend?”
HE cop hesitated. Anger had made him go off half cocked, but wise
traffic pounders in New York soon learn to watch their step,
particularly in penthouse suites furnished like this one was. He had
come up in the elevator expecting to find a theatrical agency or an
advertising office of some sort with clattering typewriters and a
shrewd looking promoter in a check suit. The card in his gloved hand
made him expect that.
Instead he found a sombre high-ceilinged foyer and a correct butler
in black broadcloth. He saw a wide fireplace, the polished sheen of
bookcases, a quiet and restrained wealth in the furnishings. Even to
Moriarity's Third Avenue eyes the careless bric-a-brac, the gold thread
tapestries looked authentic. He saw no hint of hard faced sentries or
rifles. Little Charlie Weaver had done his work well.
There was only a small damp patch on the rug to show where the
bleeding Sergeant Hogan had fallen. Lacy noticed the spot out of the
corner of one eye. He hoped the cop wouldn't see it.
He smiled winningly at the patrolman.
“Let's not quarrel, Officer. I'm sure you're honestly attending to
your duty. What's the trouble?”
“Huh? You mean you don't know?”
“Certainly not. What's wrong?”
“A man just jumped off your roof in a parachute!”
Lacy smiled. Shook his head briefly and politely.
“Not my roof. I'm sorry.”
“Yes, your roof! How do you get that way?p
He told me so, himself. The crazy fool damn near killed a dozen
people! He said you folks up here had a police permit for a press agent
stunt. He beat it while I was arguing.”
“I'm sorry he got away from you, Officer,” Lacy said mildly. “I
don't know the man. He's a liar. Do I look like a friend and companion
er— parachute jumpers? Does this—er—
apartment look like a publicity office for a ridiculous press agent
The cop countered with a swift, suspicious question.
“Is your name John Tattersall Lacy?”
“Of course.” His eyes narrowed. He hesitated.
“What of it?”
“Do you run a business up here called Amusement, Inc.?”
“I don't think I care to answer that,” the field leader for the
Emergency Council said slowly.
“Oh, you don't!” Moriarity was beginning to get his self assurance
back. “Maybe we can walk ye down to headquarters and make ye answer.
This is your card, ain't it?”
He thrust a square pasteboard at the major and Lacy took it from his
and glanced quickly at it. His eyebrows lifted incredulously. The card
read as follows:
Quite an amusing little card. It even had its own trade-mark
engraved in color in each of the four corners. A tiny blood-red
Moriarity was scowling impatiently.
“Well, what about, it? You got a police permit for that stunt, Mr.
Lacy? Because if you ain't—”
Tattersall Lacy got up slowly from his chair.
There was a queer grimace of wry humor on his lips. This Scarlet Ace
was a foeman worthy of his steel! The Ace had planned this whole
grotesque adventure from Caxton's treacherous attempt at murder to this
last flip sneer of sardonic humor, with a cunning efficiency. He was
forcing Lacy to tip his hand to the newspapers, to explain what could
never be explained if the undercover war on crime was to go on without
“As a matter of fact,” Lacy said huskily, “I haven't a permit for a
parachute jump to a city street. I have something far more important
and interesting than that. I assure you I haven't the faintest desire
to visit a police station. Nor am I overwhelmed with pleasure at the
thought of you shooting off your well intentioned mouth about myself
and my—ahem— business.”
He drew an oblong leather case from an inner pocket and snapped it
open by the pressure of his palm.
The cop read slowly with widened eyes. He noted particularly the
seal and the signature. Both seal and signature had been placed on the
document in the District of Columbia, as even Moriarity could see. The
signature made him gasp.
He was obviously worried as he handed the thing back; but his jaw
“That's Federal, sir. It doesn't supersede the city police
regulations. I'll have to hand in my own report and —Wait a minute!
What's that stain over there?”
His wandering eyes had caught, sight of the darkened patch that
soaked the rug. He walked over, removed his white glove and touched the
spot. The tip of his blunt finger came away crimson.
“That's blood,” he gasped. “Somebody's been bleeding like a pig all
over the rug. What kind of a phony story are ye tryin' to hand me?”
He jerked out his service gun and his words spat harshly.
“Who lives here with you? Call that slick butler in. No—don't move!
Yell for him!”
With one eye on Lacy he reached for the telephone on the tiny carved
Lacy's hand closed on the instrument first. He snatched it upward
and enunciated a swift number into the transmitter.
“Stand away from me, please!” he warned the patrolman.
HIS eyes were bright whips warning Moriarity to keep his hands off
his person. Moriarity stood stiff and alert with his gun leveled at the
major. He had heard the swift number that Lacy had called. Was this
more hooey—another bluff?
He waited motionless.
Tattersall Lacy's voice was unflurried and clearly distinct. He paid
no attention whatever to the ominous gun in front of his stomach. The
calm flow of his talk was interrupted only once. He frowned, jerked
irritably, “Of course! Of course!” and continued.
At the end he laughed faintly and said:
“Certainly he's here, Commissioner. He's watching me like a hawk,
with a big blue gun in his hand. A most alert and damnably efficient
patrolman. I'll put him on.”
He nodded to the cop. “Take it, please!”
“Hello?” Moriarity called. “I just now came up here on the run, sir.
A guy jumped off the roof in a parachute an' I—Yes, sir!” His
heels clicked together; his big face screwed into wrinkles with the
effort to miss no word. “Yes, sir. I—I will, sir . . . Right . . .
I'll obey carefully, sir!”
He hung up with a shaky hand. Lacy sounded mildly curious.
Moriarity's grin was sheepish. He put the gun away.
“Phew! I sure hope I haven't—”
“You haven't, if you'll kindly listen to what I say and obey
“That's just what I've been ordered to do, sir.”
“Excellent.” The voice snapped briskly.
“First, go back to your post and forget what has happened. Turn in
no report whatever about the—
er— parachute jump. Talk to nobody. I'll see to it that the
newspapers get a convincing yarn on what happened through other
channels. I may add, however, for your own private ear, that the man
did not jump from my roof. He apparently got through to the
terrace below mine from the public hall. In a few moments another
uniformed man will relieve you. He'll tell you where to go and whom to
“The parachute jumper gave you no card,” Lacy continued evenly.
“You've never heard of an organization called Amusement, Inc. In fact,
you've never heard of or met a man named Lacy.
Do you ever talk in your sleep?”
“I—I don't think so.”
They were both soberly grave; their eyes steady on each other.
“That's a help,” Lacy nodded. “The habit of intelligent silence, my
friend, may save you from a transfer to the goats away out in Staten
Intelligent men are even sometimes promoted to a plainclothes
assignment. Do you find my remarks—er— helpful?”
“I understand you perfectly, sir.”
“In that case, Officer, I bid you a pleasant good day.”
The suave Hawkins appeared and escorted a subdued looking patrolman
to the elevator. A moment later the butler returned at Lacy's summons.
“Did you ring, sir?”
“Yes. Please send Captain Weaver in here if he's not otherwise
engaged, will you, Hawkins? And as soon as Mr. Harrigan and Mr. Corning
return inform them I'm waiting to see them.”
“Very good, sir.” He bowed and closed the door softly.
Tattersall Lacy went back to his favorite chair and a fresh cigar.
“Damnation!” he whispered in a wrathful undertone as he stared at
the damp spot in the rug where Hogan had fallen. Hogan had been a
platoon sergeant under Lacy in 1918 when the Argonne was a
smoke-curtained labyrinth of hell. A splendid soldier, he had never
once been scratched in battle. “Damnation!” the major whispered
He smoked his cigar and blew huge fragrant clouds. Gradually the
rage left him. A queer little sparkle grew in those grey eyes of his.
It was a sparkle that looked like a smile but wasn't.
E thought of the traitor Caxton, of McManus who had rushed off to
trail him; of Hogan bleeding without publicity in a private sanitarium
on West End Avenue.
And he thought too, of a mocking adversary with a dozen secret
hide-outs and a blood red mask to hide his unguessed identity. A man
nobody knew. A man who killed his savage hirelings when they failed to
murder the selected victim. The Scarlet Ace!
The odd sparkle that wasn't a smile lingered in Lacy's serene eyes.
Pat Harrigan and Ed Corning returned from the hospital to the Cloud
Building without any delay. Dillon drove the innocent looking staff car
down the ramp entrance on the Sixth Avenue side and they alighted in
the gloomy basement area behind the vast repair shop of the big Grey
Goose bus terminal.
Dillon, who had received detailed orders, began tuning up the
powerful motor of the camouflaged armored car.
Pat and Ed entered the private elevator—a luxurious little cave of
soft rose lights and onyx fixtures—and ascended swiftly to the
As they stepped out into the foyer the doors of the elevator closed
automatically together. The mechanical annunciator in the foyer ceased
its warning tak, tak, tak, tak! and the black clad figure of
Hawkins advanced courteously.
“The major is waiting for you in the library, gentlemen. He wishes
to see you at once. I believe there's to be an immediate conference.”
“Right,” Corning growled.
The two staff officers handed over their hats and coats and hurried
through the foyer. They found a rather glum and subdued Weaver
conferring in low tones with Lacy. The little man's face swung toward
them as they entered.
“How's poor Hogan getting along?” he asked quietly.
“He's okay,” Pat replied. “Don't worry about the Sarge, Charlie.
He's a tough toddy!” Pat's laugh rumbled. “He's as mad as hell that
he's out of action in case anything develops. That's all that's
worrying Hogan right now. Got a nasty hole in him but Doc Barton says
that barring possible infection and fever, he'll have him back on his
number ten brogans in a week or so.”
“The thing that makes Hogan the sickest,” Corning remarked, “is that
the shot that wounded him was fired by one of our own trusted—”
“I know, I know,” Tattersall Lacy muttered irritably. “We've all
been thinking about that.” He turned to Weaver. “Charles, what about
this man Caxton? Your'e in charge of recruiting. Was he well
“He certainly was, Jack. He has a splendid military record. I went
over his papers and citations and verified everything.”
“Ummm . . . Did he seem queer or moody lately? Has he been acting
differently? Or would you say he seemed to you quite normal?”
“I suppose so. I didn't notice particularly.
He'd been away on leave, you know.”
“How's that? He's been away?” Lacy looked immediately alert. “Why
was he on leave?”
“His sister upstate is very ill and a week ago he applied to me
through his corporal and sergeant for permission to visit her. He came
back yesterday and reported for duty.”
“I see . . . Did you observe him closely when he came back?”
“Why, no.” Weaver looked startled. “What are you getting at, Jack?
Do you mean to imply that there's been some kind of substitution? You
mean that the man who returned as Caxton might have been a double, an
imposter? A spy?”
“I wonder,” Lacy murmured. He drummed rapidly with his lean fingers
on the padded arm of his chair.
HARRIGAN grinned incredulously. “That's damned nonsense, Jack. I had
a quick look at the fella just before he jumped—and he certainly
looked like Caxton to me. Hogan thought he was Caxton too.”
“And yet, Pat, he did jump, didn't he? And he certainly tried to
kill me right in this very room.
And Hogan is in the hospital with a fresh hole in him from a blazing
His eyes clouded and he glanced at Corning.
“Ed, did you notice anything unusual about the fellow?”
“Sorry, Jack. Can't help you, I'm afraid. I paid no attention to him
at all. I simply took it for granted that he was Caxton. I'll admit I
didn't talk to him since he came back from his leave.”
Ed sat up suddenly and swore. “Wait a minute! If that guy wasn't
what he seemed, then where's Caxton? What's happened to him?”
“Exactly.” The major sounded dry and remote. “If we've all been
fooled by a clever actor, where's the man who went away a week ago on
leave? Where's the man whose military record and trustworthiness were
investigated and okayed by Charles here? In short, gentlemen, where is
private Caxton of Amusement, Inc.?”
“I still think you're up the wrong tree, Jack,” Harrigan insisted
stubbornly. “Men have gone crazy before this. I remember once in Santo
“But not crazy enough to smuggle in a parachute, Pat. An insane
marine doesn't have a printed card ready to hand to a policeman so as
to get us some swift and unpleasant newspaper notoriety. Gentlemen, say
what you will, this whole thing was planned shrewdly from start to
finish. It was a cold-blooded attempt at assassination by a man with
enough guts and daring—or fear, maybe—to try murder in the heart of
our guarded headquarters. And to make a ghastly leap into space.”
He swung his gaze at Pat. “Would you have jumped, Pat?”
“Not me,” the redhead grunted. “I'll take a chance any time; but not
that kind of a chance.”
“There's only one man I can think of who can frighten his hirelings
to a point of desperation like that. He's the man who accepts no excuse
“The Ace,” Corning muttered. “Remember what happened to the Man in
the Top Hat?”
Tattersall Lacy closed his eyes suddenly. He was trying to recall
more vividly the face of the man who had jumped. The telephone rang
suddenly and Lacy answered it.
“Hello?” His eyes flashed with a watchful flame. “Yes, Yes! Just a
moment before you say a word. Are you in a soundproof booth? Excellent.
Keep your voice low but distinct. Full report please, from the
moment you left.”
His lips jerked away from the transmitter and he spat a single
explanatory word: “McManus!”
McManus was the marine who had .
descended swiftly to the street in the penthouse elevator before the
major's maddened assailant jumped. The three staff officers of
Amusement, Inc. sat forward on the edges of their chairs, watching
narrowly, trying to make out the faint metallic buzzing that came from
IT was exclusively a one-way conversation. Lacy said nothing at all.
He listened intently, making hasty pencil notes on a small scratch pad
at his elbow. Once or twice he nodded, but his face remained
He said, finally: “Very well done, McManus!
Remain where you have described—in the clearing—until I have you
relieved. If the—er—
party leaves the house in the meantime, follow him at once and
report his movements by telephone the first chance you get. There will
be someone here on duty in headquarters to receive such messages and
forward them if necessary. And—McManus!”
His voice purred like a kitten.
He hung up and faced his three associates with a flinty smile.
“We seem to have stumbled upon a most promising lead, gentlemen.
McManus kept his eyes open and stuck close to Caxton from the very
moment he wriggled away from the patrolman and vanished like a chip in
a millrace. He hailed a cab and drove to the West Side subway, popped
calmly underground and boarded the first Van Cortlandt Park train that
came into the station. So did McManus—in a rear car of the same train.
The fugitive apparently made no effort to dodge a shadower.”
“Isn't that a bit queer?” Weaver asked in his worried tone.
“Certainly it's queer, Charles. The whole damned thing is queer.
It's possible that Caxton may have deliberately encouraged a shadow. If
he did, it means only one thing—a trap. But trap or no trap, he's our
one link with the Scarlet Ace. And by everything holy, gentlemen, we're
going to investigate.”
“Where did the trail lead?” Harrigan asked.
“It led right to the end of the subway line at Van Cortlandt Park.
Cax-ton descended from the elevated structure to the street, hired a
taxi at the cab stand and drove north. Mc-Manus thought fast and acted
shrewdly. Instead of following in another cab and arousing Caxton's
suspicions he made a note of the license plate and hung around out of
sight until the taxi returned. He slipped the driver a ten dollar bill
and got the address without any difficulty. He pretended to be a
private dick on an adultery case. He's on duty now at a place where he
can watch the road leading to the grounds. So far Caxton is still there
too. Unless he slipped out while McManus was telephoning.”
“Grounds?” Ed Corning asked. “What is this place, an estate or
“Something of that sort. It's beyond the Riverdale district on
Tarle-ton Road. According to McManus the house is a dilapidated,
unkempt looking old dwelling set back from the road in spacious
grounds. It's surrounded by a weedy lawn and uncut shrubbery that
hasn't been trimmed in six months. There's a low stone wall along the
road and a big wooden 'For Sale' sign at the entrance. Nothing around
it for a mile or so but scrub oak. According to McManus, the fugitive
Caxton went into this apparently empty house and he hasn't come out
“Tarleton Road,” Harrigan mused slowly.
“Must be somewhere pretty close to the Hudson.”
For answer Tattersall Lacy arose, walked to the east wall of the
library and touched a spring.
Panels slid smoothly aside and revealed a large rectangular map of
New York City and its environs. On it was etched in tiny microscopic
detail, streets, transportation lines, airports, ferries, bridges,
tunnels. Red inked asterisks marked the map here and there but the
major paid no attention to these symbols of past adventures. His long
finger traced upward toward River-dale and beyond.
Behind him Weaver smiled as Lacy's finger passed smoothly over an
asterisk in the upper city.
The ink-spot was a prosaic reminder of a wild, windy night when
Harry Lipper, the Torch King, had died from a bullet in Lacy's gun,
with the flames from a burning building bathing his smug well-fed face
with mocking scarlet. At that time Lipper's death had seemed like an
important victory in the war on organized and interlocking crime. They
knew differently now—these sombre eyed men in the lofty penthouse.
The existence of an astute criminal overlord had never even been
suspected. It was only as Lacy climbed the rungs patiently from lesser
to greater scoundrels that the hidden figure of the Scarlet Ace
emerged. He was out in the open now behind the mystery of his blood-red
The major's slim finger paused on the map.
“Here we are. Tarleton Road. You were right, Pat. It's fairly close
to the river. There's the railroad line; and here's a dot which I
presume is a local station. Mmmmm ... Ed, fetch me the detail survey
map for this particular sector. B-47, please. Better get out B-48 too.”
AFTER a while Lacy nodded. He shoved the detail maps aside and the
twinkle that dry little Weaver loved come into his eyes.
“How many men available for immediate duty, Charles?”
“Plenty. Issue the necessary orders. Better make Minsky acting
sergeant. How are we on transportation? Have the Grey Goose people
finished overhauling our—er—passenger bus?”
“Have it gassed then and equipped Immediately. Notify Sergeant
Dillon to have the staff car ready for a quick run to Riverdale.
Hawkins will take care of any phone calls that may come in from
McManus. I'll arrange a relay in case it's necessary.”
“Any other orders, sir?”
“I fancy that's all, Charles, except—” He clapped the little man
briskly on the shoulder.
“Except speed, my boy! Speed and precision, eh? Bundle along,
Weaver disappeared toward the barrack rooms in the rear of the
penthouse. The huge suite that housed Amusement, Inc., covered the
better part of two floors. The major, rich as he was, could never have
begun to afford the rent it was legitimately worth. As a matter of
fact, he paid no rent at all.
The explanation was simple; it dated back to the formation of the
Emergency Council for Crime Control.
THERE were six directors on that Council, answering only to code
names based on the days of the week. The Council provided the sinews of
war, Tattersall Lacy the field leadership. The chairman of the
corporation which had financed and built the towering skyscraper
answered to another name which newspaper readers had never heard of. He
was simply Mr. Wednesday. Which would have interested the Scarlet Ace,
had he known. . . .
Pat Harrigan's broad back moved toward the window. He stared out at
the busy smoke plumes of Manhattan. His big fist clenched as he beheld
the world's greatest city in its outspread beauty of steel and stone
and circling rivers. A city plundered daily by thieves and murderers.
Pat was no lawyer. He had small use for writs, indictments or
courtrooms. Bullet for bullet was Pat's simple code; death for death.
That was all those slimy rats understood!
He stared out the window at the city he had been born in and he made
his belligerent little prayer:
“Please, God, we grab the Ace red-handed in that house in Riverdale!
Please God, I sneak past the major and get in there first!”
Pat was quite a religious guy.
A big Grey Goose bus lumbered up through the great stone archway of
the Cloud Building and turned into Sixth Avenue. It rolled north under
the striped stilts of the elevated structure for a few blocks and then
swung over to Broadway.
The destination sign on the bus was marked SPECIAL. The sides were
draped with frayed bunting; and on the rear an oilcloth poster flapped
in the breeze. On the poster was stencilled In faded lettering:
ANNUAL OUTING—TIMOTHY O'FLANNIGAN ASSOCIATION
The bus, like the car that preceded it up Broadway was not exactly
what a casual eye might suppose. Its chassis was a specially braced
job; its sides were armored with thin plate from floor to windowsill;
under each window, in a slotted recess, were steel shutters that could
be raised at a moment's notice.
Lean looking men with ruddy outdoor faces rode inside the bus.
Behind the draped chintz curtains on the windows they lolled pleasantly
on upholstered leather seats, smoked cigarettes, kidded one another.
They wore dark grey suits, tan shirts, black ties. Their snap-brim hats
were all the same color—pearl grey.
In the racks over their heads were unpainted wooden boxes that might
contain lunch but didn't.
Webbed belts sagged heavy with ammunition, each with a bayonet in
its swinging scabbard.
Springfield rifles hung neatly suspended on double hooks.
The job of driving that heavy bus was a cinch for the tobacco
chewing bozo behind the wheel. He had learned on Nash Quads and Four
Wheel Drives, bumping along between hell and heaven with Jerry shrapnel
to help him along.
He kept the bus monotonously to Broadway.
Ditto for the staff car that kept always a block or two ahead. At
Kingsbridge Road a red light brought them side by side and a swift
signal passed between Sergeant Dillon and the driver of the bus.
The sedan immediately increased its speed until it became a dot far
ahead and finally passed from sight. It reached Van Cortlandt Park,
turned west toward the hills of Riverdale and so came at last to
“Not too fast, Dillon,” Tattersall Lacy cautioned.
Dillon obeyed like an automaton without the slightest sign that he
heard the order. He was Lacy's personal chauffeur; he always drove the
staff car. Weaver and Corning sat on either side of the major. Pat
Harri-gan's beefy body was like a squatting mountain on one of the
Corning made sly cracks about it and offered him a newspaper to
They watched Tarleton Road slip by. It was a narrow macadamized
highway that cut along the base of wooded green hills like a winding
dusty ribbon. The car passed a crossroad presently where there was a
huddle of frame stores and a one story grocery shack. This was the spot
from where the patient McManus had telephoned. Lacy's keen eye noticed
the familiar blue and white telephone sign outside as they sped by.
A mile or two beyond the crossroad Lacy said curtly: “Left turn,
Sergeant!” and Dillon slowed and spun his wheel.
They turned into a rutted dirt lane that wound into the scrub oak
and widened out in a small clearing. A path led from the clearing
toward a low stone wall that was almost covered by underbrush and a
thick tangle of trailing creepers.
Beyond this side wall was the house they had come to raid. The house
itself was invisible from the clearing.
There was no sign of private McManus.
“That's funny,” Weaver said in a low voice.
“Wasn't McManus supposed to wait here, Jack?”
Lacy didn't bother answering the question. He turned to Corning:
“Ed, get back to the road right away. Slide along cautiously till
you reach the front wall of the estate. Take a careful look at the
house without exposing yourself. Weaver, you wait at the head of the
lane and see that the bus turns in here as quietly as possible when it
“Do you think there's anything wrong, Jack?”
“Of course there's something wrong,” Lacy snapped irritably. “Damn
it man, use your head!
McManus was supposed to be here. He isn't. He's not the man to walk
away from his post and pick daisies. He's been captured! It proves, I'm
afraid, what I suspected. Caxton knew he was being trailed to this
hangout! He must have had orders to lead McManus—and
us—deliberately to this spot.”
“Then the Scarlet Ace,” Corning growled, “doesn't give a good damn
whether we raid him or not. Is that what you mean?”
The major shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine, Ed. Get going!”
CORNING stepped obediently down the road to reconnoitre the house
from the front wall.
Weaver went with him to flag the bus at the head of the lane. Lacy
poked carefully around in the little clearing in a patient search for
some sort of clue that might throw light on the mysterious
disappearance of McManus.
He found a cigarette butt or two, but nothing else. If McManus had
been surprised and captured it must have happened swiftly. The thick
growth of weeds showed no signs of a struggle.
A low rumble sounded and the big camouflaged bus of Amusement, Inc.,
backed up the narrow lane. Under Charlie Weaver's low voiced commands
the men piled out in disciplined haste and began assembling and
The thud of heavy feet sounded. Ed Corning was racing back from his
inspection tour in panting haste.
“They've got McManus!” he cried breathlessly. “They've got him in
the house somewhere!” Harrigan swore.
“Are you sure of it?” Lacy's voice crackled.
“Did you actually see him? How do you know?”
“I saw his hat, sir.” In spite of his anxiety Corning remembered
automatically to “sir” the major in front of the men. “His hat's stuck
up in the open like a challenge, sir. They put it up there on purpose.”
“His hat? Up where? What are you talking about?”
“McManus's grey snap-brim hat! It's stuck up on a projecting cornice
directly over the front doorway. I saw it the minute I peeked over the
top of the stone wall. McManus certainly never left it there—not in a
spot like that. Why should it be placed so carefully in plain sight?”
“So we'd see it,” Harrigan snarled. “Why else?”
“Hmmm....” The major's forehead wrinkled.
“Any signs of occupancy that you could see from the grounds?”
“No, sir. The old joint is as quiet as a grave. Looks as though it's
been empty for years.”
“Sounds like a trap,” Harrigan muttered somberly.
“Trap? Certainly it's a trap, or a grim invitation for us to come in
and find a murdered McManus,” Lacy rejoined tartly. “I've been
expecting something of the sort. However—”
He glanced about the clearing, at the stolid veterans with the
rifles, at the opened grenade boxes, at the two assembled Lewis guns
with their squat businesslike little tripods. The spark in his roving
eye stiffened each man like the galvanic touch of an electric current.
“—However,” Tattersall Lacy's slow drawl continued, “trick or no
trick, we're going to raid that house. Captain Weaver!”
“You will be in charge of the men. Scatter them through the grounds
in the underbrush. Spot a machine gun to one side with its muzzle
ranged on the front door panels. Put the other gun on the rear door.
Detail two men as grenadiers. Keep everything covered and out of sight.
Corning, you will assist Weaver. Place your men at once. I'll give you
Weaver led the men in a silent single file along the faint path to
the weed-grown side wall that flanked the estate. They disappeared from
sight like ghosts. No sound came from the grounds except the thin
rustle of the breeze in the shrubbery.
THE slow minutes ticked by. Dil-lon, the driver of the staff car,
wriggled with distaste in his seat. No matter how hot the scrimmage
got, his orders were to stay behind the wheel.
Finally Lacy glanced at his watch. “All right, Harrigan.”
He squeezed past the empty bus and strode down the rutted lane with
Harrigan at his side.
Together they walked swiftly along the road until they reached the
stone wall that fronted the estate.
Thick shrubbery prevented a view of the house until they reached the
Harrigan breathed a faint rumbling oath.
“By the Lord, Jack, there it is! See it? There's poor McManus's
It was just where Corning had described it—a grey snap-brim fedora
stuck carefully on an overhanging eave just above the front doorway,
where it could easily be discernible from the road.
The house itself looked dingy and tenantless; all the shades were
drawn. There was a musty air of decay and emptiness about it. Grass
sprouted in the cracks of the stone walk that led from the road.
Lacy noted with a grim approval that there was no visible evidence
of his eleven marines.
He said curtly to Harrigan: “Wait here, Pat.
I'm going up this path alone for a moment, if you please.”
“Wait here,” the major repeated tonelessly.
He walked slowly up the stone-flagged pavement with a silver whistle
in his left hand and a .45 Colt, army model, in his right.
Twenty feet from the front door he halted deliberately and surveyed
the silent house from roof to ground. He didn't look backward at
Harrigan but his voice called softly: “All right, Pat.
Follow on. Keep six feet behind me.”
When he heard the crunch of Harrigan's feet cease he started forward
Pat called uneasily: “Look out for a volley from the window! They
may have a Tommie in ambush.”
“Quite so.” The major's voice was dry. “I have my own small theory
about that window and door. I rather think I'm right, too.” As he spoke
he ran suddenly forward and his hand closed on the knob. With a swift
motion he turned it and shoved.
The door, as he had surmised, was unlocked.
It flew inward with a bang and stayed wide open.
Tattersall Lacy leaped sideways out of range.
No Tommie gun flamed from the opening. Not a sound, not a motion
came from the house. Lacy's hand went over his head and he made a
peculiar circling gesture. He blew three short blasts on his whistle.
From behind trees and bushes men with rifles came flitting into life.
They converged on the doorway.
“Fix bayonets!” Lacy ordered.
The rifles lengthened ominously in a dead silence.
“I want this house mopped up from top to bottom, men. Forward!”
Pat Harrigan dashed instantly for the open doorway. He rebounded
from the calmly stiffened shoulder of his superior.
Tattersall Lacy was the first man to jump through the opening.
He sprang across the hall and peered into a room on the right. It
was empty; covered with dust.
But the major's sharp eyes saw recent footprints in the dust. The
prints led to one of the shaded windows. There was a small ragged
peep-hole in the shade. Someone had been in this room at no very
Out in the hall Weaver's commands echoed hollowly:
“Parker's squad up with me to the second floor. Temple's men with
Mr. Corning to the top floor. The rest wait here. No shots if you can
avoid it. If you run into any gangsters wade into 'em with the long
thrust. Pin 'em to the wall!”
Ascending feet rumbled on the un-carpeted stairs. Lacy smiled wryly.
He rather imagined he knew what they'd find. Unless Lacy's forebodings
were wrong they'd find nothing but the mutilated dead body of private
McManus of Amusement, Inc.
He ran back to the front hall in time to see Harrigan emerge from
the room opposite.
“Empty,” Harrigan snarled. “Nothing. Not even a rag of carpet on the
ITH a trio of silent marines at their heels they searched the entire
ground floor. It was the same wherever they looked—nothing. The cellar
door was secured by a bolt and a huge padlock; both were cob-webbed and
thick with accumulated dust.
Suddenly they heard a faint shout from upstairs and the shrilling of
They raced to the foot of the wide staircase and hurried upstairs.
As the rush of their feet died away one of the oaken panels below
the main staircase swung soundlessly open, disclosing a black square
hole. A man wriggled swiftly through the opening. He tiptoed to the
foot of the stairs and stood there listening. He laughed with a brief
He had no face, this stealthy intruder. His hidden eyes gleamed
through narrow silken slits. A close-fitting hood of scarlet covered
skull and face and hung down below his collar. The mask fluttered
faintly with the pressure of his heavy breathing.
He stood there for an instant, quietly tense, like a cowled scarlet
chessman. Then he whirled with another snarling chuckle and vanished
through the yawning hole below the staircase. The panel closed without
a click. . . .
Up on the top floor, at the head of the stairs, Lacy and Harrigan
found a puzzled looking marine on guard.
“Rear room, sir. Straight through to the back.”
“McManus's body in there?” the major snapped.
“No, sir. No sign of him anywhere.”
“What! The devil you say!” Lacy's eyes looked suddenly thoughtful.
“He ought to be here somewhere,” Pat muttered. “That hat of his
It was a big attic room with a peaked ceiling and an enormous
chimney on one side. Weaver's finger pointed silently and the major
said with astonishment: “What's all this?”
The wide and enormous projection of the chimney was plastered a
smooth white like the rest of the room; but the whole chimney width was
covered with writing from the ceiling to the small fireplace opening.
A mysterious and lengthy message. Hundreds of words in smudgy black
crayon. It must have taken a long time to write.
Below the last line of writing was a blood-red diamond, so freshly
painted that it glistened. Two wavering threads of scarlet had trickled
from it down the wall.
ACY'S eyes narrowed as he read the first sentence or two of the long
message. It wasn't a bit like the usual crisp challenges of the Ace. It
was rambling, involved, almost meaningless.
“I can't make head nor tail of it,” the worried Weaver said. “It
reads like the meanderings of a lunatic. What the hell does the thing
Pat Harrigan read the first few words aloud in his gruff voice,
staring closely to make them out:
“Whereas and if and however, in justice to the supremely exalted
character of the man who has chosen to call himself The Scarlet Ace, if
those who stop to read will, perhaps, allow the personality involved
. . .”
Ed Corning shrugged. “Plain lunacy! He's gone crazy, if you ask me.”
“I wonder,” Lacy said harshly.
He reached forward and touched the tip of his finger to the freshly
painted ace of diamonds. His finger came away red.
He looked at the ugly stain. It wasn't gritty or greasy to the
touch. An expression of stony horror came into his eyes. He placed the
tip of his finger against his tongue. A faintly salty taste. It was
blood! Freshly spilt human blood!
“What is it, sir?” Corning asked. “What's the matter?”
Lacy didn't answer. He stood there as though frozen, with that queer
baffled look of horror in his eyes, mechanically reading the jumbled
nonsense of the long, close-written message on the white plaster.
“It'll take hours to read that junk,” Weaver complained. “We've got
no time to—”
Lacy shouted aloud. “Time!” He roared it savagely. “That's what it
is! He's lured all of us here together and he wants time!”
He sprang away from the scrawled nonsense, whirled, and pointed
toward the open doorway and the dusty stairs beyond.
“Out!” he trumpeted. “Out—all of you!
Downstairs and out into the open—for your lives!”
He shoved fiercely at the nearest marine and sent him staggering.
His whistle blew a shrill retreat summons.
There was no gainsaying his savage command. They ran helter-skelter
from the room and clattered down the stairs. All except Harrigan.
The big Irishman was staring obstinately at the wall. Lacy's fist
doubled and he swung viciously against Harrigan's ribs.
“Out! Get out, you!”
He shoved Harrigan ahead of him. They raced madly toward the ground
floor. Pat had to take the stairs in a series of giant leaps to keep
ahead of the plunging major.
HE marines were bunched out on the grass in front of the entrance as
Lacy sprang from the door. His big Colt menaced them. He certainly
seemed like a madman. “Get back to the road!
He set the example by racing past them, and they followed obediently
in awkward and jostling haste.
Suddenly a great blast of wind struck at the backs of the fleeing
men and hurled them flat on their faces. A thunderous roar shook the
Dazed and bewildered by the terrific detonation they lay where they
had fallen; and pieces of wreckage whizzed from the sky and gashed the
ground all about them. Their eardrums ached. It was like the end of the
Tattersall Lacy crawled dizzily to his knees and stared over his
The whole upper part of the house had melted away. It was wide open
to the sky like the crater of a volcano. A greasy pall of black smoke
hung sullenly above the ragged ruin. Flames licked in and out like
orange serpents, snapping hungrily in the dust-laden air.
There was no trace whatever of the top-floor room where the marines
had been crowded a few moments earlier. It was gone. Dissolved,
exploded to atoms.
“Jeeze!” a voice whispered weakly. Somebody coughed hackingly. A man
pressed his hand against his ribs and groaned.
“Anybody hurt?” Corning called.
Lacy was upright on his feet now. “Weaver!
Line up your men quickly! Are they all here?”
An uneven double rank moved together on the cluttered lawn. “Here!
You! Present! Here. . .”
“All present, sir,” Weaver gasped.
“Good enough. Pick up your scattered equipment and rush the
detachment back to the truck. Double quick! Drive off at once. Follow
the planned route back to headquarters. Oh— Weaver!”
“Have Dillon bring the staff car around to the front here. There'll
be some awkward explaining to do if we don't all get the hell out of
here in a hurry.”
The marines vanished. Suddenly Harrigan ran across the grass to the
stone walk. He had seen something. He stood there, staring down.
“Look at this damn thing! Jack!”
There was a message on the stone. He pointed. Three crisp words
scrawled on the pavement:
YOURS VERY TRULY
A playing card lay face upward in the grass nearby. The ace of
diamonds. “That wasn't here when we went inside the house,” Ed Corning
“You're damn right is wasn't!” Harrigan grunted. “It was done while
we were upstairs.”
Lacy nodded. “The Ace must have been here in person. Came here to
witness the explosion with his own eyes and make personally sure that
he had wiped out the entire personnel of Amusement, Inc.
Damn him—he can't be far away right now. He must have fled just
before we came pouring out of the house.”
From far down the road came the rumble of the departing bus-load of
marines. There was a shriller hum and the staff car, driven by Dillon,
halted outside the entrance gate with a squeal of its powerful brakes.
“Keep your engine running, Dillon,,” Lacy shouted. “Be ready to
shove off fast in the next couple of minutes!”
His words spurted to Corning and Harrigan:
“By God, we're not going to leave here without a last quick search
of the grounds for poor McManus! He must be here somewhere. That bloody
signature on the plastered chimney was wet and sticky. It was freshly
He glanced at his watch. It was barely three minutes since the
explosion had roared.
“Still time if we're lucky,” he muttered grimly. “Come on!”
They separated swiftly and ran through the grounds in a desperate
last minute search for the missing McManus. They peered under torn
shrubbery, ripped through vines and creepers; batted thorny branches
away from their redrimmed eyes.
It was Lacy himself who found the bodies.
There were two of them. Sprawled on their backs in a tangled copse
of birch trees in the rear of the burning dwelling.
IT was easy to see how the Ace had gotten them there; the force of
the shattering explosion had cracked the smooth earth away from the
sides of a grass-grown slab of timber. The mouth of a slanting tunnel
yawned in the ground.
Lacy bent over the victims. They had both been stabbed repeatedly.
They were slimy with their own blood. The eyes of private McManus were
wide open and staring. He was dead.
But the other man still lived; and Lacy's mouth tightened viciously
as he saw the dying face. Hogan's assailant! The man who had jumped!
“Caxton, by God!” the major breathed.
It was and it wasn't! Caxton's scalp seemed to have slipped queerly.
The major reached down and with one jerk he plucked off the black
wig. Underneath it the man's real scalp showed—close-clipped, prickly,
His mouth and chin were not Caxton's. In his death weakness the
man's whole face had relaxed and was utterly different. Lacy marvelled
that he could ever have mistaken the fellow for Caxton.
The dying man jeered faintly.
“Fooled you—not a bad—actor—am I? Fooled the whole pack—of—”
“Who stabbed you?”
No answer. Blood trickled from the tight corners of the fake
“You've got guts,” Lacy whispered to him.
He leaned closer. His voice was friendly, fatherly.
Full of a subtle flattery. “I would never have dared to make that
chute jump into a city street. I admire your courage, my friend; but
what did it get you? A knife in your back!”
“I—got—plenty—guts,” he groaned. “I played ball with
the—the—Master . . . But I didn't kill you up there— in—the Cloud
“Exactly. You're dying like a rat, my friend, as a reward for high
courage and loyalty. The Ace stabbed you.”
“He — he killed me — damn — him ...”
“Where's the real Caxton? He's a prisoner, isn't he? Where has the
Ace got him hidden?”
The eyelids closed.
“Where? Tell me, man! The Ace didn't play square with you. You did
your best and he killed you for it. You're dying. Here's your last
chance for revenge. Where's Caxton?”
Tattersall Lacy laid his ear against the faintly quivering lips. Pat
and Ed were like frozen shadows behind the major, staring, trying
vainly to catch the stream of inaudible syllables that dribbled into
Lacy's bent ear. The major listened like a carved Sphinx.
The dribbling whisper ceased. The dying head lifted suddenly by
itself clear off the ground.
“So long, pal!” he jeered suddenly in a strong voice.
His head dropped. A flicker wrenched his body. He lay stark.
“You're a louse, my friend,” said the major's calm voice. “But you
had guts; you weren't lying when you said that. And you did talk
finally. Thank you for that, anyway.”
Rapidly he emptied the dead killer's pockets.
He did the same with McManus—ripped the tailor's label from the
ex-marine's coat, removed swiftly all telltale marks of identification.
“Can't afford any publicity yet,” he said coolly to the scowling
Harrigan. “An hour or two in the morgue can't possibly make any
difference to McManus. I'll have his body removed to headquarters the
minute I can get into confidential touch with Mr. Saturday of the
His words were hard-boiled; but his eyes were blinking queerly and
he was holding himself in cold check by a tremendous effort.
“Stop looking at me like that, Pat.”
His teeth clicked and his voice steadied.
“Remember, gentlemen, that Caxton may still be alive. We can't help
the dead. We've got a quick chance of rescuing a living man if we
He turned on his heel and his long legs sprinted toward the waiting
staff car. Pat and Ed piled in behind him; and the alert Dillon meshed
gears promptly and shot away like a streak.
Lacy leaned forward with his face a stiff mask and whispered
directions to Dillon.
THE afternoon was rapidly fading into dusk, but Dillon didn't switch
on any lights. He kept the car hurtling along side a torpedo. At the
infrequent crossroads he slowed barely enough to catch a quick glimpse
of the vanishing street signs.
He turned left at a place marked Cunningham Road. He drove very
slowly now. The road wound downhill toward the Hudson. It became a
paved street, lined on both sides with neat and utterly respectable
“Far enough, Dillon!” the major rasped.
Dillon slammed on the brakes and relaxed.
The rest alighted. They walked down the darkened street and the
major glanced at the dim house numbers. The house he was seeking was
the last one in the row; the one nearest the river.
There was a grass lawn surrounding it and a neat hedge of green
privet along the edge of the sidewalk. The lawn sloped away on one side
toward the misty river and ended in a sheer bank at the water's edge.
The major's shadowy figure led the way toward the front porch of the
“What's the program, Jack?” Corning whispered.
“Shoot anybody that gets in your way,” was the low response. “If
Caxton is a prisoner in there he's coming out with us. Either he comes
out or we say in.”
He pressed the bell button and stood aside in shadow. There was a
“Who is it?” a thick voice growled hoarsely.
Lacy laid a calm finger on his lips. Corning and Harrigan couched
watchfully. Under cover of his coat Lacy's right hand gripped a big
“Who is it?”
The door opened slightly and a face peered.
There was a sharp exclamation and a gun rammed through the narrow
opening. Lacy leaped staight at the muzzle. Before the gangster's
finger could press trigger, the major's fierce thrust sent the opened
door crashing inward and spilled man and gun headlong.
A thin jet of flame spat from the Army .45.
The sprawled thug on the floor coughed, threshed over on his face
The major hurdled the body, raced swiftly down the hall and threw
open a door. A bullet from within the room whizzed past his head and
buried itself in the door frame with a harsh thhhwaaaack!
He dropped to one knee and fired again. The coolly aimed bullet
caught his foe squarely in the groin and toppled him with a crash.
With the sound of that fall Lacy was up again and into the room.
There were two more snarling thugs inside.
They rushed promptly. A chair smashed against Lacy's head and beat
him down. Pat Harrigan's gun blew a hole through the belly of the chair
swinger. The fourth gangster fired almost pointblank at the redhead.
Pat leaped sideways a second before the flash. Before he could recover
a second bullet creased his neck with flame and he felt the hot blood
Lacy fired upward from the floor at the swearing thug and missed.
But Ed Corning didn't!
There was a crashing echo from Ed's gun. Silence flowed into the
reeking smoke-filled room.
“That makes four by my arithmetic,” Ed said dryly. “I guess that's
They were like cold eyed automatons. No mercy in their taut faces.
Lacy swayed back to his feet.
“Are you hurt, Jack?”
“Four of 'em,” Ed remarked. “Three here and one in the hall. Not bad
“Listen!” Lacy said sharply
FROM the rear of the cottage they heard a sudden sliding, scuttling
sound and the dull bump of a heavy body striking solid earth.
“Somebody's just slid down the extension roof,” Pat whispered.
“Somebody scrammed out an upper window and jumped.”
With one accord the three crime discouragers dashed from the room.
They ran like deer down the hall and threw open the rear door. In the
soft earth behind the extension of the kitchen shed they saw the deep
imprint of feet.
“Look!” Corning shouted.
Twenty yards away a figure was racing across the sloping lawn toward
the Hudson. Lacy's gun elevated with a snap of his wrist and he fired.
As he ran forward he saw a crumpled smear of scarlet on the grass. A
silken cowl with blank, ugly slits like empty eye-sockets; dropped in
mad flight by the fear-stricken criminal ahead of him. It was the
telltale disguise of the Ace!
The Ace had whirled and stopped short. In his terror he screamed
shrilly like an animal. He sent three flaming stabs backward through
Crouched at bay, he was a hideous sight. In the darkness Lacy
couldn't be sure of the features; but he saw a powerfully shaped head,
a gaunt face with wildly gleaming eyes. In the half-light the face was
vague, a distorted blur of greenish shadow. Dank black hair lay
plastered smoothly on the broad skull; it hung down in unkempt strands
over the tops of the ears. The sight filled Lacy with a queer, loathing
hate. He had a sudden sickish desire to swing the edge of a spade
against that matted skull and smash it to pieces like a rotten melon.
He felt repulsion, a crawling fear.
As Lacy hesitated, the Ace turned again and sped away.
The major fired steadily as he pursued. The criminal “Master” seemed
to bear a charmed life.
Bullets sang above his head, cut the turf under his flying feet.
He reached the high bank above the river. His arms arched over his
head. He dived. They heard the deep water splash as his body hit the
A second later Lacy reached the edge of the steep bank. He reloaded
hastily. He saw the dripping head emerge from the surface of the river,
far out in the swirling current. He sent white spray flying all about
it with the spat of his reckless bullets. Ed was emptying his gun; so
They saw the Ace's gaunt arm lift and his dripping gun flamed once
at them from the murky river. Then a second arm lifted. The head
vanished swiftly out of sight. It didn't come up again.
Nothing but the rip of the tide and the formless swirl of gathering
Was he dead? Had they killed him? Was he a corpse rolling gently
along in muddy depths? The three marine officers stared at one another
and none of them voiced their thoughts.
Suddenly Corning gave a brisk cry. He sounded relieved about
“Listen to that! There'll be hell popping in a minute!”
They could hear the faint shrilling of a police whistle, the sound
“Back to the house!” Lacy snapped in his old crisp tone. “We can't
stop here. We've got to search that house. A quick search for Caxton
and a prompt getaway or we'll have Dillon and the staff car out of
action. We can't afford that.”
They went through the cottage like madmen on a spree. A locked door
on the upper floor went in like matchwood under their assault. Within
the room a man lay gagged and bound on a narrow bed. Caxton! He was
emaciated and half delirious.
Lacy's knife snapped the taut bonds with a few swift cuts. Pat and
Ed raised the semiconscious man between them and dragged his limp feet
down the stairs to the street.
They piled into the staff car. They flopped Caxton upright on the
rear seat and help him.
“Double quick, Dillon!” Lacy barked.
DILLON crossed the trunk highway like a streak and continued inland.
He had studied the regional maps till he knew the place like a book. He
stopped at the side of the road for a few seconds and sprang out.
Changing the license plates was a simple process; Dillon simply tore
off the topmost plate and another number appeared instantly in its
It was like tearing a sheet from a calendar. The plates looked like
metal but weren't; they were pressed one above another like leaves in a
The staff car resumed its flight at a more sedate speed. Dillon
snicked on the dash lights.
“Well, we got the Ace,” Harrigan said in a funny voice.
“We know damn well we got the Ace,” Corning said harshly.
“Do we, Ed?” The major sounded tired. ”I wonder.”
“Men don't stay under water indefinitely and live, Jack.”
“They don't usually,” Lacy admitted. “Let's think about something
else.” He sighed.
Lacy lit a cigarette with an unsteady hand. In the light of the
match his face gleamed sharply-cut like a cameo.
“I did something today that wrenched my heart,” he said in a jerky
voice. “I mean when I stripped McManus of identification marks and left
him for strangers to stare at. And yet—”
His voice steadied. It cut at his brother crime destroyers with a
“In a like case, gentlemen, I expect and want you to do the same
thing to me. The cause we espouse is paramount; the individual life
McManus was a good soldier. If his spirit is still near us he'll
salute, click his marine heels and say, 'Yes, sir!' to that. I—”
He said no more. The wheels of the staff car whirred monotonously
along the dark road.
Thoughts drummed within Tattersall Lacy's brain with the same deadly
“I've put my hand to the task of uprooting crime and I'll never stop
till the Emergency Council dissolves forever. If the Scarlet Ace is
indeed dead, so much the better for me. If he's still alive so much the
worse, by God, for the Scarlet Ace!”
It was fifteen long years since the war in France ended; but the
bronzed profile in the fitful gleam of the cigarette looked curiously
youthful— curiously like that younger man of the A. E. F. that a
mud-caked battalion of hellions had given a proud nickname. Jack
Lacy—the Iron Major!