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The Death Club

By George Harmon Coxe

CHAPTER I.
INITIATION.

GARAGE doors locked securely, George Dunlap said, "All right," and started across the lawn in back of the square white house which stood in the center of a five-acre plot.

Walt Harper fell in step behind Dunlap and followed him through inky shadows to the narrow walk that skirted the darkened house. Heels clicked hollowly on the concrete, echoing out from the side of the structure until the two men swung around the corner and up the front steps.

Dunlap unlocked the door. Harper unbuttoned his coat so he would have free access to his left armpit, and pressed in through the doorway behind his companion.

Dunlap snapped the light switch as Harper shut the door. A yellow glow bathed the spacious, luxuriously furnished hall.

Harper said, "I'll go up with you."

Dunlap nodded, stepped forward, and ascended the wide staircase. At the second floor landing he turned right, and Harper followed him down the thickly carpeted corridor to the last room on the left. Harper reached in front of the other man, threw open the door and stepped into the darkened room.

A switch clicked, light flooded the bedroom. From a position flat against the near wall a thin, pasty-faced man with a pointed nose swung a blackjack.

Harper moved with the click of the switch, moved sidewise away from that wall. But he was unable to move far enough. The blackjack glanced from the side of his head, and he stumbled as he reached for his gun. From the left a burly figure catapulted into him and knocked him to the floor. A third man grabbed Dunlap and yanked him into the room.

Harper rolled to his knees. He slugged the pasty-faced man with his free hand, but the burly man clung to the gun wrist. Harper got to his feet, pulling the other man with him. The fellow lowered his head and charged. Harper backed two steps and fell over a chair. The gun was torn loose from his grasp. Four hands jerked him to his feet and slapped him back against the wall.

Standing there, Harper made a high, narrow figure against the cream-colored paper. The well- tailored suit which lent a deceptive slenderness to his well-knit figure was bunched at the shoulders. A dull glow of hate sprang from his brown eyes as they flicked across the room, and the lips below the trim mustache were flat against his teeth.

The thin man with the blackjack glowered at him, but on the burly one's face was a grin. He had something of the ape about him. He was bowlegged, his arms were long, his fists knotty. His face was flat, and thick muscles tightened the sleeves and shoulders of his suit.

He turned and tossed Harper's gun to the third man, a thickset blond with eyes too small for his face who stood with his hand on Dunlap's wrist.

Harper's left lashed out, caught the bowlegged man on the cheekbone. The thin man swung the blackjack. Harper took it on the shoulder and hooked a right to the face. The fellow cursed and the bowlegged man pulled his chin down on his chest and came forward.

Harper bounced a left and a right off that lowered head, trying to reach the jaw. He took four short-arm jabs to the face and body in return. He sidestepped a looping right, spun about, reached for a heavy bookend on a bedside table. Then the thin man used the blackjack again.

Harper went to his knees. The man said, "Lemme polish him off now, Slug."

Slug laughed. "Don't be silly, Leo. This guy likes it." He pushed Leo to one side, reached down and jerked Harper to his feet. "Don't you like it, baby?" He put all his weight behind the next blow and smashed his fist to Harper's mouth.

Harper staggered, but kept his feet. He shot another left and right, which connected but lacked power. He was out on his feet, but he avoided Slug's next punch, pivoted and lashed out at Leo.

Over in the corner of the room the bald, spindly- legged Dunlap stood white-faced, wide-eyed. The blond man left him and stepped toward Harper.

"Come on, Slug," he said. "We got things to do."

"O.K. Just a minute." Slug grinned and his little eyes gleamed with satisfaction. "For a private dick he can take it. I ain't had so much fun since—"

He broke off as Leo, bleeding at the lips from Harper's punches, swung the blackjack. It connected behind the ear where Harper's dark hair was flecked with gray.

Harper's head rolled and he fell forward.

Slug said, "You're a heel, Leo." He bent over, grabbed Harper by the lapels, and yanked him to his knees. Then, holding him upright with his left, he leaned far over and smashed his right, backed by his entire weight, into Harper's face.

Harper's head bounced back against the wall. He fell over on his side and lay still.

WHEN Walt Harper recovered consciousness he was alone. He rolled over on his back and groaned. Then he crawled laboriously to the bed on his hands and knees, drew himself erect. He steadied himself with his left hand on the end of the bed, lurched toward the closed door. Near it he stumbled and went down on his knees, but his left hand, thrown wildly out, caught the knob and he pulled himself to his feet again.

He stood there for some moments before trying to open the door. There was a lump on his forehead, another behind his ear. One eye had a cut over it, and blood had trickled down to mat the dark eyebrow; the other eye was swollen partly shut. There was a gash on one cheekbone, both lips were split and the lower jaw was lumpy.

Harper turned the doorknob and the door swung open as he lurched against it. He staggered into the hall, headed for the stairs, checked himself with his hand on the banister. From somewhere down the other end of the hall came a muffled groan. He stood there, weaving back and forth on his feet like a punch-drunk fighter, then started down the hall, his hand feeling along the wall for support.

He stopped opposite the second door on his left. From behind the panels the muffled tones sounded again. He swung into the room and groped for the light switch. He found the button, pushed it, and the resulting glow showed another bedroom, done in yellow with dainty, feminine hangings and pale- green furniture.

On the bed, fully clothed and with hands and feet securely bound, lay a girl. Blond hair fell about her shoulders. China-blue eyes, wide under penciled brows, stared out of a flushed face. A twisted towel had been thrust across an opened mouth and tied around her neck.

Harper seemed to stiffen. He moved unsteadily to the bed, picked at the cord binding the girl. He thrust trembling fingers into a vest pocket, took out a small penknife. He managed to open a blade and cut the ropes.

The girl sat upright as he untied the towel and began rubbing her wrists.

Harper dropped on the bed beside her and said, "Whisky."

The girl's eyes never left his face as she got up from the bed. She continued staring at him for a second, the look in her eyes a mixture of pity and revulsion. "I'll see," she said, and left the room.

Harper was still sitting upright on the bed, bracing himself with his hands, when the girl returned. She carried a glass and a square brown bottle. She drew the cork and poured an inch of whisky into the glass.

Harper tossed it off in one gulp. He coughed once, then reached for the bottle. The girl gave it to him, and he poured another third of a glassful. This he drank quickly and drew back his lips as the alcohol burned the cuts.

The girl dropped into a straight-backed chair, her eyes still on Harper. He returned the gaze, looking through the bloodied eyebrow without lifting his head. Finally he said, "How long have you been tied up here?"

"Over an hour. I was downstairs reading. When I went to answer the doorbell the three of them rushed in."

"Where's the housekeeper?"

"She stays with her mother one night a week. Tonight's the night." She leaned forward in the chair, rubbing her wrists absently. "Is—is uncle all right?" There was fear in her voice.

"I don't know." Harper told what had happened, and as he finished the girl uttered a frightened cry, as though some forgotten memory had accused her, and sprang toward the dresser.

"They left a note," she said, at the same time picking up a piece of paper propped against the mirror. She glanced quickly at it, handed it to Harper.

He looked at her for a moment without reading the note. One hand strayed to his face, explored with gentle fingers the bruises and cuts. Then he dropped his eyes, read:

If your uncle's life means anything to you, don't call the police. We will get in touch with you later. Don't be alarmed if you don't hear from us for a week or ten days.

Harper tossed the note to the bed. His mustache twitched above a bitter smile and his voice was hoarse, unemotional. "I'm going back to your uncle's room, get fixed up. I'll want to talk to you."

The girl got to her feet. "Let me—bathe those cuts—"

"Afterward." Harper moved toward the door, paused with his hand on the knob. "I'm going to take a cold shower. When I come back you can stick some adhesive tape where it'll do the most good."

WALT HARPER'S appearance was considerably improved when he finished dressing after his shower. There was no longer any blood on his face and the cuts were clean. He gave a final tug to his tie, lighted a cigarette, turned away from the chest of drawers, and looked slowly about the room.

He inhaled deeply, blew out smoke in a thin stream. He righted the overturned chairs, walked over and opened a closet door. He pawed over a half-dozen suits, looked down at the shoes, the portm...

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