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Death Ray

By Paul Ernst
Author of "Devil at the Wheel," "Garroter of Death," etc.

Follow Bill Oliver as he tracks down a cowardly killer and solves a "clueless" murder.

KIB NASTEN had worked this out pretty cleverly, he thought. Doctor Robert Wasey paid blackmail. A smooth con man named Ringo had hooked Wasey. Twice a year he called around and the doctor gritted his teeth and handed over two thousand in cash. Now the price was to be doubled, with Rib Nasten as Ringo's partner in the "clip."

Disguised as a decrepit old man, Nasten had pushed past the protesting office girl and gained the doctor's inner office. Doctor Wasey, who was leaning over a black slab of a table and working at a black, boxlike thing wheeled up beside it, stared impatiently at him.

"My dear sir," he said. "There is a patient ahead of you. If you will please wait your turn—"

Nasten stepped closer to Doctor Wasey, and in his right hand was a gun with the bulky cylinder of a silencer on it.

"This is a stick-up, you sap. Put your hands up and keep 'em there," he said, in a low tone that was none the less deadly for being low.

Wasey's hands rose. Not a very large man, he seemed to shrivel a little under the menace of the gun.

"I haven't anything of value—" he faltered.

"Keep your voice down! One peep out of you, and you get it." Nasten jabbed the gun toward him. "This gat's silenced, so I could plug you easy and nobody'd know."

Doctor Wasey moistened his lips nervously.

"But I haven't any money here. I haven't a thing—"

"Bunk," said Nasten. "A guy named Ringo is supposed to come in here in about an hour and get two grand from you. Two thousand bucks. You'll have that around the place, now. I want it."

Doctor Wasey's face got, if possible, a little whiter.

"So you know—about that."


"But I can't give you that! Ringo would ruin me if I didn't have it for him!"

Nasten shrugged. "Get another two grand for him." Ringo had coached him in this important line.

"I haven't got it! I already pay the man more than I have to live on myself."

"That's your tough luck," grated Nasten. "Come on. Hand over the two grand—"

There was a commotion in the anteroom. Shrill words penetrated the inner office door. They were in a woman's hysterical tone.

"I want to see Doctor Wasey. At once! He promised he'd telephone tonight and he hasn't. I want to see him immediately!"

"Damn it!" breathed Nasten. He was scared and showed it. Witnesses were the last things that he wanted now. But like a scared rat, he was all the more dangerous for being frightened.

He slid up on the black-topped table, just as the door started to open.

''I'm a patient, see?" he whispered tensely to Wasey. "Monkey around! Make a show of treating me for something! But remember my gat's right on you, so don't get funny!"

Doctor Wasey nodded, and snapped a switch on the black box half over the table. Intense light rayed out.

"I'll be giving you a ray treatment," he said. "Lie still."

A woman of thirty-five or so burst in, wild-eyed and sobbing. Then, as she saw the man on the black slab, and Doctor Wasey staring at her, she collected herself a bit.

"Oh," she said, less hysterically. "Oh, I—I shouldn't have done this. I'm sorry. But Doctor, I had to know how my husband is. Has he—is it cancer? You said you'd telephone, and I didn't hear from you—"

Wasey moistened his lips. He glanced sideways at Nasten, saw the silenced gun bulge out of Nasten's coat a trifle as the man wordlessly ordered the doctor to watch his step.

"I didn't phone you," Wasey said to the woman, "because as yet there is nothing to phone about. I don't know yet if the growth is malignant or not. I think I'll have word by eleven. If I do, I'll call you."

THE woman was still crying, but more quietly. "If you knew the agony of waiting—

But of course you can't give an opinion till you've studied every feature of the case. I'm sorry—I came in this way. I hardly knew what I was doing. I'll hear from you at eleven, Doctor?"

Wasey nodded and started going eagerly to the door with her. Nasten stared at him. In the crook's eyes was a promise of death if Wasey tried to leave the office.

Wasey stopped at the door, while the woman crossed the anteroom, still talking to him. He stood with one hand on the door-jamb, and the other resting on a filing cabinet near the door. Nasten watched that hand.

Doctor Wasey closed the door, shutting Nasten and himself in together again. He whirled suddenly toward the low table.

But Nasten was ready for him. He saw the gun in Wasey's hand, furtively picked up from the filing cabinet. He saw the look of desperate courage on the doctor's thin, lined face.

Snarling, Nasten shot.

The slight punk of the silenced gun was followed by the scuffling thud of Wasey's dead body as it hit the floor, and the clatter of the gun dropping from his stark hand.

Raving curses under his breath, Nasten stooped and extracted a bulging wallet from the dead man's clothes. He leaped for the window. There was a fire-escape there. He half tripped over an electric cord going from a wall-plug to the black box next the low table, recovered, went on. From the fire-escape he heard a girl's scream above and behind him. He swung into a lower window, ran to the stairs and down them—and walked slowly and unobtrusively through the building lobby to the street, his shoulders bent as an old man's are bent, and with his iron-grey hair showing from under the back of his hat.

DETECTIVE BILL OLIVER shook his head at the anteroom girl's shaky description of the man.

"Sounds like a disguise to me," he said. "Any hood can put on a grey wig and stoop his shoulders a little. It isn't an old man's trick to pull a killing like this."

He went into the inner office again. The first look-around had been perfunctory. Now he was more thorough. On the floor, near the window, Wasey's dead body sprawled with a hole through its head. A gun, not discharged, lay near his right hand.

"The doc got too brave, tried to shoot, and the guy nailed him," Oliver mused. "Then he beat it out the window and down the fire-escape."

The cord trailing from the black box over the black slab of a table caught Oliver's eyes. He bent to look at it. It was looped where a hasty foot had caught in it, and jerked it loose from the wall-plug.

"Tripped over this on his way out," Oliver muttered to himself. Then he stared at the box, and slowly a glint showed in his cold blue eyes. He stepped to it, began to examine it. After a minute a grin touched his lips. It was colder than the chair before the current is turned on.

He went to the outer door of the suite of offices. A cop in uniform was there.

"Don't let anybody in," said Oliver. "And when the fingerprint men and other mugs get here, tell 'em to save their strength. I'll have the killer on ice in four hours or less."

Kib Nasten sat in Black Jack's tavern on Eighth Avenue. It was not the best place in the world for him to be at the moment. Black Jack's was one of a dozen places habitually visited by the police when crime had been done and they wanted a roundup. But Nasten paid little attention to that.

He was safe, he knew. No one could identify him as the man who had gone into Wasey's office. The grey wig and the rusty black suit and hat he'd worn were at the bottom of the river, with a stone to hold them down. The gun he'd had to kill the doctor with lay in the watery depths beside the disguise.

A man came in the front door. Nasten looked up perfunctorily, then straightened as he recognized the newcomer. It was a dick. Detective William Oliver. Nasten knew him a lot better than he cared to!

But after a moment, Kib Nasten slumped in his chair again. They couldn't get anything on him, could they? Then, what the devil?

Detective Oliver walked up to the bar. He stared expressionlessly at Jack, owner and manager, behind a mahogany length. Jack, black-haired, black-eyed, with a. smile that was as false as a lead dime painted always on his oily fat face, stared back.

"Anything on your mind?" Jack said to Oliver. "Or did you just drop in to hoist one?"

"No drinks," said Oliver. His eyes were roaming the place, taking in the occupants of first one table and then another, studying the faces lined over the bar. As his gaze traveled, men glared back, and then avoided it.

"I've got a lot on my mind," said Oliver slowly, gaze still roaming the place. This was the fifth drinking joint he had visited so far; but his eyes were no less alert for having searched so long without finding what they sought. "Murder, Black Jack, among other things—"

His voice trailed away. His gaze stopped. He walked toward Nasten's table.

"Mr. Kib Nasten in person," he drawled. "How are you, Kib? Last time I saw you was when I picked you up on an assault charge."

Nasten felt cold as he stared at Oliver's bleak face. But he reminded himself he was as safe as if he were in church. Thirty guys willing to swear he had been here at Black Jack's all evening.

"Go roll a hoop," he snarled, with an arrogance born of his feeling of perfect safety.

"Hoops, is it?" said Oliver. "Sure, I'll roll one—toward Doctor Wasey's office! Ever hear of Doctor Wasey?" His hand closed on Nasten's left arm midway between wrist and elbow.

The cold feeling grew in Nasten's chest. But his dark, narrowed eyes did not waver as he said:

"Never heard of him. What about him?"

"He died three hours ago, that's all," Oliver said softly. "Died of a bullet from a silenced gun."

The man-hunter's glint in his cold blue eyes flared higher as his fingers explored the arm that Nasten tried to jerk free.

"Nice," Oliver said. "As airtight as anything I've ever seen. Now your left

hand, Nasten. Let's have a look at that, just to refresh my memory."

Nasten's left hand was clenched and under the table. He tried to keep it there; the detective's tone was shattering to bits his feeling that everything was all right.

But Oliver jerked up on the arm he clutched, and Nasten's hand came into view above the level of the table.

"Okay," said Oliver, nodding, staring at his left hand.

Nasten's teeth showed a tendency to chatter. Something had gone wrong! He hadn't the least notion what it was, but he knew there'd been a slip.

The hysterical dame who had busted into old Wasey's office? Had she spotted his disguise and tipped the cops? No—she hadn't even looked squarely at Nasten; must have thought of him as just another patient on the black slab of a table. The girl in the anteroom?

Nasten could swear she hadn't glommed the falsity of the grey hair and the stoop. Then what—

"Nasten," said Oliver, "I'm taking you in for the murder of Doctor Robert Wasey."

Nasten cursed, and rose like an uncoiling spring. His hand shot to the wall.

Always he took this table, at the rear, near the back wall. And that was not by chance, as Oliver soon learned. There was a square tin box projecting from the wall at this point. It was the fuse box.

As Nasten's right hand tripped the master switch that turned out every light in the place, his left, with its curled little finger, clawed loose from the detective's grip and smashed the table over and up.

Oliver exclaimed in the darkness, staggering from the impact of the table against his stomach. Nasten streaked for the rear door of Jack's place.

"Get that cop!" somebody yelled in the dark tumult of the room.

There was a scuffling of many feet, a sound of chairs tipping as men got eagerly up from tables. The scuffling feet converged toward the spot where Detective Oliver had stood.

NASTEN sped from the rear door of Jack's place like a rabbit with a hound on its trail. He jumped from the doorway into an areaway as dark as Jack's place had been. He ran down the areaway on silent feet.

Dimly he was still wondering what had slipped, what had led Oliver straight from Wasey's office to him. But only the back of his mind was concerned with that. The rest was concentrating frantically on escape.

There was a bend in the areaway. It led to the side street next to Jack's place. Nasten lurked in darkness for several minutes, listening, watching. Then he went toward the side street. He had to. There was no other way to go, and he knew it.

He came onto the sidewalk. No one was in sight in either direction who seemed interested in him. There was a battered old sedan at the curb and—by the luck of the devil—its keys glinted in the ignition lock on its dash.

With a breath like a sob coming from his lips, Nasten jumped to the car, wrenched open the door. He got behind the wheel, rasped into first gear, and tore ahead so fast that the tires squealed on the pavement.

Behind him, the dick who had somehow put the bee on him almost certainly lay dead, with his head kicked to a jelly in the darkness. Under him was a car that could not be identified in any way as his. Ahead of him was the whole United States to hide in.

Movement in the rear-view mirror caught his startled gaze. He stared, hypnotized, at the reflection of a body rising from behind the front seat. Then he turned.

Detective Oliver sat comfortably in the rear seat. His police positive rested easily but unwaveringly on his knee, with its muzzle pointing at the back of Nasten's neck.

"Turn around and watch the road," Oliver said. "Don't go over fifteen miles an hour. Take the next turn to the left and keep on going. To Headquarters!"

Nasten turned back, white-faced, too stunned to utter a word.

"Figured it might be kind of hard to get you out of Jack's joint with all your pals around," Oliver grunted. "So I let you get yourself out. I slipped behind the bar when you started for the back door, and slid along it to the front door. Only way you could get to the street from the back door was out that areaway—where I'd parked ahead of time. I got in the back of my car to nail you when you sneaked out the areaway, and you're considerate enough to get right in with me!"

Still Nasten said nothing. He couldn't. Rigid, wide-eyed with, fear, he rolled the car at the commanded fifteen miles an hour toward Headquarters.

At Headquarters, Kib Nasten strove desperately to regain a little of his former arrogance. There couldn't be any tie-up between him and Doctor Wasey!

"You guys can't hold me here," he mumbled. "I don't know what the rap is, but I ain't the one to pin it on. I was at Jack's all evening—"

"Sure," rumbled Oliver, staring at him out of hard blue eyes. "I know. Murphy, is that print ready yet?"

The uniformed cop addressed by Oliver nodded, and handed over a large photographic print. Nasten stared at it with eyes no less fearful for being blank with ignorance of what it was all about.

HE saw a large picture that looked like a cloud scene, shot through in places by dim light, studded here and there by boldly black objects.

"Nice of you to have your picture taken before you rubbed out Doctor Wasey," said Oliver.

"Picture?" faltered Nasten, heart beginning to hammer in his throat.

Oliver nodded.

"Different than any I've ever seen in a rogue's gallery, but even better. It shows the bones of a hand holding a gun with a silencer on it. And it shows a backbone and a couple of floating ribs and then another hand—a left hand—with a little finger curled up where the bone was broken and a bum job of setting done on it. Your finger, Nasten.

"And it shows a bulge in the bone of the left arm where that was badly set at the same time. Your arm, Nasten. It shows keys and coins and things too, but we'll skip them."

"What are you—talking about?" Nasten gasped thickly, panic in his voice.

"This print," Oliver said. "This X-ray picture of your middle. Wasey was getting ready to take a picture of a man's busted arm when you came along and were dumb enough to let him get you as a subject instead. It came out good, too. Too good for you! Only one other crook in the files has a curled little finger like yours, and he's in the big house. The re-set bone in your left arm will help before a jury, too."

Nasten's fingernails bit into his palms. The big box next to the black-topped table! Little as he knew about doctor's offices, it had seemed half familiar even then. But not familiar enough!

Discretion, the animal cleverness of saying nothing to the cops under any circumstances, was shocked clear out of his head.

"Damn him!" he screamed. "He said he was giving me a ray treatment! Violet ray—"

"Not violet," said Detective Oliver, "but X."

Then he corrected himself, a smile as cold as the chair before the current is turned on, touching his hard lips.

"Not exactly X, either. It's the kind— for you—that the news hawks are always playing up in the Sunday hot sheets. A death ray, Nasten! And Mrs. Wasey can use the two thousand. It seems her husband told her things—"