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Death Takes The Wheel

By G. Wayman Jones

When Crime and Corruption Scourge a City, Jimmy Gilmore Battles for Justice!


THE delicate, filigreed hands on the clock pointed to exactly three minutes to twelve.

The clock was just a shade too ornamental for good taste. So were the other furnishings in Raul Krendall's den—and so, for that matter was Raul Krendall himself, with his too-perfect attire and his impeccable manners. Not that he didn't manage to move in the best circles in Newkirk City. He was entertaining a group tonight.

From the other side of the door came sounds of laughter and the music of an expensive orchestra. Some of the more thoughtful of the guests out there might have wondered how Raul Krendall could afford all this, since he had no visible means of support. Inside the den, Mrs. Robert Carson was finding out the secret of this.

She wasn't enjoying it. She was trembling all over, her blue eyes clouded with despair and loathing as she brought a roll of bills out of her purse and handed them across the table to Raul Krendall, who was smiling cynically.

"That's all—all I could possibly get together. Won't you—" her throaty voice broke—"won't you give me back my letters now? Won't you please let me have every one of them?"

Krendall's long fingers leafed through the bills. "When you bring me the rest of the ten thousand, then you may have your letters back. You have my word of honor—"

Paula Carson laughed bitterly. "The honor of a blackmailer! Just because when I was a romantic schoolgirl I wrote some foolish letters to a matinee idol—"

"Of course," Krendall said soothingly. "But after all, your husband is inclined to be hot- tempered and he's just out of the hospital. I thought that it would be very bad for him to be disturbed—-considering his condition—so when I heard about these letters I came directly to you...."

The young woman made a hopeless gesture.

"Oh, if I only had someone to turn to—"

Behind her, the door of the den opened, letting in a burst of music. Paula Carson turned around, with a quick intake of breath that was almost a prayer.

Then her shoulders slumped as she saw who it was. It was only Jimmy Gilmore.

Raul Krendall read her thoughts and spoke them, but in a voice so low that it reached her ears alone.

"He can't help you. He couldn't help anybody. It's just Jimmy Gilmore!"

PHYSICALLY, James Quincy Gilmore deserved more complimentary comment than that. He looked very much a man. Six feet tall, perfectly proportioned, he moved with an ease and grace that bespoke the superb coordination of mind and muscle. His face too was good-looking, with strong features and clear brown eyes.

The only mark on him seemed to be a scar that angled up from his left eyebrow, to be lost in his spiky brown hair.

According to his socialite friends and those others who knew him in Newkirk City, he was just a playboy, with too much money and too much looks. There was no denying his charm, and being a Gilmore his blue blood coursed thickly through him.

Now Jimmy Gilmore stood in the doorway, a surprised expression on his face, as if he hadn't expected to see anyone.

He let his eyes wander around the den until they came to rest on the ornate clock.

"Midnight!" he said. "The time for dark deeds and foul spirits to be abroad—and all that rot you read about. Personally, I never believed it. Sorry—" he waved a hand at the man and woman—"guess I'll be going."

The door closed behind him. Neither of the two people in the den had noticed one peculiar thing. Perhaps they had been too far away; or more likely they hadn't considered Jimmy Gilmore important enough to study closely.

As a result they hadn't noticed a change come over the scar on Jimmy's forehead. Usually it was almost invisible under his tan. When he had stepped into the den it had begun to glow redly, like a tiny, jagged streak of red lightning across his forehead.

That happened only when the usually calm James Quincy Gilmore, the rich idler, knew rage to his deepest depths, felt anger roaring with tidal force through his veins.

The scar registered only when he was in the presence of a despicable injustice.

It was a few minutes after three by Raul Krendall's clock when the last of his guests had gone. A leer of triumph split Krendall's thin face as he went to the wall back of his desk and removed an etching of an English countryside. He pressed a button, hidden in the wall moulding, and a panel swung back. Behind it was a small chrome steel safe.

Krendall's air of self-satisfaction deepened as he opened the safe and prepared to deposit therein the money he had taken from Mrs. Carson.

Suddenly the door opened—the same door that had admitted playboy Jimmy Gilmore earlier in the evening. But this time the figure on the threshold was very different. About the same size and build—yes. But there the resemblance ended. The man in the doorway was purposeful, grim, dynamic. Dressed all in black, even to black gloves and a black mask, he radiated a grim purpose that made Raul Krendall cower against the wall.

Slowly, deliberately, the sable visitor closed the door behind him. His eyes burned through the slits in his mask. His voice was clipped and cold.

"I'll take that money, Krendall. Also Mrs. Carson's letters and all the rest of the blackmail stuff you have in that safe!"

"My God!" Raul Krendall's voice was a hollow croak. "Who are you?"

"Look at me, Krendall," the clipped voice directed. "Look at me and think back. Whom do I resemble? Oh, no man you ever saw. But a man you no doubt heard about, eh, Krendall? This black cloak, this black mask—"

"No!" Krendall cried hoarsely. "No, it can't be! It can't—"

"Yes, Krendall—I am that man—I am . . . 'Alias Mr. Death'."

WITH these words the man in black moved fast across the den toward his terror- stricken host. His black shoes made no sound on the soft rug.

"But you're supposed to be dead," Krendall babbled, his face the color of chalk. "You crashed in a plane—"

"So I did," the clipped voice cut in coldly, "but I've come back. I've come back to deal with rats like you. I've been away too long, and in my absence Newkirk City has grown foul again. And because the police as well as the rats themselves thought me dead, I had a strategic advantage in this particular clean-up job.

"I have other advantages, too, Krendall. I am a wanted man—wanted because I took the law into my own hands when the official law was too corrupt to deal with the crime that sapped at this city's vitals. But precisely because of that, I haven't a thing to lose, and a man who has nothing to lose can take the chances another man can't take."

Raul Krendall's face was completely drained of color. He struggled to control himself as his visitor moved slowly forward, with that soundless, cat-like tread. Krendall was a rat, but he had some degree of cunning and desperation.

In the wall niche above the safe was a hidden set-in gun. One of Raul Krendall's cute little ideas. It was trained on a spot at the left side of his desk where visitors usually sat. It was operated by a button on the leg of his desk.

Krendall wrestled a placating expression onto his face. If he could only stall for a moment or two longer, his unwelcome guest would come in line with the set gun.

"Don't be too hard on me," Raul Krendall whined. He moved closer to his desk and his foot moved toward the button. "I don't do this blackmailing because I like to. I have to do it. The boss makes me."

"Granted!" the answer was sharp. "Granted that you don't have sense enough to plan all this. You're just a hired man. Tell me who your boss is and I'll likely let you off easy."

Krendall trembled in anticipation. One step more and he could press the button. His voice sank to a strained whisper.

"You've got to promise to protect me if I tell you. My life wouldn't be worth a lead nickel if I—"

His words were cut off by the sudden, loud roar of the gun. And the masked figure was apparently hit, he was down, he was rolling on the rug.

A snarl of triumph broke from Raul Krendall. His hand snaked into a top drawer of the desk, came out with another revolver. He lifted it to line on the rolling figure, just to make sure.

But one thing Raul Krendall had missed in his eagerness and excitement. He could not be blamed for that—it had been a movement too quick for any pair of human eyes to follow.

Mr. Death had seen Krendall's leg stiffen as it reached for the button. He had been warned at the crucial instant by the instinctive squinting of Krendall's eyes.

Consequently, the b...

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