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All-Detective, July 1933

COMPLETE THIS ISSUE—A SCARLET ACE NOVELETTE

HELL HOUSE

By THEODORE A. TINSLEY

Cunning Against Cunning! Wit Against Wit! The Scarlet Ace Laid His Snare Well and Lacy Stepped High — Only to Find That Safety Itself is dangerous, That the Hunter is too Often Hunted When His Quarry Has More Eyes Than a City

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 Amusement, Inc.

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.

"Yes, sir."

"You obtained permission from Sergeant Hogan to do so, I presume?"

"N-No, sir."

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 face, Caxton!"

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 dirty—"

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 melted away.

"Cease firing!"

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 Lacy's ears.

"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 bugs.

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 to kill.

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 parachute pack!

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 street! 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?"

"Yes, sir."

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 parachute.

"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? 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 flooding 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 policeman something. The cop was looking it over. His hand stayed on the jumper's shoulder.

Suddenly, with a twist and a wrench, Caxton fled. From his perch on the pen...

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