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His devilish cunning mocked the power of the law... he was the scarlet ace! Not until he blasted the one who failed did they know the menace of his hidden hand.

The Scarlet Ace

By Theodore A. Tinsley

A FAINT council of labored breathing came from the men in the penthouse apartment high above the pavements of Manhattan. They didn't look like men. Great goggle eyes of glass, monstrous masks of flexible rubber covered the faces of Tattersall Lacy's guests. They had come secretly at his bidding to the very pinnacle of the guarded Cloud Building. They had come to hear a victrola recital, to listen behind ugly masks to the thin music of death. Their nostrils were clamped tightly. They sucked in through flexible rubber tubes the air that filtered through chemical layers in the yellow canisters on their chests.

In the very center of the major's penthouse library stood a tall victrola, cabinet. The lid was raised; but there was no disk on the green felt. The unplayed record was in Major Lacy's left hand. In his right Lacy held an ordinary playing card lightly between thumb and forefinger.

A criminal's calling card!

The sunlight that flooded the room made the single scarlet pip on the pasteboard gleam like a bright smear of blood. The ace of diamonds.

Beside Lacy, on the floor, came the sound of scurrying and the healthy squeaks of a pair of white mice from the research laboratories of the Jenkins Foundation. The major glanced at the small wooden cage. He felt a faint surge of pity for these unfortunate little martyrs that were to give up their lives to prove the deadliness of this new criminal enemy of Amusement, Inc.

Tattersall Lacy was the only man in the room whose face still remained unhooded.

"Gentlemen, I am about to play the record of the Scarlet Ace. Let no one remove his mask until I give the signal. Sergeant Hogan!"

The sergeant stood near the closed French windows, a single pace in front of a double rank of silent, masked men.

"As soon as the record ceases, Sergeant, I want every window opened wide to the air."

"Yes, sir."

Lacy glanced at the grotesque figures in the library. All of them had a finger in this sinister pie. Close to his elbow stood the staff officers of Amusement, Inc.,—Charlie Weaver, Ed Corning, Pat Harrigan. Opposite them in a little semicircular group before the ornate fireplace were six silent figures; men whose real names were never spoken, who answered only to code names based on the days of the week. Men who represented power, wealth, politics. The Emergency Council for Crime Control.

There were two others. The tall man was chief of police of New York. The younger man with the nervous hands was Richard Marvin, the incorruptible and hard-hitting reform district attorney.

The major adjusted his own mask. That disk in the closed machine was no ordinary record. It was neither rubber nor fibre. When he had rapped it gently with his knuckles it had given forth a thin, wavering sound like the note of a tapped wine- glass. It was metal; and when he had held it for the others to see, they noticed that the surface gleamed brightly as though the needle grooves had been coated with a colorless lacquer.

There was a faint scratching hum from the machine. Then a woman's voice was speaking clearly, beautifully:

"How do you do, Major Lacy? You are about to listen to a message of the utmost importance. It concerns the future activities of a certain secrct anti-crime organization founded by you and known only as Amusement, Inc. The message I refer to will be spoken to you directly by my master; the man who has sent to you the Ace of Diamonds. It is necessary that your three staff officers listen to this communication. If they are not, by any chance, present with you now, please stop the record at this point and send for them. It is my master's wish that these three men hear his voice. Do you understand? Stop the record and send for them."

THE voice ceased. Tattersall Lacy stood motionless, listening to the brusque scratch of the needle. Did he imagine it or was there a faint haze in the closed room? Silence and a monotonous needle whirring.

The woman's voice came sweetly again.

"Thank you, Major. Thank you also, Messrs. Corning, Weaver and Harrigan. I introduce you now to the master; to the man who has chosen to call himself The Scarlet Ace."

The haze that emerged from the doors of the machine was pale blue, Lacy thought. Barely visible. Insidious. The blue of distant mountain peaks wavering in clear morning air. He could barely see it; but it was in the room, stealing everywhere in a swift, almost colorless stain. Every molecule of the air was heavy with it.

The men in the library leaned forward to miss no word from the victrola.

"John Tattersall Lacy, you bother me. Your activity has become a serious nuisance to me. It interferes with my sleep. I need plenty of calm, untroubled sleep. I am not, like yourself, a man of robust health. Therefore, the Scarlet Ace now pronounces sentence upon you. The sentence is death!"

The measured tones paused. The words were flat, evenly spaced, harshly uttered.

"A few months ago, Major. Lacy, you organized Amusement, Inc., and became field leader for a committee of six men whose names, I confess, are still unknown to me. You began your campaign by killing an obscure fire-bug named Harry Lipper; a humble cog in my organization. You shot him to death in the back alley of a Bronx tenement. From that first killing you have slowly climbed on the dead bodies of Phil Casaba, Ned Bjorski and a dozen others to a point where you have become a serious threat to me."

The disembodied voice laughed and the sound was like the dull clash of metal.

"Major Lacy, because of that you are dying now! Do you hear me, you fool? You too, Harrigan, you, Captain Weaver and you also, Edward Corning. Too late to run; too late to cry out! Your lungs are already rotten with death— your heart is pumping it along your veins and arteries. Death, from the Scarlet Ace!"

The dull laughter clashed again.

Lacy's eyes jerked to the small wooden cage atop the victrola. The scurryings and the squeakings had ceased. The unfortunate mice lay huddled in a corner of their tiny prison. A grim proof of the deadliness of this supreme enemy of Amusement, Inc.

"Farewell to a meddling nuisance; farewell to a stubborn-minded soldier," said the low tones of the murderer in the victrola. "Requiescat in pace..."

A pale blueness dyed the poisoned air.

TATTERSALL LACY reached forward and cut the switch, placed the small wooden cage on the library floor and removed the record. Sergeant Hogan's arm gestured promptly.

The double line of masked men behind the sergeant turned on their disciplined heels and threw wide every window in the sealed room. The warm breeze from the west gushed in, blew the curtains strongly, rattled the sheaf of papers on the major's desk. The blue fuzziness faded through the opened windows.

After a while Lacy inserted a forefinger under the edge of his rubber mask and took a cautious breath. In a moment or two he slipped the hood from his head and wiped the perspiration from forehead and face with a silk handkerchief. He was smiling faintly.

"All clear, gentlemen," he told them mildly.

There was a quick motion of relief all through the room. The grotesque coverings came away and he saw the sweating faces of his friends. On a July day like this, the close fitting helmets were like individual Turkish baths.

District Attorney Marvin was annoyed. He disliked anything that had no rational explanation.

"What does it all mean?" he asked sharply.

"It means death, my dear Marvin. It means an original and fiendish attempt at murder that places the historic p...

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