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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 poisonings of the Borgias on the plane of high-school chemistry. It failed because of pure chance—plus my own cautious habits."

"Who is this fellow—this Scarlet Ace?" growled the chief of police.

"I don't know. I wish I did."

"And that damned blue fog? Was that—"

"Gas," said the major softly. "A lethal gas that I suspect may prove interesting when it is isolated in a laboratory and tested qualitatively and quantitatively. I intend to send this phonograph disk to the Chemical Welfare Service in Washington for laboratory test."

He held the record in his hand and tapped it again lightly with his fingernail until it rang thinly.

"Metal, you see. Not composition. Looks very much like an alloy of the aluminum group. See how it gleams in the light. It's been lacquered with a coating of some clear liquid. Notice the sheen? Only in the playing grooves. The center and edges are untouched. Obviously the friction of the whirring needle creates sufficient heat to transform the lacquer coating into highly volatile gas; the thin blue haze you saw before the windows were opened. If you think it was imaginary just step over and glance at these unfortunate mice."

He turned on them the cold grimace of his smile.

"The reason I summoned you all here to listen to a death monologue under carefully planned conditions, was to show you that our war on organized crime has scarcely begun. Amusement, Inc., is still faced with an unknown foe—probably the most dangerous foe that law and order has ever locked horns with. He's coming out into the open at last—this so-called Scarlet Ace—the silent brain I've always suspected from the moment I first accepted your commission to fight death with death."

He nodded toward the six silent men, of the Emergency Council. Richard Abbott frowned uneasily and fingered his grey mustache. Abbott was a world famous corporation lawyer, chairman of the council, and Mr. Monday in the code.

"Scarlet Ace, eh? Sounds melodramatic. Like a piece of childish humor," Abbott said, gruffly.

Lacy shook his head.

"Humor, yes. Childish, no. Whoever he is, this Scarlet Ace is a man of deadly power.

THERE was a pause and nobody spoke for a moment.

The chief of police said, "How was the disk and the ace of diamonds delivered? How did they come to you? Through the mails?"

"No. They came by messenger. The man who brought them was honest enough; a poor middle- aged bookkeeper: out of a job. He was standing idly on the sidewalk of 49th Street, watching the derricks and the steel girders of the new Radio City, when he was handed a package, told to deliver it personally to me, and given a crisp ten- dollar bill for his trouble."

"Any description of the man who gave it to him?" snapped the police chief.

"It happened to be a woman," Lacy replied evenly. "She appears to have been a wise choice for the job. She quite dazzled the poor bookkeeper. Lovely legs; color of slippers and stockings unknown. Hair blonde or maybe light brown. Slender figure, but not thin. The bookkeeper went into admiring details to convince me that she was not exactly thin. But he was vague about the color and style of her costume. I gave him an extra ten dollars, took his name and address, and dismissed him."

"Mmmph. And when did all this happen?" asked the police chief.

"Yesterday morning."

"How did you know the deadly disk was coated with poison gas?"

"I didn't. As I remarked before, it was pure chance—the habit of caution—that saved the lives of my staff and myself."

He glanced at the cage containing the stiffened bodies of the white mice and he shuddered slightly.

"Poison gas was farthest from my thoughts. But you can imagine I was on my guard. I thought the thing might be explosive; perhaps an incendiary device. I had Hawkins, my butler, wheel the victrola out on to the north terrace where there is nothing but a blank wall and windswept tiles."

He nodded, toward Charlie Weaver.

"My staff will tell you that we had a damned narrow squeak. Even in the open air the poison seems to have an enormous ratio of concentration. I couldn't see anything, but I felt a peculiar wine- like burning on my soft palate and the back of my throat. Weaver's eyes were glassy; Harrigan was swaying on his feet."

He smiled with a wispy recollection.

"You see, gentlemen, I'm tolerably familiar with the lethal properties of gas. For two months I was in charge of the gas school for non- commissioned officers of the A.E.F. at Vitryle- Grand. I hustled Harrigan and the others into the penthouse and slammed the French windows tightly. Harrigan had the worst of it. I let a full hour tick by before I went out again to the terrace and retrieved this interesting disc.

"You understand now, I think, why I secured a supply of the latest type Army head mask before I summoned you gentlemen to listen to the Scarlet Ace's challenge."

The police chief looked at Lacy.

"Major, we've got to lay hands an this Ace fellow without any delay!"

"How?" the district attorney groaned. "Where's the lead? Where are we to start?"

The members of the Emergency Council were whispering together. Their chairman, Abbott, spoke finally to the major.

"Have you any idea, sir, who the man is? Where his headquarters might be?"

"None whatever, Mr. Monday."

"How are we to go after him?"

"We can't. We can only check on our defenses here in the Cloud Building and wait for his next thrust. However, there's one small satisfaction I intend to have no later than tonight."

The Iron Major smiled cheerfully.

"I intend to talk to this blood-red Napolean and accept his challenge."

"Eh?" Abbott looked puzzled. "I thought you said you had no knowledge whatever of the man or his whereabouts."

"That's correct. However, I'm quite optimistic about talking to him."

"How?" they chorused.

He told them softly with one word. The district attorney shook his head doubtfully.

"It's damned unusual. There'll be objections, I'm afraid."

"Objections? Certainly. We'll override 'em, that's all. Mr. Monday, you are chairman of this council. When l accepted your commission you promised me full cooperation and unlimited backing for my wishes, however fantastic and unusual. Is that true?"

"It is."

"Very well... Make the arrangements for me."

Mr. Monday's aristocratic old hand closed into a taut fist. He nodded grimly.

"I'll attend to it personally. If it becomes necessary I'll go directly to the President of the United States!"


AT PRECISELY a quarter before seven that same evening every chain radio station in the country suddenly went dead. In New York City the municipal WNYC stopped likewise without warning.

Dinner music ceased in the middle of a bar. Sport announcers choked off in mid-sentence. "Yale, six, Princeton, nothing—" Silence. Not a sound except the squeals of two-bit stations in the low bands. Nothing doing. No ads, no prize contests, no crooners. The carrier waves were dancing into space from their steel towers without any program noise.

For sixty seconds this strange silence continued. Then sound flowed suddenly back to the airways. The curt voices of announcers were heard.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have interrupted our regular program for a few minutes, by order of the Federal Radio an important message which will be broadcast immediately. There will be no local station announcement. Please stand by."

Silence. Then Tattersall Lacy's voice. Low, cultured, clearly distinct in every spaced syllable.

"Attention. Please listen carefully. I am broadcasting a message for the ears of one man— the gentleman who calls himself the Scarlet Ace. Any member of his organization who hears this message is requested to notify the Scarlet Ace at once, in the event that he is himself not listening. The message follows: The disk was received. The victims are alive. The challenge is accepted. I will repeat."

The slow voice reiterated the three cryptic sentences. A pause.

"That is all. Thank you, and good night." Listeners stared at one another as the loud speakers renewed their accustomed noisy bleat of jazz and song.

"What did that mean?" George Public asked his wife. "Do yuh s'pose it's a gag? A build-up for some magazine with a brand-new mystery program?"

There was no answer. Nobody knew. But a lot of hard-boiled gentlemen of the press did their damnedest to find out. Their damnedest was not enough. The Federal Radio Commission had nothing to say. The broadcast officials were dumber than oysters at high tide. Wise city editors pulled wires, but the ends of the wires were loose and came in without anything attached.

Nothing. Not a rumble. Heywood Broun kidded the mystery in his newspaper column and Walter Winchell kidded Broun. And that was all that happened.

Whoever the suave party on the radio might be, he had very definitely hung up on curious America.

A ONE-ARMED faker worked his swift graft down the crowded aisles of the subway express that was thundering northward toward Times Square. On the lap of every passenger he tossed an envelope containing a nail file and a printed plea for a dime. Suddenly his lack-lustre eyes flicked with attention. He leaned closer toward a pimple-faced man in a grey cap. The sleepy passenger sat up and nodded.

"The day?" whispered Pimples.

"Twenny-thoid," said the one-arm salesman.

"The hour?"

"Two o'clock."

"The place?"


One-Arm left. The man in the cap got up presently and walked to the side door.

The train roared into Times Square. The pimple-faced passenger took the shuttle to Grand Central, changed to a south-bound Lexington local and got off at 33rd Street, the nearest station to the Cloud Building.

Meanwhile the same colloquy that had taken place in the subway was repeated in the traffic of Lafayette Street, almost in the shadow of the Municipal Building. A Stutz town car snaked cleverly alongside a light delivery truck. The Stutz was driven by a trim chauffeur in a dark uniform and cap. The windows were lowered and the passenger sat hunched forward, watching the delivery truck. He was an aristocratic looking young man in formal morning clothes and a top hat.

The dirty faced truckman grinned across at the formal young man. Suddenly his grin froze. He asked a brief tight-lipped question:

"The day?" he mumbled.

The answers were given him. He glanced northward where the tall shaft of the Cloud Building pierced the sky like a landmark. The truck rattled northward.

The Stutz took a diferent route. It drove into a garage and the man in the top hat got out. He emerged in a few minutes behind the wheel of a light tan coupe. He drove with easy skill, cutting corners lazily as though he were killing a little time before an appointment somewhere.

There were others who seemed to be interested in that two o'clock rendezvous. Diagonally opposite the Cloud Building a new skyscraper was being erected. An ironworker rode aloft on a swinging girder and stepped inward at the 18th floor. While the chains were being loosened he walked across rickety planks and conferred with a tall friend of his in greasy overalls. When he shot earthward again, his feet anchored in chains over the huge metal ball of the derrick tackle, he left a silent and serious eyed confederate high above him...

Tattersall Lacy was a man of precise habits and it was two o'clock almost on the dot, when he drove up the ramp from the basement entrance of the Cloud Building and turned into Sixth Avenue. He was on his way to a conference with District Attorney Marvin and he was driving his own car, a fast little convertible roadster, with its top down as a tribute to the excessively warm weather.

As he reached the first street crossing a tan coupe swerved in between the L pillars, just ahead of him. The major frowned with annoyance and his hand twisted the wheel. Unfortunately, a light delivery truck chose that awkward moment to swing sideways into view and close the gap he had aimed for.

His foot jammed the brake as a palm waved from the tan coupe in a stop signal. Lacy couldn't stop; his momentum was too great.

He banged into the car ahead, and the two automobiles side-swiped an L pillar and locked together in a crashing mess. The tan coupe. received the brunt of the collision. Its floor was wrenched violently open and a dapper young man in a top hat sprang out. He was pale with rage. He shook his fist in Lacy's face.

"You almost killed me, you fool!" he shouted. "Didn't you see my hand? You're drunk and reckless! Where's there an officer?"

Lacy's eyes grew hard.

"Just a moment, my foppish young friend. That truck over there caused the trouble."

"Oh, yeah?" The truckman leaped belligerently from his seat. "Nuts! Try to frame me, Mister, and I'll pop you one on the nose!"

A small crowd was beginning to ring the disputants. Two policemen appeared with remarkable promptness.

"He's a liar," the truckman kept shouting. "He was speedin' along like a bat outa hell. Ast some o' these guys, Officer."

"That's right," a new voice muttered. "I seen the whole thing."

The eye-witness grinned virtuously and mopped; his damp pimpled face with n grimy handkerchief. The gaping crowd pushed closer. A couple of ironworkers from the nearby construction job had wriggled behind the policemen. One of them whirled about and made a vicious gesture.

"Git back youse! Who the hell yuh think you're pushin'?"

His brawny companion was scanning the crowd vigilantly, his right hand deep in his overall pocket.

"Shut up everybody," said one of the policemen suddenly.

THE cop's roving eye had noted a Stutz town car standing motionless at the curb a few yards away. It was empty except for a chauffeur in a dark uniform and cap.

"You want this fella arrested?" the cop growled.

"I certainly do," said the man in the top hat. "He's guilty of gross carelessness and reckless driving."

"Look here, Officer," snapped Tattersall Lacy.

"Shut up! You willin' to appear against him an' make a charge?"

"Yes. I've got two witnesses—the driver of the delivery truck and this gentleman here." He nodded toward the pimple-faced man who looked surprised and pleased at the description. "I insist that you make an arrest."

"Okay. Move back everybody."

White with anger, Lacy felt himself pushed smoothly along.

"My God, somebody will suffer for this, Officer!" he protested. "This thing is a barefaced swindle; a conspiracy to collect fraudulent damages."

"Git in there," said the cop. "Where's them witnesses?"

He nodded heavily to the uniformed chauffeur of the Stutz.

"This car's bein' commandeered, Buddy. Drive to the West 28th Street Precinct house."

Like a man in a bad dream Lacy found himself plunked in the center of the rear seat, a policeman on either side of him. He was in a cold rage. He'd fix these officious apes as soon as he had a word with the precinct captain.

The man in the top hat took one of the folding seats; the pimple-faced witness the other. The driver from the delivery wagon hopped up front with the chauffeur. Lacy was suddenly suspicious. This whole thing looked queer—entirely too pat and smooth.

The Stutz began to crawl slowly from the curb.

As it did so there was a noise of pounding feet and the milling crowd parted. A third policeman came racing into view. He was the traffic man from up the avenue. He ran alongside the car as the chauffeur meshed gears.

"Hold on, here! What's the matter? What's goin' on?"

A bluecoat shoved his head out of the car.

"Okay, Paddy. Just a pinch for reckless drivin'. Go ahead, chauffeur."

"Whaddye mean, Paddy? Wait a minute! Who are you?"

He sprang to the running board and peered inside. His eyes fixed with swift suspicion.

"I thought so. A couple o' phonies! What's the idea o' the cop suits? You guys takin' a movie?"

The car leaped forward.

"In the gutter, louse!" snarled a shrill voice, and the muzzle of a black automatic spat flame.

The patrolman on the running-board cringed backward, felt his weak fingers slip. He crashed bleeding to the pavement. The heavy Stutz shot round a corner and streaked east. The dying patrolman lifted his heavy head and watched the license number vanish.

People were bending over him, shouting in his ears. His eyes were glazed now. He mouthed numerals at them.

"Write 'em—down... Write—'em... Write ..."

The glazed eyes went blank. Blood trickled from the coiner of his stiffened mouth and stained the asphalt with a bright red smear.

Somebody said, tremulously, "Jeeze!"

The big Stutz roared away. It dodged from avenue to street, clipped corners, under the deft guidance of its uniformed chauffeur.

Behind it the groping hand of the law began to feel out like the aim of a blind man. Clutching, groping... A license number shrilled into the central switchboard at police headquarters and the noisy teletypes began clicking in every precinct station in Greater New York.

The short wave radio alarm began to spit viciously. "Grey town car, Stutz model, blah, blah, blah... Manhattan serial letter, license number blah, blah, blah..."

Radio cars flicked into action like terriers on a scent. Block the ferries! Bottle up the bridges! Plug the Holland Tunnel! Cop killers in a Stutz with smoking guns. Dangerous' Big grey Stutz...

Tattersall Lacy knew nothing of this wild alarm. Indeed, he was barely conscious of the motion of the fleeing car. A savage blow on the skull had toppled-him headlong as he had grabbed for his shoulder holster. A lap-robe was tossed hastily over his sprawled form.

Voices filtered dimly to his blurred eardrums.

"The finger's on us, you damn fool! What didja have to smoke that bull for?"

"Could I help it, Pimples? He had us cold. He was pullin' his roscoe when I slipped him the heat."

"You coulda slugged him, dope."

"Aw, nerts! Stop cryin' an' gimme a butt. Cripes, we're crawlin'. Why don't Charlie step on it?"

"Shut up, you apes." The man in the top hat sounded bitter.

"Keep an eye out for Moe and the Packard," he ordered curtly. "There he is now. Slow down!"

The Packard was close to the curb, barely crawling. The Stutz drew alongside. The man in the top hat flung open the door.


THE ex-driver of the delivery truck grinned and followed him across to the Packard. He carried a couple of police caps in his hand; and over his arm was draped two blue uniform coats. Inside the Stutz the fake cops were hurriedly pulling on grey caps and sliding into blue-serge coats.

The Packard jerked forward, turned into Third Avenue and roared downtown under the noisy L structure. The Stutz streaked grimly for the bridge. It crossed the plaza and shot up the approach. A sturdy, bronze-faced German-American, with a traffic wheel on his blue sleeve, saw the Stutz racing toward him. He was Eagle Eye Gus Sonnenschein of Traffic Squad A. He had held the bridge post for years because of the uncanny accuracy of his eye and his memory. He had a sweet record. A hundred and ninety-seven tabbed cars.

His blue eyes narrowed as he saw number one ninety eight coming.

Up went a white-gloved palm. The other reached for his weapon.

The Stutz roared faster. A twist of the wheel sent it hurtling directly at Eagle Eye Gus. He missed being run down by a whistling inch. Backward he sprang and sprawled on the pavement. Bullets whined over his head. He scrambled up and emptied his weapon at the vanishing car. Terrified chauffeurs stopped dead in their tracks. The air was shrill with the squeal of brakes.

Sonnenschein raced to a motionless Triangle cab and sprang to the running-board. The hackman stepped hard on the gas.

The chase roared grimly under the spidery cables high above the East River. The Stutz was having trouble with the press of traffic in the narrow vehicle runway. The Triangle cab was gaining, gaining.

Tattersall Lacy awoke under a lap-robe on the floor of the Stutz to a dazed realization of a tremendous racket of banging explosions. The folding seats had been snapped up. Pimples was on his feet, staring out the side window, his wrist was jerking with the recoil of a flaming gun. The two phony bulls on the back seat were firing out the rear window, crouched apart, swearing horribly.

Suddenly there was a dull thwack and one of the cops pitched silently forward on top of Lacy. Daylight filtered through a round hole in the car's body where the man's ribs had been pressed, a moment before. The Stutz was rocking and bouncing like a mad thing.

Feebly Lacy shoved aside a corner of the lap- robe. A stiffened hand lay close to his face and beside it a dropped gun. The major's own gun was gone; he reached quietly for the substitute.

Pimples saw the gaunt major rising like a ghost from the embrace of a dead man on the floor. The thug whirled from the window with a shrill oath. Lacy squeezed. He saw the pimpled mask of rage drip crimson. With a swift twitch of his left hand he released the catch behind him and heard the door bang open.

The whole thing was like a phantasy of horror. A bullet from the rear seat spat past his ear. He saw a jouncing taxi on the other side of the Stutz, with a policeman hunched on the running- board, scattering lead from a flaming muzzle.

"Pull over!" Eagle Eye Gus was shouting. "Pull over!"

The brakes of the Stutz squealed. It lost headway. As it slowed Lacy sprang out the open door and landed on his face on the asphalt paving.

The Stutz had slowed for a grim trick. Swing and ram the taxi! The kidnapper missed his wild thrust, veered away and skidded crazily toward the frail barrier of the railing. The murky East River flowed sluggishly hundreds of feet below.

Lacy held his breath with a sick shudder. Swaying on bleeding knees in the roadway he saw the Stutz scrape the railing and swing back as the driver spun his wheel desperately to the left. The front, wheels twisted and locked. The big car skidded toward the inner railing.

It turned completely over in a giant somersault, crashed through the guardrail of the inner runway where shining trolley-tracks glittered. The overhead feed-wires bounced it like a rocking toy.

Lacy's dry throat whispered: "God above!"

The Stutz was adazzle with blinding blue light. It flared and crackled like an incandescent bug. Then the short-circuited wires snapped and dropped the seared wreck to the shining trolley track below.

As Lacy staggered to his feet he heard the thud of police brogans and something hard and cold was thrust inta his belly with a force that made him gasp with pain.

"Stick 'em up!" roared Patrolman Sonnenschein. "You're one of 'em. I saw huh come outa the car."

A beefy hand twisted in his collar. He backed away.

"Hold on, Officer! Let me explain ... I've got credentials..."

A police car came streaking along the bridge roadway with a wild whoop of its siren. Bluecoats hopped out.

"Okay, Maguire," Lacy's captor grunted. "Got one of 'em. Went out the door on his mush just before the crash."

"Nice work." Maguire turned and stared with expressionless face at the scorched wreck of the Stutz. "Jeeze, what a mess!"

Another bluecoat ambled up.

"Four stiffs in the bus," he volunteered. "Two of 'em with bullets in the gut—all four of 'em fried on both sides."

The battered major was beginning to recover his breath.

"Just a moment," he suggested icily. "Will one of you uniformed master minds reach into my vest pocket and examine the folded document you find there? I'm beginning to get a trifle weary of holding my hands aloft."

Patrolman Maguire's paw dug and he unfolded and glanced at the paper. His jaw sagged slightly.

He said to Sonnenschein, "Easy, Gus. You're off on the wrong foot. This is the guy that was kidnapped."

"No kiddin'. Are yuh sure?" He swore in disgust.

The major lowered his aching arms.

"You can prove it and save yourself a reprimand by taking me as fast as God will let you to the Criminal Courts Building. The instigator of this outrage got clean away. I'm Major Lacy. I want you to drive me at once to the office of District Attorney Marvin."

"We can't," Maguire muttered uneasily. "This is a Bridge patrol car. I can't take it off the span. Not without orders."

"The hell with orders!" Lacy rapped imperiously. His lips were a taut line and his eyes blazed. "You read those credentials, didn't you?"

"Better take him, Mike," said Sonnenschein. Lacy turned impatiently away and stepped into the police car.

A PERFECT crime is a rare, almost legendary affair. Things happen—you can't plug every leak, not every loose thread—things happen that are not in the book.

The proprietor of a small sporting goods store a block or two from the bridge had sharp eyes and an alert mind. He gummed up the smooth getaway of the efficient young man in the top hat. While the murder Stutz was roaring over the bridge, little sporting goods Goldfarb was pattering barehead to the harness bull on his beat with an excited story. He had seen two men transfer themselves to a slick-looking Packard with an armful of cop clothes.

"This ain't no neighborhood for high hats," he quavered.

He hadn't bothered with the Stutz's plates but he got a flash of the Packard's numerals as it swung recklessly into Third Avenue. He jotted them down on a greasy pad.

The cop raced to a nearby box and flashed the precinct desk. The system began to whip out tentacles. The license number was checked and spat to headquarters from Motor Vehicle. Short Wave got busy. A radio cruiser made a quick left turn and went bouncing over greasy cobbles toward a shady renting garage on the east side of the rocky spine of downtown Manhattan.

The man in the top hat had disappeared neatly somewhere on the trip south. But the chauffeur was hooked. They nabbed him as he climbed out of the hired Packard and walked innocently out the garage door.

He was whisked to a quiet spot and men went to work on him. Men who know all the answers, all the lies, all the yelps. They belted it out of him. Nobody said, "Oops, I'm sorry!" He came clean, spilled all he knew in shrieking haste. When they pushed him aside and smiled at one another, he was as clean of secrets as a gutted fish.

Then the thing really started. Roundup! A grim compass making a neat steel circle around a city block. Tattersall Lacy finally put a call through from the Criminal Courts Building to police headquarters, just as the commissioner was reaching with eager fingers for his derby hat.

The commissioner swore as the phone rang, but a grin cut his mouth open like a knife-slash as he heard Lacy's polite murmur.

"Traced him, Major!" he trumpeted. "Got him! He's holed up."

"Good." The polite voice grew softer. "Where's the place? What's the address? Let me have it and I'll get down there at once with my staff."

The commissioner shook his head jubilantly at the transmitter.

"Sorry, Major. This guy killed a cop and we always handle cop-killers ourselves. I just had a flash from Inspector Schwartz and it's sewed up. Wait a half hour and then come directly to my office. I'll have the rat on the carpet and I promise you a free hand at questioning him. Goodbye; I'm hurrying away to take personal charge of the assault."

"Assault? Hold on, please. What is it, a siege?"

"Siege?" howled the commissioner. "I'll say so! It's merry old-fashioned hell. Two-Gun Crowley all over again."

He snapped down the receiver with a bang and tore outside to where his car throbbed at the worn curbstone.

Remember how Crowley stood 'em off?

The foxy top-hatted fugitive was up the drain, like Crowley, and police and city firemen were snarling like fox-hounds, trying to sniff out an opening. Blue-coated fox-hounds with their jaws wide, ready to pounce and crunch...

THE crowd in the street was terrific. The harsh clang of bells and the hooting of police sirens brought spectators swarming into the neighborhood like a black outpouring of ants. Sweating cops swore fretfully and shoved 'em back. Occasionally the crowd split like a dark wave, gave way sullenly to permit the passage of a clanging apparatus truck.

There were two police emergency crews in the cleared area. A hook and ladder company down by the corner. On the roofs oppose the besieged building, uniformed figures watched from behind portable steel shields. Smoke puffs eddied in the air.

A Hearst-Metrotone sound truck was parked on the street in dangerous proximity to the vapor from tear-gas grenades and the whine of deflected bullets. A man with a sallow dead-pan phiz was up on top of the truck, grinding steadily beside the tripod of his big news-reel camera.

In the narrow alley on the north side of the structure the smoke-eaters were as busy as beavers raising a long teetering ladder, bracing its weight, swinging the top of it against dull whitewashed brick.

The police were rushing the front door again to divert attention from the flanking attack. Blows rattled on the steel barrier. Tear-gas bombs went hurtling like dark eggs through the broken panes of the barred ground-floor windows.

A fusillade of sub-machine bullets cut downward from an upper window. The cops dropped their tools hastily and crawled out of range. From the housetops across the street came an answering volley as police marksmen tried to nip the reckless killers.

A sigh like a boom of surf rose from the far- off spectators. They sensed something coming— the climax—the last rush of the law. It was hard work to hold 'em. They swayed and pushed fiercely to get into the danger zone where they could see better.

A young cop, dizzily astride a stone cornice, saw the metal scuttle rising suddenly on the roof across the alley.

A snake-like figure was up and out in the open like a flash. It was running, head bent low, toward the north edge of the roof. The firemen in the whitewashed alley had succeeded in raising. their long ladder and the top of it quivered with the rush of ascending feet.

The cop opposite yelled a warning and fired. His hasty bullet missed. The crouched figure straightened and the Tommie gun in his steady grip blasted the cornice with flying chips. The cop sagged, lifted weak arms outward like a swimmer and fell headlong into the alley.

With the same snakelike glide the murderer ducked downward and was gone. The heavy steel scuttle dropped with a bang.

Rubber-booted firemen came swarming into view over the edge of the roof. They carried pikes, with tempered steel hooks, broad-edge axes and fat flashlights. No guns, they left that to the lean- jawed cops at their elbows.

The pikes hooked under the scuttle edge. The scuttle refused to budge. They abandoned the vain effort at the barked orders of a cold-eyed battalion chief.

In the center of the captured roof two axemen stood shoulder to shoulder. Their backs rose and fell with monotonous regularity. Their blades bit into the tar paper. A pikeman caught an exposed edge of tin with his hook and ripped it crookedly away. Thud! Boom! Thud! went the thundering axemen. Loose plaster dust whitened their boots and danced on the roof like flour in a sieve.

On the sidewalk of the street below a man- hole cover moved and began to lift slowly.

Someone was pushing up cautiously from the cellar of the besieged building. In the roaring confusion in the street only one man saw the coal- shute cover quiver and lift. He stood on the curb scarcely a half dozen paces away; Patrolman Quinn from the Mercer Street Station, rushed to the battle zone on reserve duty a short time before.

Quinn's eye gleamed. He smelt a lone capture, and visioned his round, honest phiz on the front page of every tab extra. He slid out his department revolver and held the weapon concealed under the flap of his coat.

Suddenly his eyes rounded with incredulity. He swore with disappointment. A blackened police cap was rising from the coal chute. Under the cap was a dirt-streaked, sooty face and blue uniformed shoulders.

The cop rushed over to Quinn and prodded his chest with a dirty forefinger.

"Where's the inspector? I found a way into the damn place. Right through the cellar. There's only a thin, wooden door at the head o' the stairs. One man can bust it in."

"Through the cellar?" Quinn echoed. "Attaboy! How'd yuh git in?"

"Back yard. Smashed off a fanlight and dropped through. Where's the inspector?"

"I dunno. He was here a minute ago. Holy cat! Hey, Sergeant, Sergeant!"

They poured the hot info into the sergeant's big red ear. He nodded and gave a brisk foghorn yelp.

"Peterson? All right, Doyle! Vedderkind! That's enough..."

He gave the dirt-streaked cop a swift shove.

"Find Captain Wagner and tell him to rush a bunch to the front door. Tell him I'm openin' up from the inside. I'm takin' four men through the cellar, tell him."

The sergeant knelt and squirmed headfirst into the round opening, and his legs wriggled out of sight down the black slant of the chute. Quinn and the rest followed.

The dirt-streaked officer dodged around the rear end of an empty emergency truck and hurried diagonally across the street. There was a little stationery and candy store near the corner. A group of firemen and one or two bored-eyed reporters blocked the doorway.

"Where you been, fella?" a fireman grinned.

"Diggin' coal?"

"Damn right. We got the cellar wide open."

"Wow!" grunted a reporter. "Thanks for the dope!"

The group dissolved. The dirty-face cop went into the store, called for a bottle of soda-pop and drained it in a long, thirsty gulp. He set it down on the counter with a bang and walked out.

A perspiring patrolman nodded to him as he shoved into the crowd at the teeming street intersection. The tightly packed mob wiggled and heaved to get an admiring look at the dusty hero as he bored through. He disappeared almost instantly, like a pebble tossed into the ocean.


THE street was curiously quiet. Bluecoats stood in a massed phalanx in front of the braced door of the beleagured building. From inside came a dull crashing echo and the sound of running brogans.

There was a rattling of chain and bolt behind the metal door. Then it swung wide and a quartet of grimy cops stood revealed in the opening. They beckoned grimly with their drawn guns. Up the smoky staircase went a boiling tide of blue uniforms.

Pistols began to crack. A second wave of uniforms came down the rickety stairs from the attic. The flashing blades of the firemen had at last smashed a roof opening, and cops dropped through the ragged hole with the speed of parachute jumpers bailing out of a doomed ship.

Short and sweet. From room to room. In hardly more than a minute or two there came thinly to the ears of the watchers outside the sound of men yelling shrilly for quarter. The crackle of pistol fire ceased.

The commissioner, followed by his chief inspector, hurried into the building.

Out in the street the man on the newsreel camera began to grind smoothly.

"Here they come, Harry!" a voice yelped.

Four of 'em. Four trapped gorillas, bloodstained, haggard, snarling. Gripped on either side by stalwart guards. Hustled across to the patrol wagon like limp sacks of meal.

Their eyes blinked in the bright daylight. They cringed and ducked their heads as they stumbled past the lens of the whirring camera. The patrol wagon snorted away with a brisk clanging of its bell. The crowded spectators murmured and swayed forward, on tiptoe for some more free thrill. No sign of the commissioner. He was still inside with his chief inspector.

"But tell me, Inspector, where in hell he got to?" the police commissioner was growling tonelessly.

He was sitting on a battered chair in an upper room of the house, with blank misery on his florid face. The air was heavy with the stench of exploded powder, and the room was a topsy-turvy wreck. The chief inspector paced nervously up and down, kicking stray cartridge cases across the littered floor.

"I've gone over every inch of the dump, Commissioner," he snarled unhappily. "He wasn't here, that's all. He couldn't be here. And yet, damn it—"

"He was trailed here, wasn't he?"


"And he's not here two seconds after we smash in. He must have got out some other way."

"But, Commissioner, how could he? Hardly a minute after we got through the cellar hole we had the whole gang cooped."

"Who led the attack through the cellar?"

"Sergeant Keller of the Mercer Street Reserve."

"Get him up here. I want to talk to him."

A cop in the doorway caught the inspector's curt nod and vanished. He came back in a moment or two with the smiling Sergeant Keller. Keller was happy. The Old Man calling him up like this! He'd be gettin' his picture in the paper, maybe. He snapped a salute.

The commissioner acknowledged the salute grimly.

"Keller, you went through the sidewalk chute, didn't you?"

"Yes, sir."

"Could anyone have got past you, sneaked past you, I mean! Hid in the cellar, maybe, and crawled out after you went upstairs?"

Keller shook his head instantly.

"Not a chance, sir. I left a man on guard below. Not a soul come out. I'll swear to it, sir. No one at all, except—"

"Except?" barked the commissioner.

Keller's chin sagged slightly. Under the commissioner's stony glare he felt the hair on his scalp twitch.

"Except the patrolman who found the way," he said uneasily. "He was the only one. Quinn saw him come out."

"Know the man? Recognize him? Didja get his shield numher?"

"No, sir, that I didn't. He was from some other precinct."

"My God! Get Quinn! Get downstairs fast and send him up here. Take a squad and see if you can find any signs of that patrolman."

Quinn appeared presently with dragging feet. Keller had spilled an awful suspicion to him and it made poor Quinn. feel sick and cold.

Under the rapid fire examination of the chief inspector the harassed patrolman grew redder and redder. The more he floundered the thicker became his unhappy brogue.

The commissioner interrupted the examination with a brusque wave of his hand. It was as plain as a pikestaff to him what had happened.

"A piece of stupid blundering, Inspector," he breathed savagely. "You should have been on the lookout for bogus policemen after the way in which Major Lacy was kidnapped... That's all, Quinn! Report back to your superior."

"We've got four prisoners," the inspector consoled weakly. "One of 'em is sure to squeal."

"I doubt it. Those prisoners are plain mugs, torpedoes. They won't spill anything they don't know—and I doubt like hell if they know much. No, you've lost the prize chicken of the flock, Inspector."

His forebodings were justified. The bogus cop had left a brief trail. The man in the candy store told how he had walked in calmly and swilled a bottle of cold soda-pop. A couple of firemen had a blurred remembrance of him. The officer who had punched a hole in the crowd for him with his riot- stick was equally vague on description. Just a dirty-faced cop...

And that was all in the way of clues or trail left to the police by the suave young emissary of the Scarlet Ace.

TATTERSALL LACY sat at ease in the police commissioner's office, smoking a long dark panatela with meditative enjoyment. His companion was not so calm. District Attorney Marvin was a younger man; more eager. He kept rapping the padded arm of his chair with a soft fluttering of his finger-tips.

Lacy looked at the nervous fingers and smiled.

Marvin scowled.

"I wish he'd get here with that confounded prisoner. Do you think we'll be able to reach the Scarlet Ace through this blasted top-hatted murderer?"

"I've been toying with some small hopes of that happy event," Lacy nodded.

He looked up suddenly with alert eyes, and Marvin jumped to his feet. The commissioner strode into the private office.

Marvin jerked out an eager question at him. Lacy said nothing. He was studying the face of the police chief, boring with bright scrutiny into the hard blue eyes of the department head. They looked flinty, dead. The same dead look crept into Lacy's.

"So the captured criminal was not captured, eh?" he said in a low tone.

"He got away," said the commissioner in a thick, tired growl.

"I was afraid of that," Lacy admitted. His face was very pale with the effort to control the icy rage that was seething under the dead calm of his exterior.

"I wish to the dear God of efficiency, my friend, that you had permitted me to follow my own tactics on this case. You remember I asked permission to handle the case personally, with the assistance of the staff of Amusement, Inc."

The mild words were edged with a lash-crack.

"Please understand, Commissioner, I'm not complaining, but I certainly am questioning your judgment in this damnable fiasco."

His teeth clicked and he was silent, Suddenly he began to laugh mirthlessly.

"I wonder if you have any conception of the psychology that underlies this whole episode? Is your imagination on the move? Would you risk a prophecy right now?"

"I don't know what you mean," the commissioner growled shortly.

"Just this," said the major. "I'm inclined to think that we shall have our hands on the man in the top-hat no later than—let's say, tomorrow. That's my prophecy, gentlemen."

Again that faint, mirthless chuckle, "Call me up tomorrow before noon. I rather fancy I'll have information."

The Iron Major secured the information without much trouble. He found it in the pages of the New York Times on the following morning. Not on the front page. That was taken up with the long and dramatic details of a picturesque police siege that had netted four vicious gunmen.

Lacy found the item he expected in a quarter column story in the corner of an inner page that was mostly Gimbel Brothers.


The body of an unidentified man was discovered shortly after dawn this morning by the janitor of the apartment house at 31648 Lenox Avenue. The janitor, Curtis Windermere, colored, found the body wedged behind a pile of ash cans in the service alley. A playing card, the Ace of Diamonds, was found pinned to the victim's coat and the bullet that killed him had been fired at point-blank range through the card into the heart. The victim was about twenty-five years old, with brown eyes, sandy hair and ruddy complexion. Every mark of identification had been removed from his expensive and well- tailored clothes. Detectives of the West 135th Street Station are inclined to believe.

Lacy smiled sardonically. His smile deepened later when District Attorney Marvin came on the wire.

"How did I guess? I didn't. I knew. In your excitement over the fellow's escape you forgot the one essential point. He failed! I'm still alive and breathing. Don't you see?"

His voice hardened impatiently.

"The man in the top hat failed. He paid for that failure with his life. Apparently alibis or excuses don't carry much weight with the Scarlet Ace. I flatter myself that I caused 'the Master' considerable mental pain when I eluded his carefully planned trap. So he killed his blundering lieutenant. The Scarlet Ace believes in efficiency. Which was just too bad for the suave young man in the top hat. I think we can write finish to this particular adventure."

He hung up the telephone receiver and made a brief entry in a small leather-bound notebook.

"Another cog ripped from the crime machine." he said mildly to Charlie Weaver.

His pint-size chief of staff grinned.

"Keep a line blank for the Scarlet Ace," he suggested harshly.

John Tattersall Lacy laughed. His voice sounded dry.

"Maybe two lines," said the ex-major of Marines, with a glint of humor in his clear eyes.

They called him the Iron Major. Not a bad name at all—if you looked carefully at those smiling grey eyes of his.