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Fantastic Adventures DECEMBER 1943

CLOAK of SATAN

By FRANK PATTON

A girl who can actually fly should go
over big with a nightclub crowd. At least,
Bronson thought so... until death stepped in
!

RADCLIFF BRONSON'S office was made to order for the big, good-natured night-club owner. The heavy chairs and king-size desk seemed to fit his personality and body.

Bronson's face held that expression of patience he had to use when "Noisy" Malone came in with a new find. "Noisy", thin and nervous, a cigarette hanging in his lips, fidgeted in the chair before the desk. He had been talking almost without interruption for ten minutes, when Bronson finally held up his hand.

"Wait a minute." His voice had that quality of ordering people about without hurting their feelings. "I'll admit that the show needs an uplift, Noisy. We were in the red last week. However, we need singers and dancers. What the devil would the Silver Terrace do with a magician act?"

Malone's shoulders drooped.

"But this guy Giraud is different," he protested.

Bronson frowned, but it was a fleeting, quickly hidden expression. He didn't want to hurt Malone's feelings.

"You've picked up a lot of acts before, Noisy," he said. "But somehow you don't get the kind that go over. I need a girl right now, not a magician. If you could find a smart little singer..."

Noisy Malone jumped to his feet.

"This guy Giraud has a girl with him," he said eagerly. "Maybe she would fit in."

Bronson shrugged.

"I can't understand why you insist on my seeing Giraud," he said. "Even admitting that the man is clever, why is he working for Mike Humphry? The House of Frivolity is the cheapest burlesque dive in town."

Malone had his argument ready. Bronson was showing interest now. Malone leaned over the desk eagerly.

"This Philip Giraud just came over from France a few months ago," he said. "Escaped from a coast town and showed up in New York without a dime and no idea of what our theaters were all about. He signed with Humphry and now he knows the score. I'm telling you the act is a whizz."

Bronson smiled broadly.

"Barnum went in for big stuff," he said. "That's what I'm after. Any act that hits the stage of the Silver Terrace has to be good enough to jump straight from there into Hollywood. Let's be reasonable. Can this Giraud and his assistant be made into top-flight material? That's what we have to think of."

He settled back comfortably in his chair. Malone hesitated. He had seen Giraud's act a half dozen times in the past week. The boss had given him a lot of chances and thus far Malone hadn't turned up anything good.

"I think I've found the real thing," he said at last. "Will you go watch the act?"

Bronson groaned.

"Okay!" he said. "Call Humphry and tell him to put the magician on as soon as I get there. The girl? Is her part of the act good?"

A broad smile parted Malone's thin lips.

"She flies," he said modestly. "Is that good enough?"

BRONSON leaned forward in his chair, eyes twinkling.

"Remind me to cut your salary!" he said. "I have an idea you've been hitting the bottle pretty hard."

Malone reddened.

"So you don't believe me," he shrugged. "The girl has a pair of fake wings and Giraud pulls some kind of a gag that makes her look like she really takes off and flutters around in the air."

Bronson clapped a hand over his mouth and stifled a choking laugh.

"Okay," he said when he had gained control of himself. "Let's go see your flying girl friend. If I find out she's a school girl sweetheart who talked you into getting her a break, I'll make you stay sober all next week."

"No chance," Malone insisted. "After you see Philip Giraud, Magician Extraordinaire, you'll go out and have a drink with me."

THE House of Frivolty was on South State Street. Its front was so thoroughly plastered with cardboard nudes that the entrance was hard to locate. Bronson scowled as he entered the small, dirty lobby. Bronson hated these dumps worse than poison.

Mike Humphry, the owner, saw them come in. He signaled Malone.

"We'll get the girlie act right off and send the professor out."

Humphry offered his hand to Bronson. "Glad you dropped in, Mr. Bronson. Can't say as the house measures up to your place, but we do our best."

Bronson smiled a little coldly and they went inside. The last pounding notes of a song were cut off as the strip act left the stage hurriedly. The house was filled with loud whistling and handclapping. Bronson sat down in a chair near the back of the theater and Malone settled into the cushions beside him.

"It won't take long," Malone said nervously, "Humphry says he'll put Giraud right on."

"I heard him," Bronson answered shortly.

Malone muttered something under his breath. The three-piece band stumbled hurriedly through an introduction and Philip Giraud came swiftly to the stage.

Giraud was a short, swarthy-skinned man. He pushed a coffin-shaped box before him. It was covered with black silk and mounted on a wheeled table. Philip Giraud stopped in the center of the stage and held up a slim, white hand. He walked to the front of the platform and looked over the audience straight at Bronson.

"Gentlemen, Professor Philip Giraud will, for only a limited time after today, be allowed to offer his act for so little money. There is in the audience an agent who will recognize my worth and place me with the stars where I belong. For this reason I ask for complete silence and respect."

Bronson leaned toward Malone.

"Modest little squirt, isn't he?"

"Wait," Malone said anxiously. "He knows he's good."

Giraud went on for several minutes, talking swiftly as he produced the usual card tricks and rabbit-from-the-hat stuff. Bronson yawned.

"Where's the girl?" he asked. "I'll see her and then we'll get the hell out of here."

Professor Giraud had evidently detected Bronson's bored expression. He dropped the small-time business and went to the head of the covered coffin. The silence on the stage a...

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