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Those necklaces were as handy as a headman's axe. To pierce their secret Dan Turner finds his way into the house of missing girls


by Robert Leslie Bellem

IT WAS raining, and I was in a hurry. I was in my coupe, getting ready to pull out from the curb, when Sammy Weissmann hopped on my running board and poked his head inside the car.

I didn't like Sammy Weissmann. He was fat; he was greasy; and he smelled of garlic. In his day he'd been one of Hollywood's ace agents; had handled the business of plenty of stars and near- stars. But in recent months he'd hit the skids. Now he was breathing garlic in my kisser and saying, "Listen, Dan Turner. I'll give you a hundred clams to find Lorna McFee for me."

I shook my head and said, "No soap, Sammy. I'm taking a little vacation from the sleuthing business."

Sammy said, "But, damn it, man, you've got to find her for me! I need her! N-D-N Studios have agreed to cast her in a swell role. It means dough in my pocket—and God knows I can use it! But Lorna McFee's disappeared off the face of the earth!"

"She'll probably turn up in a day or so," I told him. "Maybe she's out on a bender. Give her a chance to sober up."

Sammy said, "You know damned well Lorna McFee isn't that sort!" He glared at me indignantly.

AS A MATTER of fact, he was right. Lorna McFee was a cute little brunette who'd recently begun to make a rep for herself in pictures. There was no trace of scandal in her private life. She didn't drink, didn't smoke, didn't run around promiscuously. But, hell! Looking for a missing dame in Hollywood is like trying to find a drop of butter in a kettle of boiling lard.

Several obscure film cuties had dropped out of sight recently; and Lorna McFee was just another name added to the list, as far as I was concerned. Besides, Sammy Weissmann had offered me only a hundred berries. It wasn't enough—and I knew he couldn't afford more.

So I slipped into reverse and gunned my engine. I said, "Sorry, Sammy. Be seeing you."

He had to scram off my running board to keep from having the keel of his pants scraped by the fender of an adjoining parked car. I heard him yell, "Damn you, Turner—I'll fix you for this!" He sounded plenty sore. He had a nasty temper anyhow.

I headed for Santa Monica Boulevard through the afternoon traffic. I was on my way to spend an evening with Jeff Truman, the extinct Western star. Once in a while Jeff and I got together for a little Scotch-fest. I liked to drink with him because his capacity was the same as mine. We both usually passed out at the same moment, so that neither of as had to stay awake and listen to the other one snoring.

Jeff Truman had a beach house in an isolated section beyond Pacific Palisades, where he lived the year around. He hadn't worked in pictures for a long time. Contract trouble; all the studios had abolished him. Which struck me as a damned shame, because Jeff could out-ride, out-shoot, and out-act most of the he-men on the screen.

After a while I hit the town of Santa Monica and headed up the Coast Highway. And then things began to happen.

As a Hollywood private dick, I've heard of nudists and seen plenty of nuts. But nudists usually do their nuding in the good old summertime. They don't ordinarily go running across a rain-drenched strip of deserted beach in the middle of December, minus every stitch of clothing. Not even in Southern California. December in Southern California gets pretty damned cold.

Therefore, I decided, the dame who came racing stark naked toward me through the storm- soaked twilight must be bughouse.

But she didn't look screwy. She just looked scared as hell. As she got closer I saw that she was either a Chink or a Jap—anyhow, an Asiatic of some sort. She was young, and she was plenty good-looking. Her rounded little breasts were too solid to jounce very much as she ran; and her ivory body was slender without being skinny.

She wasn't wearing a cockeyed thing except a silvery necklace of some sort. And a necklace isn't much protection when the thermometer is down around forty and the clouds are pouring potfuls of rain all over creation's deck.

I SLAPPED on my brakes and took a good gander at the gal. Naked Oriental women racing across deserted beaches aren't exactly numerous; and I've got my share of natural curiosity. The almond-eyed dame's wet black hair streamed out behind her like a dark banner; and when she spotted me in my jalopy she let loose an ear- splitting beef and swerved across the beach toward me.

I said, "What the hell!" and nose-dived out of my hack, forgetting to pick up my automatic roscoe which was on the seat alongside me. I could see that the Oriental frail was in trouble. She was running away from something that had scared the wadding out of her.

Her foot prints were crimson blotches in the wet sand, as though her feet had been lacerated by the sharp rock-particles. She swayed, tottered as she ran; and her trail led back toward a pretentious beach house near the ocean.

I recognized the house. It had been the summer home of Sammy Weissmann, the agent who had hung to my running board back in Hollywood an hour before. But the sheriff had taken the place away from Sammy. Money trouble.

The slant-eyed cutie was near me now. And she was yelling her lungs out. I couldn't see anybody chasing her; but my hand dived for the .32 automatic I always carry in a shoulder-holster. Then I remembered I'd left the roscoe in my coupe.

Before I could spin around to get it, something happened. The Oriental dame stiffened in her tracks. Her hands went to that silvery necklace around her ivory throat. She clawed at the thing—tried to unfasten it. And then I noticed that the necklace was beginning to glow like a blue halo!

It seemed to be sputtering and spitting sparks. A puff of wind drifted toward me, bearing a wisp of smoke.

I smelled it. It was the odor of roasting flesh!

I've watched plenty of hoods getting blisters put in their pants in the electric chair. I know the characteristic, sickening odor.

I started running like hell toward the slant- eyed dame. But she didn't have a chance. I couldn't have saved her if I'd been Buddha. Before I could reach the girl, the blue-crackling necklace was an eye-blinding circle of luminous fire. The girl went down, writhing. And then her head fell off.

It rolled almost to my feet. Its almond eyes stared up at me and blinked, horribly. Reflex muscular action, of course. The severed head didn't bleed; neither did the decapitated corpse. Seared, roasted flesh doesn't bleed, any more than a well-cooked steak.

I STOOD there for a paralyzed instant, feeling sick. I had seen death strike from nowhere, and I was plenty dazed. Then I heard a roaring sound behind me.

I whirled around. And then I jumped. My jalopy was a raging inferno of flames. Something told me to duck. I did. I was just in time. I went flat on my smeller in the sand, just as the fire reached my car's gas tank. There came a pfoof! and a hell of a roar. That was my last seven gallons of ethyl all going off at once.

A cupful of the stuff smacked me in the arm, set fire to my sleeve. I rolled in the sand to put it out. Then I felt a single hell-hot spot of pain on the calf of each of my legs, under my trousers.

I slapped at myself, yanked up my pants-legs. The metal clasps of my garters were blackened, melted; and there were great big blisters on my flesh, as if I'd been broiled.

All of a sudden I was glad I didn't have any loose change in my pockets; glad I'd left my keys and my roscoe in my coupe. Because I suddenly realized that if I'd had any great amount of metal on me, I'd have been charred to a cinder. Somehow, from nowhere, the rain-murky dusk was charged with high-voltage electricity... and the death-dealing juice had hit the asiatic girl's metal necklace, burned her head off her shoulders! Also, it had melted my jalopy into a crumpled mass of molten tin.

I got a grip on myself and staggered to my pins. I looked around me, trying to get my bearings. I needed a drink in the worst way—but my bottle of Vat 69 was in the burning wreck of my coupe. And I wouldn't go that near hell for a drink, no matter how thirsty I was!

I started running up the highway through the gathering gloom. Behind me, the burning flames of my hack painted the dusk with leaping, hellish crimson light. I raced around a bend in the deserted road, there the Palisades jutted out. And then I saw Jeff Truman's little tome.

It was a comfortable bungalow. A light glowed in the living-room window. I hammered hell out of my knuckles on the front door. After a while it opened. Jeff Truman stood there, munching a salami sandwich which would add a little more to the belly-pod he was already beginning to accumulate.

Jeff said, "For God's sake! Sherlock Holmes in person. Why didn't you let me know you were coming? And where in hell have yon been?"

I said, "You guessed it, Jeff. I just came from hell. It's down the road about a quarter of a mile."

Jeff Truman stared at me suspiciously. "You're drunk. You didn't play fair. You got a head start on me!" he complained.

I said, "I'm not drunk. Something just set fire to my go-buggy. And the same something electrocuted a Chink dame. She was running across the beach, mother-naked. A shot of juice hit her and roasted the head off her shoulders!"

Jeff Truman grinned. "What about the vermilion turtles and the purple elephants?"

I blew my breath in his pan to prove I wasn't tanked up. "For God's sake, get serious!" I told him. "Let me at your phone. The county cops have got to be notified."

He said, "Take it easy, Turner. Wait till I get a raincoat. I want to see this decapitated cadaver before we start calling for the cops." He crammed his sandwich into his face, grabbed a slicker, slipped into it. Then the pair of us lammed for the road.

WE ROUNDED that jutting bend. My jalopy was just a twisted heap of red-glowing junk by that time, and there was no more daylight. Jeff Truman said, "Well, you were right about your car burning up. But where's the naked corpse?"

"Right over here!" I told him. I led him to the spot. And then I said, "For God's sake!"

The naked Chinese girl's body had disappeared!

There was no sign of it; no trace of the severed head. Furthermore, there were no footprints around the spot—except my own!

"So she picked up her head, fastened it on with a hatpin, and flew through the air like a bird!" Jeff Truman grinned at me.

"Good God, man!" I rasped at him. "There's been a murder here—and you crack bum jokes!" I grabbed his arm, dragged him a little farther. "Look!" I said. "There's the dame's naked footprints in the sand!" I hauled out my flashlight, snapped it on.

Jeff Truman looked. Then he cut loose with a laugh. "Those aren't human footprints, you dope!" he chuckled. "Have another squint!"

I did. And then I saw that the marks weren't human. It was as if they'd been made by an animal of some sort. A. pretty big animal, maybe, but not a human animal.

I said, "Jeeze! Maybe I'm going nuts!"

"You've been seeing things. You need a drink," Jeff Truman said. "Come on back to the house."

I hesitated. Then I said, "Listen, Jeff. Have you got a rod?"

He looked at me. "A gun? Yes. At the house. Why?"

"I want to borrow it," I told him. "Mine got burned up when my car caught fire."

"Going to shoot somebody?" he asked me jocularly. I could see that he still didn't believe my story about that Chink dame.

I said, "No. I'm not going to shoot anybody— unless I have to. But I'm going to do some investigating. I'm going to that beach house where the Asiatic girl came from—Sammy Weissmann's old place. I'm going to ask questions!"

He shrugged. "You're being a damned fool, Turner. Why not admit that you had a hallucination and let it go at that?"

I said, "Hallucination, hell! I know what I saw!"

"Okay," he answered me, in a tone that indicated he doubted my sanity.

We went back to his place, and while he went into his bedroom to dig me up a roscoe I stayed in the living-room and downed three stiff hookers of Scotch. Then Truman came in and handed me a big Colt's .44 the size of a young cannon.

I jammed the gun into my pocket and started for the door. Jeff Truman followed me. I looked at him and said, "Where do you think you're going?"

"With you," he answered.

"Nix. This is my party," I told him. "You stay here. If I'm not back in an hour, phone the cops."

He gave me am argument. But I finally talked him out of going with me. And then his front door- bell rang.

JEFF answered the summons. I looked over his shoulder—and saw a girl standing on the porch. She was a brunette; and, Lord, what a brunette! She was diminutive, she was young, and she had everything.

Curling tendrils of coal-dark hair peeped from beneath her rain-wet little hat. Her eyes were deep, black, slumberous pools of dormant passion. Her poppy-carmine lips brimmed with unspent kisses. And her body—

Well, she was wearing an oilskin slicker; but it didn't conceal the lilting symmetry of her delicious curves. Her breasts were twin arrogant prominences, high and firm. They made my fingers tingle with desire to caress them.... The slicker hit her around the knees, and I caught a glimpse of gorgeous, chiffon-sheathed legs that had me ga-ga.

In that first brief instant I thought I recognized her; thought I'd seen her somewhere before. And then it came to me. She was Lorna McFee—the movie cutie who had disappeared! The girl whom Sammy Weissmann had asked me to find!

And then I noticed something else. Around her throat was a silvery, metallic necklace exactly like the one I'd seen on the Asiatic girl who had died on the beach!

She was smiling. "I—I beg your pardon, Mr. Truman," she said to Jeff. "I live in that big house down the beach. Our electric lights have gone out. We've got some lamps, but no kerosene. I—I thought perhaps I could borrow some—"

"Sure!" Jeff Truman said. "I've got a whole five-gallon can of it. Come inside while I get it for you."

He brought her into the living-room. Then he went on toward the kitchen, leaving the girl alone with me. She gave me a demure smile, unfastened her slicker and threw it back over her shoulders. She was wearing an evening gown of such daring decolletage that her perfect breasts were revealed almost completely. The sight of those creamy- white, smoothly-rounded hillocks of loveliness sent my heart bouncing around like a lot of loose rubber balls.

She saw me staring at her; and she flushed a little. Myself, I was beginning to get all sorts of screwy ideas—like holding her in my arms, mashing her red lips with my mouth, holding her breasts in my palms... and other things.

I said, "You're Lorna McFee, aren't you?"

She went a little pale. "N-no," she answered hesitantly. "Whatever gave you that idea?"

I knew she was lying. And I wondered why. Also, I was wondering about that silvery, metallic necklace. It was fastened around her throat in such a way that she couldn't have removed it even if she had wanted. to. There was a tiny, burnished padlock of case-hardened steel on it!

BEFORE I could frame another question, Jeff Truman came back into the room. He was lugging a heavy five-gallon can that sloshed and gurgled and smelled of coal-oil.

I took it out of his hand and tipped him a wink. "I'll carry this for the lady," I said. "You can't go out in the rain with that head-cold of yours."

He caught on right away. He knew I wanted to go with the girl, back to the big house on the beach. The kerosene would give me an excuse to get into the place. So he nodded and said, "Okay, Turner."

I carried the big kerosene can out of his bungalow, and the brunette girl followed me. It was raining pitchforks. We took a shortcut across the wet beach. After a while I said, "Sammy Weissmann is looking for you, Lorna."

"Has he got a job for me?" she said. I'd caught her off-guard. Abruptly she recovered herself. "Er—I don't know anybody named Sammy Weissmann," she muttered.

"You still claim you're not Lorna McFee?" I shot at her.

"I... I'm not Lorna McFee," she answered me in a dead, flat monotone.

I could see I wasn't getting any place along that line. So I tried another tack. I said, "I've been noticing your necklace. Odd sort of thing."

"Yes. Isn't it?" she agreed lifelessly. "I've never seen anything quite like it," I told her. "Where did you get it?"

"You... mustn't ask me... that!" she whispered. There was fear in her tone.

I looked at her as we walked through the wet sand. In the darkness, her face was very pale, very frightened, very beautiful. Away off in the distance, beyond the twelve-mile limit, there was a brilliant blotch of light on the ocean.

It was one of the gambling boats that infest the coast—an anchored pleasure-ship devoted to crooked games of chance and other forms of amusement... including girls. A vagrant thought struck me. A girl as beautiful as Lorna McFee would command top prices on that pleasure-ship, I mused...

And then we rounded that jutting cliff and reached the house on the beach—Sammy Weissmann's old place. It was ablaze with lights- bright lights. Electrics. The dark-haired girl said, "Goodness! The current must have come on again. You've had your trip for nothing, I'm afraid."

I said, "It was worth it. I like being with you, even in the rain."

She flashed me a coquettish smile that struck me as being forced, unnatural. "Would you like to come in and have a drink?" she suggested.

"Sure thing!" I told her.

SHE produced a key and opened the front door. I left the can of kerosene on the porch and followed her into a big, comfortable living-room.

The girl slipped out of her slicker, tossed her hat into a corner. Then she got a bottle of Highland Cream and a glass. She poured a drink and handed it to me. "Here. This will warm you up!" she said in a loud voice. Then, "Don't drink it, for God's sake!" she whispered in a tense undertone that barely reached me.

I stiffened. What the hell was coming off? I wondered. There was something plenty haywire— and I'd blundered right into the middle of it. I stared at the girl. Then I raised the glass and poured the Scotch into my mouth.

But I didn't swallow it. I hauled out my handkerchief, pretended to wipe my lips. I spat the Scotch into the handkerchief in a thin stream; returned the soaking-wet linen square to my pocket. I had tasted a slight bitterness to the drink; realized that it had been drugged!

I put down the empty glass and grinned at the brunette girl. "Thanks!" I said. She was looking at me, wide-eyed.

Then, as though playing a poorly-rehearsed and distasteful part, she smiled at me and rolled her lithe hips seductively. "Feel better?" she asked me.

I said, "Yeah. Some. But there's one more thing I'd like."

"What's that?" she wanted to know.

"A kiss," I told her.

She grinned, brazenly. "I've got lots of 'em."

So I grabbed her around the waist, pulled her toward me. It was evidently what she'd wanted me to do; because she pressed herself against me in a way that's got me hot and bothered right now. I planted my mouth on her lips and gave her the works.

Her dress was skin-tight, as if it had been tattooed to her delicious curves. My fingers played up and down her back, fondled the arched lushness of her hips, the silken smoothness of her thighs. I touched the upper halves of her milky breasts, where they swelled out above her decolletage. I kissed her again.

"Pretend to be drowsy!" she whispered. "It's your only chance!"

I took her tip; yawned in her face. I smelled danger—plenty of it. And I knew that the girl was trying to save me from something damned sinister. We were probably being watched, I figured.... "Funny!" I mumbled thickly. "I feel—a little— sleepy—"

"Want to lie down and rest a while?" she asked me. Her eyes commanded me to say yes.

I nodded and said, "Yeah—if you'll keep me company."

"Come along," she grinned. But the fear in her eyes didn't match up with the smile on her red lips.

I FOLLOWED her upstairs, into a little room lighted by a single, pink-shaded lamp. I sat on the side of the sofa. Then, while I watched, the girl unfastened the shoulder-straps of her evening gown and shrugged out of it.

The garment fell to the floor around her tapered ankles. In the dim light I took a good look at her. And I could feel a tingle running down my spine when I saw the lilting, arrogant rise of her unbrassiered breasts; the breath-taking, symmetrical loveliness of her young body. All she had on was a pair of tissue-thin panties....

I captured her wrists, dragged her down alongside me. Then I snapped off the light.

In the darkness, she slipped a little unwillingly into my arms. I crushed her against me so that her breasts jabbed into my chest. I kissed her, hungrily, forcing her lips apart until her hot little tongue-tip fluttered. My mouth wandered to the hollow of her throat....

She made no objection when I put my hands on her firm, warm breasts. I caressed them. She quivered a little, and her arms went about my neck, drawing my head down.... Then I heard her whispering: "Listen! You must get out of here— through the window! Climb down—run for it! Otherwise you'll be... murdered!"

"Me? Murdered? Why, for God's sake?" I whispered back.

"Because the man who runs this place knows you witnessed the death of that Chinese girl! That's why I was sent to lure you here. I was supposed to give you a drugged drink and let you go to sleep in this room. Later, you were to be... killed. But I—I couldn't go through with it. I—I had to warn you."

I held her close to me in the darkness. I said, "You're really Lorna McFee, aren't you, baby?"

"Y-yes... and now—go! Hurry, before it's too late!"

"Okay. But I'm taking you with me!" I said. She went stiff in my arms. An hysterical tremor shook her. "No—no! They'd... kill me!" she panted. Then she almost clawed her way free of my embrace, shoved me to the window.

I LET her get away with it, because I was beginning to have an idea. There were certain things I wanted to investigate. So I opened the window very cautiously and slipped out into the rain.

My feet hit the roof of the front porch below the window. I ducked low and started for the edge. And then I stopped.

From another window I saw a crack of light and heard a girl's low moan of fear.

I didn't make a sound, as I wormed my way to that second window. Gaining it, I glued my eye to the crack in the shade through which the light streamed. Then I saw red.

Inside the room five girls were huddled in a corner. They wore negligees—and nothing underneath. There was a gorgeous, cuddly platinum blonde with lush breasts and slinky hips; a cream-colored baby with black hair—an octoroon, probably, from the murkiness in her eyes; a slim, boy-breasted Japanese girl whose yellow skin was like polished ivory.

And there were two others—both pretty enough to have graced an Eddie Cantor chorus. And every one of those five girls wore a locked necklace of silvery metal!

Standing in front of the cowering girls I saw a masked man and a red-haired, hard-faced dame. The hard-faced dame was talking. "Now get this, you tramps!" she rasped at the undressed youngsters. "Tonight you're being shipped out to the pleasure-boat. The customers like new faces, new figures. And if you know what's good for you, you'll do as you're told! You'll be nice to the boys...!"

"Yeah!" the masked man snarled. "Otherwise you'll get the same medicine we handed to that Chink dame this evening!"

When he said that, I knew the whole story. Those undressed girls in the room—they were some of the dames who had disappeared from Hollywood recently. They were white slaves, brought here to be sent to that anchored pleasure- ship! They'd been kidnapped—and now they were to be forced into a life of shame.

Like a flash, I squirmed back across the roof of the porch. I gained the window of that other room—the room in which I'd left Lorna McFee. I scrambled inside.

In the darkness, Lorna McFee gasped out, "Who's there?"

"Dan Turner!'" I whispered to her. And then she was in my arms, trembling against me, her body cold and shivering. For an instant I held her close.

"You—you shouldn't have come back!" she panted, terrified. "You should have got away while you had the chance!"

I patted her. "Listen!" I whispered. "I'm going to ask you some questions. And, I want straight answers. Maybe I can get you out of this mess. Now, in the first place, just what happened to that Chinese girl who was killed on the beach this evening?"

"She—she tried to run away," Lorna McFee told me falteringly. "And then... something terrible happened to her. The red-haired woman went out on snow-shoes a while ago and brought back the ... corpse. Its head had been burned from the body..."

SNOW-SHOES! I stiffened. So that accounted for the fact that there had been no foot-prints at the spot where the Chink girl's cadaver had vanished! Then I thought of something else. I said, "What about the Chinese girl's feet? Anything funny about them?"

"Y-yes. They were bound, in the ancient Oriental fashion. They were all squeezed together—deformed."

Now I had the answer to my other puzzle. Now I knew why the Asiatic dame had tottered when she ran; why her footprints resembled the tracks of an animal. And Jeff Truman had laughed at me, called me screwy!

"They—they abduct us and bring us here," Lorna McFee whispered bitterly. "They compel us to wear these necklaces. And if we try to run away—"

"I get it!" I said. Then, suddenly, I heard footfalls outside the door of the room. That would probably be the masked white-slaver coming to bump me off, thinking I was in a drugged stupor. I grabbed Lorna McFee, shoved her behind me. I yanked out the .44 Colt I'd borrowed from Jeff Truman and crouched, waiting—

The room's door opened. The lights flashed on. I saw the masked man. He had an automatic in his fist. His eyes widened through the slits in his mask when he saw me standing there, instead of being stretched unconscious on the bed. With an oath he pointed his automatic at me—

I came up with my .44 and squeezed the trigger. And then I felt a sickness at the pit of my belly. The hammer clicked down on a jammed cylinder! The .44 was useless!

Before I could move, the masked man jammed his automatic into my guts and said, "Stick up your flippers, Turner!" Then he glared at Lorna McFee, who was cowering practically naked, behind me. "You, too, you double-crossing skirt!" he snarled.

She gasped out a despairing cry. The masked man grabbed her by the hair with his free hand, hauled her forward. "So you didn't give him that drugged drink, eh?" he barked at her. "Well, you'll have the pleasure of dying with him!" He turned to me and leered.

His face was close to mine. I caught a whiff of garlic. And then I knew what I was up against. I knew the masked man's identity; realized that he had gone into the white-slave business to recoup his fallen fortunes. And I knew that he wouldn't stop at murder....

HE SHOVED me out of the room and dragged Lorna McFee after him. He had his rod in my gizzard. I had to go with him, or he'd have blasted a tunnel through my kidneys. And then I wouldn't have been able to drink Scotch any more.

Then, from the first-floor hallway below me I heard a sudden sound—a girl's shrieking cry of fear, followed by pattering footsteps and a harsh feminine oath. Flesh thumped against flesh; a body thudded to the floor. And then that hard-faced, red- haired woman came up the stairs, hauling a limp, naked form after her.

She was one of the five girls I'd seen in that other room. The cuddly platinum blonde. Her negligee had been ripped off; I could see the heavy fullness of her bosoms, the dimpled curves of her hips....

"What's the idea?" the masked man rasped.

The red-haired dame said, "She tried to run away. I caught her."

"Yeah?" the masked guy growled in his throat. "Well, we'll fix her along with these other two. That will give me a chance to make the final adjustments on my death-ray machine—the machine that's going to make me master of the world!"

He prodded me forward. The others followed us. We went up a flight of rear stairs. I found myself in a small, circular chamber—the cupola on top of the house. The masked man raised his roscoe, slammed it against my dome. I saw stars. Then I didn't see anything. I was out.

I DIDN'T stay unconscious very long. I've got a thick skull. I opened my eyes, blinked back the agony that surged through my think-tank. I stared.

The brunette Lorna McFee was on the floor beside me. We were both propped against the wall. Lorna was tied by wrists and ankles, and she was nude except for her wispy step-ins. But the masked man hadn't bothered to rope me. He probably figured I'd be out for quite some time from that bat on the skull.

The red-haired, hard-faced woman was gone. But across from me I saw the platinum blonde girl strapped in a chair. Her body strained at the bonds which held her, and her eyes were wide with sheer terror.

The masked bozo stood in front of her, diddling with the controls of a fantastic-looking contrivance that looked like a big movie-projector. Even as I watched, he snapped a switch—

I heard a wet, sizzling sound; smelled roasting human flesh. Acrid smoke drifted to my nostrils, got in my eyes. The blonde girl cut loose with a scream that ended in a wild crescendo of nothingness. I staggered to my feet, nausea churning my guts to a froth. The blonde girl's metallic necklace was a sputtering halo of glowing fire that seared into her flawless throat....

The juice ate through flesh and bone in an instant. Abruptly the girl's lovely head was severed—burned away from her white body. The head plopped horribly to the floor—

"You foul fiend from hell!" I yelled. And I launched myself at the masked man.

He whirled when he heard me; whirled, and reached for the automatic in his shoulder-holster. But I was too quick for him. I balled my fist, smashed it into his mouth. He staggered, went backward—fell against the blonde girl's decapitated corpse in the death-chair.

He screamed. A puff of blue smoke, a shower of sparks, leaped from him as the death-ray struck his holstered roscoe. The weapon exploded. It tore a gaping hole in the murderer's chest, so that I could see his seared, roasted, dead lungs.... He slid to the floor.

I whipped the mask from his contorted features. "So, Jeff Truman!" I grunted.

YES; that's who it was. Jeff Truman, the extinct Western star. It had been Truman who had abducted young girls, forced them into white slavery; made them earn the money to pay for his hellish experiments on that death-ray machine. That's why Truman had lived down at the beach, in a little bungalow near the larger house which once had belonged to Sammy Weissmann.....

It had been Jeff Truman who'd killed that Chinese girl with his blasting, invisible electric ray. He'd then managed to get back to his bungalow in time to be there when I knocked at his door. I remembered I'd waited quite a while before he answered my knock....

And Jeff Truman, fearing I'd discovered his secret and realizing I intended to search the big beach house, must have phoned from the bungalow while pretending to search for that .44 Colt which I wanted to borrow—and which he had purposely jammed. He had phoned and arranged for Lorna McFee, one of his captives, to come over for kerosene. He planned for me to be lured to the big house so that I could be drugged and murdered!

And that garlic smell on his breath—that's what had tipped me that the masked man was Jeff Truman. Because Truman had been eating a salami sandwich when I first seen him. Salami—with garlic!

I WHIRLED, scooped the unconscious, half- naked figure of Lorna McFee into my arms. I dashed down the stairs with her. She seemed very sweet, very desirable, as I carried her.... At the foot of the stairs I bumped into the hard-faced, red- haired dame, Jeff Truman's accomplice.

She started at me. I biffed her, hard, right on the button. I twisted my free hand in her hair, dragged her outside the house. Lorna McFee shivered; regained consciousness.

I said, "Watch this red-haired hag. If she comes to, kick her in the teeth!" Then I lammed back into the house. Two minutes later I had every last one of those poor, necklaced girls out of the joint. And when they were safely dressed and out, I spilled that five-gallon can of kerosene all over the first floor of the place; struck a packet of matches—

The house burned like tinder. It was a raging inferno before the county fire apparatus could reach the scene. They weren't able to save anything. Jeff Truman and his death-ray machine, up in the cupola, were destroyed together.

But I didn't wait for that. I ran to Truman's bungalow, got out his car; took Truman's white slaves back to Hollywood and set them free. All except the red-haired dame and Lorna McFee.

I turned the red-haired dame over to the cops and placed a white-slavery charge against her— together with a charge of being accessory to at least two murders. Then I took Lorna McFee to my own apartment. Gave her a dressing gown and a slug of Scotch. Seated her on the divan in my living-room.

Then I went to my phone and dialed Sammy Weissmann.

When he answered I said, "Sammy? This is Dan Turner. I've found Lorna McFee for you. Yeah. Bring your hundred bucks up to my apartment and you can have her." Then I looked at Lorna McFee on the divan. The dressing gown had fallen open in front, revealing her sweet young breasts. I remembered the moments I had spent with her in the darkened room of that big beach house...

Now she was smiling at me, and her eyes were shining, inviting.... I put my mouth back to the phone and said, "Say, Sammy, take your time coming over. Yeah. About an hour. Right...."