It's summer fever," the redhead yawned, stretching like a cat
and knocking a file of finger-print cards off one corner of her
desk with the sweeping gesture.
"Huh?" Jerry Riker muttered.
He had been looking at the backs of her bright curls for a long
time and thinking thoughts of his own. When she came suddenly to
life, it startled him. But "Redsie" Culver was always startling
"Summer fever," Grace repeated distinctly."Spring fever grown
up. I'm sleepy. I'm bored. Nothing happens. Life is too
Jerry looked hopeful.
"How about a movie to-night?"
"A movie? You would!" Disconsolately, "Big Tim" Noonan's
secretary and right hand began to gather up her scattered cards. "A
movie I'd even rather sit here like I am, till I'm old and gray,
trying to prove that the mug that broke into Mrs. Rabinovitz's
store and tuck the till for eight bucks fifty hasn't got a
double-whorled thumb like Rocco C. Bragatelli's. And that says
It was a perfect afternoon outside the windows of Tim Noonan's
detective agency offices. Blue sky. Bright sun The wrong time
entirely to deal with Rocco C. Bragatelli and his problematic
connection with minor monies once in the possession of Mrs. Ashelom
"I wish Tim would get back she announced. "I could tell him
about that laundry lad that's telephoned three times since he left
for lunch. It would take up a couple of minutes, anyhow."
"What the guy want?'
"I wouldn't know. And if I did, as the perfect confidential
secretary to a man of affairs, I wouldn't tell."
It was ten minutes and an additional laundry call later that Big
Tim lumbered into the office and tossed his battered panama in the
direction of the hatrack with nonchalant precision. Grace whooped
at the sight of him.
"Your Sunday shirt's been shredded, Noonan! Or else they broke
off all your buttons. They're hot to apologize."
"Horner's Laundry. Mr. Horner himself, in fact--whoever he is.
I've taken four calls and a call-back number. They must have messed
up your scanties good and proper."
The gray-haired giant creaked into his desk chair.
"I trade with a one-eyed Chinese man on Madison Avenue. Where's
that number? Oh, yeah. I'd better see. They maybe have run the
Rabinovitz woman through a wringer by mistake. In which case, no
call for apologies."
He spun the dial.
Exactly six minutes later, he was on the street hailing a
cruising taxi to the curb. His red-headed secretary, slightly
breathless, was beside him.
"I still don't see--"
"Get in. The meter's running," Big Tim suggested.
Grace got in. The laundry was a Brooklyn address. The cab
started downtown, in the direction of the bridge.
"So what goes on in Brooklyn?"
"A war," Noonan rumbled.
"A war. Laundries for trenches. There's a protection racket gang
starting its stuff, from what this Mr. Horner tells me. The old
Chicago game. He don't want to play."
Big Tim stared out the window beside him.
"I wouldn't know. That takes more confab with Horner. So far,
there ain't any case. Only crank notes. We're going over to have us
The redhead sighed dismally.
"I ask for excitement, and what do I get? A peek at a set of
That finished the Horner case--for fifteen minutes. And then the
lid blew off. Literally blew off.
The cab had no better than turned the corner at the end of the
block occupied by Horner's Home-Way Laundry when the explosive roar
fanged into the silence, vicious, deafening.
A delivery truck had just nosed into the street from the doors
of the Horner garage.
One second, it was edging cautiously forward. The next, it
seemed to lift into the air. Its sides buckled out. Its roof tore
open like the top of a burst balloon, and shredded.
Along the opposite curb, a curtained black sedan had been
cruising slowly as the track appeared. Now, springing into sudden
swift motion, it hurtled forward, headed toward the far
Tim was onto his driver's neck like a striking rattlesnake.
The cab shot ahead. But the quick movement seemed almost
simultaneous with the shrill, tortured scream of jammed brakes.
Swerving, they brought up abruptly at the curb.
Into their path. swinging crazily to block off the entire
street, the shattered truck had careened like a spinning top.
There, miraculously on all four wheels, it jerked to a
Around the distant corner, the escaping sedan whipped out of
sight into the maze of city-bound traffic. Swearing softly, Tim
leaped the taxi's running board.
From the laundry, shouting employees were racing for the bombed
truck as Grace sprang after him.
The private office of Nicholas Horner overlooked the street in
which the sudden attack of a quarter hour previous had taken place.
As he finished his statement, the haggard laundry magnate stared
down at the wreck of his truck, sombre-eyed.
"So there it is, Mr. Noonan. The whole industry has received
notes like those. Some of my rivals have seen fit to pay the ‘dues'
and ‘assessments' this Mr. Almond demands. I did not. You saw what
Big Tim flicked the little stack of notes through his fingers.
All of them typed. All signed with one name, in a round uniformed
hand: "Mr. Almond."
And all pompously decorated with blobs of red sealing wax in
which the letter "A" had been stamped with the sort of stock signet
available at the jewelry counter of any cheap department store!
"Look like kid stuff, don't they?"
Horner smiled wryly.
"That truck down there doesn't look much like a child's game,
Mr. Noonan. At least, my three at home don't play that rough."
Tim's eyes, following the smaller man's, inspected the wreck of
the blasted vehicle below. Shreds of charred cloth--all that was
left of the two o'clock delivery-- were swirling in the eddies of
wind that fanned the neighboring gutters.
"How about the police?"
"No. We haven't gone to them. Police mean publicity Publicity
means ruin. No sane housewife would send out a wash she knew was
going to be blown to atoms before it was returned to her."
Noonan fanned the letters in his big hand.
"The Laundrymen's Protective Combine, eh? Who is this Almond
guy? What's he look like? Could you identify him?"
"Nor can any other laundryman in Brooklyn. His letters are all
we have on him. Except his bombs."
Tim tossed the collection of papers into his secretary's lap.
She scooped them up eagerly. There had been too much time wasted
already, she felt.
"What you make of them, Redsie?"
"There is no Mr. Almond."
Horner lurched forward. His eyes were wide. He was quivering
"No Almond? Young lady, if you think that truck is a mere
Grace interrupted. "It's real enough. And whoever wrote those
letters means business. But his name isn't Almond. See how slowly
be has formed each letter? That's not the way you'd dash off your
own familiar signature."
Who--who is he, then?"
"I don't know--yet His right name doesn't begin with A, because
the signet is evidently brand-new. He's illiterate, of course. And
he isn't a business man or used to seeing letters, or the 'Mr.'
would have been a first name or initials. Aside from that--"
A door at the opposite end of the office opened. Horner's
secretary, a drab female in tweeds, shuffled in.
"They've finished the emergency treatment on Wally, Mr. Horner.
The ambulance is on its way."
"Wally?" Tim rumbled.
"Wally Mapes, the driver. Badly messed up, he was."
Tim's big frame swung toward the exit at the secretary's
"Better talk to him before the hospital people come. No chance
he saw anything out there. The attack was too quick. But it won't
hurt to ask. Coming, Redsie?"
Wally Mapes was fully conscious, stretched out on a mattress on
the floor of the laundry garage. The doctor who had been rushed to
the scene had given him emergency treatment on the spot before
sending for an ambulance.
Peering down at the bandaged figure, Grace contacted the man's
tortured eyes almost at once. Her scrutiny seemed to arrest his
attention. They stared at each other for a full minute without
"Tough luck, Wally."
Hopes made no answer. His lint-swathed jaw might have explained
this. So, she thought suddenly, might some other things.
It was the driver's eyes that had burned the corners of the
redhead's intuition. Strange eyes. There was a dark glint in them.
Something like--like blood hate.
What could that mean?
"Can he talk, doctor?" Tim rumbled.
The physician shrugged.
"A little. But not too much, man. He's lost some blood. Shock,
too; you know."
There was no shock in Mapes's eyes, the girl - from the agency
mused. And no noticeable weakness, either. Some terrible inner
struggle seemed to be burning him, lending him extra strength.
But the man's Home-Way uniform was blood-spattered, and the thin
mist of sweat on his forehead showed he was suffering.
Tim bent above him.
"Who got you, old-timer?"
Mapes might have been bomb-deaf. His eyes, meeting the
detective's, sparkled dangerously. Then they closed. He made no
Tim turned away, shrugging. But those eyes of the injured man's
still bothered Grace Culver. Just a hunch. But she bent above him
"You could hear him, Wally. And you know something. Come on and
give! We'll find out other ways, any how."
Wally's lips panted slowly. But when she bent to catch the slow
words gritting through his teeth, they weren't the tip she bad been
"The--devil with--you--baby." And that was all he had to
The ambulance arrived, clanging like mad up the narrow street.
Orderlies loaded the mangled Horner driver aboard. Grace, following
them to the curb, stared after the departing vehicle with a puzzled
Seeing the street reminded her of that moment the bomb had
landed. The slowly cruising car, abreast of the laundry door at
just the right minute. The neat get-away All too perfect for a
hit-or-miss hoodlum job.
Mapes couldn't have seen his attackers. And yet he knew who did
the job! The hate in his eyes could mean nothing else but that
Heart tingling Grace went back to Horner's office. Tim was just
turning from the telephone.
"Calling Jerry,"' he explained. "Not much chance tracing those
letters. Only may to get action from this Almond is to bait a trap.
One truck is only a starter. He'll crack down on others, And--"
"And there we'll be!"
Tim's eyebrows lowered.
"There Jerry and me may be. Not you. Pineapples are no toys for
girls. This case is all male stuff, from now on."
"Tim Noonan, if--"
"No sale." Tim said.
She knew he meant it. The Irish in her flared up, then died. No
sense getting him riled until--"When do you big men try it?"
"To-night. Near midnight, maybe. But as far as you're concerned,
"All right, all right!"
She left the office hurriedly. Her eyes were bright, angry. She
found it hard work to smile when she stopped at Horner's
secretary's desk in the outer waiting room.
"I need some information. Do your delivery trucks go out on a
definite schedule? I mean, that one this afternoon? Is two the
The secretary's pale lips twitched.
"No, Miss. The regular schedule has been suspended for a week.
Since the Combine letters have seemed dangerous, each driver has
been told when to report the next day. Never two days the
"So only the driver and Mr. Horner would know?"
Grace nodded thoughtfully.
"I see. And one more thing. I wonder if you have this particular
driver's home address on file? Wally Mapes, I mean."
"We have, Miss."
Slowly, the smile in Grace Culver's sherry-colored eyes was
becoming more genuine.
Number 11 Barnstable Street, might have been the building from
which the dreary little crosstown alley had derived its name.
Standing on the broken flagstones that passed for a sidewalk,
Grace stared up at the bleak expanse of peeling paint and gray,
weathered timber. Narrow windows, like unblinking dead eyes, stared
back at her.
Mr. Wally Mapes, she decided, was in a brighter spot even in the
bare, anti-septic-scrubbed aridity of the District Hospital's
Climbing the rickety wooden steps from the street, she jabbed a
rusty bell with one cautious finger tip. It had seemed more than
likely that the ark of a building would collapse under the
Somewhere inside, a metallic jangle began and continued until
she removed the finger. She waited. The finger that had pressed the
buzzer button traced the outline of a long pearl barpin, obviously
cheap and flashy, that she wore at the throat of her blouse. The
pin had not been part of her costume when she had left Horner's
laundry, half an hour earlier.
Heavy footsteps, moving slowly, thudded along the hall on the
other side of the drab panel. The door, opening a narrow slit,
creaked dismally on its hinges.
The girl from Noonan's looked into the red-rimmed eyes of the
sloppy female who peered out at her. Frowzy hair and rolls of fat
vanishing into the ample filth of an unwashed Mother Hubbard, was
her chief impression.
The woman's voice, answering, was an ill-tempered rasp. But
Grace kept on smiling.
"Naw. Miz Mapes lives upstairs. I'm Miz Clancey. What you want?
You another of them charity bureau people?"
"No. I'm a staff aide. From the hospital. It's about Mr. Mapes.
Is his wife--"
"She's still up to the hospital, lookin' after Wally."
Grudgingly, the door opened wider, "You can set on the stairs and
wait if you're a mind to, I guess."
Grace sat on the stairs and waited. "Miz" Clancey lumbered off
into the shadows at the rear of the reeking hallway, leaving her to
her own devices.
Her own devices consisted largely of trying not to breathe any
oftener than she had to and of piecing and re-piecing what few
tidbits on Mapes and Horner affairs had come her way during the
That "Combine" of the mysterious Mr. Almond. Childish, or no,
there was a big-shot gun who had a pretty sizable industry by its
coat-tails. His little daubs of sealing wax meant something in the
laundry world. Something noticeably grim.
Did Mapes know who "Mr. Almond" was?
Grace doubted it. But he knew something. That curious glint in
his eyes had been more than the bad nerves that might very easily
follow such an experience as he had just been through.
Ten to one, the redhead figured, Wally at least knew who had
tossed that pineapple at him. And if he wouldn't tell, there must
be some darn good reason. Yet he couldn't have identified his
attacker in that curtained sedan. Couple that with the secret
delivery hour, and you got--
Heels beat a swift tattoo on the flimsy steps outside, and the
door at the front of the hall was flung open suddenly. Before Grace
could scramble to her feet, it had shut again.
The little woman who began to climb the stairs was wiry and
bright-eyed. Wisps of fading hair escaped from beneath her outmoded
hat. Her face was colorless, set in lines of strain, its lips grim,
its cheeks hollow.
The woman gasped.
"My lands! I didn't see--"
"Sorry if I startled you. I'm from the hospital, Miss
Mrs. Mapes kept on climbing. "Hospital? But--I've just been
there, and Wally was doing pretty good. It--he isn't--"
"No." Grace swung into step beside her, going up. "No bad news
at all. Only some questions. Routine stuff. If you'll just give me
five minutes or so.
Mrs. Mapes was fumbling with her latchkey.
"Sure. That's all right, Miss Redmond. Come in, if you
The Mapes flat was just what might have been expected from a
look at the outside of the building. Small. Dark. Clean enough, but
tainted with the fetid smell of decay that hung over everything in
Mrs. Mapes, indicating a wicker rocking chair to her caller,
flopped wearily onto the broken-down couch herself.
"All set, Miss Redmond."
The girl from Noonan's pawed in her bag for a notebook and the
stub of a pencil. She flipped the former open on her knee with a
professional snap that she hoped would impress her hostess.
"Now then! Mr. Mapes's age?"
"Born in New York?"
"Englewood, New Jersey, ma'am."
Stock questions, all meaningless, dropped from the girl's lips
as quickly as the driver's wife could answer them. In the notebook
she was making shorthand notes of quite another character. Such as:
"Beer steins on shelf; Mapes and two others must drink here. Poker
chips under table--they play here--Poker-face Mapes."
At last, having lulled the woman's suspicions, Grace started to
put out her feelers.
"Has Mr. Mapes any close friends?"
"Friends? Sure. He ain't a clubby man, but he gets on all
"I mean, special friends. People we ought to let know about
hospital visiting hours?"
"Well--there's Peewee Belk and Otto. Especially Peewee. Them
three play a bit of cards together. And Wally and Peewee been
meeting noontimes at the Imperial Lunch near by Horner's, ever
since Peewee was fired from there."
"Check ex-employee Belk," went into the notebook.
"I'm liable to find him at the Imperial, then, Mrs. Mapes--to
Wally's wife nodded.
"It's right good of you folks to do all this for a poor man,
Miss Redmond. I sure didn't realize--"
"Part of our regular hospital routine, Mrs. Mapes. Now if you
could give me a description of Mr. Belk, so I can--"
The woman jumped to her feet and began to fish for something in
one drawer of a battered chest in the window corner of the room.
After a moment, she dragged out a sleazy snapshot album and bore it
in triumph across to the rocker.
"Better than that! Here's the photo the boys had took at the
laundry convention picnic last year. Peewee was still workin' for
the laundry, then. There's Wally, and then Slugger Nixon--him and
Wally ain't good friends any more--and then Peewee next."
It was too dark in the cubbyhole of a flat to make sure of
faces. But Grace studied the convention picture as best she could,
cursing the shadows.
Nixon, with whom Mapes had fallen out somehow. "Peewee" Belk,
fired from Horner's, the wounded driver's crony. The fact that they
were side by side at the picnic might have been an accident. On the
Grace Culver's whole life had been a series of hunches, striking
like lightning. One of her better ones struck now! She swallowed
"Thanks, Mrs. Mapes. That about finishes us, I think. I'll be
getting on now. Oh--one more thing. I hate to bother you, but could
I have a glass of water? I'm dry right down to my toes."
"Why sure. Why sure you can."
Mrs. Mapes's willing back had scarcely disappeared into the
kitchen when the redhead went into action.
The tawdry pearl barpin at her throat jerked open in quick,
strong fingers. The disguised skeleton key that formed one end of
it had gotten the girl from Noonan's out of many a tight jam
before. But it was another part of the gadget that she was using
One side of the cross-piece was filed and whetted to the sharp
edge of a razor blade. This, she slipped deftly beneath a loose
corner of the convention picture. The white paper lifted easily
from its mounting, curling forward like a wave ahead of the sliding
When Mrs. Mapes came back with the water, her husband's album
was lying neatly closed on the edge of the couch. Miss Redmond was
waiting at the door.
"Thanks, Mrs. Mapes. My, that tastes good. I'm sure Mr. Mapes is
going to be all right. Goodby."
The five o'clock whistle was due to sound at almost any minute
when the red-headed doll strolled into the Imperial Lunch Wagon and
cocked a bold eye at the clock on the wall above the griddle.
"You got a telephone in here, handsome?"
Mrs. Mapes herself would have had a hard time identifying the
hospital's efficient Miss Redmond. This girl might have been off
any street corner in the city. Her face was made up as heavily as a
circus clown's. Her eyes were stupid, her lips a flaming
The attendant, who was fixing up a pair of "Westerns" for the
two steady customers at the end of the counter, gave her an
"Sure, sweetheart! In that wall niche behind you. But it ain't
closed in, so be careful you don't say nothin' us fellows is too
young to hear."
A certain Miss Redmond had gotten coffee at the Imperial, hours
earlier. She knew about the wall instrument. All about it.
"Thanks, wise guy."
Swinging her hips, the doll moved up to the open booth.
Blinders, fashioned after those used on a horse, screened the
telephone itself. From the waist up, the girl was masked from the
The redhead opened a large flat compact and began to fish for a
nickel, muttering audibly. Those mutters covered an action her
audience might have found it hard to explain.
From somewhere beneath the compact's mirror, released by the
deft pres- sure of a spring, another mirror dropped into her hand.
This was of metal, long, folded into sections like a steamer ticket
and hinged four times.
The two-inch sections of highly polished steel, capable of being
set up in a variety of position combinations, could pick up a room
from all its angles and mirror it entire in the final
While the coin dropped jangling into the box, and while the
doll's finger twirled the dial with gusto, her free hand was busy.
By the time she had finished one operation, she had finished both.
The attendant and the pair at the counter beyond were clearly
visible to her, leers and all.
The picture of Mr. Mapes's convention picnic had come in for
some serious study under good lights, since it had left its
moorings in the cheap album on Barnstable Street. She knew the ugly
faces of "Slugger" Nixon and Peewee Belk by heart, And she was
looking at them now!
She couldn't say much for Wally Mapes's choice of friends, if
Belk was one of them. But Nixon looked as if he might make a pretty
good enemy. Hard-eyed, pock-marked and huge, he crouched above his
food like a malformed anthropoid.
"Noonan's Agency," a voice in her ear said abruptly. She
recognized Jerry Riker's voice. Her own, lowered with seeming care,
still managed to carry the length of the lunch wagon as she
"Jack? . . . Listen, it's Daisy, honey."
Jerry got it. The instrument's ear- piece squeaked
"Well, Daisy! Hiya, baby?"
"You hear me 0. K., Jack? There ain't no one around?"
"Not even the little bird," Jerry told her.
"Then listen. I just got wise Horner talked you into taking a
wagon out to-night. In place of that mug they got to this p.m. You
ain't gonna do it. Jack! You ain't, you hear me?"
There was a split second's silence. then: "Never say 'ain't' to
a college boy," Jerry offered weakly.
"I won't let you, honey! They'll get you, just like him! For my
sake, Jack! Midnight ain't no safer than noon. This ain't easy
Things were happening in the multiple-mirror. The counter
attendant didn't seem to pick up much, one way or the other. But
his customers were registering interest by the bucketful.
Belk, the nearer figure, had swung on his stool and was staring
at her out of cat eyes that were nothing better than slits in his
vicious little face. A fine pal to confide in! And Wally Mapes was
probably thinking that same thing, along about now, in the
Slugger Nixon, the crouching ape, had stopped pouring salt on
his sand- wich with the shaker in mid-air. The fingers of his big,
hairy paw were clenched over it tight. Reflected on one of them was
a tiny point of light--the kind of flashy ring, no doubt, that many
bruisers of his type affected.
"Not even midnight!" the doll sobbed into the mouthpiece. "I
don't care if they got cops ambushed all around the darn laundry.
That don't mean you're safe after you turn in at Hirtzell Street,
where it's lonesome and dark! Jack-- listen to me--don't hang up on
Taking his cue, Jerry slammed the receiver. Its click must have
been audible all down the counter. Instantly. the picture in the
mirrors changed again.
When the doll turned to face them, dabbing at tear-filled eyes,
the two customers had their backs toward her. They were hunched
above the counter. They were eating busily.
"There's other guys in the world, baby," the attendant
She faced him fiercely.
"Keyhole stuff, huh? Listenin', huh?"
"Aw, why get tough, Daisy? Strike out this Jack. Say, I get off
here at ten and know a hot joint where--"
"The joints I'd like to get hot." the doll announced flatly from
the door, "is your flappy ears, from wrappin' that greased griddle
around ‘em. Can't a lady even talk private to a gentleman on the
telephone, without you snoopin' in? You make me feel like I need a
A clock struck, somewhere across the darkened city. Twelve
times. The eerie notes trembled mournfully down the deserted block
that bordered Horner's Home-Way Laundry.
The doors between the laundry garage and the street were shut.
Thin beams of light from inside sliced under their partly lowered
blinds, throwing narrow slivers of illumination across the
The girl from Noonan's had parked her small, topless roadster
around the corner of an intersecting avenue in the opposite
direction from Hirtzell Street. She walked up the block, eyes
knifing the gloom as she came. There was no sign of a Combine car
anywhere in the neighborhood.
So the little scene at the Imperial was working out! Belk and
Nixon, taking to heart that tip that police would be ambushed
around the laundry, had planned their own little party for
somewhere along the route.
Reaching the splinters of light on the sidewalk, the redhead
turned in. Her knuckles beat a sharp summons on the fastened panel.
Inside, Jerry Rikers voice said, "Leave me go, Tim. It may be
some funny business from this Almond palooka, and--"
Noonan's heavy steps on the concrete door interrupted him.
The door opened an inch, and Grace was staring into the muzzle
of an automatic and one sharp gray eye. Then Big Tim grunted. The
opening widened quickly.
She stepped inside. The door thudded shut on her heels. Before
she could blink her eyes into focus in the sudden light, the
grizzled agency chief's sharp tongue was lashing her.
"So what's the big notion? Didn't I tell you to stay home
to-night? Didn't I say this was men's work? Many's the time I've
tipped you up over my knee since them mobsmen mowed down your
father, rest the soul of him! And by the--"
She smiled at him blandly.
"Who's asking to ride in that truck with you? If you and his
nibs want to get blown into little pieces like a jigsaw puzzle,
it's your privilege. I wouldn't set foot in the truck!"
"I just came to say good luck to you. And find out how
everything was going. There was no order against that, Timothy
The laundry owner and Tim's other assistant were crouching on
the lowered tailboard of a Hornet delivery truck, stacking up a
wall of paper cartons and bundles at the rear of the van.
Inside, behind the deceptive barricade, a finger of light struck
cold fire from the nose of a wicked-looking "typewriter." It was
set up for instant use, and ready to sweep the street behind the
Jerry Riker chuckled.
"And there's another one trained frontwards, over the driver's
shoulder, to snipe 'em off from that end. And some fireworks of our
own stacked up in the front seat."
"Surprise, surprise! for Mr. Almond, huh?"
"That's right. When that little black buggy with the curtains
hauls in sight ----Oh, boy! Oh, boy!"
Grace let it go at that. Her sherry- brown eyes inspected the
camouflaged arsenal for a full five minutes before she spoke
"Very nice. Only thing I can't figure is, how come midnight? You
can't deliver wash then. I mentioned your own time at the Imperial.
But won't these babies figure out there's something phony about the
"Westchester delivery. Leaving early to be out to the suburbs
to-morrow morning. We spread that tip all through the plant this
afternoon. There's sure to be a leak to Almond somewhere."
"And the streets are empty at night," Jerry finished. "Easier to
spot the sedan. Less danger of nicking some innocent bystander when
the shooting starts. They all seemed so sure that trapping "Mr.
Almond"--or his hired rods--was merely a matter of beating the
enemy to the draw, shooting first, and bringing in what was left
But something--her "hunch machine" at work again, maybe--seemed
to warn the redhead that the business at hand was a whole lot
tougher than they thought.
Slugger Nixon's face had been a study in low animal craft, at
the counter of. the Imperial. Its reflection in her series of
little metal mirrors had sent a chill up her spine. Things wouldn't
be so simple, with a man like that holding any kind of a hand at
And, except for the arsenal, all the cards in the deck seemed to
"Ready!" Jerry barked from the tailboard.
Big Tim, nodding curtly, climbed into the cab and eased his big
frame under the driver's wheel. He had his automatic ready on the
seat beside him.
Horner jumped for the garage floor, and helped Jerry lift the
tailboard on its chains. When it was in the van, with Jerry half
screened by the low wall of boxes, Tim turned the engine over.
As the motor's low drone became regular in the big room, Horner
threw the bolt on the street doors. Slowly, moving before his
weight in their oiled grooves, they swung open.
The white truck, rolling like a big cloud in the darkness,
dipped across the curb and swung north in the direction of Hirtzell
and the other river streets.
Horner and the redhead watched the blinking tail-light grow
smaller as it drew away down the block. The laundryman grunted
"That's that," Grace said.
"If you'll tell me where I can find your car, Miss Culver, I'd
"I'll get it while you're locking up. It's just around the
Homer switched off the inside lights, pulled the big doors shut
from the street side, and was fumbling in his pocket for a key when
the roar of a motor echoed in the shadows behind him.
It showed no signs of slowing. The engine howled a challenge.
Gasping sharply, the laundry owner ducked for cover as he spun.
But it was the girl from Noonan's, after all.
Her open roadster was picking up speed as it whipped past
Horner's Home-Way Laundry. She was bent above the wheel like a
young devil. She was grinning.
"Hey!" Horner shouted. "Miss Culver! Hey!"
She paid no attention. She was giving the small machine its
head. And its nose was hot on the trail of the white truck's
tail-light, still visible as a tiny spot of red far up the
At the curb where she had parked the roadster, the redhead had
stopped long enough for one simple operation. From behind the
mirror of her compact, she had produced once again the small hinged
steel reflectors that she had used at the Imperial.
Above the driver's mirror, in brackets especially placed for the
purpose, she had adjusted the line of plates with quick, sure
movements. Then she climbed under the wheel and shoved down her
Past the laundry she shot like a bullet out of one of the
truck's concealed machine guns. In the driver's glass, she was able
to watch Horner waving his arms and running.
In the little polished surfaces above, she could see the tops of
trees she was passing. Nothing in the neighborhood, before or
behind, escaped the surface of at least one of the reflectors ahead
The wind whistled past her with a vicious swish as she urged the
little car forward at a speed that rocked the light body and made
the engine roar. Up the street, the truck's swaying tail-light grew
bigger. Then she could make out the bulky outline of the vehicle
Abruptly, she slowed the roadster to a pace similar to that of
the machine she was following. It would be a mistake to get close
enough to be recognized. And a worse mistake to trail them within
gun range, if she were not recognized.
The truck kept on, heading north and toward the river in the
direction of the Williamsburg Bridge. The streets were empty as it
rolled along. Occasional pedestrians or a chance taxi appeared at
intersections and were gone again.
That hunch inside the redhead grew unaccountably stronger,
however, despite the silence through which she was following the
bigger machine's rumbling wheels.
The lull before the storm. She wondered what lay ahead--along or
near Hirtzell Street, where she figured that, after her deliberate
tip, the Combine men must be waiting.
The truck swerved to the left, into a westbound cross street.
She jerked her own wheel, keeping on its tail.
A little later, swinging north again, the van passed under a
lone overhead light. The redhead was close enough to the
intersection to glimpse the mound of boxes and parcels heaped
behind the tailboard. There was no sign of Jerry's lurking presence
Down the new street, the white truck rolled like a moving tomb.
It was narrow and dark ahead, the girl from Noonan's noticed. Then,
as she twisted her wheel to follow, the overhead light flung its
oblique rays athwart the identifying sign at the corner. Hirtzell
Street. Her heart began a dull, fast pounding as the shadows of the
cramped thoroughfare closed over her. Danger ahead! Danger
The place was little wider than an alley, flanked on both sides
by window-pocked factory walls. Two vehicles the width of the
Hornet truck could scarcely have passed in the confined area
without scraping fenders. If that elusive black sedan-- Something
was wrong ahead!
The forward movement of the disguised arsenal was slowing
perceptibly. Grace, letting the roadster's pace slacken to suit,
was afraid for one instant that they had spotted her pursuit and
mistaken her headlights for the Combine gang.
Then the roadster's swerving lamps picked out the real cause of
Parked at the left-hand curb, all its lights off stood a car. An
inconspicuous sedan, with a hood that showed black in the darkness.
A familiar sedan, with all its windows screened by drawn
Grace felt her heart do a double flip up into the region of her
throat. She let the roadster coast as easily as it would toward the
tailboard of the slowing truck. And she reached with her left hand
for the pocket of the door beside her, lifting her head a little as
she did so.
Then, suddenly, her brain seemed to freeze.
Her eyes had swept the mirrors arranged to reflect the areas
above her to right and left. And what she saw mirrored there
The sinister sedan ahead was obviously drawing all Tim's and
Jerry's attention. The jockeying of the truck made this easily
apparent. And--that was just what "Mr. Almond" and his agents had
intended it should do!
In the redhead's bright metal reflectors, their ruse was
revealed. They had baited a trap as good as Tim Noonan's. A little
better, in fact.
Along the roof line of the three-story building directly above
the point where the truck was slowing, three figures had appeared.
Their black, hunched shapes loomed up like globs of tar against the
pale sky. Rat-tat-a-tat-tat!
The sudden staccato bark shattered the silence of the deserted
street with guttural precision. Jerry's machine gun, aimed at the
A distant tinkle of shattering glass came to the redhead's ears
as her left hand whipped out of the roadster's side pocket and
transferred its bit of cold metal to her rigid right.
Her eyes were fixed, not on the scene ahead. but upon the
mirrors directly above her. She saw one of the three globs at the
roof's edge straighten and become a man. She saw his arm swing
back, like a baseball pitcher's. Cra-ack!
It was her own automatic, jerking up in a hand that reacted with
the move- ment of a perfect bit of machinery. She saw flame fan the
darkness ahead of her in a thin red banner. Her trigger finger
twitched again. Crack! Cra-ack!
The man at the roof's edge stiffened abruptly. His body had made
a good target outlined against the sky. Now it lurched crazily.
The ball in his lifted arm spun backward into space. A thin,
tortured shriek ripped down from above. Then two things happened at
Over the edge of the sharp drop, the swaying body pitched like a
sack of meal tossed from the squatty chimneys.
It hurtled, terrifying in its speed and silence, toward the
pavement just ahead of the redhead's fenders. It struck stone with
a gruesome sound that made her retch despite herself.
Behind the dark factory, suddenly, hell broke loose. A roar like
the end of time ripped at the night with shattering violence.
Flame, styled after the blaze of a lightning bolt, leaped up behind
the blank windows and vanished. The ominous rumble of falling stone
and caving mortar followed, a dull, increasing sound. Part of the
factory, on the back side, had been blasted by the charge intended
for Tim and Jerry in the truck.
At the roof's edge, the two remaining crouchers had sprung from
their unexpected revealed position and were wavering uncertainly in
their scramble for cover in the shadow of the overhanging chimneys.
Grace's gun snapped up again.
But Jerry, in the truck ahead, had rallied with the trained
speed of a cop to the truth of the trap Nixon and his men had set
Before she could take aim on another of the men above, the
masked typewriter at the back of the van sprang into action.
One of the looming shapes above flung up his arms and reeled
toward the chimneys, falling out of sight on the roof. Dead or
wounded, it was impossible to tell.
His companion, however, wheeling in a frenzy of terror, sprang
straight for the drop. His arm was lifted. He had scooped up, from
somewhere, a twin to the bomb that had missed fire. He was
shrieking insanely as he came.
The unrelenting snarl of the machine gun in the truck began
again. The red fire of it flickered in a thin, wicked line against
the blackness. Its target took the lead in his belly. Clawing, he
The missile, rolling out of his stiff fanned fingers, took the
drop ahead of him. Grace saw it coming and screamed. Jerry saw it,
too and dove back into the black recesses of the van
Deafening, blinding, the explosion filled the narrow street. Its
roar shattered windows in the confining walls to either side. The
paving between truck and roadster lifted like a black wave.
The redhead ducked.
Orange flame filled the night, and into it hurtled the dead
weight of the luckless gunman. Then, thudding like hail on the hood
of the roadster, bits of debris began to descend in a swift
Grace heard the glass of her windshield smash. She felt little
jagged bits of the pulverized cement flaying her body. Arms
shielding her head, she lay cramped in the bottom of her car.
Amid the growling echoes of the terrific explosion, the tinkle
and crash of falling fragments kept on.
The jackknifed girl straightened slowly, lifting her bruised
body back into the seat.
Ahead, the truck stood undamaged. Behind it, under cover and
with his machine gun arm-cradled, Jerry was advancing cautiously on
the factory side.
Too late, he spotted the movement a corner of the van had
screened from him.
Grace lurched for her ignition. The engine coughed. But she,
too, had not acted in time.
The street door of the dingy brick building had whipped open.
Toward her, at a dead run, three figures spurted. She glimpsed
Slugger's evil face-- a sallow stranger, grinning--Peewee Belk's
Springing like cats, they were upon the roadster as it began to
move. Jerry shouted. His weapon was up. But he dared not use
"Redsie, for the--"
"Keep your cover, Riker!"
She screamed the warning as the car, careening madly to avoid
the hole in the road before it, whipped forward. The third man, gun
in hand, had swung on the running board to finish Jerry.
The one instant in which the mobster had gotten out of line with
Grace had been enough for Tim Noonan. His automatic barked from
inside the van, and Big Tim never missed.
"Sallow Face" screamed once before he buckled away from the
speeding car. Grace had a flash of him spinning forward into the
yawning pit. Only a flash. The roadster was in its stride by
The wheel jerked twice in her hands. Once to the left, avoiding
the truck. Once to the right, avoiding the parked sedan. Then it
The narrow blackness of Hirtzell Street lay ahead.
Far away, the wailing of police sirens split the night. Help!
But she couldn't stop for it. Two killers were hanging onto her
car, one on either running board. Both of them with rods in their
Her only hope lay in keeping the roadster moving at top speed,
so that they dared not finish her. Eyes grim, teeth set, she jammed
down on the gas.
Ahead of her, a little needle wavered and began to climb.
Fifty-five --- sixty --- sixty-five --- They whipped past an
intersection, and she heard a scream from far away.
"You--little--punk--" That roar was Peewee Belk. He was on the
farther running board, hanging on like grim death and howling at
her. Her gaze was steady on the lane ahead. But one corner of an
eye took in the rim of the door beside her. A paw gripped it, wet
with strain, white at the knuckles. Five brute fingers. A signet
ring. Nixon was "Mr. Almond," then! Crouching so close that his hot
breath fanned her, he was growling his lethal command in her ear.
It was an order that meant business. "Slow her down, sister! Slow
her down, or--"
Sixty-five --- sixty-eight---- Her foot was jamming the
floorboard now. The needle shivered at seventy when she took the
corner, swerving west toward the river. Tires screamed, skiddering
over the bad pavement. She could feel the wheels on Peewee's side
lift into the air. He howled a frenzied oath before they slammed
"Stop this dame, Slugger! Stop her quick--"
The new street plunged down a short hill to the water front.
Too late, sickness gripping her heart, she realized the truth. A
Far off, the sirens were wailing. They seemed no nearer. Wind
whipped back her hair, lashing in through the shattered glass.
"You grab the wheel, Slugger! I'll pump her!"
Ahead, a closed gate of thin iron rods shut off the empty
coaling pier in which the little side street ended. Bars, and the
pier, and then a blackness that must be the river.
No way out! And death if she stopped!
Belk's voice was a sudden frantic shriek.
"She ain't stopping! She's crazy! She--"
The redhead laughed between her teeth.
"Summer fever, Peewee!"
They hit the gate head on.
A splintering crash that meant the end of the roadster filled
all the world, as the rusty old bars caved before the terrific
In a flash of blinding clarity, Grace saw Peewee's finish. One
of the broken *spikes had caught him. Clean through the little rat,
it had ripped.
He was swept from his running board and hung there, in the air,
helplessly impaled. Except for his ghastly face, there was little
to prove those dripping scarlet shreds had ever been human.
Down the pier the car lashed, rocketing, utterly beyond control.
The wheel had snapped in its driver's hands. She was helpless.
Then--only blackness ahead.
She felt the tires leaving ground. Blindly, in the direction
where Nixon should be, she struck out. Her arms contacted flesh. As
the water closed over them, she clung.
Tim explained most of it, afterward.
They were flung free of the car. When the patrol reached the
pier, she was holding Slugger's head under water like grim death.
They had a hard time breaking her grip so they could fish him
Grace was wrapped in a blanket, in the back seat of a borrowed
car, when the haze cleared. Jerry sat on one side of her. Tim on
"It's too bad," were the first words she said.
"It's too bad I finished Peewee before Mapes could get at him.
Mapes had him marked. His pal, the only one he'd told when his
truck would start! Mapes knew! He had a better right to -- to
Big Tim grunted.
"Truck drivin'? It's not the soft racket I'd figured it.
To-night, if you hadn't been fool enough to trail us on a man's job
and spot that--"
Grace grinned at him. "A woman's job!"
"Well--that part of it was all done with mirrors, wasn't