Calling Justice, Inc. by Emile C. Tepperman
(Writing as Kenneth Robeson)
First published in Clues Detective Stories, March 1943
The Miami Bus
The Sunset Hotel
The King Of
1. THE MIAMI BUS
THE plump little man with the frightened eyes boarded the
bus at Jacksonville and selected the aisle seat next to Nellie Gray. He
mumbled a quick apology, laid his black leather brief case across his knees,
and immediately opened a newspaper. He spread it in front of him,
effec— tively hiding his face, and did not move for an hour. Nellie
knew he was only pretending to read, for he never turned the page. Twice she
caught him furtively peering past her, out of the window, just as passing
cars overtook the bus. Each time he did this he threw a swift glance at the
car, then buried his nose in the paper once more.
When the bus stopped for refreshments at St. Augustine the plump little
man did not get out with the rest of the passengers, but continued his
pretense of reading. Nellie squeezed past him into the aisle and went out to
the refreshment stand where she bought a hot dog and a bottle of pop. While
she was eating, surrounded by the other passengers, she saw a long green
convertible coupe come flashing down the road and pull to a stop. It swung
into the parking space beside the bus and a man emerged from the rear. This
man wore a tan sport coat and his face was long and wooden. He said something
to his driver who remained at the wheel, and then he swung his dark eyes upon
the passengers. He scanned them with the attitude of one who seeks a
particular person. Nellie got a cold feeling when she saw his eyes. They were
almost fishlike in their expression—less stare.
The man evidently did not find what he was looking for because he turned
and stared at the bus for a moment. Then he stepped over to the open door and
poked his head in. At the same time that he did this he put his right hand in
the pocket of his coat.
Nellie Gray's glance swept to the window of the bus where she had seen the
plump little man only a moment before the coupe arrived, but now he was not
Nellie knew that the plump little man had not left the bus. He was still
in there. But he couldn't be seen; therefore he must be crouching down behind
the seat. Hiding—from what?
She experienced a distinct sense of relief when the long-faced man in the
tan sport coat took his head out of the bus doorway and returned to the green
coupe. She knew with the sure instinct which had made her The Avenger's
right-hand "man" that the occupants of the green coupe were the hunters, and
the plump little man was the quarry.
The long-faced man stepped back into the green coupe and it backed out of
the parking space. Its powerful eight-cylinder motor rumbled throatily as the
driver accelerated, and the coupe flashed down the road toward Miami.
With the characteristic thoroughness which The Avenger had instilled into
all those who worked with him, Nellie Gray made a mental note of the license
number of that green coupe—it was an Illinois plate, number TQ323. She
filed that number in the back of her mind and glanced at the bus window. The
plump little man was once more in evidence. He no longer had the newspaper in
front of his face. He was lighting a cigarette, and Nellie thought she
detected a flicker of a smile upon his lips—though she couldn't tell
for sure at this distance.
The bus driver blew his whistle and called out, "All aboard." The
passengers trooped back, eager to start on the last lap of the long ride.
There were several vacant seats, but Nellie passed them up. Prompted by some
curious motive which she could not herself analyze, she resumed the same
seat, slipping past the plump little man.
He seemed to feel much better now and immediately engaged her in
conversation. "Going to meet your parents in Miami?" he asked.
Nellie Gray repressed a giggle. Clad in a white blouse and a pair of navy-
blue slacks, she looked as simple and unassuming as a freshly graduated high-
school girl. Her traveling companion probably took her for a kid of seventeen
"Oh, I've traveled by myself for quite a while," she said airily. She
wondered what he would have said if he learned that she was a veteran member
of Justice, Inc.—that efficient fighting organization headed by The
Avenger, and devoted to championing the rights of the little man against the
overlords of crime in every corner of the globe. The fact was that Nellie
Gray had traveled to many parts of the world which the plump man had never
even heard of. But he went on, blissfully unaware of the identity of the girl
at his side.
"Are you going to get a job in Miami? It must be easy to get a job these
days, what with all the defense work. What do you do for a living? Waitress?
Nellie lowered her eyes. "Well, I guess I could wait on tables—"
"Look here, miss," he said suddenly. "Maybe I have a job for you. What's
"Elsie Jones," Nellie lied.
"Well, look here, Elsie." He lowered his voice. "I'm a lawyer. Joplin is
the name. Frederick Joplin. I'm going to Miami to handle an important case
for a client of mine. See this brief case? It's crammed with evidence.
Evidence that will win the case for my client!"
Nellie kept her hands in her lap and let her long lashes cover her eyes.
She waited for him to continue.
"Now the trouble is that my client's enemies may try to destroy this
evidence. They may try to take it away from me."
Nellie opened her eyes wide. "You don't say! Do you mean they might try to
do it by force?"
"Exactly!" He leaned closer to her, dropping his voice even lower. "Now
see here. I can put you in the way of making a little money. Say two hundred
dollars. How does that sound to you?"
"Why, that...that's wonderful, Mr. Joplin!"
He beamed at her. "Ah! That's fine. Now here—" He produced a roll of
bills from his pocket and peeled off ten tens. "Here's a hundred dollars in
advance. Take it!" He practically forced the money into her hand.
"But...but what do I have to do to earn this, Mr. Joplin?"
"I'll tell you." He took the brief case off his knees and laid it on her
lap. "I want you to take charge of this evidence. When the bus stops at
Daytona, I'm getting off. I have a bit of business in Daytona—one more
bit of evidence to get. It'll take me an hour or two, but unfortunately the
bus won't wait."
"I see," Nellie said demurely, fingering the money in one hand and
touching the smooth leather of the brief case with the other. It was not a
large brief case—just comfortable enough to carry under one arm. But it
was rather heavy. And there was a small lock which kept the brass snapper
"It's locked, naturally," said Mr. Joplin. "Now listen carefully, Elsie. I
want you to remain on the bus when I leave you at Daytona. You go on to
Miami. There, you will go to the Sunset Hotel and register. Go up to your
room and wait until you hear from me. I'll be there later in the day. When I
pick up the brief case I'll give you the other hundred dollars. Is that
"Yes," said Nellie. "It's clear."
If anyone had asked her she wouldn't have been able to say just why she
was doing this. She certainly wasn't doing it to help the self-styled "Mr.
Joplin" out of a jam, because he was lying from the word go. Nellie, herself,
was on a vacation, and The Avenger had made her promise not to stick her
pretty little nose into anything that didn't concern her while she was
resting in Florida. But she'd never have been happy if she hadn't tried to
solve this puzzle of why Mr. Joplin was being hunted by the long-faced man in
the green convertible.
"Then everything is settled," Mr. Joplin was saying heartily. "It's all
arranged!" He patted her arm. "Don't forget now—the Sunset Hotel!"
"But Mr. Joplin, you don't know anything about me. How can you trust me
with all this evidence—"
He laughed that off with a wave of his hand. "My dear, I'm an excellent
judge of human nature. I would trust you with my life! Now listen carefully,
Elsie. If anyone should approach you and ask if you know me; if they should
Nellie smiled. "I'd tell them nothing."
"Excellent, my dear girl, excellent! I see you are wise beyond your years.
Perhaps I can give you a permanent job later. Do this piece of work well, and
perhaps I'll make you my secretary!"
"Wouldn't that be wonderful, Mr. Joplin!" Nellie murmured, veiling her
When the bus pulled in to Daytona Beach the driver announced a ten-minute
stop-over. Everybody descended. Some of the passengers trooped into the
Coffee Pot next door, while others strolled across to the beach. Mr. Joplin
beamed at Nellie as he helped her down from the bus. He took her arm and led
her out of the bus terminal to the street.
"I'll leave you now, my dear—"
Suddenly he stopped short, sucking his breath in with an audible
Nellie glanced in the direction in which he was staring, and saw the
familiar green convertible, parked about fifty feet away.
"Excuse me," Mr. Joplin said hastily. "I think I'll go out the back way.
It's nearer to where I have to go. Good-by, my dear. And remember—the
That furtive, frightened look was back in his eyes as he let go of her arm
and hastily retreated toward the rear of the bus terminal.
Nellie watched him, saw him go out through a door at the rear and
disappear into the alley behind the terminal.
Nellie turned and looked down the street. The green convertible was still
there. But the long-faced man in the tan sport coat was nowhere in evidence.
Neither was the driver of that car.
Nellie held the brief case tight under her arm and went into the Coffee
Pot. She barely had time for a cup of tea before the driver announced that it
was time to leave. When the bus pulled out the green convertible was gone.
And Nellie Gray was alone in her seat. Mr. Joplin had not returned.
2. THE SUNSET HOTEL
IT was evening by the time the bus reached the Flagler
Street Terminal in Miami. Nellie had reservations in the swanky Coronado
Hotel, but she went to the Sunset instead. She was intensely eager to delve
into the mystery of Mr. Joplin and his brief case. She registered at the
Sunset Hotel as Elsie Jones and got Room 301, which was a corner room. As
part of the service, the bellboy left a copy of the local evening paper with
her, and Nellie idly glanced at the headlines. Suddenly she stiffened. She
MAN MURDERED AT DAYTONA
An unknown man was found, stabbed to death, in an alley
behind the Fleetwood Bus terminal at Daytona Beach. Police state that the
object of the murder was doubtless robbery, for the victim had been searched
with special thoroughness, even to the extent of ripping the lining of his
coat. The killers removed everything they found on the victim's body. even to
his keys. There was nothing left by which to identify him immediately. The
dead man was recognized by terminal employees as a passenger on the Miami
bus, which had stopped at Daytona for ten minutes—
Slowly, Nellie Gray put the paper down. She glanced at the brief case
which lay on the desk. Its owner was dead. She was sure that the killer was
the man in the tan sport coat. But that killer hadn't gotten what he sought.
The thing for which Mr. Joplin had been murdered was lying here on the
Grimly, Nellie went to her bag and took out a small set of keys. The lock
on the brief case was a simple one and it yielded to her typewriter-case key.
She raised the flap and began to draw out the contents. And her blood began
to race swiftly as she saw what the brief case contained. Mr. Joplin's
"evidence" was queer indeed.
There were half a dozen plushlined boxes in the brief case. The first box
contained a jeweled horseshoe about six inches long. At conservative estimate
it could not be worth less than a quarter of a million dollars. It was made
of platinum and it was studded with diamonds—large diamonds, brilliant
and blue-white, and all matched in size from two carats at the ends, to a
huge ten-carat stone at the apex of the arch. The thing glittered in her hand
like something alive and dynamic!
Nellie put it down and opened the next box. Upon the plush cushion in that
box there rested a diadem of diamonds which was breathtakingly beautiful. The
stones sparkled and shone in the electric light with almost unholy beauty.
She opened the other boxes and as the untold wealth of their contents was
exposed, Nellie Gray began to understand that this must be some royal or
imperial collection, pilfered from some royal vaults. For the value in
dollars of these jewels was beyond estimate.
Mr. Joplin must have been desperate indeed to have intrusted this treasure
to a girl he had never seen before. Desperate? Or clever, perhaps? But not
quite clever enough. For now he was dead. But if his enemies knew where this
Suddenly, on an impulse, Nellie stepped over to the window. She turned one
of the slats of the Venetian blind so that she could look out into the
street. And, immediately, her blood began to race. For there, on the opposite
side of the street, stood the green convertible!
That man in the tan sport coat had traced her here! How he had done it she
couldn't understand. Even as she watched through the blind she saw the now-
familiar tan sport coat. The man was crossing the street toward the car. He
was apparently coming from the hotel. He must have been downstairs at the
desk, inquiring about her.
Nellie saw him lean in at the window and talk to the driver of the car.
The convertible immediately pulled away, and the long-faced man remained at
the curb. He lit a cigarette and stood there, watching the hotel.
Nellie stepped away from the window. She switched on the radio, tuned it
to a local Miami station, and then went over to the desk and looked down at
the fabulous fortune in jewels which lay spread before her. There was enough
wealth here to tempt anyone to commit murder. She was sure that the man who
had called himself Joplin had not been the rightful owner. It should not be
difficult to ascertain who owned them. It must indeed be a famous
Nellie made her decision swiftly. She had gone far enough in this matter
on her own. Her duty was clear. She must phone the police and turn these
jewels over to them, At the same time she must tell them of the man in the
tan sport coat. They could pick him up and they'd have their murderer, and at
the same time a solution of the entire case. That course of action, she felt,
was what The Avenger would have taken. This was no case for Justice, Inc.
Here was not involved any matter of injustice to some unfortunate who could
not fight back against the overwhelming power of the overlords of the
underworld. It was a matter of murder and theft, purely a police-routine
That was the way she saw it at the moment. She reached for the telephone,
and already had the receiver off the hook when she stopped abruptly. A news
announcer had cut in on the radio program:
"In connection with the murder of the unknown bus passenger at Daytona
Beach, the police have narrowed down their search to one suspect, whom they
expect to apprehend within the next hour. It has been established that the
murdered man was accompanied by an auburn-haired girl dressed in a white
blouse and navy-blue slacks. She was seen in his company at the Terminal and
the victim was found stabbed to death immediately after the bus left Daytona.
Furthermore, the auburn-haired girl was seen to be carrying a black leather
brief-case which had belonged to the victim. With utter callousness, this
auburn-haired girl rode the bus into Miami, carrying the brief-case, and left
the Miami Terminal with the other passengers. Police have her fingerprints
taken from the seat she occupied in the bus, and they are conducting a fine-
comb search of all Miami hotels and of all busses and trains leaving the
city. She cannot hope to escape..."
Nellie gulped hard and put the receiver down. If the police found her
here, with these treasures in her possession, she'd have a hard time clearing
herself of the murder charge. She could just imagine a district attorney
laughing with hard incredulity at her story that the plump Mr. Joplin had
given her a brief case worth an emperor's ransom—and had trusted her to
deliver it to him at the Sunset Hotel.
Acting swiftly she swept the Jewels back into the brief case. She had only
a small overnight bag with her, for her trunk was coming by express and would
arrive tomorrow at the Coronado Hotel. She stuffed the brief case into the
overnight bag and went to the window for a last look before departing.
She peered out into the street and her heart sank. The green convertible
was just returning. Four men emerged. Long-face spoke to them swiftly for a
moment, indicating the hotel with a nod of his head. Immediately, two of them
disappeared around the corner and two crossed over toward the hotel
And even as she watched a second car drew up behind the green convertible.
This was a black limousine. More men emerged from it and she saw the man in
the tan sport coat giving them swift orders, then saw them cross toward the
Her eyes flickered. The sober truth was that she was trapped here in the
Sunset Hotel; trapped until the man in the tan sport coat decided to launch
his attack—or until the police came.
Swiftly, she picked up the overnight bag. Then she opened her door and
darted out into the corridor. Far down the hall she spied a broom closet. She
ran to it, pulled the door open, and peered inside. There were several pails
in there, a couple of mops, and a laundry hamper. She opened the hamper,
lifted out a pile of the soiled linen and pushed the overnight bag into it.
Then she piled the linen on top of it. She closed the door of the broom
closet and sped back to her room. Just as she reached it she heard the
elevator cage stop at her floor. saw the door begin to slide open. Without
waiting to see who was coming up, she stepped into her room and closed the
door. She heard the elevator door clang shut, but could not hear any
footsteps on the carpeted floor out there.
With a sinking sensation at her heart she went back to the telephone.
There was only one thing to do—a thing she hated to be reduced to: she
had to call The Avenger for help. Dick Benson—The Avenger—would
of course drop everything and fly down here. So would Smitty—Algernon
Heathcote Smith—who called himself The Avenger's left-hand man, and who
could go berserk at the mere hint of anyone's harming a hair of Nellie's
head. But Nellie squirmed at the thought of the big razzberry Smitty would
give her when it was all over. She would just imagine his great, hearty,
booming laughter. "Hereafter, we'll have to send a nursemaid along with you,
half-pint!" he'd chuckle. And then he'd probably add: "Can't trust you out
alone till you grow up!"
Nellie shuddered. It would be humiliating. But it couldn't be helped. She
had to make the call. She lifted the receiver.
And it was only then that she realized the full extent of the trap in
which she was snared. For there was no reply from the switchboard.
The line was dead.
She had been mistaken in thinking that the enemy only intended to watch
her. She had misjudged the man in the tan sport coat. And she realized that
she should have known better. With a huge fortune in jewels at stake, this
enemy would not be content to await developments. He would strike and strike
quickly. His men must have taken over the switchboard downstairs. She had
committed the unpardonable blunder of underestimating her enemy—and the
penalty might be swift death. She was cut off now from all aid. She was alone
and on her own.
Slowly, she put down the receiver. With her senses keyed up to acute pitch
by the imminence of danger, she heard the faint scraping sound as a key was
cautiously inserted into the lock of the old-fashioned door. Someone on the
outside was using a pass key.
She sprang to the door, reached it just as the key was turning in the
lock, and her fingers found the catch. She twisted it fiercely,
double-locking the door just in the nick of time. The turning key on the
other side caught as the double-locked tumblers snapped. The man in the
corridor must have realized at once had happened, for she heard the key being
withdrawn. Then a voice spoke, close to the door: "Better open up quietly!
You haven't got a chance!"
Nellie's answer was to flick off the electric-light switch, plunging the
room in darkness. An oblong panel of light shafted in through the transom
above, from the hall. Her face was set, her lips clamped tight as she
realized that the enemy could reach her through that transom.
Deliberately, she took the pistol out of the waistband of her slacks. She
stood to one side of the door.
"Who are you?" she asked. "What do you want?"
"Mever mind who we are. You know what we want. Are you going to open
"I'm afraid not."
"Then we're coming in."
"Better not. I warn you, I'm armed."
"We're ten to one. Whoever you are, you must be clever enough to
understand that we mean business. Your only chance is to hand over that
stuff. Pass it out through the transom and we'll go away."
Nellie laughed. "First you tell me I'm clever, then you take me for a
There was a moment's silence, then the same voice. "All right, you know
the score. We can't let you live. It's too bad. I understand you're a good-
looking girl. It's too bad you have to die."
"Before you start," Nellie said calmly, "don't forget that there'll be
something of a fight. There'll be shooting. Every guest in the hotel will
The man outside chuckled. "We've taken over the hotel. The management and
the guests think we're F.B.I. agents. They're co-operating with us!"
"I see," Nellie said quietly. "Well, I have one more ace up my sleeve.
Would you care to hear it before you start your attack?"
"Certainly. We can spare you another minute."
"All right. The stuff you're looking for—"
"It's not here!"
"Ah!" There was another moment of silence. Then, "You've cached the stuff
"I don't believe you, miss. You came directly here from the bus terminal.
We know because we checked with your cab driver. You didn't stop
"You can believe me or not, as you choose," Nellie said. "But if I'm
killed when you attack, and you don't find the stuff here, I imagine you'll
feel pretty bad."
"Indeed, yes. Hm-m-m. I wonder if you're bluffing. The chances are that
you are bluffing. But I can't afford to gamble. We shall have to take you
"That may be a little difficult, don't you think?"
"Difficult? Yes. But not impossible. I shall have to send for some
additional equipment." His voice took on a queer, sardonic edge. "Please wait
till I return. Don't go away!"
Tensely, Nellie listened at the door. She heard the murmur of voices, then
that same voice, raised a bit louder. "Sturm and Corbey, you will remain
here. If she attempts to break out, shoot to disable her, but not to kill. Do
She heard grunts of acknowledgment and then, a moment later, the clang of
the elevator door as the man who had spoken to her departed. In the dark, she
moved over to the window. She waited, and then saw the man in the tan sport
coat crossing the street toward the convertible. It was he, then, with whom
she had fenced verbally. She watched while he talked for a moment with the
driver. Then the convertible drove off, leaving him at the curb.
She stood at the window and watched the street, waiting. After twenty
minutes the green convertible reappeared. Two men came over to assist the one
in the tan sport jacket. The chauffeur handed each of them several small,
round black objects which they put quickly into their pockets. Then they all
crossed the street toward the hotel.
3. THE KING OF KILLERS
NELLIE GRAY knew now that she was beaten. Those small round
objects were tear-gas bombs.
But she wasn't going to remain on the defensive, to let herself be smoked
out of here like a hunted animal. She hurriedly moved toward the dresser. By
dint of pushing and pulling at it she finally managed to jockey it over to
the door. Just as she got it in place she heard the elevator door opening,
then the voice of the man in the tan jacket.
"All right, let's not waste any more time. Lob one in!"
Nellie scrambled up on the dresser and got a clear view of the corridor.
She saw two of the men, each with a tear-gas bomb, their arms raised to
Nellie's face was tense and set. She smashed out the pane and thrust the
pistol's snout out. She pulled the trigger twice, swiftly, and both of those
men went down as the little weapon barked spitefully. She hadn't had time to
aim with too much care, but she got one of those men just over the heart, and
the other in the shoulder. The tear-gas bombs rolled away down the corridor
and exploded, one after the other. A dense cloud of acrid smoke rose from
The wounded man screamed out, "Get me out of here, Haggard! It's choking
And the voice of the man in the tan jacket cut sharply into that cry for
help: "Shut up, you fool, I told you never to use that name!"
Standing on the dresser with her face back from the transom, Nellie Gray
felt a sudden wild thrill course through her body. Haggard! She should have
known it before! Only Royce Haggard could be so ruthless, so deadly swift in
action. It was barely four months since Royce Haggard had brought off the
most daring jail break in the history of the country. Together with nine
other lifers, he had made a clean getaway from a Midwest penitentiary. They
had shot their way across the country into hiding, leaving a pitiful trail of
corpses behind. Huge rewards were posted. But the Haggard gang had seemed to
disappear from the face of the earth. Here, then, was where they had turned
up. But Nellie had seen pictures of Haggard. His face must have been changed
by plastic surgery. That was why his expression was so wooden, so
The acrid smoke spread in the corridor and some of it seeped in through
the transom. Nellie's eyes began to smart. She stepped down from the dresser,
pulled a blanket off the bed and climbed up again. She began to stuff it into
the opening. She heard sounds of commotion in the corridor as guests came out
of their rooms and Haggard's suave voice as he reassured them: "It's all
right, folks, we're Federal agents. We have a dangerous criminal trapped in
there. Get back in your rooms and lock your door and you'll be
Nellie yanked the blanket away from the transom and put her face close to
the jagged hole in the glass. She kept it there in spite of the stinging gas
and raised her voice as loud as possible: "He lies! They're not Federal
agents. That's the Haggard gang! Call the police!"
But even as she shouted that warning she knew it was useless. Haggard's
men controlled the switchboard. They'd not allow anyone to leave, or to phone
till they had accomplished their purpose.
She drew her head in and just at that moment a third tear-gas bomb came
lobbing up through the transom. It shattered the rest of the glass in the
frame, struck the edge of the dresser on the way down, and exploded.
Immediately, Nellie was engulfed in a cloud of pungent, choking gas. Her eyes
began to burn and smart and fill with tears.
She closed them, held her breath, and jumped down off the dresser. Blindly
she pawed her way to the bathroom, and pulled the door shut behind her,
locking it. But the gas was already in there, and she got only a little
She felt her way to the window and thrust her head out, but her eyes were
so inflamed that the relief was negIigible. Behind her she heard a shattering
crash as someone hurled himself against the door. They had broken in!
Blindly, she fired at the sound, but she knew she had missed when she saw a
huge, weird shape loom up in front of her. It was Haggard, and his face was
covered by a gas mask. She thrust the pistol at him, her finger on the
trigger, but her hand was struck down viciously, and the gun exploded into
the floor. Then something struck her on the side of the head and she fell
forward, semi-conscious. Her hands were twisted behind her back, and a pair
of handcuffs was snapped on. In her ear was the voice of Haggard, muffled by
his gas mask: "Where is that stuff?"
Nellie laughed, almost hysterically. "Kill me, Royce Haggard! Why don't
you kill me?"
"Not yet, you'll talk first."
"Never! I'll never talk!"
"Never is a long time. Maybe too long for you!"
She felt herself lifted helplessly across his shoulder, like a sack of
flour, and carried through the smoke. She must have lost consciousness for a
few moments, because the next thing she knew, a gust of cold, clean air
revived her, and she was being carried across the street to the green
convertible. Half a dozen men with machine guns were posted around to guard
against the arrival of the police. Haggard was leaving nothing to chance. The
stakes were high and these men were desperate and resourceful criminals.
Nellie opened her mouth to shout, but a brutal hand thrust a wadded
handkerchief between her teeth, effectively gagging her. She was roughly
dumped on to the floor of the convertible and it was moving smoothly away,
with Royce and another man sitting in the seat above her.
As they cleared the outskirts of the city Nellie writhed with helpless
rage. Haggard stooped down and made sure the gag was tight in her mouth, so
that she could not make a last appeal for help. And then they were out on the
Tamiami Trail accelerating to a swift pace, racing away from Miami.
After a while Haggard took the handkerchief away from her mouth, sat up
and lit a cigarette. He looked down at her, allowing the smoke to frickle
from his nostrils.
"Well, miss," he said suavely, "are you thinking of talking? It might be
better for you. We're going to have a long time to spend in coaxing you."
He bent down deliberately and placed the glowing tip of his cigarette
against Nellie's forearm. With his free hand he gripped her handcuffed wrist
so that she could not twist away.
The excruciating agony of that fiery burn was almost unbearable. But
Nellie clamped her teeth hard and held herself rigid.
Haggard grunted and removed the cigarette tip from her arm. Nellie felt
herself about to faint as the agony coursed through her body, but she fought
it off. Haggard looked down at her and said softly, "You're very brave, my
dear girl. But it won't help. Just think—will you be able to stand a
continuous treatment like that? For hours on end? Perhaps for days? Believe
me, you'll beg to tell me where the Zaharoff jewels are hidden. If you're
wise you'll save yourself a good deal of torture and speak now."
Nellie's eyes opened wide. The Zaharoff jewels! She forgot the fiery agony
which was almost numbing her arm. Of course! The Zaharoff jewels! It was
Cornelius Zaharoff who had established a private empire fifty years ago on
one of the islands of the East Indies. Trading in copra and rubber, he had
amassed a gigantic fortune which he transmuted into costly jewels for the
Armenian wife he had brought with him to share his empire. He had called her
the queen of the island and bedecked her with jewels. For two generations the
Zaharoffs had ruled their island with an iron hand, until the war had brought
the swarming Japanese barbarians. Zaharoff's son had fled with the fortune in
jewels, had brought them to the United States, only to have them stolen in a
ruthless holdup by the Haggard gang. Haggard had locked the entire family,
including their retainers, in the refrigerator to die. Haggard had been
caught subsequently, but there had been no survivors of that crime who could
identify him. Young Zaharoff had been away at the time. So Haggard had gotten
a life sentence for another crime, and no one had ever been sure that it had
been the Haggard gang which had perpetrated the Zaharoff atrocity.
Now here was the proof. But Nellie thought bitterly as she lay on the
floor of the racing car that she, too, would never live to identify Royce
The car swung off the highway and bumped along what must have been a dirt
road, then came to a stop. Nellie was lifted out and carried over someone's
shoulder into a shack of some sort and dumped on the floor in an inner room.
A few minutes later Haggard entered with two men. At a curt order from him,
Nellie was roughly lifted and seated in a rickety chair with her arms forced
backward over the top, still handcuffed so that she could not move an
Haggard stood over her, puffing a cigarette to glowing life. His eyes were
small, veiled, fishlike; his face woodenly expressionless. He got the
cigarette glowing and held it before her face. "Your eyes, my dear," he said
softly. "They're beautiful eyes. I shall take the left one first." He moved
the glowing end closer. "You'll naturally close your eye as the cigarette
approaches, my dear. Consequently, it will burn through the eyelid."
Staring up at him, Nellie knew that this was the end. She knew that this
man meant exactly what he said. He was going to do the thing that he
threatened. He wasn't bluffing. There was nothing to stop him, not even a bit
of human feeling. He wanted the Zaharoff treasure and he was going to get
Nellie could almost feel the searing agony that would come in a moment
when the cigarette end touched her lid. Her eyes were still inflamed by the
tear gas. But that had been nothing to this. She felt her knees trembling.
She strained every muscle of her lithe body to break free—without
avail. She stared in fascination at that glowing tip of fire inching closer
with the expressionless face of Royce Haggard behind it.
"We waited five years in jail for this chance," Haggard was saying softly.
"We had the Zaharoff treasure cached away and we planned carefully so as not
to muff the prison break. We sent Procter—that's your plump friend on
the bus—to get the stuff, but he thought he could cross us and make his
getaway. You know what happened to him." Haggard's face moved closer with the
cigarette. "Do you think we'll let anything stand in the way now? Not even
your pretty eyes, my dear!"
In a desperate, frantic effort to gain time, Nellie exclaimed, "But you'll
kill me anyway—even if I tell you!"
"That's right, my dear. But at least you'll look beautiful in your coffin.
And the pain. It's better to die without pain, believe me."
He moved the cigarette up so close that Nellie involuntarily blinked. She
thought her eyelids were being singed.
"Wait!" she gasped.
Haggard did not move the cigarette. "I'm waiting," he said
"I checked the stuff," Nellie lied swiftly. "In the hotel safe!"
"Ah!" said Haggard. He stood up to his full height, removing the
cigarette. "The hotel safe! So simple! And I never thought of it!" He
chuckled and spoke to one of the two men who had remained stonily silent
throughout the ordeal. "You see, Corbey, how impossible it is to foresee
everything? To think of everything? We were looking for clever tricks, and
this girl used the simplest one of all. The hotel safe!"
Corbey said glumly, "We can't go for it now. The cops'll be swarming all
over the place. By this time the hotel people will know we aren't F.B.I."
"Naturally," said Haggard. "We'll have to wait till just before dawn.
We'll take five men. That'll be plenty. There'll be no more than one
policeman on guard by then. We shouldn't have any trouble at all with one
policeman, eh? And the clerk will be glad to oblige us by opening the
Corbey grinned. "You bet he will! Just show him the lighted butt!"
Haggard nodded. He turned to Nellie. "Maybe you're lying. Maybe not. If
you've lied about checking the stuff in the hotel safe, you've gained
yourself five or six hours. You're welcome to them. But believe me, if the
stuff isn't in the safe, you'll wish you hadn't talked at all!"
4. THE AVENGER
ON BLEEK STREET in the city of New York there is a modest
building upon the front of which appears a small plaque bearing the cryptic
inscription: Justice, Inc. Bleek Street is no thoroughfare. It is a dead-end
street and there are no pedestrians who pass by chance. Only those enter
Bleek Street who are bound for the building of Justice, Inc. And those are
people in deadly need of help. For this is the headquarters of Dick
Benson—The Avenger. Having himself passed through a baptism of fire,
his life and his huge fortune have since been devoted to saving others from
the ordeal to which he was subjected. No person who seeks his protection from
the overlords of crime —in whatever part of the world it may
be—is denied assistance. The organization which The Avenger has
built-up is small, but compact and deadly efficient. Operating like the
well-greased fighting machine that it is, it clicks on all eight once it
rolls into action.
But this evening there was no action at Justice, Inc.
Benson was fiddling idly with the dials of a powerful receiving set while
the huge figure of Smitty, his powerful aid, was cramped into a chair, his
huge hand gripping a telephone. Upon the foreheads of both of them there was
a frown of worry.
At last Smitty finished his telephone conversation and racked the phone.
He stood up, towering, big and powerful, like some viking god of old, a great
figure of a man, with a deep and rumbling voice.
"There's something wrong, Dick." he said. "The Fleetwood people say that
the bus arrived at Miami fifty minutes ago, If Nellie had been on it she
should have phoned by this time. She knows our standing rule!"
The standing rule was that whenever any one member of Justice Inc., was
away from headquarters—whether on business or pleasure, he or she must
keep in constant touch by phone, radio or wire. There was good and sufficient
reason for that rule; Justice, Inc. had made itself many terrible enemies in
the course of its constant battle against crime. And every member of the
organization walked always in the shadow of death. Therefore, the precaution
of constant communication. If headquarters failed to hear from a missing
member on time, the others immediately swung into action.
"Did anyone leave the bus along the route?" Benson asked, still fiddling
with the radio.
"The clerk didn't say," Smitty grumbled. "In fact he was damned close-
mouthed. I gave him Nellie's description and I thought he was going to say
something, but he changed his mind and asked for my number. Then there was
trouble on the line and we were disconnected."
"I don't like it," said Benson. "Nellie must be in a jam. Phone Holloway.
Tell him I want the fastest plane in the hangar. That converted Beaufort
fighter will do—the one the British government sent us, when we
designed the gun assembly for the wings. It'll do three hundred
Smitty nodded and got on the phone, swiftly gave instructions. "Warm it up
fast," he ordered. "We'll be taking off in twenty minutes!"
Just as he hung up, Dick Benson got a hairline tuning on a Miami station.
They both became tense as they heard a news announcer:
"... that the police are not sure whether the incredible battle of the
Sunset Hotel is linked with the auburn-haired girl who is being sought as the
murderer of the unknown man at the Daytona Beach bus terminal. There is
reason to believe that the men who boldly posed as F.B.I. agents in that
battle were in reality a contingent of the Royce Haggard gang. It boils down
to the fact that they abducted a girl from the Sunset Hotel—a girl who
may or may not be the one wanted for murder."
With a muttered oath, Dick Benson snapped off the radio and sprang up.
Smitty uttered an ejaculation of dismay. "She's tangled up with the
Haggard crowd! And all alone! Good Lord, she hasn't a chance!"
They both sprang to a desk in a far corner of the room and each took an
extra gun—a heavy .45 caliber automatic. In addition they helped
themselves to several other accessories which had been developed in The
Avenger's laboratories for the specific purpose of fighting fire with
"Let's go!" Dick Benson said. "And God grant that we aren't too late!"
As they hurried down the back way to their secret garage, Smitty groaned.
"It'll take us almost five hours to make Miami. If she's in Haggard's hands
she won't live that long—unless she's got an ace up her sleeve!"
It was exactly four hours and seven minutes later that Dick Benson put the
Beaufort down on the airfield just outside Miami. He had pushed the ship as
she had never been pushed before—even by test pilots. She was whining
in every strut and for the last hundred miles they had thought that the port
wing would tear itself off. But the ship held together by a miracle and they
hopped out of it and raced to the waiting car for which they had radioed.
Sixteen minutes later they were outside the Sunset Hotel. Over the radio,
while flying south, they had caught further news reports, and they now had
most of the story pieced together. Benson had decided to start from the
Sunset Hotel on the theory that it was Nellie who had been kidnaped by the
men posing as Federal agents. They left their hired car a block away and
walked past the Sunset Hotel on the opposite side of the street. It was
almost four a.m. and the city was as quiet as a tomb, with the heat hanging
heavy in the air. The semitropical dawn would break in a short while' but now
the moon was overcast and the night was dark.
It was Just as they were almost abreast of the hotel that Benson suddenly
seized Smitty's arm and dragged him in under the shelter of an overhanging
balcony. He was not a moment too soon, for a black limousine which had swung
into the street with dimmed-out lights stopped at the entrance of the hotel.
Three men emerged and a uniformed patrolman who was evidently on guard, came
forward to meet them, half drawing a revolver from his holster. But he had no
chance to get it all the way out for there was a spurt of flame from a
silenced gun in the car and the policeman went down, dead before he hit the
sidewalk. Then three more men came out of the car. One of them dragged the
policeman's body over against the wall where it would be out of the way. Then
all six entered the hotel, leaving one man at the wheel.
Smitty's face became flushed. "Damn them! That must be the Haggard gang.
That's the way they operate—cold-blooded fish. Come on, Dick, let's
But Benson put a hand on his arm.
"Not so fast, Smitty. Follow me!" Smitty followed him, both men edging
carefully back, hugging the shadow of the overhanging balcony. till they
turned the corner. Benson climbed into their car and Smitty crowded in beside
"If this outfit has Nellie," Benson explained swiftly, "it'll do her no
good for us to tackle them here!"
Smitty's eyes glittered, He nodded. "You're right, Dick!"
He put his big hands on the wheel, tooled it around in a complete turn and
switched the lights off. He pulled up just far enough so that they could see
the front of the hotel. They had only a few minutes to wait before the six
men emerged from the hotel. In the clear night air their voices carried,
sharp and distinct.
"She lied, Corbey," said a suave voice. "The stuff isn't in the safe!"
"She'll be damned, all right! Wait till we get back!"
The men piled into the limousine and it pulled away.
Smitty eased the car around the corner, still without lights, and fell in
behind, keeping about a hundred yards in the rear.
"This," he said viciously to Dick Benson, "is going to be a party!"
Benson said nothing. He only sat grimly, staring after the car they were
Nellie's position was extremely uncomfortable. Her arms were still
handcuffed around the back of the chair and she was unable to move to any
extent. And the cigarette burn on her forearm hurt excruciatingly. In the
other room she heard two or three of the men moving about, waiting for the
return of the rest. She estimated that forty minutes had passed before she
heard the car outside, and then the voices of the returning killers. She
steeled herself for the ordeal that was to come. There would be no more delay
now. They would stop at nothing now to drag the truth from her. And she knew
enough about Haggard to understand that he would not cease the torture when
she finally talked. He would want to make sure she was telling the truth this
But her head was high when the door opened and Haggard walked in, followed
by Corbey and Sturm. He said not a word. He only stood in front of her and
deliberately took a cigarette from his pocket. Just as deliberately he lit it
and puffed it into a vicious glow. Then he reached out and seized her hair in
one hand and thrust the cigarette at her eyes.
But the glowing end of the cigarette never reached its goal, for,
suddenly, the lights blinked out and the room was plunged into total
darkness. Only the cigarette glowed in the black void.
Someone cursed and Haggard raised his voice, calling to the men in the
outer room. "Gurko! Put a fuse in—"
But someone called to him. "It ain't the fuse. Haggard. Someone snipped
the power line outside—"
A window smashed somewhere in the room and a powerful searchlight played
on the occupants, rested a split second on Nellie, then swung to cover
Haggard and the other two. Almost as if the beam of light were a signal, a
heavy automatic began to bark, following the searchlight around the room from
one man to another. The gun barked only three times, each shot a bull's-eye.
Haggard went down with a bullet in his lung, the other two with slugs in
Nellie's eyes lighted with relief and a sudden surge of hope. "Dick!" she
shouted. "The Avenger!"
From the other room came a frightened shout: "The Avenger!"
It was drowned by the thunderous roar of another gun out there. Meanwhile,
Dick Benson leaped in through the window and helped Nellie up from the
"Thank God!" he said fervently.
The shooting was still going on in the next room, but, by the time Benson
reached the door it had stopped. He shouted, "O.K., Smitty," and yanked the
door open. His flashlight beam crossed Smitty, illuminating the shambles
which the room had become. In the door the huge, powerful figure of Algernon
Heathcote Smith stood, like an avenging god out of the Norse tales, a smoking
gun in his hand. And on the floor was the evidence of his shooting.
"What about Nellie?" he demanded.
"Safe!" said Benson.
He swung around and Nellie nodded toward the figure of Haggard, lying on
his back, with blood frothing at his mouth. "That's Royce Haggard," she said.
"He has the key to these handcuffs."
Benson knelt beside him, went through his pockets and found the key.
Swiftly he released Nellie Gray, and Smitty came over and patted her on the
shoulder, speechless with relief at seeing her alive and unharmed.
Haggard was dying fast. He spat blood and tried to speak. "Before I
die...tell me...where you hid...the Zaharoff treasure!"
Nellie knelt beside him. She felt no resentment now, only a coldness. "In
the clothes hamper in the broom closet," she told him. "It was the simplest
place I could find."
Royce Haggard groaned. "It was...too damned simple. I'm always...looking
for clever...tricks...that's what...tripped me—"
And he died.
Smitty turned and took Nellie by the shoulder and shook her. He had
recovered some of his poise. "Good Lord, Nellie," he chided, "when will you
learn how to take care of yourself? We can't let you go out alone any more
till you grow up—"
But Nellie silenced him very effectively. She stood up on tiptoe,
stretched as far as possible and kissed him.
"That's how glad I am to see you. Smitty!" she said.