A Coffin For The Avenger by Emile C. Tepperman
(Writing as Kenneth Robeson)
First published in Clues Detective Stories, November 1942
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Emma Gets Help
"I've Never Died
What Happened To
The Bed Of
IT is not strange that Dick Benson, as he paced impatiently
up and down the lobby of the cozy little hotel, was unaware of the existence
of Emma Puglese. For Emma lived eighty miles away in the heart of one of the
slum sections of New York City, and Benson had never met her.
Yet his fate and hers—and perhaps the fate of a nation— were
inextricably bound together, by threads which the Fates had begun to weave a
long time ago.
At the moment, however, Benson's thoughts were far removed from Emma
Puglese, whom he did not even know. They were upon a man named Crawford. He
had driven eight miles from New York with Nellie Gray to meet this George
Crawford, and now the man was forty-five minutes late.
As Benson paced up and down, Nellie Gray, demure in her slim young beauty,
stood at the window looking out at Main Street.
It was a pretty little colonial hotel that Crawford had chosen for his
appointment. It catered mainly to tourists, for Main Street was part of
Linden Highway, which ran right through the town of Postville. But now, with
gasoline being rationed, there were hardly any tourists. There were only two
or three patrons in the dining room, and the clerk behind the desk at the
rear was dozing fitfully.
At the window, Nellie Gray kept watch. The hotel was situated right where
Main Street curved. From here the highway ran due west, up a hill into the
setting sun. And the road was as straight as a ruler. To Nellie it looked
like a broad ribbon laid carefully up the side of the hill, disappearing over
She brushed the blond hair from her face and said, "I'm hungry, Dick. Why
can't we eat while we wait?"
"I'm afraid we won't have time," he told her. "I've never known Crawford
to be late. If he isn't here in five minutes, we'll drive up to his
"But he particularly asked you not to. He was insistent when he
"I know. But I'm afraid something's happened to him."
"He only said his chauffeur had been kidnaped. Why should anyone want to
kidnap a chauffeur?"
"I don't know, Nellie. He said he'd explain when he met us."
"But if that's all—"
"It's not quite all, Nellie. He also said something about not knowing
where to turn; that the only man he could have looked to for help had been
killed today in a plane crash."
"Ah!" Nellie's eyes narrowed. They were pretty blue eyes, but they were
keenly intelli—gent. Indeed, she had to be intelligent to be able to
work with a man like Benson.
"The teletype!" she exclaimed. "I saw it on the teletype before we left.
Admiral Miles, of Naval Intelligence, was killed in a plane crash at
Pensacola this afternoon!"
In their headquarters in New York they had a teletype machine which
received, in addition to all the news services, the latest flashes from the
police departments of nine States, and the confidential releases of the
For that headquarters, located not far from New York's East Side, was
known throughout the world as Justice, Inc. And Dick Benson, its guiding
genius, was known as The Avenger. To that building on Bleek Street in New
York, came men and women from all the far corners of the world—men and
women who could not find justice anywhere else; men and women who found
themselves beaten in a hopeless fight against criminals in high places,
beyond the reach of the law. Those men and women The Avenger helped. For he
could go where the police dared not. His justice was neither blind nor
And so it was that the poor man came to Justice, Inc., when he had not the
funds to hire a lawyer in a ten-dollar case, while the millionaire came when
it was his only hope.
Of all these Benson selected those matters which plainly demanded his
peculiar kind of justice. With untold wealth at his command, and ably
assisted by a close-knit circle of ass—istants, he had made the name of
The Avenger a synonym for ruthless war upon injustice.
He had chosen to answer Crawford's call tonight, because he had known
Crawford well in other years; and though the man was wealthy, he had
mentioned over the phone that this was a matter which might well involve the
But now he was late, and Benson knew that the web of the Fates was being
Nellie Gray stiffened as she glimpsed a car which appeared over the rim of
the hill, heading down toward town, with the sun splashing golden behind
"Dick!" she exclaimed. "There's a car. It's a Rolls-Royce. It must be
As they both watched the car, Nellie spoke over her shoulder. "When
Crawford called, you told me to listen in on the extension, but I had to
leave it for a moment to answer another phone. I just caught part of
something he said to you about—it sounded like a black tulip."
"Yes," said Dick. "He did say something about a black tulip. But he was
excited, and he jumped from one thing to another. He said something about
looking out for the black tulip."
"I've never heard of such a thing," Nellie said. "It must be horrid.
Imagine a tulip being all black!"
"During the last war," Benson said slowly, "there was a vicious German spy
who passed himself off in this country as a Dutchman. He went by the name of
Pieter van der Heusen. He killed without compunction, and he had no mercy for
men or women or children. But he had an abnormal love of flowers. He spent
all his spare time in horticulture. It was said that his greatest ambition in
life was to develop a black species of tulip!"
Nellie's eyes were on the Rolls-Royce, which was tearing down the road at
a terrific rate of speed.
"Crawford's in an awful hurry," she said. "But tell me about this Pieter
van der Heusen. Was he caught?"
Benson shook his head. "No. He operated in this country all through the
war, and then he went back to Germany and retired to grow tulips. No one
knows whether he is still alive. If he is—"
Benson left the thought unfinished, and Nellie said slowly, "I
She broke off, gasping, and pointed to the big Rolls-Royce. It was nearing
the bottom of the hill, but instead of slowing down for the curve, its pace
Nellie frowned. "He must have plenty of confidence in his brakes."
She uttered a short cry as the car leveled off at the foot of the hill and
headed directly for the hotel, never slackening its speed. Now, with the
Rolls less than a hundred feet away, they could clearly see George Crawford
seated behind the wheel. He was upright, and seemed to be leaning backward,
and his mouth was working spasmodically as if he were trying to shout to
them. He seemed to be wearing a voluminous white coat of some sort, which was
on backward. The car was so close to the hotel now that they could see the
coat had no lapels or buttons.
"It's Crawford!" Nellie exclaimed. "He must have lost control—"
She had no chance to finish for she was suddenly seized around the waist
from behind by Dick Benson. He fairly lifted her off the floor, and leaped
backward toward the desk at the rear of the lobby.
Benson didn't move a fraction of a second too soon, for he had hardly
carried Nellie to the safety of the desk at the rear of the lobby before the
heavy Rolls-Royce, traveling straight as an arrow, jumped the curb and
crashed head-on into the front of the hotel.
The smashing impact of the immense juggernaut tore away part of the wall
and the doorway and sent chunks of plaster, brick and glass flying in all
directions. The car crashed into the lobby, its front tires blowing out with
cracking explosions like pistol shots. The hood became a mass of bent and
twisted metal. Debris came piling down upon the car as one of the rafters in
the lobby ceiling gave way. For a moment the whole building shook as if it
might come tumbling down.
Then the tremor ceased, the plaster stopped falling, and the wrecked car
came to rest, half in and half out of the lobby.
For the space of a couple of minutes neither the clerk nor the people in
the restaurant moved. They were stunned by the sudden catastrophe.
But Dick Benson released his hold upon Nellie Gray and leaped to the side
of the car.
Nellie shouted, "Look out, Dick, it may explode!"
He disregarded the warning and sprang to the door of the Rolls, wrenching
at the handle. But the door would not open.
The figure of George Crawford sat erect and unmoving behind the wheel. The
wheel was jammed into his chest, and the top of the car was crushed down upon
his skull. He was dead, of course, but his body was still sitting
Nellie Gray came up alongside of Benson and uttered a low gasp of
"Dick! He's...he's wearing, a strait jacket!"
Benson nodded grimly.
Crawford's torso was incased in a white strait jacket, with the arms
lashed across his chest so that he had been powerless to move as the heavy
car hurtled down the hill, carrying him to destruction.
"It must have taken a fiendish imagination to conceive a thing like this!"
Benson said. He pointed to two heavy wires, running from the steering wheel
down to eye screws in the floor board. That was what had kept the car
straight and true on its coarse. Crawford's body was also lashed to the seat
so that he had remained erect all through the wild ride. Incased in the
strait jacket, he had been helpless to do a single thing to save himself.
"Who could have done it?" Nellie demanded.
Benson was already reaching in through the shattered window. Pinned to
Crawford's strait jacket there was a white card, perhaps five inches long and
three inches wide.
"This may answer your question, Nellie." he said. He removed the card and
held it so that she could read it. The message was written in indelible ink
in a bold and striking longhand:
To the Avenger:
Here is your friend, Crawford, with my compliments. He signed his death
warrant when he sent for you. Will you take a bit of advice, Mr. Avenger? Go
home. Go back at once, and forget what Crawford told you. Otherwise, I shall
wipe you out—and all those associated with you in Justice, Inc. Believe
me, Mr. Richard Benson alias The Avenger, I can destroy you as easily as I
There was no signature to the note. But attached to the card by its stem,
just below the message, there was a single dwarf tulip. It had just begun to
open. Its petals were of the deepest black, flecked here and there with blobs
of red, which resembled nothing so much as drops of blood.
Somehow, though the flower was in itself satanically beautiful, its
appearance afforded no sensation of pleasure, but rather one of horror. For
no tulip had ever been grown so small, or with black leaves.
Some monstrous horticulturist must have taken a keen and evil joy in thus
producing a horrid perversion of nature; perhaps the same kind of twisted
mind which had devised the hellish scheme of sending Crawford hurtling to his
death in a strait jacket.
Nellie Gray stared wide-eyed at the strange and startling flower which
comprised the only signature to the note.
"The Black Tulip!" she said in a low, tense voice.
IN the squalor of one of New York's few remaining slums a
truck moved through the night. Of itself the vehicle was not worthy of a
second glance, for it was merely a truck with slatted sides.
But its freight consisted of seven coffins.
The lettering on the side said:
BRODERICK CASKET CO.
The business of the Broderick Casket Co. was ostensibly the sale and
delivery of coffins to undertakers.
The truck moved quietly through the streets, and if people noticed it at
all it was to comment on its depressing cargo.
But as the truck swung into Pelham Street, a girl of about eleven, with
long black braids, ran out into the street after a small mongrel dog.
"Come back, Tony!" she cried.
Tony was a brown mongrel, a little more than a year old, and quite
playful. He wanted the girl to chase him, and he yelped and ran in front of
There was room for the truck to swerve if the driver had wanted to make a
sudden twist of the wheel. But he only muttered a curse and let the heavy
wheels roll over the little dog's body.
It seemed that he took a certain amount of satisfaction in doing that. But
when he stopped the truck and descended he managed to so control his
expression that nothing of the sadistic pleasure showed in his face. He
spread his hands as he spoke to the small crowd which had gathered there over
the dog's broken carcass.
"You see how it is," he explained. "The dog ran right in front of me. It's
a good thing the girl didn't follow him."
"That's right," someone said. "It wasn't the driver's fault. Look at that
heavy truck, loaded with coffins. How could he have stopped?"
But the little girl with the long black braids was weeping
"You could have swung out!" she cried through her tears. "You could have
tried to miss him. You didn't even try!"
The driver shrugged and looked for sympathy to the crowd. "She shouldn't
be out playing with her dog this late, anyway. She should be in bed. It
wouldn't have happened if she had been asleep in bed where she belongs."
"Yes," said the same woman who had spoken before. "That Emma Puglese is
always picking up stray dogs. She'll cause a real accident with them yet. Go
on home, Emma Puglese. Your mother shouldn't let you out so late."
Emma Puglese wiped the tears from her eyes. "You're a bad man," she said
to the truck driver. "You didn't have to kill my dog. You did it on purpose.
I'll find some way to get even. Yes, I will!"
She cast a glance at the name on the truck, and then sat down on the curb,
covered her face with her hands, and gave way to unrestrained sobs.
The driver, seeing that the sympathy of the crowd was veering to the girl,
dug into his pocket and drew out some money.
"Here, girl," he said. "Here's three dollars. Go buy yourself another dog.
It wasn't my fault, but I don't like that you should cry."
Emma Puglese thrust the bills away. "I don't want your money. You're a bad
man. I won't touch your money!"
The driver shrugged, looked at the crowd as if to say, "What can I do
about it?" and climbed back into his truck after moving the body of the dog
over to the curb.
The crowd dispersed as he drove away, but Emma Puglese sat there, sobbing,
angry and hurt.
The truck with the seven coffins continued down Pelham Street for a block,
and then turned into Farr Street. It stopped before the undertaking
establishment of Sylvester Strake Son, Inc.
It was rather late for a delivery, but there was a light in the
undertaking parlor. And strangely enough, a man stood in front of the door,
who looked up and down the street, and nodded swiftly to the driver of the
The driver thereupon descended, and with the help of the man from the
doorway he removed one coffin from the load. Between them they carried it
Now an empty coffin does not require great exertion from two strong men.
Yet these two were sweating when they set the coffin down on the floor.
The man who had been standing in the doorway glanced inquiringly at the
"Did you have any trouble, Lambertini?"
"No," said Lambertini. "It went off like clockwork. But I'm kind of
worried. The Avenger won't lay off just on account of what we did to
Crawford. It'll only make him tougher."
The other shrugged. "We can handle anything. The Avenger is only a man.
Better go down with your load and report to the boss. I'll give you a hand
with the coffin and then I'll take over the truck."
He helped Lambertini move the coffin onto a low dolly, and they rolled it
into the back room, then onto a small elevator platform.
Lambertini returned to the front, let the other man out, watched him get
into the truck and drive away, and then locked the door. He closed the
Venetian blinds over the windows and turned out the lights. Then he went back
into the rear, stepped onto the elevator plat—form beside the coffin
and pressed a button.
The platform descended to the basement.
The basement was no different from that of any other undertaker's
establishment, and a minute search would have revealed nothing of a
But Lambertini rolled the dolly off the platform, pushed it across to the
opposite wall and pressed a button.
Immediately, a portion of the wall began to swing slowly outward on well-
oiled hinges, revealing a long, narrow passage, dimly lighted at the far
Lambertini pushed the coffin along to the far end, and the opening in the
basement wall swung shut behind him. As he approached the far end another
section of wall opened and he went through with his load.
A strange new world was revealed. But it was a queer and perverted world,
as if some weird magician had rubbed Aladdin's magic lamp the wrong way.
The subterranean chamber was low-ceilinged and damp, but it was huge in
expanse. At the left there was a long row of glassed-in rooms, in which men
and women sat and worked at typewriters, radio sending and receiving sets,
and teletype machines. There were other offices in which women filed papers
and operated multigraph machines.
In all there must have been fifty or sixty people working down here
underneath the surface of the city. It might have been a busy newspaper
office from the speed and efficiency with which everybody was working.
But on the left-hand side of the chamber was the truly amazing spectacle.
For here a space perhaps twenty feet wide and fifty feet long had been set
apart and fenced off with a neat white picket fence and made into a
It was as weird and ghastly a garden as anyone might have dreamed of in a
tortured night—mare. It consisted of neat rows of dwarf tulips, all
black, and flecked with blobs of red.
They stood in ranks, like miniature soldiers of Satan—abnormally
small, yet pregnant with a horrid sort of evil.
How those tulips could have grown at all in that underground cavern was
impossible to tell.
Lambertini trundled the coffin along a cement walk between the glassed-in
offices and the tulip bed. And a man arose from among the tulips to meet
The man had been stooping over one of the rows, weeding it carefully. But
now, as he arose, it became evident that he was as abnormal as the outlandish
bulbs he was cultivating.
His torso was huge, his shoulders broad and powerful. His arms were longer
than average. But his legs were so short that he looked like a dwarf. His
head was large and entirely bald, and a pair of cruel, clever eyes peered out
from under thin and stringy eyebrows.
"Well, Lambertini?" he asked.
Lambertini stood stiffly, as if he were at attention. "Orders executed,
colonel," he said. "Mission successful."
The tulip man nodded. "Follow me."
He turned and led the way along the cement path, along the row of glassed-
in offices, never looking to the right or the left. Lambertini followed,
pushing the dolly along.
At the rear of the low-ceilinged chamber the tulip man pressed a button
and a section of the wall swung open, revealing a private office.
They entered and the door closed silently behind them.
On one wall of this office there was a rack of automatic pistols. Below it
was a rack of .38-caliber revolvers, all carefully oiled, shining and bright.
And on the floor there were a dozen wooden cases. One of these cases was
open, revealing the contents. They were packages of ammunition for the
There were no windows in the room, but—as in the outer chamber
—the air was not stale. On the wall behind the desk there was a large
picture of Adolf Hitler, flanked by two swastika banners. Other than that the
room contained no decoration except for a single black tulip in a glass on
The tulip man seated himself at the desk. He motioned toward the
"You have him in there?"
"Yes, Colonel Strake," Lambertini said.
Lambertini took a small screwdriver from his pocket and knelt beside the
coffin. He loosened four bolts at the corners and removed the lid, which was
perforated at intervals with air holes to permit its occupant to breathe.
The man who lay in the coffin was incased in a strait jacket, just as
Crawford had been. In addition his feet were bound at the ankles and he was
gagged. He was unable to move but his eyes stared upward in a terrible sort
Lambertini reached down and cut the cords that held the prisoner's ankles.
Then he lifted him by the shoulders, helping him to his feet. Roughly, he led
the helpless man to a chair and pushed him into it. He stepped around behind
him and undid the gag.
The prisoner was about forty-five, with a thin and scholarly face, a high
forehead and wide-spaced blue eyes. He found it difficult to sit in the
chair, for his arms were wrapped around him in the sleeves of the strait
jacket, which was pulled cruelly tight. He was able to breathe only in short,
The tulip man's great bald dome shone brightly under the electric light as
he smiled at the prisoner.
"My dear Forsythe! It is four months since we last met, is it not?"
"Damn you'" Forsythe gasped, trying to breathe against the constricting
pressure of the strait jacket. "Damn you, Strake, you won't get away with
The bald-headed Strake continued to smile. "You're a fool, Forsythe. Don't
you know by this time that there is nothing"—Strake's face suddenly
congealed with a swift rush of rage—"nothing, I tell you, that The
Black Tulip can't get away with!"
He sprang up from behind the desk and came around on his absurdly short
legs until he stood squarely in front of Forsythe, "Four months ago I offered
you half a million dollars for your depth charge formula. I offered to
smuggle you aboard a U-boat and take you to Germany where you would have been
rewarded even beyond the money I offered—"
"Sure," Forsythe said bitterly. "I'd have been rewarded in a concentration
Strake proceeded as if Forsythe had not spoken. He shook a finger in his
prisoner's face. "But you saw fit to reject my offer. You knew my power,
however, so you arranged with the Intelligence Service to go into hiding
while you worked out the formula for the Forsythe Down-draft Depth Charge.
You went to live on Crawford's estate and posed as his chauffeur. You set up
a laboratory in the garage, didn't you? And you thought that The Black Tulip
would never find you, eh?"
Forsythe's glance dropped before the intensity of passion in the other's
"Well, Forsythe, we found you!"
"You'll never get away with this, Strake. Crawford saw your men carry the
coffin away to the truck. When he misses me he'll guess I was in
He stopped as Strake began to laugh softly.
"What...what are you laughing at?"
"I'm laughing, my dear Forsythe, at your stupidity. Did you think we'd
leave Crawford alive?"
"You...you've killed him?"
"Draw your own conclusions."
"Is that all you can say, Forsythe?"
"No, no! That's not all I can say. I tell you that it won't help you to
have killed Crawford. Admlral Miles of Naval Intelligence, arranged with
Crawford to let me live on his estate. They arranged that Admiral Miles was
to phone once a day. The admiral must have phoned already. He'll know there's
something wrong. They'll scour the country. They'll not leave a stone
"Wait, Forsythe. Don't be misled by false hope. I want you to realize the
full futility or your situation. Suppose you think back. Who else besides
Admiral Miles knew where you were and what you were doing?"
Forsythe clamped his lips shut.
"Ha!" said Strake. "You refuse to answer. Well, you needn't worry. You
needn't be afraid of giving me any information which might help me. You see,
I'm remarkably well informed. I happen to know that Admiral Miles was the
only man in Washington who knew of the arrangement with Crawford. They kept
it such a dark secret that it wasn't even placed in the files."
"All right," said Forsythe. "Suppose you're right. Admiral Miles must
already have phoned—"
"Wrong again, my dear sir. It may interest you to know that Admiral Miles
was killed in a seaplane crash today at five o'clock!"
Forsythe's eyes bulged. "You...you're lying!"
Strake chuckled. He picked up a newspaper from the desk and held it before
the helpless man's eyes.
The headline stared back at Forsythe with the ineluctable surety of
FOUR DIE IN SEAPLANE CRASH!
Admiral Miles, Head Of Naval Intelligence, Among Those Killed
Crash Attributed To Sabotage
Strake chuckled again. "We made sure, Forsythe, that no one would remain
alive who knew about you and your invention. If the Forsythe Down-draft Depth
Charge should ever be perfected for the American Navy it would mean that a
destroyer could drop a canister of explosive over the side which could
detonate immediately, without danger to the destroyer itself."
"That's right," said Forsythe. "We could wipe your damned U-boats off the
face of the seven seas in a month!"
"Exactly, my dear Forsythe. And it is just to prevent such a contingency
that we have sought you high and low for four months and have at last found
you. Do you think, Forsythe, that we will allow anything—anything, I
say I—to stand in the way of our acquiring the secret of your depth
"You'll never get it out of me," said Forsythe.
Strake smiled. "Within twenty-four hours, my friend, you will be begging
to be allowed to tell your secret!"
He motioned to Lambertini. "When I leave," he ordered softly, "tighten his
strait jacket one notch. Continue to tighten it one notch each hour for the
rest of the night!"
Forsythe's face whitened as he heard the order.
"You're a devil!" he gasped.
Strake nodded his big, oversized bald head. His eyes were bright and
cruel. "You under—stand what will happen, don't you, Forsythe? Each
notch is about a quarter of an inch. By morning your strait jacket will have
been tightened by almost three inches. Your ribs will be constricted to the
edge of the breaking point. You will barely have room to take enough breath
into your body to support life. Your heart will pump faster and faster, but
not strongly enough to propel the blood to your extremities. Your hands and
feet will become numb first. Then your legs and arms. You will be able to
watch yourself die by inches, so to speak. There will be a fiery pressure in
your chest. You will be fighting, every moment, for breath."
He paused and smiled a terrible, twisted smile. "At nine o'clock in the
morning I will return and sit here at the desk, and watch you fight for your
life. It will be a losing fight, Forsythe. Believe me, I know. I have sat
here and watched many a man like that. Not one has refused to talk. They have
begged for one thing, only—a quick death. You, too, will beg for that,
"Damn you." the inventor whispered. "Damn you down to the lowest cellar of
hell! You can't get away with this. Something will happen. Something
unforeseen. Something you've overlooked. Something you didn't plan on. God
won't let you get away with it!"
Strake's cruel eyes flickered. It was almost as if he winced at the
mention of the Deity. Almost, in that fleeting instant, it seemed to the
bound and desperate prisoner that he was looking at the Prince of Darkness
himself —and that the name of God had caused Satan to squirm.
But Strake turned away from him to the desk, hiding that look in his face.
He picked the black tulip out of the water glass and raised it to his
nostrils. He looked at the prisoner in the chair and spoke slowly.
"They call me The Black Tulip, Forsythe. And they say that The Black Tulip
has never failed. It is true. And it is true because I overlook nothing.
Nothing unforeseen can happen, Forsythe. I have planned well and I have taken
everything into consideration. That is why I always succeed. With me there is
no such thing as the unforeseen circumstance. You will beg to talk tomorrow.
I have said it. It is a certainty."
He turned and walked out of the room on his queer, ungainly legs.
And Lambertini stepped behind Forsythe's chair, undid the laces, and
tightened the strait jacket one notch.
EMMA PUGLESE didn't go home. She sat on the curb after the
crowd had melted away and she sobbed.
After a while she took out a handkerchief and dried her eyes. She avoided
looking at Tony's body because she was afraid that if she did she'd begin to
cry all over again, and she didn't want to waste time crying now. She had
made up her mind what she wanted to do, and she meant to do it quickly.
She crossed Pelham Street, walked to the corner, and then hurried three
blocks west. When she came to Bleek Street she turned left into the dead end
and walked down until she came to the building with the modest bronze plaque
over the door:
Resolutely, she pressed the button and waited.
She didn't know it, but a cunningly concealed television device was
transmitting a picture of her to a watcher inside.
After a moment or two the front door began to swing open automatically,
and Emma's eyes widened in wonder.
A voice said, "Come in, please."
It was a kindly voice, and though she couldn't see where it came from, she
The door closed behind her.
"Don't be afraid," the voice said. "We have a lot of gadgets around that
work automati—cally It's just some tricks that we've worked out. No one
will hurt you."
"I know," said Emma, speaking to the empty air. "I know no one will hurt
me here. This is where The Avenger lives. I want to talk to him."
"The Avenger isn't here right now, but maybe I can help you," the voice
said with quiet amusement. "Are you in trouble?"
"Not exactly. But something has happened that needs to be avenged. That's
why I came to The Avenger. I heard my daddy talk about The Avenger, and I
know he helps little people get even with big people for bad things they do
"Aha!" said the kindly voice. "And did a big person do a bad thing to
"Yes, he did. A man in a truck just ran over my dog."
The voice was full of regret. "I'm terribly sorry to hear that. Did you
love him a great deal?"
Emma's eyes filled with tears. "He could stand up and beg. And he carried
small bundles for me. We played every day when I came home from school."
"Maybe we can get you another dog."
"That isn't what I came for," Emma said firmly. "I came because the man
ran my dog over on purpose and I think he should be punished."
"Are you sure he did it on purpose?"
"Yes, I'm sure. I looked up at the driver just when the truck came near
Tony. I wanted to shout to the driver to look out. But then I saw that man's
face. It...it was terrible. He was enjoying himself. Then I knew it was no
use shouting. I knew he wanted to kill things. I could see it in his face. So
when he offered me money I wouldn't take it."
"Well," said the voice, apparently impressed. "I'm sure The Avenger will
want to help you. Did you get the man's name?"
"I saw the name on the truck. It was the Broderick Casket Co."
"And what is your name?"
"I'm Emma Puglese, and I live at 13 Pelham Street. There was no address on
the truck, but I can tell you where it was going. It was going to Strake, the
undertaker. It comes every night and delivers coffins to Strake. Sometimes
one, sometimes two. But I noticed that the coffins on the bottom of the load
are always the same. It's just the two top coffins that are different."
"Now wait just a minute, Emma," the voice said, suddenly serious. "Wait
there. I'm coming down."
Emma waited, fidgeting, until a door suddenly opened almost alongside her
where she had not thought there was any door. A man emerged and smiled down
Emma gaped at him. She had never seen such a big man. Like some great
viking god he towered over her, but somehow she wasn't at all afraid of him,
for she saw the kindness written in his face.
"My name is Smith," he told her. "Algernon Smith. Smitty to you. I'm one
of The Avenger's assistants."
"I know about you," Emma said. "I heard daddy talk about you, too. You're
Smitty smiled. His reputation as an electrical engineer had spread to the
four corners of the globe. But he had preferred to give up the emoluments of
a career of research and invention for the more precarious one of fighting
against crime by the side of Dick Benson.
"Now suppose you tell me about that truck with the coffins. Tell me
everything you can think of about it."
"That's all I know," Emma said. "Us kids used to follow it when it went
down the street, and we would watch them unload the coffins. That's how we
came to notice that the bottom ones were always the same. We used to sneak up
and make chalk marks on the bottom coffins when the driver was inside. And
then, a few days later, when we'd want to do it again, we saw that the same
chalk marks were still on the bottom coffins. That meant they were the same,
"It surely did," Smitty told her. "And I'm glad you came. I'm going to
look into it right away!"
"Will you go over and punish that bad man?"
Smitty put a hand on her head. It was a huge, powerful hand. But its touch
was as gentle as the breeze.
"I'll investigate him, Emma. And whatever is necessary shall be done. Now
come on I'll walk you back to Pelham Street. You go home and I'll look up
He raised his voice slightly, speaking to thin air, just as Emma had
"Take over, will you, Cole?" he said.
"Now listen, Smitty," said the voice of Cole Wilson, from somewhere in the
building. "This is no time to, go gallivanting after coffins. Dick will be
here in twenty minutes. I just had him on the short wave. He's completed his
investigation up at Crawford's estate and he hasn't found a thing. We're up
against a blank wall on this case and it might be better if you stick around.
Can't Emma wait till tomorrow to get her man punished?"
Smitty winked at Emma.
He spoke to Cole Wilson, who was another one of the brilliant young men
The Avenger had gathered around him.
"Now don't get excited, Cole. It won't take me but ten or fifteen minutes
to look this up. I'm intrigued by the coffins that never get delivered. I
just want to look around that under—taking establishment. I'll be back
before Dick and Nellie arrive."
"All right," Cole Wilson said. "I suppose you won't sleep tonight if you
don't look into it. I'm busy as the deuce, but I'll take over for you."
Smitty grinned and took Emma's arm, and led her out into the street. He
stopped off with her and bought her a banana split with three balls of ice
cream, and he had one himself, too. Then he saw her safely to her house on
Pelham Street, and continued on around the corner to Farr Street.
SMITTY saw the undertaker's establishment halfway down the
block, hut before going there he stepped into a drugstore on the corner and
consulted the telephone directory. He found that the Broderick Casket Co. was
located in Brooklyn. He dialed the number and frowned when someone answered
the phone. It was after nine o'clock, long past business hours.
"Hello," he said. "Is this the Broderick Casket Co.?"
"Well, I want to order a coffin."
"We're all out of coffins, mister. Shipped the last one today."
"But how can I die without a coffin?" Smitty demanded.
"Who are you?" the man at the other end asked, suddenly suspicious. "Have
you ever done business with us before?"
"No," said Smitty. "You see, I've never died before!" And he hung up.
Thoughtfully, he went out of the drugstore and walked down the street
toward the under—taking parlor.
There was a light in the store as he approached, but he couldn't look in,
for the Venetian blinds were drawn all the way down, behind both the door and
the plate-glass window.
Smitty approached the door and a man standing near it said, "Were you
looking for someone, mister?"
"Why. yes," said Smitty. He glanced at the name on the window. "I'm
looking for Mr. Strake."
"What did you want to see him about?"
"About a coffin that was delivered today by the Broderick Casket Co."
The man stiffened. One hand stole into his coat pocket.
"What about the coffin that was delivered today?"
"I thought I'd like to buy it. It was a pretty coffin. It might be nice to
be buried in."
The man grinned. "You getting ready to die?"
"I'm afraid so," Smitty said, looking at the bulge in the man's
"Well, mister," said the man, "I'm sure Colonel Strake will be glad to see
you. Very glad."
He stepped up close to Smitty, and with his left hand he rang a bell
alongside the door. Almost at once the door was opened.
"Go right in!"
Smitty obeyed. As soon as he was inside the gunman stepped in, too. The
man who admitted them shut the door and locked it.
"Who's this, Otto?" he demanded of the gunman.
Otto grinned. "He's a customer. He's looking for a coffin to be buried in,
Carl. What do you think of that?"
Carl chuckled. "He has certainly come to the right place!" "This way,"
said Otto, shoving Smitty the suggestive bulge in his pocket.
Smitty went in the direction indicated.
Otto did not take him through the secret door in the rear wall. Instead he
led him to a small office, which was apparently used for making funeral
arrangements. He pressed a button on the desk in a peculiar manner. And then
they waited, not speaking.
Perhaps four minutes later another door at the back of the office was
opened and Colonel Strake entered, shuffling on his queer short legs. His
shrewd, cruel eyes darted to the great bulk of Smitty's figure and he sucked
his breath in sharply. But he made no comment.
He looked at the gunman and said, "What is it, Otto? Why did you signal
Otto jerked his head toward Smitty. "I found him snooping around the front
of the store. He was trying the door. Claims he wants to buy a coffin."
"Hm-m-m," said Strake. "I think we can accommodate the gentleman. I really
think we can!"
He directed his sharp glance at Smitty. "Who are you, sir?"
Smitty grinned. "The name is Smith."
"—Ah, yes. You're the one who just phoned the Broderick Casket
Smitty became taut. The Broderick Casket Co. was in Brooklyn. They must
have called here the moment Smitty hung up. There was, then, a very much
stronger connection between the Broderick Casket Co. and the Strake
establishment than just the sale of coffins.
But his thoughts were interrupted as Strake began to talk softly.
"I recognize you, Mr. Algernon Heathcote Smith. Once having seen you it
would be impossible to forget you. You are The Avenger's assistant, are you
"The Avenger?" Smitty repeated. "Who's he?"
Strake raised a hand. "Please, Mr. Smith. Let's skip the play acting. You
know very well who The Avenger is. Your presence in front of this
establishment can mean only one thing—that The Avenger has found some
clue directing his attention to us. Please tell me what that clue is!"
Smitty's eyes became narrow. He had come here on a whim, an impulse. He
had been affected by Emma's story, and intrigued by the idea of coffins on a
truck which were never delivered. No thought had entered his mind that this
place might be connected with the Crawford murder, which The Avenger was
working on. But now he had something to chew on.
He began to laugh. It was ironical that the killing of a little dog and
the hurt anger of a small girl should have led to the first break in the
Crawford case. The murder of Crawford and the abduction of the chauffeur had
been so carefully planned and well executed that not a single clue had
offered itself for The Avenger to work on. Benson had told Smitty over the
two-way radio only a little while ago that he was up against a blank
And now this!
Smitty didn't know it at the time, but Forsythe's prophetic words were
coming true with a vengeance. The unforeseen circumstance which no man can
plan for had upset Strake's careful calculations.
But if Smitty was in ignorance of the main angles of this mystery, Strake
was no less mystified as to what sort of clue had brought him here. And he
was grimly determined that Smitty should talk.
"I asked you," he repeated softly! "what was the clue which turned your
attention to me!"
Smitty grinned. He chanced a shot in the dark. "It was the black tulip."
"The Black Tulip!" Strake exclaimed. "How? How did that lead you
"The odor," said Smitty. "I followed the scent."
Strake smiled grimly. He pressed a button on the desk, and before Smitty
could move the room was suddenly filled with grim and husky men. There were
more than a dozen of them, streaming in from three doors, all armed with
short clubs and blackjacks, and they swarmed over Smitty like a small
IT was nine thirty when Dick Benson and Nellie Gray got back
to Justice, Inc. They had missed Emma Puglese by less than twenty
"Smitty's gone on a wild-goose chase," Cole Wilson told them glumly.
"Something about a dead dog and a coffin that's being delivered over and over
again to the same place."
"Hm-m-m," said Benson. "Sounds intriguing. I don't blame him for going out
"But not at a time like this!" Nellie Gray said hotly. "He knows we're up
against one of the cleverest criminals of the century, and that we have to
concentrate all our energies on fighting The Black Tulip. He has no right to
go out on side issues!"
"That's what I say," Cole agreed. Then he added, "You have a visitor,
Dick. A man from Naval Intelligence. He just came a couple of minutes ago,
and I asked him to wait in Room One. He said it was extremely important. His
name is Lieutenant Commander Anderson."
"I'll see him at once!" Benson exclaimed.
Lieutenant Commander Anderson was a quiet, soft-spoken man, who looked
anything but what he was. He showed Benson his credentials and got down to
business at once.
"As you know, Mr. Benson, Admiral Miles was killed in a plane crash today.
I was his chief assistant, and he had left in my safe-keeping a packet of
confidential papers in code, which he considered too dangerous to be placed
in the navy files. They were papers relating to matters which he handled
personally, and which would be left at loose ends in the event of his
"Ah!" said Benson. "Was there anything in those papers about
Anderson nodded. "How did you guess?"
"Crawford mentioned something that led me to believe he had been working
with Admiral Miles."
"That is true. After decoding the papers, I learn that Stanton Forsythe,
the inventor, had almost succeeded in perfecting a depth charge which would
explode wholly downward, thus preventing injury to the ship which dropped
"I see!" said Benson. "Such an invention would revolutionize anti-
"Exactly. It would enable us to clear the seas of submarines within a
couple of months. But there was reason to believe that the notorious spy
—The Black Tulip—was seeking to get hold of the secret principle
behind the theory of the Forsythe Down-draft Depth Charge. There was still
several weeks of work to be done on the plans of the invention, and Forsythe
feared for his life. Admiral Miles therefore arranged for Forsythe to go to
work for Crawford, ostensibly as a chauffeur. Crawford had a completely
equipped experimental laboratory in the back of his garage, and it was the
ideal arrangement for Forsythe."
"It was ideal," Nellie Gray broke in bitterly, "until The Black Tulip
discovered where he was!"
Commander Anderson nodded. "You're quite right, Miss Gray. The reason I
have flown in from Washington to see you, Mr. Benson, is because in Admiral
Miles' notes I find a reference to you. He says that Crawford knows The
Avenger well, and has said that if anything arose in the nature of an
emergency, he would call upon you."
"He did," said Benson. "But The Black Tulip was too clever and too fast
for him, as you know. Here"—he took from an envelope the card with the
tulip attached—"I kept this from the local police. I didn't want them
messing the case up."
"You did! right, Mr. Benson," Commander Anderson said, studying the card.
"Do you know who The Black Tulip is?"
Benson nodded. "I think he's Pieter van der Heusen."
"Ah! You remember Van der Heusen, then?"
"I've studied the records minutely. I was quite interested in the man. He
was a clever spy."
"So clever that he escaped after the last war. He's back here now, we're
certain. But we haven't the faintest idea where he is, or what name he's
Anderson paused and added emphatically, "We must find The Black Tulip
quickly, Benson—before he tortures the secret of the Down-draft Depth
Charge out of Forsythe!"
It was just then that Cole Wilson stepped into the room, looking anxiously
at his watch.
"I heard the conversation over the recording system," he said. "I don't
like to bother you at a time like this, Dick, but Smitty hasn't come back. He
said he'd return in twenty minutes, and you know our rule—always make
contact by phone or radio if unable to keep an appointment."
"It means Smitty's in trouble!" Nellie exclaimed. Gone was her former
anger at him for having gone off on a tangent. Now she was full of concern.
"He must be killed or captured—otherwise, he'd have phoned!"
"Evidently he's run into something bigger than he expected," Benson said.
He glanced at Cole Wilson. "Where did he go?"
Wilson went out and came hack in a moment with a cylindrical record. Every
conversation that took place with a visitor to Justice, Inc. was
automatically recorded for future reference. Now, Wilson played the record
back and they heard Emma Puglese telling Smitty about the dog, and about the
coffins, and that they were usually delivered to Strake's.
When the record was finished. Benson's lips were tight. He glanced at
Lieutenant Commander Anderson. "Will you do me the honor to use this place as
your headquarters while working on the Forsythe case? We'll co-operate with
you to the fullest, of course. But I must beg you to excuse me while I go
look after Smitty."
It was one of the inviolable rules of Justice, Inc., that when one member
of the organiza—tion was in trouble or in danger, the others would drop
everything and pile in to his help. Otherwise, the underworld would long ago
have succeeded in whittling them down, one by one. Each knew that in the
event of peril he could count on the others to fight through hell or high
water to his side. And this knowledge contributed greatly to the compact
efficiency of Justice, Inc.
And thus, ten minutes later, Dick Benson was walking slowly down Farr
Street, toward the undertaking parlor of Sylvester Strake.
BENSON paused at the door just as Smitty had done before,
and Otto, who was once more standing outside, stepped over to him.
"You looking for some one, mister?"
"Why, yes," Benson said mildly. "I'm looking for a rather big man. I
believe he came here a little while ago."
"Sure, mister," said Otto. "He's inside. We were sort of expecting you to
come looking for him." He put his hand in his coat pocket and with his left
hand he rang the bell.
The door was immediately opened by Carl.
"Go right in, mister," said Otto, showing Benson the bulge in his coat.
"It'll be a pleasure to entertain you!"
The one great mistake that Otto made was not to look behind him. He had
not, therefore, seen the long, sleek car which had crept along the street in
Benson's wake, nor had he seen the trim figure of Nellie Gray descend and
move toward them like some lissome princess of fairyland—with this
difference, that no fairy princess ever carried a .32-caliber pistol!
Nellie pushed the muzzle of the pistol against Otto's spine.
"Don't forget me, young man," she said. "I'm in this party, too!"
Otto stiffened. For a fraction of a second his attention was pulled away
That was all The Avenger needed. He gripped Otto's gun wrist in fingers of
steel, drew it out of his pocket without apparent effort, and twisted his arm
behind his back, all in one swift, fluid motion.
Otto cried out at the pressure on his arm, and let go of the gun he had
been holding. Nellie Gray caught it as it fell.
Benson swung Otto around and gave him a stiff shove that sent him
stumbling through the open doorway, into Carl.
Then, before either of them could regain his balance, Benson and Nellie
stepped inside and Nellie closed the door. She leaned against it, smiling
winsomely, and covering both Carl and Otto, her own pistol in her right hand,
and Otto's in her left.
"And now, gentlemen," Dick Benson said mildly, "I'll thank you to take me
to where you're holding Mr. Algernon Smith!"
His eyes were cold and hard as he spoke. And he added softly, "I hope
—for your sakes—that he hasn't been harmed!"
"To hell with you!" growled Otto.
Benson sighed. He stepped in with a motion so fast that Otto did not know
what was happen—ing until both his wrists were twisted behind him.
Benson gripped both of those wrists in one hand, and though Otto struggled
and fought, he was powerless to break that hold.
With his left thumb, Benson pressed against a certain point under Otto's
armpit. He increased the pressure, and Otto uttered an involuntary cry of
He tried to squirm away, but the pressure increased inexorably. The gunman
tried to scream, but the sound died in his throat and changed to a moan of
agony as Benson dug his thumb deep into that spot. Sweat sprang out on Otto's
face and on the back of his neck. The pain was so sharp and so intense that
he could barely catch his breath.
Benson's face was grim and hard.
"My friend's life is in the balance," he said tightly. "Do you think The
Avenger fights with kid gloves when his friends' lives are in danger? Talk
fast or I'll increase the pressure till you die of the agony!"
"Stop! Stop!" Otto gasped, his face running with perspiration.
Benson nodded grimly and relaxed the pressure a bit.
"Smith...is down...below. The headquarters...of...The Black
Nellie uttered an exclamation. Benson's eyes glittered.
Otto nodded his head feebly toward the wall at the rear.
Benson spoke swiftly to Nellie over his shoulder.
"Smitty must have blundered into something. We mustn't miss on this. It
means even more than Smitty's life!"
"Right, Dick!" she said. She kept Carl covered while Otto led The Avenger
to the secret door at the rear and pressed the concealed button that opened
"What lies beyond here?" Benson demanded.
Otto was no longer defiant. All the fight had gone out of him. He was
pathetically eager to please, lest he be subjected to the terrible agony of
that pressure beneath his armpit.
"It's the headquarters of The Black Tulip," he said, the words fairly
spilling out of his mouth. "Down there, more than fifty people work. They are
the home-office organization. From here the orders go out which direct the
work of German spies all over the United States. It's the heart of The Black
"All right," said Benson. He motioned for Otto to move back next to Carl,
where Nellie could cover him. From his pocket he took a small box that
resembled a snuff box. From the box he took a wad of something that looked
like cotton, about a quarter inch in diameter, and put it in his mouth. Then
he took two small glass ampules from the box and returned the box to his
pocket. He nodded to Nellie and stepped through the secret doorway.
"Don't take any lead slugs when you're not looking, Dick!" Nellie called
after him. "And see if you can bring Smitty back all in one piece!"
Benson didn't answer. But the smile upon his face was almost that of an
avenging angel as he strode down the length of the corridor toward the secret
door at the other end.
He pressed that button as Otto had directed, and stepped through into that
strange and hellish underground world which was ruled over by the man who
called himself The Black Tulip.
He saw the bed of tulips, flecked with blood-red blobs, and he remembered
the flower he had found upon the strait-jacketed body of George Crawford, and
his mouth tightened into a straight, thin line. He saw the glassed-in booths
where men and women worked all day and all night to destroy America, and his
eyes flickered with a strange and unholy light.
At the rear, Dick Benson stopped before a door. He turned the knob and
Swiftly, his eyes scanned the contents of the room, noted the single tulip
in the glass of water, the picture of Hitler on the wall, the strait-
jacketed figure of Stanton Forsythe, breathing with difficulty against the
tight-notched torture corset, and then, on the floor, the bound figure of
Algernon Heathcote Smith, face cut and bruised, but grinning
"Hi, Smitty!" he said.
"Hi, Dick!" Smitty said through his cut lips. "They couldn't find a
strait-jacket big enough for me. What do you think of that?"
Dick Benson glanced over to the desk where Strake sat, his big bald head
gleaming, his small, cruel eyes flickering with quick doubt.
"Smitty wears a size 52, Colonel Strake," Benson said in a conversational
Lambertini was standing behind Forsythe's chair, getting ready to tighten
the strait jacket another notch, and the sweat was standing out on the
Forsythe groaned. "Why did you have to come here, Avenger? Now they'll get
Strake arose from behind the desk.
"I see you are unarmed, Avenger," he said smoothly. "Have you come to make
terms with me?"
"Yes," Dick Benson said slowly. "I've come to make terms. I'll accept
unconditional surrender—nothing less!"
Strake smiled queerly and put his hand in the drawer of the desk.
"It would seem," he said slowly, "that I am the one to make the
"That's where you're wrong!" Benson said.
He flipped one of the glass ampules over on the desk. It fell on the glass
top and broke. At the same time he flipped the other ampule over toward
Lambertini. It struck the back of Forsythe's chair and broke there.
The effect of those two glass ampules was startling, to say the least.
They contained a highly concentrated ether compound which had been
developed by Fergus MacMurtrie, the chemical wizard who worked for The
Avenger. The properties of this secret—formula ether compound were such
that unconsciousness could be induced by one cc. in a hundred thousand cubic
meters of free air within a period of one half second.
MacMurtrie had developed the ether compound for the United States Secret
Service, and Dick Benson was, perhaps, the only person in civilian life who
had access to it, for he had lent MacMurtrie's services to the army for this
Sylvester Strake fell over on the desk in the act of reaching for the gun
in the drawer. Lambertini just folded up and lay down to sleep on the floor
against Forsythe's chair.
Benson himself was chewing upon the wad of cotton, impregnated with a
special solution which made him immune to the effects of the drug by
energizing certain salivary glands in his mouth. But Smitty and Forsythe
enjoyed no such immunity, and they went out like a light, just as fast as
Strake and Lambertini. Benson smiled grimly. He crossed to the desk and
picked up the phone.
A switchboard operator somewhere in the building said. "Yes, Colonel
"Give me Liberty 1-1111," Benson said, mumbling his words so that the
operator should not recognize that it was not Colonel Strake.
Liberty 1-1111 was the number of Justice, Inc. In a moment, Cole Wilson
Swiftly, Benson switched from English to Hindustani. That, he was sure,
was a language which The Black Tulip's switchboard operator would not
understand, even if she were listen—ing in.
Concisely, he told Cole Wilson what had happened, and instructed him to
inform Commander Anderson.
"Have Anderson raid this place at once," he ordered. "I'll break a master
capsule outside in the main room and that will render them all unconscious
—sort of set them all in Anderson's lap when he comes with the raiding
squad. We don't want to give them a chance to destroy a single paper!"
Cole Wilson acknowledged the orders, still speaking in Hindustani, which
he had learned during his five years as a surveyor for the British government
in India. He rang off, and Benson opened his snuff box again, and took from
it a large glass ampule, about the size of a four-ounce bottle. There was
enough concentrated anaesthetic in there to render a whole town unconscious.
He opened the door of the office, stepped out and hurled the capsule out onto
the concrete walk. Then he stepped back inside, confident that MacMurtrie's
solution would do its work well. He had instructed Cole Wilson to prepare
wads of cotton saturated with the antidote, for the use of Commander
Anderson's raiding squad, so that they would not succumb to the fumes.
Smiling a little, he set about the task of releasing the unconscious
Forsythe from the strait jacket, and of untying Smitty's bonds.
Half an hour later the raid was complete, affording the Intelligence
Service the greatest haul of spies since the beginning of the war, and
including the spy master himself—Pieter van der Heusen, known as The
Smitty was sitting up, half groggy, and rubbing his eyes. He looked up to
see Benson and Nellie watching him amusedly.
"Wake up, big boy," said Nellie. "You done noble—even if you didn't
know what you were doing. Justice, Inc. is going to give you a wooden
"Gosh!" exclaimed Smitty, suddenly coming to his full senses. He began to
scramble up to his feet.
"Take it easy, big boy," said Nellie. "What's your hurry? You haven't any
place to go—"
"That's what you think, beautiful!" Smitty told her with a grin. "I hope
to tell you I have some place to go!"
"To see my girl friend!"
"Girl friend!" Nellie exclaimed with a sudden tinge of jealousy. "Since
Smitty grinned. "Her name is Emma Puglese, and she's ten years old, and I
have to go and tell her that the bad man who killed her dog is being
"Oh!" said Nellie Gray.