Death to the Avenger by Emile C. Tepperman
(Writing as Kenneth Robeson)
First published in Clues Detective Stories, September 1942
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Smoke Out A
Grease The Skids
The Avenger was on the prowl tonight.
Swiftly, the word spread through the slimy alleys and the dark corners of
the great city's underworld. Hard men who flaunted the police and scoffed at
the law sought hurried cover as the word reached them.
At fly-specked bars, in closed and shuttered rooms, men buzzed in furtive
whispers: "What's he after? Has anybody got the dope? Who's The Avenger
Those were the questions which flew around on the wings of fear.
Down at police headquarters, Inspector Cruikshank listened to the
whispered voice of a stoolie over the phone and hung up with a worried
"It's The Avenger," he said to Dolson, his chief aid. "He's on the hunt,
They say he's out for big game. What the devil can he be after? What's on the
books these days?"
Dolson scowled and scratched his right ear. "Who can tell, sir?" he
growled. "It might be Gregorio Ruiz, or Nick Frogash—"
Inspector Cruikshank groaned. "I hope it isn't Ruiz. That devil is too big
for us to tackle—"
"And for The Avenger, too!" Dolson broke in, "If Dick Benson is going
after Gregorio Ruiz, there'll be fireworks in town tonight!"
"I better find out!" said the inspector. He flipped down the switch of the
interoffice com—munication system and spoke into the box. "Get me
Justice, Inc.," he ordered.
A moment later he had his connection, and a voice said over the phone,
"This is Justice, Inc. Smith speaking."
"Listen, Smitty," said the inspector. "What's this I hear about your boss?
What's he on to?"
"On to?" Smitty repeated, in a tone of surprised innocence. "Why, what in
the world are you talking about, inspector?"
"Lay off, Smitty," Cruikshank growled. "You know damned well what I'm
talking about. Word is traveling on the underworld grapevine that The Avenger
is on the prowl. Now listen, I just want you to tell me one thing—is
Dick Benson out after Gregorio Ruiz?"
"I'll ask him, the next time I see him, inspector," Smitty said, and hung
Inspector Cruikshank swore fluently as he cradled the phone.
"Smitty isn't talking!" he told Dolson. He reached for his hat, "I'm going
out and see if I can find The Avenger, before the big guns begin popping.
You, Dolson—order out every man in your detail. Have them comb the
town. Whoever spots The Avenger, have him phone in. Put it on the shortwave
radio. I'll pick it up wherever I am!"
Dolson saluted the inspector's retreating back and got busy on the
interoffice phone. Within a matter of minutes, the police department was a
bustling beehive of frantic activity.
Two blocks away from headquarters, in the terrace apartment of a twenty-
story apartment building that overlooked the East River, a man stood upon the
terrace, staring down at the murky waters of the river, far below.
He was a tall man, with the nose of a hawk and the look of a falcon and
the eyes of a devil incarnate, His lips were thin and bloodless, and his
hands were long and sensitive, like the hands of an artist.
This man was in a black mood indeed. There was a dark unreadable look in
his eyes, and his thin lips twitched spasmodically. His hands gripped the
terrace railing tightly, as if they would rip it from its moorings.
His eyes, it seemed, were focused upon a single spot down there in the
river, a spot near a crumbling and disused dock. But it was strange that his
attention should be centered upon that spot, for there was nothing there
—no life, no movement.
Suddenly, the man with the hawk face swung around and stepped through the
tall French windows into the lighted room beyond.
It was a great room, with costly drapes, rare oil paintings and curios and
knicknacks from all parts of the world. Near one corner, under a fluorescent
light, was an easel with a canvas resting upon it, Upon the canvas was an
unfinished oil painting of a demure girl of nineteen or twenty, technically
excellent but tinged with a strangely evil note. There was terror in the
girl's eyes and revulsion in her face. The artist who had worked upon that
canvas must have been one who gloried in the sight of terror.
The man with the hawk face brushed past the easel and stopped in the
middle of the room, where three men stood waiting, their hats in their hands,
servile and eager to please. Though they were hardbitten men, there was a
lurking tinge of fear in their eyes as they watched this hawk-faced man.
He stood very still, looking at them for a full space of sixty seconds.
And then, when he spoke, his voice was almost gentle. He was holding himself
in check. He was not permitting the passion within him to burst its
"I want The Avenger!" he said, between grated teeth. "I want him dead or
alive. I want him tonight! Do you understand, you three?"
The three men nodded their heads. The one on the left wet his lips.
"Yes, Mr. Ruiz," he said.
The second one swallowed hard. "Yes, Mr. Ruiz."
The third one spoke quickly, as if he wanted to get it over with. "Yes,
"Bah!" exclaimed Gregorio Ruiz. His eyes blazed as he mimicked them.
"'Yes, Mr. Ruiz; yes, Mr. Ruiz!' Is that all you know how to say?"
His long finger lanced at the first of the three, a husky fellow with
close-cropped black hair and a twisted nose. "You, Jasper!" His eyes swung to
the next. "And you, Degnan. And you, Lithro. You three have been provided
with men and money enough, to accomplish anything at all in this city, not
excepting murder. Is it so hard, then, for you to capture or kill one
Jasper was the boldest of the three. "That one man—he's The Avenger,
Mr. Ruiz. He's tough, that guy. And so are his pals—that Smitty; even
the dame, Nellie Gray. They're tough, and they play for keeps." Then, seeing
the terrible wrath rising in the eyes of Gregorio Ruiz, he added hastily,
"But we'll get him tonight. Don't worry; we'll get him tonight!"
Ruiz turned away from them. He strode out on to the terrace once more.
Again, as if drawn by some terrible fascination, his eyes fixed upon that
spot in the river, near the old and rotting dock. He spoke to them over his
"Somebody squealed to The Avenger about that thing that's out there in the
river. We don't know how much the squealer told. But we can't afford to have
The Avenger find that thing out there. Do you all understand?"
Once more there was that chorus of, "Yes, Mr. Ruiz."
Gregorio Ruiz sighed. He came back into the room.
"Come," he said. "I see that I shall have to take charge of this, myself.
Listen to me closely, you three. I shall tell you how we will trap The
IF Gregorio Ruiz and Inspector Cruikshank were both worried
about The Avenger's activities tonight—each for a different
reason— perhaps they both had more cause for concern than they thought.
As for Gregorio Ruiz, had he known exactly where The Avenger was at that
particular moment, his rage might have burst all bounds.
That terrace apartment of Ruiz's was two blocks east of headquarters. Only
a couple of blocks south of headquarters was the Criminal Courts Building.
And here, on the third floor, a jury of seven men and five women was
deliberating behind locked doors, on the fate of one man. That one man was
The trial of Barney Dorset had lasted nineteen days. A procession of sixty
witnesses had occupied the witness chair during Dorset's trial for murder in
the first degree. Now, the jury was considering all the mass of evidence
which had been placed before it. It had been locked in at eleven o'clock that
morning. The judge was sleeping on a cot in his chambers, so that he would be
on hand the moment a verdict was reached. The district attorney was pacing up
and down in his office, and the defense counsel was engaged in a poker game
with some reporters and bondsmen in a bonding office across the street from
The defendant himself was under heavy guard in the detention room on the
And it was just outside the courthouse that The Avenger might have been
found, had anyone known where to look for him.
The long, powerful sedan of Dick Benson was parked on the side street,
only a dozen feet or so from the north entrance. Dick sat in the back, with
Nellie Gray behind the wheel. Tonight, Nellie was acting as chauffeur. But,
to look at her, no one would have guessed that Dick's chauffeur was, in
reality, a daintily fragile blonde. Her golden-blond hair was piled high on
her head, hidden by a chauffeur's cap. The curves of her slim, girlish figure
were hidden by a gray whipcord uniform, and her hands were incased in huge
Sitting in the rear, Dick Benson—The Avenger—was hardly more
recognizable. He was attired in the complete outfit of a city fireman, with
hip boots, fireproof coat and helmet, and a gas mask, slung by a strap over
his shoulder. He had a long-handled ax at his side, and his face was
liberally covered with soot. To look at him, no one would have thought he was
other than a hard—working, tired, city employee.
Only his eyes indicated the driving resolve and the iron will which had
made of him the one man whom the underworld feared and hated more than anyone
or anything else.
It was he—this Dick Benson—who meted out punishment to those
malefactors who were too big and powerful for the law to touch.
The long arm of The Avenger reached out where no man with a badge could
legally go. And all over the world, men knew that if their cause was just,
they could seek out that little street in the heart of New York where a small
sign read: "Justice, Inc." There, they could find the help which the duly
constituted authorities might be powerless to give.
Tonight, The Avenger was engaged in just such a mission—justice
beyond the power of the law.
He sat, apparently at ease, with one eye on his wrist watch. Headphones
were adjusted to his ears, and he was speaking into the mouthpiece of the
powerful but compact short-wave sending-and—receiving set which was
built into the car. A distorting device enabled him to speak in absolute
privacy with Algernon Heathcote Smith, at the headquarters of Justice,
"All set, chief," Smitty was saying. "Inspector Cruikshank phoned, but I
gave him the brush-off. He hasn't got the faintest idea what we're up to.
He's placed a couple of men outside here, on Bleek Street. But if you use the
secret entrance, they'll never spot you."
"Right, Smitty," said Dick Benson, glancing at his watch. "Zero hour is
8:15. Synchronize your time. I have 8:13.5."
"Right, chief. 8:13.5."
"Signing off, Smitty."
"Good luck. Signing off!"
Dick Benson removed the headset, placed it on a hook of the radio set and
pressed a button. The set receded under the seat, a panel slid shut, and it
was no longer visible.
Nellie Gray was watching him.
"Everything ready?" she asked.
The Avenger nodded. "Go to it, Nellie. Smitty will be phoning the alarm in
less than a minute and a half."
Nellie smiled. This diminutive girl, endowed with the courage and skill
which many men would have envied, had preferred to work by the side of The
Avenger in his constant warfare against crime, rather than to seek one of the
many glamorous careers which might have been open to one as beautiful and
attractive as she. And she performed the duties assigned to her perhaps
better than any man.
She slipped out of the car, walked swiftly to the corner, and threw a
hasty glance around to make sure the cop on the beat was not in sight. Their
timing had taken the cop's routine into consideration. At this moment, he
would be at the other end of the beat, but those who worked with The Avenger
had been trained always to be doubly sure. It was one of the many reasons why
they, who took such numerous and terrible risks, were still alive and
As soon as Nellie was sure the cop was not in evidence, she reached up to
the firebox and pulled the handle. This would flash the alarm at fire
headquarters, which, in turn, would flash it over the fire department's
telegraph, to the nearest pumper company.
At the same time, Smitty would be phoning in to say that he was a passer-
by who had noted smoke issuing from the top floor of the Criminal Courts
Building. This would insure that the dispatcher at fire headquarters would
also send hook-and-ladder apparatus in addition to the pumper. Benson wanted
as many pieces of fire apparatus as possible at the scene.
After pulling the fire alarm, Nellie Gray strolled back, past the entrance
of the building. From the pocket of her whipcord uniform, she took a small
round object, about the size of an orange. She hurled this object in through
the open doorway.
There was a tinkling sound, as of broken glass, and a moment later, thick
smoke began to billow out.
Nellie continued on to the car and slipped in behind the wheel.
Dick Benson's eyes were on his wrist watch.
"Good timing, Nellie," he said. "It took you just a half minute to get to
the box and a half minute to walk back and throw the smoke bomb. That brought
it to 8:15. The engines from the fire house take ninety seconds to get here,
which should bring it to 8:16.5."
They waited till they heard the clang of the engines, around the corner.
Then Dick Benson picked up his ax and stepped out of the car. He set off at a
run for the side entrance. At the same time, a fireman from the pumper which
had arrived at the front came running around the corner. Dick waved him
"I'll take this door!" he yelled.
The fireman thought, perhaps, that Dick was one of his own crew, who had
gone in the front, come through the building and out this entrance. He was
satisfied and turned back.
Dick adjusted his gas mask, covering his face entirely, and plunged into
the cloud of smoke emanating from the courthouse.
He had a complete plan of the layout of the building in his mind, so he
did not need to see through the smoke to find the detention room where Barney
Dorset was being kept under guard.
The smoke was spreading so thickly that it had filled most of the main
floor. But when Benson got close to the door of the detention room, he could
see two guards milling around in front of it, with their hands at their eyes.
The smoke bomb which Nellie had thrown had been especially constructed for
this purpose by Fergus MacMurdie, another member of The Avenger's band, who
was perhaps the most skilled chemist in the world. In addition to the smoke-
producing chemical, the bomb which Nellie had thrown also contained a small
quantity of xylil bromide, which is a highly effective, though absolutely
harmless, form of tear gas. Those two guards would see nothing for perhaps
twenty minutes, but their eyes would be all right again before morning.
The Avenger slipped around behind the two milling guards, and fitted a key
to the door of the detention room. He had taken the precaution to prepare
this key in advance and knew that it would work.
He pushed open the door of the detention room.
The smoke had not yet penetrated here. Barney Dorset was seated in a
chair, handcuffed, with a cigarette between his lips. He was a surly brute of
a man, with a stocky chest and a pair of long and powerful arms. He had done
many a killing at the order of Gregorio Ruiz. Throughout the trial, he had
not been greatly worried, because he knew that Ruiz would take care of him.
Twice before, he had been tried for murder, and the case had gone to the
jury. But in some strange and unaccountable fashion, the juries had found
verdicts of "not guilty," despite the weight of evidence. He was quite sure
that this would be the case now, too, and his demeanor indicated this feeling
There were two guards on duty inside this room, both armed with sawed-off
shotguns. One of them had gone to the window at the arrival of the fire
engines, but the other remained at his post, tautly watching the
At Dick Benson's entrance, the guard exclaimed, "Say! Is it a bad
He assumed, of course, that Dick was one of the firemen, and that the
guards outside had opened the door for him.
"Not bad," said Dick. The smoke rolled in with him, filling the room
swiftly. The guard's eyes began to tear, and he raised a hand to rub them. At
the same time, the other guard, at the window, began to rub at his eyes,
Dick Benson stepped over to the first one, took a small pellet out of his
pocket, and cracked it between his fingers, right under the man's face. The
guard got one whiff of the powerful anaesthetic chemical which the pellet
contained, and his head drooped.
Swiftly, Dick repeated the procedure with the second guard. In a moment,
they were both unconscious.
It was beginning to be difficult to see through the smoke which was
pouring in from the corridor, but Barney Dorset hadn't missed a thing.
"Hey," he exclaimed. "What goes on? You ain't a real fireman—"
"No, you fool!" Dick Benson snapped. He had dropped to one knee beside the
unconscious guard and was going through his pockets. He found the man's keys,
and sprang to Barney Dorset's side. Swiftly, he unlocked and removed the
Dorset's eyes widened. "I get it! Greg Ruiz sent you. He's pulling this
phony fire to get me outta here!"
"Follow me," Dick said curtly. "Keep your eyes closed, so the smoke
doesn't hurt them. Hold on to my coat. And don't lose me!"
"Don't worry, pal," Barney Dorset said with a wide grin. "I ain't anxious
to stay in this hole. If Ruiz is pulling this play to get me out, it means he
couldn't reach the jury this time. But I don't get it. He told me everything
was fixed. Something must have slipped up."
"Never mind the talk," Dick Benson told him. "Save your breath. You'll
His gas mask afforded him protection against the tear gas and he felt his
way out of the building, with Dorset hanging on to his coat.
IN the street, a great crowd had gathered, and the police
had established safety lines. Just before emerging, Dick stripped off his
fireman's uniform and boots, together with the gas mask, and dropped them on
the floor. When he and Dorset emerged, they looked like two civilians who had
fought their way out of the smoke.
"Keep your face covered with your arm," Dick whispered to him. "Act as if
your eyes hurt."
"I don't have to act," Dorset growled. "I kept them closed, but they sting
like the devil, anyway." He chuckled. "Boy! Ruiz is the smartest guy in the
world. Imagine walking right out through the police lines like this!"
Uniformed men helped Dick and Dorset to the curb, and they climbed into
the waiting car. As soon as they were inside it, Nellie Gray backed it down
the street, with policemen waving them on, glad to get the auto out of the
way. In a moment, they had backed around the corner, and Nellie headed the
Dorset sat back, reclining at ease, his brutish face mirroring triumph.
"It's good to work for a guy like Ruiz. He sure takes care of you. No wonder
he's got the city eating outta his hand. Take me, for instance. I'd shoot the
mayor to death on the steps of city hall, if Greg Ruiz gave the word. Cause
why? Because I know Ruiz would get me off!"
He took a deep whiff of his cigarette as the car sped north, and allowed
the smoke to dribble luxuriously from his nostrils.
"I swear by Gregorio Ruiz!" he said.
Nellie Gray turned her head slightly and uttered a low, amused laugh.
"Brother," she said, "you'll soon be swearing at Gregorio Ruiz!"
At the sound of the feminine note in her voice, Barney Dorset froze, with
the cigarette halfway to his lips, his eyes on her trim, whipcord-clad
"Hey," he said. "You're a dame!"
He turned his head slowly and, for the first time, took a good look at
Dick Benson. His eyes became wide, and flecked with terror, as he recognized
the face of the man in whose car he was riding.
"The Avenger!" he gasped.
Dick Benson nodded. "That's right, Dorset. That jury back at the
courthouse wouldn't have convicted you. Your boss got to them. But it will be
a little harder for Ruiz to get you out of this!"
With a cry of rage and terror, Dorset flung himself at The Avenger. But
Dick Benson's hands moved with uncanny swiftness, and before the killer
realized what had happened, he was helpless in a punishing arm lock.
Benson held him so for a moment, then flung him back contemptuously in the
Dorset stared at The Avenger like a caged and helpless animal which has
suddenly learned that its keeper's whip has mastered it. He licked his lips.
The fight was gone out of him.
Dick took another one of the pellets from his pocket. Holding his own
breath, he stretched out his hand and broke it under Dorset's nose. The
killer went lax as the powerful drug acted upon him. He slumped down,
Nellie Gray tuned in the shortwave radio on the dashboard to get the
police calls. The announcer was frantically calling all cars. The escape of
Barney Dorset had been discovered. All policemen were cautioned to be on the
watch. All exits from the city were being blocked. But The Avenger's name was
not mentioned in connection with the escape. Nellie switched off the
"Chief," she said, over her shoulder, "I think you're a wonder!"
"Don't crow, yet, Nellie," The Avenger said soberly. "We haven't licked
Ruiz. Our gamble is that this will bring him out in the open; that he'll try
something desperate to rescue Dorset and leave himself unguarded. But he's
pretty clever. From now on, the watchword is 'constant alert.' We can't tell
where or how Ruiz will strike back."
He pressed the button which brought the sending-and-receiving set out and
once more got contact with Smitty.
"Operation completed successfully, Smitty," he said. "We're approaching
headquarters from the rear. All clear?"
"All clear, Dick," Smitty reported. "You can come in."
Nellie swung the car into the next street behind Bleek, where the
headquarters of Justice, Inc., were located. In the middle of the block was a
public garage, which appeared innocent enough to the casual observer. But the
moment the car rolled in, a service mechanic waved it on, down toward the
rear. Nellie swung the car down a ramp which led into the basement. There
were many cars parked here, and at one end of the basement was a greasing
Nellie drove the car onto the pit. Immediately, an overhead door came
down, shutting them off, in absolute privacy from the rest of the floor. The
whole greasing rack began to descend, like an elevator. A moment later, they
were in a wide, concrete tunnel, large enough for the car to move through,
with room to spare on either side, but with no illumination.
Nellie Gray switched the headlights on, drove down the length of the
tunnel, bringing the car to a stop at a blank wall. Immediately, the whole
section of floor on which the car rested began to rise. In a moment, they
were in the private garage of Justice, Inc., on Bleek Street.
This was the means of ingress and egress which The Avenger used when
absolute secrecy was of paramount importance, or when the headquarters were
under surveillance. In addition to the buildings on Bleek Street, Dick Benson
was the secret owner of all that property on the entire square block. The
public garage through which they had come was operated by a man who was in
debt to Benson for his life and who was deeply devoted to him, and the
employees of the garage were all trusted men who had seen service with The
Avenger in many parts of the world.
There was never any danger of betrayal in the ranks of those who worked
for Justice, Inc.
Dick Benson lifted the inert form of Barney Dorset out of the car and
slung him on his shoulder. With Nellie leading the way, he carried him
through the connecting passage, into the main building, and up a flight of
Smitty was waiting for them there, grinning.
"Inspector Cruikshank is upstairs in the office," he announced. "And is he
"I'll talk to him now," The Avenger said, "if you'll take this off my
Smitty grinned, and took over the burden of the unconscious Dorset. He
didn't bother sling—ing Dorset over his shoulder. He just carried him
under his arm.
Algernon Heathcote Smith, research engineer and electrical wizard, was a
giant of a man, looking like some towering Viking god of old, descended fresh
from Valhalla to stride among mortal men. When his parents had sent him to
Groton and then to Cambridge and Edinburgh, they had never thought that his
brilliant and studious mind would ever find interests outside the cloistered
halls of some sedate university.
But the crusade which The Avenger waged against crime had attracted
Smitty's allegiance, and his greatest happiness was to risk his life daily in
the constant war which Justice, Inc., was waging against the forces of
He carried Barney Dorset as if he were a child's stuffed doll, rather than
an inert man weighing a hundred and eighty pounds.
"I'll put him in the yellow room," he said. "Cruikshank would never find
that room—even if he got a search warrant and went through this place
with a hundred men!"
Benson raised his eyebrows. "Is it that bad, Smitty?"
"It's worse than that!" laughed Smitty. "Cruikshank is on the warpath. He
threatens to go right out and get a search warrant!"
Smitty left, with Dorset under his arm, and Dick Benson turned to Nellie
Gray. He patted her on the shoulder. "That was nice work, tonight," he
praised her. "Better go and change. Get rid of that chauffeur's uniform."
He hurried upstairs, to the waiting room, where Inspector Cruikshank was
champing at the bit, pacing up and down and listening to the radio. The
announcer was babbling excitedly about the escape of Barney Dorset and
hazarding a number of theories as to who had planned and arranged it.
Cruikshank shook an angry finger at Dick. "Look here, Benson—I know
damned well that you're the one who got Dorset out. Where is he? What've you
done with him?"
"My dear inspector!" protested The Avenger, "are you accusing me of
helping a murderer beat the law?"
"I know how you'll help him beat the law, Benson. You won't kill him
yourself. But you'll arrange it somehow, so that he'll be found floating in
the river some morning. Mind you, I'm not saying that isn't justice. Dorset
wouldn't have been convicted. I know, and you know, that Ruiz is back of him,
and nobody that Ruiz backs ever goes to the chair. But, man, you've set the
city on its ear. I was afraid you'd do something fantastic, but I never
guessed at this. When the word came in that you were prowling all the dives,
I sent men out to find you—"
"Yes, I know," The Avenger said. "But you should have come straight here
if you wanted me, Cruikshank. You see, I'm here now. And you've had men
watching this place since eight o'clock. They didn't see me come in, did
Cruikshank nodded bitterly. "You've got half a dozen ways of getting in
and out of here, Benson. I swear I'm going to take this joint apart one of
"But not tonight, inspector. You'll excuse me? I'm busy—"
"Now wait, Benson. Don't give me the bum's rush. I want Dorset. You've got
to turn him back!"
"Why?" The Avenger's voice cracked like a whip.
"You violated the law, Benson. Do you realize you could get twenty years
for what you did tonight?"
"How do you know Gregorio Ruiz didn't do it?"
"Ha! Because Ruiz called me up the minute the escape was flashed. He's
burning up. He's afraid you'll make Dorset talk. He didn't say so, but
anybody can guess that's why he's so hot about it. He was hot before, when he
found out you were gunning for him. There's something he's afraid you'll
"That's right," The Avenger said quietly. "And I mean to discover it
Cruikshank looked at him queerly. "What do you mean?"
"Come," said The Avenger. "I'll show you!"
DICK led the inspector out of the room, down a corridor,
then up a short half flight of stairs. He rapped lightly at a door, and an
elderly, high- pitched voice said, "Come in, please."
The Avenger pushed open the door, and they entered.
Cruikshank stared at the single occupant of the tastefully furnished guest
room. It was a little old lady, with gray hair neatly combed and her wrinkled
face alight with eagerness. She put down her knitting and stretched for a
hand to Dick.
"Mr. Benson!" she exclaimed, almost pathetically. "Have...have you any
word of my Laura?"
Dick went over to the chair and touched her hair lightly.
"Not yet, Mrs. Trent," he said in a voice that was surprisingly gentle.
"But I hope to have something definite—tonight."
There were tears in Mrs. Trent's eyes. She tried to take Dick's hand and
kiss it, but he withdrew it gently.
"I wanted you to meet Inspector Cruikshank," Dick said.
The old lady peered at him through her spectacles. "We've met before," she
Cruikshank was embarrassed. "Why...er...yes. I believe Mrs. Trent came to
see me yesterday, about her daughter who had disappeared."
"She didn't just disappear!" Mrs. Trent snapped. "She was taken. Taken by
those devils who work for Gregorio Ruiz. I told the inspector the whole story
—how Laura came home that night from work. She's a waitress in a
restaurant, and she works till 9:30. She walks home along the River Drive,
and she saw the boat out in the river, and she saw how they lifted the poor
man up in the boat. He was tied and gagged, and he had something heavy around
his feet. They threw him overboard, and he sank!
"It was raining hard that night, and Laura was hurrying, but she was so
shocked she stopped in the rain, unable to move. Then there was a flash of
lightning, and she saw the face of one of the men in the boat. The men saw
her at the same time, and they turned the boat toward shore. Laura ran all
the way home. She told me what she had seen, and I said she should go to the
Old Mrs. Trent stopped, and ran a finger under her glasses, to wipe away
the tears. Then she went on: "But Laura never got to the station house. Those
men must have followed her home, and waited outside for her. She didn't come
back. Those men must have taken her away!"
Inspector Cruikshank coughed. He looked shame-facedly at The Avenger.
"Mrs. Trent told me the story. We dragged the river at the spot she
mentioned, but we didn't find any body. So we didn't believe her story. We
merely filed Laura Trent's name with the missing-persons bureau."
"I know," The Avenger said. "But wasn't that the night that Lou Marconi
disappeared? He was the bookmaker who was trying to buck Gregorio Ruiz."
"Yes, that's right. But just the same, we didn't find the body."
"Isn't it possible that those men dived for the body, after they learned
that Laura had seen them, and brought it up and dropped it somewhere
"Of course it's possible," Cruikshank admitted. "But what can we do about
it? If we arrested Ruiz on a charge like that, he'd be out in ten minutes,
And he'd sue the city for false arrest!"
"Maybe you can't do anything about it, Cruikshank," The Avenger said
softly. "But I intend to do something! I'm going to see if I can save Laura
Trent"—he lowered his voice so that even the inspector barely heard him
—"if it isn't too late!"
He took Cruikshank by the arm and led him out of that room, nodding to
Mrs. Trent as he closed the door behind them.
In the corridor, his grip tightened on the inspector's arm. "I'm keeping
that old lady here," he said tightly. "It's the only place in the city where
she'll be safe from Ruiz. And, in case you're interested, that's the reason
why Ruiz was so burned up when he heard I was out after him. He guesses where
Mrs. Trent is. And he guesses what she's told me."
Cruikshank looked at him queerly. "You think it was Ruiz himself whom
Laura Trent saw in that boat?"
The Avenger nodded. "Ruiz's ace killer, Barney Dorset, was in jail. I
happen to know that two of his other top killers were in Chicago on a little
job. He had Jasper and Degnan and Lithro, of course, but he wouldn't trust
them alone on a piece of business like that. So it's quite likely that he
supervised it in person. " The inspector's eyes were very thoughtful. "Jove!
If that's true, Benson, you're on the track of something!"
The Avenger said quietly, "And do you still want me to turn Barney Dorset
over to you?"
Cruikshank avoided his gaze. "Er...suppose you forget that I've seen you,
Benson. Let's just imagine that I didn't find you in. And the best of luck to
The hands of the two men met in a tight grip. Then Inspector Cruikshank
turned and hurried out.
The Avenger went swiftly to his office on the top floor. Smitty and Nellie
were already there, waiting for him.
"I've got Dorset nice and cozy in the yellow room," Smitty chuckled. "He
came to, but he's as jittery as a Jap in a Chinese laundry. I think we can
make that baby talk!"
"What about Mrs. Trent?" Nellie asked. "Is she all right?"
The Avenger nodded. "I promised her that we'd have some word about her
He picked up a phone from the battery of instruments on his desk,
consulted a notebook, and dialed a number.
Smitty and Nellie watched him tensely.
"I hope this works!" Nellie said fervently, and added: "For Mrs. Trent's
sake!" Dressed in feminine clothing, with her blond hair falling to her
shoulders, Nellie Gray reminded one of a dainty and fragile Dresden doll,
which one might hesitate to touch for fear of shattering it. But many a
hardened criminal had discovered, to his sorrow, that Nellie's looks were
entirely deceiving, when it came to a good fight.
The Avenger got his connection. "Hello," he said. "I want to talk to Arnie
In a moment, he was talking to one of the three men who had been present
in Gregorio Ruiz's terrace apartment, earlier that evening.
"Jasper," he said coldly, "this is Richard Benson. No, don't say anything.
You needn't deny that you're connected with Ruiz. I want you to deliver a
message to him. Tell him that I'm ready to make a trade with him. Understand?
If he wants to do business, have him call me immediately, at Lakeside 7-7777.
And he hung up.
The three of them waited tensely, for perhaps four minutes. Then the phone
"Ah!" said Smitty.
Nellie Gray's eyes were shining. "Then Laura Trent is still alive!" she
whispered. "Otherwise Ruiz would not have anything to trade for Barney
The Avenger picked up the phone slowly.
"Benson? This is Gregorio Ruiz. You wanted to talk to me?"
"Yes," said The Avenger. "I believe you have something I want. On the
other hand, I have something you want. I suggest we make a trade."
"I don't know what you're talking about!" Ruiz said carefully. "But I'm
interested. Just what do you mean?"
The Avenger's voice was stern. "Let's not beat around the bush, Ruiz. I'd
like very much to keep Dorset. I can make him talk and get enough out of him
to finish you. But I'm willing to give up that chance, to save the life of
Laura Trent. If she's still alive, we can trade. If she's dead—Heaven
There was a moment's silence. Then Ruiz's voice, low but clear. "I'll
trade, Benson. Where can we discuss the details?"
"Anywhere you say."
"I'll meet you at the information booth in Grand Central Station in
fifteen minutes. That's the best place to talk. There are no walls to listen.
I'll bring one man with me, and you bring one man. I want your word that you
won't attempt anything against my personal safety during our talk."
"You have my word," Benson said coldly.
"Good. And I give you my word that—"
"You don't have to give me your word, Ruiz. It's no good. I'll take care
"All right then," the other snapped. "I'll meet you in fifteen
Dick Benson hung up. He looked at his two friends. "Well," he said, "we
have still to find out if Laura is alive. Ruiz may be lying. He may have
killed her already. But we'll find out soon enough. Come on, Smitty!"
Nellie saw them to the elevator. Smitty chucked her under the chin, "Hold
the fort, baby. And don't make eyes at that Barney Dorset. He's a killer-
"Get going, you big lug!" Nellie told him. "And don't take any wooden
Smitty chuckled. "Not me. Or lead ones, either!"
Nellie watched through the nickel-steel slats of the Venetian blinds at
the top-floor windows while they got into one of the cars parked at the curb.
Then she went to the teletype machine to get the latest police releases on
the search for Barney Dorset.
But she had hardly been there five minutes, before a red panel light
showed that she had a visitor.
Frowning, Nellie switched on the small television unit, which threw on a
screen a picture of the downstairs vestibule.
There was a dark-haired girl standing there, a girl about nineteen or
twenty, dressed in a cheap blue coat. She seemed quite nervous and agitated
and kept looking around as if afraid she was being followed.
Nellie swiftly pressed the button which opened the door. She was alone now
in the building, for The Avenger's other assistants were away on various
missions, and she had the full responsi—bility of the place upon her
She watched the screen, and saw the dark-haired girl enter. Immediately,
Nellie pressed the button which closed and locked the front door. Then she
pressed a switch which transferred the image on the screen from the outside
of the building, to the interior. Now, she could watch the dark-haired girl
in the vestibule. Nellie placed her mouth to a speaking arrangement, and
said, "Come upstairs, miss."
She watched the visitor step into the waiting elevator; then she pressed
another button which opened the office door, admitting the visitor.
The girl entered, and looked around the strangely equipped room in a shy
and frightened manner.
"What can I do for you?" Nellie asked in a kindly tone.
The girl's dark eyes met those of Nellie. She advanced a timid step into
"My n-name is Dora Hayes," she said. "I...I want to s-see Richard
"I'm sorry," said Nellie, "but Mr. Benson isn't in. Perhaps I can help
you? I'm Nellie Gray, his assistant."
"I...I have something to tell him. It...it's about Laura Trent."
Instantly, Nellie was alert. "What about Laura Trent?"
"I think I know where to find her. I shouldn't be doing this. It...it's as
much as my life is worth. But Laura is my friend. We worked in the same
Nellie took her by the arm and led her to a chair. "Now, tell me all about
Dora Hayes looked up at her pathetically. "If The Avenger were only here!
There's no time to lose. I overheard two men talking. They were just starting
to have dinner in the restaurant, and they didn't know I was clearing the
booth behind them. One of them mentioned Laura's name. He told the other to
order some sandwiches to take out, because the Trent girl would starve if
they didn't send food down to her at least once a day. The other one laughed.
He wondered why they didn't let her starve to death, and the first one said
maybe they'd need her alive. And then when I brought the water to their
table, they told me to make up two ham sandwiches to take out."
Nellie was watching the girl closely as she talked. "Do you know either of
those two men?"
"One of them comes in regularly. His name is Arnie Jasper. He runs a
numbers racket, I think. They're still in the restaurant. I asked another
girl to take my place and hurried over here, because I knew that The Avenger
had been looking for information about Laura Trent."
Nellie Gray made her mind up swiftly.
"Wait here, miss!" she said.
She hurried out of the room, and got an extra automatic. She put it in a
special silk holster, which was strapped around her thigh. She had a gun in
her bag, but she was not overlooking the possibility that this might be a
trap of some kind. And if she should find herself in a tight spot, deprived
of her purse, she could always get at this extra gun. She went into the next
room, and looked through a peephole at Dora Hayes. The girl was sitting
exactly where Nellie had left her, her hands clasping and unclasping
Satisfied, Nellie came back into the room.
"Let's go, Dora!" she said.
"What...what are you going to do?"
"I'll get a car, and we'll go right over there. In the absence of The
Avenger, I'll handle this—"
"Please!" said Dora Hayes. "Let's not use one of The Avenger's cars. I
don't ever want to be seen in one of them. If it's ever known that I tipped
off The Avenger, my life won't be worth a cent!"
"All right," Nellie conceded. "We'll take a cab."
She hustled Dora Hayes downstairs, and they hurried up Bleek Street to the
corner. They found a taxicab cruising down the street, and just as they were
getting into it, Dora Hayes dropped her purse.
"Come on," said Nellie. "Hurry!" And she stepped into the cab first.
The moment she was inside, she realized she had stepped into a trap. For
she saw Dora Hayes spring up and slam the door shut.
Nellie reached out for the door handle, and found there was none. She was
locked in. At the same time, a sickeningly sweet smell began to pervade the
interior of the taxi. Nellie's senses began to reel. She struggled forward,
in a vain endeavor to slide open the connecting window at the front. She saw
the face of the cab driver, grinning sardonically in at her. Then every thing
swam before her eyes, and she collapsed!
IN Grand Central Station, the crowds of hurrying men and
women were oblivious of the tense drama which was being played at the
information booth. True, they did cast a glance or two at the towering figure
of Smitty, who loomed head and shoulders above anyone in the vast vaulted
But it was not Smitty who was carrying the ball at the moment. He was
merely standing at The Avenger's side, ready to run the interference when and
if it became necessary.
They were facing the tall and saturnine Gregorio Ruiz, who was accompanied
by Arnie Jasper. It was like a duel at dawn, where each man brings his
second. But there were no rules of honor to this duel, for Dick Benson well
knew that no honor was to be found in the black and evil heart of Gregorio
"All right, Ruiz," he said. "We understand each other thoroughly. If Laura
Trent is alive, we can do business."
"She's alive all right, Benson." Ruiz seemed to be preoccupied. His gaze
was constantly wandering to the far side of the station, where the telephone
booths were located. "And I'm willing to trade. I can't afford to have Barney
Dorset grilled—by you. He can take anything the police hand him. But
you'd know how to break him down."
"We wouldn't use force," Benson said. "We have drugs. Rest assured that
he'd talk. But as I told you, I'll give him up, to save Laura Trent's life.
That isn't the end, though. I'm going after you, Ruiz, when this deal is
over. You have fair warning."
"I understand," said Ruiz. His eyes wandered once more to the telephone
booths, "Now what about Laura Trent? If I set her free, she can identify...
er ... the man she saw in the boat that night."
"I'll guarantee that she keeps silent on that," The Avenger assured him.
"You'll have nothing to fear from her. I'll get you on something else."
"Then I suppose it's a deal," Ruiz began. Suddenly, a bitterly vindictive
smile twisted his lips. A man had come out of one of the phone booths at the
far side, and had raised a hand in the air. He waved the hand once, then
disappeared in the crowd.
The eyes of Gregorio Ruiz gleamed with vicious hatred as he swung his gaze
back to Dick.
"I've changed my mind, Benson!" he snapped. "It's no deal. If you want to
do business with me, you'll have to do it on my terms, now!"
The Avenger had noticed that signal. His eyes narrowed. "What are your
terms, Ruiz?" he asked softly.
Ruiz turned and winked at Arnie Jasper, who grinned insolently. "You tell
him, Arnie. I want to watch his dead-pan face while he hears the news."
Jasper licked his lips. "It's a pleasure, boss!" He looked at Smitty.
"It's your girl friend, pal—Nellie Gray. How would you like to see her
body floating face up in the river tonight? She's a cute trick, that dame.
But she won't look so good when she's dead!"
The Avenger became tense and wary. But Smitty growled deep in his throat.
"Why, you two slimy rats. If you so much as scratch her, I'll twist your
heads off your necks!"
He took a threatening step toward them, and Arnie Jasper became pale and
backed up. But Gregorio Ruiz did not retreat. He wiggled a finger at
"Tut, tut, my overgrown friend. No violence, please. Don't forget that
golden-haired young lady of yours." He looked up at Smitty, giving him a sour
smile. "I have no doubt that you could kill me easily with those two hands of
yours. Or that Benson could do it, too, for that matter. You see. I don't
depend on strength for my success. I depend on the gray matter up here." He
tapped his forehead. "That's why I selected this busy place for our
interview. It isn't so easy for you to use violence here, with all these
people passing. So I'm afraid you'll have to accept my terms."
Smitty turned and looked helplessly at The Avenger.
Dick Benson's gaze had never left Ruiz's face.
"What's your proposition?" he asked harshly.
"That's better!" said Gregorio. "You'll forget about the Trent girl,
Benson. She's out of this deal altogether. If you ever thought I'd turn her
loose—with what she knows—you must have been crazy! We'll make an
exchange—Nellie Gray for Barney Dorset. And you pay me a hundred
thousand dollars to boot! Take it or leave it. I want your answer now. If you
refuse, you'll never see Nellie Gray alive again."
"But we'll get you, you rat!" Smitty growled. "We'll make Dorset talk, and
send you to the chair!"
Ruiz shrugged. "I don't think you'd sacrifice Nellie Gray in order to get
me. I think you'll do every thing in your power to save her life."
"You want me to sacrifice Laura Trent for Nellie?" The Avenger asked.
"Sure," said Ruiz. "What's she to you?"
"She has a mother who trusts me," The Avenger said.
Ruiz looked at him incredulously. "Then you refuse?"
Arnie Jasper broke in. "You're crazy, Benson! That dame has been with you
a long time. She's your friend—"
"I'm sorry," said The Avenger. "Nellie wouldn't want to live at that
price. I refuse!"
He glanced at Smitty. "I think we need a little interference at this time,
Smitty," he said mildly.
"Ah!" said Smitty.
He took a single step forward. One huge hand darted out and seized the
neck of Gregorio Ruiz. The other moved equally fast, and seized the neck of
Arnie Jasper. Then, with a quick, powerful motion, be slammed the two heads
For all his size and bulk, Algernon Heathcote Smith was capable of moving
with the concentra—ted speed of chain lightning. Else, he would not
have been able to survive so long in the service of Justice, Inc.
He moved so swiftly now that no one in the crowded station noticed that
quick, sharp contact of the two heads. Bone cracked against bone, and the two
Swiftly, Dick Benson stepped around and put an arm about Gregorio Ruiz's
waist. He raised Ruiz's right arm, and draped it around his own shoulder,
thus supporting Ruiz on his feet, though the latter was semiconscious from
the blow. At the same time, Smitty put an arm around Arnie Jasper, and
supported him in similar fashion.
Smitty had put just enough force behind that smashing together of the two
heads to make the men groggy, but not enough to knock them out completely.
There were two reasons for this: First, they had to have Ruiz and Jasper in a
condition to talk; second, they didn't want to carry two unconscious men
through the crowd in Grand Central Station.
It was characteristic of the way The Avenger and Smitty worked. It had not
been necessary for Dick to tell his giant companion any of this. They had
operated together for so long that they could almost read each other's minds,
and when they were in a tight spot, they functioned with smooth
So, now, they needed no lengthy conference to decide what to do. Smitty
knew what The Avenger had in mind, and Dick knew that Smitty understood his
plan of action.
They began to walk the two semiconscious men out through the crowded
station, moving close together. And they both raised their voices in close
harmony, singing "Auld Lang Syne." Smitty sang bass, and then switched every
once in a while to treble, while Dick Benson took the baritone, changing
occasionally to a high key.
As they sang, they headed for the exit.
A woman looked at them in disgust, and said, "Imagine—grown men
allowing themselves to get in such a drunken condition!"
The woman's companion sniffed, disgustedly. "If they were my husbands, I'd
know what to do with them!"
Smitty, who was nearest her, turned and looked at her owlishly. "Oh,
lady," he said, making his voice thick and drunken, "what would you be doing
with four husbands?"
They kept going, dancing Ruiz and Jasper out into the street. A station
policeman said grimly, "Better get out of here, you fellows, or we'll run you
"Sure, sure," said Smitty.
Jasper, who was just beginning to regain his senses, started to shout
something at the policeman. Smitty lurched against him and, at the same time,
pinched his arm so hard that he uttered a yell of pain.
The policeman watched them for a moment, and then turned away in
The four "drunks" lurched into The Avenger's car, which was parked at the
curb. Smitty slid in behind the wheel. He was grim and sober as he tooled the
car away from the curb and headed downtown to the headquarters of Justice,
In the back, The Avenger was seated between Ruiz and Jasper. He had one
arm of each twisted behind their backs, and pushed up almost to the breaking
point. He said no word to either of them. But, as he saw them coming to their
senses and preparing to cry out, he put just a little more pressure on each
of them. The pain drained all the breath out of them, leaving them
power— less to cry out.
Smitty drove like a mad genius, cutting lights by a hair, swerving in and
out, but never taking his foot off the gas. It was a testimony to his superb
driving skill that he reached Bleek Street in twelve minutes without once
stopping for a light, and without once scraping a fender.
They drove in through the garage, and five minutes later they had their
two captives upstairs.
Ruiz was pale and shaken, but stubbornly silent. Smitty picked him up,
kicking and fighting, and carried him away to the blue room, which was next
to the yellow room, where Barney Dorset was being detained.
Then Smitty came down and joined The Avenger in the office, with Arnie
Jasper had fully regained consciousness, by now, but he had a lump on the
right side of his head. He was sitting in a chair where The Avenger had
thrust him, after frisking him for weapons. His little rat eyes were watching
every move which The Avenger made, at the little experiment table in the
Smitty took one look at the vial which The Avenger was handling and
"Dick! You're not going to give him that!"
The Avenger turned around. His eyes were almost expressionless.
"Why not?" he asked bleakly.
Smitty put on a good act. "But that will eat his insides out."
"That's right," said Dick.
He came toward Arnie Jasper, with the vial in his hand.
Jasper's eyes were big and round, and his lips were trembling.
"What...what you doing—"
"Hold him, Smitty." said The Avenger.
Jasper leaped up, in a frantic effort to escape, but Smitty put a big paw
on him, got Jasper's legs between his knees, and twisted his arms behind him.
Arnie Jasper was helpless in Smitty's massive grip.
"No, no!" he shrieked, as The Avenger bent over him, with the oily,
colorless liquid lying heavy in the vial.
"You know what this is," The Avenger said tonelessly. "It's sulphuric
acid. You've heard of cases where jealous women throw it at other women. You
know what it does to their faces."
He paused. "Well, Jasper, I'm going to feed this to you—
"Have mercy!" Jasper whimpered. "In the name of pity—"
"Pity?" The Avenger said harshly. "Do you ask for pity? You who have done
Ruiz's dirty work for him? What kind of pity do you expect when Nellie's life
is at stake?"
He reached over with one hand and clamped Jasper's nostrils shut in a
"When you can't breathe through your nose any more, you'll open your mouth
to get some air. Then I'll pour the sulphuric acid in!"
"Give me a break!" Jasper screamed. "I'll tell you where to find Nellie
The Avenger paused, with the vial hovering above Jasper s mouth. "What do
you think, Smitty?" he asked. "Can we believe him?"
"Well, we can try," Smitty said. "Let him give us the dope. If we get
Nellie out safely, all right. If we don't, we'll come back and give him the
"I'll tell you the truth. I swear I will!" Jasper screamed. "They took her
to the Loomis Apartments, on the river. Ruiz owns the whole place. He's got a
terrace apartment on the top floor, and he's got the subcellar fixed up for
prisoners. You'll find her there, I swear!"
"Hm-m-m," said The Avenger. "Do you think he's telling the truth.
"It's true!" Jasper whined. "She's there. And that Trent girl is there,
too. She saw Ruiz and me and Degnan dropping Lou Marconi's body in the river,
uptown. Degnan followed her and picked her up, while Ruiz and I got a diving
suit and fished the body up and moved it down the river. It's right near the
Loomis Apartments now. I can even show the cops where to drag for
The Avenger nodded slowly. Smitty relaxed his grip on Jasper. The
frightened man got to his feet, still shrinking away from the vial.
"I'd do anything not to get that stuff spilled into me. I once seen a dame
who got it thrown in her face—"
"This?" said The Avenger, holding up the vial. "Why should you be afraid
of this?" He turned the vial upside down, and poured the thick, oily liquid
over his own hand. Nothing happened.
"You see," Smitty explained, laughing, "if you knew The Avenger better,
you'd know he'd never do a thing like that to anybody, not even a rat like
you. That stuff in the vial happens to be mineral oil!"
"You dirty crooks!" Jasper shrieked. "You tricked me!"
Smitty picked him up bodily and carried him away. In a moment, he was
back. The Avenger was waiting for him.
"I've phoned Cruikshank," he said grimly. "The inspector is going to meet
us at the Loomis Apartments with the riot squad!"
Just twenty minutes later, the Loomis Apartments were in the hands of the
police, without a shot having been fired. All those hard killers in the pay
of Gregorio Ruiz permitted themselves to be taken like lambs when they saw
the submachine guns in the hands of grim-faced policemen who welcomed this
opportunity to clean up.
And in the subcellar, they found Nellie Gray, recovered from the effects
of the drug and none the worse for wear. Laura Trent was there, too, just as
Jasper had said.
When Nellie crawled out of the camouflaged coal bin in which she had been
confined, she wiped soot from her face and grinned at Smitty and Dick.
"I didn't think you boys would make it in time," she said, brushing the
golden hair back from her face. "They were going to dump ten tons of coal
into the bin, on top of Laura and me. My next view of the river would have
been when I passed up in smoke, out of the Loomis furnace!"
The girl who had lured Nellie into the cab was in custody, as well as
every one of the hire—lings in the service of Gregorio Ruiz.
Ruiz lanced looks of murderous hatred at The Avenger, when, a half-hour
later, he was turned over into the custody of Inspector Cruikshank, together
with Barney Dorset and Arnie Jasper.
"Damn you!" he said. "I don't know how you did this—"
"It's easy when you know how," Smitty told him. "Just grease the skids
—with a little mineral oil!"