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- The Scarlet Ace
- Stalking Shadows
- The Man In A Mask
- The Last Card
The Scarlet Ace
The knocking on the door was softly urgent. An insistent little tattoo of bunched knuckles. Silence followed. Then the sound began again. Rap, rap, rap! There was something restrained and deadly in that furtive signal on the outside of the locked door of Room 708.
Tough Tony Farino had sharp animal-like ears and he was positive that the elevator door hadn’t clanged once in the last twenty minutes. There had been no telephone call from the hotel desk downstairs. Whoever was outside in the dingy corridor had come up to the seventh floor without attracting attention; had gumshoed through the lobby, probably, and climbed the fire-stairs on tiptoe.
The girl, Ethel, glared wordlessly at Tony. Her hard eyes were bright with warning.
Farino frowned reassuringly at her. He rose catlike to his feet. The blue-steel gleam of a stubby automatic projected snoutlike from his grimy fist.
He took a noiseless step toward the door.
The soft rapping sound began again.
Farino waited. When the knocking ceased he pressed his flat ear cautiously against the inside of the panel. He listened, his eyes gleaming.
He said, throatily, “Who is it? Whaddye want?”
“Okay, Tony! Open up!”
A swift jerk of Tony’s head sent the girl tip-toeing to a rear corner of the room where she crouched behind a battered oak dresser. Farino grinned as he saw her slide a toy-size weapon out of her handbag. The kid was sure a strong-jawed jane; better in a rough and tumble brawl than a lotta soft-bellied mugs who called themselves hard guys. His eyes said to her silently: “Attagirl!”
Farino himself was no slob in any man’s town. He was a paid killer, a hired rod. He had rolled in from Boston that very morning to glom a little pocket-money—an even ten grand.
Ten grand for a rub-out was pretty good dough, even for a sure-thing artist like Tony. His nostrils flared with pleasure as he thought of it in the Pullman speeding from Boston. His first, real break in the Big Town! A swell chance to chisel into fast company. The Scarlet Ace was a name to conjure with in Tony’s business. He’d show the Big Fella that when it came to iced guts Tough Tony’s innards were way below freezing point.
A photograph of the man he had come to kill was in his inside coat pocket. Tony didn’t like his proposed victim’s— name—John Tattersall Lacy. Sounded like manicured fingernails and silk underwear. A cake-eater with a little blond mustache who didn’t know what it was all about.
Wotta laugh! A magazine full of soft lead pumped into a soft belly and a swell chance to play big-time ball with the Scarlet Ace.
Thoughts like this had made Tony’s chest swell pleasantly on the old rattler from Boston. But now, in a cheap hotel hideout that no one was supposed to know about; with someone out in the corridor rapping softly for admission. Tough Tony had a swift moment of dismay, a faint pin-prick of fear in the nerve cords of his spine. It vanished in a wave of killer’s conceit. If the mug outside was a nosy dick, it’d be just too bad; he’d yank him inside, burn him and scram down the fire-escape to the back alley with the girl friend. Farino was a great guy for figuring his out. He had tabbed that alley down below before he had been two minutes in the room.
Farino turned the key suddenly, threw the door open. The snout of his gun was like solid rock.
His jaw dropped with a stupid wonder. There was no face peering at him. Only the visitor’s back was visible. The visitor was staring down the hall toward the silent elevator shaft. Now he turned around.
Farino gasped. Neither of the two men said a word. The killer’s gun hand wavered. He backed up a step. The visitor followed him into the room, closed the door softly, turned the key. A man without a face.
The intruder said, in a muffled and remote voice: “What the hell’s the idea keeping me waiting?”
The silken mask seemed to stifle his utterance, made it sound wooden, almost expressionless. The mask covered his entire face, hung well below his chin. There were two narrow slits for eye-holes. The lower half of the mask rose and fell lightly with the unhurried rhythm of his breathing. The mask was the color of blood — bright red.
“The Scarlet Ace!” Farino growled hoarsely.
“What’s the idea keepin’ me waiting?”
“Jeeze, boss, I never dreamed—I had me orders from Katz where he gimme the photograph in Boston.”
“Shut up! Who told you to come clean? You’re not in Boston now, Tony. Don’t spill your guts till you’re asked. Who’s this moll with you? Some tramp you picked up on the train?”
Farino’s face darkened.
“Listen guy; I don’t take guff like that from, nobody. Not even from you. The kid is my business; and if you think you’re gonna—”
The Scarlet Ace slapped the gun viciously to one side with his open palm. His right fist clenched and Farino stepped back hastily.
“‘Your business?” said the menacing voice. “Since when?”
He walked to the window and, pulled down the shade.
He said to the girl, “You Farino’s woman?”
“Well, I don’t want you here. Pack up and get the hell out!”
“Oh, yeah?” She sounded scared, uncertain. Her fringed and sticky eyelashes blinked appealingly at Tony.
“Waita-minute!” Farino growled.
“Shut up! Did Katz tell you to bring your floozie along?”
“That was your own idea, eh? Well, I don’t mind telling you. it’s lousy. I brought you here to bump a guy, and you show up with a blond honey-ball. You’re here to get hot with a rod, brother, and nothing else. Slip the girl-friend her return stub to Boston.”
“I didn’t buy no returns,” Farino muttered. “I figgered we’d stick around.”
The Scarlet Ace drew a small roll of bills from his pocket and tossed it on the table.
“Pack your bag,” he told the girl curtly. “Take a cab over to Newark and grab the first tri-motored job that flies to Boston.”
She stood with a hand on one hip, a sneering smile twisting the brilliant carmine of her lips. Her lovely mouth framed an inaudible gutter word.
She turned to Tony. “Tell him. It’s no dice! We’re not fadin’ his bet. Tell this big shot in the false-face to go spit up a rope.”
Farino wet his thick lips. The slits in the silken mask were like blind gashes watching him. The mask fluttered and the hidden voice said, “Well?”
Tony shrugged. He blinked at the money on the table. He muttered to the girl, “Pack up, Baby.”
“You heard me. Pack up and scram.”
“Why, you dirty, yeller—” Rage twisted her painted doll’s face. She squalled a string of oaths, spat out snake-like words at him. He walked over to her, twisted the toy gun out of her hand, clapped a dirty palm over her mouth.
“Don’t be a Dumb Dora,” he said thickly. “Take your runout powder to Boston like a good kid. I’ll send fer yuh in a coupla days. No kiddin’. We gotta use brains, honey. We’re in the Big Town.”
“Sure we are,” she spluttered. “Yuh didn’t think we was in Milwaukee, did yuh?”
There were tears in her eyes. She had shot her bolt and the storm was over. She said, sullenly, ‘“That’s a hell of a note!” and the curve of her lovely bosom rose and fell with the slow dregs of anger and disappointment. Pretty as a picture, Farino thought hotly. He swung his big arm about her body and crushed her till she yelped. He kissed the smooth skin below her ear and released her with a little shove.
“Play ball, honey,” he mumbled appealingly.
She nodded after a while and began tossing articles into her small traveling bag. She scooped the roll of bills off the table. The weight of her packed bag made her grimace.
“Am I supposed to lug this thing? How ‘bout a bell-hop?”
The masked intruder said briefly, “No.”
She said to him in a spiteful snarl: “I could love you in a big way, Mister!” and swished to the door.
Tough Tony held the door open on a brief crack till the elevator grill clanked and the whir of its descent ceased.
At the curbstone down in the street the girl flashed her best “poor little me” smile and allowed an admiring hackman to stow her bag away. He helped her into the cab with a little squeeze on her arm.
The cab rolled. After a discreet interval a second cab meshed gears and accelerated. The girl went straight to the airport in Newark and bought a ticket. The passenger in the second car saw her go out to the runway and climb with a flash of silken calves to the cabin of a scheduled tri-motored transport.
When the ship was a silver dot over the Bronx the man, who had trailed Tough Tony’s moll grinned with satisfaction. He could report the simple fact that she was gone. That suited the trailer. The guy he worked for liked to hear facts.
Just plain facts. And accurate.
The story continues … download your copy today!
- The Scarlet Ace
- Stalking Shadows
- The Man In A Mask
- The Last Card