The Avenger 14 - Three Gold Crowns

BOOK: The Avenger 14 - Three Gold Crowns
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WARNER PAPERBACK LIBRARY

WARNER PAPERBACK LIBRARY EDITION
F
IRST
P
RINTING
: J
ULY
, 1973

C
OPYRIGHT
© 1941
BY
S
TREET
& S
MITH
P
UBLICATIONS
, I
NC
.
C
OPYRIGHT
R
ENEWED
1969
BY
T
HE
C
ONDÉ
N
EST
P
UBLICATIONS
, I
NC
.
A
LL
R
IGHTS
R
ESERVED

T
HIS
W
ARNER
P
APERBACK
L
IBRARY
E
DITION
IS
P
UBLISHED
BY
A
RRANGEMENT
W
ITH
T
HE
C
ONDÉ
N
EST
P
UBLICATIONS
. I
NC
.

C
OVER
I
LLUSTRATION
BY
G
EORGE
G
ROSS

W
ARNER
P
APERBACK
L
IBRARY
IS A
D
IVISION
OF
W
ARNER
B
OOKS,
75 R
OCKERFELLER
P
LAZA
, N.Y. 10019.

A Warner Communications Company
ISBN: 0-446-74-260-0

Printed in the United States of America

CONTENTS

THREE GOLD CROWNS

CHAPTER I: Death’s Doorway

CHAPTER II: Murder Frame

CHAPTER III: Councils of War

CHAPTER IV: Shadow at Night

CHAPTER V: Buried Clue

CHAPTER VI: Fiery Baptism

CHAPTER VII: Over the Rails

CHAPTER VIII: Money or the Chair

CHAPTER IX: The Curious Key

CHAPTER X: Blank Paper

CHAPTER XI: Brother and Sister

CHAPTER XII: Stubborn Facts

CHAPTER XIII: Two More Crowns

CHAPTER XIV: Death’s Sting

CHAPTER XV: Dead Dentist

CHAPTER XVI: Meet the Gang

CHAPTER XVII: The Perforated Ball

CHAPTER XVIII: The Rusty Nail

THREE
GOLD CROWNS

CHAPTER I
Death’s Doorway

You don’t put the name “Death” under a doorbell. How could you collect the rent from Death? What would you confront if you rang the bell—and the door beside it was opened?

No, you can’t have Death on your tenants’ list. But just the same, the name under the bell beside that particular door should have been I.M. Death.

Instead, it was A.A. Ismail.

The doorway was in a dilapidated building. The building was in a slum-and-warehouse neighborhood. The street lights around the neighborhood were scarce; in fact, they were practically nonexistent.

In these shadows, toward this dilapidated building, a stoop-shouldered, smallish man of late middle age made his plodding way.

The man looked to be about sixty. His shoulders were set in the slouch of years of clerical work. His eyes were brown and blinked in a watery way, as if he should have worn glasses all the time instead of only when he was poring over musty books.

The musty books of the law. For the man was a law clerk.

John Smathers, the stoop-shouldered, watery-eyed fellow poking along the dark street toward the dark doorway, worked as clerk in the law firm of Markham Farquar, which was a small firm but a well-known and respected one. He was an old employee of the firm. He was a timid man, and he looked highly uneasy as he went along this noisome neighborhood.

A.A. Ismail. Whoever Ismail was, he certainly lived in a squalid district.

Smathers stopped at the street sign, set in the corner of a building that was old when he was a boy. He adjusted pince-nez on his nose and looked at the street number of the building itself. He was near the address of Ismail.

A drunk staggered toward him. “Got time to buy . . . hungry man a cup o’coffee?” he whined.

Smathers walked past. The man lurched toward him.

“Hey, you! I as’ a civil queshun.”

Smathers almost ran to get away. A very timid man, and he’d be glad to get out of this section.

Here was the address. Smathers stared at the door for a couple of minutes and at the windows around the door. There was no light showing in the building, which was a small, ancient frame house, set between two big brick structures whose function could not be made out at all in the night.

Smathers shivered and his finger trembled when, at last, he hesitatingly poked at the bell.

The faint peal sounded through the house as if it were empty. Sound makes a different impression on an empty house than on a full one. But the place must be occupied. Otherwise, why would he have been sent here?

The door swung open slowly, as if by itself. Smathers’s collar felt too tight and he looked wildly around. There wasn’t a soul in sight on the sidewalk. Only the raucous singing of the drunk, around a corner now, came to his ears.

Then he saw that the door had not opened by itself. In the little hall behind the door, a hall sunk in such deep shadow that he could only guess it was a hall, was a deeper shadow. It was about the size of a man, and it was coming slowly toward Smathers. The elderly little law clerk got out just one sentence.

“Are you M-Mr. Ismail?” he quavered.

And then he screamed!

It was a horrible sound in the dark, deserted street. It was like the high scream of a rabbit when a weasel leaps upon it. Or the shrill neigh of a horse when a mountain lion lands on its neck.

Just that sound, suddenly aborted, and then Smathers was lying on the threshold of the little house at the feet of the shadow—if the shadow had feet; you couldn’t even see that in the dimness.

The top of Smathers’s head was a dreadful thing, and it was just as well that darkness hid it. But even if it couldn’t be seen, the way the body lay, like an emptied sack, told that he would never move or speak again. It had been Death’s door to which he had come!

The shadowy figure caught the inert body by the right arm and dragged it down the hall to a rear room. Into this room, faint light came from a street light, which shone down a two-foot crack between two buildings. The light was too dim for the shadowy figure to become anything but a shadowy figure. But there was enough illumination for the figure to do its grisly labor.

The shadowy figure bent over the dead clerk’s head.

It made several violent motions, then reached for a rubber blanket in a corner.

The rubber blanket was the only thing in the room. The place was as bare as a grave; dust inches thick showed that it had been vacant for months.

The shadowy figure placed the body in the blanket and rolled it up. Something slipped from the dead law clerk’s pocket. Something so dimly to be seen that you couldn’t tell if it was an envelope or not. But it seemed to be an envelope, long, the size to take standard-size letter paper.

The figure was too engrossed to see that envelope, if that’s what it was. The figure only gathered up the slight body of the dead man, rolled in the rubber blanket, and took it down the hall again.

About twelve minutes passed when a small sedan, of a common type, stopped next to the high board fence of a New Jersey freight yard.

The figure driving the sedan was still only a shadow. The darkness caused by simply turning out a dashlight is quite concealing. And at the point where the car stopped, there was dimness because the street lamps were far away.

The body in the blanket looked like a roll of carpet when the shadowy figure took it out. Displaying a good deal of strength, the figure managed to hoist the body up head-high, and let it fall on the other side of the fence. There was a sickening thud as it hit.

The nimble figure followed it over the fence, picked it up again, and went across the tracks.

Across many tracks, to the double-tracked main line that ran through the big freight yards.

Far down one of these tracks sounded a whistle. The track itself was thrumming with the approach of heavy wheels bearing hundreds of tons of weight.

The shadowy figure laid the bundle squarely on this track and went back to the fence. Over it like a shadow, a catlike landing on the sidewalk, and the sedan drove off.

But now there was a spectator!

While the shadowy figure was over the fence, another car had driven up. It had come slowly up the dark street, along which ran a railroad track lined with freight-loading platforms.

Then the driver had seen that sedan and stopped in deep shadow. When the sedan rolled off with the shadowy figure at the wheel, this car followed.

BOOK: The Avenger 14 - Three Gold Crowns
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