The Time Master . . . and master of evil too - until he met The Shadow in a bitter clash for supremacy! As originally published in "The Shadow Magazine," #219 - April 1, 1941!
THE TIME MASTER
by Walter Gibson
CHAPTER I - HALF-PAST FIVE
There were three customers in Tony's Barber Shop, which was not unusual for this time of day. It was after five o'clock, and the shop was located on a Manhattan side street not far from a local station on the Seventh Avenue subway, toward which office workers headed on their way uptown.
Not that there were many office buildings in the vicinity, but there were enough to assure Tony of some patrons after five o'clock. Tony always regarded this as his busiest hour, when his revolving barber's sign would attract new customers, along with the old.
At present, Tony was shaving a regular. The other two were comparative strangers. One, a dark-haired man, was seated in the second barber's chair. Finished with a haircut, he was letting Tony's assistant sell him on a facial massage as a benefit to an oversallow complexion.
The other stranger, a burly individual, was getting a shoeshine, meanwhile rubbing his bristly face in anticipation of one of Tony's shaves. Tony was a very careful barber, hence never in a hurry. Between times, he liked to glance from the window, even in this season when nights were long and darkness early. He often watched passers-by, to wonder if they were coming into the shop; but at present, his gaze was shifting occasionally to the door, as though he actually expected someone.
Then, quite suddenly, Tony said: "Ah!"
The interjection brought stares from the new customers - stares in which the regular patron could not join, for he was smothered deep in a hot towel. The strangers gave curious looks at the man who had received Tony's welcome, for he was the sort who deserved such inspection.
He appeared elderly, for his face was drawn and his shoulders stooped. He carried an umbrella that he used as a cane. His neck was muffled by the high collar of his overcoat, while locks of grayish, shaggy hair protruded from the edges of his low, old-fashioned derby.
The stooped man was wearing a pair of horn-rimmed glasses and threadbare gloves. He stopped at a cigar counter just inside the door, to rattle a nickel on the glass. Tony added to his income by selling tobacco as a side line.
Without a word, merely a grin, Tony opened the counter and supplied the customer with a five-cent cigar, saying: "Good evening, Mr. Thull."
The stooped man gave an acknowledging grunt, pocketed the cigar, and shambled out again. Tony watched until he was gone from sight, then did a rather surprising thing.
Going to the rear of the shop, Tony climbed up on a chair and set the barber-shop clock. The clock was behind time, as everyone knew, for it registered only ten minutes to five. Tony swung the big hand around the dial, setting it at exactly half-past five.
"Why'd you do that?"
The query came from the burly man who was just winding up with the shoeshine. Tony was only too ready to explain, for he had heard the question often before.
"That's Mr. Thull," he said. "Full name, Mr. Armand Thull. Office right down the street. Every day he stop here" - Tony gestured toward the clock - "right at a half-past five. Sharp!"
The dark-haired man in the second chair looked at Tony, then at the clock. Finally, he drew a watch from his vest pocket.
"Sort of a human clock, this Mr. Thull," he said. "Looks like you're right, Tony, or rather, he is. It's just half past five."
"That's it," returned Tony, quite delighted. "Mr. Thull, he's one human clock!"
"If that means he's cuckoo," growled the burly man, as he paid the bootblack, "I'll agree. But this business of five-thirty on the dot is screwy!" He turned to the dark-haired man: "Say, bud, you're sure your watch is right?"
"It generally is," the other replied, "but I wouldn't bet on it."
"I bet on it," assured Tony, finishing with his customer. "Tell you what. You do the same as other people. You call up telephone company. If the clock not right, I pay the nickel Mr. Thull give me for a cigar."
Half chuckling, the burly man went to a pay phone in the corner and made the call. He finished by dropping the receiver on its hook and staring at the clock, while Tony, waiting for him at the now empty chair, questioned:
"What she say?"
"Five thirty-one," the burly man replied, slowly. "Just what your clock says now. You're right, Tony. This Mr. Thull, or Stull, or whatever his name is, must be a human clock."
"You come here any afternoon," invited Tony. "Every afternoon, even Saturday. Not Sunday, when the shop is closed, same as Mr. Thull's office. But every, other day, you see the same. If he miss five-thirty on the dot, I give free shave. Haircut, too."
There were other persons besides Tony who regarded half-past five as a most important time. They had no human clock to guide them, but they went by a very accurate clock on the wall of the office where they worked.
They were the clerks in the Coastal Jewelry Exchange, which was located on the tenth floor of an office building on the East Side, not far from an express stop on the Lexington Avenue subway.
The Coastal Jewelry Exchange did a large wholesale business, and operated on a very exact schedule. It opened at nine in the morning and closed at five-thirty. When that time came, the manager donged a little bell as a signal that clerks were to bring all gems to the vault. Usually there were late customers, haggling over prices, but the closing bell was meant for them, as well.
Because of its very valuable stock, the Coastal Exchange not only demanded this routine, but had taken other precautions. It had chosen the tenth floor because it was the top one of the building, and the only other tenant of that floor was a clothing supply house on the opposite side of the hall. The clothing company always closed at five.
In addition, the stairway was barred by steel gates at every floor above the second. The Coastal Exchange also had an excellent alarm system, by which an immediate signal could be sent to the ground floor, where two private detectives were always on duty. After the closing hour, when everything was in the vault, a watchman went on duty.
Clear over on the other side of town, the employees of the Coastal Jewelry Exchange had never heard of Tony's Barber Shop and its human clock. They knew that their own clock was always right, and that was sufficient. They liked to see how quickly they could close the place after five-thirty. Usually, three minutes proved enough. On this day, however, the Coastal Jewelry Exchange was to stay open somewhat longer.
First indications came when the door opened inward before any of the reluctantly departing customers could reach it. The door stopped halfway, which made the customers halt halfway, too. Then a long-fingered hand snaked through the opening, set its forefinger against a light switch and pressed.
The move did not extinguish the lights; only those in the ceiling. There were smaller lights around the counters, where clerks were gathering up the jewel trays. There were three clerks and they stopped in consternation, as did the manager, who was standing near the vault, behind the central counter.
Trayloads of jewels scintillated in many vivid hues as they caught the glow of the counter lights; but all eyes were attracted by a different glitter, that came from the hand of the man who had opened the door
He was a tall man, his face obscure in the semi-darkness that he had produced. He wore no hat and his hair was sleek, its color difficult to determine in the gloom. His extended hand was lower, however, which was why it caught the light from the counter. The object that it displayed was a large
The man in the doorway gave an ugly laugh that was meant for customers and clerks alike. As they cowered, he brought his other hand into sight and flung a suitcase in front of him. As it slapped the floor, the suitcase came open. He gestured with his gun, then ordered in a hard-toned voice:
"Dump those trays! In it!"
Trembling clerks advanced between shrinking customers and dumped the jewels into the suitcase. Meanwhile, the tall man kept staring beyond them, toward the manager, who was shifting away from the vault.
The manager was trying to reach a switch that would signal an alarm below, but the harsh-toned invader detected his purpose and made a significant shift of the gun.
"This is a stick-up," he grated. "That means stick where you are, or it's all up with you!"
He laughed harshly, either at his own idea of a jest, or the ludicrous way in which the manager halted in a corner, just short of the alarm switch. By then, the clerks had finished pouring the gems into the suitcase. They closed the suitcase and pushed it toward the man with the gun.
Instead of stooping, as the manager hoped he would, the tall robber remained erect. With one foot, he hooked the bag; despite its heaviness, he scuffed it deftly through the doorway into the hall.
The clerks saw then that he had two companions waiting for him. Both were hard-looking men, who wore rough clothes and caps; each had a revolver in his fist. The chief robber - he was wearing an overcoat - ordered one of the hard men to pick up the suitcase, which the fellow did. Then:
"What about the elevator?" queried the tall robber. "Did you ring for it?"
"Not yet. I've got twenty seconds more -"
"Then go ahead and ring it," interrupted the tall man. "I'll join you, while Jim here" - he gestured toward the other thuggish gunner - "is keeping these boobs covered."
The next twenty seconds were long-drawn for the helpless men who faced three guns. The hallway was dim, for the crooks had unscrewed the lights near the door of the Coastal Jewelry Exchange.
At first, no one stirred, not even when the tall man, after a sneer that told time was up, turned and walked off toward the elevator; for Jim, the remaining thug, still had customers and clerks at the point of his gun.
Then, from behind the counter in the corner, the manager began a cautious move. He was just out of Jim's sight, which he regarded as very fortunate, since the tall man in the overcoat had not ordered his henchman to move forward through the doorway. To avoid attracting Jim's notice, the manager edged very slowly toward the alarm switch, positive that he could press it before the elevator arrived.
The bell wouldn't sound up here in the office. It would be heard only in the lobby on the ground floor. It wasn't possible that crooks could have tampered with the wiring of the alarm, which had been placed deep in the building wall. This robbery, which crooks believed to be practically accomplished, would certainly end in a surprise.
So it would, but the surprise would come to those who tried to thwart this clockwork crime. The man who was engineering it was a Time Master who preferred to appear in person, so that his schemes could be kept to perfect schedule. This was work arranged beforehand by the Time Master.
Nothing could retard such crime, unless the challenge itself came from the realm of the unexpected, delivered by someone whose tactics could match the Time Master's own!
CHAPTER II - THE CLOCK TICKS
Downstairs, all was quiet in the lobby of the office building, while crooks were so deliberately gathering loot from the Coastal Jewelry Exchange. The detectives posted there were still on duty, and would be until the office manager arrived from the tenth floor; but they had relaxed their normal vigil.
They were supposed to watch suspicious persons who entered the building, but they expected none so late in the day. Such details had not escaped the Time Master when he originally mapped the raid that he had made. The lack of vigilance by the detectives, a customary thing so late in the day, was one reason why the Time Master had made a last-minute appearance.
There were two elevators in the building, and they operated on a very simple system. When one went up, the other came down, and vice versa. They were under the direction of an elevator starter who wore a natty uniform and was something of a watchman in his own right; but he, like the private dicks, was a trifle careless.
When he watched the moving dial above an elevator and saw it near the second floor, coming down, he took it for granted that the car would arrive in a few seconds, so he invariably signaled for the other car to go up. This was another little detail that fitted into the checkered pattern of the Time Master's plan.
The near elevator, which happened to be coming down, had made a stop at the sixth floor long enough to take on three or four passengers. Instead of receiving three or four, it had really taken only one, a man who happened to be loaded with some sample cases from a wholesale bookseller's.
Watching the dial of the near elevator, the starter saw it approach the second floor, so he signaled for the far elevator to go up.
Hardly had the far elevator started, before the near elevator stopped at the second floor, and for some peculiar reason, remained there.
Of course, the starter was annoyed, but did not feel himself to blame. Someone on the tenth floor had been buzzing steadily for an elevator, and he didn't care to keep people waiting too long. But while the starter was still wondering why one elevator had stalled at the second floor, something startling occurred.
A big alarm began to ring with a clangorous peal that echoed throughout the lobby. The two detectives sprang from the doorway and shouted at the elevator starter, though he couldn't hear them in the deafening clangor.
He knew what they wanted: an elevator. He knew why they wanted it, because the bell that was stirring the entire neighborhood happened to be the burglar alarm in the office of the Coastal Jewelry Exchange.
Helplessly, the starter pointed to the dials. One elevator was approaching the tenth floor, the other was stalled at the second. Not wanting to wait while one car completed its full trip and came down again, the dicks took the most obvious course. They dashed for the stairs leading to the second floor, in order to get the car that had stopped there.
They found the reason for the delay. A man with sample cases had been leaving the elevator, when one case had broken open, scattering books in the elevator and on the floor outside. The operator was trying to help the book agent gather up his wares, and both had become excited when they heard the brazen furor of the alarm from downstairs.
Of course, the detectives couldn't waste time. They simply hustled the book agent out of the car with his cases, kicked a few loose books after him, and hopped into the elevator. One dick was slamming the door, while the other jostled the operator and told him to shoot the elevator to the top.
In their own haste, the detectives were forgetting that the other elevator had already reached the tenth floor.
Naturally, the operator in that car hadn't heard the alarm, for his door was closed and he was far up the shaft when the clanging began. But he did notice that something was wrong when he opened the door on the tenth.
There was no one waiting for the car, and some of the hallway lights were out. Peering along the hall, the elevator man saw something else.
Outside the office of Coastal Jewelry, he saw the steady figure of Jim, holding the revolver that controlled the clerks and customers inside. With his rough clothes and tilted cap, Jim looked very tough. The elevator man hesitated. He was taking a long chance.
Just past the outer corner of the elevator was a man who looked like Jim's twin, except that he was in motion. He had his revolver raised as a cudgel and was ready to slug the elevator operator when the Time Master gave the word.
About that time, the elevator man gathered his nerve and began to creep along the hall. His idea was to flank Jim, tackle the fellow, and count on the crowd in the office to be with him. A bold plan, but far less risky than it seemed. By creeping toward Jim, the elevator man put himself away from immediate harm.
Stepping from beyond the elevator, the tall Time Master nudged the slugger who had moved ahead of him. Silently, the two slid into the elevator, where the Time Master silently closed the door. The elevator being his chief objective, he had spared the operator purely as a matter of convenience.
How the fellow would fare when he encountered Jim at the door of the jewelry exchange, or what might happen to Jim, were matters that did not concern the Time Master.
The tall crook was carrying the suitcase with its load of pelf. He set it on the floor beside him, placed one hand upon the starter lever, while with the other he drew a watch from his pocket.
It was a very special watch, with a large second hand that revolved about the outer dial. It also had an inner dial, actuated by a stop mechanism. Checking, the Time Master noted that he was running slightly ahead of schedule, which, to his precise way, could be almost as bad as being behind time.
In glancing downward at the watch, the Time Master kept his face turned so that even his thuggish companion could not notice it. All that was really discernible was his hair. It caught the elevator light directly and revealed streaks of gray amid the sleekness; something that would not have been noticeable ordinarily.
The Time Master had put away his gun; observing the fact, his pal started to do the same. Though the Time Master's gaze was downward, he noted the act.
"Wait, Marty" he said coolly. "You may need it. Be ready, in case Bert requires your assistance. Remember your orders: you are to join Shiff. You should reach him just when the police cars arrive -"
The Time Master broke off for two reasons. His watch was recording the time he wanted; in addition, he could hear the mad clatter of an elevator coming up through the next shaft.
Releasing the starting lever, the tall crook let his own elevator drop, carrying himself and Marty to the ground.
As they descended, Marty edged forward with his gun, a pleased look on his hardened face. The crook was anticipating a chance to use the weapon when they reached the first floor. Like the Time Master, he knew that the detectives were coming up in the other car; that only one man would block their path: the
elevator starter on the ground floor. Marty's only regret was that Bert might take a whack at the fellow first.
Bert was the phony book agent who had gotten off the other elevator at the second floor.
Things had gone well with Bert, exactly as the Time Master had promised that they would. The detectives had been in too much of a hurry to stop and question him. Nor had they wanted him along as supercargo on their trip to the tenth floor. There was no way in which Bert could have participated in the trouble on the tenth, so they naturally regarded him as bona fide.
So Bert was, in his own special way. He was a genuine killer, who handled a gun in professional style. Disregarding the sample cases that he had brought down on the elevator, Bert had stolen to the stairway that led down to the first floor. He was giving his drawn revolver an expectant juggle as he watched the elevator starter, who was at the bottom of the stairs.
Bells were still jangling madly, and the starter, watching the dials of the elevators, had remembered that he was a watchman, too.
Noting that the far car was coming down, at last, the starter saw his own chance to go up and help trap the robber on the tenth. He had drawn his own gun, but it looked toy-like compared to Bert's. Nor did the starter have it ready for anyone who might come from the elevator, since he expected to see only the operator.
He was due for a surprise, in the shape of another sizable gun, when Marty stepped out from the arriving car.
As for matters on the tenth, no new hands were needed there. Things were already under complete control. The detectives, arriving in their elevator, had looked along the gloomy hall to see Jim still covering the Coastal office. They also saw the intrepid elevator operator creeping in on the crook.
Unlike Jim, the operator heard the slight clang of the elevator door, gave a quick look backward and spied the detectives.
The operator beckoned; the dicks raised their guns. With a yell calculated to confuse Jim, the bold elevator man made a low, rapid dive straight for the huddly thug. The shout brought a response from within the office, where taut-nerved clerks and customers had reached their limit of endurance.
Wildly, they drove for Jim, as the crook twisted in the clutch of the first attacker. Their surge fairly overwhelmed the thug, sending his gun flying from his hand. The two detectives hurled their weight upon the pile-up, poking their guns through the mass of bodies, to find the burly form beneath.
"I've got him!"
The manager of the Coastal Jewelry Exchange heard the triumphant chorus as he pressed the big light switch. Unpiling men were clutching their mobster captive, dragging him into the light, exultant because they had overcome one of the Time Master's squad. But their exuberance faded when they took a good look at Jim in the strong light from the office.
They had gone to too much trouble in that capture. Jim was nothing but a clothing dummy from the wholesale place across the hall! Even his garb showed differently in the light. The suit was a fancy one, part of the clothing company's new line; the cap, too, was quite sporty.
Marty had rigged the dummy in such apparel, and had chosen a similar outfit for himself. Marty, who had been a customer in the clothing place when it closed, had simply ducked out of sight when the office force left.
With a half-hour to wait, Marty had prepared his dummy twin not only with clothes, but with an imitation gun, to be ready when the Time Master arrived. Marty had moved up when his chief appeared, dragging "Jim" along with him. Even there, the ruse had not ended.
The Time Master had purposely placed Jim where the dummy, even if real, could not see the Coastal manager sneaking for the alarm switch. Not only had trapped men been bluffed by the dummy, the fake thug, "Jim," had been used as a decoy to bring up the detectives who blocked the Time Master's path below!
CHAPTER III - THE DOUBLE BLUFF
It was too late now for those about to overtake the Time Master. Similarly, it was just too soon for arriving police to trap him before he left the building. The Time Master knew that the alarm was either connected with the nearest precinct, or that word had gone there promptly.
But he had figured it all in his calculations. He knew that police would not arrive in less than five minutes, and the Time Master had allowed exactly four.
The only other element was people on the street, and it was negligible. The Time Master knew their tendency to shunt away from any trouble. The strident alarm was the very sort that would hasten their departure.
In fact, the street had started to clear with the first clang of the discordant bell. Like pedestrians, automobiles were hustling from the block.
There was one exception.
The clearing of the street opened traffic for a taxicab that was already on its way to that particular address. Instead of deterring the driver, the alarm bell attracted him.
Whipping up to the gloomy curb in front of the building, the driver made a momentary pause to drop a passenger, then, at a sharp order from that same passenger, the cab shot around the corner. The stranger from the cab made quick strides into the beleaguered building.
This newcomer was a creature that darkness, itself, might have conjured. He was clad entirely in black, his garments consisting of a slouch hat, flowing cloak, and thin gloves. One of his fists held a drawn automatic, of .45 caliber, a weapon that indicated its ability by its very size.
No better fighter could have arrived at a more timely moment. This being from darkness was The Shadow.
Superfighter who battled crime, The Shadow had somehow learned of intended robbery at the Coastal Jewelry Exchange. Though delayed until after crime had been accomplished, The Shadow was arriving at a moment that was even better. He had reached the place just as the Time Master's elevator landed at the ground floor!
The events that The Shadow saw were like a silent pantomime, in which he immediately joined. Silent, because no other sounds could be heard above the continuous clatter of the alarm.
First, The Shadow saw the elevator starter, gun in hand, step toward the door of the arriving car. The door must have slashed hard when it opened, but its action was rubbery, noiseless.
Out from the car sprang Marty in cap and clothes that, in the well-lighted lobby, looked too fancy for a thug's attire. But Marty's hard face, the gun that he handled, were proof enough as to his ilk. Marty didn't shoot; his job was to scare the uniformed man away from the elevator. He succeeded.
With a wild shriek that couldn't be heard, the starter dived for the nearest shelter - the stairway to the second floor. The Shadow couldn't get a look clear up to the top, but he guessed what was on the second floor. Totally disregarding Marty, The Shadow fired as far up the stairway as he could, not just once, but again.
Marty didn't even hear those shots, nor did Bert. But the latter witnessed their effect. In eager style, Bert had been thrusting himself down the steps to meet the fleeing elevator starter. Before Bert could shoot, he saw a bullet crack the marble two steps below; then, still coming downward, Bert barely caught himself as another shot pinged almost at his feet.
Madly, Bert tried to turn and go up. The Shadow, starting in from the door, saw the motions of the thug's feet, but couldn't fire again, for the elevator starter was reaching Bert. Remembering that he, too, had a gun, the man in uniform tried to use it, by taking a slug at Bert while grabbing him with the other hand.
Swinging full about, Bert came reeling down the stairs, locked with his adversary. His gun thrust across the other's shoulder, Bert stabbed shots for the outer door, where he knew the real opposition was. He didn't see The Shadow, nor could Bert's shots have found the cloaked fighter, for they were hopelessly wide. But Marty spotted the direction of Bert's aim and turned. He spied The Shadow, too late.
The Shadow had started a lunge toward Marty. It was needed, that quick move, as a protection against Bert, later. If Bert overwhelmed the elevator starter, as was likely because the crook had the advantage of a downward drive, the odds would immediately change.
Bert would have a human shield, and could fire with impunity against The Shadow. So The Shadow was obtaining a buffer of his own in the person of Marty.
With a wide swing of one arm, The Shadow sent Marty's gun hand upward, the mobster's shots therewith picking filigree from the ornamental ceiling of the lobby. Feinting a swing with his own gun, The Shadow made Marty duck around; immediately, the crook's gun hand was pinned in back of him. Back to The Shadow, he was clawing with his free hand; but Marty was finding only air.
Meanwhile Bert, finishing a tumble upon the prisoner he held, was about to add a gun slug to his victim's head, when he saw The Shadow clutching Marty. Promptly, Bert used the better course - of hauling his half-dazed prisoner up in front of him as a protection. Then, as the fellow sagged away, Bert, more by accident than design, made a bold thrust.
Driving straight forward, he shoved the captive ahead of him, hoping that through a physical clash Marty might be relieved. Bodies met in a sudden tangle, Marty clutching one-handed at the elevator starter, Bert trying to get his gun past both their heads to slug or shoot The Shadow.
Bert might as well have tried to catch a chunk of night and put a label on it. There was a swirl of darkness as The Shadow wheeled, taking three others with him. He still gripped Marty, who now clutched the starter, and who, in his turn was in Bert's grasp.
Their figures looked like cog-wheels in a machine that The Shadow had set in motion. The Shadow was coming right around, dropping Marty to get at Bert, knowing that Marty wouldn't have time to profit by the shift.
A gun stabbed from the elevator. Its report couldn't be heard, but The Shadow spotted its flash and felt the whiz of the bullet past his cheek. This was intervention from a new source, instigated by a foe who hadn't been included in The Shadow's mental picture.
The Time Master was taking a hand at a very vital moment. He had almost reached the limit of his well-planned schedule.
The shot broke up the whirling group. With a drive, The Shadow sent the elevator starter sprawling from between the crooks who clutched him. Following through, The Shadow took a long leap across the tumbling form in uniform, toward the door beyond, where he wheeled suddenly, intending to fire back at Bert and Marty.
However, those two, inspired by the Time Master's act, had been quick enough to come along. Hooking them as they tried to slug him with their guns, The Shadow carried them right out through the door and sprawled them to the sidewalk in tumbles that made them lose their guns.
In that twist, The Shadow saw a police car tearing in from the next block, its siren faintly audible, since The Shadow was away from the immediate clangor of the alarm bell. Counting upon the police to suppress Marty and Bert, The Shadow started back into the lobby to settle the Time Master, whose gun stab he had seen, but not the man himself.
Had the Time Master paused to take a shot at the recumbent elevator starter, he would have met his own doom, for The Shadow, coming from darkness again, was no target at all. But the Time Master hadn't waited.
Carrying his bagload of jewels, he had run past the stairway, toward a door at the rear of the lobby. It was a metal door, locked at nights as an assurance against marauders. Its purpose worked in reverse.
The door hadn't as yet been locked, so the Time Master went through. The shots that The Shadow spurted after him would have found the fugitive through any ordinary door, but the steel barrier simply bashed the bullets, in return for the dents they gave it.
Halting the useless fire, The Shadow drove through the lobby and reached the door himself, intent upon overtaking the Time Master.
Hardly had The Shadow gone, before the door of the other elevator slashed open. The car disgorged the two detectives, who took the most obvious route - out through the front door. There, Marty and Bert were dashing for the corner, to reach a car that was waiting for them.
The two detectives, guns wildly waving, looked like another brace of thugs. They ignored the police car, for they hadn't heard its siren, with all the hubbub in the lobby.
Before the private dicks knew what had happened, a pair of brawny cops had pounced upon them. They couldn't make themselves heard so close to the entrance of the building, but they managed it after they were piled into the police car. By then, the officers, anxious to suppress the supposed crooks before going after the real, had lost ground on Marty and Bert, who were safely in Shiff's car.
A chase began, speeding east, but there wasn't a chance of overtaking the fugitives, once they reached crooked streets and dead-ends where rats of their sort could always find holes wherein to crawl.
Opportunity for a real and important capture still was present behind the building. There, the Time Master, carrying his precious bag, had reached a cab parked near the corner of the narrow street. Its driver was another of the thugs in his employ, for the fellow had the door opened instantly, on the street side. The Time Master sprang into the cab.
The act was seen from another cab, parked closer to the building. The cab was The Shadow's own; its driver, Moe Shrevnitz, otherwise known as Shrevvy, was a skilled man in the matter of pursuit. But Moe waited, darting quick glances toward the building, hoping that The Shadow would arrive to go with him on the trail.
The Shadow did arrive, delayed a dozen seconds by other doors that the Time Master had found open and had slammed while running through. The Shadow sprang into Moe's cab just in time for Moe to point to the corner where the other cab was making a rapid swing. Moe gave the words:
"There he goes!"
One second's pause, long enough for the other cab to be around the corner; where neither its driver nor its passenger could look back and see the start of The Shadow's pursuit. Then The Shadow ordered tersely:
Moe obeyed. He swung the corner to spot the fugitive cab a block ahead. Moe was ready to begin the dogging tactics in which he was skilled. The other cab's chances of a getaway were practically nil. It would have been bad for the Time Master, had The Shadow actually taken up his trail.
But the Time Master was not in the cab ahead. He had worked an old trick, but a good one, that had slipped Moe's notice during the cabby's anxiety to learn if The Shadow was coming along. The Time Master had gone in through the street door of his cab and out the one that opened on the sidewalk. That other door had been unlatched and ready.
Huddled in the gloom of a basement entry, the Time Master saw the pursuing car take up the trail. Whether or not The Shadow was in it, the crook did not know, or care. He was sure, at least, that The Shadow was nowhere in sight, which rendered his own path clear.
Straightening, the Time Master came from his hiding place, bringing the suitcase. Keeping close to the walls of darkened buildings, he reached the corner on foot and turned in the opposite direction.
Less than a block away was the entrance to an express station on the Lexington Avenue subway, which ran up the East Side. The Time Master chuckled as he sauntered into the crowd that was descending the subway steps.
The game of double bluff had worked. Shiff's car, carrying Marty and Bert, had taken the police along one trail. The Time Master's cab, with another crook at the helm, had taken The Shadow on another chase. But there was a third trail, the Time Master's own, which he had planned to use from the start.
Glancing at his tricky watch, the Time Master added another chuckle. His calculations stood; he still had time to spare. Time, of which he was master, was the element upon which this arch-crook depended to effectually rid him of any stigma connected with the crime of robbery, which he had so successfully completed!
CHAPTER IV - EAST SIDE - WEST SIDE
The fleeing cab was moving rapidly, but despite its speed, the driver was obviously keeping to a planned route. When he neared a corner, he gave away the fact that he was going to turn by the way he slackened. Even on the straight-away, his mode of pickup was something of an indication of his next intentions.
He was zigzagging across town from east to west, and The Shadow, interested in the tactics, ordered Moe to let them continue for a while. It might be that the mysterious Time Master, for whom The Shadow did not yet have a title, was going to exhibit some more of his unusual ability. Even from his brief experience with the supercrook, The Shadow recognized the adversary's ways.
This trail was not precisely a chance one for The Shadow. There had been other robberies prior to today's effort at the Coastal Jewelry Exchange. Robberies that were obviously the work of a skilled band, under a competent leader. Crimes that had been timed, though so well covered that they could have been handled without the time element.
The underworld was talking about those crimes. The grapevine had begun to tingle with predictions as to others that were soon to come. Word had been piped that the next would be a jewel job. From that slim rumor, The Shadow had picked the logical place.
Most wholesale jewelers were either located in a well-protected gem market, or had offices in the vicinity of Maiden Lane, where crime had often been squelched as soon as it began. The Coastal Jewelry Exchange had foolishly remained aloof from others, and therefore was open to attack. Considering recent robberies, however, The Shadow had assumed that any thrust there would come after the exchange closed.
In a way, The Shadow had foreseen the Time Master's scheme. Only a matter of minutes had been involved. The Time Master had reached the Coastal office just before it closed, whereas The Shadow had planned to arrive immediately after. It was traffic, more than anything else that had delayed The Shadow's
appearance on the scene.
Altogether, no more than fifteen minutes had passed since the closing time of half-past five. The quarter-hour had been jammed tight with excitement, but each episode had stayed within its allotted schedule, including the one event that the Time Master had not expected: the interference from The Shadow.
Out of it all, The Shadow had gained a trail that had taken him a mile or more from the actual scene of crime, and from all appearances, the next fifteen minutes promised nothing more than a game of hare and hounds. So far, it was "East Side, West Side," and perhaps it would be "all around the town."
It happened, however, that the sidewalks of New York were due for further battle, very soon.
First indications came when the fleeing cab jerked into a block and wheeled past a barber shop which happened to be Tony's.
Busy with new customers who had replaced the earlier ones, Tony didn't even notice the two cabs that roared by: first, the Time Master's without a passenger; second, The Shadow's, with one. Had Tony looked from his window, he would have thought that both cabs were empty.
Two men, seated in a coupe farther down the street, did make that mistake. They were the two customers, supposedly strangers to each other, who had disputed Tony's claims regarding the human clock whose name was Armand Thull.
Huddled in their car, the pair spotted the first cab and recognized it. The dark-haired man, seated at the wheel of the coupe, undertoned to his companion:
"There goes Croak's hack, Spike. Empty, like it's supposed to be."
"Yeah." Spike shifted his burly shoulders. "But here comes another, Mort. It's empty, too."
Spike had reference to The Shadow's cab, and Mort agreed with him. The fact proved conclusively that The Shadow was remarkably adept at merging with the darkness inside Moe's cab, for the observers who missed sight of him were keen of eye.
Their very names branded them. To the underworld, as well as the law, the names of Mort and Spike were a combination like ham and eggs. Back in the old racketeering days, that pair had formed the best team of mob lieutenants that any big-shot could desire.
They had gone their ways separately, it was supposed, but everyone had predicted that should Mort Falden and Spike Klonder return, they would come back to New York together. They had come back, to a city which their former employers had abandoned, but they had returned at the request of a new specialist in crime.
Their chief was the Time Master.
He wasn't using Mort and Spike as heads of a double-barreled gang. He preferred to maneuver such lesser lights as Shiff, Marty and Bert, under his own direction. The Time Master went on the sound theory that Mort and Spike had risen from the ranks of ordinary hoodlums, and were therefore specialists in their own right. They were no longer well remembered in Manhattan, and he preferred to keep them under wraps.
They had done one job very neatly, and they were to do another in quite the same style, though it called for more active effort. Their next words were an indication of what they had in mind.
"Maybe Croak can shake the dope that's tailing him," spoke Mort, smoothly. "If he can't, it's up to us."
"We'll know soon enough," Spike gruffed, "Croak knows the way to put us hep."
The cabs, by that time, were gone around the next corner, but the chase was taking on a new aspect. Deep in the blackness of his own cab, The Shadow saw that the one ahead was starting on a circuit. It went north for two blocks, east the same number, then south and west again.
Not managing to throw Moe from the trail, the fleeing cab repeated the process, but on a more extended scale. Its driver didn't actually indicate that he knew a pursuer was on his trail; rather, he seemed to be using the process just in case anyone was.
Meanwhile, Moe was dropping back and moving up in a fashion that was certainly baffling. From Croak's observation in the rear-view mirror of his own cab, Moe's must have looked like half a dozen different vehicles that happened to come along and go their way.
It was The Shadow who suddenly caught the idea that had so far baffled Moe. Croak stuck to the circuit system just a trifle too long. He had done it enough to satisfy an ordinary fugitive; it was time that he should cut away, after more than five minutes of the merry-go-round game.
As The Shadow's cab swung a corner, he looked back to spy a coupe that had picked up the same circuit. He knew instantly that Croak was no longer trying to shake off a trailer; instead, he had picked up a third for the caravan, a murder car that was on The Shadow's own trail.
Hardly had The Shadow caught the ruse, before he saw Croak's cab slacken at the next turn. The fugitive was trying to retard the pursuer that he now knew was real, thereby jamming The Shadow in between.
Still recognizing Moe's claim that the Time Master was in the cab ahead, The Shadow resolved upon sudden action. The coming block was perfect for it, because halfway along The Shadow saw a crevice between two building on the left, denoting a narrow alley.
Moe saw it, too, as The Shadow pointed. He heard his chief's low whisper:
Giving the cab a sharp spurt, Moe jammed the brakes, then swerved. The cab careened to the right; had Moe been an ordinary driver, his passenger would have expected the cab to lurch completely over as it made that sharp left turn.
Not so The Shadow. He was half leaning from the very window which threatened to kiss the sidewalk on the right. His gun was aimed; his other hand was clutching the handle of the door.
It actually seemed that the shots which The Shadow fired were righting the cab with their recoils. The real reason was that Moe was getting the cab under control, while, at the same moment, Croak's cab was getting out of hand. The Shadow's bullets, delivered in a quick stream, punched holes in the tires of the fugitive vehicle, sent it smashing across the curb at the next corner.
Disaster seemed to overtake The Shadow hard upon his success, for his door suddenly flung open, hurtling him to the sidewalk just short of the alley into which Moe whipped.
Not disaster, but design. Striking the sidewalk like a tumbler, The Shadow rolled into a depression below a flight of house steps and came full about, on hands and knees, to take aim at the murder car containing Mort and Spike.
They were aiming after Moe's cab, which was then far enough along the alley to be out of danger. The Shadow was ready to wreck them as he had Croak.
To a degree, The Shadow had provided too well. He had picked an alley to the left so as to discommode the sharpshooters behind him. Mort, at the wheel, could only aim left-handed, which wasn't his natural way, whereas Spike had to lean across him to do any firing. Because of that difficulty, Spike did not shoot at all, and therefore noted something that Mort didn't.
Spike saw the door of Moe's cab slam shut and realized instantly that the marksman, who could only have been The Shadow, was no longer in the cab. Grabbing the wheel, Spike jerked it from Mort's grasp, causing the coupe to do a sudden zigzag across the street. The shift came just as The Shadow fired from his new shelter. His shots went wide. Then Mort, tugging to regain the wheel, found that Spike was letting him take it. From the right side of the street, the coupe veered sharply left, jumping the curb and skimming the walls of houses that lined the sidewalk.
To reach it with further shots, The Shadow had to come around the steps, which he did; but by then, the coupe, in a new cavort, was lashing over to the right again, striking the corner just beyond Croak's cab.
The Shadow's last shots must have grazed the tires, but they didn't burst. He was firing at them broadside, instead of at the treads, and they were rolling very fast, at a distant range.
The Shadow saw Croak, free of the wrecked cab. Long and limber, Croak gained the running board of the coupe as it wheeled past, and was off safely with Mort and Spike, beyond the ruins of the cab.
Croak was wearing a cabby's cap that identified him as the driver, and he was the only person who left the cab. According to Moe's claim, the Time Master should still be in the wreckage; hence, The Shadow retained a final cartridge in his automatic.
He reached the cab, only to find it empty, proof that the Time Master, in his way, could match The Shadow in the game of here, there, and nowhere.
In the gloom of the West Side street, The Shadow delivered a low, strange laugh - a taunt, perhaps, for the crooks who had just fled; more certainly, a tone of prophecy that promised an actual meeting with the Time Master before the chain of crime was complete.
Then, gliding into darkness, The Shadow entered the alley to pick up Moe's cab in the next block.
The time was exactly five fifty-eight, as registered by the very accurate clock in Grand Central Terminal. At that moment, a clerk behind a soda fountain was undertoning to another who stood beside him:
Both grinned, as one filled a glass with buttermilk and placed it on the marble counter. At that moment, a familiar figure appeared, coming from the direction of the nearest parcel room. The soda clerks knew him by sight, though they had never heard his name. He was Armand Thull.
The stoopish man with the drawn face and shaggy hair always had his buttermilk at five fifty-eight, two minutes before the hour. He'd gotten to be a habit with the clerks, just as he had with Tony, the barber.
Drinking his buttermilk, he paid for it and shambled away. As he went, Armand Thull tucked a parcel check into an old, shabby wallet.
His next stop was at a newsstand on the lower level, where he bought a newspaper. The man on duty wasn't looking at the pennies that he received; instead, he was noting the clock. It registered exactly what he expected: one minute after six. He was another who knew the clock-like ways of Armand Thull.
The gateman on duty at one of the lower tracks was calling: "Eastdale Local!" He, too, was staring at the clock, watching it come to three minutes after six.
As the big hand touched the marker on the dial, the gateman lowered his gaze to see the figure that he knew would be there, the shambly form of Armand Thull. The man with the umbrella was showing his ticket, as he always did, though it wasn't necessary for local riders.
"Just like a clock," muttered the gateman, after Thull had gone through. "That's what he is, a human clock!"
He turned to close the gate, saw Thull reaching the first car, far up the platform, the smoker in which the stoopish man always rode. The gateman decided that persons other than himself had probably been impressed by the ways of Armand Thull.
Others had been, and still were. Soon, the group would number one more: The Shadow!
CHAPTER V - THE SHADOW'S LEAD
For three days, the police had been worrying over the Coastal Jewelry Exchange robbery without adding to the list of suspects, which so far was limited to exactly one, the dummy Jim. When it came to worrying, the man who did the most was Police Commissioner Ralph Weston. Though he managed to keep his mental tumult curbed while in his office, Weston let it break loose when he showed up at his unofficial office, the grillroom of the exclusive Cobalt Club.
It was Weston's habit to dine at the club, and he generally arrived there early in hope of finding his friend Lamont Cranston. At the club, the police commissioner also managed to get clear of official visitors, with one exception, Inspector Joe Cardona. As Weston's ace in the hole in the constant combat against crime, Cardona had the privilege of breaking in at any time.
At quarter-past five, Weston had found Cranston at the club only to learn that his friend was dining elsewhere. Cardona was also present; knowing that the commissioner had been busy that afternoon, Joe had decided to beard him in his favorite lair.
Weston had a mustache, one that was short-clipped in military style, but no beard to go with it; nevertheless, the comparison was good. For Inspector Cardona was taking much in his hands, and would have to hang on. It happened that Weston held Cardona to blame for the lack of action in the Coastal case.
Armed with a batch of reports, Cardona made a good beginning. Weston actually thought that he was going to hear something important, until Joe had thumbed through the sheets; then discarded them.
"We're still after the ringleader, commissioner," declared Cardona. "We've got as much chance of bagging him as getting any of his gang. We've got him tagged for what he is. He's a regular Time Master."
In blunt style, Weston faced the swarthy inspector, whose expression struck him as dumb as well as serious.
"I don't care what he is," stormed Weston. "I want to know who he is! It's your business to find out, inspector!"
With that, Weston turned to his friend Cranston for approval. Cranston was a calm-mannered individual, whose masklike face seldom revealed the thoughts behind it. His keenness, however, was manifested by his hawkish profile. Still, there were times when Cranston's manner, one of indolence rather than deliberation, could prove very irking to Commissioner Weston.
"The Time Master," spoke Cranston in an even tone, with a commending nod to Cardona. "An excellent term, inspector. I should think that the commissioner would appreciate it."
"Which I don't!" roared Weston, waking an elderly club member who was dozing over a bowl of crackers and milk. "I appreciate results; nothing less!"
"We're going to get them," Cardona promised. "We have two leads, to start with. First, we know that two thugs headed east across town, getting into a car with another. They couldn't have been much more than stooges, otherwise we'd have recognized them from descriptions."
Silently, Cranston agreed. Though Weston did not know it, his fellow club member was The Shadow. Having battled both Marty and Bert, The Shadow could have described them more exactly than other witnesses had. In his own files, which the police would have envied, The Shadow had pictures of many wanted crooks, classified by a system of identifying descriptions. In going through that rogues' gallery, The Shadow had failed to find any photos that resembled Marty or Bert.
"The Time Master must have headed west," continued Cardona, "over to the other side of town. There was some shooting over there, just before six o'clock. Why, I don't know, but I figure he was mixed in it. Maybe he was in the smashed-up cab that had a phony license."
Weston couldn't agree with Cardona, and said so, testily. This time, The Shadow mentally agreed with Weston; nevertheless, he admired Cardona's hunch. Joe was merely tracking down a trail that The Shadow had taken actually, only to find it useless. But he wasn't entirely in doubt as to which way the Time Master
The convenience of the express station on the East Side subway satisfied The Shadow on that point; but the subway could lead to a lot of destinations, either north or south.
The commissioner was about to speak again, when an attendant arrived to say that Mr. Cranston was wanted on the telephone. Leaving the others, The Shadow went upstairs and found that the call was from Burbank.
Of The Shadow's many agents, Burbank was unique. He was the contact man between The Shadow and other workers, and Burbank spent most of his time - occasionally in twenty-hour stretches - at a switchboard in a little room that was tucked away from the bedlam of the city.
Along with his contact work, he kept all sorts of current information at his fingertips, and supplied it as needed by The Shadow and the active agents.
Today, Burbank had a report from the underworld, where some of The Shadow's agents were following up leads that their chief had begun. The most important data concerned a crook named Ferret Zeld.
In some way, Ferret was associated with the Time Master, for he had bragged about the jewelry robbery before it happened. Yet Ferret hadn't been in the thing, for his whereabouts had been known at the time. Right afterward, Ferret had slipped from sight, eluding The Shadow's agents, but now he was back again.
"Ferret reported at Red Mike's," announced Burbank. "He's waiting there, hoping to hear from Squeak Worber. No further report."
With those words, The Shadow strolled from the phone booth, paused, in Cranston's manner, to send an attendant down to the grillroom to inform the commissioner that he would not be back.
Then, stepping out to the street, The Shadow paused under the marquee to avoid a heavy drizzle that constantly threatened an increase. Seeing Cranston, the doorman signaled to a limousine across the way. It was a perfect evening for The Shadow. The rain from low-lying clouds had brought an early darkness that
would not lift. Riding as Cranston, The Shadow was drawing black garments from a special drawer beneath the rear seat of the limousine.
With that garb, he could go directly to Red Mike's, though it was not yet half-past five, and look in on a crook named Ferret Zeld with no danger of being seen, in turn.
Meanwhile, so The Shadow thought, Weston would be continuing a very useless conference with Cardona, one that could produce no possible result, so far as this evening was concerned. By tomorrow, the law might have new leads to the Time Master; if so, they would come through The Shadow.
For the cloaked investigator was quite sure that Ferret served the Time Master. Ferret's absence from the previous scene of crime simply proved that he had not been needed.
Though very much a small-fry, Ferret possessed one ability which he shared in common with his old friend Squeak. Both were little men, very thin and agile. Their pint-sized build made them useful for robberies, as they could enter places by transoms instead of doors, coal chutes instead of windows.
Some of the robberies prior to the Coastal raid had borne the earmarks of Ferret's presence. The Time Master had fared quite well on those occasions, bagging several thousand dollars worth of portable loot on each occasion.
Having graduated to the hundred-thousand-dollar class, the net value of the haul from the Coastal Jewelry Exchange, it might be that the Time Master no longer needed Ferret's services; but it was really the style of crime, not the profits involved, that counted most.
Hence, Ferret still remained an excellent lead, one that The Shadow considered to be his exclusive property. The Shadow would have changed that opinion, however, had he dropped back to chat with Weston and Cardona.
Down in the grillroom at the Cobalt Club, Cardona was impressing Weston with a new idea, while the commissioner, listening indifferently, was shoving the report sheets aside in order to find the dinner menu.
"I've done one thing, commissioner," Cardona insisted. "I've lined up some new stool pigeons."
Weston gave a contemptuous grunt.
"They'll help," Joe argued. "I've been letting them ripen before I used them. Nobody knows they're stoolies, so they can get places where others can't. I've got one who thinks he can line himself up with the Time Master's outfit, though he isn't sure -"
"That's just it," scoffed Weston. "Nobody is sure of anything!"
"But this fellow may be our real bet. His name is Squeak Worber. He used to do second-story work, so maybe the Time Master could use him. Squeak is due downat my office at half-past five, so I'd better hurry down there."
Weston raised his eyes from the menu.
"Of course," he said sarcastically. "You shouldn't keep the fellow waiting. Besides, your office is on the second floor, which might influence this Squeaker, or whatever you call him. Hurry, inspector, or the chap may feel the influence of his old habits. Your desk and everything else may be gone by the time you arrive there!"
When Weston talked in that style, Cardona took it as a form of dismissal. Gathering his reports, the inspector left, keeping his mutters lower than Weston's chuckles. If ever Joe hoped that a long-shot would come through, it was at that moment. He wasn't ready, though, to bank too much on Squeak.
If Cardona had known that Squeak was thinking in terms of Ferret, The Shadow's own lead to the Time Master, Joe would have felt a real enthusiasm. In his turn The Shadow, had he learned of Joe's new stoolies, would have altered his own course for the evening.
Two trails that could cause trouble when they crossed were those of The Shadow and the law. Both with the same purpose, they were better apart until The Shadow himself desired them to merge.