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 VI - CRIME ON SCHEDULE
It lacked three minutes of being half-past five. From the window of the old, but neatly kept office where he handled a one-man mail-order business, Armand Thull looked up the street and saw Tony's Barber Shop on the other side. The revolving barber pole was difficult to see because the rain had increased. It was the kind of rain that Thull liked.
The stoopish man was finishing the last of several telephone calls, while he checked by his special watch that lay on the desk beside him. He heard a gruff voice say, "Well?" across the wire. In a sharp tone that did not fit his personality, Thull announced:
"It is raining."
There were other words coming over the wire, but Thull did not wait to hear them. He simply hung the receiver on its hook, gave a crackly chuckle that was more in character, and reached for his umbrella with one hand, while pocketing the watch with the other. Shambling from the office, Thull went to the stairs.
There was an elevator in the building but Thull never used it going down from his office, which was on the third floor. The elevator was too irregular; it might mean a loss of half a minute, which Thull, in this period of accuracy, could not spare.
Reaching the ground floor, Thull used exactly fifteen extra seconds which he had allowed himself. He needed them to put up his umbrella and pick a chance to cross the street, which wasn't so easy on a rainy evening.
His steps toward Tony's were quick, at first, but he slackened them gradually while consulting his watch, which he kept buried in the palm of his hand. Then, just outside the barber-shop door, Thull let the watch slide into his pocket. His fingers brought out a nickel, instead.
Tony not only grinned when his cigar customer entered; he gave a triumphant look at a man who was sitting in a barber chair, ready for a haircut. After selling Thull a cigar and watching the stooped man leave, Tony went to his clock and set it ahead to half-past five, meanwhile addressing the man in the barber chair.
"You see?" queried Tony. "You ask me why I don't set the clock right. I tell you to wait and see. You look at your own watch and say five-thirty; but I tell you not yet. So you call the telephone company, and she tell you five twenty-eight."
"That's what it was," nodded the customer. "You said watch it for two minutes and I'd see the clock you went by. You said the clock would walk in."
"That was him," assured Tony. "The fellow who just buy the cigar. Mr. Armand Thull, the human clock. Every day, five-thirty, right like a dot. You want clippers on the back?"
Pocketing the cigar as he left Tony's, Thull continued to the West Side subway. He did not have to rush, for he arrived a full minute ahead of a local train. The train carried him a few stations, then he changed to an express, which made better speed to Times Square.
But when Thull started toward the shuttle that ran to Grand Central, he didn't join the mad dash. It wasn't any use. A shuttle train pulled out while people were racing for it, and, like Thull, they had to wait for the next.
Thus, despite the fact that Armand Thull reached Grand Central in the shortest possible time by subway, he had done it with an ease that could not fail. He did waste a little time coming out from the subway, but that was simply because of the rush coming the other way. No one could have expected a rather old man like Thull to go pushing people from his path.
He neared the package room where he had stopped a few days before, and paused to fumble with some parcel checks. Then, deciding that he didn't want to carry packages along with a dripping umbrella, he continued along his route.
He reached the soda fountain just as a clerk was planting a glass of buttermilk on the marble. It was exactly two minutes of six.
Thull bought his usual newspaper, at one minute after the hour, and showed his commutation ticket to the gateman two minutes later. The train was pulling out as he settled himself in his accustomed seat, the last one in the smoking car.
Thull never had any trouble getting that seat. It was narrower than the rest and straight-backed, which made it uncomfortable for most people; but Thull, for some reason, preferred it.
The electric train reached the 125th Street Station. From there, it ran on an express schedule until it cleared the city limits; no stops at all for a dozen minutes. The conductor came through to collect the tickets; as he checked Thull's commutation ticket, he nodded a greeting, which the stoopish man returned.
"One passenger I can always count on," the conductor said affably. "That's you, Mr. Thull. Your umbrella will come in handy tonight."
Thull crackled his agreement and buried himself in his newspaper. Other passengers glanced in his direction and recognized the old codger, too. But there was one passenger who also flashed a signal in Thull's direction.
He was a fairly tall man, with dark hair and sallow face. He happened to be Mort Falden, of the Mort and Spike partnership, lieutenants of the Time Master.
Nearing its first stop outside the city, the train began to swing sharply across the main tracks. The conductor coming past Thull's seat held his hand against the stooped man's shoulder so he wouldn't slide from the cushion. Thull had done that a few times, and landing on the floor wasn't beneficial to a man of his age. Thull thanked the conductor for the favor.
Then, as the conductor stepped ahead to open the door, passengers began to rise. First among them was Mort, who paused as he neared Thull's seat. The train was jerking hard, its wheels rattling heavily over the main cross tracks, when the lights suddenly went out.
They always did at this particular point, and they stayed out for several seconds while the train coasted on to the branch line. Then, as the current resumed, the train made a short spurt forward, only to slacken for the station. By then, passengers were crowding to the platform, none observing a most singular thing that had happened almost in their midst. Armand Thull had disappeared.
It wasn't strange that no one noticed it, for Thull, to all appearances, was still in his accustomed seat. He made a huddled figure behind his outspread newspaper, with his derby hat showing over the top of it and his folded umbrella resting beside him. The newspaper hid the hunched man's face, which explained why no one saw the difference.
But the face behind the newspaper was that of Mort Falden. He and Thull had switched places very neatly during the brief darkness.
The conductor learned nothing of the shift. He saw a tall man leave the train at the head of the crowd, a man who was tightening a felt hat on his head, but he never would have supposed him to be Armand Thull.
The tall man was still walking along the station platform when the train started; it had passed him when he turned to the left and descended the stairs to a tunnel that led to the platform on the other side.
At that moment, a train came clattering from the other direction, to stop on the inbound track. The last person to get on board it was the tall passenger who had come from the outbound train. But he didn't need to hurry, for the inbound train waited a full minute to let a main-line express get clear of the switches.
Again; it was a case of timing as positive as it was accurate. The net result was that a man who had started from Grand Central as Armand Thull was returning there, to arrive, in different character, just about a half-hour after he had set out.
Meanwhile, the outbound train became a typical branch-line local, requiring nearly twenty minutes before it reached Eastdale, the stop where Thull always got off. Passing the stooped man who was still buried in the newspaper, the conductor tapped him on his shoulder to remind him that he had reached his station.
When the train had stopped, the conductor watched to make sure that Thull alighted. He saw a stooped man coming down the car steps, opening his umbrella ahead of him. To the conductor, that was a sure sign of Armand Thull.
People in Eastdale sighted the familiar figure, too - a stooped man, buried as deep in his umbrella, as he had been in the newspaper. It was Thull's way, to shamble homeward in such fashion whenever there was a rainy night.
When the stooped man reached a small hotel apartment that had a clerk stationed just inside the lobby, he kept the umbrella open until he entered the automatic elevator.
Seeing him go by, the clerk said, "Good evening, Mr. Thull," and received a familiar grunt in return.
The umbrella went fully shut as the elevator door was closing. Alone in the car, Mort Falden revealed his sallow face. He pulled a duplicate key from his pocket, and when he reached the third floor, he proceeded to unlock the door of the nearest apartment. There was no one inside, for Thull's servant, Timothy, was taking the night off.
There had been quite a wait for this particular night, because the Time Master's plans called for a rainy Thursday. It finally had come, and Mort was making himself quite at home in Thull's apartment. He found cold chicken in the ice box, where Timothy had left it; so he tossed away a cheap cigar that he had started on the train.
Thull had lighted such a cigar during the ride, and its curl of blue smoke had been an added feature in the substitution which Mort had managed without benefit of disguise. Mort didn't like cigars and was glad to get that part of the job finished. As for the rest, it would prove quite simple.
The clock on the mantel, which Mort knew must be accurate, registered ten minutes of seven. At eight o'clock Mort would go out, as Thull always did, to mail a batch of letters. At present, they were in a locked drawer; to which Mort had the key. Thull always went to the local post office to mail such letters, so that they would be sure to catch the last train into New York. Catching trains into Manhattan was quite an art, as Mort had learned, and getting one out again was also a neat process. There was another train out at seven thirty-five, which reached Eastdale a few minutes after eight. It fitted not only with Thull's habits, but with the Time Master's campaign.
New success seemed certain for the Time Master, despite the possible interference of a trouble-maker called The Shadow. Such, at least, was the opinion of Mort Falden. He believed that the Time Master, who calculated everything to the dot, had included the hazard of The Shadow with his other plans!
CHAPTER VII - CRIMINALS OF LEISURE
Five minutes of seven.
Crooks had been at work for half an hour in a teeming section of Manhattan, not many blocks from the Grand Central Station. They had started early, but that had not been difficult, for darkness had come early, too.
Their present crime, because of certain important features, had been especially set for a rainy Thursday: which meant, because of the weather requirement, that they would certainly have the benefit of a premature dusk.
Besides, the first part of their job had been both simple and rapid. The crooks had simply jimmied open the rear window of a small and unpretentious flower shop, whose owners did not suppose that their particular brand of wares
would attract burglars.
As a matter of fact, the mobsters were not especially interested in flowers. Their purpose had been to reach a side wall within the flower shop itself. That wall was made of terra cotta and was several inches thick, but it was not much of a problem to these experts. Working within the closed flower shop, they could make all the noise they wanted. It had taken them a mere fifteen minutes to carve a jagged hole through the terra-cotta wall.
Next to the florist shop was the store of Anga Brothers, dealers in rare antiques. Anga Brothers had a very valuable stock and had therefore protected their store in up-to-date style. Front and back, even to its balcony windows, the Anga store was fully equipped with an electric protective system, but the proprietors had not added such devices to the solid wall that separated their place of business from the florist shop.
The Time Master knew it; hence his choice of a route through the wall.
Seated near the gap that they had made, crooks were finishing their supper. They had brought along bags of sandwiches and vacuum containers filled with coffee. The meal over, some were smoking cigarettes and chatting in undertones. Street lights, trickling through the lowered Venetian blinds that fronted the show windows of the florist shop, supplied them with all the illumination they required.
The dim glow showed a limber man with beakish face, who had charge of the crew. He was Croak, the thug who had handled the decoy taxicab on the night of the Coastal Jewelry job.
Croak was well nicknamed, for two reasons. He talked in a croaky voice, for one. The other reason was his willingness to use a gun and his ability at handling such a weapon. He had put the croak on more than one victim, in his time.
With Croak were Marty and Bert, the gunners who had helped out during the jewelry robbery. They didn't mind the absence of Jim, the dummy thug, for they had two other companions with them, both gunzels, who were very much alive and anxious to join any action that might arise.
Swallowing the last portion of a sandwich, Croak suddenly gave a bullfrog warning. The others quieted, listening for the sound that Croak had heard. It came from the jimmied window - a scuffle, at first, then cautious footsteps which Croak thought he recognized.
"It's Ferret -"
Croak paused. The figure that stepped into the dim light wasn't the pint-sized shape of Ferret Zeld. The arrival was tall, he carried himself erect. He identified himself by a rasped greeting which all recognized.
He was the Time Master.
Approaching the hole in the wall, the Time Master inspected it. Turning to Croak, he ordered:
"Make it larger. There is time."
Croak gestured to the others, who set to work on the edges of the jagged opening. Croak began an apology.
"Sorry, chief," he said. "We figured it wouldn't need to be any bigger, because Ferret is going through -"
"Ferret is not going through," the Time Master interrupted. "I am no longer certain about Ferret. Instead of taking only the smaller antiques, we shall bring along some large ones. I have ordered Shiff to come here with a truck to carry them."
"But how will you handle the big stuff?"
"I do not intend to handle it. That will be your job, Croak. A truckload of heavy goods will serve perfectly to lead the police on a false trail. You can abandon it as soon as necessary."
The Time Master turned back to the window and brought a pair of suitcases. Both were empty; they were to carry the real valuables which he intended to take along in person. Croak, meanwhile, wanted to ask about Ferret, but found that it was not necessary.
Picking up the florist's telephone, the Time Master dialed a number and spoke to Ferret directly. He gave him instructions that were rather puzzling to Croak. First, the Time Master named an address on the other side of the street
from the florist shop. Then:
"Come there at once, Ferret," he ordered. "Use the fire escape to reach the rear window on the second floor, just above the Ajax Restaurant. Spike Klonder will be waiting for you and will give further instructions."
"The Ajax Restaurant!" blurted Croak, as soon as the Time Master had hung up. "That's where we almost got the sandwiches. I figured the dump was too close, so we stopped farther away."
Croak wasn't sure whether the Time Master approved the act of purchase, or the sandwiches themselves. He saw the sandwiches, as Croak gestured toward them, and began to sample them. Finding them to his liking, he chose a chair beside a table and poured himself a cup of coffee.
Finding nothing else to do, Croak went to the front window and peered through the blind, toward the Ajax Restaurant opposite.
The place was a cheap lunchroom, with a brilliant electric sign, and by the light Croak could read the name of the establishment on the second floor. The sign simply said "Chemical Supplies," and Croak found himself wondering why the Time Master had designs on such a place. He knew that it must be important, otherwise Spike would not have been ordered to crack into it.
Marty, Bert, and the other pair had finished their hacking at the wall. Croak turned to see the Time Master lay aside his coffee cup and draw a booklet from his pocket. Finding light enough to read it by, the Time Master let Croak see it. The booklet was an antique catalogue published by Anga Brothers.
"Bring all the smaller items," the Time Master ordered, "along with any of the larger ones that do not offer much difficulty. I shall examine the small ones and pick out those which are priced high."
Croak and the others went through the enlarged hole. The five men set to work, making up for lost time, which was easy, since the job had originally been planned for Ferret alone. They loaded their pockets, then shoved large articles
like Chinese screens and vases through the hole. Pausing when they reached the florist shop, they emptied their pockets on the Time Master's table.
Picking out rare ornaments, miniatures, and carvings, both in ivory and jade, he checked them by the catalogue. After naming a few small items that the crooks had missed, the Time Master looked at his watch, then said:
"Go back and take the tapestries from the rear wall. They will bundle in the suitcases very nicely, and keep the articles from rattling. Moreover, they are very valuable, which is why I chiefly want them. You will then have ten minutes more to bring out anything, the larger the better, that will make a good show on the truck."
As Croak and the rest started on their further foray, the Time Master strolled about the florist shop looking at flowers. He found some pink carnations and placed one in his buttonhole.
After admiring the effect, he returned to the table and made another leisurely check-up of the Anga catalogue, while his henchmen, finding they had plenty of time as well, were carefully bringing more loot, both bad and good, through the yawning wall.
The Time Master was no longer worrying about Ferret. It was Ferret who was doing some worrying of his own. Ferret was a very scrawny crook, who always wore an anxious expression, hence it was difficult to tell whether he was worrying or not.
At present, Ferret was still at Red Mike's, the dive where The Shadow not only expected to find him, but had.
Ferret's worry was not The Shadow. In fact, Ferret Zeld hadn't an idea that The Shadow was anywhere around. He couldn't see the keen eyes that peered through the crack of a door that marked an exit which was no longer used. The
thing that bothered Ferret was a phone call that hadn't come.
He had expected his old pal, Squeak Worber, to call ahead of the Time Master. But the wrong call had come first, and Ferret couldn't very well ignore it. The most that he could do was stall a few minutes longer, which he did, near
the corner of the rear room where Red Mike's telephone was a fixture on the wall.
Finishing a cigarette, Ferret threw the butt away and turned toward the usual exit. At that moment the telephone bell began to ring, and Ferret made a pounce inward the wall. It was a call for him, the one he wanted. Squeak had
finally learned that Ferret was at Red Mike's, waiting to hear from him.
"You shoulda called earlier, Squeak," reproved Ferret, in a tone too low for even The Shadow to overhear. "I mighta fixed things for tonight, if you had. The best I can do is take you along and tell the big guy afterward. Maybe he'll cut you in, when he hears about it. Anyway, it's worth a try. Only, you'd better not show up until I give the word. I gotta meet Spike Klonder, and he ain't expecting nobody else. So you stick outside, get it? Now, I'll tell you the place where I'm supposed to go -"
During his spiel, Ferret had let his voice rise slightly, enough for The Shadow to pick up occasional words. Piecing them together, the black-cloaked listener was forming a good impression of the whole, when Ferret gave the final data. Unfortunately, from The Shadow's standpoint, Ferret dropped his tone to his lowest pitch before making his final statement.
In doubt as to the most important item - the place where Ferret was to show up and act as an aid to crime - The Shadow had but one remaining course: to follow Ferret.
That, in itself, proved easy.
Hurrying from Red Mike's, Ferret did the unusual and took a cab which happened to be parked in the unsavory district. The unusual, in this case, could not have been better for The Shadow.
Moe's cab was in the offing; reaching it, The Shadow promptly took up Ferret's trail. The scrawny crook was in such a hurry that he did not bother to look back, particularly as he hadn't an idea that anyone would be following him toward a scene of crime.
This seemed the break that The Shadow needed, a straight trail to the Time Master. But it wasn't to be a lone trail, the kind that The Shadow preferred, for the call from Squeak, the newly enlisted stoolie, was giving Joe Cardona an
even better break, since Ferret had named his destination to Squeak.
At times, the unforeseen could cause The Shadow trouble. In this case, it went double, and perhaps more. The fact that Squeak had turned stoolie and was double-crossing Ferret, was something that The Shadow could have analyzed, but a point upon which Cardona failed.
It meant that the Time Master, always exacting, had crossed Ferret from his list. Therefore his mere employment of Ferret was an indication that the mysterious crook had cooked up a special scheme to take care of any followers
who might have picked up Ferret's trail.
Disaster loomed ahead for both The Shadow and the law, the sort of catastrophe that only the Time Master could provide!
CHAPTER VIII - TIME SERVES AGAIN
Helpful traffic lights aided Ferret Zeld in his race to make up time. Catching the green along an East Side avenue, his cab brought him to the street he wanted in approximately seven minutes.
The same lights helped The Shadow, for Moe made the most of them. But when Ferret's cab stopped in the middle of a block, The Shadow ordered Moe to halt at the nearest corner.
Alighting, The Shadow became a gliding thing of darkness that moved with surprising rapidity. He reached the rear of the Ajax Restaurant in time to hear Ferret on the fire escape above. He saw the ladder extension that had been
lowered for Ferret. Noiselessly, The Shadow made the same climb.
Looking through the window which Ferret had entered, The Shadow saw the frail crook in conference with a burly man whose face came into the glow of a flashlight. There was no mistaking those hard, blunt features. They belonged to Spike Klonder, long-absent mob lieutenant.
The Shadow knew the crook by sight; from his watching post, he looked for another man, Mort Falden. It became apparent that Spike's running mate was not about.
Recalling the pursuit of Croak's cab, The Shadow knew that Spike and Mort must have been the two gunners in the troublesome coupe. They were the sort of team that the Time Master would have assigned to a murder job. But it didn't follow that the Time Master would pair up Mort and Spike for every type of crime.
Quite the contrary. This job, whatever it was, had an inside angle and an outside. It was logical that one ace, Spike, should be on the inside, the other, Mort, on the outside. What The Shadow had not yet learned was the Time Master's real purpose.
Spike was doing inside work, of a sort, just as Mort was operating outside the city. But neither was participating in the actual crime that the Time Master had scheduled for this evening.
The flashlight was moving about the rear room in a peculiar zigzag fashion. The glow itself told why Spike was taking Ferret on such a twisted course. The gleam revealed crates of glass jars containing colored liquids, small tanks and vats, which also blocked the path. This place was obviously the storeroom of a chemical supply house.
Chemicals were not the sort of loot that the Time Master would want, but Spike happened to be showing Ferret to a door at the front of the storeroom. It was possible that something more important lay beyond; whatever might interest
the crooks would interest The Shadow also. The darkness, quite blotting except close beside the flashlight, was made to The Shadow's order. He swung himself through the window.
Just across the sill, The Shadow paused to look outdoors again. On this rear street behind the Ajax Restaurant, he saw a stir. Police cars had drawn up quietly and were letting off men, some in uniform, other in plain clothes. The bluecoats were spreading out, to appear as if on patrol, while the detectives were moving toward the restaurant's rear door.
One man, the leader of the squad, took his position right below the fire escape. The Shadow could not see his face, but recognized him by his stocky build. The leader of the headquarters squad was Inspector Joe Cardona.
The Shadow did not have to guess how Joe had found this trail so soon. It was obvious that he could have learned it through one man only, Squeak Worber.
The arrival of the police meant that The Shadow would have to move rapidly to trap Spike and Ferret. His eyes somewhat accustomed to the gloom, he looked for other outlets than the rear window and saw two, both obscure.
One was a door in the rear corner; it happened to be blocked by a stack of crates. The other was a trapdoor in the center of the ceiling. Of course, there was another route - the door to the front room of the supply house, which Spike
and Ferret had just reached. Since Spike intended to go through, The Shadow moved in closer, picking his way uncannily among the crates and tanks.
Halfway there, The Shadow paused. He could hear Spike speaking in a gruff undertone.
"Listen, Ferret," Spike was saying. "There's a lot of dough in the front office, but it's going to be a squeeze to get it; that's why the chief sent for you. I've got to do a little work with the jimmy first, so you stick here until I call you. The chief is due, so if you hear anyone back at the window you'll know who it is."
As Ferret acknowledged the statement, Spike stepped through the doorway to the front office. The door already half open, but Spike drew it shut behind him. He didn't close it gently from the other side; instead, he gave it a hard and sudden slam.
Being faced with metal as a protection against fire, the door made a clang. It was a trivial sound, however, compared with the clatter that followed.
A vat tilted from a corner, came crashing to the floor of the storeroom, spilling its contents in a flood. Elsewhere, stacked crates lost their balance; landed with a smash that shattered their glass jars. A tank tipped clear back by the window and ruined a crate beneath it, scattering glass and liquids in all directions.
It was all the result of the yank that Spike had given the connecting door. The burly crook had not been idle while waiting in the storeroom. He had rigged the thing with ropes and wedges, so that one jerk would produce the upset.
Nothing fell in the center of the storeroom, because Spike had needed to pick his way through there. But the smashes from the walls were heavy and the consequences terrific.
Loosed chemicals ignited with a fiery puff, like a giant gas jet. There wasn't any blast, for there were no explosives in the storeroom. But the entire stock was highly inflammable, which was enough. In that one puff the room became
a mass of flame, save for the center, where The Shadow stood.
The Shadow saw Ferret go frantic. The scrawny crook tried to open the door that connected to the front. He couldn't, because Spike had bolted it from the other side. Obviously, there was an outlet through the front which Spike could use, while Ferret, the crook mistrusted by the Time Master, would become a victim of the holocaust.
In fact, Ferret could never have escaped the blaze, the way he acted. Dropping back from the metal door, where flames were lashing in from the sides, Ferret gave a scream when he saw that fire surrounded him, and hurled himself
flat on his face, trying to burrow under the unwrecked crates.
Those crates were the worst possible place. The heat of the green flame would soon crack the remaining jars and then their contents would ignite, making the whole room one mighty pyre. Ferret needed someone to rescue him from his folly, and the rescuer came.
Ferret had not seen The Shadow making a quick twist around the crates and tanks that were still intact. Reaching the crawling crook, The Shadow yanked him by the collar and started him off toward a corner.
Ferret screamed again when he saw who had gripped him, he thought that The Shadow, foe of all crooks, was going to fling him right into the nearest flames. Madly, Ferret tried to pull a gun.
By then, they had reached a rear corner where a pathway opened through the fire, as though The Shadow's very will had caused it. Too amazed to draw his gun farther, Ferret couldn't understand it; but The Shadow did.
In rigging the crates, Spike had fixed one stack so that they would fall toward the window and block it off with flames. In so doing, he hadn't noticed the top of the unused doorway behind those very crates. The topple had carried
the crates clear of the exit, the first gush of fire finished. The flames,though increasing, had wavered away from the door which was no longer blocked!
Shoulder first, The Shadow hit the door and splintered it from its hinges. He added to his own weight by carrying Ferret with him in the drive. As the door gave, The Shadow twisted, flinging Ferret from behind him, up through the
opening ahead. The little thug landed at the top of a short stairway, staring at the revolver which his numbed hand gripped.
Right behind him was The Shadow, with drawn automatic, ready to drive Ferret downward to the safety which the frantic man had failed to find for himself. But at that moment, a clatter came from the stairway. Shouts of "Fire!"
were heard, along with the overturn of chairs down in the Ajax Restaurant; then, through an opened door, a pair of officers appeared, to stare up at the conflagration above.
They saw Ferret, and he saw them. Scrambling to his feet, the crook aimed his gun. The Shadow, coming forward to grab him, also had a gun, and as Ferret made a chance side step, The Shadow's automatic was also pointed downward.
His cloak rendered green and crimson by the background of flame behind him, The Shadow was not recognizable. He looked like some hellish fiend, with Ferret a lesser imp who was aiding a devilish master.
The officers had already drawn their revolvers, for they had been told to block off mobsters who might try the stairway route. They were aiming faster than Ferret, as they came charging up the steps; but they intended to get The
Shadow, too. His only course was a quick reverse back through the very flames that he had left.
The Shadow took it as guns blasted. He heard a shriek from Ferret; the tumble that followed told that the crook had been riddled with bullets before he could fire a single shot. But the officers were still pounding upward, hoping to
deal with the varicolored demon who had sprung back into the flames where he belonged.
Pulling the door shut, The Shadow reeled suddenly to the very center of the storeroom. A breeze from the window had sent back the flames, and The Shadow was just quick enough to evade a wall of fire that swept against the half-wrecked door. He didn't have to bother about the officers; the flames were a curtain against them, as they found out for themselves when they tugged the door half open on its broken hinges.
They saw one mighty mass of fire in which, seemingly, no one could possibly survive, and they dived down the steps to escape the great gush of blaze that licked toward them.
In the very vortex of the raging fire The Shadow, though completely surrounded by an inferno, still had a chance that he had not forgotten. Using a tank as a stepping-stone, he sprang to the top of a stack of crates that had not yet turned to fuel.
Poised there, crouched, he could feel the crates tottering, hear the glass jars cracking. Those manifestations merely inspired The Shadow to an upward thrust.
Coming upward like a springing thing of steel, he struck the trapdoor with his shoulders. The jolt was brutal, but the trap gave like tissue. His head rising, The Shadow spread his aching arms and hooked both sides of the opening. His feet added the lofting impetus that carried him through the trap, to roll on the solid floor above.
There was a smash from below. The crates had gone under The Shadow's final pressure. The contents of smashing jars burst into a mighty flame that spurted up through the smashed trapdoor like the gush of a volcano.
But The Shadow, by then, was safe. He needed air, and found it by smashing open the front window of the large, empty room that formed this floor.
Flames had caught the ceiling of the lower storeroom. Soon, this floor would yield to the conflagration that sought to reach the roof. But The Shadow could spare a minute, or more, before resuming his departure.
Time had served again. With its aid, the Time Master had disposed of Ferret, an unwanted worker, while preserving Spike, a man he needed. Perhaps the Time Master had foreseen the advent of The Shadow; if so, he had planned his
doom along with Ferret's.
The Shadow had beaten that game by doing more in the space of a few minutes than the Time Master would have deemed possible, even for The Shadow. But in these moments that he was using for recuperation, The Shadow was to learn anew how time could serve the master who bore its name!
CHAPTER IX - TRAILS DIVERGE
Fire engines were filling the front street, along with other mobile equipment such as great hook-and-ladder trucks. An alarm had been given the moment that the conflagration burst above the Ajax Restaurant, and it had taken the firemen only three minutes to reach the scene, which was close to a large fire station.
The Shadow could tell by other clangs that fire apparatus was reaching the rear street, too. More would come, and still more, for this holocaust was taking on mighty proportions. It was time, in fact, for The Shadow to be leaving, and
he saw the quickest way.
There was a door in the front corner third-floor room, leading to a front stairway that Spike had used when he left the office of the chemical supply house.
With a roar like that of a mammoth chimney, the flames were coming right up through The Shadow's floor. The building was becoming a blast furnace that would soon be hurling its fiery tongues against the sky. Below, firemen were donning smoke masks and hooking hoses to hydrants. They were getting the ladders ready.
From both directions came new clangs that the increased roar of the flames could not drown. From his window, The Shadow turned toward the stairs, then paused. Off past a low roof opposite, he could see something that he wouldn't
have seen ordinarily. The thing that gave him the view was the fire itself, for its fierce flames, sweeping through the front wall of the chemical storeroom and taking the steel door with them, were now lighting the entire neighborhood with a lurid glare.
The Shadow saw an alley just next to a florist shop, which, in its turn, adjoined the store of Anga Brothers, antique dealers. There was a truck deep in the alley, headed the other way, and men were loading it with heavy objects that
certainly hadn't been stolen from the flower shop. Screens that reflected the flames with golden glitter, and large vases that required two men to handle, were the sort of stock that belonged in the store of Anga Brothers.
Instantly, The Shadow identified the true scene of crime, as well as the method used. Wheeling from the window, he sped down the front stairway, thinking how chance had ruined the Time Master's calculations. The truck couldn't be seen from street level, for it was in a blind alley where a low wall intervened; but the Time Master very probably had supposed that it would not be seen at all.
He had counted upon the darkness and the steady drizzle to keep the truck hidden. He had overlooked the fact that the fire, another evil deed of the Time Master's own design, would nullify the very elements upon which he was depending for a getaway!
The Time Master had overlooked something. So had The Shadow, until he reached the street. There, again, he realized that the Time Master was still working in double-barreled style. Seeing the truck was one thing, pursuing it,
another. There was no way to accomplish the latter.
Ever thorough in his calculations, the Time Master had not only foreseen that the flaming outburst across the street would bring the fire engines; he had estimated how soon they would arrive. He knew that they would not only crowd
this block, but that they would teem into the adjacent avenues and close all traffic there.
By his orders to Ferret, the Time Master had drawn both The Shadow and the police to a building on the other side of the street, and they had arrived by the rear. As a result, Moe's cab, like the police cars, was completely barred by
the fire equipment. Even the police cars couldn't break through that line-up.
If The Shadow crossed the street on foot, bringing the police after him, it would not bother the Time Master, for by then, the swag-loaded truck would be started and neither The Shadow nor Cardona would have vehicles in which to
Only one course offered itself to The Shadow; that was to head for an avenue, skirt the block across the way, and trust that he would be in time to start shooting at the truck if it came in that direction.
On the sidewalk, The Shadow made his choice and sped on foot, under the shelter of house fronts that hid him sufficiently from the glare which, by now, was spouting through the roof of the flaming building.
His course seemed futile when he reached the corner. A block away, he saw the truck wheeling into the avenue and turning in the opposite direction, beyond a massing barrier of fire engines. It was beyond gun range, and off to a good start.
Crossing the street, The Shadow halted in the darkness past the far corner, realizing that the getaway was as good as accomplished.
A brazen clang disturbed The Shadow. Something wheeled up on the sidewalk and perched there, almost within reach. It was a fire chief's car that had been routed through narrow spaces, into a snug nest. The chief was springing from the car, while his chauffeur was getting out to see if he could find a better space just ahead. The motor was still running.
With what seemed a single leap, The Shadow reached the wheel of the bright-red car. He whipped it off at an angle to the left, sounding the brass bell as he went. The startled chauffeur gave a shout, which was drowned by the clangor.
Up ahead, firemen saw the chief's car zigzag toward them and sprang from its path, pointing to ways that it could take. At one point, firemen who were bringing a hose broke off their operation to let the car roar through. The driver of a hook-and-ladder truck thrust his cumbersome contrivance squarely against a building wall, to allow space for The Shadow to scoot beneath the projection at the back.
Red headlights had kept firemen from seeing the driver of the car until it was actually past them. Then, spying the black-cloaked figure at the wheel, they ran after the car, too late. It was in the clear, speeding full tilt along the avenue on the trail of the truck ahead, the bell still throating its warning for all to clear the way.
The truck swung sharply into a side street, its driver guessing that a chief's car, coming from a fire that was still increasing, might be on the trail. The Shadow took the same veer and saw the truck make another turn.
Croak was the driver, and The Shadow knew the fellow's tactics. Making the swing, The Shadow looked back and saw a coupe behind him. Jamming the brakes, The Shadow drew an automatic and opened fire over the open back of the red car.
Those shots were hasty, of necessity, but they drove off the coupe, even though they scored no telling hits. The coupe veered in the other direction, putting itself completely out of the game. Its occupants didn't have time to do any shooting of their own; at best, they had delayed The Shadow a portion of a minute in his effort to overtake the truck.
Then The Shadow was off again and spotting the truck on the straight-away. He was gaining steadily in half a dozen blocks, when he heard the shrill of distant sirens.
Patrolmen had spied the mad pursuit and reported it. Police cars were in quest of a fire chief's car which, for some unexplained reason, was chasing a wild-running truck.
Croak cut from the avenue just as The Shadow was getting the truck within range and shooting at defiant figures who answered from the truck's open back. Around the corner, Croak made for an alleyway and stopped the truck as it entered at a slant.
It looked like a bad mistake on Croak's part, for he had actually wedged the truck between two building walls.
Crooks went out through the front of the truck, firing a last few shots as The Shadow arrived in the fire car. Only one remained to take better aim: Spike Klonder. He fired just as the red car stopped, confident that he would find the
cloaked target behind its wheel.
But The Shadow, at that moment, was dropping out through the door. Spike's bullet whistled wide, and The Shadow, jabbing his own gun forward from the fender, clipped Spike before the lieutenant could duck.
Into the rear of the truck, over the half-sagged form of Spike, went The Shadow. He came out by the front seat, to see a car pulling from the other end of the alley.
Again, the Time Master's strategy had proven its worth. He had ordered Croak to wreck the truck so it would block this outlet, allowing the crooks to reach a car that had been previously parked for their convenience.
There were shots from behind The Shadow. A police car had pulled up and Spike was sufficiently revived to start a combat. Coming up through the front seat, The Shadow saw Spike take a new sprawl behind a screen that he was using for a barricade.
The thug had made a bad mistake - he thought that the brass panels of the folded screen would stop bullets; but they were of scarcely more than paper thickness. Slugs from police guns had mortally wounded Spike.
While the officers, suspecting a ruse, were watching for new motion in the truck, The Shadow stooped behind the screen and raised Spike's head. The crook saw the glittering eyes of The Shadow beneath the slouch hat brim.
"They got me, Shadow!" Spike snarled. "Got me, because you clipped me first. But what did you get out of it? Nothing! This stuff is only junk! The Time Master took the real swag."
Spike's toughened lips drew themselves into a grin so malicious in its pleasure, that it proved his statements to be true.
"You think you chased the Time Master?" scoffed Spike. "You didn't. He was after you, instead. He was the guy in the coupe like me" - the words were coming in coughs - "like me and Mort... the other night. Only he was working it different tonight. His idea was to duck off... like he did -"
Ending with a spasm, Spike's words promised to be his last. He heard the sinister whisper of The Shadow, its very coldness demanding further facts.
"You know who the Time Master is -"
"Yeah," coughed Spike; "I'm one guy... who... knows -"
"Mort Falden is the other. What he told, you can tell."
The burn of The Shadow's eyes made Spike, in his delirium, believe that Mort had blabbed. Why Spike thought that he could nullify such a statement by declaring the truth himself, was difficult to explain; but The Shadow had found
it to be a way with dying crooks.
Spike tried to phrase a name, the real name of the Time Master, but the effort was too great. A snarl was all that came from Spike's lips, as he died. Glazed eyes, staring upward, could no longer see The Shadow.
Nor did police spy the figure in black as they approached the truck. The Shadow was gone, through the front seat to the alley, where he could make a swift departure into sheltering darkness. Again, the Time Master had topped off
a successful crime by drawing The Shadow along a blind trail.
At Grand Central, a tall man who wore a pink carnation was checking two suitcases in the parcel room. He was stowing the checks along with others, as he hurried to the lower level to catch the seven thirty-five.
The passenger with the pink flower rode to Eastdale, arriving there soon after eight. From the station, he walked directly to the post office, which was closed for the night.
A man was waiting there beneath an umbrella - a huddled man who straightened as the arrival took the umbrella from him. No passers-by were close enough to witness the curious transfer in which one man doubled his body while
the other straightened.
The tall man who walked away without a pink carnation was Mort Falden. He went to the station to await an inbound train. Over his shoulder, he watched a stooped figure shamble away beneath an old umbrella.
The clerk in the apartment hotel saw Armand Thull return from the post office. This time, the stoopish man lowered his umbrella before starting toward the elevator. The clerk saw his drawn, tired face, with the derby hat above it. He said, "Good night, Mr. Thull" and received a crackly response.
Back on the street near the post office, the broad tire of a passing automobile flattened a pink object that was lying near the gutter. Another car mangled it sill further. Broken petals, their pink hue discolored by grime, were all that remained of the carnation that the Time Master had worn when he left the scene of his latest crime.
CHAPTER X - THE LOOSE LINK
Commissioner Weston, finishing a late lunch at the Cobalt Club, was discussing the crimes of the Time Master. His one listener was Lamont Cranston, who, to Weston's delight, was displaying interest rather than indifference.
"We are getting somewhere, Cranston," the commissioner assured. "Two nights ago, we actually caught up with one member of the Time Master's mob."
"If I heard correctly," remarked Cranston, evenly, "it was The Shadow who caught up with him."
"The Shadow did," conceded Weston. "Clever of him, commandeering that fire chief's car. Of course, the fire department didn't like it, and actually wanted me to swear out a warrant for The Shadow's arrest."
"And did you?"
"Of course not! How could I? Officially, I refuse to admit the existence of The Shadow. Why, anyone could put on a hat and cloak and masquerade as The Shadow. For example, Cranston, you could."
Cranston shook his head as though he was one person who would absolutely refuse to be seen in such a costume. Weston smiled, he couldn't fancy his leisurely friend exciting himself enough to travel in the rapid style of The Shadow. Then, abruptly, Weston reverted to his former theme.
"The Shadow caught up with Spike Klonder," he said, "but my men added the finishing touches. It was unfortunate that Spike died before we could quiz him, but even in death he gave us an important lead."
"You see, Cranston," spoke Weston, in a confiding tone, though he was stating something that the whole police department knew, "Spike Klonder worked with a running mate, a smart crook named Mort Falden. So we have begun to look for Mort."
"Do you think that he is the Time Master?"
"He might be," returned Weston, "but I doubt it. It is more probable that Spike and Mort were both working for someone higher up. Of course, the lead to Mort is very valuable, and yet -"
Weston paused, shaking his head. The Shadow watched him quite intently, while keeping Cranston's pose. Then, with a pound of the table that almost spilled a coffee cup, Weston exclaimed:
"If we could only be ahead of the Time Master! Just once, Cranston! This situation is becoming intolerable! Look at this letter, if you don't believe me."
The Shadow looked at the letter. It was from a man named Alonzo Rigby, president of a large investment corporation. It stated that when the directors of Associated Investments met, as they would next Monday night, they would gather in the evening at the Hotel Clairwood. Usually, their transactions required the transfer of large sums in actual cash or negotiable securities.
Having heard of the Time Master and his raids, now a current topic in the newspapers, Rigby was demanding ample police protection at the meeting, and he emphasized the term "ample." In his opinion, not only the hotel, but the entire
neighborhood would have to be under surveillance by the police.
"From what Rigby wants," growled Weston, "I'd have to put fifty men on duty. Suppose I did; what then? Any gathering involving money, from a directors' meeting down to a penny-ante game of poker, could demand some sort of protection. We'd have to call in the whole marine corps to police the city."
The Shadow put a calm-toned question: "I take it that you are ignoring Mr. Rigby?"
"I can't ignore him," grumbled Weston. "I'll have to put some men on duty, at the hotel, anyway. Maybe half a dozen."
While Weston spoke, The Shadow was holding mental debate. He had a suggestion for the commissioner, but would have preferred to keep it for his own use. However, since Weston was going to comply with Rigby's request, to some extent, at least, The Shadow voiced the suggestion.
"An excellent opportunity commissioner."
"For what, Cranston?"
"An opportunity to trap the Time Master," The Shadow replied. "should he know of this coming meeting. You said that you would like to be ahead of him. Perhaps you will be."
The words roused Weston. He had an extension telephone brought to the grillroom, and promptly called Rigby. He told him that he would have all the protection he required, and more. Finishing the call, Weston clapped his friend Cranston on the back.
"You're in on this, Cranston!" he enthused. "I shall have Cardona plan everything, under my personal direction. If the Time Master walks into that hotel, he will be entering a veritable snare!
"We shall arrange so that he can suspect nothing. You and I can take a room close to Rigby's and be in on the trapping, if it comes. As a big-game hunter, Cranston, this ought to thrill you."
The Shadow's smile denoted that he was properly thrilled. Finishing his coffee, he said good-by to the commissioner, until Monday, for this was Saturday afternoon. Leaving the Cobalt Club, The Shadow entered his limousine, presumably for a trip to Cranston's New Jersey home.
Instead of traveling that far, The Shadow left the car on the West Side. Carrying a briefcase, he looked like a salesman going his rounds. He strolled along side streets, noting many places that he passed. The Shadow was seeking a trail, but he was going a long way back to find it.
Of all the possible leads, one stood out most prominently in The Shadow's mind. It went back to the night when he had trailed a cab from the East Side, only to find that the Time Master was not in it. There was one thing about that trip that still interested The Shadow. Obviously, the cab had headed to a spot where Mort and Spike could see it pass.
But why had they been waiting where they were?
This area wasn't a logical place for crooks to lurk. Nor had the blocks that Croak circled been best suited to his task. Croak's ditching of the truck on Thursday night showed how capably the fellow could handle such a proposition, given the right surroundings.
There could only be one answer: Mort and Spike must have been in this neighborhood beforehand. To make sure that they would be available, the Time Master had instructed Croak to bring the cab to them, instead of ordering them to join Croak, or stay close to him.
The Shadow was therefore looking for anything, even the slightest clue, that might indicate why crooks were hereabouts. It was a long and arduous task, involving the check-up of doorways, alleys and odd houses. It didn't allow time to visit offices, even if The Shadow had been so inclined. Besides, this was Saturday afternoon, when few people would be in them.
It was nearly five o'clock when The Shadow stopped at a place which he had noted earlier, but had reserved for final inquiry. The place was Tony's Barber Shop, a logical spot to open conversation.
Entering, The Shadow identified Tony as the proprietor and took a chair toward which the barber gestured. Tony was quite pleased to get a prosperous looking customer like Cranston, who wanted a hair trim, though he didn't really
need one. But he decided to wait until the customer opened conversation, which The Shadow did in Cranston's calm way.
"Nice and quiet in this neighborhood," The Shadow remarked. "It must be pleasant never to be bothered by excitement."
The statement, particularly its manner of utterance, was a perfect come-on for Tony.
"Not always like that," said Tony. "No, sir! Big excitement here one night early in the week. Somebody chase a taxicab around through here and shoot it all to pieces!"
"I believe I read about it. It all happened just before six o'clock, didn't it?"
"Quarter-past six," returned Tony. He stepped forward to wag the scissors. "Yes, sir. Quarter-past six. Right almost at the dot."
Having personally wrecked the cab that Tony mentioned, and usually keeping tally on the details of such occasions, The Shadow knew that his own statement was right and Tony's wrong. The barber's positive manner was therefore
impressive, so, to find the reason, The Shadow glanced at Tony's clock.
It was running some twenty minutes late, which made the matter all the more intriguing, for, according to Tony's mistaken notion, the clock should have been a quarter-hour ahead of time, at least on the night in question.
Tony saw The Shadow's glance.
"That clock, she's wrong," admitted Tony. "Always, it get slow. But she was right, that time. I tell you who say so - the telephone company. We call her at a half-past five."
"And did you set the clock at that time?"
"I set the clock before." Tony was pleased that the conversation had turned to his pet theme. "You wait here, and see. Comes half-past five, you see why I set the clock. The day you say, two men were here. I set the clock, and one
looks at his watch. It say half-past five. The other make an argument, so I say to call the telephone company. He call, and the operator she tell him half-past five."
It was the precise time when robbery had started in the Coastal Jewelry Exchange. Tony's mention of two men engaged in argument about the time, smacked strongly of Mort Falden and Spike Klonder. They could have made Tony believe that it was half-past five, when it was only quarter-after, which would account for Tony's clock still being fast a short while later.
The system was simple, assuming that the two crooks were responsible. One could have set his watch ahead, to begin with, and shown it with the advanced time. The other, calling the telephone company, could have ignored the time as stated by the operator, and simply admitted that the watch, like Tony's clock, was right. A loser in an argument would certainly be believed.
But why had Mort and Spike been forced to fake the time? They could have actually come to the barber shop at half-past five, if they were looking for an alibi of their own. Again, The Shadow saw a likely answer.
They had been faking an alibi for someone else!
The best of alibis, since it would fall on Tony, not upon the crooks themselves. He would simply mention them as two customers. As for the person who might need an alibi, only one could be involved: namely, the Time Master
Evidently, some incident led to the five-thirty proposition, and from what Tony had said, it was due to occur again. So The Shadow decided to take Tony's advice, which was to wait and see.
Finishing the hair trim, Tony decided to ease his new customer's curiosity.
"Every day, he come here," confided Tony. "Mr. Armand Thull, to buy a five-cent cigar. Every week day, Saturday, too, he come just like a dot, at half-past five. You make sure your watch is right, and then you see.
The Shadow was sure that his watch was right. It showed five twenty-five, and his haircut was finished. But it was easy enough to waste the next five minutes in Cranston's leisurely way. The Shadow put on his coat, fixed his tie in the mirror, and was finally adjusting his hat, when Thull came.
With a nudge toward Cranston's watch pocket, Tony went to the counter and sold the stooped man a nickel cigar. The Shadow, glancing at his watch behind Thull's back, saw that Tony was correct about the time. He saw Thull shamble out; then gave a nod to Tony, who triumphantly climbed a chair and pushed the big hand of the clock some twenty minutes ahead.
"You see?" queried Tony, coming down from the chair. "Right at a half-past five -"
Tony blinked. His new customer was gone, his briefcase with him. He had simply strolled from the barber shop while Tony was setting the clock. But Tony, in his surprise, thought that the stranger had vanished like a shadow.
The customer would have done just that, had it been necessary at the time. For The Shadow had picked up a trail that he could not afford to lose. He was sure that Armand Thull, the human clock, was none other than the Time Master!