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 XVI - SPOILS OF CRIME
Actually, The Shadow was on the mission that Weston hoped; he was in quest of Joe Cardona. Moreover, he was using a short path to that goal. But the real answer to Weston's prayer lay in the fact that the futures of the Time Master and Joe Cardona were identified; that a quest for one would produce the other.
The Shadow's immediate quarry was the Time Master. He had picked up the trail of the chameleon crook by a quick use of opportunities.
The rumble of the descending service elevator had impressed The Shadow more than the irregular sounds that came from the conference room. The Shadow had not forgotten the case of the dummy, Jim. He had seen another instance of the Time Master's skill at keeping crime in seeming progress after it was actually consummated. So The Shadow had gone to find a trail below.
Helped by the timely arrival of the detectives, who had equipped him with one of the newer elevators, The Shadow reached the lobby in rapid style. He was spotted by reserve detectives, who didn't expect him, but before they knew what
to do about it, The Shadow was out of his elevator and around the corner to an exit on the rear street.
There, patrolmen spied him and came running up, but they failed to find the being in black that had attracted their attention. Like a specter of the night, The Shadow was gone into darkness under the sheltering wall of the old-fashioned
Next door to the hotel was a low-roofed garage. The Shadow scaled the wall to reach the garage roof, and rapidly crossed it.
From the far edge of the roof, he saw a car slide out of the garage and turn a corner. It was a coupe that looked quite familiar. Moe Shrevnitz's cab was available, for The Shadow had told its driver to be on this next street. It all hinged on how quickly Moe would see The Shadow's signal when his chief blinked it with a colored flashlight.
The Shadow made a first try from the garage roof, and Moe spotted the gleam instantly. From down the street, he whipped the cab across beneath the roof edge, which saved some very precious seconds.
Moe's cab was of the open-topped variety, and The Shadow had furnished him with one of the very latest type, in which the back of the top descended into the car body.
It was just a case of dropping and landing right in the rear seat, which The Shadow did. Moe heard him land, and took up the trail without having to await the word, for Moe had seen the much-sought coupe do its sneak from the garage which formed the Time Master's secret route in and out of the Hotel Clairwood.
With commotion fading the farther he went, the Time Master was not worried about the getaway. Chuckling to Croak, he kept telling his accomplice that the police were still muddling around the hotel, when they ought to be going elsewhere. To which Croak, whose sense of humor was distinctly one-tracked, could only chuckle and cluck: "Stick 'em up!"
Crime, as usual with the Time Master, had been accomplished in a very short space. The Time Master's remarkable watch, accurate to the fraction of a second, showed the time to be four minutes, seventeen and three-tenths seconds after
eight o'clock. There was much more time than the Time Master needed for the important things that he had yet to do. He and Croak were riding back along the route that they had come. They were at Grand Central Station, which was only a
few blocks from the Clairwood. Croak pulled near the curb, at his chief's order. The Time Master alighted and stalked into the station, carrying the all-important satchel.
The Shadow did not follow him. Moe's cab had been caught by a traffic light, and intervening vehicles prevented a view of the Time Master's exit from the car ahead. In fact, the coupe's pause was so brief, that it seemed merely to have been stalled by traffic.
As the light turned, Croak's car was on the move again, and Moe, closing in to avoid further misadventures with traffic lights, saw for the first time that Croak was alone.
Yanking toward the curb, Moe turned to say something to The Shadow. He heard a commanding whisper that caused him to keep right ahead.
The Shadow saw all that Moe did, and more.
Croak wasn't behaving as he would have, if the Time Master had left to stay. Such would have been Croak's cue to speed away, thereby misleading any possible trailers. Instead, Croak was poking through traffic in a way that showed another purpose. He was aiming for another entrance to the terminal, obviously to pick up his chief again. It fitted with the system of the Time Master, this business of having Croak clear traffic, while the Time Master himself would be walking into Grand Central from one street and out upon another.
Added to that was a low-tone laugh that Moe heard. It was mirth that denoted understanding. The Shadow had divined why the Time Master had left Croak's car, but would be coming back to it.
It concerned the satchel containing the profits of the Time Master's latest crime. The Time Master intended to leave it in a safe place, and come back for it later. Therefore, it indicated that he planned to hold conclave with Mort Falden and others of his crew.
The Time Master wouldn't want their mouths to water and their hands to itch, as would happen if he let them view a bag that overflowed with cash.
Within the vast spaces of Grand Central, the Time Master was doing as The Shadow visualized. Still erect and walking with a swift stride, he reached the parcel room and checked his satchel, though when he did so, he hunched over somewhat, so that the attendant would not be surprised if he reclaimed it as Armand Thull.
Leaving the parcel room, the tall man mingled with people as he crossed the concourse, gave the terminal theater a wide skirt, and went out by another way. Croak's car was pulling up as he arrived. So was Moe's cab.
The remainder of the trail was surprisingly brief. It went several blocks north and ended in a small paved court just off a side street west of Lexington Avenue. The place was wedged between high buildings and was evidently a parking lot for certain privileged persons, for other cars were in the court.
The Shadow dropped from Moe's cab to the street, and followed a narrow drive that led into the parking court. He found a heavy chain, lying unhooked, and decided that the court was probably blocked off at night, but that the Time Master had bribed some watchman to let him use it. In that case, the cars parked in the space belonged to the Time Master's men.
Never had The Shadow's glide been more elusive than on this occasion. Oily smoke might have been creeping in along the trail, dispelling itself at intervals, only to re-gather and become a fleeting puff of inkiness. So far, the Time Master had suspected nothing, and his overconfidence in this night's getaway was the factor.
There was reason for his surety; he had not seen The Shadow during the crime at the Hotel Clairwood. It was imperative that he should remain in continued ignorance: that he should believe that The Shadow had missed out entirely on this Monday night.
All along, The Shadow had been thinking of Joe Cardona. The police inspector's total absence from duty was an evil omen. Except death itself, capture by the Time Master was about the only thing that could have taken Cardona off the job; and such capture could readily produce Joe's doom.
If Commissioner Weston valued Cardona's life at more than a quarter million, there was no limit to which The Shadow's estimate could go.
The Time Master and Croak had disappeared down a flight of short steps into one of the big buildings. Following, The Shadow found that they had latched a heavy door behind them.
Rather than waste time. The Shadow settled the latch in the swiftest fashion. He produced an instrument that looked like a cross between a safety-razor blade and a chisel. It had the sharpness of one, the strength of the other. It was squatty, and was fixed in a knobby handle.
Setting the instrument at a slight slant to one side, The Shadow held it upright against the edge of the door, then gave it a terrific drive with the heel of his gloved hand.
Two things happened almost at once. The blade sliced a piece from the door edge, as if cutting paper shavings; meeting the angled edge of the metal latch, the instrument sprang it open.
The heavy wooden door took the shock and was actually swinging inward, when The Shadow stopped it. Edging through a narrow opening, he found what seemed to be a cellar room, except that it was on the ground floor.
It had to be on the ground level, for these buildings had no cellars at all. They were masterpieces of engineering - skyscrapers built upon pillars between the tracks of the railroad yard north of Grand Central.
This room served as a storage basement for one of the tall office buildings; it was filled with empty crates and boxes, with a pathway to a farther door. Moving on to the next door, The Shadow found it unlocked. Opening it a crack, he looked into a larger room, which was dimly lighted.
There was a door at the farther side, which bore the painted word: "Janitor." The Time Master had stopped at that door, to look toward a group of men who had been playing cards until he entered.
Croak was going over to join them, and The Shadow saw the faces of Marty and Bert among the crowd. Croak was asking them if Mort Falden was in there, and passed their nod along to the Time Master.
As always, the Time Master was keeping himself in gloom, for it was dimmer by the janitor's door. He opened the door and went through, while Croak sat down to join the poker game, which then became a six-man affair; for besides Marty,
Bert, and two others, The Shadow saw a man in overalls, who was probably the night janitor. His presence with the crew explained their access to the parking court.
Six were not all.
Just as the Time Master had kept to the gloom, so was another man away from the light, except that his position, as well as his presence here, was not of his own choice. He was in a far corner of the squarish room, seated on the floor, bound and gagged.
He was the subject of jests and malicious leers delivered by the card players. He was easy to identify, even though his face was scarcely discernible, for there was only one person that The Shadow could have expected to find a prisoner in the hands of the Time Master's tribe.
The Shadow had found Joe Cardona.
CHAPTER XVII - THREE WAYS OUT
Tonight, the Time Master had gathered new spoils of crime, and he probably considered Joe Cardona part of the bargain. Certainly, his capture of the ace inspector had been well designed.
Not only had the Time Master bagged the one man on the force who might have traced his past; he had insured the crime which had just been perpetrated. Added to that, the Time Master had provided for the future.
By tossing Joe to the wolves, as represented by the small-fry crooks, he had kept their minds in the right mood. With Cardona on hand to gloat over, the mobsters were perfectly satisfied to play poker for small stakes, while the Time Master discussed sums running into boxcar figures with Mort Falden.
Often crooks went taut, and became ripe for mutiny, when a division of booty was at hand. Such discontent was missing in this outfit. They didn't doubt the Time Master, nor his lieutenant, Mort Falden. Any attempt to start dissension in this crew would be worse than useless.
Their only weakness was their harmony. It served The Shadow, to some degree. Confident that their meeting place was unknown, and that the outer door was secure, the thugs were too intent upon their card play to be annoyed by keeping guard.
There was gloom within the doorway, and it received The Shadow as he glided through. With the door closed softly behind him, the cloaked invader began a circuit of the room without attracting the slightest notice.
Naturally, he took the route away from the light, which was over toward Cardona's corner. He reached the far wall and looked straight along it, to where Joe lay at the other side. The Shadow saw things that suited him.
First came the janitor's door. Just beyond it was a stack of boxes, depleted somewhat because the crooks had taken some of the pile to use for chairs. But the stack was still high enough to block off their view of the janitor's door, and the boxes stood out slightly from the wall.
Beyond the stack was an old door, which had probably been removed from some connecting office and shipped down to the storeroom. It was leaning against the wall at a sharp slant, and it formed a triangular tunnel from the boxes to the
corner where Cardona lay.
As preliminary to a further expedition, The Shadow decided to hear what he could of the discussion between the Time Master and Mort Falden. Keeping close to the wall, he worked along until he reached the door. By crouching there, he was safe from observation because of the boxes. Fortunately, the door opened on the side nearest the boxes, which was going to help The Shadow a great deal.
Reaching for the knob, The Shadow turned it slowly and pressed the door with the same deliberate care. He was as much concerned with the men in the outside room as with the two in the janitor's office, for the poker players, if they looked toward the office, could see the door top and would note too conspicuous a crack of light.
The Shadow did not open the door far enough for them to notice. He kept the space to a thin slice, through which he could just see by shifting to the proper angle. Only his keen ears could have picked up the tones he heard, so he was confident that the small-fry, still taunting Cardona with verbal ridicule, would hear nothing.
The Shadow saw the Time Master slouched at the janitor's desk. He had relaxed from his erect pose, and, except for his sleek hair, he looked like Armand Thull. The Time Master had removed his felt hat and laid it on the desk beside him. Disguise was useless with Mort Falden, the lieutenant who knew his real identity.
Behind it, The Shadow saw a subtler purpose. The Time Master could be maintaining Mort's confidence. As The Shadow listened, he began to elaborate that theory to the point where it produced absolute conclusions.
However, Mort's sallow face showed no change; in fact, Mort seemed more than ever impressed by the Time Master, whose tone, with only a trace of Thull's crackle, was a very earnest one.
"Here's the whole layout, Mort," the Time Master was saying, as he spread a batch of parcel checks on the table in the same manner he would with a winning card hand. "I've checked all the bags in the parcel room at Grand Central. The tags tell you which of the parcel rooms."
Mort glanced at the tags, and nodded.
"I'm going to leave them there," decided the Time Master, "and pick them up, two at a time, while I'm here in town."
"Here in town?" repeated Mort. "I thought you were going out to Chi."
"So I announced," said the Time Master, with one of Thull's dry smiles. "But staying here may be my best way out. If they suspect who I am, they will think that I went to Chicago. If the police suspect nothing, I shall simply resume my life as Thull, as though I had returned. Since our campaign is finished, I shall have no need of further alibis."
"I get it," nodded Mort. "A good way out."
"A very good way," assured the Time Master, "and I have a way out for you, Mort. Here is the ticket I bought for Chicago, with a Pullman reservation, a compartment on the Lakeside Limited, which leaves at nine."
"You want me to use it?"
"Of course!" The Time Master thrust the ticket into Mort's hand. "Don't you see what it means? The compartment will be used, which will clinch the idea that I went to Chicago. Should they look for anyone, I shall be the person, not you.
It is the perfect way for you to clear town without leaving the slightest trail."
The plan brought an approving grin from Mort.
"Now, about your share," declared the Time Master. "I was going to give you Spike's - to keep, or to divide among the others. Spike would have wanted you to handle it."
"I guess he would."
"But I have decided to do more." Choosing one of the parcel checks, he handed it to Mort. "I mentioned the bags, because I want you to take one. This one."
Mort started a question; then hesitated. The Time Master smiled.
"You are right, Mort," he said. "It is the bag I just checked. It has all the money in it. I thought you would prefer it, because there is no trouble disposing of cash and negotiable securities."
"But, say" - Mort could hardly find words - "all this dough... a couple of hundred grand -"
"Is about five times what I promised," interposed the Time Master. Then, with a shrug of his stooped shoulders: "But why not? The jewels and the antiques interest me more. I can sell those that I do not want, and keep the rest. I can always resume my career as a master criminal. I rate the rest as equal in value to the cash, which makes it a fifty-fifty settlement."
Mort put the package check into the envelope with the ticket. The envelope went into his inside pocket.
"The gang will like this," he said. "I'll be big-hearted, too, and give them a fifty-fifty split on the bank rags. I'll have to cut that serious money down to yards or less. I can unload big lettuce out in Chi, easy enough."
"You have arranged, of course, for the rest to wait for theirs?"
"Yeah. That's the way you wanted the deal, and it's jake with them. I gave them the proposition. They said you'd mentioned it yourself. Only, they aren't expecting anything like twenty grand per guy." Mort shook his head. "Whew!"
"You have forgotten one thing," reminded the Time Master. "They still have a job to finish. They must see that another person finds his way out. I refer to Joe Cardona."
Mort's jestful grin was ugly.
"Dough for croaking him?" queried Mort. "Say, you almost got a free job an hour ago, when we snatched him. Marty and Bert weren't going to pull their blows."
"It was best to let him live," said the Time Master. "Nothing is ever too sure. Holding Cardona as a hostage was excellent insurance in case I had encountered trouble this evening. Disposing of Cardona will be no problem. However, you can tell the others that it is the reason for their extra dividend."
"Which they will get when they meet up with me." returned Mort. "Out in Chi, or wherever they say. Getting back to Cardona - they might as well croak him right here."
"Precisely," stated the Time Master, glancing at his watch. "As soon as you and I have left, which will be very shortly. You have a train to catch, remember. As for the last way out - the disposal of Cardona's body - I suggest -"
The Shadow heard no more. He had closed the door and was dipping behind the boxes. He twisted sideways as he crawled to avoid jostling them. When he reached the tilted door, The Shadow flattened and wormed between it and the wall.
Croak, having bad luck in the card game, was staring in The Shadow's direction and might have noticed a figure moving in the open. But the door obscured Croak's view.
Through the leaning tunnel, The Shadow paused before emerging. Time was short, but he still recognized the need for caution. The Shadow spoke in a barely audible whisper. The triangular tunnel acting as a megaphone, his whisper carried only to the man beyond it, Joe Cardona.
To the prisoner, it was like a voice from some space beyond, but Joe could believe what his ears heard. He knew the abilities of The Shadow; how the cloaked investigator could work his way into the deepest of crime's lairs without detection. Often, when the police had battered their way into places, they had learned that The Shadow had been working for them on the inside.
Besides, The Shadow's whisper made sense.
"Slide over," The Shadow was saying. "Up against the end of the leaning door."
Cardona shifted. The crooks heard him stir and took a look at him. They seemed pleased because their groggy prisoner was showing signs of life, for they felt that they had been wasting gibes on him. They watched him, thinking that he was trying to rise, then guffawed when Joe floundered.
But with that sideways sag, Cardona was able to bring himself where The Shadow wanted him.
Gloved bands crept in behind Cardona's back and sawed his wrist bonds with a knife edge. Working down toward Joe's ankle, the same hand repeated the operation on the lower cords. It moved away, then returned, to thrust an automatic into Cardona's hip pocket.
The door opened from the janitor's office. Mort Falden came out briskly, and approached the poker players. The Time Master followed, stopping in the background. Mort told the crew that they were coming in for bigger gravy, and explained why.
"The chief and I are leaving," he said. "Give it to Cardona as soon as we are gone. Yeah, blast him, and then -"
Mort's use of the term "blast" meant much to The Shadow, particularly because of the crook's tone. It meant that the small-fry mobsters were already reaching for their guns. Against the odds to come, first shots would count, and The Shadow was counting upon that privilege for himself and Cardona. There was no time to lose.
The Shadow came straight up, flinging the leaning door ahead of him as he made the spring. He had an automatic in one hand; with the other, he yanked Cardona to his feet.
Joe's hands were busy, also, his right producing the .45 that The Shadow had placed in his pocket, his left ripping away the gag.
Above the clatter of the falling door as it flattened lengthways on the floor, came the weird, reverberating battle cry that all crooks knew and feared.
The laugh of The Shadow!
CHAPTER XVIII - DUEL OF DOOM
The blaze of The Shadow's gun opened the actual fray. That single shot scattered crooks like chaff. Only Croak was hit and the bullet gave him no more than a flesh wound, because he was on the move.
But so were the others. They were following the primary instinct of getting away from danger, which was what The Shadow wanted them to do.
He whirled after them. He wanted to be among them, forcing them to turn like scared dogs and snap back, instead of offering real fight. They would make their snaps with triggers, and such snaps wouldn't count. Quick shots, delivered while diving, were the kind that would go wide.
One crook tried to dodge The Shadow, and failed. Shooting after another, The Shadow brought his gun around with a back-hand swing, at the same time collaring the first thug.
The blow landed neatly, and the fellow reeled. The Shadow sent him stumbling back toward Cardona, expecting Joe to use him as a shield. Then, spinning to get a buffer of his own, The Shadow saw that something had happened to Cardona.
Guns were spurting all about, uselessly at this early stage, but Cardona wasn't shooting. The Shadow needed his aid, badly, in this sort of fray, hence Joe's lapse was serious. He couldn't be held to blame. Joe had the urge, but not the strength to aid.
He was groggier than he had shown. His muscles cramped by the bonds, had failed him. Joe had reached his feet because The Shadow had put him on them, but he hadn't been able to stay. Stumbling forward, he had tripped over the loosed ropes from his ankles and floundered so hard that he couldn't rise.
Boldly, The Shadow tussled with two crooks at once and bowled them toward a third. Others were piling in as they staggered toward the outer door. The Shadow's gun was blasting, but not at those about him. From the midst of the whirl, he was aiming at the more dangerous foemen, who had stayed aloof: the Time Master and Mort Falden.
Smart as they came, those two had mutually chosen a vantage spot - the door to the janitor's office. It was a stronghold that The Shadow had hoped to use as an alternative, should he and Cardona find trouble reaching the outer door.
In the midst of the present melee, The Shadow was safe enough; but Cardona was in danger. That was why The Shadow had to keep Thull and Mort engaged. He didn't want them to clip Joe.
Breaks of the battle aided The Shadow's cause. The Time Master dropped back, to bide his time. He was tall and erect again, his face obscured. He wanted to save his shots for The Shadow, and to preserve his identity at the same time. That left only Mort to be kept busy.
Mort was on the dodge. With the jogs his gun hand was taking, The Shadow couldn't manage to clip the lieutenant, though he kept him from taking Cardona as his immediate prey. Joe was trying to get up again, and blundering badly, but
his efforts helped. Clutching his gun with a hand that could scarcely hold it, Joe butted against the thug that The Shadow had sent him as a shield.
Both were groggy, and therefore nicely matched. They began a slow-motion grapple, in contrast to the swift whirl of The Shadow, who was flinging thugs against the wall, meeting them as they bounced back and knocking their revolvers
from their hands.
Mort's pot shots had all been futile, for he'd held them too long before blazing at The Shadow. Now, when he had a chance at better aim, with the way well cleared, Mort found his gun empty. Throwing it away, he scrambled for another that one of the crooks had lost.
That gave The Shadow time to spot the Time Master, who was taking careful aim from the inner doorway. The Shadow's gun was empty, but he gave it a long, hard fling that made the Time Master duck with a momentary trace of Thull's stoop.
The .45 was still in flight when The Shadow snatched a revolver from Croak, who was dizzy after a trip to the wall and back.
The Shadow whirled to find Mort before the lieutenant could rejoin the action with a new gun. Mort had the gun and was coming up from the floor with it, but The Shadow, almost upon him, drove in and sprawled him without wasting a shot.
Grabbing The Shadow's cloak, Mort gave it a lucky tangle, and they rolled together on the floor, The Shadow coming up on top.
The crooks thought that Mort had the advantage and were shouting their encouragement; before they saw the change of things, something else attracted them. Cardona was up. He had finally slugged his groggy foe and was dragging the fellow with him, to the far corner where Joe had earlier been a prisoner.
With the way shots had been spattered, Cardona was by now the best-armed of all who were on the loose, with the exception of the Time Master.
His wits returned, Cardona expected to serve The Shadow well. He had a gun; he had a human shield. They were all he needed to raise hob with the opposition. The only trouble was the Time Master.
He saw what Joe intended. Wheeling out from the janitor's office, he swung along the wall, aiming point-blank as he came. Cardona tried to shift, bringing his gun around, along with the man who was his buffer. Joe was too late.
Only the hand of The Shadow could have saved Cardona, and it did. The Shadow's hand was free, away from the wild grab that Mort made for it. He had a strange gun, a .32 revolver that he couldn't count on to deliver a wallop like his own huge automatic; hence a shot for the Time Master's body was not the surest system.
The Shadow picked a safer target - the gleaming gun in the Time Master's own hand.
The .32 stabbed, found its mark. The revolver jolted from the Time Master's fist; it was whirling, as its hair trigger touched the numbed forefinger. Theweapon blasted toward the ceiling and the recoil flipped it from its owner's clutch. The Time Master started a twisty stoop, to pick it up, just as Mort managed to get his free hand on The Shadow's revolver.
Mort's own gun hand was beneath The Shadow's knee, thus they were temporarily on even terms. The Shadow had no chance to follow up his thrust against the Time Master. But it wasn't necessary for him to do so. That juggle with the gun, the pause before he started to turn and stoop, were costly elements to the Time Master.
Cardona had almost completed his gun swing, and the Time Master's twist from the opposite direction completed the path of aim. Cardona pulled the trigger of the automatic; the recoil sent his elbow against the wall and his hand jabbed forward from the bounce. So Cardona fired again.
Accustomed to a lighter, stubbier gun, Cardona was amazed by what The Shadow's .45 accomplished. The first slug changed the Time Master from a stooping figure to a stretching form, outspreading like a human scarecrow. Then, as he was telescoping back to normal, the second bullet met the Time Master and crumpled him.
Landing face downward on the floor, he went into a crawly convulsion that brought him to the very feet of Cardona, who was standing in astonishment.
The Shadow knew those symptoms. The Time Master was through. Mortally wounded, he wouldn't last half a minute longer. Mort knew it, too.
With a wrench, the lieutenant broke from The Shadow's grip and dived for the outer door, yelling for the rest to follow, which they did, with the sole exception of the thug who was groggy in Cardona's grasp, and, of course the Time Master.
Had The Shadow turned, he could have clipped Mort on the fly, and another or so to boot, for the crooks had gone into a real stampede. But The Shadow was watching the Time Master.
Only a madman's effort could have enabled Armand Thull to accomplish what he did in his dying moments. He came up from the floor, clawing the wall with his fingers, until his hand reached a thing that looked like a light switch.
Shouting a warning to Cardona, The Shadow sprang to stop the Time Master's move; but by then, the clawing hand was swinging down. Wheeling, The Shadow made a grab for Joe, instead.
The switch clicked. Its contact produced a startling result. The floor in the corner opened downward, beneath Cardona's feet. The Shadow was at the very brink, and twenty feet below he saw railroad tracks, planted on concrete.
The Shadow caught Joe's shoulder and tried to haul the plunging inspector back to safety. The grab merely delayed Cardona's fall by the fraction of a second.
Cardona's burden, the groggy human shield, clung on to him. The Shadow couldn't manage the double weight. The crook went first, spilling backward, with Cardona, tumbling after him, still trying to break off the strangle hold that the dazed man gave him.
It wouldn't do to drop down and try to help Cardona, until the room was cleared of mobsters. The Time Master had slumped to the floor, over the edge of the pit itself, so The Shadow ignored him. The dangerous man was Mort Falden,
and possibly some of those who had fled with him.
The Shadow turned toward the outer door, saw Mort darting from sight. To spur him, The Shadow scooped up the automatic, which Cardona had dropped on the pit brink, and blasted full-sized shots, coupling them with a farewell laugh.
It was, indeed, a farewell.
The Shadow back-stepped as he took the recoil right to the edge of the hole. Two hands came up beside a pair of eyes that showed a venom which their dying glaze increased. With a last clutch, those hands gripped The Shadow's cloak and tightened in death. The same display of final strength that drew the Time Master upward, sent him outward, too.
The duel of doom was not yet over. A dead man was lunging down into the pit, crazily dragging a living and unscathed foe. Twisting as he went, The Shadow tried to clamp the edge of the solid floor. He got one hand on it: the gun falling from his other hand, he sought to gain another clutch beside the wall. There wasn't anything to grab. The opening was flush with the wall.
Still hauled by those clutching hands of death, The Shadow was through the pit and dropping straight downward. Past the Time Master's face, leering sightlessly into his own, he saw a clear wall of concrete rising up to meet him, with glistening rails the only buffer between.
Perhaps it was the recognition of doom that made The Shadow grip the Time Master with a force that equaled his dead rival's clutch.
Mort Falden saw that finish from the door across the room. A chance look, as he bobbed around, enabled him to see The Shadow go. Mort didn't even desire to rush in and close the trap. His men were calling, urging him to hurry. The shooting had been heard, but the coast was still clear.
Then, in the light by the janitor's door, Mort saw something that the Time Master had dropped. It was the wallet that contained the other baggage checks. Mort couldn't resist that opportunity. He came through the door, crossed the room and scooped up the wallet. Having gone that far, he made for the opening in the floor.
Below, he saw vague forms sprawled on the track, among them an outspread blot of blackness that represented The Shadow. Not a figure stirred, but that didn't satisfy Mort Falden. Pointing his gun straight downward, be emptied its remaining shots into the cloaked figure that he knew was probably already dead. Rising, Mort drew up the switch that closed the floor upon the scene of doom.
Dashing out, he caught up with the fleeing crew. With the Time Master gone, Mort was their leader. In the car into which all were crowded, he took the wheel, as he told them what their next plan would be.
"Too bad about the Time Master," declared Mort, "but he got The Shadow, so he went out happy. A good guy, the Time Master - the way he raised the deal to fifty-fifty. Now that he's dead, he'd want us to take all. That's what we're going to do."
Mort's snarling laugh showed no regret for the passing of the Time Master. Perhaps Mort Falden was gloating over the doom of The Shadow!
CHAPTER XIX - NINE O'CLOCK
Stiffly, The Shadow came to his feet and reached numbly for his cloak. He paused; a hand was projecting from beneath it, the claw-like hand of the Time Master, its grip broken from the shock of a hard landing.
That hand was acting as though it wanted to reach something else - the electric third rail alongside the tracks. The Shadow reached out and tugged the hand back. He wasn't anxious to take a permanent jolt, with his dead foe as the contact.
Next came the cloak, which was draped loosely over the Time Master's shoulders. There was no mystery as to how it had gotten there. The Shadow had flung it upon Thull, after the crash. A hard smash, but by no means serious in consequences to the man who had been on top in the drop, The Shadow had kept on top, letting Thull's dead form take the shock.
Chucking the cloak had been a good move, too, though The Shadow was half groggy when he did it. Someone had come back, probably Mort, to add a few bullets for good measure. The Time Master had taken them instead of The Shadow. They hadn't hurt the Time Master; he was already dead.
The Shadow found his hat. It had skimmed a short distance away. It was lying near Joe Cardona, who was The Shadow's most important concern. Joe looked intact; he stirred when The Shadow shook him.
Beside Joe was a form that wasn't in such good shape; in fact, it was quite out of shape. The thug who had taken the drop with Cardona, had also been the bottom man at the finish, as was natural, since he had dropped ahead.
He was the night janitor of the office building; the fellow in overalls. His joining up with the Time Master's crowd had been an unfortunate mistake.
Pulling Cardona to his feet was comparatively easy; keeping him there was another matter. The Shadow had managed it before, and did it again. Getting Joe to walk was more difficult, but The Shadow accomplished it. He wanted the inspector to help him drag two bodies from the track before a train came along. Soon, Cardona gave a little assistance, and they rolled Thull's form and the janitor's between huge pillars alongside the track.
By then, a big searchlight was bearing down upon them, so The Shadow drew Cardona between the pillars, too. It was an incoming express, from Boston; The Shadow recognized it by the type of locomotive and the bulge-sided cars that hammered past. The train was one due in New York shortly before nine o'clock.
The Time Master, true to scheduled form, had counted upon that train tomangle Cardona's body beyond recognition. It was unlikely that the engineer of the electric locomotive would have seen such an object lying here on the track, within the station yards, where all was supposedly clear.
It might have been justice for The Shadow to have let it obliterate Thull instead, but the Time Master's body was needed for evidence.
The lights of the rear car had twinkled by. Cardona, badly shaken by his plunge, was only beginning to realize where he was. The Shadow steadied him, pointed up the tracks to the lights of a switch house, almost out of sight beyond a pillar.
"You'll find a telephone there," stated The Shadow. "Use it. Call Grand Central and tell them to clear the parcel rooms and close them. Understand?"
Cardona seemed to understand.
"Be careful," The Shadow added. "Look out for the third rails. Are you sure you can make it?"
Cardona spoke for the first time:
The Shadow wasn't entirely sure, until he had started Joe along the way and actually saw him make a high step over the nearest third rail. Then, stooping beside the Time Master's body, The Shadow found the crook's special watch.
He knew that the Time Master certainly carried a watch that would be one hundred percent accurate. The watch was still running. It showed that in four seconds the time would be five minutes of nine.
There was something else that The Shadow did not find; the Time Master's wallet. He looked for it, just to make sure that it wasn't there, then gave a low, grim laugh. The Shadow remembered something dropping from the Time Master's
pocket at the time he took his first sprawl.
He was sure that it had been the wallet, with the precious parcel checks which the Time Master, otherwise Armand Thull, had stored up as a squirrel would hoard chestnuts.
Ripe chestnuts, those. Ripe for Mort Falden, who had probably seen the wallet and come back for it at the time he wasted shots on the dead Time Master, instead of the living Shadow. It was a question, now, of preventing Mort from taking over the profits of the Time Master's crimes. There wasn't time to waste.
Turning in the direction that the passing train had taken, The Shadow started off at a rapid jog, reloading his automatic, which he had picked up from the track. He reached the end of a long concrete platform and saw the train stopped just ahead. Drawing himself up to the platform, The Shadow used it as a racetrack for the remainder of the way.
The train had discharged its passengers; the platform was deserted except for a few railroad men, who were so used to hearing people run that they didn't look around.
Meanwhile, Cardona had stumbled into the switch house, to find a man on duty. The man studied Joe curiously, and pushed him back, as he blunderingly reached for the telephone. Cardona sagged back into a chair.
"What's the matter?" demanded the switchman. "Are you drunk?"
Cardona began to fumble in his pockets. The man thought he was looking for a bottle, but Joe pulled out a badge instead. He plunked it on the switchman's desk as if making a purchase with a coin. While the man was examining the badge, Cardona picked up the telephone.
He remembered the connection that he wanted, and got it. Then, with his head swaying, Joe carried on a conversation.
"Close the parcel rooms," he said. "Yes, parcel rooms... Who am I? Inspector Cardona... Yes, from headquarters... Close the parcel rooms. At once!.. Which parcel room? All of them... Yes, get everybody out. Important... Very important-"
Cardona was slumping, but the switchman caught the telephone. He was impressed by the importance of the thing, and said so. He assured the listener that it was actually Inspector Cardona who had made the call, after mysteriously arriving in the switch house. Over the phone, the switchman could hear orders being given.
By the time the switchman had answered a whole string of routine questions, his clock had moved up a few minutes. It was exactly nine o'clock. Perhaps the hour had something to do with the emergency. The switchman wondered, but he
couldn't expect Cardona to tell him. The police inspector had lapsed into a weary slumber.
Maybe Joe was dreaming of The Shadow. It would not have been surprising, for later, Cardona was to remember this whole thing as a muddly nightmare, which only tangible evidence, to be produced, could make him believe. He did mumble something that the switchman heard.
"The Time Master," said Joe. "I guess... The Shadow... got him."
To understand that, the switchman would have had to see more than the body of Armand Thull, lying between the pillars down the track. He would have had to see the strange thing which was happening in the concourse of Grand Central
There, a black-cloaked figure had peered out through a train gate, to look, first at the clock above the information booth, which registered nine, then toward the parcel rooms.
At first, The Shadow thought he had arrived too late. He had reasoned that Mort Falden wouldn't bother about taking the nine-o'clock Lakeside Limited, now that the Time Master was dead. Still, Mort might have decided to take the cash
and let the rest go for a while, preferring a quick getaway. It was also possible that Mort hadn't found the parcel checks.
Then, at the nearest parcel room, The Shadow saw a stir. Several men had stopped there, a rather mussy-looking throng, but all were showing parcel checks. Attendants seemed to be disputing with them; in fact, the men behind the counter were starting to lower metal blinds, to close the parcel room. People in the concourse stopped to witness the argument.
Few saw the cloaked figure of The Shadow, as it moved forward from the deserted train gate. One hand beneath his cloak, he was drawing his automatic. Except for that very real gun, he might have been an unreal creature from another world. Certainly crooks, principally Mort Falden, were going to mistake him for a ghost, at first.
Nine o'clock, the zero hour for crime's final thrust, wherein The Shadow, enemy of evil, intended to prevent the plucking of the fruits which the Time Master had gathered, only to lose!
CHAPTER XX - GRAND CENTRAL BATTLE
Like a hunter in the jungle, The Shadow was stalking down formidable prey. He was approaching slowly, carefully, to get close range before he opened fire on the jungle beasts as represented by Mort Falden and his clan.
The Shadow wanted to prevent stray shots, and he knew he could if he caused the mobsters to concentrate their fire in his direction.
The Shadow was counting on something else. The closing of the parcel room was definite evidence that Cardona had put the call through. The Shadow had expected that Joe would follow up the call by summoning police to the scene. Cardona might have, if he hadn't passed out.
Metal blinds, were coming down. Mort and his outfit weren't going to get the bags that they demanded. At least, they wouldn't have, if the attendants had not stopped to argue. Mort suddenly ended the argument before The Shadow could
reach him. Surrounded by his crew, safely shielded from The Shadow, Mort produced a gun and waved it at the attendants. He growled:
"Clear out, you lugs!"
They cleared out through a rear door of the parcel room, and Mort vaulted the counter, beckoning for his men to follow. He was telling them to hurry up and find the bags, from the checks they held, and to barricade the door that the attendants had just left. Then, as if expecting customers, Mort turned around and faced the counter.
He saw one customer: The Shadow.
With a yell, Mort dived downward. His shout brought others to the counter. They didn't take The Shadow for a ghost. They hadn't seen him plunge awhile before, nor had they fired bullets at him down through an opening in a floor. They took it for granted that Mort had been mistaken, and they opened fire to find out.
Mort, poking his head up, was all the more certain that The Shadow was a ghost.
It was uncanny, the way that bullets missed him. Mort overlooked the fact that the crooks were shooting in a hurry and that The Shadow was weaving in a most deceptive fashion, with plenty of space to roam. The ghost theory finally
cleared itself from Mort's mind when The Shadow returned the shots.
Croak, who had already received a slim sample of The Shadow's marksmanship, tasted a full dose of it. He crumpled at Mort's side. The next to go was Bert. He poked himself away out to take a sure shot at The Shadow. It would have been a sure one if Bert's stretch had not delayed him, and also increased his value as a target. The Shadow's .45 showed its old reliable wallop as it knocked Bert back across the counter, to stay where he landed.
In those seconds of rapid fray, the concourse had cleared like magic. Several hundred people had made for stairs and outlets. Men in the information booths and ticket windows were below the level of their counters. Uniformed guards were swept back by the stampede that flooded from the place, leaving the field to The Shadow.
Despite the loss of Croak and Bert, Mort's crew was still full-sized. He had picked up other members of the Time Master's tribe, who had worked in lesser capacities. They weren't as good as the regular gunners, so Mort was yelling for them to get their bags, and they were finding them.
Ducked low, they were sliding them up to the counter, where Mort, crouched, was staving off The Shadow with occasional shots. Beside Mort was Marty, another good man with a gun.
The Shadow's fire ceased, and with its halt, the cloaked fighter disappeared. Mort thought that he intended to reach the parcel room from the rear, and told his men to watch the door.
Marty was keeping lookout from the counter, when one of Mort's men came up with a large Gladstone bag and set it on the counter. He showed Mort the check stub attached to it.
"This is the one you asked for, Mort -"
"You bet it is," interrupted Falden. "Get ready, you guys and, keep shooting at The Shadow while I make a run for it. When I'm away, the rest will be a cinch. The bulls will go after me. You fellows can stall, then head your own way, with a bag each."
A croak came from beneath the counter, a dying tone that ended in a gasp. Mort Falden demanded:
"What was Croak trying to say?"
"I don't know," volunteered Marty. "He was hanging onto this" - Marty showed a small satchel - "as if he wanted it."
"One of you guys can have it -"
Mort Falden broke off suddenly. He had turned to look across the counter. A figure was rising there; The Shadow's. Swinging the Gladstone bag with one hand, Mort tried to dive away and get his gun around with his other. All that saved him from the aim of The Shadow's gun was Marty's eagerness to take a shot at the cloaked foe.
Marty lunged in front of Falden. Marty did take a shot - from The Shadow. He dropped under the counter like a duck from a shooting-gallery rack. Two other thugs grabbed for the metal blind and yanked it downward, completely cutting off the parcel room
The last face that The Shadow saw was that of Mort Falden, venomous but triumphant. Mort still held the Gladstone bag.
Wheeling away, The Shadow noticed the information clock. It was five minutes after nine. By this time, Mort, had he taken the Lakeside Limited, would be in the compartment that the Time Master had reserved, preparing to open a bag-load of cash totaling more than two hundred thousand dollars.
The Shadow remembered the money and the bag, for he had seen both at the Hotel Clairwood. He also remembered a much larger bag, a Gladstone, out at Thull's. There were other things at Thull's; one was a cabinet full of odd bottles. There were books there, too.
Croak must have remembered a certain little satchel, because he had grabbed it in the parcel room even after The Shadow had drilled him. But Mort, who had unquestionably retained the parcel check given him by the Time Master, and kept it separate from the rest, preferred the Gladstone.
There was something else about Mort Falden. He was the man appointed to carry Thull's trail away, and thereby protect his own. Naturally, the Time Master would have appointed Mort Falden to that job, for with Spike Klonder dead, Mort had been the Time Master's lone lieutenant.
Mort was a man worthy of special favors and reward, for he was much to be trusted. He was the only living man who knew that Armand Thull and the Time Master were one and the same. At least, so the Time Master had believed.
Perhaps Mort would figure that The Shadow, now alone upon the scene, would be overwhelmed by railroad detectives and police for having helped to shoot up the marble concourse of the terminal.
If that happened, Mort could make a dash with his bag and trust to the others to cover him. Mort was more clever than they were, and would stand a good chance. Besides, Mort had more at stake, for the Time Master had told him that his bag was the one with the cash, a bag worth as much as all the others combined.
Mort Falden was very clever. Not so clever as the Time Master.
The Shadow knew!
That was why The Shadow performed a sudden reverse. He wheeled away from the tightly shut parcel-room. He began to gesture menacingly with his gun at other people who were coming up, mostly men in uniform. They showed guns, too, and when they began to shoot, The Shadow answered.
The Shadow had reloaded again, but his gun would soon be empty, if he kept on trying to drive them off. They were twenty to his one, with police among them, and they were sure that they could overwhelm this antagonist, who - Shadow or no Shadow - thought he could defy the law.
Give them half a minute more, with the last cartridge used up in The Shadow's gun, and they would take him, more probably dead than alive, for many itchy fingers were ready to press triggers.
Well away from the parcel room, and off at an angle, so that Mort and the real crooks couldn't aim for him if they tried, The Shadow made a heroic figure, though most persons who saw him thought that he had gone berserk.
The situation was desperate and The Shadow knew it, but he was counting on a sure way out. A way which in itself seemed a brainstorm, a sure token that The Shadow's mind was gone.
The Shadow was depending upon the Time Master!
It had to come, that final stroke. It couldn't be any way else, not with the facts the Shadow knew. It wasn't the sort of thing that would wait much longer.
With that thought, The Shadow raised a huge, quivering laugh, that echoed to the star-studded paintings of the constellations that adorned the ceiling of the great concourse.
With the challenge, he wheeled toward the information booth, firing his last two shots. The reports of his gun sent detectives scudding from the other side of the booth, when they realized that the formidable fighter in black was bearing their way. Reaching the booth, The Shadow turned and gestured with his empty gun. Again, he laughed.
Bullets were rattling from other guns, as men leaped from shelter. They were after The Shadow, the thing that Mort and the beleaguered crooks wanted. Nothing, it seemed, could stop them. Soon, bullets would pelt The Shadow, and then he would be through - forever. Unless -
At that instant, everything stopped.
Driving men stopped, flattening on their faces, their guns flinging ahead of them. The Shadow's defiant laugh stopped at the height of its crescendo, for he needed to voice the challenge no longer. Even the clock above the information booth stopped.
It stopped at seven minutes after nine.
Seven minutes. The time that the Time Master had allowed for Mort Falden to be on board the Lakeside Limited, comfortably in his compartment, and about ready to open the Gladstone bag and examine the well-wrapped package that he was to find inside it. Mort Falden, the one man who could tell the world that Armand Thull was the Time Master.
Maybe the thing would have wrecked the Lakeside Limited. Certainly, it would have halted the train as it did events in the Grand Central concourse.
The thing was a mighty blast, that lifted the parcel room from its moorings, blew it all to chunks, including the metal barrier that protected the beleaguered crooks. Out from that mass of spreading hell came bags and bundles galore, most of them ruined beyond recognition.
Out, too, came the bodies of men that were not even recognizable as such, considering that they were in many pieces.
The Time Master had packed the Gladstone bag with nitroglycerin for the special benefit of Mort Falden, the man who knew too much about the master schemer. That bag was really intended to forever end the trail to Armand Thull,
who would be regarded as the victim of an unfortunate tragedy, in which Mort, instead of Thull, would perish. The bag also held a time mechanism, set for the right minute.
On Monday morning the Time Master had brought that bag in from Eastdale and checked it at Grand Central to show that he was going on a trip, as he had said. It was the only bag that he had ever checked on an incoming trip. He had kept the check apart from the others.
Later, of course, the Time Master had checked a satchel containing a great deal of cash. But it was a much smaller bag, as Croak had known. The Time Master had kept its check for himself, along with all the others that represented bags of stolen goods.
But the check which the Time Master had given Mort was the check to the bag of nitroglycerin.
With Mort gone, there would be no worry, no chance of exposure, no payoff to a lot of small-fry who, in the Time Master's estimate, rated about the same as a dummy named Jim, or an organ-grinder's monkey, and a parrot that could only recite a single line.
The Time Master had been willing to let such crooks go their way, unpaid. But The Shadow had not. From the moment that he had caught the clue of the bags and foreseen the consequences, he had lifted them to the importance of equal sharers in the Time Master's payoff.
Equal sharers with Mort Falden.
By the time the flooring of the concourse settled and no longer seemed to rock, there was no sight of The Shadow. He had clung to the side of the booth purposely, to avoid the shock that threw the others. He had gone in a direction
that no one realized - through a train gate, where the gateman and others were sitting on the floor, too stupefied to see him pass.
The Shadow's work was done, his real purpose realized. Sprawled men who had sought to down him a very short while before, understood at last that he had been saving their lives through his strange tactics, by keeping them away from the doomed package room.
The Shadow was on his way to look up Joe Cardona and learn if he needed further piloting.
Whatever the case, The Shadow would find a way out from the labyrinth of trackage that ran from the Grand Central Station.
In the concourse, detectives found their feet and began to gather up odd, but valuable, wreckage from the luggage that the explosion had tossed.
They found the thousands upon thousands of dollars in cash. Not in bundles, but in loose, fluttering bills of high denominations. Jewels that strewed the floor outshone the lighted stars in the concourse ceiling.
There were antiques, too, in the shape of small but valued ornaments, and most of them had come through the explosion intact, as they hadn't scattered until the flying bags had struck and broken open.
Those, and others, were souvenirs from earlier robberies maneuvered by the Time Master. Clues to some would lead to clues for all, restoring property to rightful owners and pinning the crime where it belonged - upon Armand Thull, lately The Time Master, whose body was lying out beside the tracks.
From the direction of those tracks came a strange, reverberating call - a farewell to crime and crooks from the amazing fighter who had banished both.
The triumph laugh of The Shadow!
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