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Secret Agent X, April, 1938
Somewhere in the darkness of that movie house, among the expectant crowds waiting for the
turn of fortune’s wheel, lurked a killer. And Barney, two-fisted dick from H. Q., knew that the
wheel of fortune was going to be somebody’s wheel of misfortune.
Secret Agent X, April, 1938
T WAS HARD to tell which was the more
dilapidated, the scrawny nag pulling the
delivery wagon, or the wagon itself. Its
paneled sides badly in need of paint, the
vehicle creaked on wobbly wheels along the
gravel drive leading to the rear of the rambling
stone house set among old elms.
On the sides of the wagon body, in
cracked yellow paint, was advertised:
SUPREME LAUNDRY. And just beneath
this: We Call And Deliver.
My little, bright-eyed partner, sitting
beside me on the driver’s seat, asked: “Do you
think we’ll make it, Barney?” He looked
ahead, along the upward grade of the gravel
drive, and his little black eyes were sort of
doubtful. He studied the loose-jointed mare,
that had slowed to an indifferent walk now,
and his expression was downright glum.
I said: “You never can tell, partner.
But it’s got to work, this time. I’ve tried
everything else.” To the lagging horse, I
added: “Gid-yap, Alice.”
The “Professor” was giving me the
once-over, and grinning. He sighed, said:
“Dear me, Barney. What a sight you are! New
York’s most hard-boiled detective, wearing
the garb of a laundry delivery boy. No fooling,
you look ridiculous.”
He smiled up at me in that bird-like
little way of his, small face bright beneath his
thick mop of white hair. The Professor—who
was formerly a well-known judge—looks like
a Kentucky colonel, pint-size.
Being six-three, red headed, and right
now garbed in a white apron that barely
reached my knees, maybe I did look kind of
silly. But the assignment which the chief at H.
Q. had handed me was more so. It seems the
city magistrate had handed this subpoena to
the chief, after half a dozen of his men had
failed to serve it.
One, dressed as a messenger, got
thrown down the front steps. Another,
pretending to be the mail man asking for a
signature to a special delivery letter, got
conked on the head by a buxom Polish cook.
So some one got the bright idea that Barney
Penney—who doesn’t frighten easy— should
be assigned the job of delivering this piece of
paper that will bring wealthy Anthony Burk
into court. And Barney Penney happens to be
me! So here we were.
The nag made it. Right up to the back
porch. I climbed down from the chariot,
opened the rear tail board and hauled out a big
laundry hamper. My little pal, the Professor—
one of the greatest criminologists in the city—
hopped down beside me, looking funny with
his white apron tucked up around his waist.
He whispered, as he went over the laundry
“Now remember, Barney. No rough
stuff. Tact will do this better than uncouth
“Sure,” I replied. “But if any hefty
cook gets careless with a rolling pin—” I took
a squint from beneath the pulled-down cap
I’m wearing and saw no one about. “Come
I swung the big hamper to my
shoulder, climbed the steps of the rear porch
and knocked loudly on the screen door. The
inner door was open, but no one seemed to be
in the large kitchen.
You see, we had learned that Anthony
Burk used this laundry. I had bribed a driver
to loan me horse and wagon for an hour. The
punk had held out for ten bucks. But what the
hell. The chief has told me that there’s a fancy
fee waiting for me if I can deliver this
subpoena to Burk in person. And since it’s my
day off anyway—
Still no one answered. I set down the
basket and really got to work on the screen
door. The whole door jamb rattled. My partner
announced: “It’s Thursday.”
“And it doesn’t look like rain,” I added
with a snort. “So what difference does that
Satan’s Bank Night
“The help are usually off on
Thursday,” he continued.
“Oh, I get it.” I watched the Professor
try the door handle.
“Besides, it’s open,” he explains.
“Why not try going in?”
“Swell idea,” I said not so nastily, and
dragged in the hamper while he held open the
screen door. Inside the big kitchen, I stood in
the middle of the room with my hands on my
hips and yelled loudly: “Laundry!”
HAT didn’t seem to do any good, either. I
looked at the Professor and said:
“Anthony Burk has got to be here. I happen to
know that he isn’t at his office, or out of
But he was already pushing back a
swinging door that led through a butler’s
pantry. He said over his shoulder: “Come on,
then. We’re in, aren’t we? Let’s take a look.”
I followed him into a darkened living
room, through an arched doorway into sort of
a library and out into a deeply carpeted, wide
hallway. The place was richly furnished. This
Anthony Burk, head of a large string of movie
theaters, was in the dough.
Still no one protested our ambling
around the house like this. The place was like
a morgue. At the foot of a stairway leading to
the second floor, the Professor hesitated. “We
really shouldn’t—” he started to object.
But I got my big bulk past him and
started up the stairs. “The hell you say,” I put
in. “I’ve gone to enough trouble to deliver this
subpoena, and before I leave I’m going to be
sure that we haven’t missed Burk.” He trailed
along behind me as I reached the second floor.
We found Anthony Burk in the second
room to the right, apparently his bedroom. He
didn’t object to being served with the
summons. He couldn’t protest.
He was dead.
The theater owner was a small man,
about fifty, and rotund. He had a pink face and
wore grays that almost matched his steel-gray
hair. Only his hair wasn’t gray now; it was a
bloody mess. His head had been bashed in by
some heavy instrument that was missing.
Anthony Burk was lying on the rug, at the foot
of the bed, and his open, staring eyes gave me
a chill.
Delivering a subpoena to a dead man!
This sure was a new one for the “Free-lance
Squad.” Yeah, that’s what they call the
Professor and me, since we get assigned to all
sorts of cases that are off the beaten track.
He said now: “My, my. How crude!”
He shuddered, got down on his hands and
knees and started crawling around the rug. He
tripped over his laundry apron; then loosened
it and dropped it to one side. He disappeared
beneath the bed.
I suggested: “Sure, I’ll speak to the
killer about it for you. He should be more
Maybe the Professor didn’t hear me
good. Voice muffled, he called out, “Who?”
“The guy what done it, of course!”
“Oh!” he answered after a moment.
Then: “It could have been a woman, you
“Why?” I prodded.
My pal had stopped moving around
beneath the bed. He was silent for a moment;
then he clipped out: “A crime of passion, see?
Perhaps hate. That’s one good motive, always.
Look at the condition of his head. They could
have stopped sooner.”
I looked at the dead man, and a chill
ran icily across my chest. I said: “Yeah, they
sure could have.”
But the Professor was saying: “You
know, Barney, there’s more to this recent
theater trouble than what you think. Only the
other day Inspector Deering was saying that
folks are complaining about these bank nights,
Whirl-o’-Win nights, and so on. Now, take
I barked out, “You take it,” and
Secret Agent X
jumped toward the open hallway door. The
thumping coming from one of the other rooms
sounded urgent.
FOUND the girl tied up in the closet of the
bedroom across the hall. She had a small,
oval face and sea-blue eyes. She was about the
size of the Professor, and where her rumpled
skirt had skirled up around rounded knees, I
didn’t have to look twice to see that she had a
nice form. She had been crying.
She stared fearfully out of those pretty
eyes while I got the cruelly cutting cords from
her wrists and slim ankles. I don’t wonder she
looked scared. Burly me, freckled face made
to scare babies, towering over her in the crazy
white apron! Maybe she wondered where my
meat axe was. I looked not unlike a butcher.
I got the gag out of her mouth, a small,
curved mouth that was delicately sweet. She
cried out: “Oh, you beast! You’re the one who
sneaked up behind me, knocked me out and
tied me up.” She was struggling as I helped
her to her feet.
I scratched my head and said: “Now
look, lady. Don’t get me wrong. I just arrived
here. Besides—” I took off the apron, fumbled
in my pocket for my shield and proved to her
that I was the law.
She sank weakly into a near-by chair
then, and sighed. “Oh, that’s better.” But she
bounced right out of it again, small hands
going to her bosom. “But where’s my
I frowned, patted her hand as she
clutched at my arm, and said soothingly:
“Let’s start from the beginning, huh? I came
here to deliver a summons—” I broke off, said
nothing about the dead man across the hall,
and asked instead: “Now you tell me just what
happened. First, who are you, sister?”
She was rubbing her bruised wrists
now. She said: “Oh, that. I’m Mary Blaine.
Bob and I live here with Uncle Anthony, you
see.” Her blue eyes looked fearful again.
“Well, I was alone here in the room, just
finishing dressing. Bob—that’s my brother—
called in and said to hurry. We were going
out. When some one came in a moment later, I
didn’t bother to look. I thought it was him—
Bob. Then this terrible man grabbed me from,
behind, dragged me toward that closet and—”
“Who?” I prompted, studying her
frank blue eyes.
“I don’t know. He hit me with
something then and—and I came to in there!”
She indicated the clothes closet “Then you just
opened the door. I thought you were the one—

“I see,” I murmured, though I was still
up in the air. Of course, it could have been her
own brother. The one who grabbed her, I
mean. I prodded:
“Your brother. What does he do?”
“Do?” she asked wonderingly.
“Work,” I explained. “Is he old
She smiled. “Of course. He’s twentysix. He’s manager of one of uncle’s theaters.”
Her pretty eyes clouded and she gripped my
arm again. “You said something about being a
policeman Is it anything to do with the trouble
they’ve been having at the theaters?” She
suddenly looked worried as hell.
It was then that I remembered what my
pal the Professor had been saying. I
remembered some other things, too. The Burk
chain of flicker houses had been accused by
certain patrons of running some shady bank
nights and other forms of lottery pools. I think
this subpoena I was carrying had something to
do with that complaint. I said:
“Now take the following easy, miss. I
might as well tell you now as later—”
Mary Blaine screamed at that instant.
“Look out! Behind you—”
The heavy-set man with the green eyes
was halfway to me, and the thick walking
Satan’s Bank Night
stick in his hand was already descending in a
wicked swing.
I sidestepped—but not quite soon
enough. The heavy cane grazed my skull, dug
into the shoulder muscle close to my neck.
The shock was paralyzing. My right arm, for
the moment, was useless.
But not my left. I spun around with the
force of the cane blow, sent out a steaming left
hook and missed the big man’s jaw by a
fraction. The cane started swinging again.
Somewhere behind me, Mary Blaine
cried out: “Oh, stop it! I know him now. It’s-”
UT THIS came too late. The cane caught
me across the back this time, and I saw
red. I plowed into this bird with the queer
green eyes and the face that was half jaw. He
certainly could take it. I got him backing
toward the hall door, but that damned cane
kept swinging and slashing, and I knew if I
didn’t take him soon, that heavy cane would
find my skull.
I saw the Professor then. Hopping
about like a bird, he stood in the hallway
waiting for this big bruiser who was backing
toward him. He had a gun in his hand, but
dared not use it because of the girl. But he
swung the gun muzzle in a short arc.
It caught the green-eyed stranger
behind the ear, a light blow, but the man went
down hard. And stayed down.
Shuddering, the ex-judge stepped
gingerly over the big, limp form and came into
the room. His suit was dusty at the knees from
crawling beneath the bed, and his flowing
black tie awry. He bowed deeply from the
waist, facing the girl, and said:
“You’ll have to pardon my partner’s
actions, miss.” He indicated me, “He’s just a
roughneck at heart sometimes.”
Mary Blaine shook her curly blonde
head, and explained: “Oh, it was perfectly all
right.” She indicated the still figure on the
floor. “Mister Smith, that’s who he is, was
going to strike him. But I don’t know why.”
The Professor smiled benignly then,
pocketed his gun. He says: “I believe I did the
proper thing then.”
His black eyes clouded up and he
looked from me to the girl, then back at me
again. “Barney,” he said, “this fellow looked
in the other room, saw—what was in there,
and then heard you talking in here. He must
have jumped to the conclusion—”
But the blonde girl had caught what
the Professor had started to say. She cried out:
“Wh—what’s in there?”
Gently then, my partner took her arm,
led her out into the hall. I admired him for the
courage needed for what he must now tell
Later, her firm little chin held stiffly,
she came back into the room. She had taken it
like a soldier. She explained: “I can’t
understand it. Of course, there has been some
trouble at one or two of the theaters. But
nothing that would lead to—to murder!”
The Professor, who I can see is getting
anxious to call Homicide, perched his frail
little form on the arm of a chair and said
softly: “Tell us about this theater trouble, Miss
Blaine.” His alive, black eyes told me that he
already knew more than he was telling.
The blonde-haired girl was walking up
and down the room, upset but managing to
keep control of herself. She said: “It started a
couple of weeks ago. Patrons complained that
there was something suspicious about the way
people were winning on Whirl-o’-Win nights.
In these community theaters, you know,
patrons get acquainted, or recognize each
other after seeing the same faces there week
after week, all hopeful of winning. But now,
these same patrons claim that recent winners
have all been total strangers. Some have
requested an investigation.”
Mary Blaine sobbed once, continued:
“Uncle Anthony never did anything dishonest
in his life. All those various cash pool nights
Secret Agent X
were on the level. I know it—”
“Of course, child,” the Professor
interrupted soothingly. He hopped to his feet
and gave me a guarded nod with his head
toward the hall. “Now, is there any one you
can stay with, while we get this—this
unpleasant business over with? The police
must come, you know. Where’s Mrs. Burk?”
The girl looked startled. “Oh, didn’t
you know?” she asked, just as though the
Professor should know all about everything.
“No, I didn’t,” he replied. His eyes
blinked, and he added: “What?”
“Uncle Anthony and his wife are
separated. She left just yesterday.”
I started to whistle, but the Professor
caught my eyes and gave me a dirty look. He
asked her: “Isn’t there anyone else—”
Just then I recalled what the girl had
said about her brother. “Look,” I exclaimed.
“Your brother? Where in the devil did he
disappear to?”
She suddenly looked scared as hell,
and gasped: “Oh, I forgot. Perhaps something
has happened to him.”
The big man on the floor snapped out
of it and started to get up.
HAD A TIME with him for a while. After I
got him calmed down, seated on the bed, we
learned that he was Philip Smith, a business
associate of the dead man’s. At first, he was
inclined to be antagonistic, but the Professor,
in his calm, easy way, has a manner of
handling such people. After a moment he had
the guy explaining.
“Trouble!” he explodes, green eyes
flashing. “That’s all we’ve had. First, Burk’s
wife decides to leave him, holding out for
plenty of alimony, too! We’ve been losing
money at the theaters, also running these
lottery nights. But we have to do it, to keep up
with competition. Now, the managers and
operators are holding us up for more money,
besides this trouble from patrons who think
prize winners are picked by us. Imagine!”
Just then I got to thinking about that
weather-beaten nag and wagon out in the rear
drive that was costing me ten bucks an hour. I
put in: “The chief’ll raise hell about not
putting in a call, partner. Let’s get going!” I
looked at Mary Blaine and figured maybe I’d
spoken too hastily.
There was a French phone on a table
near-by. The Professor lifted the receiver, got
H. Q. and gave Homicide the low-down on the
killing. Hanging up, he said to the girl: “You
wait here in your room. I’ll make things as
easy as possible for you.” For a guy in his
fifties, my partner wasn’t so slow!
Outside in the hallway, the Professor
said to big Philip Smith: “And you can wait in
one of those rooms down the hall. Get going.”
Mumbling, Smith stalked down the
hallway. It was then that I remembered
something else beside the girl’s missing
brother. I said to my partner:
“Say, when you were under that bed,
you mentioned something about these Whirlo’-Win nights, being held at Burk’s theaters.
What made you say that?”
His eyes sharpened then, and his hand
dipped into his side pocket. “Gracious me,”
the Professor exclaimed, “I almost forgot. I
found this little paper disk under the bed. Now
what do you suppose it means. ‘Pink—48,’ it
reads, and—”
I took the disk from his palm and said:
“Hell, haven’t you ever been to one of those
bank nights when the pool gets up around
three hundred?”
The Professor frowned. “Heavens, no!
I can’t stand the crowds.”
I was staring at the pink-colored disk.
“It’s for the Phoenix Theater,” I indicated.
“That’s one of Burk’s places. And—” I was
suddenly intensely interested—“it’s dated for
tonight! That’s strange.”
Satan’s Bank Night
“Sure. These disks are usually handed
out as patrons enter the theater for the evening
show. How did this one get out for to-night’s
show, unless—” I broke off, an idea slowly
building up in my mind. I like to play
hunches, and I had one now. I continued: “I’ll
keep this. I’m going to that show at the
Phoenix tonight. You stay here and handle
things. Meet me in the Phoenix lobby about
seven tonight.”
He shook his head vigorously, said:
“Barney, you jump to conclusions. Now, first,
we must locate Mrs. Burk. Yes, I would very
much like to talk to Mrs. Burk. If you’ll get
busy on that angle—”
I said: “Sure, I’ll take care of that, too.
And the girl’s brother. It’s funny about him-”
The young man coming down the steps
from the third floor above, said rather shakily:
“There’s nothing funny about it at—at all!”
I knew right off that it was the girl’s
brother. He had the same blue eyes. But he
was tall, lean-looking, and his straight hair
was ash-blond. He looked like he had been
shoved down three flights of stairs.
His face was bruised, and his brown
suit was plenty mussed. A length of frayed
cord was trailing from one of his wrists. He
pushed past the Professor into the murder
room, stared out of unblinking eyes for a
moment; then he swung toward us, rapping
out: “So he did get him then!”
I stepped closer to the young man, my
hand ready to slip to my shoulder holster,
though I doubted if that would be necessary.
Robert Blaine didn’t look like a dangerous
sort of person. I asked: “Who did?”
“The man who got me, of course.” He
motioned up the stairway. “I went back up the
stairs to get my coat. He must have been
waiting in a closet near the head of these
stairs. He jumped me then, knocked me down,
dragged me into the closet, where he left me
tied up.” He indicated the cord hanging from
his wrist. “I got this, and the one tied to my
ankles, loose on the edge of a broken, metal
waste basket in the closet.”
The Professor had flashed his special
police badge; briefly, we had told young
Blaine what had happened as far as we know.
Eyes wide, he blurted: “Where’s sis—Mary?”
My partner indicated the girl’s room.
“She’s all right. The rest of the law will be
here any moment. Leave her alone for the time
being. But about this person—”
I put in: “Yeah, who conked you?”
“The man from the theater,” young
Blaine said.
“What man?”
“The one who threatened Uncle
Anthony the other day. I don’t know his name.
He’s been in several times, complaining about
prize-money nights at the theater. I think he
was slightly whacky, for he threatened uncle
because he had never won any cash on the
jackpot nights.”
The Professor asked: “Where’s your
aunt—Burk’s wife?”
Young Blairie’s lean face suddenly
tightened. “I dunno,” he said shortly.
I knew he was lying.
My partner gave me a strange look,
said: “Never mind. But you know this man
who knocked you out upstairs?”
Young Blaine nodded. Squad cars
were pulling into the front drive at that
moment; the dying moan of a siren penetrated
the terrible stillness of the big house. The
Professor said suddenly:
“Take him with you, Barney. Locate
this man he speaks about. Also Mrs. Burk. I’ll
fix it here with the homicide men. Hurry!”
Blaine asked: “May I wash up before
we start, sir?”
I said that would be all right, and
waited on the second-floor landing until my
partner went down to let in the bulls. Young
Blaine went down the rear stairs to the
kitchen. I wondered why he had lied about his
Secret Agent X
aunt, and tried to recall what the woman
looked like. It seemed to me I had seen Mrs.
Burk around some place.
Just to verify things, while the
Professor was taking the cops to the murder
room and sending one man to stand guard
over the room in which was burly Philip
Smith—the dead man’s associate—I slipped
up to the third floor and looked over the closet
and near-by bedroom that was young Robert
I spoke to a couple of squad men on
the way down to the kitchen via the front hall.
One officer was stationed at the front door. He
started to ask questions, but I was in a hurry
now. That nag and laundry buggy were
costing me real dough. I hurried through the
dining room into the kitchen.
Young Robert Blaine wasn’t there.
Neither was he any place else, when I
sent a couple of dicks to scour the house and
grounds. Puzzled, I went back to the laundry
wagon. The nag had pulled the wagon over to
the edge of the gravel rear drive, and was
nibbling at some grass. I had one hunch: Mrs.
Burk. Wherever she was, I was suddenly
betting that Robert Blaine had gone to her.
Why? Because I was suddenly
remembering where I had once seen the
woman. At a charity affair at a local hotel. She
was Anthony Burk’s second wife—there
never had been any children in either of his
marriages—and this second wife was in her
twenties, pretty as hell and—
Why wouldn’t a good-looking chap
like Robert Blaine go for her in a big way?
Perhaps he suspected her of this murder, had
gone to help her! Perhaps my partner’s idea of
murder for hate wasn’t so far off at that!
I jumped up to the wagon seat and
slapped the reins against the mare’s back. I
rapped: “Come on, Alice, amble! We’ve
things to do!” I was thinking to hell with the
laundry basket back in the Burk kitchen. I was
anxious to get rid of this crate and pick up my
bus. The laundry driver could call for his wash
The roadway out of the Burk place
wound through elms set close along the road.
It was mid-afternoon and hot. I sat stiffly on
the hard seat and tried to get speed out of the
Something prodded my back then, and
a hard voice, obviously disguised, said: “All
right, master mind. Just sit as you are. Pass
that paper disk, which you have in your
pocket, over your shoulder with your left
hand. Careful now! A forty-five slug makes a
nasty hole in a guy’s back!”
LOWLY, brain pounding and a pulse in
my throat beating wildly, I followed
directions. My left hand rose to my shoulder.
Every muscle was tense for action. The gun no
longer pressed my back. Now!
My left forearm, hooked, went back
and up, clawing for my captor’s head. If I ever
got that head in a squeezing headlock—
But I didn’t twist fast enough.
Something that felt like the business end of a
pile driver landed on the back of my skull. I
was smashed down against the seat, hands
clawing out to grab anything to support me. I
made a feeble attempt to reach my gat. It was
a useless movement. I felt suddenly as though
every nerve in my body were paralyzed; my
arms couldn’t do what my mind ordered them
I tried to turn, to get a glimpse—
Wham came that clubbing blow again.
And as darkness settled over six-foot-three of
helpless copper, I had the thought that there
had been two large laundry hampers in this
chariot. My attacker must have hidden in the
second one, beneath the dry wash....
A radio-car cop found me tucked away
in the basket in a lot up in Riverdale. That’s
the fashionable New York suburb where
Satan’s Bank Night
Anthony Burk had lived. The cop says he got
a flash saying the horse and wagon had
wandered back to the stables, with both
hampers missing. The driver had located one
at the Burk home, of course. But the other—
Well, here it was, with yours truly in it!
It was dark, almost seven o’clock.
After the cop had patched up my battered
head—he had a first-aid kit in the radio car—
he took me to where I had left my flivver, and
I called the Professor from a drug-store phone
booth. I located him at headquarters.
“Barney,” he cried over the wire, “I
thought you were killed or something.”
“The Irish die hard,” I put in hastily.
Then: “What’s happened?”
“Plenty,” the Professor started in
rapidly. “First, this associate of Burk’s—
Philip Smith—is involved terribly. He has
been going around with the dead man’s wife;
he also has charge of the books for those
theaters, and there are discrepancies. Also—”
“Yes?” I prompted.
“The medical examiner says Burk was
killed early this morning. We’ve learned Mrs.
Burk was out there early, to pick up some
I put in: “You still have a yen about
that murder-for-hate angle, eh? What about
young Robert Blaine?”
“Well, really now, I don’t know,” he
replied, in answer to the first question. “There
are too few clues, though it looks bad for this
associate, Smith, and that stranger who
threatened Burk at the theater. The one Robert
mentioned. Oh, yes, we found Robert Blaine
at the woman’s hotel. He ran there to her,
probably upset and thinking she did it. I’ve
learned he was quite in love with her.”
“But where—” I started to ask.
“She left for Chicago this morning, on
her way to Reno. We’ve ordered her to be
stopped at the Chicago station tonight. Young
Robert was allowed to go to the theater. He is
trying to find this stranger for us, the one who
threatened Burk.”
I had been watching a clock on the
wall across from the booth. I said quickly:
“Now look, partner. Time’s short. I’ll see you
at the theater shortly. Now get this: It’s Whirlo’-Win night, with the jackpot at four hundred
bucks. I’ll be wearing a tan trench coat and
fedora. Watch for me in the lobby
immediately after the winners are called. I’m
playing a hunch, partner. Listen for Pink—
forty-eight!” I started to hang up.
“Wait!” the Professor protested. “I’ve
got this girl on my hands.”
“Meet me at the movies!” I rapped out,
and cut him off.
UTSIDE, it had started to rain. Climbing
into the old rattletrap, I wheeled the bus
over to Broadway near the end of the Van
Cortlandt subway, chiseled a second-hand
clothing dealer out of a tan trench coat for a
couple of bucks, picked up an old fedora at the
same place and headed downtown toward
Dyckman Street. The Phoenix Theater was in
the Bronx, in that section.
The flivver’s tires made squealing
sounds on the wet pavement as I did a Barney
Oldfield through the early-evening traffic.
Parking a block away from the Phoenix, I slid
into the old coat, pulled the fedora down over
my head and hoped to hell no one would
recognize Barney Penney. I’ve been in enough
gun battles with crooks around the Big Town
to be pretty well known.
Luckily, my assailant from the laundry
hamper had overlooked the gun in my
shoulder holster. I had a hunch I might be
needing it. Because, for once, there had been
too few clues in this case for my bright little
pal, the Professor. He figured crimes with his
brains, when he had something to dig into.
But I prefer to use my fists on rats.
Together, the Professor and I got along swell,
though he worried himself to death about my
rough methods. And this looked like one time
Secret Agent X
when a killer was going to be caught with
action—a fast play. Tonight!
The theater was fairly crowded, but a
few rows in the rear of the orchestra still
contained a few empty seats. And near one
aisle, I spotted my partner, seated with blonde
Mary Blaine. There was an empty seat next to
them, on the aisle side. I waited until the usher
had taken some one down the aisle, then
slipped to the empty seat in the covering
The Professor said: “This seat is taken,
sir.” Then he peered at me hard, exclaimed
softly: “Barney! I had a hunch you’d find me
here; saved this seat for you.” He moved over
toward the aide, so I could sit between him
and the girl. I still wore my coat, collar up
around my neck.
Mary Blaine touched my arm,
whispered: “Your friend tells me you are
going to try something unusual—”
I nodded quickly, said: “Careful. I
don’t want anyone to recognize me here. But
Her deep eyes held mine; she was
sweet and young and lovely. She said, still
with a catch in her voice: “Robert and I are
orphans, you know. Your partner has been so
kind. He asked me to come here with him
tonight, to try and help you and him. He
wanted me to explain this Whirl-o’-Win wheel
to him.” She made a motion with her hand. “I
know this theater well, of course.”
To the Professor I said: “And Robert?
He’s here, too?”
“Up in the office,” my partner, said
softly. There was a newsreel on the screen,
and we had a chance to talk swiftly. Within
ten minutes or so now, the roulette game
would be played on the stage. He continued:
“He’s described this stranger we’re seeking to
one of our plainclothes men. The officer is in
the lobby now. We hushed up the murder, for
the time being, because of your crazy hunch
about this pink disk. Didn’t want to scare
anyone off.” His sharp black eyes narrowed.
“Just what is your crazy hunch?”
I said, “Wait,” starting to turn to the
girl. But the Professor was gripping my big
arm, looking at the bandage partly hidden at
the back of my skull by the upturned collar of
the coat. “You’re hurt!” he whispered.
I grinned. “Just a scratch.” Turning to
the girl, I asked: “How would one get beneath
the stage here, Mary? I’ve got to hurry, too.”’
Breathless, she explained, nodding
with her head toward the front of the theater.
“Down this aisle. It angles to the right up
front, behind those curtains. There’s a door
behind there. Go down the steps inside— But
“Swell!” I cut in. “See you later.” And
to my pal, “Remember, right after the prizes
are awarded, in the lobby. Follow me. Leave
the girl here.”
LEFT THEM then, and under cover of
darkness along the aisle, slipped to the little
door Mary had mentioned. To one side of the
stage, in darkness, I saw the big wheel that
was used for Whirl-o’-Win. It was really three
wheels within a wheel, all made like a roulette
wheel with numbers. Ten spins constituted the
game for the evening. Patrons entering the
theater were handed small paper disks, each
containing a color and a number.
One spin of the wheel selected the
lucky color; another spin on a wheel within
the great outer wheel picked the lucky
number. The person holding this combination
then stepped to the stage and the large outer
wheel was then spun. This wheel was marked
off somewhat like the old “put-and-take”
game. The lucky ticket holder might win a
dollar, two, perhaps five. The excitement of
the game was that the big outer wheel
contained segments that offered ten percent, or
fifty percent, or even all of the jackpot
Satan’s Bank Night
accumulated over a series of nights. And
tonight that jackpot was four hundred dollars!
I reached the basement unobserved.
There was a dim light on at the foot of
the stairs, and prowling around I reached a
point approximately beneath the big roulette
wheel located above. Within moments, I had
found what I sought—just as the door opened
at the head of the stairs and some one started
It was dark here where I was; I had
been working with a small pocket flash. I had
noted the small storage room near the foot of
the stairs. The door to this was open.
Silently, I slipped into the protection of
the room entrance, waited until some one had
passed and gone toward the wheel. Of course,
it would have been an easy matter to step out,
take the visitor by surprise. But this was not
what I wanted, for this person was needed in
my plan.
As soon as the arrival was away from
the spot where I was concealed, I slipped out
and, catlike, went back up the stairs. And none
too soon.
The newsreel was almost finished, and
soon the theater would be flooded with light.
Still protected by darkness, I reached the back
of the theatre while all eyes were upon the
When the lights came on, my head was
again covered with the old hat, and I was
mingling with patrons standing behind the
glass screens that separated the rear row of the
orchestra from the deeply carpeted lounge
behind. A bright spot flashed on the big
Whirl-o’-Win wheel, and down an aisle on the
far side of the theater I saw young, towheaded Robert Blaine heading for the stage.
As was the custom in all these
community show houses, the theater manager
took charge of the roulette game.
No big prizes were won on the first
half dozen spins. Salmon-3; pay $3.00 and put
$2.00 into the jackpot. Hollywood Green-27;
pay $4.00 and put 33.00 into the jackpot. So it
went, with the audience tensely waiting for
some one to crack the real prize money. The
fifty percent of the jackpot section of the
wheel came around to the pointer, barely
nudged past. Patrons groaned.
It was the ninth spin and one to go.
Pink came up on the first spin of the smaller,
inner wheel. Then the number. 40—45—46—
47—48! It stopped on 48. Pink-48, the number
of the small paper disk that my unknown
assailant had taken after I’d been knocked
Near the rear of the audience, a man
rose from his seat and started down the aisle
toward the stage. He was tall, wedgeshouldered, with a pasty-white face. I was
positive that I had never seen the man before
in my life.
Again the large outer wheel spun.
Around and around, then starting to slow. Past
the jackpot mark, past the fifty percent and the
ten. But wait. They were coming up again. It
stopped on—Pay 100%. The jackpot!
The audience went wild, started
cheering the lucky person who was four
hundred dollars richer. Young Robert Blaine
smiled at the winner, but his face was strained
from the ordeal he had been through this
afternoon. Into a sack he quickly placed the
prize money, and the man with the pasty face
hurried up the aisle. I was already headed for
the lobby.
In the crowds starting to leave, some
one brushed against me. It was the Professor,
and his eyes were curiously bright and
snapping. In passing, he whispered quickly:
“That winner, Barney—I recognized the man.
A small-time gambler named Roy Holden. I
think I see the setup, partner, but you’re
flirting with death. You better take some
I kept my head low, whispered hastily,
“Too late now!” and ducked out to the street,
moving away from the brightly lighted
Secret Agent X
marquee. My little friend was soon lost in the
HEN I spotted the lucky winner, the bigshouldered man with the pallid features.
The average person forgets faces so quickly
that none recognized him slipping off into the
shadows away from the theater. I didn’t.
Shadowing is something I learned long
ago. I was hardly fifty yards behind him as the
stranger continued straight down the street,
turned the corner and headed for the block
behind the theater. Darkened store doorways
helped me out. He turned right again at the
next corner, and I lost him for a moment in the
darkness. It was a residential street, dark,
deserted. It seemed that his steps had stopped
Carefully, shielded by trees now, I
edged forward—and heard the squishy
footsteps in the alleyway close to: me. He had
turned right again, into the alley. It was a
tunnel of blackness, and lurking death. For I
knew this was the end of the trail now. Heavy
gat in my hand, I stalked forward slowly, ever
alert for those steady footsteps to stop. It
wasn’t one burly man I had to face, but this
prize winner and the one he was going to
meet. And one of them—a killer!
The steps slowed, moved around a bit,
I went forward fast. Two people had
started talking.
I ripped out: “Hold it! Just hold it like
that. One phony move and—”
The one I had been trailing—I could
see him dimly now—whirled away from the
doorway and his hand streaked beneath his
coat. Gun-flame flashed, a slug ricocheted off
the brick wall behind me. I fired point-blank.
The one the Professor had stated was a
gambler went down, clawing at his chest.
From the doorway that had opened here in a
high, stone wall, the second figure leaped
toward me. A sound like that a terrified animal
makes in its throat came from his lips. There
was a gun in his hand, and it was suddenly
kicking against the palm of the one who was a
Relentlessly, a slug in my left arm,
another clipping my big ear, I went forward.
The man screamed, and hurled the gun. I fired,
not a fatal shot, but one that caught him high
in the shoulder and sent him smashing against
the wall. Another hit him in the leg. He went
down, groveling, and I kept going right up to
him and holding the gat steady.
He screamed: “No! No! No!”
Then he passed out. I dragged him into
the open doorway. There was a dim light
inside, and I was in a small room behind the
stage of the Phoenix Theater. I had known it
would be the theater, of course.
I was dragging in the pasty-faced
gambler when the Professor and a cop ran in
from a passageway that led from the main part
of the show house. My friend exclaimed:
“Barney, I thought I was too late. I
figured the setup when you went beneath the
stage tonight, and I knew this gambler would
come back around here after he got the
money. But I couldn’t find Officer Reilly here,
and it took some time—”
I said wearily: “It’s okay, partner, I got
him anyway.”
The red-faced patrolman was staring at
one of the two figures on the floor. He
breathed: “Holy Saints! It’s Mister Blaine—
Robert Blaine! Who’d imagine—”
The Professor met my gaze, nodded.
“Pink—forty-eight!” he said, with a sigh.
But I was thinking of the girl, Mary. I
asked my partner about her.
“Back in the office,” he explained.
“Barney,” he added sadly, “I had to tell her
what I figured you were up to. You see, I’ve
had the hunch all day, too, but I don’t like to
play hunches. So I told her what to expect
Satan’s Bank Night
about her brother, a killer—”
His eyes brightened. “Only he’s really
her step-brother. She thought a lot of him, but
she’ll get over this. You know why, Barney?”
His face was a kindly smile now.
“Why?” I asked. My left arm was paining like
“She’s coming to live at my home.
You know, Barney, I’m a lonesome old man,
save when I’m out crime-smashing with you.
She’s a lovable child, and I’m going to be
very happy—”
I said: “You lucky so-and-so!” And
then, to the patrolman, indicating the two
unconscious figures, “Come on, give me a
hand here—”
ATER, my partner and I went back to the
theater office for Mary. The gambler,
dying, had confessed. It seemed young Robert
Blaine had been deeply in debt to him and a
crowd of local gamblers. Being manager of
his uncle’s theater here, he had worked out a
plan for fixing the Whirl-o’-Win wheel,
spotting the winners of the large jackpot
nights that came around every month or so.
One of the gamblers was always holder of the
lucky disk.
Thus Robert Blaine managed to pay up
his debts, and get more money for his pastime.
Of course a young usher had been in the
crooked wheel business—he had been the one
I had seen come down beneath the stage—and
he confessed, too. I saw to it that he would get
off easy, after a good scare, because of his
age. Blaine bad bribed the lad handsomely.
We learned also that Anthony Burk,
the innocent victim of all this, had suspected
something about his young manager-nephew,
and had called the turn, threatening exposure.
Thus Robert Blaine’s motive for murder—
fear. The story of the stranger threatening his
uncle had been, naturally, a stall by Blaine to
throw us off the trail and allow him time to
make tonight’s haul.
An hour later, my little partner and I
had Mary tucked between us in the front seat
of the cart. The Professor said:
“Mary’s going to ray place, Barney.
My housekeeper, Mrs. O’Day, will love her.
You better stop, too, and have that arm
patched up—”
I had started to comment, “Who
wouldn’t love her?” looking into those lovely
blue eyes, when Mary, chin up now, looked
worried and exclaimed: “I didn’t know you
were hurt!” Then she added: “Hurry! I know
something about nursing. I’ll take care of that
arm for you.”
I looked across her blonde head at my
partner, grinned, and said meaningly: “And
coffee? That’s more important than the scratch
on my arm.”

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