The Whispering Eye by G. T. Fleming-Roberts

A BRAND NEW BLACK HOOD NOVEL

 

Hunted by the police ... framed for robbery and murder by the EYE, master fiend and vicious ruler of the underworld ... loathed by Barbara Sutton, the girl who loves him ... The BLACK HOOD had to face the blazing purgatory of this murder master's guns to win back Barbara's love and clear himself of the framed charges.


 

Gray jets of live steam erupted from pipes around the edge of the room which threatened to boil BLACK HOOD alive.


CHAPTER I

Rob And Kill

That night, the sounds that came from the metal stamping plant of Weedham Industries, Incorporated, might have been prophetic of the immediate and ugly future, for they were like the rattle of machine guns. But Joseph, keeper of the south gate, was blissfully ignorant of a Thompson gun and its deadly chatter, so that he drew no such comparison. His only worry at the time lay in the dark sky above and the blue-white stabs of lightning that promised an electrical storm.

He hated storms. Probably he hated the idea of being murdered, or would have if it ever occurred to him. But then he didn't know that he was going to be murdered, and he did know it was going to storm. The thunder was the tocsin of the storm, but those who came to rob and kill moved unheralded in swift silence.

The night shift had clocked in over an hour ago, and there should be no passing through the gate for at least six hours. Joseph tilted his chair back against the steel fence and kindled his cob pipe. The air was hot and still so that blobs of pipe smoke clung like earth-bound ghosts about him. In spite of the impending storm, Joseph was happy. In his mind was a kindly thought for William "Old Bill" Weedham, principal owner of Weedham Industries. That was because of the bonus Joseph was anticipating.

Within the next twenty-four hours, Joseph knew, seventy-five thousand dollars would be distributed in cash bonuses to the employees of the metal stamping division. Joseph had mentally spent his tiny fraction of the money a dozen times or more. He did a lot of dreaming, Joseph did. But about pleasant things. He had never dreamed of those who rob and kill.

A low slung maroon roadster came down the street and nosed into the mouth of the tarvia drive at Joseph's gate. Joseph eased his chair forward, stood up, approached the car, his faded eyes squinted against the glare of the floodlights mounted on top of the high fence. The car looked like the one young Jeff Weedham drove. Jeff Weedham was "Old Bill" Weedham's son. He took no interest in his father's business or in anything else unless it was that newspaper business which the elder Weedham had purchased for him.

Yes, that was Jeff Weedham at the wheel, and beside him were two other young people—a girl and a redheaded man. Joseph took off his cap and a grin cracked his weathered face.

"Hi," Jeff Weedham said. He was a narrow-headed man with frail-looking sloped shoulders and a thin triangle of face. He had an engaging, careless grin, and light brown eyes that laughed. He had a marked tendency to stutter.

"Well," Joseph said, highly pleased, "if it ain't Mr. Jeff Weedham!"

Joseph sent a shy glance toward the other occupants of the car. The girl instantly reminded him of honey and violets. Hers was one of those clear, golden complexions, and there was a certain unspoiled sweetness about her mouth. It must have been her eyes that recalled violets.

The man on the girl's right seemed to overlap her possessively which could have been accounted for by the width of his shoulders. His red hair bristled in defiance to any comb. His nose looked as though it had been hit a few times in its owner's lifetime. The greenish suit he wore was filled to capacity with overly developed muscles. A leather cased camera was suspended from his bull neck by means of a strap. He had a flashlight gun in his right hand, and a photographer's tripod was propped upright between his knees.

"D-d-do you think you could let us in?" Jeff Weedham asked of Joseph. "The D-Daily Opinion is going to give D-d-dad a plug."

The Daily Opinion was the newspaper which Bill Weedham had bought for his son, Joseph recalled.

"Why, I guess so," Joseph replied. "But your friends here will have to sign the register book."

The big redhead had some difficulty getting into the pocket of his suit coat from which he extracted a card. He swelled importantly as he handed it across to the gate keeper. The card read, "The Daily Opinion. Joe Strong, News Photographer."

He said, "I guess this will fix everything, huh Jeff?"

"This is Miss Barbara Sutton," Jeff said, indicating the girl beside him. "I've hired her as a reporter, and Joe Strong is her cameraman. I just came along to see that they get inside. They're d-d-doing an article on the various manufacturing plants around New York."

Joseph bowed to Barbara Sutton. "You folks can go right in, just as soon as you sign the book." He went back to his post and returned with a ledger. He turned pages with a moistened thumb, took a pencil out of his pocket, passed both to the passengers of the roadster. Barbara Sutton and Joe Strong signed.

"Looks like it's kicking up a storm," Joseph said.

The thunder rolled ominous reply to his remark. Then Joseph went to the gate, opened it, and the roadster rolled up the drive toward the stamping mill.

Joseph went back to his chair and rekindled his pipe. He smiled at the memory of Barbara Sutton. He didn't know when he had seen a prettier girl. There must be an awful lot of young fellows who thought the same thing.

"And if I was twenty years younger I guess I'd try to give them a lot of competition!" he said aloud and chuckled.

His chuckle stopped as lightning flare threw the shadow of a man across the ground at Joseph's feet. He looked up, startled. The man faced Joseph silently. He was slight, wore a workman's overall suit, and he had a lunch box under his arm. His face, what could be seen of it beneath the low drawn hat, was one of starved cheeks, lipless mouth, pinched nose, and a chin that seemed to dangle.

Joseph at first thought the man was one of the mill hands who had arrived late for work.

"You don't care what time you show up," Joseph grumped. "You know you're over an hour late?"

The slight man laughed unpleasantly.

"I ain't late," he said. "I guess I'm just about in time."

Something with the glint of bright steel flashed from the lunch box under the man's arm. Instantly Joseph's mind connected this with the seventy-five thousand dollars in small bills that was to come in on the bank express truck in a few minutes.

Stick-up! Joseph's brain shrieked the alarm. He tried to get out of his chair, but a knife blade that was like a sliver of light was driven into Joseph's throat, sliding through flesh and muscle, torturing every pain nerve in his body, driving relentlessly until the point of it wedged into the wood back of the gate keeper's chair.

The chair creaked and groaned beneath Josephs' writhings. But the knife and the thin, dirty fingers of the killer did not permit his body to alter its position. And then the pain nerves died. Joseph's brain emptied, fortunately; a man would not want to know that he was tacked to a chair, bleeding to death.

The killer released Joseph. A little of the spurting blood had got on his dirty fingers, and he wiped his hands on the seat of his trousers. Then he removed the keys from the gate keeper's pocket. He went to the gate, unlocked it, and opened it wide.

There were great overgrown shrubs on either side of the gate just outside the factory grounds. The killer walked to the bushes at the west side of the gate, parted the branches with his dirty fingers.

"Delancy," his voice croaked.

The shrubbery shook. The thick torso of a man who squatted like a toad could be seen partly emerging from the shrubs.

"Okay, Shiv?"

"Okay, Delancy," the killer chuckled. "His own mudder would t'ink he was asleep in the chair. Don't death make a guy look natural, huh?"

"You get back to the car," the man in the bushes said. "Be ready to pick us up as soon as we crack the money truck. If you get nervous, think of the dough. Seventy-five grand!"

"I ain't noivous!" the killer said. "T'ink I never croaked a guy before. It's a pipe. Dis whole job is a pipe, wit' us havin' a Monitor gun to open dat armored truck. I'm almost ashamed to be associated wit' such a pipe of a job."

"Sure it's a pipe," Delancy agreed from amid the bushes. "Only don't get too cocky on account of there's one guy who could mess things up for us if he ever hits our trail."

Shiv laughed. "You're worrying about the Black Hood, huh?"

"I'm not worrying," Delancy said crossly. "I'm just being cautious. Each job we do for the boss gets a little bigger. One of these times we'll run into Mr. Black Hood."

"And when we do—" the killer drew a line across his throat with his forefinger. Then he turned and walked away from the bushes.

Delancy's moon face disappeared in the foliage. Only his hard little eyes glittered in the shadows. Beside him, patiently silent, was Squid Murphy. Murphy was motionless except for his twitching left eyelid. Murphy was manning the Colt Monitor rifle, the kind of gun the G-men used to death-drill the armor plate cars the mobsters sometimes used. Tonight the weapon was in other hands.

Delancy watched the lean figure of the knifeman ambling leisurely up the road toward where the get-away car was parked, lights out. Shiv wasn't nervous. Neither was Murphy, in spite of his twitching eyelid. There was nothing to be nervous about since they had hooked up with this new boss—this guy Delancy had never seen; this guy who knew all the answers. No, there was nothing to worry about as long as that relentless hunter of criminals known as the Black Hood kept off their tail.

Delancy wasn't nervous even when the blunt gray snout of the bank express truck turned into the mouth of the drive and slowed up before the open gate. He just took a firmer grip on his automatic and waited.

The driver of the bank truck yelled at the motionless figure of Joseph. And when Joseph didn't answer, the driver nudged the guard who rode beside him.

"What the hell's wrong with their watchman?"

Delancy heard that. His little eyes saw the guard get out of the cab. He saw that the back door of the armored truck was opening and another guard was getting out. Delancy thought, What a break this is! And then he shot the driver in the back.

The guard who had ridden up in front snatched at his shoulder holster as he turned in the direction of Delancy's fire. On the other side of the drive, two more of Delancy's boys opened up with automatics, so that by the time the guard had decided he was facing death, death spoke from behind him. Two slugs ripped into him. His own gun jumped twice, the first shot coming dangerously close to Delancy's head, while the second was an unaimed thing caused by the convulsive jerk of the guard's trigger finger as he spilled forward on his face.

The man who had got out of the rear of the truck saw a glimpse of the hell that had spouted from the shrubbery and tried to duck for cover behind the truck. And beside Delancy, the Monitor gun came to life. It talked fast in a language that was all its own. It got the retreating guard twice, the heavy, bone-shattering slugs knocking the man first one way and then another as he fell crazily to the ground.

There were two guards inside the truck. Their guns roared from the ports in the armored walls. But the Monitor rifle was a can opener. Crouching beside Squid Murphy, Delancy felt the heat of its barrel and saw the black periods that were bullet holes speckling the gray steel sides of the truck. Now only one of the gun ports in the truck was active.

The barrel of the Monitor swung and the hot steel barrel burned Delancy's arm. He said, "Hell!" hoarsely and jumped out of the bushes, automatic in hand. Delancy dropped flat and heard the sound of a bullet whining by. And then the Monitor's deafening hammer sounded again, and after that, silence.

Delancy picked himself up, ran, his thick, toadlike body silhouetted by the truck lights. Gun smoke lay in placidly moving layers of gray before the light beams. Delancy ducked through the open door of the truck. One of his own men was already inside, and he tossed a money bag to Delancy. Delancy caught it with one arm and a belly and passed it back through the door to Squid Murphy who was standing just outside.

Delancy said, "Cut it, Murphy!" Because Squid Murphy was giggling. Murphy was kill-crazy, and tonight the Monitor rifle in his hands had made him feel like a god. His giggling rasped on Delancy's nerves.

Delancy picked up another money bag, and then told his boys they'd have to get going. He didn't know why he felt as though they ought to get away in a hurry. Surely no one inside the Weedham plant could have heard the gun fire above the racket the machines were making. Also, the neighborhood about the factory was thinly populated.

But something he couldn't put his finger on was spurring Delancy to get clear of the scene of the crime as soon as possible. Maybe it was the lightning that flashed with ever increasing frequency. Or maybe it was the ghastly tableau the body of Joseph, the watchman, made, sitting in that chair, pinned there like a butterfly by Shiv's knife.

A big gray sedan stood in the middle of the road, the motor idling. Shiv the knifeman slouched indolently behind the wheel. Murphy and the other two gunmen were already getting into the rear seat, and Delancy went cold with the sudden fear that his pals might run out on him. As fast as his short bowed legs would carry him, he ran to the car and piled in beside Shiv. The knifeman looked at Delancy and snickered.

"What's the rush, Delancy? You think Black Hood is on your tail?"

Delancy snarled, "Hell, no! But let's get going, huh?"

Now that Shiv had mentioned it, Delancy recognized the fear that plagued him. It was fear of the Black Hood. The Black Hood wasn't like the cops at all. He didn't trail a man with screaming sirens and blasting whistles. He hunted like a panther in the night, alone and silent. And you never knew just when the shadow of this master manhunter was to fall across your path.


CHAPTER II

Secret Traffic

If Delancy had stayed a little longer at the scene of his crime, he would have learned that his premonition was founded in truth. The Black Hood was hard on Delancy's heels that night. Advance notice of the stick-up at the Weedham plant had sifted up through the underworld grapevine to come eventually to Black Hood's ears. It had been very scanty information and late in its arrival—too late to enable the master manhunter to block the plan. All that Black Hood had learned was that robbery of the Weedham factory had been planned, which wasn't anything very definite considering that the Weedham Industries occupied over fifty acres of ground.

When all hell broke loose at the south gate of the factory, Black Hood was actually at the north-west corner of the grounds. A cat could scarcely have seen him, lurking in the shadows, his tall figure shrouded in a black silk cape, his head and face hidden by his famous hood. But his position did give him one advantage over those actually at work in the factory buildings—he could distinguish the rattle of gun fire from the racket made by the stamping mill.

At the sound of the first shot, Black Hood had climbed to the top of the high wire fence to leap into the factory grounds. Lightning had seen him streaking through the open areas between buildings—a weird figure in yellow tights, night-black shorts and hooded mask, his cape whipping out from his broad shoulders. He might have been mistaken for a man from Mars or a devil out of Hell, yet beneath the grotesque garb beat a heart that was warm and human.

Black Hood knew what it was to be a policeman with hands bound by red tape or political intrigue. He knew what it was to be a criminal, to be hunted as Delancy was hunted. Once he had been a young cop, determined to work his way up in the police force. One of the most diabolical fiends of the underworld had framed this cop for a crime. The frame had stuck. In his efforts to clear himself, the young cop had taken half a dozen lead slugs from underworld guns into his body. He had been left on a lonely mountain road, apparently dead, later to be found by that wise, gray-whiskered man known as the Hermit.

It was the Hermit's vast store of scientific knowledge that brought the half-dead cop back to health. It was the Hermit who gave the ex-cop a body with the strength of steel and a mind that was a veritable encyclopedia of scientific knowledge. It was the Hermit who had sent the ex-cop back into the world to live a useful life, to strike back at the denizens of the underworld who had harmed him.

So the Black Hood was born to live in two identities. By day he was a pleasant, mild-mannered young man known as Kip Burland to Barbara Sutton, Joe Strong, and others of their set. But at night Kip Burland became the Black Hood, man of mystery, hunter of killers. Police who did not understand the unorthodox methods of the Black Hood suspected him of numerous crimes. The underworld that feared him wanted him dead. He was the hunter hunted.

Once the secret of his dual identity became known, he knew that he faced either death from the hands of criminals or prison from the hands of police. Barbara Sutton, who merely tolerated Kip Burland, was deeply in love with the Black Hood, yet even Barbara did not know that Kip and the Black Hood were one and the same person.

Black Hood was not the only person at the Weedham plant who had heard the gun fire at the south gate. Joe Strong, newly appointed cameraman on Jeff Weedham's newspaper, had been standing at one of the doors of the stamping mill, smoking a cigarette when the hold-up had taken place. However, it required a few seconds for his dull brain to comprehend just what was taking place and from what direction the shots had come.

Joe Strong had been trying to develop a nose for news. When he finally realized what was going on at the south gate, he decided that here was a chance for some swell pictures that would prove to Jeff Weedham and Barbara Sutton that he was a natural born news hound. He ran from the stamping mill, his camera bobbing from the strap around his neck and his tripod dragging behind him. He had heard that a crack news photographer could adjust a camera on the run and he figured that he could do that and also mount the camera on the tripod at the same time.

It was a very good idea except that like most of the ideas that sprouted slowly from Joe's brain, it didn't work. He was within fifteen yards of the scene of the crime when he tripped over one leg of his tripod and fell flat on his face.

When he picked himself up, he saw something that knocked all ideas of picture taking out of his thick skull. A brilliant blaze of lightning showed him the unmistakable figure of the Black Hood bending over the body of Joseph, the watchman. He saw Black Hood's gauntlet gloved hand closed on the handle of the knife that was thrust into Joseph's neck.

Joe Strong had met Black Hood many times before, and, like the police, Joe was convinced that Black Hood was a clever criminal. It occurred to Joe in the darkness that followed the lightning flash, that it was Black Hood who had stuck up the bank truck, slaughtered the guards, and was just now in the act of finishing off Joseph, the only remaining witness to his crime.

So natural was the position of old Joseph in his chair that Black Hood, too, had made the mistake of thinking that the watchman was alive. He had approached Joseph with the idea of learning something about the escaping criminals. He turned, now, from the murdered gate keeper to see Joe Strong bearing down upon him, fists balled, square teeth showing, his wide, coarse-featured face a mask of determination. He knew that Joe Strong, in spite of his clumsiness, could be a nasty opponent in a scrap.

Joe closed in fast, led with his left fist in a blow that began way down and ended exactly nowhere—nowhere, because Black Hood side-stepped both the haymaker and Joe Strong.

"Gangway, muscle man!" Black Hood's voice rang out, and then like a slim arrow unleashed from a taut drawn bow Black Hood sped up the tarvia drive toward where the low slung roadster that belonged to Jeff Weedham was parked.

Black Hood vaulted into the roadster without bothering to open the door. Jeff Weedham had left the key in the ignition lock. The black gauntlet covered fingers of the master manhunter gave the key a twist and at the same time he plugged in the starter button. The motor responded instantly. Black Hood brought the car around in a wide sweeping turn to head back toward the gate, had to swerve to avoid hitting Joe Strong.

There were some of the admirable qualities of the bull dog about Joe Strong. Once his one-track mind got to functioning on a certain objective it seldom digressed. And at the present moment his was determined to stop Black Hood. As the roadster passed, straightening out of its loop turn, Joe leaped to the running board, seized the wheel in one hand and tried to get Black Hood by the throat with the other. The car left the drive as Joe yanked at the wheel. It bounded toward a round bed of evergreens that beautified the factory grounds. Black Hood released the wheel, stood up on the pedals, and at the same time slammed Joe across the face with the back of his gauntlet covered left hand. The blow, the sudden stopping of the car, combined effectively to give Joe the shake. He went backwards, sailing through the air, to land in the evergreen bed.

Black Hood let the clutch slap in and the roadster bounded back onto the tarvia drive. Perhaps none but the steel-nerved Black Hood would have tried to get through that factory gate, partially blocked as it was by the crippled bank truck. But the master manhunter could have driven a gas truck through Hell's own fire. Instead of slowing the car to squeeze through the narrow opening, he tramped on the gas pedal and set his teeth for the shock he knew was coming. Because he knew that the space between truck and gate post was too narrow to allow the roadster to pass unscarred.

The right front fender hit the brick of the gate post. There was a scream of tortured metal as the fender was sheared from the body. The impact dragged down on the speed of the roadster so that the rear right fender was only crumpled by the brick work. But momentum was sufficient to carry Jeff Weedham's roadster out onto the road.

Black Hood knew that the criminals had taken the road toward town. As soon as he had reached the south gate he had ascertained this by a glance at the gravel shoulder of the road. Whoever had been driving the get-away car had started in a hurry so that one rear wheel threw gravel in the opposite direction of travel. Just how much of a lead the rob and kill men had on him, Black Hood did not know. But he did know that Jeff Weedham's car was a gallant piece of machinery, capable of tremendous speed and so nicely balanced that it could cling to sharp curves.

Actually, only a few seconds had elapsed between the time when Delancy and his killers had hit the road and the time when Black Hood had arrived at the south gate. The man called Shiv was driving Delancy's get-away car at a conservative pace so as not to excite suspicion. In this Shiv showed more wisdom than did Delancy.

"You think you're going to a funeral?" Delancy demanded when his patience could endure the pace no longer.

Shiv said, "But you'll be goin' to one if I open dis crate up. You want speed cops on your tail, Delancy?"

"To hell with the cops," Delancy snarled. "Step it up a little."

Shiv speeded up to forty miles an hour as he rolled to the top of a little hill. A mile or so distant the lights of one of New York's suburbs twinkled in the darkness.

"We got lots of time," Shiv said. "You're noivous, Delancy. You got ants. Up here at this next town we slide into a filling station and get us a new paint job and new plates, all in the space of ten minutes. Like I said before, dis job is a pipe."

Delancy didn't hear Shiv. He was twisted around in the front seat, looking over the heads of Squid Murphy and the two other gunsels in the back seat. Through the rear window, Delancy saw twin swords of light from the lamps of another car not so far behind them.

"We're tailed now," he said hoarsely.

"Aw nuts!" Murphy said from the back seat. "We ought to make you get out and walk. Every time you see a car behind you, you get the ants."

Delancy drew his tongue over dry lips. He said, "Take a look for yourself, Murphy. That guy behind is burning asphalt off the road."

Murphy and the other hoods looked backwards. The car behind was a roadster, they could see in a sudden splash of lightning. And it was traveling like the wind.

Delancy opened the glove compartment in the instrument board and took out a pair of field glasses. He got to his knees on the front seat, turned around so that he could sight out the back window. He tried to hold the speeding roadster in the range of the glasses, and when the lightning came again he thought he could make out the figure of the driver at the wheel. He thought that he saw a sleek rounded head closely covered by a black silk hood. He was almost certain that he saw a black silk cape whipping out from the shoulders of the lone man in the car.

Delancy got cold all over. He gripped Shiv's shoulder convulsively, nearly sending his own car into the ditch by so doing.

"Step on it, Shiv," he said hoarsely. "I don't like the looks of that guy in the car behind us."

"So you don't like the guy's hair-do!" Shiv sneered. "And I should kick the bottom out of dis crate just because you don't like the looks of somebody behind us!"

Delancy passed the glasses back to Squid Murphy.

"See what you see, Murphy," he said quietly. Then he turned around, hauled out his gun, and shoved it into Shiv's ribs. "When I said step on it, I wasn't fooling."

"Gees!" Murphy said. "That guy back there's got a hell of a thing on his head. Looks like a hood."

"A black hood," Delancy said. "And I don't think I want to have anything to do with that guy, do you, Shiv?"

Shiv came down on the gas pedal and the car picked up speed. He said, "All right, all right! I'm steppin' on it, ain't I?"

If Delancy's car hadn't speeded up, Black Hood in the car behind might not have taken particular notice of it. But that sudden spurt of speed on the part of the gray sedan was a dead give-away. Black Hood knew that he was hot on the trail.

The big gray sedan carrying Delancy and his pals, hit the suburban town at a scant seventy miles an hour. It ran by three red lights without shaking the roadster piloted by Black Hood. The streets were slippery with rain that was sheeting out of the black sky, and when Shiv tried to negotiate the next corner, the big sedan turned completely around.

Delancy thought then that the chase was over, but Shiv had a trick or two up his sleeve. He spurted, took the car half way down the block, heading in the very direction from which Black Hood was coming. Then Shiv whipped his wheel around for a short turn into the mouth of an alley.

Delancy breathed again. He could see where everything was going to be all right now. The gray sedan bounced over the rough alley pavement, cut across the street at the next block, and rolled onto the concrete area in front of a large gas service station. The overhead doors beneath a sign which advertised car washing by steam ran up on their track as the gray sedan came into sight. Shiv steered into the wash room, and the doors dropped back into place.

Delancy got out, his body bathed in a cold sweat. The proprietor of this gas station was in the employ of Delancy's boss who had planned every step of the stick-up at the Weedham plant and the subsequent get-away. Delancy had supreme faith in his boss. For the first time since he had sighted that strange figure in the roadster that had followed them, he began to feel a little bit secure.

Delancy entered the filling station office, followed by his mob. The proprietor, a huge bear of a man in brown coveralls, scowled at Delancy. He said:

"The way you came in here, it's a wonder you didn't bring a whole squad of cops with you. What's the matter, anyway?"

Delancy didn't answer just then. The proprietor of the station wasn't alone in his office. There was a dame. She was a tall, well-dressed woman with wax-pale skin and black hair that was parted in the middle and slicked back to a soft knot. She had peculiarly cold green eyes that were tilted at the outer extremities. Her lips were full, soft and brilliantly rouged.

Delancy jerked his head at the woman and asked of the proprietor: "Who's that, Burkey?"

Burkey shrugged big shoulders. "She's from the boss. She's got a message for you."

The woman was beautiful. But there was something about the chilly expression in her eyes that made Delancy feel decidedly uncomfortable. She did not smile as she opened a black purse and produced an envelope which she handed to Delancy.

While Burkey was opening the steam valves that would spray hot vapor on the car in the wash room, Delancy tore open the letter which the woman had handed him. Inside was a slip of paper on which had been typed the following:

"The bearer will ride with you into Manhattan."

There was no signature, but in its stead was the crude drawing of an eye, formed by two bowed lines that represented lids and two circles, one within the other, representing iris and pupil. Delancy knew that the message was from that man he had never seen—the big boss, the man who knew all the answers.

Delancy touched a match to the message. He looked at the woman with the cold green eyes.

"What's the idea?" he asked.

"I suppose," she said in a quiet voice, "that it will look less suspicious if you are seen driving a car with a woman beside you. Your men are to get into the baggage trunk at the rear or else crouch down on the floor of the rear compartment."

Delancy snorted. "That's nuts. There ain't any sense to this. It was a clean job. We didn't mix with any coppers."

"No?" she said, elevating her eyebrows. "Nevertheless, you will carry out the orders. The Eye knows what he's doing."


CHAPTER III

Haven Of The Hunted

Ten minutes later, Delancy drove the get-away car out of the service station. It was a gray sedan no longer. It was a brilliant blue job with red wheels, and it carried a Texas license. Delancy was at the wheel and the woman with the cold green eyes rode beside him. Two of Delancy's gunmen crouched out of sight on the floor of the rear compartment while two more had been crowded into the luggage compartment at the rear.

As the car rolled on toward Manhattan's northern boundary, the woman with the green eyes switched on the radio on the dash. All of the cars used on stick-up jobs were furnished with receivers capable of picking up police calls, and out of the corner of his eye, Delancy saw that the woman was twisting the dial down to the police band.

"What's the idea?" Delancy asked. He wasn't particularly pleasant to this woman who rode with him, largely because she treated him like the dirt under her feet.

"I simply want to check up," she said coldly. "I want to know just how clean that job was."

"Clean?" Delancy fumed. "Listen, lady, we knocked off every damned guy who could have told anything about us. And there wasn't a copper in sight. Why, I haven't seen a bull in so long I'd have to look twice to recognize one."

"That may be," she admitted, "but I want to make sure."

"Listen," Delancy said, now thoroughly angry, "how do you get that way? Who the hell are you, checking up on me? You the Eye's moll?"

"Moll?" questioned the woman. "I do not understand."

"You don't understand!" Delancy scoffed. "Listen, babe, don't get high-hat with me or I'll slap you down."

"You would not be so foolish," she said scornfully. "The Eye would tear you into small pieces. He would—"

The flat voice of a police announcer came from the radio speaker and interrupted the threat:

"Warning to all cars. Be on the lookout for blue Buick sedan, nineteen thirty-nine model, red wheels, being driven by Raymond Delancy. Delancy is wanted for hold-up and murder. Wanted for hold-up and murder, Ray Delancy, height five feet eight inches, weighing one hundred eighty pounds—"

Delancy's hand shot out to the radio switch, cutting off the voice of the announcer. It was impossible! There had been no police at the Weedham plant. No cops had tailed them. No cops had seen that the gray sedan which had driven into Burkey's filling station had come out a blue sedan.

"A clean job, you said?" the woman with the green eyes mocked.

One of the gunmen who crouched on the floor of the rear compartment cursed quietly and without interruption for nearly a minute. Delancy tramped nervously on the gas pedal.

"Don't worry, anybody," he said. "The heat's on, and I don't know how the hell the cops got that way, but it ain't the first time I've given them the shake. We'll go to Jack Carlson's garage. He'll get us out of this. It'll cost something, but hell, we've got lots of dough."

Delancy drove as though he was rolling on thin ice. The sight of a traffic cop made him dodge around a corner that threw him off his course. He came close to having convulsions when a squad car passed on the next street west, its siren wailing. He told the boys in the back seat to get their guns out, just in case they had to shoot it out. But somehow all of his anxiety was wasted, and he at last sighted a neon sign which read:

"ATLAS AUTO LIVERY"

Delancy turned the sedan through the door of the big garage, rolled across the wide parking floor to the cement ramp at the rear. He got into second gear and zoomed up the ramp to the second floor. Then he got out of the car, walked to the office which was partitioned off from the rest of the floor by means of frosted glass. The door of the office carried the words, "Jack Carlson, President."

Carlson had started out as the operator of a wildcat bus company. In this business he had learned so many ways to circumvent the law that he had decided to put that knowledge to more lucrative uses. Under the cover of a legitimate auto livery and trucking business, he had built a vast transportation system which was employed by any criminal who was wanted by the police and could afford to pay Carlson's fee. When the town got too hot for a killer or stick-up artist, Jack Carlson had many tricks up his sleeve which would enable the wanted man to move to a cooler spot.

Delancy entered Carlson's reception room which was never closed. At the invitation of the blonde stenographer at the desk, he squatted on a chair and lighted a cigarette. Jack Carlson entered the room a moment later, walking with the energetic bounce of a busy man.

Carlson was a little above medium height, dark complexioned, his brow a washboard of horizontal wrinkles. He had a waxed mustache which he was in the habit of twisting whenever in deep thought.

"Well, well, well," he said cheerfully as he shook hands with Delancy. "Some little trouble bothering you tonight, Ray?"

Delancy scowled. He couldn't see that there was anything to be cheerful about.

"The boys and I pulled a little job," he said. "It didn't amount to a whole lot, but I think there's a leak somewhere in our organization. The cops got the heat on us, and we'd like a hand out of town for a few days."

Carlson went to his desk, sat down, stuck a slim cigar in his well formed lips.

"How much was your job?" he asked quietly as he struck a match.

"Not much," Delancy said. "Maybe ten grand at the outside." He purposely lied about the take because Carlson usually charged on the percentage basis. Another thing which was inclined to influence Carlson's price was that little business of murder. If you killed on a job Carlson considered the danger greater and pushed up his fee accordingly.

"Anybody knocked off, Ray?" Jack Carlson asked.

Delancy squirmed uncomfortably in his chair. "One of the boys had to shoot a guard in the leg. Nothing messy, though."

Carlson inhaled deeply. A faint smile came to his lips. He removed his cigar and waved it at Delancy.

"So you got only ten grand, Ray? And nobody knocked off?"

"That's what I said," Delancy crabbed.

Carlson chuckled. "I happen to know that a number of men were killed, that you're wanted for murder, and that your total take was about seventy-five thousand dollars. And it'll cost you just thirty-two thousand five hundred dollars of that money to get you out of the jam."

"Thirty-two thousand—" Delancy gasped.

Carlson waved his cigar. "But for that price I'll see that you and all your boys get a nice cool spot to hideout in, somewhere a long way from New York."

Delancy stood up. "Why you damned greaseball, you! I'd see you in hell first. Pay fifty per cent of my take to you and the usual ten per cent to the Eye for his part of the job! Hell, that leaves me a lousy forty per cent without counting the split to the boys."

"Take it or leave it," Carlson shrugged.

"I'll leave it!" Delancy rapped. "Why, damn you, that's robbery!"

"And your crime was murder," Carlson said. He twisted his mustache thoughtfully. "I think you'll take my offer, Delancy, because there just isn't any other out for you."

Delancy's scowl deepened. His eyes narrowed. An idea was beginning to roll around inside his head. He didn't know exactly what he ought to do with it, but it was an idea, anyway.

He said, "You think there's no other out for me, huh? Well, I'll make an out before I'll pay any such figure to you. And listen, fellah, if I thought—" He stopped a moment, dropped his cigarette onto the carpet and heeled it out. "Well anyway, Carlson, I'm going to have a little talk with the Eye. And that little talk is going to be about you and the rotten deal you tried to hand me."

"Go ahead and talk," Carlson said. "And when the cops start closing in on you and your mob, let me know. I'll get you out of the jam for the same figure."

Carlson got up, walked around his desk to where Delancy stood in front of the door. He stuck out his hand.

"No hard feelings, Ray?"

Delancy looked down at the hand and sneered.

"No hard feelings, chiseler, but I sure would like to put a couple of slugs in your belly!" And Delancy swaggered out of the office. He guessed he'd told that chiseler where he got off.

As soon as the door had closed, Jack Carlson bounded back to his desk, touched a button on an inter-office communications box. Somebody on the lower floor of the garage answered.

Carlson said, "Ray Delancy is just leaving. I want him tailed."


CHAPTER IV

Live Steam

The Black Hood had reached a dead-end in the trail which had led him from the Weedham Industries plant. The gray sedan in which the fleeing criminals were riding had vanished, apparently into thin air. Black Hood had spent thirty minutes of search at break-neck speed in an attempt to pick up the trail of the gray sedan again. He had driven the roadster which belonged to Jeff Weedham in and out of alleys in a trial and error effort to sight the killers' car, but all without success.

It occurred to him then that it was entirely possible that the rob and kill boys had not left the suburban town at all. Perhaps this was their hideout. With that in mind, he parked Jeff Weedham's car and stepped out into the rain, his black cape wrapped around him. He felt that he could walk the streets in comparative safety in spite of his costume, for it would have required close inspection under direct light to distinguish the garb he wore from the standard poncho and rain-hood worn by the traffic police in bad weather.

After an hour or more of leg work that yielded him no information so far as a possible hideout for the criminals was concerned, Black Hood came across the drunk. The drunk was in a dismal alley, leaning up against the wall of a tavern which he had evidently just left. He was a young man, and he wore some sort of a uniform—that of a chauffeur, taxi driver, or something of the sort. When Black Hood put in his appearance, the young man started to move along up the alley, staggering as he walked.

"Wait a minute," Black Hood called.

"'S all right, officer," the drunk said, mistaking Black Hood for a cop. "I'm on my way. I'm goin' home."

"You think you'll get there, weaving around that way?" Black Hood asked, catching up with the man. "If you don't fall asleep under the wheels of a truck you'll be mighty lucky."

"Only live a block from here," the drunk explained. "I'll make it. I gotta skin full, all right. Never been drunk before, so help me, officer. But Burkey fired me because he said I was drunk when I wasn't. A man's gotta live up to his reputation, don't he?"

"Who's Burkey?" Black Hood asked. He was determined to see that the young drunk got safely home.

"Runs the Super-Charged Gasoline Station two blocks south of here. He said he wouldn't have a drunk working for him, but I was cold sober when it happened."

"When what happened?" Black Hood linked his arm with that of the young man.

"I was out at the gas pumps when a gray sedan barreled into the station and in onto the wash rack," the young man explained. "Burkey brought the doors down in the wash room and turned on the steam. About ten minutes later, the gray sedan drove out the other side of the wash room, and it wasn't gray any more. It was blue—blue with red wheels."

At the mention of a gray sedan traveling fast, Black Hood's interest increased.

"Maybe," he suggested, "there were two cars in the wash room."

"Can't be," the young man said. "There's only room for one at a time. I went to Burkey and asked him how it happened that a car would change color like that. He said it hadn't changed color and if I thought it had I must be drunk. So he fired me. But I was cold sober, I tell you. And I'd like to know what I'm going to do and what my widowed mother is going to do with me out of a job."

Black Hood reached inside his cape. The broad black belt which he wore contained many secret pockets, and from one of these he extracted a ten-dollar bill. He pressed the money into the young man's hand.

"That'll tide you over until you can find a job," he said. "Think you can get across the street all right?"

They had reached the end of the alley by this time, and the young drunk had said that his home was just on the other side of the street. The drunk stared at the crumpled bill in his hand. Then he raised his eyes to Black Hood's face. In the glow from a nearby street lamp he could clearly see the black mask that covered the upper part of Black Hood's face to the tip of his nose. The drunk was startled.

"Who—who are you?" he stammered.

Black Hood laughed. "Never mind, son. Just forget you ever saw me." Then he turned and ran back along the alley to walk quickly in the direction of the gas station where the drunk had worked, two blocks to the south.

The overhead door of the car washing room was open, and as Black Hood entered it he glanced through the glass pane of the door connecting this portion of the service station with the office. A big, shaggy-haired man in brown overalls had just picked up the telephone from his battered, grease-stained desk. This man would be Burkey, the owner of the station.

Black Hood's keen eyes flicked around the room in which he now stood. At the back, near a stand that racked a number of grease guns, he saw a second telephone fixed to the wall. An extension of the one in the office, he wondered?

He crossed to the wall phone and gently removed the receiver from its hook and held it to his ear. He heard a gruff voice which might well have been that of the man Burkey, say: "Is this the Eye?"

Black Hood's eyes narrowed. The voice that came back over the wire was a toneless whisper.

"This is the Eye speaking."

Burkey said, "Delancy came through here about a couple of hours ago."

"Delancy?" the Eye said. "Yes, I know."

"I changed paint jobs for him according to instructions," Burkey explained. "But what I called you about, I got a young fellow working here, grinding gas. He saw the gray sedan roll in here and he saw that it was blue when it went out. He came to me to ask how come."

"What did you do?" the Eye whispered.

"Told him he was drunk and fired him," Burkey replied.

"That was careless of you," the voice whispered after the pause of a moment. "Very careless. You should have silenced this man at once."

Burkey said, "How the hell could I do that?"

"That is your problem," the whisperer said. "But you must dispose of him immediately, do you understand?"

"Is that an order?"

"That is an order," the Eye whispered grimly, and broke the connection.

Black Hood hung up quietly. Then crouching low, he crossed the room to where the strainer top of the sewer drain was placed in the concrete floor. It was in this room that Delancy's get-away car had changed paint jobs, and in about ten minutes. How was such a thing possible?

He dropped to his knees, nerves tense as he lifted the strainer plate. Dove gray particles clung to the sewer opening beneath—particles of some sort of paint that was soluble in water or perhaps live steam. A glint of understanding came into his eyes. Delancy had driven the get-away car into this room. The car actually was not a gray car at all. It was a blue car, the paint covered with this gray, steam soluble substance. All that was necessary to convert the car which Black Hood had been following into a blue car which he certainly would have missed was a good bath of steam. It wouldn't have required more than ten minutes at the outside.

A rumbling sound that did not originate in the thunder caps above jerked Black Hood's attention from the drain. His glance darted toward the overhead doors which were dropping swiftly into place. His eyes turned toward the door leading into the service station office. Burkey, the proprietor, was standing at the door, watching Black Hood through the glass. There was a diabolical grin on the face of the station owner.

Black Hood straightened as the overhead doors fell into place and locked. He took two long, springy strides toward the door. But he never quite reached that door. With an explosive hiss, gray jets of live steam erupted from pipes around the edge of the room. Scalding steam that could burn and blister and boil human flesh.

Black Hood fell back from the door, staggered by his first contact with that hissing gray hell. He threw back his head, looked above at steam pipes that criss-crossed overhead. And then Burkey manipulated the valve that controled the overhead pipes, and the steam poured down upon Black Hood from above.

He couldn't see now, because of the steam. He dared not open his eyes lest the heat blind him permanently. But in that brief glimpse upward, Black Hood had marked the location of one of the steam pipes. He crouched, nerves and muscles tense, controled in spite of the torturous cloud of scalding vapor that pressed close to him. Suddenly, he unleashed all the pent-up power of flexed legs, leaped into the air, one gauntlet protected hand out-thrust for the pipe which he knew was there even if he could not see it. Fingers grasped, held like steel hooks. He drew himself up with one powerful arm until his other hand could join its mate.

The intense heat penetrated the leather palms of his black gauntlets. Still he hung on, drawing himself upward to hook a leg over the very pipe that threatened to boil him alive. He understood now why the Hermit, that wise old man who had nursed him from the very jaws of death, had been so insistent upon regular muscular exercise. The power to save himself was there in the muscles of back, legs and arms. It was there, waiting for just such moments of danger as these.

Gradually, he hauled himself to the pipe above, got his feet onto the pipe and stood erect, his hands reaching up to the rafters to maintain his balance. And there he waited in that hot gray cloud that pressed to the roof where it condensed and fell like warm rain. His body was safe from direct contact with the blistering jets of steam.

At last the steam was shut off, the gray clouds dissipated. Cautiously, Burkey unlocked the door which connected the car washing room with his office. He stepped out, doubtless expecting to find Black Hood curled up on the floor, all consciousness driven from him by the pain of countless steam burns. The Black Hood, watching from the pipes above, showed white teeth in a wide grin.

"Look up, Burkey!" he sang out.

And as the big service station proprietor raised startled eyes, the Black Hood let go of the rafters, took a dive from the pipe straight at the man below. He caught Burkey at the throat and shoulders with his hands. The driving weight of him crushed the big man to the floor, knocked the breath out of him. And for a moment Black Hood just sat there on top of Burkey, holding him in his powerful grasp.

"How does it feel to be utterly helpless, Burkey?" he said quietly. "You see what I can do with you? I can choke the life out of you this way." The fingers of his right hand constricted on Burkey's throat until the man's eyes crawled a little way out of their sockets. Then he eased his grip a little.

"Or I could dash your brains out against the floor like this."

And Black Hood seized Burkey's shaggy hair and bounced the filling station operator's head against the floor a couple of times.

Burkey said nothing. Black Hood slapped him hard across the side of the face with his gauntlet covered hand. Burkey winced, squirmed a little. Then realizing that he was completely at the Black Hood's mercy, he lay still.

"Talk!" Black Hood said. "Who is the Eye?"

"I don't know," Burkey croaked. "I've never seen him. I don't know who he is. You could kill me maybe, but you couldn't make me talk."

"What was that telephone number you just called?" Black Hood persisted.

Burkey's eyes rolled. "I can't tell you. The Eye would kill me if I told."

Black Hood laughed harshly. "And what do you think I'm going to do if you don't talk?"

Burkey said nothing.

Black Hood got off the man, stood up. He told Burkey to get to his feet.

"And you'd better get your fists up, Burkey, because if you don't I'm liable to knock your head off."

Possibly Burkey knew something about boxing. Possibly he had gone a round or two with some second rate slugger some time in his life. But certainly he had never fought with anybody who could equal the Black Hood in speed and fire power. Black Hood's fists were everywhere at once. His long arms were like rapiers, striking through Burkey's guard to land time after time in the big man's face.

Finally, Burkey crumpled against the wall, one eye closed, the other looking sleepy. Blood was dripping from nose and mouth.

"Talk!" Black Hood demanded, one closed fist raised like a hammer above the man's head.

Burkey simply shook his head feebly and collapsed, unconscious.

Black Hood made a swift but careful search of the filling station office without revealing anything in the way of incriminating evidence. If Burkey knew the Eye's telephone number he apparently kept it in his head.

Black Hood found a short length of chain and a padlock which was used to keep anyone from tampering with one of the oil pumps that topped a steel drum. He returned to the car washing room, scooped the keys out of the unconscious Burkey's pockets. Then he chained and locked the filling station man to the steel cross member of the wash rack. Then he went into the office, telephoned police headquarters. When the desk sergeant had answered, he said:

"If you will send men to the Super-Charged Gas station here in your city, you will find the proprietor, a man named Burkey. I suggest that he be questioned in conjunction with the activities of the criminal organizer known as the Eye, and especially in his connection with the killing and robbery at the Weedham Industries plant tonight."

"Who is this?" the desk sergeant demanded.

Black Hood chuckled. "You'll never find out!" And then he hung up, left the station to vanish into the murk of the rain swept night.

It must have been at about this time that Joe Strong, that demon photographer on the staff of Jeff Weedham's paper, The Daily Opinion, made a startling discovery. He was in the dark room at the newspaper office with Barbara Sutton, developing films which he had exposed at the Weedham factory that night.

He turned from his developing traps to face Barbara. The broad grin on his coarse features was illuminated by the ruby light hanging above their heads.

"Honey," Joe said, "I got something that's going to set little old New York right back on its heels. I've got positive proof that will identify the dirty bum who's behind this crime wave. Positive evidence that will point to the killer of that watchman at the Weedham plant tonight."

There was a skeptical gleam in Barbara's beautiful eyes. Since she had been working on the newspaper with Joe Strong assigned as her pix man, she had heard just such claims from Joe before. He was always turning up a picture that was to be the scoop of the week and which usually developed into a fogged film of no use to anybody.

She said, "Well, if you have you'd better turn it over to the editor before you bungle the developing some way. Jeff Weedham is going to have to pull something pretty soon to pick up circulation. He's got to prove to his father that he can run this business. If he fails at this job as he has at every other, I understand Mr. Weedham is going to cut Jeff off from the Weedham fortune."

Joe stuck his thumbs in the arm holes of his vest.

"Jeff's worries are over, permanently. This is the scoop of the week. We got the guy red handed. Take a look, beautiful."

Joe held up the negative strip which he had just developed. He pointed a thick forefinger at the exposure near the end of the strip. Joe didn't quite understand how he had got the picture unless that flare of lightning had acted as a flashlight bulb and the lens of his camera had been open at the time. But no matter how he had obtained it, there was the picture.

It showed the unmistakable figure of Black Hood standing over Joseph, the Weedham gate keeper. It showed more than that. It showed Black Hood's gauntlet covered right hand grasping the knife that was plunged into Joseph's throat.

Barbara raised her hand to her mouth to check a startled cry. She stared at the negative and repeatedly shook her head.

"I don't believe it," she whispered. "He wouldn't do such a thing. It's a trick, Joe. You're trying to trick me."

"Not me," Joe said. "Just because you're in love with Black Hood you're trying to kid yourself. I always said that guy was a crook. And now there's proof. He's the Eye. He's the brains behind all this robbery and murder that resulted in looted banks and jewelry stores. The camera don't lie, Babs. And this little picture catches Mr. Hood with the goods on him."

Barbara's indrawn breath sounded like a sob. She turned quickly and ran from the dark room. Was it true? Could it possibly be true? Black Hood had always told her that he was an outlaw, and she had loved him in spite of that because of the many good and brave things he had done to defend people against the criminals of the underworld.

But if Black Hood was guiltless—this had never occurred to Barbara before—if he was actually guiltless, why had he never let her see his face?


CHAPTER V

The Brand Of Light

But Barbara Sutton had seen the face of the Black Hood. She saw it on the following night when a group of wealthy and influential citizens met at Gracelawn, the West End Avenue estate of William Weedham. Barbara saw Black Hood's face without knowing it, for in the identity of Kip Burland he had been with her all evening.

It was a pleasant face, sun-bronzed and well-formed, with waving brown hair and eyes that could be gentle and compassionate. Kip Burland had taken Barbara to dinner, much to the annoyance of Joe Strong, and later in the evening they had picked up Joe and driven in Barbara's car to the Weedham home.

Barbara was obviously deeply concerned over the evidence which Joe Strong had accidently turned up. The picture of Black Hood in the apparent act of thrusting a knife into the throat of the Weedham Industries watchman, had been plastered all over the front page of Jeff Weedham's Daily Opinion. Other newspapers had taken up the cry, demanding that the Black Hood be taken dead or alive.

When Barbara mentioned this news story to Kip Burland, Kip scarcely knew what was the wisest course to pursue. If he defended the Black Hood he ran the risk of exciting suspicion. The secret that Kip Burland and the Black Hood were one and the same persons was more precious than ever, now that Black Hood was wanted for murder.

"There's just one thing, Babs," he told the girl as they drove to the Weedham home, "nobody can tell me that Black Hood and this criminal genius known as the Eye are the same. I can't believe it."

"Listen, Burland," Joe Strong put in angrily, "you're not sitting there and calling me a liar, either. All these stick-up jobs recently have been planned by the Eye. You'll agree to that, no doubt. That one last night at the Weedham works was the same sort of a thing—every possible witness murdered. And I not only saw the Black Hood with my own eyes, but I took a picture of him. And then he and I had a little scrap."

"How does it happen the Black Hood isn't right down in Tombs prison now?" Kip Burland asked mildly.

"Well, er," Joe stammered, "some of his men pitched in on me from behind. There must have been three of them, anyway."

Burland could scarcely repress a laugh.

"Only three? Why, you're slipping, aren't you, Joe?"

The bickering might have gone on the rest of the evening except that Barbara Sutton told them they were both being very foolish. If Kip didn't stop his arguing, she wouldn't vouch for him at this meeting tonight at the Weedham home. She and Joe were to cover the meeting for The Daily Opinion, but she had simply brought Kip along as a friend, trusting that that would be enough to get him in.

Barbara Sutton's name was a prominent one in social circles as was that of Joe Strong, so that there was no difficulty gaining admittance into the Weedham home for Kip Burland. In the magnificent reception hall, Kip was introduced to Jeff Weedham. The lanky heir to the Weedham wealth was cordial.

"D-d-don't see why you want to sit in on a stuffy meeting like this just for pleasure," Jeff Weedham said, smiling, "but I can assure you that any friend of Barbara's is a friend of mine."

The tall oak door of the library was opened by William Weedham himself—a plump, white-haired man with black, overhanging eyebrows.

"Son," he said to Jeff, "we're all ready to begin. As the owner of a newspaper which is instrumental in molding public opinion, you ought to welcome this opportunity to serve your community."

Jeff Weedham laughed. "Since the Eye or the Black Hood, whatever his name is, swiped my roadster, d-d-don't you think I'm not interested in laying him by the heels, D-d-dad."

William Weedham brought scowling eyes to focus upon Kip Burland.

"I don't believe I know this young man," he said.

Jeff said, "This is Kip Burland, a friend of mine, D-d-dad. He wants a try-out as a reporter. And I thought I'd let him help cover this business together with Joe and Barbara."

And that fixed it up. With a whispered warning to Kip to try and look like a would-be reporter, Jeff Weedham led Burland into the library. The elder Weedham took his place at the head of a long refectory table about which were seated six men. Some of those included in the committee which had been formed to take protective measures against the master criminal known as the Eye, were familiar to Kip Burland. There was short, beefy Sergeant McGinty, a representative from the police who was to serve as coordinator. McGinty, Kip Burland knew well enough, was the most ardent enemy of the Black Hood on the police force.

Then there was a cocky little man with sandy hair and one glass eye. He was Major Paxton, a retired army man and brother-in-law of William Weedham. Paxton made his home at the Weedham estate and quite naturally had been included in the group.

The tall, grim man with the long side whiskers was Harold Adler, an executive of the Bankers Express service. Certainly he had a grievance against the Eye after that attack on his guards and armored truck at the Weedham plant on the night before.

Kip Burland also recognized the handsome, energetic man with the sleek black hair and small, waxed mustache. This was Jack Carlson who operated the Atlas Auto Livery and some sort of a trucking concern. Just exactly why Carlson should have been called into this group, Kip did not know. He knew something of Carlson's past, perhaps more than even Sergeant McGinty did, and there were some blotches of shadow on Mr. Carlson's life story.

William Weedham rapped the meeting to order, remarked briefly that they had come here tonight to see if some definite plan could not be formed to cope with the ever rising danger of a major crime wave, planned and directed by this man who called himself the Eye.

"We are fortunate," the elder Weedham said, "in having Mr. Carlson with us tonight. It has been frequently said by the police that if taxi companies and other common carriers would cooperate with the law more closely, there would be much less chance for the criminal to escape. Mr. Carlson has a message for us which I hope will be representative of all members of all taxi and transport systems."

"It seems to me," Major Paxton put in, his small body swelling with importance, "that the crux of the whole matter lies in the fact that these criminals, who are operating under the direction of the Eye, have discovered some fool proof means of escaping from the scene of their crime. Is that correct, Sergeant McGinty?"

McGinty's face reddened. "I don't know whether you'd call it the crux or not, Major, but in any crime if a criminal has some fool proof means of escape, as you put it, there isn't a whole lot the police can do about it."

Somebody snickered. It was obvious that Major Paxton's remark hadn't been a particularly bright one.

"But I'll say this," the sergeant went on, "this fellow the Eye, and I prefer to call him the Black Hood, has developed a means of moving criminals beyond our reach to a hell of a high point." The sergeant coughed and apologized for his bit of profanity. "I mean, he's got a hole in the police dragnet big enough so you could drive a whole mechanized division of the army through it. If Jack Carlson can throw any light on the matter, I'd like to hear him do it."

Jack Carlson stood up, smiled smoothly, and bobbed his head to Sergeant McGinty.

"I think, gentlemen," he began, "that you will find few taxi operators in the city of New York who would not gladly assist in halting an escaping criminal if they were given the opportunity. And the same goes for any other common carrier—the railroads, bus service, and airlines. At the same time, common carriers are obliged by law not to discriminate against a prospective passenger just because he may look suspicious: That is, if I am driving a cab and a man rushes out of a bank with what I may interpret as a look of guilt upon his face, I cannot refuse to take him as a fare. Nor can I very well ask for his finger prints and check up to see if he has a criminal record before taking him to his destination."

"We know all that, Carlson," Harold Adler said. "Suppose you tell these men what you told me before the meeting."

Carlson frowned, remained dramatically silent for a moment while he twisted his mustache. Kip Burland watched the man closely. If this was acting, Carlson was a remarkable actor. Somehow, he could not trust the man nor the words that came from his mouth.

Carlson said, "The Eye has not only organized the various mobs of gunmen in this city, but he has accomplished something else. He has established a perfect underground railway for transporting these criminals from one place to another in secret. I know, because the Eye personally asked me to handle that part of his business for him."

There was another dramatic pause. Then Sergeant McGinty sprang to his feet.

"Say, Mr. Carlson, if the Eye approached you personally let's have it right now. Is the Eye this same guy known as the Black Hood?"

Carlson smiled. "It would seem so from the picture which appeared this morning in the Daily Opinion."

"Yeah," Joe Strong put in. "That's the picture I took."

No one was paying any attention to Joe. All eyes were focused upon Jack Carlson.

"Understand," Carlson continued, "I did not meet the Eye face to face. He called me on the telephone, spoke to me in a whispering voice. He asked me if I would be interested in a money-making proposition. I played him along, tried to draw him out. He wanted me to employ cars and trucks for the secret transportation of criminals and in exchange I was to get a cut of the money which would be looted by his criminals."

"And," Weedham said, "you believe that some transportation company in this city is actually assisting the Eye in this business?"

"Undoubtedly," Carlson said. "I, of course, rejected his offer. I was attempting to figure out a plan by which I might trace this call to the Eye's hideout, but that's quite difficult with these dial phones, you know.

"But that is how the Eye is working his get-aways. He probably has carefully placed stations all over the city where criminals who are fleeing from some crime can get a fast car, or hide in some unsuspicious looking truck to be transported beyond the reach of the law. It would appear to me—"

Every light in the big room suddenly went out. Smothering blackness dropped like a shroud over those at the refectory table and upon Barbara Sutton, Joe Strong, Kip Burland, and Jeff Weedham who were seated along one wall.

"D-d-damn!" Jeff Weedham stuttered. "What's this—the well known blackout?"

A white beam of light stabbed through the French windows at the end of the room, spotted the wall directly above Jack Carson's sleek head. In the center of the spot was a crude sign, projected in black lines upon the wall. It was like a child's drawing of a human eye, round, staring, and at the same time infinitely menacing.

Kip Burland was on his feet while the others remained spellbound by the brand of light. Watching the projected sign of the eye upon the wall, he nevertheless moved swiftly and silently toward the French windows.

The sign of the Eye flicked out, and in its place was a message in black letters:

CARLSON HAS DEFIED ME.
HE WILL DIE.

Burland waited for no more, but slipped through the French windows and onto the terrace. The white beam of light rayed out from a thick grove of shrubs and small trees on the other side of the big yard. Kip Burland raced across the lawn toward the source of the light.


CHAPTER VI

The Lady In White

Half way toward the thicket, Kip Burland saw that the light had gone out. But he had marked the spot from which it had originated, and in another moment he had broken through the tangled branches of the shrubs to the place from which the light ray had come. He saw no one. He stopped, listening. On his left he heard the crackling of twigs. He moved quickly in that direction, saw now a wraithlike figure in white.

"Hello there."

It was the soft voice of a woman who called. Kip Burland took a few more cautious steps in the direction of the figure in white. Now that his eyes were more used to the gloom, he could see that the woman was not alone. There was a man standing beside her.

"Hello," Kip responded calmly. He took a box of matches from his pocket, struck one, and held it high. The woman wore a white evening gown. Her beautifully molded face was nearly as white as her dress. Her hair was black as India ink, drawn back from her rounded forehead to knot softly at the back of her head. Her eyes were cool green with an exotic lift at the outer extremities of the lids.

The man beside her was evidently her chauffeur, judging from his uniform. He was a dark, somber looking man with a particularly ugly scar on his chin.

The woman smiled—a smile that did not quite reach her green eyes.

"Are you the man with the flashlight who was out here a moment ago?" she asked.

Kip's eyes narrowed. He wondered if the woman was beating him to the draw. He might have asked her, and with better reason, if it was she who had turned that beam of light on the Weedham house.

The match burned out in Kip's fingers. He tossed the stub of it aside.

"Obviously I'm not the man with the flashlight," he said evenly, "or I would not have had to light a match just now."

"How silly of me," the woman with the green eyes laughed. "Of course you are not. But I am so anxious to find my little locket. I am Vida Gervais, and I live just over the wall in the next house. I think I lost my little locket while walking here this afternoon. I hoped that you were the man with the flashlight and could help me find it."

"Don't you find that gown something of a liability hunting in this jungle?" Kip asked. Her explanation was entirely too glib to suit him.

But before she could form an answer, the whip-crack of a shot rang out from the direction of the Weedham house. The woman who had introduced herself as Vida Gervais uttered a short, sharp cry. Then she and her chauffeur turned and fled.

Kip Burland thrashed his way through the bushes to the border of the thicket. In the dim night glow, he saw a man running toward the house and a second figure that lay huddled on the lawn in front of the terrace steps. Burland could not be absolutely certain, but he thought that the running man was Jack Carlson. There were hoarse shouts from the immediate vicinity of the house, and Kip recognized the bellow of Joe Strong and the harsh rasping voice of Sergeant McGinty.

Kip broke away from the shrubbery and ran across the open lawn toward that point where the man lay on the ground. The second figure, which he thought was Jack Carlson, was now kneeling beside the fallen man.

In another moment, Kip saw that his first impression had been correct. The second man was Carlson. He looked up at Kip, his face chalk white in the uncertain light.

"He's dead," Carlson said. "He's been shot."

Burland dropped beside Jack Carlson, brought out his matches, struck one. The man on the ground was wearing an ordinary business suit. He was entirely bald, with a large, shapeless nose and chubby cheeks. He was lying on one side, his left arm extended. Clutched in the dead fingers of his left hand was a yellow slip of paper. It looked like bank check paper to Burland.

Others were coming from around the side of the house—Jeff Weedham and Barbara Sutton. Behind them came Major Paxton and two other members of the committee.

Kip Burland shot a glance at Jack Carlson, saw that the latter was looking in the direction of the newcomers. Kip thrust out a hand toward the piece of yellow paper in the fingers of the corpse. It was so rapid a movement that even if Carlson had been watching him it is doubtful if the auto livery operator could have caught it. Kip jerked the piece of paper from the hand of the dead man, and stood up.

By the time Barbara and Jeff Weedham had joined them, Burland had rolled the slip of yellow paper into a cylinder and placed it inside the cap of his fountain pen.

"Kip!" Barbara gasped. "What's happened?"

"Someone seems to have been shot," he replied mildly. "I don't know just who."

Jeff Weedham had a flashlight. He turned the beam on the face of the dead man.

"D-d-damn!" he stammered. "It's Biggert. Poor old Biggert. Why, he's D-d-dad's private secretary. Attended to everything for D-d-dad."

William Weedham, Adler, and the rest of the committee men hurried from the corner of the house.

"Biggert, did you say?" William Weedham gasped. "Good lord! Where's that Sergeant McGinty?" And then Weedham dropped beside the dead man, looked long and searchingly into the immobile face.

Sergeant McGinty put in his appearance a moment later and with him was Joe Strong. He was holding onto Joe by the ear.

"Try your football tackles on me, will you!" McGinty was growling, while Joe was trying to break away without losing an ear.

"Aw, Sergeant, how did I know it was you prowling around in all that dark?" Joe complained.

It was evident that Joe had made another of his unfortunate mistakes. But McGinty forgot and forgave when he saw the body of Biggert lying there on the lawn. The sergeant bent his thick knees, took Jeff Weedham's flashlight, turned it on the corpse.

"It was obviously a mistake," Jack Carlson was explaining smoothly. "The killer had no designs on Biggert, certainly."

"Huh?" McGinty looked up, his red face contorted by a puzzled frown. "What do you mean, it was a mistake?"

"This is obviously the Eye's work," Carlson explained. "I was standing just about in this spot when this man Biggert came running around the house and directly in front of me. That was when the shot was fired. The bullet was intended for me. You would expect as much after the Eye's warning."

McGinty nodded his head. "Could be. And believe me, Mr. Carlson, you'd better put yourself under police protection."

"I can take care of myself, thanks," Carlson insisted. As he turned away from McGinty and the body, his eyes met those of Kip Burland. And then Carlson stepped quickly to the outer rim of the circle around the body.

Kip Burland knew that Carlson was lying. Carlson hadn't been near Biggert at the time of the shooting. It was Carlson whom Burland had seen running toward the body.

"D-d-dad," Jeff Weedham stammered, "where was Biggert when we were in the library?"

"Oh, how should I know!" The elder Weedham ran his fingers through his gray hair. "I don't know where he was. In his room, I suppose, going over my personal accounts."

"Possibly," Major Paxton put in, "he was disturbed when the lights went out in the house and came down to investigate. He probably heard the rest of us outside the house, searching for that prowler who turned the light through the library window."

"And possibly," McGinty said, "Biggert had discovered something pretty important, too! There's a little scrap of yellow paper in his fingers—just a corner, as though somebody snatched a note or something from his hand."

"Just a corner, you say, Sergeant?" Jack Carlson asked. "When he fell in front of me, I noticed that there was quite a sizable slip of paper in his hand."

"There was, huh?" McGinty's eyes rested accusingly upon each face in the circle about the body. "All right. Now just tell me who first joined you and the murdered man, Mr. Carlson."

Carlson looked at Kip Burland. "It was that young man," he said.

"Burland, huh?" McGinty said. "I guess I'll have to search your pockets, Burland, if you've no objection."

Kip smiled. "None whatever, Sergeant."

McGinty went through Kip's pockets. He ignored the fountain pen which was clipped in plain sight. He stood back, shook his head.

"I guess you're clean, Burland," he admitted, and then turned to the others. "But I'm finding whatever was in Biggert's hand, understand? Mr. Weedham, you'll go call headquarters and tell them I want the Homicide Detail out here."

"You mean me, d-d-don't you?" Jeff Weedham asked.

McGinty shook his head. "I mean your father. You and the rest stay here. I'll have a little more searching to do. And a lot more questions to ask."

Though McGinty fulfilled his promise in so far as the questions and the searching were concerned, he didn't turn up the piece of paper he was looking for. Neither did he find the weapon or the murderer.

It was about eleven o'clock when Jack Carlson asked permission to leave. He had some urgent business to attend to, he explained to the sergeant. McGinty had no grounds for holding Carlson, told him to go ahead.

But Carlson did not leave alone. Kip Burland, without asking permission from anybody or even saying good-night to Barbara, slipped quietly from the house. He was particularly interested in the urgent business which was pressing Mr. Jack Carlson.


CHAPTER VII

The Trail Of The Beam

If Jack Carlson was as innocent as he pretended to be, it was curious that he should stop just outside the gate of the Weedham home, reach into a bed of dwarf evergreens from which he took a long copper cylinder which closely resembled a flashlight.

From his hiding place in the shadows, Kip Burland saw this move on the part of Carlson. He then saw Carlson get into his car and drive away. Burland hailed a passing cab, ordered the driver to keep Carlson's car in sight.

Carlson drove down into the lower east side of town, parked his car in a narrow street, and got out. Kip ordered his cab to pass Carlson's car. Looking back through the rear window, he saw Carlson turn up a narrow walk between two tenement buildings.

"Stop here," Kip ordered the cab driver. And as the taxi braked, he got out, threw a bill to the driver, and ran up the street toward the place where Carlson had disappeared.

In the dusky shadows between the two tenements, Burland watched Carlson put something into a wooden milk box attached just outside what was apparently someone's kitchen door. Then Kip had to duck back into a darkened doorway as Carlson retraced his steps, and got back into his car.

Kip had to make a choice quickly. Either he continued to follow Carlson or he investigated the milk box which Carlson had mysteriously visited. In as much as there was no taxi in sight, Kip decided on the latter course. As soon as Carlson was out of sight, he left the doorway, went up the walk between the two buildings, opened the milk box.

Inside the box he found the copper cylinder which he had seen Carlson take from its hiding place outside the Weedham home. The thing resembled a flashlight more closely than ever on close inspection. It was a little longer than the usual three cell case, and there was a finely ground lens at the end.

Around the outside of the case was a piece of paper, held in place by a rubber band. Kip removed the rubber band, unrolled the paper, studied it in match light. On the paper was penciled the name "Delancy" followed by the words, "Second floor rear at end of fire escape, sixty-eight A Seventh Avenue." At the bottom of the paper was that crude drawing, the sign of the Eye.

Kip's pulse quickened. Could it be that Carlson was the Eye? Certain here was a message which Carlson had delivered and which carried the Eye's signature. And the flashlight device—Kip understood its construction and purpose immediately. Inside the case was some sort of a trigger mechanism operated by a button on the outside. The trigger operated a narrow strip of film, perhaps eight millimeter film, on which were photographed the messages which the Eye intended to send. This film would be placed between the light globe and the lens, so that the photographed message could be projected on any wall from a long distance.

This was the device which had been used tonight at the Weedham home. Someone on the outside, probably the lady with the green eyes, Vida Gervais, had employed the light beam projected message. That warning which seemed to have been intended for Carlson was probably no warning at all. Perhaps the police had been keeping rather a sharp eye on Carlson, and Carlson had decided to put himself in the clear by faking that little scene at the Weedham's and pretending that the Eye intended to kill Carlson.

"And that would be suicide, I'd be willing to bet my last dollar!" Kip muttered grimly.

He replaced the light signal device in the milk box together with the note which was attached to the copper case. He would await further developments. Carlson was the Eye, he was certain. It was now the job of the Black Hood to catch Carlson red-handed.

He left the narrow corridor between buildings to take up a post on the other side of the street. He did not have to wait very long until a man in the garb of a telegraph messenger came up the street. The messenger looked both ways and finally turned up that sidewalk between the two tenements. Even from where he stood, Kip Burland could hear the rattle of the milk box top. A moment later, the messenger appeared. He was carrying that self-same copper cased flashlight device.

It was a tangled trail that Kip Burland followed that night, shadowing that man who wore a telegraph messenger's costume. From half a block behind the man, Kip watched the messenger walk along side of the bleak walls of Tombs prison. He saw the narrow ray of that signal beam reach out and up to one of the narrow, barred windows. The Eye was signaling to someone who was even now in the hands of the police!

The further he delved into the mystery of the whispering criminal known as the Eye, the more intriguing it became. Who but a perverted genius could have planned so completely, so thoroughly that not even prison walls offered any sort of a barrier?

It was when the messenger crossed over to Seventh Avenue that Kip Burland decided that this time he would be on the receiving end of that message that traveled the light beam. He knew where the messenger was heading. That paper banded to the flashlight device had carried a Seventh Avenue address. Someone else was to receive one of the Eye's little missives. A man by the name of Delancy, judging from the writing on the note paper.

The name struck a responsive cord in Kip Burland's memory. It recalled Ray Delancy, one of the most dangerous rob and kill men in the business. Delancy would be the sort of a person valuable to the Eye.

In a murky alley off Seventh Avenue, Kip Burland paused for a few precious moments. Quickly, he shed his outer garments, revealing beneath the yellow silk tights, the wide belt, and the black athletic shorts that identified the Black Hood. From the inter-lining in the back of his suit coat, he took a flat folded package composed of his gauntlet gloves, his black silk cape, and that combination mask and hood that completed the costume. Shortly, Kip Burland had vanished, completely over-shadowed by his famous alias—the Black Hood.

The Eye's messenger had been moving at a leisurely pace. In spite of the delay his costume change had necessitated, Black Hood easily outstripped the messenger, reached the Seventh Avenue address which had been noted on that slip of paper attached to the signal device. This proved to be an ancient red brick lodging house which would have made an excellent hideout for a criminal.

There was a fire escape on the side of the building. Black Hood raised his eyes to the second story, marked the window which was nearest the fire escape at this point. This was the window mentioned in the Eye's instructions. Just across the alley from this point, Black Hood spied a wood telephone pole. He grinned. Nothing could be sweeter! He crossed to the pole, leaped for the lowest climbing spike, driven into the wood about eight feet from the ground, and drew himself upwards. At the second climbing spike, he stopped. From this position he would be able to see the upper part of the wall of the second floor room of the building across the alley, and also the ceiling. He pulled his black cape around him and waited.

It wasn't long before he heard the footsteps of the messenger crunching along the alley. The man came to a stop within a few feet of the very post to which Black Hood was clinging. He pointed the copper cased flashlight device upward toward the dark window which Black Hood was watching. The white ray stabbed out through the darkness, and Black Hood could clearly see the brand of the Eye, projected on the ceiling of the room across the alley.

The light beam lingered for a moment, then went out. The shadowy figure of a man appeared at the window. A cigarette glowed in his lips. A signal, Black Hood wondered? And then the figure in the window withdrew and the light beam again shot up from below. This time the words of the Eye's message were clearly projected onto the ceiling of the crimester's hideout. Black Hood read:

"Delancy, come to headquarters at once."

And then the beam of light went out.

Black Hood altered his position slightly so that he clung to the pole with one hand, his body poised for a leap. The faint rustle of the Black Hood's cape caused the messenger on the ground to look up.

Black Hood knew that he had to act fast. That signaling device which the messenger carried was an important piece of evidence. Jack Carlson's finger prints would be on the case. That, together with the photo film which carried the Eye's message and was enclosed in the trigger mechanism of the novel projector, constituted evidence that would prove that Jack Carlson was the Eye.

Black Hood sprang out from the pole, swooped down upon the messenger like a huge black bat. The man turned to flee too late. Black Hood caught him by the coat tails, dragged him back. The messenger turned, grappled with Black Hood. Then followed one of those grim, silent struggles, too deadly serious for oaths and threats. Rat this pawn of the Eye may have been, but even a cornered rat will fight with the courage of a lion.

Time after time the man tried to bash Black Hood's skull with the copper cased signal device—tried once too often; for Black Hood's gauntlet covered fingers closed like steel hooks upon the device. A twist, a sudden jerk, and it was Black Hood who had the signal device now.

The copper cylinder gone, the messenger's courage seemed to have gone with it. He turned, fled like a frightened rabbit up the alley and into the avenue.

Again Black Hood was faced with one of two choices. He might follow the messenger, might catch him, turn him over to the cops. But in all probability, the messenger knew less about the identity of the Eye than Black Hood knew. He was merely a tool in the hands of a master criminal. And Black Hood was after that master criminal.

The second choice, and the one which he decided to take, was to follow Delancy who had been given orders from the Eye to appear at the headquarters of the mob immediately. And in as much as Black Hood had not the slightest idea where the Eye had his headquarters, this was the wisest course to pursue.

His heart beat high with hope as he waited in the alley for Delancy to make his appearance. He felt that he was nearing the end of the case, approaching the time when the Eye, that menace to the peace and safety of all New York, could be placed behind prison bars. And when he had proved that Jack Carlson was the Eye, Black Hood would clear himself of the charge of murder!


CHAPTER VIII

The Forces Of Evil

The Eye had chosen his headquarters well. It was in the basement room of what had once been a Greenwich Village speakeasy. There he had brought together all of the important rival mobs of the city—forces of evil which might otherwise have been at each other's throats. The Eye had brought unity to the underworld. He had taught them that there was nothing to be gained by warring among themselves; and there were millions to be gained by united action.

Delancy was there, his toadlike form crouching on the edge of his chair placed next to that of Ron "The Bug" Brayton, formerly Delancy's rival in the rob and kill profession. All of Delancy's star gunsels were there—Squid Murphy, Shiv and the rest.

The Eye was there, standing on a rough wood platform at one end of the room. His coat was off so that anyone present might plainly see the twin gun harness he wore and the black butts of two heavy automatics. His face and head was covered with a full mask of thin white rubber, pierced by two slots for eyeholes. He wore a black slouch hat.

Black Hood was there, but nobody knew about that except the guard at the top of the basement stairway. The guard knew, but bound and gagged he was in no position to say anything about it. Black Hood stood in that shadowy stairway and was himself like one of the shadows—watching, listening, waiting for his time.

Ray Delancy shuffled to his feet as the meeting began.

"Mr. Eye," Delancy said, "I got a complaint to make, that is if you don't mind. Like to get it off my chest before we go into anything in the way of new business."

The Eye inclined his head. "Make your complaint, Mister—" He coughed. "Well, go ahead."

"It's about this man Carlson who works for you," Delancy said. "When I pulled that job at the Weedham plant for you, I was hot on the get-away. I thought I was hot, anyway. We switched paint jobs at Burkey's station, see, and rolling into town that dame you sent to ride with us switched on the radio. A police call came through. The coppers were looking for us. I didn't figure how come until a good bit later."

"Go on," the Eye said.

Delancy shuffled his feet and looked at the floor.

"I don't like to make trouble, see, but that was a put-up job."

"You mean what?" the Eye questioned.

"I mean that wasn't no police call. There was some sort of a phonograph device under the cowl of that get-away car, and this was hooked up to the radio switch. That police call was a phoney. We wasn't hot. That was just rigged up to send us to Jack Carlson to ask that he get us out of town in a hurry.

"I went to Carlson. I told him we was hot, because at the time I figured we was. He wanted fifty per cent of our total take to move us out of town. Fifty per cent, and with the ten that we are supposed to pay you, that don't leave a guy much profit. I told Carlson I'd rot in jail first. And all the time, I ain't hot at all, because the bulls haven't turned the heat on me. It was a phoney, see, just to get me to spend a lot of dough on a get-away."

The Eye nodded. "There have been some other complaints about Carlson. I will see that he is eliminated. Someone else will take over the position which he has filled."

In the shadows of the stairway, Black Hood laughed soundlessly. That was a hot one, that was! Here was Carlson, playing both ends against the middle, getting his cut as the Eye and getting a second and large helping out of his crooked transport business. And now the Eye was talking about eliminating Carlson to appease Ray Delancy!

"To get back to the business at hand," the Eye said, "our next job is a small matter of one hundred thousand in unset jewels. And by a hundred thousand, I am not referring to the current market price. We can realize that amount from a fence. It sounds good, eh?"

Some of the mobsters cursed appreciatively.

"There is," the Eye continued, "an obscure little jewelry shop known as Tauber's which has received such a shipment of gems."

"Diamonds or other stuff?" Ron "The Bugs" Brayton asked.

The Eye coughed. "The former," he said. "Tomorrow night I will require the services of a select number of you. I'll want Murphy, and—" he nodded at Delancy—"you. You, too, Brayton, and a number of your best men. We will also need a good safe expert."

One of the crooks held up his hand. "That's me."

"Agreed, then," the Eye said. "If there is nothing else to attend to, we may as well adjourn."

As some of the crooks started toward the foot of the steps leading up from the basement room, it appeared as though there was quite a bit more to attend to. This was the moment for which Black Hood had been waiting. Standing near the top of the stairs, he reached out and hauled the bound and helpless guard down to his level. As the first of the hoods showed his face at the foot of the stairs, Black Hood gave the guard a shove that sent the man flopping down the stairs to bowl over two of the foremost members of the mob.

The Black Hood took a couple of strides and then leaped from halfway down the steps. He cleared the roped guard and the two fallen hoods, landed lightly on the balls of his feet within a yard of Squid Murphy.

And then, before anyone in the room could quite understand what this was all about, the Black Hood unleashed a furious one-man attack on the startled crimesters. His two long arms reached out. His gloved fingers closed on Squid Murphy and the killer called Shiv simultaneously. He brought the two together, all but jerked them from their feet, to crack Murphy's head against that of Shiv. Murphy and Shiv went limp, and as they fell, Black Hood snatched a half-drawn automatic from the shoulder holster of gunman Murphy. He stepped clear of the two men, faced the others, a mocking smile on his lips.

"I am seldom required to carry a gun, since one of my opponents nearly always gives me his," he said quietly. "It will take just one smart move from any one among you to find out whether or not the Black Hood can shoot."

Ten of the most dangerous criminals in the city plus that master-mind, the Eye, stood there in awed silence, watching that tall figure in yellow tights and black silk hood.

"I want the Eye," Black Hood said. "If you will surrender him to me, I will give the rest of you a break—a break of five minutes in which to take your chances with the law."

Black Hood knew that the criminals would make no such bargain. He was talking to stall for time. He knew that sooner or later, either he or the criminals would have to make a move. What that move would be, he had no idea. But he was ready for anything.

It was Delancy who made the first move. He had the idea that he could draw and shoot before Black Hood could discover from just what particular point of the room the danger threatened. And it was Delancy's fatal mistake. Before he had his gun out of his shoulder holster, Black Hood had fired. He had fired, remembering that cold-blooded slaughter at the Weedham Industries plant. A third black and hollow eye appeared suddenly in Delancy's forehead. The legs of the gunman bowed beneath the weight of his toadlike body. There was a dull, bewildered expression on Delancy's face as he hit the floor.

But that first shot was the spark that touched off the powder barrel. Two more followed—one that tugged at the Black Hood's cape, a second that shot out the light in the room. Black Hood backed toward the bottom of the stair. He'd plant himself there in that narrow exit, and if the crimesters thought there was an avenue of escape, let them try. The automatic in his hand bucked and barked. His only target was the flame from the snouts of the gangster guns, but agonized cries told him that at least a portion of his slugs had found their mark.

Suddenly he saw at the rear of the room, a narrow shaft of gray light. Somebody had opened a door. For just a moment, he saw the white face of the Eye, his rubber mask glowing like the surface of a moon. Black Hood shot twice, pulled the trigger a third time only to hear the hammer click on an empty chamber.

Perhaps the Eye heard that click and understood its meaning, for it was then that he made his dash through the rear door. Black Hood knew that retreat was now his only course. He was without weapons in a battle of screaming lead. He turned, stumbled over a fallen form, caught his balance, and then took the stairway in long strides. A cop, attracted by the shooting, appeared at the top of the steps, but he was only a momentary barrier to the Black Hood—a very hard man to stop once he got under way. His fist lashed out, caught the copper on the chin. The man probably never knew exactly when the floor came up to slap the back of his lap.

Black Hood was clear of the building now, his legs working like tireless pistons. He heard the shrill scream of police sirens, and in the basement of the building the roar of gun fire still sounded. Perhaps the criminals did not know that their opponent had left. One thing was certain: Black Hood had dealt the forces of evil a hard blow that night, and he had showed the Eye that the Black Hood was hard on his trail.

Rounding a corner, Black Hood sighted a taxi cab cruising along. He dashed into the street, waving his arm. The cab stopped, the driver goggling at the strange figure that had hailed him.

"I'm in a big hurry to get to a masquerade," Black Hood said as he opened the door of the taxi.

"So that's what it is," the driver said, apparently satisfied.

As Black Hood got into the cab, he gave the address of Jack Carlson's auto livery. So the Eye thought he had escaped, did he? Black Hood chuckled. Well, he'd planned a little surprise for Jack Carlson, alias, the Eye!


CHAPTER IX

Alias, The Corpse

It was after two o'clock in the morning when Black Hood alighted from the cab near the location of Jack Carlson's auto livery garage. There was not a sign of light in the garage building, and the big doors were closed and locked. Black Hood went to the side entrance. This also was locked. Reaching into one of the secret pockets of his wide black belt he removed a curiously shaped tool of finest tempered steel. He had met few locks in his adventures which this tool could not open. A deft thrust, a twist of the wrist, and the door was no longer a barrier to him.

He returned the tool to its pocket and pulled out a tiny flashlight. The ray of light seemed swallowed by the gloom of the vast, lonely room that lay before him. Here and there were parked cars, oil drums, huge vans. Black Hood wondered how many of these vehicles had been used by the members of the Eye's criminal pack.

He crossed the room to the concrete ramp that twisted up to the second story. His footsteps whispered on the ramp. On the second floor there was neither light nor sound—not so much as the squeak of a rat. His flashlight pointed out the office, partitioned off from the rest of the big room. He crossed quickly, pushed open the office door, spotted the light switch. He turned the light switch to the on position, but no illumination came from either the central fixtures nor the lamps on the desk. A queer set-up, this.

He went into Jack Carlsons private office, tried the switch in there, still without results. He pointed his flashlight beam around until it fell on the huge iron safe in the corner. The safe door was standing wide open, the interior cleanly empty. Queerer and queerer.

He paused in the center of the room, his nostrils dilated. There was a faint, pleasant odor lingering in the room—a vaguely familiar odor.

Black Hood crossed to the door of a coat closet, jerked it open. A body fell stiffly into the room, struck the carpet with a dull, jarring sound. Black Hood sprang back, turned his light down at the corpse. He dropped to his knees beside the dead man, grasped the shoulder of the coat of the corpse, turned the man over on his back. And as he saw that gray deathmask of a face, Black Hood knew that all his carefully worked out solution had tumbled like a house of cards. The corpse on the floor was that of Jack Carlson, and he had been dead for hours.

Carlson could not have been the Eye, for less than an hour ago, Black Hood had seen and fought with the Eye!

Bullets had pierced the chest of Carlson in three places. High on the left lapel of his dark suit coat was a white smudge made by some sort of powder. Black Hood stepped to Carlson's desk, picked up an envelope and a letter opener, and returned to the body. With great care, he scraped some of the white powder from the coat lapel into the envelope. Then he moistened the flap and sealed it.

Turning the flashlight away from the body, he suddenly noticed something else. That white smudge on Carlson's coat glowed in the darkness.

The Black Hood's keen eyes narrowed on that patch of pale light. Then, as though seized by a sudden inspiration, he sprang to Carlson's desk and tipped up the desk lamp. He reached in under the shade and laid his bare hand on the lamp bulb. The glass of that bulb was warm. Then he crossed to the door, flipped the light switch to the off position, and looked back in the direction of the corpse.

The pale glow of light which came from that powder smudge on Carlson's lapel was no longer visible!

An understanding gleam came into Black Hood's eyes. At least he understood how Jack Carlson had died, even if the mystery of the identity of the Eye had deepened. He withdrew quietly from the room and left the garage.

At the fringe of dawn the next morning, Black Hood was high in the Catskills, in the mountain fastness of that whiskered old man who had been his teacher—that man known simply as the Hermit. There in the Hermit's laboratory, Black Hood and the old man made a careful analysis of that scanty sample of powder which Black Hood had scraped from the coat of the murdered Jack Carlson.

Finally, the old man straightened from the microscope over which he had been bending.

"My son," he asked of the Black Hood, "what are your findings?"

"The stuff is face powder," Black Hood said. "But it's something else, too. Mixed in with the face powder is another substance."

"Naphthionate of sodium," the Hermit said.

"That's what I thought," Black Hood nodded. "It's one of those substances which becomes phosphorescent in ultra-violet light. And those light bulbs in Jack Carlson's garage were ultra-violet bulbs. The light from them is invisible to us poor mortals. You see what that means, Hermit?"

"Not entirely," the Hermit said.

"It means that Jack Carlson was marked for murder. That face powder came from the cheek of a woman—some woman who pressed her cheek against Carlson's lapel. And a pretty gesture of affection it was, too. It made Carlson so easy to kill!

"You see, the naphthionate of sodium in that powder sticks to just about anything. Even if Carlson had brushed the face powder off, the naphthionate would still have been there. When Carlson entered the garage, he turned on the light switch. No visible light came from those bulbs—only "black light" as it is called. And the killer was waiting. In the black light, the killer could not be seen, but Carlson was perfectly targeted by that smudge of naphthionate which glowed on his lapel.

"It was all planned in advance—the lady's part to smear the powder on Carlsons' lapel, a sort of Judas kiss. And then there was the killer's part—to replace the ordinary bulbs with the ultra-violet type, and to wait with drawn gun to shoot Carlson."

"Who, then, is the Eye?" the Hermit asked.

"I'll stick to my original idea," Black Hood said after a moment's thought. "I still think that Jack Carlson is—was—the Eye. That alibi he arranged for himself at Weedham's home, that warning from the Eye which stated that Carlson was to die, his efforts to make Biggert's death look as though the killer had been shooting at Carlson instead of at Biggert—that all points to Carlson as the Eye. He was trying to make himself appear the fair-haired boy in front of Sergeant McGinty.

"Further, and I think conclusive proof, is that signal device which was used to 'warn' Carlson. That was—Carlson's own device. It was Vida Gervais, I believe, who turned the signal light through the French windows at the Weedham house. And then later, in a previously appointed spot, she left the signal light for Carlson to pick up as he left the house.

"Carlson changed the film in that light, putting in one which would deliver two more of the Eye's messages—one of which went to Delancy, telling him to come to a meeting tonight."

Black Hood propped one foot on a laboratory stool, rested an elbow on his knee. His eyes were bright, his face animated.

"Don't you see that up to that point, Carlson was the Eye. But shortly after he had planted the signal device for his messenger to pick up, Carlson was murdered. The man who directed the criminal meeting later on wasn't Carlson, because Carlson was dead. It means that somebody took over where Carlson left off. It means that somebody muscled in on Carlson's little racket, killed Carlson, began playing the part of the Eye."

"Which means," the Hermit said, "that you're not at the end of your task yet."

"Not by a long shot," Black Hood replied. "And I'm wondering about this Vida Gervais. Is she the woman whose face powder was smeared on Jack Carlson's lapel? I thought the odor of the powder was familiar. And here's another thing I didn't mention."

Black Hood searched the pockets of his wide belt, brought out his fountain pen.

"Here's a little item which I snitched from the hand of the murdered Biggert, who was William Weedham's personal secretary. It's a check, and I've scarcely had time to look at it myself."

He unscrewed the cap of the fountain pen and removed the piece of rolled up yellow paper which he had taken from the dead Biggert's hand. He flattened out the slip of paper and placed it on the table in front of the Hermit.

It was a check in the sum of forty thousand dollars, made out to the order of Major Paxton and signed by William Weedham, the major's brother-in-law. The check had been endorsed and paid through a New York bank.

"I think this is the reason that Biggert was killed," Black Hood said. "Weedham said that Biggert was going over his personal bank account, and it's entirely possible that Biggert discovered there was something queer about that check."

"A forgery, perhaps," the Hermit suggested.

"That was my idea," Black Hood agreed. "Anyway, that gives us a couple of leads—Vida Gervais and Major Paxton. And if both of them are knocked off before I can get the truth out of them—" Black Hood laughed without mirth.


CHAPTER X

"Stop, Murderer!"

The following morning, Kip Burland read the early edition of Jeff Weedham's paper, The Daily Opinion, with his breakfast coffee. The latest story concerning the criminal exploits of the Eye was headlined:

"EYE IS BLACK HOOD"—BURKEY

The following story told how A. J. Burkey, filling station operator from a northern suburb, had been held in Tombs prison for questioning in conjunction with the murder and robbery at the Weedham plant. The night before, Burkey had confessed that his boss, the criminal known as the Eye, was actually the Black Hood.

The part of the story that put a dull ache in Kip Burland's heart was the fact that it was by-lined by Barbara Sutton, The Daily Opinion police reporter—and more particularly the woman whom Kip Burland loved.

There was another "Eye" story, stating that the body of Jack Carlson had been found. This murder, too, was attributed to the Eye. And once again it was pointed out that the Eye and the Black Hood were one and the same.

As night fell upon the city, Kip Burland once more vanished behind the identity of the Black Hood, not without full realization that he was taking his life into his hands. Again he visited the Weedham estate on West End Avenue, this time determined to have a talk with Major Paxton.

Prowling around the house in search for a suitable entrance, Black Hood discovered that he could not have come at a worse time. William Weedham was host to Sergeant McGinty and his cops as well as a number of reporters, including Barbara Sutton and her clumsy cameraman, Joe Strong. Evidently the police expected to gain further information about the crimes of the Eye.

Black Hood took to a stout iron trellis, climbed quickly to the second story where he found a bedroom window open. He slipped into the empty bedroom and from there went into the hall. Tiptoeing down the hall, he came to a small upstairs living room in which a light burned. There, studying a European war map was Major Paxton.

Black Hood entered silently and closed the door behind him. As the major looked up, Black Hood stepped quickly forward so that his tall figure over-shadowed that of the peppery little major.

"What—what—who—" Paxton sputtered. "Why, look here, you can't come in here like this!"

"But I am in," Black Hood said quietly. "And you won't utter a sound, or you'll force me to live up to my unjustly earned reputation as a murderer."

"But it's illegal! It—it's damnable!"

"Now sit down and cool off, Major," Black Hood said patiently. "You can blow off steam after I've left."

"Left, huh? You'll get out of here over my dead body!"

Black Hood nodded. "If necessary, even that. But first we're going to have a quiet little chat, you and I. A little talk about a check in the amount of forty thousand dollars."

"I'll not pay you one cent!" Paxton exploded. "Why, do you think you can frighten me into—"

"I have frightened you, Major," Black Hood said, smiling. "And it won't cost you a cent, either. All I want you to do is take a look at this check."

Black Hood drew the check, which he had taken from the dead fingers of the murdered Biggert, from a pocket in his belt. He held it so that Paxton could look at it. Paxton stared, and then suddenly looked at the Black Hood's eyes revealed in the slots of his black mask.

"Why, it's made out to me!"

"Remarkable, isn't it?" Black Hood said. "It was found in the fingers of the murdered Biggert." He turned the check over to show the endorsement. "Is that your signature?"

"It most certainly is! But, great heavens, I didn't receive any money from William Weedham. I'll have you know that I am a man of independent means. He's never given me a penny. Why, what does this mean?"

Black Hood studied the little man closely. He had seen liars before, and it seemed to him that if Paxton was lying he was doing a remarkable job of it.

"That's your signature, though," he persisted.

"Yes, but I didn't sign it." The major pressed a hand to his forehead. "Wait. I've an idea. A mere ghost of an idea!" He reached into his pocket and pulled out a cigarette lighter. "My signature is engraved on this lighter," he explained. "Anyone could have borrowed my lighter and traced that endorsement. Let me see the check a moment."

Black Hood shook his head. "And have you destroy it?" he said with a smile. "Rather, let me see the lighter."

The major handed over the cigarette lighter. Holding it beneath the check, Black Hood could see that the signature of Paxton on the back of the check followed in every detail the engraved signature on the lighter. He handed the lighter back.

"And the signature of William Weedham," he said. "Take a look at that?"

Major Paxton scowled. He shook his head doubtfully. "It could be genuine. And then again, it could be a forgery. It seems to me—"

The door behind Black Hood opened. The master manhunter wheeled, saw the lank figure of Jeff Weedham standing in the door. Jeff Weedham opened his mouth, shouted at the top of his voice.

"D-d-dad! Help! The Black Hood!" And then young Weedham tried a necktie tackle that was supposed to flatten Black Hood to the floor.

Black Hood bent double to duck that high tackle. The result was that Jeff Weedham landed squarely across Black Hood's broad back. The manhunter straightened, threw Jeff to the floor, darted from the room and out into the hall.

The stairway was within three long strides of him. Black Hood slid half way down the broad stair railing before he saw William Weedham and Sergeant McGinty at the foot of the steps waiting for him. McGinty had his gun out. Black Hood kicked his legs over the rail, reversing his position, gave himself a shove with his hands. He dropped over the railing, landed on his feet in the hall below. He turned, dashed through a door that stood open beneath the stairs. This brought him into a huge dining room.

But he wasn't there long enough to tell about it. He went through a swinging door into a butler's pantry, then into a kitchen. There was a cop at the back door, waiting for him. He pivoted in his tracks, doubled back into the dining room, went through another door that brought him to the living room. No way out there. And then he remembered that William Weedham's library was between living room and hall. The French windows of the library might be the one avenue of escape which McGinty's thinly spread men were not guarding.

He reached the library, ran to the French windows. They were locked, but the key was in place. He was about to unlock the windows when he heard the door off the hall open and close.

"Stop, murderer!"

Black Hood turned, just a little slowly this time, because he had recognized that voice—a voice that haunted his dreams as did the face of the lovely girl who owned it. Barbara Sutton stood in the doorway, a small but businesslike revolver in her hand.


CHAPTER XI

The Frame Complete

"Barbara," Black Hood said quietly, "you're joking!"

She shook her head. Her lower lip trembled.

Black Hood took two steps toward her and saw her gun wrist stiffen.

"Listen," he said grimly, "I could take that penny pea shooter away from you in a second. I want you to know that I'm staying here in this room when every second of delay may spell my death. I'm staying here because if it's the last thing I do, I'm going to convince you that I'm not a killer. And I'm not the Eye."

"That picture Joe took," she said. "And that confession of the man in Tombs. And you've told me time and time again that you're an outlaw."

He nodded. "If my real identity were known, the police could take me on the charge of robbery. But that charge would be a frame, just as this one is. I can never clear myself of the robbery charge. But I can and will clear the Black Hood of the charge of murder. Joe must have got that picture by accident. I was simply bending over that watchman at the Weedham plant gate to see if there was any chance that he was alive and had witnessed the crime. When I saw the knife, I planned to withdraw it from the watchman's throat, to use it as possible evidence.

"You've got to believe me, Barbara. I'm fighting this creature who calls himself the Eye just as you are and just as the police are. You and I have been through a lot of adventures together. Ask yourself if I have ever done a single thing which would indicate that I would stoop to the slaughter of the innocent. Ask yourself that, Barbara."

He took another step toward her. Her violet eyes glistened with tears.

"Joe Strong has tried to poison your mind against me," he said. "I can't blame him for that, since all's fair in love and war. But you've got to believe me, Barbara. You've got to believe me because—because I love you. I've always loved you from the first day I set eyes on you. And—"

The gun spilled from Barbara's limp fingers, and suddenly she was in his arms. He held her fiercely, tenderly for a long moment, kissed her warm lips. And then there were sounds of footsteps in the hall. He heard Jeff Weedham say:

"D-d-did anybody look in the library?"

Black Hood released Barbara, turned, dashed back to the French windows. He looked back before he plunged out into the darkness, and his teeth gleamed in a smile. Barbara was smiling, too—smiling and crying at the same time.

There was a police guard at the gate of the Weedham estate, but then Black Hood had never cared a whole lot about using gates anyway. He raced across the lawn, vaulted over the wall which separated the Weedham property from the place belonging to the green-eyed Vida Gervais next door.

To all appearances, the green-eyed lady was not at home—not unless those catlike eyes of hers were capable of seeing in the dark. Black Hood found his way into the house through a window. Inside, the house was as silent as it was dark.

Eventually, he found his way to Vida Gervais' boudoir and there poked and sniffed among the boxes and jars of cosmetics on her dressing table. A box of face powder attracted his particular attention, and when he looked into the adjoining bathroom he discovered a suitable means of testing the powder to make sure that it was the same which he had scraped from the coat lapel of the dead Jack Carlson. Evidently, the lady was somewhat concerned about her pale complexion, for there was a sun lamp in the bathroom. Beneath its ultra-violet rays Black Hood discovered that the face powder took on a phosphorescent glow, proving that sodium naphthionate had been added to it. He took the powder with him when he left the house a few minutes later dressed in a spare uniform of Vida Gervais' chauffeur.

It was an hour later that Black Hood came to an obscure little jewelry shop known simply as "Tauber's." It was here that the Eye's crimesters were supposed to pull their next job, according to the plans which had been set forth at the meeting on the night before. Whether or not Black Hood's unexpected appearance at that meeting had put a crimp in those plans, he did not know. But there was no way of learning except by trial and error. Except for a night light which glinted through the show window, the place was dark.

Black Hood reflected that had he any desire to live up to his false reputation as a criminal, he could have done very nicely for himself. It required just twenty minutes of work for him to open the window at the back of the shop—steel grill work, burglar alarm, lock and all. It was rather a tight squeeze for his broad shoulders, getting through the opening, but he managed it. No sooner had his feet hit the floor, however, than he felt the cold, stern prod of the barrel of an automatic.

"All right, Mr. Hood, put up your hands!"

Black Hood jerked a glance over his right shoulder to behold the unlovely visage of Mr. Ron "The Bugs" Brayton.

"Hi there, Bugs," he said lightly, raising his hands to the level of his shoulders. "Fancy meeting you here."

Brayton laughed. "If you'da knocked at the front door, we'd have let you in, Mr. Hood. It's pretty early, for a heist, ain't it? But we figured the early bird would get the diamonds. And then you was wised up to this job, wasn't you?"

"Oh, I did hear it mentioned at the lodge meeting last night," Black Hood said. He laughed. "Isn't that Squid Murphy over there in the corner, trying to disguise himself as a corner of that safe?"

Murphy stepped out of the shadows. He had a gun in his fist. A third hood put in his appearance from the front of the store and a fourth came out of Tauber's private office.

"You're just a little bit too late, Mr. Hood," Bugs Brayton said. "That is, too late to get your hands on these beauties."

Brayton extended his right arm in front of him. He was holding a small leather satchel, the mouth of the bag wide open. What light there was in the place scintillated on a layer of unset diamonds in the bottom of the bag. It was then that Black Hood got one of those sudden inspirations which had made him the underworld's most capable adversary. His right hand dropped with incredible swiftness to his wide black belt, snatched something from a concealed pocket there. That same hand shot out toward the bag of diamonds, lingered over its open mouth a moment before it clenched into a fist and hammered to the point of Squid Murphy's jaw.

Murphy went back very fast and didn't stop until he had rammed into the Tauber safe. But the three other hoods closed in upon Black Hood. Bugs Brayton's big automatic rose and fell like an ax. The barrel of it caught Black Hood on the temple with stunning force. Black Hood fell to the floor and an unidentified but effective shoe toe caught the side of his head with a powerful kick. Blazing blobs of light exploded within his brain, and then the total blackness of unconsciousness funneled down upon his brain.

Bugs Brayton stood over the fallen manhunter. He weighed his automatic thoughtfully in his hand. He looked at Squid Murphy and the others.

"Well, boys," he said, "I guess it's up to me to finish off Mr. Hood. And I can't say that I got any regrets about him dying so young." He laughed, stooped over Black Hood, pressed the muzzle of his gun to the manhunter's forehead.

"Stop, Bugs!" came a whispered command from the front of the store.

Brayton straightened. Coming toward the group of crimesters around the unconscious Black Hood, was the man they knew as the Eye, his white rubber mask resembling a death's head in the half light.

"It would be a grave mistake to kill Black Hood, Brayton," the Eye said. "Once he is dead, the police will turn their attention to others—perhaps to any one of us. You understand?"

"But the guy's dangerous," Squid Murphy protested. "I'll take my chances with the bulls any day, rather than with Black Hood."

"He won't be dangerous to us in prison," the criminal chief argued. "Hand me the gems, Brayton."

Brayton obeyed. He watched the Eye's slim white fingers reach down into the layer of diamonds, watched them sift the glittering gems. Then he took a dozen or so of the stones from the bag, transferred them to a pocket in Black Hood's belt.

"Now," he said, "the frame is complete. I will take care of the gems and as soon as I have sold them, I will split with you. Let's get out of here."

So great was their fear of their leader that the crimesters obeyed without protest. Just outside the rear door of the jewelry shop, the criminal chief stopped, raised a whistle to his lips, and blew a skirling blast.

"What's the idea?" Brayton demanded, startled.

"To bring the police for the Black Hood, you fool!"


CHAPTER XII

Black Light

Black Hood staggered to his feet, his brain still whirling from that blow to his head. He lurched toward the front door of the shop, stopped half way there, clung to a counter for support. Somebody was pounding on the front door. A hoarse voice was calling on him to open in the name of the law.

Black Hood turned, spurred the muscles of his legs to carry on. The brilliant light of a policeman's torch sliced through the semi-darkness and spotted him. He kept going. Glass in the front door shattered beneath a blow from the butt of the copper's revolver. Black Hood ran on leaden feet into the rear of the shop. The back door stood invitingly open. He stepped over the sill, all but fell into the arms of a second cop. He struck just one wild haymaker of a blow that cleared the head of the cop by nearly a foot. And then suddenly there were two cops—one on either side of him.

"It's Black Hood!" one of the coppers shouted triumphantly. "We've got him. We've got the Eye. Wait till Sergeant McGinty hears about this!"

Cold steel jaws of handcuffs closed on Black Hood's right wrist. A second cop frisked him quickly, emptying the pockets of his belt.

"Look at the sparklers, will you!" the policeman gasped.

And Black Hood, his mind still in a daze, stared down at the gems in the copper's hand. No use telling them it was a frame. That was the standard alibi of every crook who ever found his way into police courts. They had him cold, and in his present condition he was utterly unable to fight back.

As long as he lived he was never to forget that ride down to police headquarters. Nor could he ever forget standing there in Sergeant McGinty's office while the sergeant did a bit of triumphant gloating.

"As sure as my name's McGinty, I knew there'd come a day like this, Mr. Black Hood, alias the Eye. I've got you, and I've got you where I want you. You'll burn in the chair, Mr. Hood."

Black Hood stood erect, still handcuffed to the cop who had captured him. He could think a little bit more clearly now and the muscles of his powerful body were much more inclined to obey the dictates of his taut nerves. He looked at the top of the sergeant's desk. There the entire contents of his belt pockets had been spread out—the dozen diamonds which had been used to frame him; that crumpled check which he had taken from the dead fingers of Biggert; the powder box from Vida Gervais' boudoir, most of its contents now gone; all his little tools and weapons which he had found valuable in his valiant fight against crime.

"You know what I've done, Mr. Hood?" McGinty asked. "I've telephoned the members of the citizens' committee who got together to tell the police what to do to catch the Eye. I've asked them and their friends to come down here to headquarters for the unveiling of Black Hood, alias the Eye. When they get here, I'm going to jerk off that mask of yours and we'll all have a little surprise party."

"You might spare me that 'alias, the Eye' business," Black Hood said, some of his old-time banter returning. "The Eye died when Jack Carlson died, and I can prove that. Since Carlson was murdered, another has taken his place. The man who killed Biggert and also killed Jack Carlson, now wears the white rubber mask that identifies the Eye, goes around whispering orders to professional rob and kill men. He's robbed Carlson's safe and robbed Carlson of his life and even robbed Carlson of his identity as the Eye. And given half a chance, I'll prove that to you, McGinty."

McGinty frowned. He could not deny that many times before Black Hood had beaten him to the solution of crimes, much to his embarrassment. And in each case, McGinty had received full credit for the solving of these crimes.

"When the time comes, Mr. Hood," McGinty said, "you'll have your chance to speak your little piece. I wouldn't deny that to any man."

"Then perhaps you'll unlock these handcuffs," Black Hood suggested. "You've robbed my bag of all its tricks and I'm relatively harmless at the present time. Besides," he added, glancing at the cop to whom he was linked, "this man here becomes something of a liability after this length of time."

"Unlock the cuffs, Bricker," McGinty ordered the cop. "Black Hood can't get out of here, and that's a sure thing."

The cuff removed from his right wrist, Black Hood went to a chair beside the desk and calmly sat down.

"I want to appeal to your reason a moment, Sergeant, before this committee arrives for the 'unveiling' as you call it. First of all, is it reasonable to suppose that I would crack open a jewelry store just to get those few diamonds there on the desk? And having broken into the store with intent to rob, as you seem to think, would I be silly enough to fall on my head and knock myself out?"

"Could be those were the only diamonds you found in the store."

"There were one hundred thousand dollars worth of unset diamonds in that store tonight," Black Hood said. "And that's what this man who is posing as the Eye went after and got. The past record shows that none of these crimes have been what you could call petty."

"A fact," McGinty said, "which doesn't prove you haven't hid the diamonds somewhere."

"But kept a few of them on my person just to get myself in jail, huh?" Black Hood laughed. "Listen, McGinty, why do you suppose Biggert, Weedham's secretary, was killed?"

"The shot that killed Biggert was intended for Jack Carlson," McGinty said. "So it was an accident that Biggert was shot."

Black Hood shook his head, "Jack Carlson was nowhere near Biggert when the latter fell. That was no mistake. Biggert was killed because he was about to expose somebody who had forged that check which is lying on your desk. That check is the piece of paper that was in Biggert's hand when he died."

McGinty's eyes narrowed. "How did you get hold of that, Mr. Hood?"

Black Hood saw that he would have to lie in order to protect his prototype, Kip Burland.

"I reached the body of Biggert before Carlson or anyone else did. That's how I know Carlson wasn't near the man when the shot was fired."

McGinty thought that over a moment.

"Go ahead, Mr. Hood. I'm not convinced, but every man has a right to free speech."

"Did the police notice the smudge of white powder on the lapel of Carlson's coat when they found his body? Did they notice that the regular light bulbs in his garage had been replaced with ultra-violet bulbs?"

McGinty nodded. "Our lab men don't miss much. That smudge of powder contained some chemical that glows in black light. I figured it spotted Carlson for the killer, made a target out of him in the dark."

"Right, McGinty. But do you know that Carlson was betrayed by a woman named Vida Gervais? She lives in the house next to the Weedham place. That powder box which you took from my pocket and which is now on your desk, is a sample of her face powder, treated with naphthionate of sodium. You can prove that yourself. And if you'll question the lady thoroughly, you'll be able to get at the truth. She'll know that Carlson was the Eye. And she may even admit that she threw Carlson over and helped somebody else dispose of Carlson and step into the lucrative position which Carlson occupied as the Eye."

McGinty looked up at one of his men. "Send out for that Gervais dame." When the man had left the room, he turned to Black Hood. "You haven't cleared yourself yet. You claim Carlson was the Eye. That's the world's oldest alibi—putting the blame on a dead man."

"I can prove Carlson was the Eye," Black Hood persisted. "In the morning I will send you that signal device which the Eye used. It carries Carlson's fingerprints."

"You'll send it from jail, then," McGinty said.

Black Hood shook his head. "I wonder if you'd send to the police lab for an ultra-violet lamp? I think I can conduct an experiment which will prove my points."

McGinty considered this a moment, and finally sent out for an ultra-violet lamp. It was not long after that before the members of the citizens committee began to arrive. The two Weedhams, father and son, were ushered into the room, followed by Major Paxton, Harold Adler, and the rest of the committee. Jeff Weedham's newspaper was represented by Barbara Sutton and her ace cameraman, Joe Strong. And finally the police brought in a coldly furious Vida Gervais.

Black Hood carefully avoided meeting Barbara Sutton's eyes. He knew that her emotions must be strained to the breaking point, and even a glance from him might have caused her to betray herself.

"D-d-don't tell me you've finally caught Black Hood, Sergeant!" Jeff Weedham gasped.

The sergeant smiled. "Sooner or later, McGinty gets 'em all."

McGinty waited until all present were seated. Then he stood up alongside of Black Hood.

"Now, folks," he said, "as you can see, I've got Black Hood just where I want him. And I've wanted him quite a while. I promised you that I'd show you his face, and that's just what I'm going to do."

Harold Adler uttered a hoarse cry of warning that came just a bit too late. With one of those lightning-like movements of his, Black Hood had pulled the revolver out of McGinty's holster, turned it on the sergeant. A copper near the door started to intervene, but Black Hood stopped him with a narrow-eyed glance that held all the threat of a thunderbolt.

"Make a move toward me, and I put a bullet into McGinty's back," he said. "No one will ever see the face of Black Hood and live to talk about it. I've just given McGinty the entire solution to this mystery. I've told him that Jack Carlson was the Eye. I've explained how Jack Carlson was murdered and his powerful position in the underworld was usurped by another man who now poses as the Eye. If there is any doubt in his mind, I am about to dispel it."

Black Hood picked up the ultra-violet lamp with his left hand while his right kept the gun on McGinty. He said, "Mr. Adler, will you kindly turn out the lights."

Adler hesitated.

"Do as you're told," Black Hood insisted, "if you don't want to witness murder. And I want to warn everyone in this room, that when the lights go out if anyone makes any move toward me, McGinty will die. Even if I were to be shot, the reflex action of my fingers would pull the trigger of this revolver and McGinty will die. I am no murderer, but if you interfere with me in this business, you'll make a murderer of me."

Adler switched out the lights. The darkness lay like a smothering blanket upon them all. The air itself had a certain electrical tenseness about it, like the silence before a storm.

"I am now going to switch on the ultra-violet light. If the filter is perfect, you will not be able to see the light, because ultra-violet rays, when unadulterated by other rays, cannot be seen by the human eye. There. The light is on.

"I have offered evidence to Sergeant McGinty in which I intended to prove that Biggert, William Weedham's secretary, was killed because he was about to show to William Weedham a check to which William Weedham's signature had been forged. Not only that, but the forger, in cashing the check, also forged the endorsement of Major Paxton, to whom the check was made out.

"I have further pointed out to McGinty, that this same killer disposed of Jack Carlson, after Carlson had been betrayed by a woman. This woman must have been Carlson's friend. She must have known all his secrets, including the fact that Carlson was the Eye. She gave all this information to another man—the same man who forged the check which I mentioned before. Then she assisted this killer to shoot Carlson. This woman's face powder was treated with naphthionate of sodium. A little of this powder rubbed from her cheek to Carlson's lapel made Carlson a perfect target in pitch darkness, provided that darkness was penetrated by rays of invisible ultra-violet or black light. I have a sample of that woman's face powder here on McGinty's desk."

Black Hood turned the ultra-violet lamp on the desk. The box of powder there became phosphorescent.

"When I was framed for the Tauber jewel robbery tonight, I seized the opportunity to toss some of this face powder onto the jewels in the robbers' bag," Black Hood continued. "The face powder is that of Vida Gervais. Watch, please."

Black Hood turned the ultra-violet lamp out toward his audience. Vida Gervais' frightened face glowed in the black light. Startled gasps could be heard from the others in the room as they stared at that ghostly face.

"Vida Gervais," Black Hood continued, "knew a good thing when she saw it. To eventually better her social and financial position, she was willing to sell out Carlson, alias the Eye, to another man who, if he could accumulate, through fair means or foul, quite a tidy sum of money now would get his hands on a great deal more money in the future.

"So Vida Gervais betrayed Carlson, alias the Eye, into the hands of the man who had killed Biggert. The forty thousand dollars which this man had got from the forged check was a small part of the money he needed. But if he could step into the Eye's shoes for a little while, he could rapidly accumulate the rest.

"I mentioned a moment ago that I had tossed some of Vida Gervais' unusual face powder onto the diamonds stolen from Tauber's shop. The naphthionate in that powder would cling to the diamonds and subsequently cling to the hands of the criminal who eventually got hold of them. Watch now for the glowing hands of the killer—the man who has been impersonating the Eye ever since Carlson was killed. But one funny thing about that impersonation which I did not realize until tonight. The impersonator, this man who killed Biggert and Carlson, was most careful to avoid any word or name beginning with the letter 'D.' He would not, for instance, say the name 'Delancy,' nor would he speak the word 'diamonds.' Why? Because every time he says a word or name beginning with that letter, he stutters. He might disguise his voice by whispering, but he could not control this stutter, which would have been a dead give-away."

In the black light, luminous fingers suddenly showed themselves. There was a piercing scream. Men surged forward to close in and blot out the glow from the killer's fingers.

"Watch out!" Black Hood's warning voice rang out. "He is probably armed!"

Men bumped into each other. There was the repeated thud of blows. There were cries, grunts, stammered oaths. And when finally somebody turned on the lights, Jeff Weedham was on the floor, two cops astride him. He had a gun in his hand, but his hand was pinned to the floor.

Sergeant McGinty looked over his shoulder at the Black Hood—or rather looked where he thought the Black Hood would be. McGinty's jaw sagged. He looked down at his own gun which was poking him in the ribs. His revolver had been wedged into the baby-gate extension arm of his own desk telephone. And Black Hood was gone.

It was an hour later that McGinty and his men, by playing Vida Gervais and Jeff Weedham, one against the other, got a full confession which corresponded very closely to Black Hood's reconstruction of the crimes. Jeff Weedham had been placed in rather a desperate position by his father, Jeff explained. William Weedham had bought Jeff the newspaper, insisting that he make a financial success of it and thus prove his worth. If he failed in this as he had in everything else, William Weedham was determined that none of the Weedham fortune should fall into Jeff's hands.

Jeff had run his newspaper into the red. As the time came closer in which William Weedham was to examine the newspaper's ledger, Jeff Weedham tried desperately to make up the lost money, first by forgery, and then by stepping into Carlson's shoes as the Eye.

Ballistics tests proved that it was Jeff's gun which had killed both Biggert and Carlson.

Just as McGinty was about to leave his office for the night, his phone rang. Almost before he picked the instrument up, he knew who his caller was.

"I say, McGinty," the voice of the Black Hood came from the receiver, "I really intended to apologize for making a fool of you there in your office, sticking you up with a gun attached to that telephone arm. But then, as I thought the matter over, it occurred to me that I really wasn't to blame for making a fool of you. You've really got a bone to pick with dear old Mother Nature on that score!"

"Say, will you kindly go to Hell!" McGinty exploded. And as he hung up, a chuckle broke from his thick lips. "What that guy don't know is that I'm beginning to get a kick out of tangling with him!"