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-- Chapter 6


They flew to Chicago, Pyecraft's home, and put up at his house in the suburbs. The gangsters refused an invitation to stay, saying that they had lots of joints to visit, but Pirrolo accepted an invitation to dinner on the following night. The girls undertook to cook and serve the dinner, and they did it well too, considering that they had only tinned beef and sardines to cook with. Luckily Pyecraft's wine cellar was an excellent one.
Pirrolo came in full evening dress, immaculate. Neill borrowed one of Pyecraft's evening suits, and, with the aid of four pillows, managed to fill it comparatively well.
Pirrolo ate gloomily, and over the coffee, Bunny asked him what was wrong.
"Ah", he replied, "life isn't worth living now. We went to Big Boss Simms' hang out this morning and did a bit of shootin', but all we got was stone chips in the eye. Poor Two-Gun Steve broke down and wept to think that his profession was gone forever. And you must admit it is hard on a man, who has bumped a citizen off on an average every day, to see nix but stone people around. If only one gang had been left for us. It is dreadful. To think that a darned cloud should take away a man's honest living."
Robert coughed politely.
"I have a suggestion to make", he said. "You have a gang: we have a gang. Let's muscle in on each other and shoot it out."
"Robert", said Neill hastily, "is of course joking. We have no desire to shoot anything out, not even our necks."
"Here", growled Michael, "speak for yourself. A bit o' gun-work would be rather interesting in this stone-dull world. What say, David?"
"I'm on", said David with delight, "but you can't have a gang war unless you have something to fight about. Speakeasies, rum-running, graft...they have no point now that we can get as much as we want of everything." He paused and stared with sudden interest at Evelyn. "Unless", he said, "you were to kidnap one of the frails."
"Me first!", cried Evelyn. "I'd like to be a gangster's moll."
"We always used to torture our kidnapees", murmured Pirrolo reminiscently.
"Oh", said Evelyn coldly, "that of course is different. What sort of torture?"
Pirrolo laughed pleasantly.
"Tying to circular-saw benches was a good one, but I think the most interesting case we had was that of Susan Woggs, daughter of Silas K. Woggs the packing-case king. Nice kid. Game as blazes. She laughed at the circular saw, and so we gave her the snake one."
"The what did you say?" asked Evelyn with a catch of the breath.
"We had a sort of see-saw and Susan was tied to one end. On the other end was a sack of sand, just a little over her weight. Then we shot a hole in the sack, and as the sand ran out Susan of course sank to her end."
"I don't see much torture in that", said Betty.
"My mistake", said Pirrolo politely, "I forgot to mention that at her end was a bunch of poisonous snakes. One of the bravest kids we have given the woiks to", and he shook his head a little regretfully. "And", he added fiercely, "all we asked was a million dollars' ransom. When I think of that father sacrificing a kid like that for a few grand I get wild."
"I am not so sure that I want to be kidnapped", said Evelyn. "Wouldn't it be a better gang war if your gang were to steal the airship?"
"We did that this morning", said Pirrolo easily, and he lit his second cigar. Robert was on his feet in a moment.
"Keep them paws on the table, Pirrolo", he said dangerously. "Are you kiddin' us or have you really snooped the sky pram?"
"Alf took it this morning", said Pirrolo, "and I ain't got a rod neither, not when I dine with friends", and he grinned nastily.
"Frisk him", said Robert sharply, and Gordon and Bunny frisked him and took away his three guns. "Now", continued Robert, "spill the onions, you yellow stool pigeon."
Pirrolo went white.
"Stool pigeon', he panted, "stool pigeon! Me a rat of a stool pigeon! Me, Pirrolo, a stool pigeon! Only death can avenge an insult like that."
The Perils Of Pirrolo;  by F. K. Waechter With a sudden movement he smashed the electric light with a chair, and leapt through the window.
"That", said Neill, "has torn it. You are an ass, Robert. Why did you call him a stool pigeon? What is a stool pigeon anyway?"
"No idea", said Robert with unconcern, "seen it many a time in the Black Mask."
"A stool pigeon", explained Pyecraft, "is a low-down rat of a fellow who does the police dirty work by listening to conversations in speakeasies. To call a chap like Pirrolo a stool pigeon is like - like mistaking a guest for a waiter. As he said, only blood can wash out such an insult, and I'd advise you, Robert me lad, to go into hiding or else bump yourself off."
"I object to this", said Robert with indignation. "You wanted a gang war, and because I give you a good one you all blame me."
"But don't you see, you fathead", said Neill, "that it isn't a gang war? They've pinched the airship and they can bomb this house and us to fragments at any time. Suppose they wreck it? How are we going to get back to England?"
"Swim", said Robert ungraciously. "Don't you worry about the airship. We boys are fighting this gang war, and you can trust us to win. This war is to take a bit of planning. We beat them in brains."
"Yes", said Neill dryly, "but the brains part of this company isn't taking part in the war."
"But I am in it", said David seriously, and they laughed.
"Seems to me", said Betty, "that what we learned in our civil war in London will come in useful. I mean using the stone people as we did before. But remember that Pirrolo has brains too. I wonder how he will start the war."
"Seems to me", said Betty, "that what we learned in our civil war in London will come in useful. I mean using the stone people as we did before. But remember that Pirrolo has brains too. I wonder how he will start the war."
They had a glimpse of Pirrolo's tactics next morning, when four curtained cars whizzed past the house. At the end of the lane they stopped, and from each car were thrown six stone people. Then from each car came a roar of a machine-gun, and the statues were blown to fragments.
"What's their game?" asked Gordon.
"Taking statues for a ride just to scare us", said David.
"Maybe doing it for practice", suggested Jean with trembling voice.
"Mugs", said Robert disdainfully; "mugs to think that they can demoralise us like that. Hand over that map of the city, Pyecraft. Come on, lads, our campaign starts from now. Here we have Pirrolo's headquarters, and opposite, there is this brewery."
"Eh?" said Neill hastily.
Robert ignored the interruption, and went on: "That brewery is to be our headquarters."
"I think", said Neill, "on second thoughts I'll come into this little war. Go on, Robert, you were talking of our headquarters."
"At eleven to-night we make for this brewery, not of course in a body, but singly. And singly we leave the brewery."
"Why leave?" asked Neill wearily.
"We must attack from all sides at once."
"They'll have a Tommy Gun at each window", said David.
"In that case", said General Robert, "we dig a tunnel. Is there a waxworks in Chicago, Pyecraft? Good, we'll put a few figures on wheels and give them a shove across the street, and if the machine guns are there we'll soon know."
They reached the brewery and in whispers talked of their offensive.
"Hullo", said Pyecraft suddenly, "where's Betty?" Before anyone had time to answer, a woman's scream came from across the street.
"Kidnapped be George!" whispered Gordon fearfully. "They are torturing her."
"Don't get excited", said Robert calmly. "Our plan must be carried out. When the moon goes behind that cloud shove the waxworks out."
This they did, and the thud of machine-gun bullets in wax figures followed instantly. Abraham Lincoln, General Grant, President Wilson, and George Washington bit the dust. Suddenly they became aware of Steve's voice through a speaking trumpet.
"Us guys don't make war on janes. Give us the cheap hood what insulted Pirrolo and yuh can have yur frail back. Yuh got half an hour to decide. When it's up, the frail gets the woiks after some torture."
"Bluff", said Robert.
"It's no bluff", said Pyecraft earnestly; "that guy means business."
Neill looked hard at Robert.
"Are you going to let your sister be your fall guy?" he asked sternly. "Can you imagine what your life is going to be when you have the knowledge that, to save your own miserable skin, you sent an innocent girl to torture and death?"
Robert did not answer. He made a speaking trumpet out of a beer mug and shouted across the street.
"O.K. big boy, expect my visiting card in half an hour, but get this, yuh louses, when I call, I call with lead, and when I speak, I say things with lead."
He carelessly threw down the mug and, turning to the others, he said: "That's what Ed. Jenkins or Race Williams would have said."
"That's all very well", said Neill, "dramatic and all that, but you know darn well that it is only talk. You can't do nothink, as you might yourself elegantly phrase it", and he took up the mug that Robert had thrown down, but not as a speaking trumpet. Robert waited until Neill had filled and emptied it, then he took it up again.
"Say, lissen, punks", he cried. "Will yuh guarantee that yuh won't blow me to bits with a machine-gun if I wander across the sidewalk?"
"On your life", answered Pirrolo, "yours not for the slow ride in that way. Yuh don't get it sudden."
"But", said Robert, "if I come over how do I know you'll let the jane go free?"
"We don't want the broad", said Pirrolo; "too young for us."
"Oke", said Robert, "I'll be seeing you", and, laying down his guns, he opened the door and began to cross the street. His party held their breath, expecting the roar of a machine-gun, but he was allowed to go over. The door opened and he went in. The others waited to see Betty come out, but she did not come.
"The dirty double-crossers", said Michael with set jaw, and his fingers automatically tensed on his rod...and that's how Jean lost the top of her ear.
For a time now the story belongs to Robert, and it must be given in his own words.
I got in, he said, and there they stood with their gats levelled. Betty crouched in a corner with fear in her eyes.
"Frisk me", said I, and they frisked me and of course found no gun on me.
Pirrolo looked at me and I never saw so much hatred in anyone's eye.
"Stool pigeon", he said with dangerous softness, "and you called me a stool pigeon!" and he broke into bitter laughter. Then turning to his men he said shortly: "Give him the woiks." They took hold of me and began to hustle me out of the room.
"Just a moment", said I, "you said you'd let the broad go free."
Pirrolo turned to Betty.
"Seat!" he said, and pointed to the door. But Betty suddenly clutched his arm. "I cannot go", she cried.
"Why not?" he said and roughly pushed her away.
"Because - because I - I love you, Pirrolo."
Pirrolo's mouth opened, and he stared at her.
"But this is imposs", he said. "You are too young. How old are you?"
"Nine", said Betty with a coquettish smile, "but I feel like nineteen."
Pirrolo looked at her, and a smile came to his face. "Oke", he said briefly. "You'll be my moll."
I turned on Betty.
"You double-crossing frail", I yipped with disgust, and then Alf hit me on the jaw and I went down and out. When I became conscious again I found myself tied to a chair, and vaguely I saw the faces of Steve, Alf and Spike looking at me. I heard Spike say: "He's come round, boys", and they untied my bonds and made me stand up. Then each got a piece of rubber hose and they laid into me until I fell down again and knew no more. When I came to again I knew by the motion that I was in the cockpit of the airship. I was tied to a chair. Sitting opposite to me was Spike and he had a gat in his hand.
"Taking me for a ride?" I asked, and he grinned. "For a fly", he said. "Pirrolo is taking you up as far as he can and he is to drop you on the brewery where your pals are."
"Ah well", I said calmly, "there are worse deaths, and anyway I am glad that it is you who are watching me and not Arizona Alf, or Two-Gun Steve."
"How?" said Spike curiously.
"I never liked rats", said I.
"Here", began Spike sternly, "you can't talk about my pals like that."
I smacked my lips scornfully.
"Pals? Pals you call 'em? How much did you get out of the Central Bank racket?"
"A grand", said Spike. "Why?"
I laughed ironically. "A grand? One thousand bucks! Ask the others to turn out their pockets next time you see them."
"I never doubt my pals", he said shortly.
"Oke", said I, "then there's nothing more to be said, but remember I'm telling yuh", and I relapsed into silence. And shortly afterwards Steve and Alf came in, and I saw a shadow of suspicion in Spike's eyes as he looked at them.
"Got a butt on yuh, Steve?" asked Spike.
"Sure", said Steve, and he put his hand in his pocket. A look of astonishment came over his face as he slowly drew out a wad of notes. They were all marked Central Bank.
"That's funny", he said, staring at the wad.
"Oh, yeah?" said Spike nastily. He turned to Alf and suddenly put his hand in his pocket and drew out another wad of Central Bank notes. He ran his fingers over them. "Sixty grand", he said in a tense whisper.
"It's a plant", cried Steve, "a frame up", and he glared at me. I tried to look innocent.
"What's a few grand anyway?" I said easily; "the world's full of greenbacks for the taking and they ain't worth a dime now. Forget it, Spike. You are thinking that, because they are Central Bank notes, they have some connection with that hold-up. Forget it, son."
"Ses you", said Spike with a queer look in his eyes, and he went out of the cockpit suddenly. Then things happened.
"You planted them lettuces on us", roared Steve, and both of them hammered me with their fists.
"Be yer age", I said between blows; "I ain't no conjurer. Where could I get Central Bank notes? I ain't been to Pirrolo's private office."
"The boss ain't got none", said Alf.
"O.K. big boy", ses I; "yuh's a flash guy and yuh knows", but I saw a quick look pass between them.
"The boss wouldn't do it", said Steve, but there was doubt in his tone. At that moment Pirrolo entered. His face angered.
"Wot's this mean?" he demanded. "Didn't I tell yuh to give this heel the woiks? Why ain't he unconscious?"
Steve turned on him.
"This ain't no kindergarten", he said sullenly. "We ain't G men specialists in beating up; we're gunmen."
Pirrolo gripped him by the back of the neck. "I'm the big shot here", he said, "and wot I ses goes", and he gave Steve a violent push through the door. Alf followed him quickly and Pirrolo turned his attention to me.
"In a few minutes I am going to drop you over the side", he said. "Got wot that means?"
"Yes", I said shortly, "it means death, because, not being a stool pigeon, I can't very well fly."
I knew it was a mad thing to say, but it came out before I could think. He flew at me like a maniac and battered me until I knew no more. I awoke to the sensation of something touching my bound hands.
"Not a word", I heard Betty whisper in my ear.
She cut my bonds in the darkness, and she slid something into my hand. I knew it to be an automatic.
"Why haven't they dropped me overboard?" I whispered.
"Don't know", she replied, "but Spike had a show-down with Alf and Steve, and one of them was killed, don't know which, but I saw a body falling over the side."
"Good", I said, "now there are three, and, if it wasn't Spike that went over, I guess he'll be on my side. Now for action", and I crept to the door. I was just about to put my hand on the handle when the door opened, and Steve entered.
"Raise them dukes", ses I easy like, and I pushed my rod into his stomach. He raised 'em up all right. "Yuh and me's got a little account to settle, Steve", ses I. "Back there on that berg there was a little dispute about quickness on the draw, and yuh said that shootin' watches didn't prove nothing."
"It didn't", said Steve.
"Because I agree with yuh", ses I, "yuh and me's goin' a shoot it out now", and I took his gun from his holster and placed it on the table. At the other side I laid down my own gun. I stuck up my hands and said: "When the jane says go, one of us is got it coming to him. Got me, Steve?"
"Aw gotjer", nodded Steve.
Without turning my head I told Betty to give the word...and, well, I beat him to it and the hole through his heart was a wow.
"That leaves two", I said with content. "Now where's Pirrolo?"
I found Pirrolo in the steering cabin. Spike stood outside with a gat in his hand.
"Elevate 'em, Spike", ses I, but Spike only grinned.
"I ain't guarding the double-crosser", ses he; "I'm waiting for him to come out."
"Spike", ses I, "you're a good chiselling bum of a pal to have, but this is my funeral, and Pirrolo is mine."
Spike shrugged his shoulders.
"As you say, hombre", he smiled, and moved away from the door.
"Hoy, you, stool pigeon", I shouted through the door, "come out and take the rap."
"We'll all take the rap together", cried Pirrolo, and suddenly he dived the airship. We were thrown to the floor, but I got up like lightning and put my shoulder to the door. It gave, and a bullet grazed my shoulder. I saw Pirrolo's face leering, saw his gun spit death, but in a diving airship his hand was not so steady as mine. I planted two beauties right between his eyes (David later covered them with the ace of spades), and seizing the wheel I got the ship level just before it was to crash into the brewery.
That was Robert's story, and the story will be continued next week.

TO BE CONTINUED...


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Chapter 6 of 'The Last Man Alive' by A. S. Neill. This page is copyrighted.