BRITISH COMICS

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THE TWO DETECTORS

THIS IS IT AT LAST, LADS, AND IT’S AS GOOD AS THE FIRST—‘NUFF SAID!

Last episode taken form The Wizard issue 37 June 2nd 1923.

A rattling fine finish to a stunning series. The Major flees for his life this week, and Bennett and Jimmy give chase.

Read it—it’s a ripper!

 

HOODWINKING THE MAJOR

 

Backward and forward the man paced up and down the room, moving with a quick, jerky step which betrayed the uneasy state of his mind. His hands were thrust deep into his side pockets, his shoulders were hunched forward, and his head slightly bent. The man was the Major, the mysterious leader of the Crimson Gauntlet Gang. Less that a year previously the Crimson Gauntlet had numbered forty-seven members. Now that number had been reduced to two—the Major and his confident, Nat Lifford. Two people were responsible for the Major’s failures. They were the famous young detective, Bennett King, and his plucky young brother, Jimmy. With a snarl the Major paused and dropped into a chair, gazing moodily round the room. It was a luxuriously-furnished apartment, having no windows, and lighted by silk-shaded electric lamps. The room could be reached by a secret entrance leading from the premises of the Garland Cold Storage Company in Lower Thames Street. It was situated under the river, hardly more than a stone’s throw from London Bridge. A bell tinkled and the Major pressed an ivory button in answer to the signal. A brief wait, then a door slid back, and a swarthy-skinned man glided into the room. “Well, Lifford, what news?” the Major asked curtly. “Bennett King and his brother leave for America to-day, sir,” Nat Lifford answered. “There is time to make another attempt.” The Major sat silent for a few minutes, deep in thought. His last attempt on the life of Bennett King had been made a week ago, and for a brief space he had believed that the intrepid detective had gone to his death. But it was a member of the Crimson Gauntlet Gang who had been killed then. Bennett King had daringly taken this man’s place, with the result that several members of the Crimson Gauntlet had been arrested. The adventure had ended with a fight in the dark between Bennett and the Major, and the detective had been seriously injured. The Major seemed suddenly to awake from a reverie, and shook his head. “No, we’ll wait, Lifford,” he snapped. “King has broken up the gang, but he has failed to learn the secret of my identity. If we made another attempt now, and failed, he might learn that secret. For a time we will let sleeping dogs lie. Form what you tell me, King is apparently going abroad for a holiday to recuperate. We will let him go, but I shall not forget. When Bennett King returns, then I’ll settle accounts with him!” “What do you intend to do now, sir?” Lifford asked curiously. “Reorganise,” replied the Major. “We must work carefully and get another organisation together. I have been powerful, and I will be powerful again, more powerful than ever before. Bennett King’s absence abroad will give us time to work unmolested. When he returns I will settle accounts with him. Keep watch on King and his brat of a brother, and notify me directly they have sailed!” Nat Lifford took his departure, and a little later, carefully disguised, he was on watch outside Dalrymple House in Shaftsbury Avenue. He saw a taxi arrive, and he saw two people emerge from the building, one a keen-faced young fellow of about twenty, and the other a chubby-faced, merry-eyed lad of fifteen. The elder of the pair walked with the aid of a stout stick, limping painfully as he moved. “Any other man would have died from the injuries,” Nat Lifford muttered to himself. “That cursed detective’s got more lives than a cat.” The taxi drove to Euston, and the Crimson Gauntlet spy was a passenger by the train that carried the two detectives to Liverpool. He saw them alight, and was not far away as they made their way to the docks and boarded a stately liner. There was the usual bustling crowd to watch the vessel’s departure, and Nat Lifford kept watch until the great liner cast her moorings and started on her voyage across the Atlantic. “They will be out of the way for some time,” he snarled. “It will give the Major time to make his plans.” The Crimson Gauntlet crook spoke confidently enough, but he would have received a rude shock could he have heard the conversation taking place between a raggedly-dressed man and a boy in the crowd. “So that’s that, Ben,” said the boy. “Franklyn Hare and young Jack Lander have played their parts well.” The raggedly-dressed man was none other than Bennett King, and his companion was Jimmy, and both were cleverly disguised. “You’re right, youngster,” Bennett replied. “Hare and young Lander took a pretty big risk when they consented to impersonate us, but they were hard up, and I paid them well for the job.” Jimmy King was feeling rather puzzled. For nearly six weeks he and his brother had been living in hiding in a south-easterly suburb, while Franklyn Hare, an out-of-work actor, occupied the flat at Dalrymple House in the character of Bennett King. Hare lived there with a youth named Jack Lander, who was cleverly made-up to impersonate Jimmy. The two detectors made their way to Lime Street Station, and when they were in the train for London, Jimmy asked— “What’s it all mean, Ben? I guess it’s about time you let me in on the secret.” “Surely part of it is plain enough, old chap,” Bennett said with a smile. “It’s pretty certain that the Major has been keeping watch on our place, isn’t it? He’ll think I was injured far more than was really the case, and he’ll be congratulating himself with the idea that I’m safely out of the way for a time.” Yes, I see that all right,” Jimmy answered. “But what’s the next move? I guess we’ve pretty well wiped out the Crimson Gauntlet Gang, and, if your theory is right, there’s only the Major and Lifford left.” “I am fairly certain of that,” the elder brother answered. “The power of the Crimson Gauntlet is broken, but our work is not quite finished. We’ve got to get the Major himself.” “How?” Jimmy demanded. “It’s some blinkin’ puzzle, if you ask me. Even now you haven’t got an earthly notion who the Major is.” A smile flickered into Bennett’s grey eyes. “You’re wrong, Jimmy,” he murmured. “I do know who he is! I’ve known it for six weeks!”

 

A BURGLARY AND ITS RESULT

 

Jimmy started forward in his seat, and stared at his brother in blank bewilderment. “Lumme, you—you mean that, Ben?” he gasped. “You’ve known the secret for six weeks and never given me a hint?” “I’ve known it for six weeks,” the detective said again. “You remember my last struggle with the scoundrel, he nearly blew my brains out? That struggle took place in a dark room, and at the start of the fight I tore his mack off. When he fired, Jim, I saw his face just for the fraction of a second. I saw it in the flash of the gun.” “I’ll tell you the secret now,” Bennett went on. “The leader of the Crimson Gauntlet Gang is Sir Alfred Larcroft!” “What?” cried Jimmy. “Why, I’ve heard about him. He’s a Member of Parliament, a posh swell, who lives in a tip-top show in Belton Square, he—he—” The lad stammered and came to a stop, and Bennett laughed at his obvious amazement. “A surprise, eh?” he said. “I always had an idea that the identity of the Major would provide us with a big surprise. He is Sir Alfred Larcroft, a man believed to be enormously wealthy, and who is welcome in the most exclusive circles of society. Little wonder that he’s never been suspected.” “Crikey!” Jimmy murmured. “You’ve fair knocked the stuffin’ out of me, Ben. But why haven’t you had the blighter arrested? If you knew six weeks ago, why haven’t you done anything.” “As a matter of fact I’ve done a good deal,” answered Bennett. “I’ve been out a good deal during the last six weeks, haven’t I? And I daresay you’ve been wondering what I’ve been up to. I have collected a good deal of useful information, but I’ve made no attempt to denounce Larcroft, because I haven’t got an atom of direct proof. I haven’t a doubt that proofs exist, and he’d certainly destroy them at the first hint that I suspect him.” “Gosh! Where d’you reckon we can find the proofs?” Jim asked. “Larcroft has a big safe in his library at Belton Square,” replied Bennett, “and I shouldn’t be surprised if it contains a good deal of useful information. That’s one place to look. A second place worth close attention is the Garland Cold Storage Company’s premises in Lower Thames Street. While the Major has been watching Franklyn Hare, thinking he was watching me,” he continued, “I have been keeping a pretty close eye on the Major himself. There’s some mystery about the Garland Cold Storage Company, Jimmy; both the Major and Lifford are in the habit of going there. My theory is that the rogue has some secret hiding-place there, probably with some way out to the river in case of emergency. I’ve got a man from Scotland Yard keeping watch there, and he has reported to me at frequent intervals.” An eager look crept into Jimmy’s face. “Lumme, you’ve been pretty close about it, old bean,” he said, “but I’ll forgive you if you let me in on the job now. How’re we goin’ to get the Major with the goods? I suppose that’s the idea? We’ve got to get dead-sure proofs.” “That’s so,” answered Bennett. “At present it would only be my word against his—we must have evidence. The first step is to have a look inside the safe at Belton Square. We’ve got to go a-burgling, Jimmy.” “Anything for a change,” Jimmy chuckled. “Another six weeks of doin’ nothin’ would turn me into a blinkin’ fossil, when do we start?” “No need to delay any longer,” responded Bennett. “Larcroft thinks we’re on our way to America, and that’s a great advantage. We’ll tackle the burgling stunt to-night.” Jimmy chuckled again. It was between midnight and one o’clock when the two detectives climbed a wall at the back of an imposing mansion in Belton Square, and moved stealthily towards the house. With comparative ease Bennett and Jimmy gained an entrance, and the young detective led the way to the library. A glance showed him that no ray of light could penetrate the shutters at the windows. “We may as well work in comfort, Jim,” he said softly, switching on a big, shaded light. A big safe stood in one corner, and Bennett moved forward and examined it critically. He had made a close study of combination locks, and smiled to himself. Once before, at Jasper Bond’s house at Hersham, Bennett King had opened a safe in the hope of learning the secret of the Major’s identity, and he employed the same methods now. Taking from his pocket an implement like a small telephone-receiver, he placed one end to his ear, and the other against the steel door. Then he began to twirl the combination dial, listening intently to the clicking of the little metal tumblers in the lock. In a surprisingly short space of time he found the right combination, and the door swung open, revealing another. “That won’t give much trouble,” Jimmy whispered. “Guess we could manage that one with a tin-opener, we— Cripes! Look, Ben, there’s a key in the lock!” A key protruded from a lock on one side of the inner door. Bennett King inserted a hand, turned the key, and opened the door. “Here we are, lad,” he murmured. “We’ll just examine—” The words snapped off like a breaking twig. With bewildering rapidity something flashed forward from the depths of the safe, there came a sharp click, and the young detective found his wrist held in a mechanical contrivance which gripped him like a vice. “Confound it!” he muttered under his breath. A soft step sounded in the hall, and Bennett whispered a quick order in his brother’s ear. The lad darted across towards the electric switch and plunged the room into darkness. A moment later the door opened, the light flashed up again, and a man stood there, fully dressed. It was Sir Alfred Larcroft, holding an ugly, blue-barrelled revolver. Jimmy King had disappeared.

 

IN A TRAP—AND OUT

 

For the best part of a minute there was silence. The two men stood regarding each other intently. The Major made the first move. “If you have a gun in your pocket,” he said smoothly, advancing into the room, “I should advise you not to try to draw it. I am a quick shot, and I do not often miss.” The grip on Bennett’s arm was causing him considerable pain, but there was a curious smile on his face as he answered— “I think you have the advantage.” “Quite so,” the Major replied with a soft laugh. A criminal caught red-handed must always be at some little disadvantage. I presume you found my safe fairly easy to open, but you did not bargain for my little thief-catcher eh? The inner door releases the mechanism, and also rings an alarm in my bed room.” Bennett was watching his enemy intently, and he saw a puzzled expression in his eyes. “Since you have caught me red-handed,” the detective remarked, with a slight shrug of the shoulders, “it is useless for me to try to make excuses. You may as well ring the police and hand me over.” “Plenty of time,” the Major answered in the same smooth tones. “For an ordinary burglar you seem rather a cool customer, and you make me curious about—” His words stopped suddenly and his expression changed. Just for a moment a look of malignant hatred blazed up in his eyes, and in that moment Bennett King knew that the leader of the Crimson Gauntlet Gang had penetrated his disguise. Black murder showed itself in the man’s eyes, and the barrel of his revolver made a slight upward movement. Another moment, and he might have fired point-blank, but he was checked by something cold touching the back of his neck. “Drop that gun!” a boyish voice commanded. “Drop it—quick!” The cold rim of an automatic touching the Major’s neck gave force to the command, and his weapon fell to the carpet, while a snarl broke from his lips. At the critical moment Jimmy had emerged from behind the screen, and he looked as if he was thoroughly enjoying himself. “I guess the tables are turned,” he said coolly. “Show us how to release that little burglar trap of yours. Back up, unless you want a single ticket to the next world.” With a grunt of rage, the Major moved to the wall, pushed aside a picture, and pressed a concealed spring. Instantly Bennett’s arm was released. “Well done, Jimmy,” he said. “Now, Sir Alfred Larcroft, we can talk comfortably.” “Curse you!” the man snarled out. “You won’t escape; I’ll set the police on your trail, and—” “I think the police are the last people you are anxious to consult.” As he spoke, Bennett tore away his wig, false eyebrows, moustache, and beard. “You know me!” he challenged. “I think you recognised me a few minutes ago, despite my disguise. I am Bennett King, and you are—the Major, the scoundrel who has been responsible for the crimes of the Crimson Gauntlet Gang!” For a moment fear showed itself in the master crook’s eyes. “You’re mad!” he cried. “You haven’t an atom of proof to substantiate your ridiculous statement.” “Not yet,” said Bennett, “but I have an idea that the contents of your safe will prove very useful. Sit down there!” He pointed to a chair near the fireplace. The Major mover towards it, but instead of seating himself, he suddenly stretched out a hand and pressed a knob near the mantelpiece. Instantly a cry came from Jimmy—the ground seemed to fall away beneath his feet, and he felt himself falling. He landed with a heavy thud, which knocked the breath out of him, then he heard his brother’s voice. “Hurt, Jimmy?” “No bones broken,” Jimmy replied. “Only a few bruises.” “Confound it!” muttered Bennett. “We were caught by a trick as old as the hills.” The rays of his torch suddenly pierced the gloom, and the brothers found themselves in a lofty cellar, with a stoutly-built wooden door at one end. In a corner was a heap of dirty straw and two or three cans. “Petrol,” Jimmy murmured. “Two of ‘em are empty, but this one seems about half full. How the deuce are we going to get out, Ben?” Examination of the door showed that it was far too strong for there to be any hope of breaking it down, and Bennett King’s handsome face grew as hard as granite. “There’s only one way, lad,” he muttered. “It’s risky, but we’ve got to chance it.” He heaped the straw against the door and sprinkled some of the petrol over it. “Cripes! What’s the idea, Ben!” exclaimed Jimmy. “To burn the door down,” his brother answered grimly. “Stand back, youngster.” There came the scrape of a match, and a tongue of flame shot upward. The fire swiftly gained a hold, the heat became almost unbearable, and dense clouds of smoke made the adventurous pair gasp and choke. “Gosh! That blinkin’ door’ll never give way,” Jimmy panted. He had scarcely spoken, when one of the side panels fell away, sending up a shower of sparks. Heedless of the scorching flames Bennett sprang forward and kicked at the door. Twice he tried, and, at the third attempt, the lock yielded. Blackened with the smoke and scorched by the fire, the brothers dashed through the aperture and blundered up a flight of stairs. At the top they met a scared-looking butler and a footman, hastily dressed, behind whom were a group of white-faced maid-servants. “What—what’s happened?” the butler faltered. “I smelt fire, I—” “The place is on fire,” Bennett cut in. “I am a detective, and I’ll telephone for the fire brigade.” Bursting into the library, he ‘phoned the message, and then got through to Scotland Yard and spoke to somebody rapidly. Then he replaced the receiver and gripped Jimmy’s arm. “Come along, youngster.” “Where to?” “The Garland Cold Storage Company,” Bennett replied, “and there’s no time to lose.”

 

 

THE MAJOR AT BAY

 

Bennett and Jimmy were lucky enough to find a taxi near Belton Square. “Let her out!” Bennett said to the driver when he had given the address. “Never mind the speed limit!” The taxi-driver lost no time, and Bennett rewarded him with a generous tip. Near the premises of the Garland Cold Storage Company a shabby-looking man emerged from the shadows. It was one of the Scotland Yard men Bennett had left on watch. “Anything happened, Williams?” Bennett asked eagerly. “Has anybody been here lately?” “Less than half an hour ago, sir,” the man replied. “I saw a tall man slip in, but your orders were that I was not to interfere with anybody entering the building.” “Quite right,” Bennett answered. “That man was the leader of the Crimson Gauntlet crowd, there’s little doubt of that. Who is watching the river?” “Sergeant Mason, of the River Police, sir,” was the answer. “He’s got a launch there on guard.” A few minutes later, two large cars slid to a stop. Detective-Inspector Felday alighted from one. “What’s doing, Bennett?” he asked. In a few words Bennett explained. Within a few minutes Walter Felday had arranged his men, and a cordon was drawn round the dark building in Thames Street. “Now we’ll make a start,” said the detective-inspector grimly. To gain an entry was not difficult, and they found themselves in a long, lofty warehouse. At the end was a door leading to an office. “Don’t seem to be any other exit,” Felday muttered, “except one door to the yard and another to the street.” “There must be,” said Bennett, doggedly. “How about that iron door there, Ben?” cried Jimmy quickly. “That looks a bloomin’ big safe to have in a place like this.” He pointed to a massive iron door in a corner high enough for a tall man to pass through without stooping. “Looks like a strong-room,” Detective-Inspector Felday remarked. “There may be something in what your brother says, Ben.” “We must open it,” muttered the young detective. It was not an easy task, but at last the lock of the massive door was removed. When the door swung open a large strong-room was revealed. A close search of the walls showed a little knob in one corner, and Bennett twisted it to and fro. Suddenly there came a faint, whirring sound, and a half-stifled cry escaped Jimmy’s lips, as the interior of the great safe shot downwards. “A lift!” Jimmy exclaimed. “Cripes!” The lift came to rest with a slight jolt, and again Bennett King manipulated the knob. An iron panel in one of the walls slid backwards, and the young detective stepped out into a low-roofed passage. An iron door at the end barred farther progress, and some time passed before it could be opened. As it swung backwards there came a report, and a bullet whistled close to Jimmy’s head. The two detectors flung themselves flat, and detective-inspector Felday followed their example. A number of other shots whistled above them, and Bennett King whipped out his automatic and returned the fire. “The alarm is raised,” he muttered, and the Major means to show fight. Scrambling up as he spoke, he dashed forward with Jimmy and Felday close on his heels. Through a number of passages they ran, until they reached another door which had no lock. “Looks as if there was a spring of some sort in the corner, there, Bennett!” Walter Felday cried eagerly. Raising his automatic, Bennett fired two shots at the spot the detective-inspector indicated. “Done it!” Felday roared. “You’ve smashed the spring to atoms!” He flung himself against the door, which gave to his weight, and a bullet carried away his hat. Only the fact that the detective-inspector had stumbled saved his life. With a cry Bennett leapt over him, and at last, he was in the Major’s secret lair beneath the Thames. The master rogue was standing there with Nat Lifford, and he levelled his weapon again. Before he could press the trigger a well-directed shot from Bennett’s automatic struck the butt of his enemy’s revolver, and sent it spinning from his hand. What followed immediately seemed to Jimmy to happen all in a flash. He saw the Major stoop near his desk then disappear through the floor, followed by Nat Lifford. “A trap, Ben!” shouted Jimmy. They’ve gone through a trap-door!” Without answering, Bennett recklessly dropped through the space, and Jimmy leapt through after him. Bennett pressed the button of his torch, and the detectives found themselves in a low, arched tunnel, the walls dripping with moisture. To the left was a narrow stream of dark, sluggish water. The sound of distant firing reached them, and they raced forward again. The two detectors had run about three hundred yards when the tunnel widened out, and suddenly emerged on the river bank. Within a few minutes the police launch was tearing down the river, with Sergeant Mason steering, and the detective brothers crouching in the bow. “There they are!” he cried. “Port a bit, Mason; they’re making for the bank.” The fugitive boat reached the bank well ahead, and two figures sprang out and raced side by side across a stretch of flat, marshy land. “There’s a building of some sort there, Ben!” Jimmy shouted. “I wonder what—hark! There’s some gun-play!” Half a dozen shots echoed through the keen morning air, and then Jimmy gave another cry as he saw a dark, spreading shape rising skyward. “A ‘plane!” he shouted. “Cripes! They’ve escaped after all! They’re boltin’ in an aeroplane!”

 

THE LAST FLIGHT

 

Disgust and disappointment was stamped on Jimmy’s face as he pointed skyward, but Bennett gripped his arm and raced on. “I knew it, Jim,” he said. “I haven’t been idle these last six weeks, and I knew the Major kept a ‘plane here as a last resource. I left two men from the yard on duty, but it seems they’ve failed.” He was right. They found the two detectives near the Major’s hanger, one man dying from a gunshot, and the other with a shattered knee. “No time to wait to look after them,” Bennett panted. “This way, Jim!” Without asking questions, Jimmy pelted along by his brother’s side, through a narrow, winding lane, and out on to another marshy expanse, where there stood another big, shed-like building. “Jumping Jerry!” Jimmy gasped. “You’ve got a machine here, Ben!” “I thought we might need it if the Major played his last card,” Bennett replied. “Lend a hand—hustle!” Airmanship was one of the many accomplishments which Bennett King had mastered, and Jimmy stared in surprise as they ran the machine out. “Why, she—she’s armed!” he cried, as he saw the Lewis gun in front of the observer’s seat. “So is the Major’s ‘plane,” Bennett answered grimly. “He won’t give in without a struggle lad, it may be a fight to the death.” As Jimmy ran back and shut the door of the shed, the Major’s ‘plane passed low overhead, and a volley was directed at Bennett’s machine, but without effect. Then the crook’s ‘plane flew off. Once in the air, the light became much stronger, and as Jimmy glanced down to the west the night seemed to be rolling away like a dark curtain. Jimmy raised his binoculars, but it was not as easy to spot the Sopwith now, apparently the major was climbing into the sun, an old wartime trick of many a famous ace. The chase led southward, and it was not long before the strengthening sunlight glittered on the blue waters of the Channel. Above the Channel the two aeroplanes had reached a height of nearly twelve thousand feet, and both were still ascending. Fourteen thousand feet—sixteen—eighteen the two ‘planes reached—and there, more than three miles above the earth, the Major realised that his only hope was to fight and send his opponent down. “Crack—crack—crack!” The first burst of fire came from the Sopwith, but Nat Lifford, crouching over the gun, did little damage. Then, for a second or two, the Bristol was sitting on the Sopwith’s tail. “Now, Jimmy!” Bennett roared. The lad was ready, and before Nat Lifford could hope to align his sights, the Bristol’s Lewis gun belched a stream of death. Earthward like a stone the Sopwith dropped, but even as it went Nat Lifford worked his gun once more, with deadly effect. Jimmy saw his brother lurch in his seat. The Bristol seemed to sideslip, then followed the Sopwith earthward in a mad, dizzy spin. Gripping at his seat, Jimmy waited, while the green fields below seemed to flash upwards towards him. Then, vaguely, he heard a crash, followed instantly by another. Something struck him violently on the head, and the sunlight faded. When he opened his eyes Jimmy found himself lying on his back, with the tangled wreckage of the Bristol ‘plane a dozen yards distant. The Sopwith had caught fire and was no more than a mass of charred fragments and blackened metal. Of Nat Lifford there was no sign, his dead body had been consumed in the flames. To the right two motionless figures lay close together—the Major and Bennett King. With a sob in his throat, Jimmy hobbled forward painfully and bent over his brother, and a great wave of relief swept over him as Bennett opened his eyes. “Gee! I thought you were all in, old chap,” he said huskily. “Not yet, youngster,” came the faint answer. “A broken thigh, I think, and my left shoulder feels as if it were dislocated. What happened to the others?” “The Sopwith caught fire,” answered Jimmy, “and I think Lifford must have perished with it. The Major’s dead!”

 

 

THE END

 

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2004