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Title: Flash Evans and the Darkroom Mystery
Author: Bell, Frank
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: INCH BY INCH THE YOUNG PHOTOGRAPHER BACKED TOWARD HIS OWN
WINDOW. (See page 47)]



                             _FLASH EVANS_
                                and the
                            DARKROOM MYSTERY


                                  _By_
                               FRANK BELL

                             _Illustrated_

                         CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY
                  _Publishers_    :    :    _New York_


                          _FLASH EVANS BOOKS_

  FLASH EVANS AND THE DARKROOM MYSTERY
  FLASH EVANS CAMERA NEWS HAWK

                          Copyright, 1940, By
                         CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY

                PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



                               _CONTENTS_


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE
  1 PICTURE “PUNCH”                                                    1
  2 A NEWS BREAK                                                      12
  3 COVERING THE FIGHT                                                22
  4 OLD HERM                                                          32
  5 THREE ALARM FIRE                                                  40
  6 RESCUE                                                            50
  7 DARKROOM DIFFICULTIES                                             57
  8 “HELLO, HERO”                                                     66
  9 A CRY FOR HELP                                                    75
  10 THE MISSING PICTURES                                             82
  11 DISASTER AT SEA                                                  90
  12 A DARING PLAN                                                   100
  13 ABOARD THE BELMONIA                                             108
  14 THROUGH THE WINDOW                                              117
  15 PUBLICITY PLUS                                                  127
  16 THE BASEMENT ROOM                                               135
  17 A DOOR OPENS                                                    141
  18 SUSPICION                                                       150
  19 A LOST KEY                                                      159
  20 OUT OF THE PAST                                                 168
  21 FLASH INVESTIGATES                                              177
  22 A CAMERA TRAP                                                   185
  23 ACCUSATIONS                                                     194
  24 A SHATTERED ALIBI                                               200
  25 FRONT PAGE STORY                                                207



                             _FLASH EVANS_
                                and the
                            DARKROOM MYSTERY



                               CHAPTER I
                            PICTURE “PUNCH”


“Sorry, son. There are no jobs open. Afraid we can’t use these pictures,
either.”

Tom Riley, city editor of The _Brandale Ledger_ shoved the stack of
glossy black and white prints across the desk toward Jimmy Evans who
faced him squarely, a miniature camera protruding from the pocket of his
shabby tweed overcoat.

“Well, thanks anyway.”

Jimmy spoke in a flat, discouraged tone as he gathered up the
photographs and slid them into a cardboard folder. The editor watched
him with a thoughtful gaze.

“You’ve been coming around here quite often, Evans.”

“Yes, I have. I figure there’s no law against trying.”

“Sold us a few pictures, haven’t you?”

“A few,” Jimmy said with a rueful grin. “But lately I haven’t done so
well. There must be something radically wrong with my stuff.”

Before the editor could reply, a reporter dashed up to the desk to make
a report on a story assignment.

Jimmy assumed that his presence no longer was desirable. He turned to
leave.

“Wait a minute, Evans,” said Riley. “Sit down. I’ll be through in a
moment. I want to talk to you.”

Jimmy sat down. While the reporter talked to the editor, his eyes
wandered over the long news room. The clicking of a dozen typewriters,
the absorbed interest of the copy readers as they bent over their work,
even the purposeful scurrying about of the office boys, filled him with
a vague yearning. It would be great to belong to a place like the
_Ledger_—to have a job of his own!

Presently Riley finished with the reporter and turned to Jimmy again.

“About your pictures, son,” he said. “They’re pretty fair art. What they
lack is news punch. The woods are full of fellows who can take pretty
pictures; but they wouldn’t recognize a good news shot if you labeled it
for them.”

“I’m always anxious to pick up ideas,” answered Jimmy. “Any tips you can
give me will be a big help—that is, if you can spare the time, Mr.
Riley.”

Jimmy was a tall, slender lad with a thick shock of dark, curly hair and
frank gray eyes set in a pleasant, firmly molded face.

The editor smiled at the young man’s persistence and swept a pile of
copy paper to one side.

“Well, this thing they call ‘punch’ is hard to define,” he began.
“Sometimes it’s a picture which ties up with a big front page story. For
instance, a bank robbery, an explosion, or maybe a shipwreck.

“Then again, it may be human interest stuff. A policeman holding up city
traffic while a cat carries its kitten across a busy intersection. You
see, a free lance photographer must have ideas, and be on the spot when
important news is breaking.”

“Isn’t there a lot of luck to that—being on hand when it happens?”

“Yes, but not always,” admitted the editor. “Learn to use your head as
well as your feet. Be ready when an opportunity comes along.”

“The one I’m looking for is a steady job on a newspaper.”

“We’re not likely to have an opening on the _Ledger_ for months to come.
If a job does turn up, it probably will go to an experienced newspaper
photographer.”

“But how can a fellow get experience when no one will give a beginner
any chance?”

With a trace of impatience, the editor replied gruffly:

“You’ll have to create your own job. No one will hand it to you on a
silver platter. Study news photographs and try to discover what makes
them click. Learn how to take good pictures under every possible
lighting condition. Then maybe someday you’ll stumble into one so big we
couldn’t afford to turn it down.”

Riley reached for a sheet of copy paper, a signal that the interview had
ended. But as the young man started away, a tired droop to his
shoulders, he added:

“I didn’t intend to discourage you, Evans. You’re young, with plenty of
time ahead. Not over eighteen, are you?”

“Sixteen.”

“You look older. Well, keep at it, and one of these days you may make
the grade.”

Only slightly encouraged by the words, Jimmy pocketed his samples and
left the office. Rather than face the knowing glance of the elevator
man, he walked down three flights of steps to the street.

For months now, since graduating from Brandale High School, he had tried
without success to obtain a staff position on a newspaper. There was
scarcely a newspaper or syndicate in town where he had not been flatly
rejected at least once a week. Few editors were as decent about it as
Riley of the _Ledger_.

Jimmy shifted his camera to a more comfortable position, and wandered
aimlessly down a street leading toward the waterfront. Where would one
find picture material which packed a punch? It was all very well to talk
about being in a place where news was breaking, but buildings didn’t
explode or ships sink just to oblige an ambitious photographer. His
prospect of ever landing a job on the _Ledger_ seemed pretty hopeless.

“Hi, Jimmy!” called a familiar voice. “What are you doing in this part
of town?”

Hearing his name, Jimmy turned to see Jerry Hayes, a boy who lived on
his street, lounging in the doorway of a corner drugstore.

“Hello, Jerry,” he answered briefly. “Just out job hunting.”

Jerry fell into step with him. “No luck, I’ll bet.”

“It’s the same old story. There’s no place for a beginner.”

“Why don’t you quit playing around with that camera of yours and start
looking for other kind of work?”

“Well, I don’t know,” Jimmy returned. “I’ve spent a lot of time learning
how to take pictures. My father was city editor on the _Brandale
Post_—that was years ago before the paper folded. I sort of figured I
would follow a newspaper career, too.”

“You’ve had a tough time of it since your father died, Jimmy.”

“It’s been worse for Mother than it has for me. What I need is a job.”

“The Red Ball Chain Store is looking for a delivery boy. Why don’t you
apply there?”

“Maybe I will. Thanks for the tip.”

They had reached the next corner where the Green Hut Hamburger Diner
stood. Jerry paused.

“Let’s have one, Jimmy,” he proposed. “I’ll treat.”

Jimmy hesitated, then shook his head. Lately he had accepted entirely
too many favors from his friend.

“Oh, come along,” Jerry urged, pulling him through the doorway.

Jimmy was hungry, for he had not eaten since breakfast and it was now
late afternoon. Perched high on a stool at the counter, he watched Gus,
the cook, pound sandwich meat into two flat cakes which he slapped on
the smoking grille.

“Plenty of excitement around here today,” the man volunteered. “The
police caught a fellow wanted for stealing automobiles. They just walked
in and yanked him off a stool. Coffee?”

Jimmy nodded mechanically. “Wish I had been here,” he said. “That’s the
trouble. I’m never around at the right time.”

As he ate his sandwich, Jimmy stared out the window. He dreaded going
home. Not that his mother would blame him for failing to find a
position. She encouraged him in his ambition to follow a chosen field of
work, but camera supplies constantly drained their slender resources.
The small amount of monthly insurance dividends was barely enough to
feed and clothe them, and keep his younger sister, Joan, in school. He
never accepted pocket money without a sense of shame.

A loud screeching of brakes on the pavement, caused Jimmy to whirl
around. A black sedan, ignoring a traffic light which had flashed from
green to red, plunged across the intersection at high speed, to crash
into the side of a blue automobile driven by a woman.

Both boys leaped down from their stools. Jimmy pulled his miniature
camera from his pocket, adjusting it as he ran out into the street.

One of the first persons to reach the scene of the accident, he snapped
a picture of the wreck, and then took a second photograph just as the
driver of the black sedan stepped to the pavement. Without particularly
taking mental note of the fact, Jimmy saw that the man was heavy-set
with dark hair and bushy brows. His companion who did not alight
appeared to be a tall, thin fellow with a slightly hooked nose.

The woman driver also left her car. One glance at the damaged fenders
and she began to berate the two men in an angry voice.

“Just see what you have done! You’ll have to pay for this! It was
entirely your fault because you went against the light!”

A crowd had gathered. Opinion was divided as to who had caused the
accident, but the majority of pedestrians favored the woman driver. One
man offered to telephone for the police.

At mention of the word “police,” the slim fellow spoke in a low tone to
his companion, who promptly leaped into the sedan. They drove rapidly
away, the car turning at the first corner.

“Someone stop them!” cried the woman helplessly. “I haven’t the license
number.”

No other automobile had taken up the pursuit, and indeed, considering
the speed of the first car, pursuit seemed useless. Jimmy stepped
forward.

“Excuse me,” he said to the woman. “I just took two pictures of the
smash-up. The license number ought to show on the negative.”

“Then I could trace the men and have them arrested!”

“Yes,” nodded Jimmy, “and if they refuse to settle, my pictures will
serve as court evidence.”

“Thank you, young man. Thank you,” the woman said gratefully. “I’ll be
glad to pay you well for your work. How soon may I have the pictures?”

“In an hour. I’ll hurry home and develop them for you right away.”

The woman, Mrs. Clyde Montross of East Moreland Drive, gave Jimmy her
engraved card. He, in turn, gave the woman his name and address. Without
waiting for the arrival of the police, he hastened toward home in
company with his friend, Jerry.

“That was a nice break for me,” he declared. “I should pick up five
dollars at least for my pictures. And if the case comes to court I ought
to get a witness fee, too.”

“How about selling your pictures to the _Ledger_?” asked Jerry.

“They wouldn’t be interested. Accident cases are too common.”

“It’s queer how those fellows drove off when someone spoke of calling
the police.”

“Oh, they were afraid of being arrested, all right,” Jimmy agreed
carelessly. “Well, so long, Jerry. See you later.”

They parted company and Jimmy entered a pleasant, white-painted cottage.
His mother was baking cookies, while Joan, his twelve-year-old sister,
was perched on the kitchen sink.

“Hello, Jim,” she sang out. “Did you get the job?”

He shook his head, helping himself to a handful of warm cookies.

“No, but I have a chance to pick up a little pocket money by selling
some auto-crash pictures. I’m going to develop them now. Mother, I wish
you’d tie Joan up so she doesn’t come barging into the darkroom when I’m
half finished.”

“I’ll try to keep my eye on her,” Mrs. Evans promised, smiling. Mrs.
Evans was a slender, gray-haired woman with kindly blue eyes and a
pleasant disposition.

“Oh, go on!” said Joan, tossing her head. “Who wants to see your silly
old pictures, anyway?”

Jimmy had taken over a large closet adjoining the bathroom for his
photographic laboratory. In addition to a ruby and green lamp, developer
and hypo trays, he had equipped it with a film drying machine and had
built shelves to hold his chemicals, printing papers and general
supplies.

He mixed fresh developer. Then, closing himself in the darkroom, he ran
his films through the tray. The two pictures came up quickly. As he
studied them beneath the red glow he was elated to see that they both
would make good, clear prints. The license number of the black sedan
showed plainly, as did the face of the heavy-set driver.

Jimmy had taken the films from the fixing solution and was washing them
when Joan rattled the door knob.

“Oh, Jim! Are you about finished?”

“Listen, little half-pint, if you come in here now—”

“Who wants to come in?” she called in a longsuffering voice. “But you’d
better hurry! A policeman is downstairs waiting to see you, and he says
it’s important!”



                               CHAPTER II
                             _A NEWS BREAK_


Jimmy scarcely knew whether or not to take his sister seriously, but he
quickly finished his work and stepped out of the darkroom. Gazing from
the window at the end of the hall he saw a police cruising car parked by
the curb.

He bounded down the stairway. Two blue-coated policemen were in the
living room talking with his mother.

The sergeant arose, surveying him with an appraising glance. “You’re Jim
Evans?”

“Yes, sir.”

“We want to talk to you about the auto accident at the corner of Summit
and Clark. The lady who owned the blue sedan gave us your name as a
witness. Said you took some pictures.”

“That’s right. I just finished developing them.”

“How did they turn out?”

“They’ll make good prints.”

“Do the license plates show?” asked the policeman.

“Yes. I snapped the hit-and-run driver, too, and his companion.”

“Let’s have a look at those films.”

Jimmy led the two policemen upstairs where they examined the wet films.
For several minutes they studied the negatives in dead silence while the
sergeant compared the car license number with several he had noted down
in a little leather book.

“That black sedan was a stolen car,” he said. “Probably abandoned by
this time.”

“The heavy-set bird looks like Legs Jovitch,” added the other policeman.
“Can’t be sure from this film. Son, rush these through, will you? We’ll
have prints made at headquarters.”

“I oughtn’t to take them out of the water for a minute or two yet,”
Jimmy protested. “And they take quite a while to dry—”

“Push ’em through as fast as you can,” the sergeant interrupted. “I’ll
telephone headquarters.”

As Jimmy worked in the darkroom with the second policeman at his elbow,
he thought swiftly. While he wished to cooperate with the law, he didn’t
like to relinquish the films and a possible opportunity to profit from
them. Vaguely he recalled having read a newspaper story about Legs
Jovitch being a notorious bank thief who had escaped from New York state
police. Quite by luck he had come into possession of pictures which
might pack a news punch.

“I’m glad to let you have these films except for one thing,” he said to
the policeman. “I thought I might sell them to the _Ledger_.”

“Tell you what we’ll do. It’s against regulations but you can ride along
to headquarters with us. We’ll have extra prints made there.”

“Suits me fine.”

“Now what do you remember about those two men?”

Jimmy provided the best description he could and was surprised that his
mind as well as his camera had photographed so many details.

“Sounds like Legs, all right,” the policeman nodded. “The fellow with
him may be Al Morgan—he’s wanted for shooting his way out of a bank down
state.”

The films were partly dry by the time Sergeant Bedlow tramped back
upstairs after making his telephone call.

“We have orders to proceed to Morewell Avenue right away,” he reported.
“We’ll pick up those films later on.”

“You can take them now if you’re careful not to let them touch
anything,” Jimmy replied quickly. “Want me to go along and handle them
for you?”

“The boy figures on selling his pictures to the _Ledger_,” explained the
other policeman. “I told him he could ride along with us and get some
extra prints at headquarters.”

“Sure. Let’s go.”

Jimmy followed the two men from the house, not forgetting to tuck his
miniature camera into his coat pocket.

“Jump in,” invited Sergeant Bedlow.

Jimmy climbed into the rear seat of the big sedan. He pinned the damp
films to a chromium crossbar so that they would swing free.

The car left the neighborhood street and toured down Jackson Street to
Florence Boulevard. Suddenly the sergeant slammed on the brakes,
scrutinizing a black sedan without license plates which was parked at
the curb.

“That looks like the same car!” cried Jimmy. “I remember the front
bumper was partly torn away.”

The cruiser pulled up and the two policemen went over to look at the
sedan. They made a systematic, unhurried inspection, finally locating
the missing license plates hidden under the back seat.

“This is the car we’re looking for,” said Sergeant Bedlow. “Stolen two
days ago from a party in the Heights.”

While the policemen went on with their methodical search, Jimmy snapped
a picture of them standing beside the abandoned car. Their inspection
completed, they made out a report and returned to the cruiser.

The car had not traversed a block when the radio under the dashboard
came to life.

“Cruiser 6.... Calling Cruiser 6.... Proceed to corner of Dover and
Jefferson. Two men reported in vicinity answering description of Jovitch
and Morgan. Cruiser 6.... Cruiser 24.... Cruiser 12.... Calling....”

Sergeant Bedlow swung the wheel and turned the car around. They took the
corner on screeching tires, heading for Dover and Jefferson streets,
twelve blocks away.

A thrill of excitement ran down Jimmy’s spine. He leaned forward,
watching the road. With siren wailing, they zoomed through red lights
and passed all slow moving traffic.

Minutes later they swerved to a stop before a dilapidated frame
building. A police car, a small coupe, was parked not a dozen yards away
and a third, a big cruiser, careened into the narrow space beside them.

From inside the dwelling three shots rang out. There came an answering
report.

“Keep down!” ordered Sergeant Bedlow sharply. And then to his
companions: “Come on boys! We’ll run those rats out of there!”

As Jimmy crouched low, the policemen both leaped from the cruiser,
revolvers drawn. But as they moved swiftly up the walk, the front door
of the house swung open. The two men who had been in the black sedan
were marched outside, escorted by police officers. The heavy-set one
held his right arm which had been wounded.

Jimmy stared. Then, realizing that he was losing a grand opportunity, he
sprang from the cruiser and focused his camera. His hand trembled as he
opened the shutter. He had ruined the exposure.

Steadying his nerves, he quickly took a second and third picture. He
finished with one at close range while the prisoners were being loaded
into a police car, handcuffed to their captors.

“Well, son, you got some real pictures this time,” grinned Sergeant
Bedlow.

“Are the men really Legs and Morgan?”

“If they aren’t, someone has made a bad mistake. Sure, they’re the ones,
all right. Tried to shoot it out when they were cornered.”

Jimmy asked several questions about the brief gun battle, and then
added:

“I want to rush my pictures straight to the _Ledger_ office. How about
those auto crash films? Will you need them now that you’ve caught the
men?”

“No hurry if we do. Take them along. And if you’re heading for the
_Ledger_ we’ll drop you off there on our way to headquarters. Hop in!”

Jimmy needed no second invitation. He jumped into the cruiser again, and
they sped back to the downtown section of Brandale. At the _Ledger_
office, he leaped off, the precious films and camera held tightly in his
hands.

The elevator shot him up to the third floor. Brushing past the
receptionist who sought to halt him, Jimmy walked straight to Riley’s
desk. The editor looked up, scowling.

“I have them!” said Jimmy. “Pictures with a real news wallop! Take a
look at these films.”

The auto crash negatives had dried during the wild ride in the police
cruiser. He slapped them down on Riley’s desk.

“What is this?” the editor asked wearily. “Another auto wreck? Now you
ought to know we can’t use that stuff unless it has an unusual angle.”

“This has. The car was stolen—”

“Brandale has anywhere from six to a dozen taken each day.”

“But this car was driven by Legs Jovitch.”

“What?” demanded Riley.

“The other man is Al Morgan. They crashed into a car driven by a Mrs.
Clyde Montross. After they abandoned their sedan, the police surrounded
them in a rooming house on Jefferson street. Both were captured after an
exchange of shots. Jovitch was wounded in the right arm.”

The news did not excite the editor as Jimmy had confidently expected.
Riley looked interested but skeptical.

“Say, are you trying to pull a fast one on me?” he demanded. “We’ve had
no such report here.”

“That’s because I was the only person on the scene except the police. A
cruiser dropped me off here. You can check all my facts. And I have
pictures of the capture undeveloped in my camera.”

Riley came to life.

“Higgins!” he bellowed to a reporter. “Get busy on the phone. Call the
police station and find out if they’ve captured Legs Jovitch! Then get
Mrs. Clyde Montross on the wire. Boy! Run these films into the
photographic department and tell ’em to rush prints. Let’s have those
other films, Evans.”

A reporter, hat pushed back on his head, came running breathlessly into
the office.

“Big story, Chief!” he gasped. “Police have captured Legs Jovitch and Al
Morgan! Haven’t been able to get all the details yet.”

“Here’s someone who can supply them,” barked Riley, jerking his head in
Jimmy’s direction.

The newsroom had been thrown into confusion. Reporters clicked telephone
receivers impatiently as they sought to speed calls. Miss Breen was sent
to the morgue to locate clippings and photographs dealing with the
unsavory history of the two notorious characters. Rapid fire orders went
to the composing and photographic departments.

In an incredibly short time the finished prints were laid on Riley’s
desk. He ran through them with a critical eye, throwing out those which
he considered without merit. The others he marked for page one.

“Evans—” the editor’s voice held a note of respect. “You’ve rung the
bell. We’ll give you twenty dollars for the lot.”

Jimmy smiled, and shook his head.

“Thirty, then. They’re good pictures. I won’t quibble.”

Jimmy reached for the prints.

“Say, what do you want?” Riley asked with biting sarcasm. “The _Ledger_
building?”

“Only a little niche in it. A job.”

Riley’s face flushed an angry pink and the veins stood out on his
forehead. Then, unexpectedly, he relaxed and laughed.

“You have your nerve, Evans! Holding me up like this.”

“I’m only following your advice,” grinned Jimmy. “Trying to use my
head.”

“You’re using it all right,” muttered Riley.

“Do I get the job?”

“You do. Start tomorrow at eight in the photographic department under
Fred Orris. Twenty-five dollars per week. You’ve made a spectacular
beginning, Evans, but I’m giving you fair warning. Follow it up with
good steady work if you expect to remain on the _Ledger_ payroll!”



                              CHAPTER III
                          _COVERING THE FIGHT_


The late afternoon and night editions of the _Ledger_ carried Jimmy’s
pictures on the front page, giving prominent space to his eye-witness
account of the Jovitch-Morgan capture. At the Evans cottage there was
high jubilation, and until long after midnight neighbors dropped in to
congratulate him upon his success.

Yet as Jimmy entered the newspaper office at a quarter to eight the next
morning, he had a feeling that already both he and his pictures were
forgotten. As he passed through the news room, only a few reporters
turned their heads to regard him with curious stares.

In the photographic department adjoining the wire-photo room, a man in a
rumpled shirt sat with one leg thrown carelessly over the edge of a
desk. Jimmy approached him hesitantly.

“Are you Mr. Orris?”

“No, I’m Joe Wells, just another flunky around this joint. Fred will be
along any minute. I take it you’re the flashy kid Riley was raving about
yesterday?”

“Raving at, you mean,” grinned Jimmy. “He didn’t like the way I held him
up for a job.”

“Nuts! Riley always bellows, but he never holds it against a fellow for
standing up to him. Now Orris is different.”

The photographer arose and stretched himself. “Your name is Evans, isn’t
it?”

“Yes, they call me Jimmy mostly.”

“Jimmy is all right, but you need a niftier moniker than that. Something
with a little snap. I have it! Flash! That fits you like a glove! Flash
Evans! How’s that, kid?”

Jimmy hardly knew what to make of the liberties so freely taken with his
name but he smiled at the older man as if a favor had been conferred
upon him. And strangely enough, the nickname “Flash” stuck, so that
within a short time he answered to it as readily as he did to his own.

“You were speaking of Orris,” Wells went on, discreetly lowering his
voice. “When that fellow reads you the riot act you say ‘yes, sir,’ and
click your heels together like a little gentleman. Not that he isn’t
usually right. Orris is a good photographer himself and knows what he
wants. You can’t pass off any dud pictures on him.”

“I’ve a lot to learn and I’ll need to learn it quick. I can see that.”

Wells nodded absently. “While you’re waiting for Orris, I’ll show you
around,” he offered. “Over there is our portrait parlor where we mug the
publicity seekers. We have a pretty fair darkroom.”

He went ahead, snapping on the electric lights, Jimmy’s eyes kindled as
he gazed about. The _Ledger_ darkroom was one of the best equipped he
had ever seen, with long, chip-proof tanks of seamless, stainless steel
and a foot-controlled treadle light to prevent any shock from wet hands.

“You’ll be expected to develop and print most of your own films,” said
Wells. “Had much experience?”

“Not with deluxe equipment like this.”

“You’ll soon catch on. This is the electric dryer. Now I’ll show you the
different printing papers we use and how we mix our chemicals—”

An outside door had slammed. A thin, hollow-cheeked man came into the
photography room.

“There’s Orris now,” volunteered Wells.

He waited until the head photographer had removed his overcoat, and then
took Jimmy over to meet him.

“Orris, this is Flash Evans.”

The older man smiled briefly upon hearing the nickname and studied Jimmy
with concentrated attention.

“Good morning, Evans,” he said coldly. “You did a fine job yesterday in
getting those Jovitch-Morgan pictures.”

“Thanks.”

“I hope you keep up the good work,” Orris resumed curtly. “I hardly need
tell you that past deeds don’t count around here. A photographer must
deliver the goods and deliver it every day. Ever handle a Speed
Graphic?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Wells will give you your equipment and tell you anything you want to
know about the routine. You’ll work the day shift except on special
assignment. When a big story breaks everyone is expected to be on call.
You take orders from the city editor.”

Flash spent a half hour examining his camera equipment and learning the
office routine. He liked Joe Wells and Blake Dowell, another
photographer to whom he was introduced, but he could not rid himself of
a feeling that Fred Orris had taken a deep dislike to him.

“Oh, Orris hates everyone, even himself,” Wells confided in the privacy
of the darkroom. “Don’t worry about him. He’ll treat you right if you
turn out good pictures.”

On his first assignment, a convention at the Hotel Brandale, Flash
worked with Joe Wells, and everything went smoothly. His pictures, while
not in any way spectacular, were clear and properly focused. Fred Orris
merely nodded and offered no comment when he examined them.

In the afternoon Flash was called to Riley’s desk.

“Get down to the Y.W.C.A.,” the editor ordered. “They’re giving a water
carnival. We want a snappy picture of some girls.”

Flash caught a street car farther downtown. He was nervous over the
assignment, but he need not have been. Upon arriving at the Y.W.C.A.
building everything was made easy for him. He merely said, “I’m Evans,
from the _Ledger_,” and a kindly, white-haired lady who was the
publicity director, took him in charge.

A dozen swimmers were waiting in the tank room. Flash had only to pose
the girls on the diving board, set up his tripod and snap three
flash-gun pictures.

Hurrying back to the newspaper office, he ran the films through the
darkroom, and when the glossy prints were ready, offered them to Orris.

“Not bad,” the photographer said, “only you could have posed the girls
better. Where are the names?”

“Names?”

“You can’t run a picture without names,” said Orris with biting
emphasis. “If a reporter isn’t sent along with you, you’re expected to
get them.”

His confidence somewhat shattered, Flash hastened to a telephone. After
endless trouble, he obtained the names and succeeded in properly tagging
the girls in the picture.

“I don’t think I’ll last long on this job,” he confessed gloomily to Joe
Wells.

“Sure, you will, Flash. In a few days you’ll learn the routine.”

Flash was grateful for the help and friendly advice which the
photographer gave him. During the next few days his work gradually
showed improvement. He became more confident, and Orris seldom had
occasion to offer criticism.

Then Friday afternoon as he was ready to leave the office, Riley called
him to the desk. Flash’s pulse hammered. He was almost certain the city
editor meant to tell him he was fired.

“Evans, how about doing some extra work tonight?” Riley asked. “We’re
short of photographers and I need a good picture of the Gezzy-Brady
fight at the armory.”

“I’ll be glad to go,” said Flash in relief.

He telephoned home, then had supper at a café across from the _Ledger_
office. A full hour before the fight was scheduled to start, he carried
his equipment to the armory, setting it up close to the arena.

The building began to fill. Other photographers and reporters from
various newspapers began to take their ringside seats. Among the late
arrivals were Luke Frowein and Clyde Deems, both veteran photographers
for the _Globe_.

A sports writer from the _Ledger_ slumped into the empty seat beside
Flash.

“Wouldn’t waste many films if I were you,” he said with a yawn. “Gezzy
is expected to take the kid in three or four rounds.”

By fight time the armory was packed. The buzzing rumble of the crowd
arose from behind a blanket of murky tobacco smoke. A gray-shirted
referee climbed into the ring to test the ropes.

With tolerant good humour the crowd sat through the first two
preliminary bouts, but when the third dragged itself out into a
clinching match, the customers began to call impatiently:

“Give us Gezzy! We want Brady!”

At last the main bout was brought on and Flash watched the ring with
alert attention. He took only one picture during the first three rounds
because the experienced Gezzy made the youngster look very bad. The
older fighter feinted him out of position, made him miss by wide
margins, and kept up a steady tattoo of stinging left jabs which had
Brady bewildered.

And then it happened! The writers said the next day it was only a lucky
punch, but Brady connected with a slashing left hook to the point of
Gezzy’s chin. The older boxer folded at the hips and toppled to the
canvas in a limp heap.

Flash clicked his camera just as the blow landed. He took another shot
as Gezzy made a pathetic attempt to struggle to his feet at the count of
ten. The fighter fell back and rolled over, his face ashen and still in
the blinding glare of the ring lights. Flash got a shot of that, too.

Elated at his success, he pushed his way through the milling crowd to
the street. He was jubilant over the streak of luck which had turned an
ordinary assignment into a big story.

“Riley can’t do any kicking this time,” he thought. “I ought to have
four dandy pictures.”

Back at the newspaper office he closed himself into the darkroom and
placed his films in the developing tank. He set the timing clock. When
it went off he removed the films. Eagerly he studied the first one under
the ruby light.

For a minute Flash could not believe his own eyes. The film was dark!
Not a single detail was visible.

With frantic haste he examined a second film, and the remaining two.
Every one had been over-exposed.

Weakly, he sagged against the wall, nearly overcome by the disaster
which confronted him. Every film ruined! An icy feeling of dread
trembled along his nerves.

“But how could I have done it?” he muttered. “Must have figured my
lighting wrong.”

After several minutes he opened the door and stepped out into the
blinding light. Joe Wells, who also had been on a special night
assignment, was putting away his camera. He stared curiously at Flash.

“What’s the matter?” he asked. “You look sick.”

Flash showed him the blank films and explained what had happened.

“This is a tough break,” said Wells, “though you’re not the first
photographer who has had the same experience. Know what it means?”

Grim-lipped, Flash nodded.

“Riley will fire me. My work hasn’t impressed him much anyhow.”

Wells stood looking at the black films, frowning thoughtfully.

“There’s just one chance,” he said, “a pretty slim one at that. Do you
know Deems of the _Globe_?”

“Only when I see him.”

“Was he assigned to the fight tonight?”

“Yes, I saw him there taking pictures. But I don’t see—”

Wells did not bother to answer. Grabbing his hat, he started toward the
door.

“You stay here,” he instructed. “Don’t tell anyone about those films
until I get back! Deems is a friend of mine. If I can locate him in
time, I may be able to save your job.”



                               CHAPTER IV
                               _OLD HERM_


Flash waited without hope for Joe Wells’ return. He did not know exactly
what the photographer had in mind, but it was too much to believe that
Clyde Deems, a rival photographer, would make the slightest effort to
help him even if it were possible.

The door swung open. Wells came hurrying in to slap a photograph mailing
envelope on the desk before Flash’s startled eyes.

“Got it!” he announced triumphantly. “Only one picture and it’s not of
the knock-out. But it may be enough to save your job.”

Flash snatched up the envelope and examined the film eagerly. It was a
good clear negative taken during one of the early rounds of the fight.

“Print it up before Riley starts yelping,” Wells instructed tersely.
“He’ll squawk because you missed the knock-out, but he may not fire
you.”

“Joe, how did you do it? I’ll never forget this favor.”

“Thank Deems, not me, Flash.”

“But I thought photographers were supposed to work entirely on their
own.”

“That’s the general idea,” Wells nodded. “Mostly we do work alone, but
now and then we give the other fellow a helping hand. Not a photog in
the business who hasn’t been in a jam sometime in his life. And Deems is
a good friend of mine.”

“I hope he doesn’t get into trouble on my account.”

“He won’t unless Luke Frowein spills the story.”

“Does Luke know?”

“Yes, he was in the darkroom at the _Globe_ while I was talking with
Deems. I didn’t know it until later. He ought to be decent enough to
keep quiet.”

With Joe looking on, Flash rushed the picture through and sent it to the
news room. He waited for the summons. It came.

“Is this the best you can do, Evans?” the city editor demanded. “We send
you to get good fight pictures and you come back with one shot of the
second round! What were you doing—sleeping?”

“I took some others,” Flash admitted lamely. “They weren’t clear enough
to print.”

“If you expect to stay with the _Ledger_ you’ll have to buckle down and
do better.”

The editor glared and, writing a caption for the picture, tossed it into
a wire basket.

A wave of relief passed over Flash. He wouldn’t be discharged, after
all. At least, not before the end of the week. But he had been warned.

The next morning he received a curt reprimand from Fred Orris, and then
the matter was dropped. Flash did not forget the way Joe had come to his
aid. He made up his mind that if ever he had an opportunity he would
return the favor with good measure.

Whenever he was not occupied with picture assignments, Flash puttered
about the darkroom, trying to improve his skill in handling films. He
spent hours at the public library, studying books on photography, and
asking countless questions of Joe Wells.

One Sunday afternoon when the _Ledger_ plant was closed, he went
downtown with the intention of using the newspaper darkroom to develop a
roll of his own films. As he stepped from the bus, he noticed Luke
Frowein leaning indolently against a drugstore wall.

“Well if it isn’t Flash Evans!” the _Globe_ photographer greeted him
mockingly. “Covered any more fights?”

“No, I haven’t,” Flash answered with attempted good nature.

He passed quickly on, but the photographer’s remark both irritated and
made him uneasy. He felt that Luke Frowein was not to be trusted. The
man would like nothing better than to see him lose his job.

“He’s probably put out because the _Globe_ missed the Jovitch-Morgan
pictures,” thought Flash. “I’ll need to be on my guard.”

The _Ledger_ building was deserted, for the night shift would not come
on until four. Finding the front entrance locked, Flash went around to
the rear. The freight elevator was not running. He climbed three flights
of steps only to find the photography department locked. And he had
neglected to obtain a key.

Disappointed, Flash decided he must do his work at another time. Then
his gaze fell upon a time register attached to the wall. “Old Herm,” the
watchman, should be along within the hour to sign in upon making his
rounds of the building.

Taking a photography magazine from his pocket, Flash sat down on the
steps to wait. He had finished the first article when he heard
approaching steps. Turning his head, he saw a bent old man with white
hair coming down one of the back corridors. Old Herm did not see him.

After a prolonged fumbling at a bunch of keys, the watchman fitted one
of them into the time register and turned it.

“It’s the age! It’s the age!” he muttered. “They can’t trust a man to
make his rounds, so they make him leave his callin’ card with one of
these devil’s own machines. Tyranny, I calls it. Nothin’ but tyranny.”

Flash brought the old man out of his reverie by asking him if he could
open the door into the photography department.

“And who are you?” Old Herm demanded suspiciously. “What business do you
have in the building?”

“I’m Flash Evans, the new photographer. I have some work to do.”

The old man gazed sharply at the boy.

“You don’t look like a photographer to me. No, sir!”

He stared at Flash as if trying to bore a hole through him with his
gimlet-like eyes.

“But there’s somethin’ familiar about you,” he said. “What’s your name
again?”

“Evans.”

“Any relation to Curtis Evans who used to work on the _Post_ in the old
days?”

“He was my father.”

“So! I remember him,” the old man’s voice dropped to a little more than
a mumble. “And I—” He ceased speaking and seemed lost in deep thought.

“Nearly everyone in Brandale knew my father,” remarked Flash proudly.
“How about letting me into the office?”

“You’re not playin’ a trick on me? You’re really Evans?”

“Of course.”

“Then I kin let you in, I guess.” The watchman gazed at Flash with an
expression which was veiled and unfathomable.

Rather puzzled, the young photographer followed him to the door of the
department. Old Herm was slightly crippled in one leg, but his somewhat
bent and deformed body still showed the framework of a once-powerful
man. Flash felt sorry for the simple old fellow.

The watchman dawdled with his keys and finally opened the door.

“Don’t leave no lights burnin’,” he cautioned. “And turn off the water
spigots. I’ve mopped up this place more than once.”

He shuffled off on his rounds, his dragging feet making an irregular
rhythm on the tiled floor.

Left alone, Flash developed the roll of film. He put the negatives
through the fixing bath and, when they were washed and dry, made his
prints. It was a quarter to four by the time he had finished.

The news room had begun to stir into life. Sauntering through, Flash saw
a few reporters at their desks, but Forrest and Ralston, two night-shift
photographers, had not yet appeared. Dan Dewey, the editor who would be
in charge of the desk, nodded casually to Flash. He was in the act of
shedding his overcoat when everyone in the room was startled to
alertness by the loud whir of the fire alarm instrument.

“Where’s that?” demanded a reporter, scraping his chair as he jumped to
his feet.

“District ten,” responded Dewey tersely. “Must be the old apartment
houses on Glendale Avenue or maybe the coal yards! Get down there,
Charlie, right away! Where’s Ralston?”

“Not here yet,” spoke up Flash. “Nor Forrest either. Shall I go?”

The editor measured him with a glance.

“All right, Evans,” he muttered. “See what you can do. The fire may not
amount to much.”

There was no mistaking the doubt in Dan Dewey’s voice. Everyone in the
office had heard of Flash’s failure to bring back good pictures from the
Gezzy-Brady fight. Since then he had been given only routine,
unimportant assignments.

From far down the street came the wail of a fire siren. Spurred to
action, Flash rushed back to the photographic department for his camera
and equipment bag.

As he went hurriedly through the news room again, the alarm instrument
sounded once more. Clang! Clang! Clang! followed by a space and ten
quick taps.

“Get going, Evans!” shouted Dewey. “That’s a three-alarm!”

Clutching his camera, Flash bolted out the door. A three-alarm fire
meant a front page story and a chance at front page pictures! This was
his big opportunity to redeem himself for the Gezzy-Brady mistake. But
he wouldn’t have long to work alone. Forrest and Ralston soon would be
on the job.

As he reached the street he could see smoke rising in black clouds only
a few blocks away. A bright red fire truck, brasswork gleaming, bell
clanging, roared past.

Flash ran to the corner and signaled a man in a black coupe.

“Take me to the fire?” he shouted.

“Sure,” the man grinned, opening the door. “Hop in.”

Flash swung into the car, and they raced off in the wake of the
thundering engine.



                               CHAPTER V
                           _THREE ALARM FIRE_


By the time the automobile reached Fulton street, Flash could see
shooting flames. The entire southern sky had taken on a bright crimson
glow, and a high wind, blowing from the direction of the waterfront,
carried acrid fumes and smoke.

“Must be the old apartment house district!” Flash exclaimed. “The Werner
coal yard is near there, too! If the fire really gets started, half of
Brandale might go!”

The car came to a jerking halt in a traffic jam. Thanking the driver,
Flash leaped out and ran the remaining two blocks.

A tangle of fire equipment laced the narrow street in front of the
Elston Apartments, a ten-story brick building which was oozing smoke
from beneath the flat roof. Already three pumpers, two rescue squads,
and two hook-and-ladder trucks were at the scene, maneuvering into
position.

Flash could see flames pouring from the basement and first floor
windows. Firemen were leading women and children through the blinding
smoke to the safety of the street. A few persons, overcome by smoke were
stretched out on the pavement, receiving first-aid treatment.

A deputy chief, three bugles on his white helmet, shouted orders to the
men aboard a new ladder truck.

“Raise that aerial! Forty!”

The mechanically operated metal ladder shot skyward in two sections to
an upper window of the burning apartment building where a man could be
seen bent over the sill, half-overcome by smoke. Flash elbowed his way
through the excited crowd of onlookers, reaching the front rank.

“Hey, keep back, you!” a policeman ordered sharply.

Flash pulled out his courtesy card.

“Okay,” nodded the officer, allowing him to pass. “Just keep out of the
firemen’s way.”

Flash focused his camera in time to get a shot of a fireman who had
clambered up the ladder through the black pall of smoke, rescuing the
man at the window. Then he rushed over to where the rescue squad was
hard at work. As he leaped over a length of flat hose it bulged full of
water, writhing and twisting like a great jungle snake.

The heat was searing Flash’s face but he had no awareness of discomfort.
Blazing embers dropped at his feet. One burned a hole through his coat.
Filled with a wild elation, he snapped picture after picture, reloading
his camera as fast as he could.

Lines of hose had been stretched from every available hydrant so that
great streams of water could be poured on the fire. Adjoining buildings
were blanketed down in the desperate fight to keep them from igniting.

Flash approached the deputy chief who stood by Engine 12, reading a
pressure dial.

“Will the coal yards go?” he asked.

“Don’t know yet,” the chief answered shortly. “We expect to save ’em.”

“Is everyone out of the building?”

The chief nodded and strode away.

Flash dropped back to get a long range shot of the blazing building,
because he saw that Deems of the _Globe_ was taking a similar picture.
It was the first time he had seen the photographer since the night of
the Gezzy-Brady fight. Edging close he tried to speak a few words of
gratitude for the favor he had received. Deems cut him short.

“Glad to do it,” he said curtly. “But I can’t give you any help on this
job. It’s every man for himself.”

“Won’t need any help,” grinned Flash. “I’m doing pretty well.”

He hoped that his words would not prove to be an idle boast. The test
must come when he developed his films. If he had misjudged the amount of
light, he would be faced with a second failure. But Flash refused to
think of such a possibility.

He stood gazing up at the flaming walls, listening to the loud, sucking
draft which roared through the building. Then his gaze wandered to the
adjoining Marilyn Apartment which had been vacated as a precautionary
measure. Firemen had carried hose into the dwelling and were shooting a
steady stream of water through the windows, across a narrow areaway.

“I might get some unusual shots from up there,” thought Flash. “Anyway,
it’s worth trying.”

Unchallenged, he entered the smoke-filled building, and climbed to the
fifth floor. Letting himself into a deserted apartment suite opposite
the flaming building, he set up his tripod, and focused his camera upon
an engine man who was feeding a stream of water across the areaway.

Flash was so close to the fire that the heat nearly choked him. Black,
rolling smoke hit him in waves, cutting off the view below, and blinding
his eyes for long minutes at a time.

In a near-by window, the engine man motioned to Flash and shouted
something which he did not understand. But as he watched, the man shut
off the flow to the nozzle and moved to a new location farther away. A
blanket of smoke hid him entirely from view.

Flash soon shifted his own position to another window at the corner of
the building. As a billow of smoke cleared away, he stared across to the
opposite window ledge, scarcely believing what he saw.

An elderly man, groggy from heat and smoke, stood behind the open
window, perceptibly weaving back and forth as if about to fall. With
horror, Flash realized that in some way the fellow had been overlooked
when firemen searched the building. Unless help reached him, and
quickly, he would perish, for the halls and stairs leading to safety
already were a blazing inferno.

A cloud of smoke rose up from a lower window, blotting the figure from
view. Flash gazed downward. He could not see the street. He shouted
several times, but his cries went unanswered.

In another minute the areaway cleared again. While Flash still could not
attract attention from the street, he was relieved to observe that his
shouts for help had aroused the old man from a state of daze.

Staggering against the window sill, he motioned to the photographer. His
lips moved, yet made no audible sound.

“Stay where you are!” shouted Flash. “Don’t go away! I’ll bring help!”

He was not certain the old man understood or would obey. But he dared
waste no time by repeating his instructions. At any moment the fellow
might be overcome, or the walls might fall.

Flash ran to the window where he had last seen the engine man. The hose
lay there but the fireman was gone, evidently called to a more urgent
post.

Starting for the street to summon help, Flash jerked open a door which
he thought led into a main corridor. He found himself in a large closet
filled with half empty buckets of paint. His gaze focused hopefully upon
a tall step ladder used recently by painters.

Instantly Flash’s plan of action changed. With a life at stake time was
precious. He doubted if he could bring help in time to save the man. But
the ladder might turn the trick.

Seizing it, he hurried back to the window. He was relieved to see the
old man standing where he last had been, silhouetted against a wall of
flickering flame.

Flash pushed the ladder through the open window and across the narrow
areaway to the opposite ledge. It barely bridged the gap.

“Get out on the ledge!” he shouted encouragingly. “Crawl over! I’ll
steady the ladder!”

The old man, his face ghastly in the weird light, climbed through the
window to the stone ledge. There he cowered, his back to the brick wall,
afraid to trust himself to the ladder.

“Come on! Hurry!” Flash urged impatiently. “It’s your only chance! The
building can’t last much longer.”

The old fellow stared at him in a stupid, bewildered way. Even the
searing fire in the room behind, could not drive him to attempt it.
Flash realized that he was only wasting precious time.

Hesitating only an instant, the photographer swung his legs through the
window. Testing the ladder to make certain it was firmly in place, he
crawled nimbly toward the man on the opposite ledge. Halfway across he
glanced down. Through the rolling clouds of smoke, he caught a fleeting
glimpse of the street five stories below.

For a moment his courage nearly failed him. He clung tightly to the
ladder, fighting the wave of dizziness which swept over him. Then,
gaining control of himself, he crawled the remaining distance, and
reached out a hand to the terrified man.

“I’m afraid,” the old fellow whimpered piteously. “I can’t do it. The
ladder might slip. I can’t.”

“Do you want to burn?” Flash demanded. “Come on, before it’s too late!”

He seized the old man by the coat and pulled him out on the ladder. For
a fearful second he thought that they both might lose their balance and
plunge to the street. But once on the ladder, the old fellow maintained
a measure of self-control. Although he whimpered with fear, he did not
clutch Flash or struggle against the grasp of his arm.

Inch by inch the young photographer backed toward his own window and
safety. He kept hold of the old man’s coat, steadying him and lending
him confidence.

“Don’t look down,” Flash commanded. “Keep your eyes on the window.”

The ladder beneath them creaked and groaned, and as the old man made a
jerky movement, one end slipped slightly.

“Steady,” warned Flash.

They remained motionless and the ladder settled back into place.

“Another foot and we’ll be there,” Flash said encouragingly as they
crept on once more.

He reached the ledge. With a sigh of relief he felt his feet swing over
the sill and strike the floor. But just as he relaxed, the ladder gave a
convulsive movement. As it tilted, unburdening its human cargo, Flash
clung desperately to the old man.

The ladder struck the street with a resounding crash. The old man had
started to plunge with it, but his fall was broken by the powerful grasp
of the photographer’s muscular arms. Flash, too, was half pulled through
the window. He fought with strong leg and back muscles to maintain his
balance.

Terrified by his plight, the old man gave a choked cry and struggled
frantically. His wild contortions made the task of pulling him to safety
all but impossible. Flash’s heart began to pound from the intensity of
the effort. Yet it never occurred to him to release his hold on the
man’s wrists.

Exerting his utmost strength he pulled the old man up a few inches, only
to feel him slip back a greater distance. And Flash was slowly being
dragged across the sill by the old man’s weight. Flash could see the
street far below, momentarily clear of smoke. A shiver wracked his
exhausted body. Unless help came quickly they both would plunge to their
deaths!

Smoke swirled in Flash’s face, and the intense heat from the areaway
sapped his little remaining strength. His heart felt as if it would
hammer itself from his breast. His breath came in panting gasps.

Once more he made a valiant effort to pull the old man to safety. Again
he failed. Inch by inch they both were slipping downward. His knees were
losing their grip under the sill. In another instant he and the man he
sought to save would plunge to the areaway below.

Even as he abandoned all hope, Flash felt himself firmly grasped by the
legs. Slowly but steadily he was hauled back through the window.

The strain upon the young photographer’s arms was terrific, yet he clung
desperately to the old man. Both were drawn through the opening to
safety. Spent by the ordeal, they slumped on the floor.

Flash saw then, that his rescuer was the same fireman who previously had
been in the building.

“Thanks,” he gasped gratefully. “I thought it was curtains for sure.”

“Would have been in another minute,” grunted the fireman. “When that
ladder crashed to the street I knew something was wrong up here.
Couldn’t see on account of the smoke.”

The old man had passed out completely. Stooping, the fireman gathered
him up and slung the inert body over his back.

“Let’s get out of here,” he said.

Flash heard the words as if from a long distance. He tried to follow the
fireman but his feet refused to move. Every muscle seemed paralyzed. He
weaved sideways, dizzy from the heat.

Then quietly, he crumpled.



                               CHAPTER VI
                                _RESCUE_


When Flash opened his eyes, a cool breeze blew over his seared face. He
was lying on the ground across the street from the burning apartment
building. A member of the rescue squad stood over him.

“You’ll be all right now,” he said.

Flash stirred and sat up. He rubbed the back of his hand across his
burning eyes. For a moment he could remember nothing. Then, with
recollection, a wave of panic washed over him.

“My camera!”

“It’s safe,” said the rescue squad man. “And your equipment bag. Both
right here. What paper you from?”

“The _Ledger_.”

“Too bad you didn’t get a picture of your own rescue job.”

“Yeah,” grinned Flash. “That would have been a shot!”

“Nice going, son. You had plenty of nerve.”

“How is the old man?” asked Flash.

“Doing all right. We sent him to St. John’s Hospital.”

“And who brought me out of the building?”

“Oh, one of the boys,” the rescue squad man answered carelessly. “The
heat got you.”

“Something hit me like a ton of bricks,” grinned Flash. “Well, I’m glad
just to be alive. How long have I been out?”

“Only a few minutes.”

Flash scrambled to his feet and stood supported by the other man.

“Feel okay now?”

“I’m still groggy, but my head is clearing. I must rush my pictures back
to the _Ledger_ office.”

With a few hasty words of thanks, he gathered up his equipment, and
started for the corner where he could catch a taxi. The apartment
building had fallen, and the fire companies were playing their hose in
full streams upon the adjoining building. It, too, might eventually go,
but the coal yards would be saved.

As he strode into the _Ledger_ building, the elevator man stared at him.

“What’s happened to your eyebrows?” he asked. “Looks like you’ve been in
a fire.”

Flash squinted at his reflection in the elevator mirror. Not only his
eyebrows but some of his hair as well had been singed off. His clothes
were mussed and his blistered face was smeared with soot.

“Rush me up to three,” he said crisply.

“Yes, sir.” For the first time since Flash had started work on the
_Ledger_, the elevator man addressed him in a tone of deep respect.

The only other passenger in the cage was Old Herm, the watchman. He,
too, regarded the young photographer with more than average curiosity.

“Where was the fire?” he inquired.

“The Elston Apartment district.”

“Get some good pictures?”

“I think so.” Flash could not hide his triumph. “Maybe they’ll be good
enough to pull me out of the dog house.”

Old Herm nodded and grinned in a friendly way.

“You’ll make the grade, son. You’ll make it,” he muttered. “Heard you’ve
been havin’ bad luck, but it can’t keep breakin’ wrong forever.”

Flash slammed through the wooden gate into the newsroom. A reporter
assigned to the fire story already had filled three long sheets of copy
paper, and so news of the young photographer’s rescue work had traveled
ahead of him.

The night editor actually beamed as Flash went past the slot.

“Guess you were the right man for the job,” he praised. “Rush your
pictures through. Ralston and Forrest are on the job now, but they won’t
get back for awhile.”

Flash nodded and hastened on to the photography department. The door of
the darkroom was closed. He rattled the handle.

“Anyone inside?”

Fred Orris answered in a curt voice. A few minutes later, he opened the
door, regarding Flash with a cold gaze.

“What’s the big rush?”

“I want to develop some pictures of the fire,” Flash responded briefly.

“What were you doing at the fire?” Orris demanded in surprise. “Special
assignment?”

Flash nodded. “A lucky break for me,” he said. “Tell you about it
later.”

As he closed himself into the darkroom he heard the older man mutter:
“That’s your middle name—Luck!”

The fresh hypo bath which Orris had just finished mixing was strong and
offensive. Flash placed his films in the tank, set the timer, and then
kept the negatives agitated during the developing process. The
excitement of the past hour had buoyed him up. But now as he waited, he
suddenly felt sapped of all energy. A fear that his pictures might turn
out worthless, took possession of him.

“One more mistake and I’ll be finished,” he thought.

When the alarm went off, he quickly removed the negatives from the
developer. He drew a deep sigh of relief. Of the seven pictures he had
taken, six had come up clear-cut and definite with white and black
contrasting sharply. One was indistinct, but would be printable with
special treatment.

Flash chuckled. Unless he greatly over-estimated the pictures, they were
the best of his career. Why, he might even win a by-line for himself! He
could visualize the caption—“Photographs by Jimmy Evans.” Only a simple
line which few newspaper readers would notice. But to a photographer it
meant everything.

Flash returned the films to the water, and opened the door of the
darkroom. Orris was still outside, talking with Joe Wells who had
wandered into the department on his way home from a movie.

“Hi, there, Flash,” he called with a friendly smile. “I hear you’ve
covered yourself with glory. How did they come out?”

“Pretty fair,” returned Flash. “Want to look at them?”

Wells and Orris both followed him back into the darkroom. They studied
the negatives with the critical gaze of experts, searching for defects
and finding none.

“Swell pictures,” said Wells heartily. “Wish I’d taken them myself.”

Fred Orris’ only comment was a curt suggestion as to the number of
printing paper which should be used.

“Jealous,” thought Flash. “At least he might have loosened up enough to
give me a compliment.” Aloud he said, “Oh, by the way, I wonder if I
could have a key to the department? I was locked out today and had
trouble getting Old Herm to let me inside.”

“I’ll see you have one by tomorrow,” Orris promised.

After the older man had moved to another part of the room, Joe Wells
praised Flash again for his fine work, and demanded all the details of
his thrilling experience at the fire.

“Too bad you didn’t get a shot of yourself hanging to the old man’s
wrists!” he chuckled. “What a picture that would have made!”

“I wasn’t worrying about pictures at that moment. I was trying to save
my neck! Orris doesn’t seem to think much of my work.”

Wells shrugged as he turned to leave. “Oh, you can’t tell what that bird
thinks by how he acts. Keep on the way you’ve started and you ought to
get a raise. See you tomorrow.”

Flash took another look at his negatives and then while they were
soaking, went to wash some of the soot and grime from his face. Fairly
presentable again, he returned to the photographic department. Orris,
who seemed to be writing a letter at his desk did not glance up.

Entering the darkroom, Flash removed the films from the tray. In the act
of carrying them to the drying drum he suddenly paused and stared. For
an instant he thought he had taken the wrong negatives from the tank,
that his pictures had been mixed with those Orris had been making.

Frantically he examined the films. They were his, but so badly streaked
that they never could be used. Not a single one had been spared. His
entire work was ruined!



                              CHAPTER VII
                        _DARKROOM DIFFICULTIES_


The extent of the catastrophe nearly overwhelmed Flash. Jerking open the
darkroom door, he called hoarsely to Fred Orris.

“Now what?” the man demanded impatiently.

“I wish you would look at these negatives.”

The urgency of Flash’s voice brought the older photographer to his feet.
He studied the streaked films one after another.

“They’re ruined,” he said, with no show of sympathy. “What did you do to
them?”

“Nothing. The films were all right when I went to the wash room. I left
them soaking. I wasn’t gone ten minutes.”

“What developer and hypo did you use?”

“The same you had mixed.”

“Well, you must have done something unusual,” Orris snapped. “My
pictures came out all right. Sure you didn’t add any extra chemicals to
the tanks?”

Flash shook his head. “I can’t understand it,” he mumbled. “The pictures
were okay when I left them. Someone must have tampered—”

“See here, Evans,” Orris broke in sharply, “don’t try to pass the buck.
No one around here would have any interest in ruining your films. In any
case, I’ve been sitting at my desk most of the time.”

“I wasn’t trying to offer an alibi. I can’t understand it, that’s all.”

“Let me tell you this, Evans. In professional news photography nothing
pays off except knowledge. Guess work won’t get you far. Darkroom
procedure must be scientifically exact.”

Flash crumpled the damp films and dropped them into a waste paper
basket. With an effort he kept from making an angry retort. Orris
deliberately was rubbing salt into sore wounds.

“This means my job, I suppose,” he said bitterly.

“Well, you hardly can expect to learn at the paper’s expense,” Orris
shrugged.

The outside door opened and the two photographers, Ralston and Forrest,
their clothing scented with smoke, strode into the room. Shedding their
cameras and coats, they started to enter the darkroom.

“Better mix new developer and hypo,” Orris said curtly. “The kid just
ruined his entire batch of films.”

Ralston gazed at Flash, and whistled softly.

“Tough,” he said. “Heard you were the first photographer on the scene,
too.”

“Evans has a good pair of legs,” Orris said with pointed sarcasm.

Flash could endure no more. Jamming on his hat, he left the department,
slipping down the back stairway so he need not pass through the news
room. In the rear vestibule he met Old Herm who spoke cordially.

“What’s the matter, young feller?” he inquired. “You look down in the
mouth.”

“Pictures ruined,” Flash answered briefly. “Just when I had a chance to
make a good showing for myself, too.”

“Shoo, you don’t say!” Old Herm exclaimed. “How did it happen?”

But Flash was in no mood to tell his troubles. Making a non-committal
reply, he passed on to the street.

Angry thoughts poisoned his mind. There was no denying that Fred Orris
had taken a distinct dislike to him. The photographer’s smug attitude of
satisfaction over the outcome of the fire pictures, made it clear that
he would be glad to see him out of the office.

“I don’t believe it was anything I did which ruined those films,” Flash
reflected. “Either the chemicals Orris mixed were no good, or someone
doctored the tanks while I was gone! But Orris was in the department all
the while. Could he have been guilty of such a low trick?”

Flash was ashamed of the thought and dismissed it as quickly as it
entered his mind. No use trying to alibi his failure. The deed was done.
He alone must accept responsibility for the result. As Orris had said,
he couldn’t expect to learn at the paper’s expense.

Dreading to go home, Flash wandered into Joe’s hamburger shop, loitering
there until the night edition of the _Ledger_ reached the street. Then
he bought a copy.

The paper carried three excellent photographs of the fire with no
identifying by-line to tell whether Ralston or Forrest had taken them.
It gave him a measure of satisfaction to note that from the standpoint
of subject matter they were not as interesting as those he had snapped
and ruined.

Also on the front page appeared Flash’s own name, together with a vivid
account of his rescue act. He learned that the elderly man he had saved
was John Gelette, an ailing tenant who had occupied the same apartment
building for nearly twelve years. The old fellow, becoming confused at
the outbreak of the fire, had wandered about in a daze, unable to locate
an exit.

Flash stuffed the paper into his pocket and walked home. A warm supper
and words of comfort awaited him there.

“I’m proud of you, Jimmy,” his mother said tremulously after she had
read the story in the paper and heard his own account. “It doesn’t
matter about losing the job. You’ll find another.”

Flash shook his head. “Not in Brandale. If you’re fired from one
newspaper, word gets around. No other sheet will take me.”

“You’ve not actually been discharged yet, Jimmy.”

“Orris the same as told me I’m through. No use going back tomorrow.”

“Mr. Riley hired you, didn’t he?”

“Yes.”

“Then I would consider myself still on the staff until Mr. Riley
discharged me.”

Flash refused to be cheered. “I was in bad even before this happened,”
he said gloomily. “No use going after my pay check. I’ll let the cashier
mail it.”

Next morning when the alarm clock jingled at six-thirty, Flash aroused
only to shut it off and fall back on his pillow. With no job awaiting
him he could stay in bed as long as he liked. His muscles were battered
and sore from the ordeal of the previous day. He felt as if he could
sleep forever.

For a time, thoughts raced rampant in his tortured mind. Then he dropped
off into troubled slumber again to be tormented by wild nightmares. He
awoke once more to find himself gasping for breath and clawing the bed
clothes.

His sister, Joan, was pounding on the door.

“Get up, lazy bones!” she called. “It’s ten after eight.”

Flash groaned and rolled over. “Go away and leave me alone,” he mumbled
drowsily, burying his head deeper into the pillow.

“You’re wanted on the telephone!” screamed Joan at the top of her lungs.
“It’s the _Ledger_ office!”

Flash leaped from bed. Pulling on his robe, he took the stairs two at a
time, and snatched up the telephone receiver.

“Hello, Evans?” barked Riley’s voice. “What in blazes is the matter with
you? Why didn’t you show up this morning?”

Flash was too startled to make a coherent reply.

“I thought—that is, Orris said—”

“You deserve to be fired,” snapped Riley, “but when you’re through, I’ll
tell you so! Now grab a taxi and get down to Dock 10. Two freighters
collided. We want pictures right away.”

“I’ll get there as quickly as I can!” Flash exclaimed.

Bewildered by the unexpected turn of events, he darted back upstairs and
quickly dressed.

“Jimmy, you’re not leaving without a cup of coffee,” his mother
protested as he raced down again.

“Can’t stop for anything,” he answered, pulling on his overcoat.

Hailing a cab, Flash paused at the _Ledger_ building only long enough to
pick up his camera equipment and then drove on to Dock 10. Hiring a
launch, he motored out to the two vessels, took his pictures, and was
back at the office in record time.

“Want me to help you develop those?” Fred Orris inquired, with a faint
suggestion of a sneer.

“No, thanks,” Flash replied shortly.

Joe Wells, who was near, followed him into the darkroom and closed the
door.

“Guess you heard what happened to my fire pictures,” Flash said in a low
tone. “I can’t figure out what went wrong.”

“Neither can I,” answered Wells. “I fished those films out of the basket
and looked at them. Never ran into anything just like it before. Now you
go ahead and develop these films while I watch.”

With the photographer standing at his elbow, Flash followed exactly the
same procedure which he had used the previous afternoon. The ship
pictures came up quickly with good contrast.

“They’re all right,” said Wells with emphasis. “Orris can’t kick on
those, or Riley, either.”

“My fire pictures were good, too. Something happened to them while they
were in the water.”

“Who was here after you left?”

“Only Orris so far as I know. You don’t think he would play a dirty
trick just to get me fired?”

“I hear Orris has a nephew he’s been trying to get into the department
for over a year,” Wells remarked thoughtfully. “Still, I’m sure he
wouldn’t do it. Orris may be a crab but he’s not a snake.”

Anxiously, Flash washed his films, watching for streaks or defects. From
a photographic standpoint they were nearly perfect. With Wells hovering
near, he dried the negatives and made his prints.

“Nothing wrong with your technique as far as I can see,” said the older
photographer. “Those pictures are good enough to suit anyone.”

The prints were rushed to the news room. Flash waited to hear from
Riley. When no word came he knew that his work was satisfactory.

Later in the morning he was sent with Wells to take pictures of a
warehouse strike. Again, while not exactly covering himself with glory,
his shots were equal to those of the more experienced photographer.

“I can’t get over the shock of still being on the payroll,” he confessed
to his friend as they lunched together. “After what happened yesterday I
was sure I would be fired.”

Wells gave him an amused glance. “Then Riley didn’t tell you?”

“He hasn’t said a word to me all day.”

“Flash, some folks are just naturally born with a rabbit’s foot,” Wells
grinned. “You’re one of ’em. Know who that old man was you rescued
yesterday?”

“I saw in the paper his name was John Gelette.”

“Which means nothing to you?”

“Can’t say it does.”

Wells bit into a doughnut. “To tell you the truth, I never heard of the
old duffer myself until yesterday,” he admitted. “But it turns out he’s
a first cousin to Cordell Burman. I trust you’ve heard of him?”

“The owner of the _Ledger_!”

“Exactly,” responded Wells dryly. “No one needs to teach you the secret
of getting on, my lad. Your job is safe for awhile. In fact, I shouldn’t
be surprised if you found a raise tucked into your next pay envelope.”



                              CHAPTER VIII
                            “_HELLO, HERO_”


Joe Wells’ words proved prophetic. When the pay checks were handed out
Saturday night, Flash’s salary had been increased from twenty-five to
thirty dollars. After the first thrill of surprise, the raise gave him
no lasting pleasure. He knew he hadn’t actually earned the money.

Then, too, in some manner word circled the office by means of the
“grapevine” system that he had been singled out for Cordell Burman’s
favor. Fred Orris treated him with increasing austerity, seldom missing
an opportunity to make cutting remarks. The other photographers, save
Wells, remained aloof, no doubt feeling that they had been slighted.
Flash could not really blame them.

He did his work efficiently, giving Orris and Riley no chance to
criticize. The freighter pictures earned him a measure of respect, but
in the days following he was given only routine assignments.

One morning he was waiting for the elevator when two reporters came down
the hallway together.

“Anything new on the Elston fire, Bill?” asked one.

“Nothing you dare print,” shrugged his companion. “I was talking with
the Fire Chief yesterday. I gathered that he thought the fire had been
set, but I can’t get anything definite out of him. The arson squad
refuses to discuss the matter.”

Flash digested this bit of information as he rode up to the third floor.
Entering the news room, he became aware of a tense atmosphere of
excitement. Riley saw him, and motioned him to the desk.

“Evans, I want you to get out to the airport. We have a special plane
coming in at 10:15 with exclusive pictures of that big airliner crash in
the Pennsylvania mountains. Rush them right back so we can get ’em on
the wire!”

Flash nodded. The morning papers had carried a front page account of the
airliner disaster which had shocked the nation, taking a toll of eleven
prominent persons. No pictures had appeared, for the accident had
occurred in an isolated region of the mountains. A correspondent for the
_Ledger_, one of the first men to reach the scene, had taken camera
snaps, sending them by special chartered plane.

Flash glanced at the downstairs clock as he left the building. It was
only 9:40. He would have ample time to reach the airport before the
plane was due to arrive.

Boarding a bus, he rode to the outskirts of the city. Alighting at the
main entrance to the airport grounds he noticed Luke Frowein coming
through the gate.

“Hello, Hero,” the photographer greeted him flippantly. “Looking for a
fire?”

“I’m only an errand boy this time,” Flash replied.

He would have passed on, but Luke deliberately halted, blocking the way.

“What’s going on out here?” he asked curiously. “Picking up pictures,
eh?”

“You’ve guessed it.”

“There’s no plane due at this hour.”

“Oh, we have a special coming in at 10:15,” Flash revealed carelessly.

A shrewd, calculating look came into the _Globe_ man’s gray eyes.

“Must be something pretty good to merit a special plane. Not by any
chance exclusives on the Pennsylvania crash?”

“Maybe.” Flash started to move on.

“Wait a minute,” said Luke. “If you’re going into the station, Mr.
Clausson wants to see you.”

“Who is he?”

“President of the Triway Aviation Company. He was asking me a minute ago
if I had seen you lately. It may be something fairly important. Better
catch him before he leaves.”

“I never met Mr. Clausson in my life,” declared Flash. “Why would he be
asking for me?”

“Don’t know,” Luke shrugged. “He may want you to take some publicity
pictures. Better see him at any rate.”

Flash walked on toward the station. It still lacked five minutes before
the special plane was due to arrive. He entered the building and spoke
to one of the clerks.

“Has Mr. Clausson been here this morning?”

“Left only a minute ago,” the man answered. Moving to the window, he
pointed out a figure which could be seen walking slowly toward a hangar
at the far end of the field. “If you hurry you may be able to catch
him.”

“Thanks.”

Flash walked as fast as he could, overtaking the man at the doorway of
the Triway hangars.

“Mr. Clausson?” he inquired.

“That’s my name. What can I do for you.”

“I’m Flash Evans from the _Ledger_.”

“Well?”

Flash was somewhat taken aback by this strange response.

“Didn’t you wish to see me, sir?” he inquired.

Mr. Clausson shook his head. “What gave you that idea?”

“I was told by Luke Frowein that you were looking for me.”

“Luke Frowein?” the airline official repeated. “Never heard of him.”

Flash’s lips tightened into a grim line. “I guess I’ve been made the
butt of a joke,” he said. “Sorry to have bothered you.”

Turning, he started back toward the station, angry thoughts racing
through his mind. Luke Frowein had played a shabby trick upon him! He
had been stupid to trust the fellow.

The loud drone of an airplane motor caused Flash to glance overhead. A
silver-winged monoplane was gliding down over the telephone wires for a
fast landing. He knew that it must be the specially chartered _Ledger_
plane.

Flash hurried faster. He lost sight of the plane as it dropped below the
level of the station building. But upon reaching the runway a minute or
two later, he saw that the ship had taxied up to one of the gasoline
pumps. He ran toward the pilot who had climbed out of the cockpit.

“Is this the _Ledger_ plane?” questioned Flash tersely.

“That’s right,” the pilot responded.

“May I have the pictures?”

“Pictures? I just gave them to a fellow named Evans from the _Ledger_.”

“But I’m Evans!”

The pilot stared. “Then someone has pulled a fast one! Fellow in a gray
suit stepped up as I landed and said he was Evans from the _Ledger_. I
gave him the package.”

“Luke Frowein, a _Globe_ man!” Flash explained grimly. “And I was dumb
enough to fall for the trick!”

Whirling, he ran down the cement, through the station, to the main gate.
There was no sign of Luke Frowein.

A taxi cruised slowly past. Flash quickly hailed it.

“To the _Globe_ building!” he ordered tersely. “I’ll give you an extra
buck if you step on it!”

The cab roared along the highway at fifty miles an hour, slowing down
only when it reached the city limits. Flash kept close watch of other
automobiles as they dodged in and out of traffic, but caught no glimpse
of the man he pursued.

Presently the taxi pulled up in front of the _Globe_ building. Flash
leaped out, and paying the extra fare he had promised, hurried inside.
Although the trip from the airport had been made in record time, he was
afraid he had arrived too late.

He pressed his finger on the elevator button and held it there until the
cage descended.

“What’s the big idea?” demanded the elevator man indignantly. “I can’t
hurry no faster.”

“Has Luke Frowein been here in the past fifteen minutes?”

“No, he ain’t,” the man snapped. “Anyway, he usually comes in the other
door.”

Flash ran around to the rear entrance of the building. As he turned the
corner, a battered press car wheeled into the loading dock and stopped
with a lurch. Luke Frowein climbed down. With a friendly wave of his
hand at a trucker who was loading papers, he proceeded toward the rear
entrance.

Flash had stepped inside the deserted vestibule beyond view. He waited.

Whistling a cheerful tune, Luke Frowein entered the building. He quickly
broke off as he observed the young photographer.

“That was a dirty trick you tried to play on me!” accused Flash. “Give
me my pictures!”

“Your pictures?” repeated Frowein mockingly. “Don’t know what you’re
prattling about, son.”

Flash could see a flat, bulky package protruding from the photographer’s
overcoat pocket. He tried to seize the parcel. Frowein pushed him
roughly back against the wall.

“Keep your hands out of my pockets!” he ordered unpleasantly.

The cage of the freight elevator had started to descend slowly from the
sixth floor. In another minute Flash knew the elevator man would be
there to aid Frowein. He acted instinctively.

His right arm coiled back, then lashed out in a swift, sure arc. At the
end of that arc, Flash’s knuckled fist exploded against the
photographer’s chin. Thrown off balance, Frowein reeled, and fell
backwards, sprawling awkwardly on the stairway.

Before he could get up, Flash leaped on him and jerked the package from
his overcoat pocket. One glance convinced him he had made no mistake.
The package plainly was marked for the _Ledger_.

“Hey, get off, will you!” Frowein growled. “Can’t you take a little
joke?”

Flash coolly pocketed the package before removing himself from Frowein’s
mid-section.

“Your brand of humor doesn’t appeal to me,” he retorted. “And I doubt if
it would make such a hit with your editor either!”

“See here,” Frowein protested in quick alarm, “you’re not going to spill
this, are you? It was only a joke.”

“A joke which would have cost me my job!”

“I could make it plenty tough for you,” Frowein hinted defensively.
“Suppose it should get out that Deems held you up on the Gezzy-Brady
fight! But I’m not that sort of fellow. We’ll strike a bargain. You keep
your lip buttoned and so will I.”

Flash had no intention of carrying the matter further.

“All right,” he agreed, helping Frowein to his feet. “We’ll call the
whole thing a draw.”

The _Globe_ photographer grinned ruefully as he rubbed his chin.

“You pack a wicked wallop,” he said grudgingly.

The cage door opened and the elevator man peered out at the pair.

“What’s going on here?”

“Nothing,” muttered Frowein, rescuing his hat from the stairway. “I
slipped and fell, that’s all. They ought to keep these vestibules
lighted.”

Flash had turned toward the door. He could not resist one parting shot.

“Well, so long, Frowein,” he tossed cheerfully. “From now on, no more
‘hello, hero,’ stuff. I’m just plain Evans to you.”



                               CHAPTER IX
                            _A CRY FOR HELP_


Flash delivered the airplane crash pictures into the hands of City
Editor Riley, whose only comment was that it had taken him long enough
to make the trip. In fifteen minutes the prints were on the wirephoto
cylinders, by means of which the photos were transmitted to other
sections of the country. A short time later the _Ledger_ made the street
with a back page devoted to the exclusive shots.

Not even Joe Wells heard the story of how close the _Ledger_ had come to
being scooped by the _Globe_. Flash kept the affair strictly to himself,
but he had learned a bitter lesson. While he knew there were few persons
who would stoop to Luke Frowein’s low trickery, he never again would
entirely trust a rival photographer.

In the days which followed, Flash performed his duties with quiet
efficiency. He photographed fashion shows, golf tournaments, swimming
meets, and no matter how routine the assignment, accepted it cheerfully.
His unassuming ways gradually won him friends, both in and out of the
office. However, Fred Orris remained cold and aloof.

Now and then, if Flash worked late at night, Herm would drop into the
photography department for a friendly chat as he made his rounds. Flash
enjoyed talking with the old fellow, but never succeeded in drawing him
out about himself. One day he questioned Joe Wells regarding the
watchman’s past life.

“Oh, he’s just a queer duck,” the photographer replied carelessly. “His
real name is Herman Ronne. He’s been watchman at the _Ledger_ for eight
or ten years.”

“Married?”

“They say his wife died about fifteen years ago. He had a son, quite a
promising young fellow, they tell me. Old Herm saved and scraped to put
him through college.”

“Then I suppose the boy repaid him by going his own way?”

“No, the boy was grateful enough, but he up and died. Old Herm never did
get over the shock. He’s been a bit screwy ever since—goes around
talking to himself.”

“I’ve noticed the habit.”

“His work around here hasn’t been any too good the past year,” Wells
added. “But the _Ledger_ probably will keep him on until he dies.”

To Flash, Old Herm never mentioned his son or his troubles. Instead, he
showed a deep interest in the young photographer’s aspirations and
progress on the paper.

“It does my old bones good to see a cub like you get on,” he said
heartily. “So many boys these days want the path smoothed out for ’em or
they won’t play. But you grab the bull by the horns and dare him to gore
you. I had that kind of stuff in me, too, when I was a lad years ago.
The bull was stronger than I was, and here I am, workin’ a watch dog job
at sixty-eight.”

It was rather difficult for Flash to imagine that Old Herm ever had been
a man to wrestle directly with life, but he felt flattered by the
watchman’s remarks.

“You were saying the other day you remembered my father,” he reminded
the old fellow.

“Oh, yes, yes, I remember him well.”

“You didn’t by chance ever work in the old _Post_ building?”

Old Herm shook his head as he pulled out his watch, a huge disc of
yellow gold. “Well, got to be movin’ along. Time to punch another one of
them infernal clocks.”

Saturday evening instead of going directly home after work, Flash took
dinner downtown and then went to the Y.M.C.A. for a swim with his
friend, Jerry Hayes. It was practically the first recreation he had
taken since starting his new job on the _Ledger_. Every spare moment had
been spent in study and experimentation. Now he felt he could take a
little time off.

“I’m beginning to get on top of my work at last,” he confided to Jerry.
“At first it seemed as if everything was against me, but the breaks are
coming my way again.”

The two friends spent an hour in the pool, swimming and diving, and
topped it off by taking part in a rough, exhausting game of water polo.
After their showers, they dropped into Gus’s place for hamburgers and
huge slices of apple pie.

“My treat, this time,” grinned Flash, slapping a dollar on the counter.
“I can afford it now. Wish they would hand me another raise, though.”

“Can’t you manage to save another John Gelette or marry the boss’s
daughter?” joked Jerry.

“Never will live that rescue down. I want to earn my next pay raise, if
I ever get one!”

While they ate, Flash showed Jerry copies of some of his better
pictures, many of which had been printed in the _Ledger_.

“You sure like your work, don’t you?” Jerry asked.

“I’d rather be a newspaper photographer than anything else,” Flash
answered. “You work long hours, risk your life, perhaps, but when an
editor says ‘get that picture,’ it fires your blood! The tougher the
assignment, the better you like it.”

Jerry shrugged as he climbed down from the stool.

“Every man to his taste,” he said. “I think I’ll stick to being a lawyer
or maybe a dentist.”

The big clock on the Fisher building chimed eleven as the two friends
left the hamburger diner. The evening was warm, and they sauntered
slowly down the street, rather reluctant to return home. But at length
Flash said:

“Guess I ought to hit the hay. The old alarm goes off regularly at
six-thirty these days.”

“It is getting late,” Jerry agreed.

They cut through an alley to a deserted street on the bus route. As they
stood waiting, a muffled cry reached their startled ears.

“What was that?” Flash demanded, whirling around. “Sounded like someone
yelling for help.”

The street was empty of pedestrians. For a moment they were unable to
localize the strange cry. Actually it had seemed to come almost from
beneath their feet.

“Must have been in one of the buildings!” exclaimed Jerry. “Maybe this
furniture store!”

He and Flash stood directly in front of the Sam Davis Home Supply
Company. Only a few steps away was an iron ventilating grating anchored
in the sidewalk. They both thought that the cry might have carried to
them from the basement of the building.

Flash and Jerry waited for the call to be repeated. There was no further
sound to disturb the tranquillity of the street. But suddenly, a door
opening into the alley was flung wide. From the furniture store bolted a
man in a dark suit, hugging something close beneath his coat.

He started toward Flash and Jerry. Then, observing them, he wheeled and
ran in the opposite direction.

“Let’s get him!” exclaimed Flash.

They took to the alley in pursuit of the man who proved to be
astonishingly agile and quick-witted. Vaulting over a wooden fence, he
raced through a yard and disappeared between two buildings.

When Jerry and Flash reached the place an instant later there was no
sound of footsteps or any clue to tell them which way the fellow had
gone. They searched between the buildings and looked up and down the
streets.

“May as well give it up,” Jerry said in disgust. “He’s blocks away by
this time. Wonder what he was up to anyhow?”

“Robbery, like as not,” answered Flash. “Let’s go back and see what we
can learn.”

The side door of the furniture store building remained slightly ajar.
Flash kicked it farther open with the toe of his shoe.

“Anyone there?” he called.

There was no answer. Flash stepped inside the dark vestibule, sniffing
the air.

“I smell smoke, Jerry!”

“So do I!”

With one accord they rushed down a flight of wooden steps to the
basement. Flash groped for a switch and finding it, flooded the room
with light. Dense, black smoke was pouring from an adjoining doorway.
They could hear the faint crackling of flames.

Rushing into the furnace room, Flash and Jerry stopped short. A wall of
fire met their gaze. And on the cement floor, writhing and twisting, lay
a man, bound and gagged.



                               CHAPTER X
                         _THE MISSING PICTURES_


Flash leaped forward. Pulling a knife from his pocket, he slashed at the
ropes which held the man a prisoner. Jerry jerked off the handkerchief
gag, and pulled him to his feet.

“Thanks!” gasped the man. “Now turn in a fire alarm quick, before my
building goes up in smoke!”

Jerry ran out to the street, while Flash and the building owner turned
on the disconnected sprinkler system. In addition they used buckets and
hooked up a hose, keeping a steady stream of water playing on the blaze.
By the time Jerry raced back, they had the fire well under control,
while the sprinkler system would complete their work.

“Guess we won’t need the fire department after all,” murmured Flash,
gazing at the blackened wall. He turned to the building owner. “What
happened anyway? Who tied you up?”

“I’ll tell you!” the man said excitedly. “My name is Sam Davis. I own
this building. Two weeks ago I was approached by a man who represented
himself as Judd Slater, an agent for the North Brandale Mutual Insurance
Company.”

“Never heard of it,” commented Flash.

“Nor has anyone else! It’s a dummy company, set up for the sole purpose
of forcing building owners to pay exorbitant sums for protection.”

“A racket?” asked Jerry.

“That’s the way I figured it. And tonight proves I was right! If I had
paid over eight dollars a week, I was assured my building would be safe
from fire and damage.”

“You refused, I suppose?” inquired Flash.

“I did,” Sam Davis said with emphasis. “But I figured they would try to
get me. So I had this sprinkler system installed. Then I made a point of
keeping special watch of the building. The last few nights I’ve been
sleeping here.”

“You surprised someone firing the building?” questioned Flash. “That
fellow we saw running away?”

“He surprised me,” Sam Davis answered ruefully. “I was pretty tired, and
nothing had happened for the past two weeks. I must have been sleeping
like a log not to hear him enter the basement. He had set the fire
before I aroused. Then I let out a yell for help but he overpowered me
before I could do a thing.”

“Trussed you up and left you to burn?”

“Sure,” said Sam Davis. “Figured a dead witness couldn’t carry any tales
to the police!”

“Did you get a good look at the man?”

“It was dark in here. But I know it wasn’t the same man—Judd Slater—who
originally tried to shake me down.”

“The fellow Jerry and I chased down the alley was about my height,”
Flash contributed thoughtfully. “He wore a dark suit and a
floppy-brimmed hat. Not much to go on.”

“I’d know the man by his voice if ever I ran into him again,” declared
Sam Davis. “He had an unusual way of pronouncing his words. Oh, yes,
another thing! He began nearly every sentence with, ‘Listen, you!’”

“You’ll report to the police, of course?”

“Oh, sure!” The building owner shrugged. “But what good will it do?
They’ve known for months that this sort of business was going on, but
they can’t get evidence which will stand up. The gang is a big one and
the higher-ups are too clever to be caught.”

“Mind if I take a picture or two?” Flash questioned abruptly.

“A picture? What for?”

“I’m Evans, a photographer for the _Ledger_,” Flash explained. “My paper
may be able to use the story.”

“Go ahead. I’d like nothing better than to see this so-called North
Brandale Insurance Company exposed. Take as many pictures as you like.”

“You’ll have to hurry,” added Jerry as he heard the wail of a fire siren
from far down the street. “We’re going to have visitors.”

Flash seldom went anywhere without his miniature camera and a few extra
flash bulbs tucked in his pocket. He was grateful now for the habit
which made it possible to take advantage of a golden opportunity. He
snapped two pictures of Sam Davis, one showing him trussed up, and
another against a background of smoking ruins. As he finished, firemen
clomped down the stairway.

“Don’t need you boys,” the building owner called cheerily. “Fire’s out.
Thanks to these young fellows here.”

Flash and Jerry waited while the firemen inspected the basement. The
odor of gasoline was strong. In poking about on the floor, one of the
men found the remains of a rubber bladder which had been used to start
the fire.

“I saw how the fellow did it!” Sam Davis revealed excitedly. “The
bladder was filled with gasoline. Then he started a little fire beneath
it. The heat made the bladder explode, and the flames spread everywhere.
It’s a miracle I wasn’t burned.”

Flash took a picture of one of the firemen examining the device, and
then with Jerry, slipped quietly away. On the street, they paused to
consider their plans.

“You go on home without me,” urged Flash. “I want to run over to the
newspaper office and develop these films.”

“Does the paper print tonight?” Jerry asked in surprise.

“The last edition is out. But the Sunday editor will want the pictures,
I’m pretty sure. There’s dynamite in this arson story, Jerry! If it
should develop that the Elston Apartment fire was set by the same
outfit—”

“No evidence to support that theory, is there?”

“None yet. But it’s been rumored that the Elston Apartment fire was a
planned job.”

“Haven’t seen anything about it in the newspapers.”

“It’s a ticklish story to print. The fire chief won’t give out any
definite information and neither will the owners of the Elston
Apartments. But it looks to me as if these pictures I’ve just taken may
have some significance. At least, I’ll wave ’em under the editor’s nose
and see what he says!”

“I’ll be watching for them in tomorrow’s paper,” Jerry promised, moving
to the curb to board a bus. “So long.”

Flash walked swiftly to the _Ledger_ building. Lights were burning on
various floors, but nearly all of the offices were deserted. It lacked
twenty minutes of midnight before the men who worked the “lobster” trick
would come on duty.

In the hallway Flash met Old Herm, who seemed surprised to see him at
such a late hour.

“Want I should let you into the office?” he asked.

Flash shook his head. “No, thanks, Herm. I have a key now.”

The photography department was deserted. Closing himself in the
darkroom, Flash worked swiftly and with precision. In five minutes time
the films had been put through the tanks. He washed them carefully and
placed them on the heated ferrotype machine to dry.

When the prints were finished, he slipped them into an envelope, wrote a
note of explanation to accompany them, and dropped the packet on the
city editor’s vacant desk.

As Flash went out the front door, he met Fred Orris and an attractive
young woman, obviously his wife, entering the building. Apparently they
had attended the theatre, for Mrs. Orris still carried a program. He
tipped his hat politely and went on, well aware that the photographer
gave him a curious, unfriendly stare.

“Suppose Orris wonders what I am doing here at this hour?” he thought.
“Oh, well, he’ll find out tomorrow!”

A bus, the last one until two o’clock rumbled down the street. Flash
broke into a run and caught it at the corner. He reached home shortly
after midnight, raided the refrigerator, and finally went to bed.

At six-thirty he was sleeping soundly when the alarm buzzed in his ear.
Flash started up, and then as the realization came to him that he need
not go to work on Sunday, he muffled it and fell back on his pillow.

But he had been thoroughly aroused and could not sleep again. He lay for
a time staring at the ceiling. From the street he heard the cheerful
whistle of a boy on a bicycle. The Sunday paper thudded against the
front porch.

Jumping out of bed, Flash put on his robe and stole quietly down the
stairway. He shot up the blinds and unlocked the door.

Eagerly he stripped off the brown wrapper and glanced at the front page
of the _Ledger_. His fire pictures were not there.

Flash thumbed rapidly through the paper. There were pictures in
profusion but none he had taken.

Finally, on the back page of Section C he found a brief four-line news
item, stating that the Sam Davis Home Supply Store had been damaged to
the extent of two hundred dollars by fire of an undetermined origin.

“Undetermined, my eye!” Flash exclaimed, slamming the paper on the
davenport.

Joan appeared at the top of the stairway.

“What’s the matter, Jimmy?” she asked. “Didn’t they use your pet
pictures?”

“No,” he answered briefly, “and they were good pictures, too, with
plenty of punch! Now I’d like to know what happened this time!”



                               CHAPTER XI
                           _DISASTER AT SEA_


All day Sunday Flash remained deeply depressed. He had been almost
certain that his pictures would be used in the _Ledger_. They had been
remarkably clear prints, showing Sam Davis in action poses. He didn’t
like to think that the pictures had been withheld because of policy, yet
he could reach no other conclusion.

“Your old sheet must be afraid to buck the rackets,” commented Jerry
Hayes who dropped in during the afternoon.

“I can’t understand it,” Flash confessed. “The _Ledger_ has a reputation
for being a fighting paper. And there was nothing libelous in my
pictures.”

“Maybe the editor was afraid to make a direct accusation against the
North Brandale Insurance Company without proof.”

“That’s possible,” admitted Flash, “but it still doesn’t explain why my
pictures weren’t used. They told a story of their own. It wouldn’t have
been necessary to implicate the insurance company. By the way, did you
ever hear of such an outfit, Jerry?”

“Never did.”

“Probably it’s a fake company, just as Sam Davis believes. Anyway, the
name isn’t listed in the telephone directory. Looks to me as if the
_Ledger_ is missing a chance for a big story.”

“And some good pictures,” added Jerry, grinning. “Well, cheer up. Maybe
they’ll be printed in tomorrow’s paper.”

Upon his way to work Monday morning, Flash bought an early edition of
the _Ledger_. A hasty glance assured him that his pictures had not been
used.

Riley was occupied making out an assignment sheet when Flash passed his
desk. He did not glance up. Flash hesitated, then paused and spoke.

“I see you didn’t use my fire pictures, Mr. Riley.”

“What’s that?” the editor barked.

Flash repeated his words.

“Fire pictures?” Riley demanded. “Didn’t find anything of the sort on my
desk.”

“I left an envelope with a note of explanation. That was late Saturday
night.”

“Better ask Clingston about it,” said Riley carelessly. “He came on at
midnight.”

Flash nodded and entered the photography department. The room was
deserted. He debated a moment, then looked up Clingston’s telephone
number and placed a call.

A sleepy voice answered: “Yeah? Clingston speaking.”

Flash nearly lost his courage as he realized he had aroused the man from
his bed. But he said tersely:

“This is Evans. I’m checking up on some pictures of the Sam Davis fire.
I left them on the city desk late Saturday night.”

“Didn’t find them,” the editor answered.

“That’s funny. They were in an envelope.” Flash described the pictures,
repeating what Sam Davis had told him.

“We could have used those shots,” Clingston said regretfully. “Too bad
they were lost.”

“I don’t see how it could have happened.”

“The janitor may have brushed the envelope into the waste basket by
mistake.”

“Shall I print them up again?”

“No use now,” Clingston returned. “The story is two days old.”

Flash hung up the receiver just as Fred Orris entered the office. He
thoughtfully watched the head photographer as he hung his hat on a peg.

“Orris,” he began abruptly.

“Well?”

“When you came into the building Saturday night did you notice an
envelope of pictures lying on the city desk?”

“No, I didn’t,” Orris answered shortly. “What of it?”

“I left some there—fire pictures. They disappeared before Clingston came
on duty.”

Orris shot Flash a sharp, questioning glance.

“Say, just what are you trying to suggest?”

“Nothing.”

“Well, I trust not,” the head photographer muttered grimly. “I don’t
know anything about your pictures and care less. My wife and I dropped
in here after the theatre to telephone for a taxi. The trouble with you
Evans, you’re always looking for an easy way out.”

An angry flush stained Flash’s face. With an effort, he kept from making
a sharp retort. Orris would like nothing better than to draw him into a
fight, and then request his dismissal.

Getting up abruptly from the telephone table, he went into the darkroom
and closed the door. He distrusted the head photographer more than ever
now. Orris hadn’t liked him from the day he had started work on the
_Ledger_. While he had no proof that the man had destroyed his pictures,
a suspicion took root in his mind. After this he would be more careful
than ever, remaining constantly on the alert for treachery.

Thinking there was a possibility that the janitor knew something of the
matter, Flash sought the man. He likewise questioned a scrub woman who
cleaned the news room at night. As he fully expected, neither of them
could throw any light upon the mystery. All the waste paper baskets had
been emptied, and if ever the pictures had been consigned there, they
were burned.

Later that morning, Flash was testing his camera, when Riley stepped
into the office, a batch of prints in his hand.

“Anything wrong?” Fred Orris asked in alarm.

“Nothing in particular,” Riley replied. “I was wondering why we can’t
have these pictures printed with a duller finish. Give ’em a softer
tone.”

“But Mr. Riley, all the other editors want glossy prints.”

“Is there any reason why I can’t have a duller finish?”

“Well, yes, there is,” Orris responded in a conciliatory tone. “You see,
the ferrotype machine only dries the prints one way—with a gloss.”

“Then I guess I’ll have to take them this way.” Riley shrugged and
started to move off.

Flash, who had been listening to the conversation, stepped forward.

“I know how you can have your dull-finish pictures, Mr. Riley,” he
stated.

“Oh, you do?” interposed Orris, an edge to his voice. “Suppose you tell
us!”

“I was trying it out the other day,” explained Flash. “All you need to
do is to place the print between blotting paper when you put it on the
ferrotype machine.”

“And what finish will it make?” Riley inquired with interest.

“I’ll show you,” Flash offered. “I think I have a few samples in my
portfolio.”

He brought the prints. Riley glanced at them and beamed.

“This is what I want! Orris, let me have my prints like these.”

“As you wish,” the head photographer returned surlily, “but I doubt if
they’ll make as good cuts as the regular glossy prints.”

After Riley had gone, Orris offered no comment. He experimented in the
darkroom, and gave orders to the other photographers how the new prints
were to be made. While he neither praised nor criticised Flash, his
attitude made it evident that he considered the young man something of a
pest.

However, the new prints made an attractive change in the _Ledger_, and
Riley was pleased.

Three days later, after an uneventful afternoon, Flash and Joe Wells
were lounging in the photography department, waiting for their trick to
end. It was not quite four o’clock.

“Never saw things so dull since I’ve been on the _Ledger_,” Joe Wells
yawned. “A few more days like this, and we’ll be laid off.”

Flash took his friend seriously. “I’ll be the first one to go,” he said,
“because I’m the youngest man.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Wells replied. “We didn’t need an extra photographer
when Riley hired you. He took you on because you showed a lot of
promise. Your work has been all right, too.”

“But nothing spectacular.”

“Spectacular pictures don’t drop into a fellow’s lap every day. You’ll
get your big chance one of these days, Flash.”

The door opening into the news room stood ajar. From where they were
they could hear the teletype machines pounding out their news from all
parts of the country. Suddenly everyone in the office was startled to
hear a steady jingle of the signal bell, followed by Riley’s excited
shout:

“The _Alexander_ has gone down!”

Flash and the other photographers ran into the adjoining room, crowding
about the teletype machine. The first bulletin was brief, stating little
more than the bare fact that the great passenger liner had sunk less
than fifty miles from New York, following a violent explosion. Three
hundred American passengers, nearly all of them holiday tourists, had
been taken aboard the steamship _Belmonia_ which was making for New
York. Ten persons were known to be dead, and thirty were missing.

“There were several Brandale passengers on the _Alexander_,” Riley
recalled excitedly. “We ran a story about two weeks ago. Adams, check on
that angle!”

As new bulletins kept coming in, every department was spurred to action.
Long distance telephone calls were placed to correspondents in New York.
But Riley felt that the story was too important to be handled in a
routine way.

“We want pictures! Lots of ’em!” he muttered. “I have it! One of the
survivors may have been an amateur photographer—there’s always a few on
every ship! If any pictures were taken, and we can get ’em we’ll score a
scoop!”

A radiogram promptly was dispatched to the rescue ship, _Belmonia_, with
an offer to buy any and all camera films available from the survivors.
In a comparatively short while a reply was returned. It read:

“Eight rolls undeveloped film available. Offered at five hundred
dollars.”

Riley winced at the price but wired back an immediate acceptance. He
then dispatched a photographer and two reporters by plane to New York to
be on hand when the vessel docked.

Even with arrangements made for the films, Riley was uneasy.

“Another paper may overbid us,” he fretted. “Then we’ll be sitting high
and dry without our pictures.”

“How about meeting the ship out at sea?” suggested Joe Wells.

Riley thought a moment and nodded. “Good idea, if Captain Sorenson will
let you aboard. He has a reputation for being a grouch. Think you can
swing it?”

“Sure, with a good pilot. How about Dave French?”

“I’ll charter his plane and have it waiting by the time you reach the
airport,” Riley promised. “And I’ll radio Sorenson to be on the lookout
for you. You may be able to get some good shots of the survivors
yourself.”

“I’ll take plenty of holders,” Wells said, starting toward the
photography room.

“May as well send another man with you,” Riley added.

His gaze wandered from one eager face to another. Fred Orris moved a
step forward as if anticipating that he would be chosen. Riley’s eye
traveled past him and came to rest upon Flash.

“Evans! You’ll go with Wells. On your way out, stop at the cashier’s
desk for money. Pay whatever you must to get those films, but don’t come
back without them!”



                              CHAPTER XII
                            _A DARING PLAN_


Elated at the assignment, Flash rushed after Joe Wells to get his own
camera equipment.

“Glad Riley is sending you instead of Orris,” his friend commented
briefly.

On their way to the street, the two photographers stopped at the
cashier’s office, and were given an envelope containing nine hundred
dollars. Flash carefully placed it in an inside pocket.

Hailing a taxi, they rode directly to the harbor where Dave French
awaited them with his seaplane already warmed up for the trip.

“Think you’ll have any trouble contacting the _Belmonia_?” Wells asked
the pilot.

Dave French smiled and shook his head. “No, I have her position. But we
ought to get started so we can get back before dark.”

Flash and Joe climbed into the cockpit. Before the plane could take to
the water, a man came out of a building, and ran toward them, waving his
hand.

“Hold it!” he shouted.

Dave French throttled down and waited.

“Now what?” muttered Joe Wells.

“Riley of the _Ledger_ just telephoned,” the man informed. “He says the
captain of the _Belmonia_ refuses to pick up a passenger.”

“Then the trip is off!” Wells exclaimed in disgust. “I was afraid of
this. Sorenson is one of the worst crabs on the line.”

“Did Riley say we were to come back to the office?” Flash inquired
thoughtfully.

“He didn’t say anything about that. His message was that the captain
wouldn’t pick up a passenger.”

Wells had started to climb from the cockpit, but Flash pulled him back.

“Wait, Joe! I have an idea!”

“Spill it.”

“Riley didn’t order us not to make the trip. Why don’t we try anyway?”

“That _is_ a brilliant brain wave,” Wells said scornfully. “We’d have a
trip for nothing, run up a nice bill, and get fired for our trouble!”

“Maybe not, Joe. We’d be taking a chance all right, but I have a hunch
we can get aboard the _Belmonia_.”

“How?”

“Listen, Joe, sea captains are supposed to have humanitarian instincts,
aren’t they? If Sorenson saw a fellow swimming in the ocean miles from
shore wouldn’t steam away and let him drown, would he?”

“Sorenson might,” replied Wells. “No ordinary trick will work with him.
But what’s your scheme?”

“It’s simple. Dave flies us out to meet the _Belmonia_. When we’re
certain we’ve attracted attention, one of us jumps overboard—”

“Breaking a leg, smashing six ribs, not to mention a neck—”

“It could be done, couldn’t it?” Flash demanded of the pilot.

“Yes, I could fly low enough so a person wouldn’t be slapped very hard,”
Dave French answered reluctantly. “But why not land the plane on the
water?”

“With a seaplane handy, Sorenson never would pick up a fellow. My idea
is to jump, then have the plane fly back to shore.”

“And who is to do the jumping, brother?” inquired Wells.

“I will. I’m a pretty fair swimmer.”

“Do you realize that if Sorenson doesn’t pick you up, it would mean
curtains?”

“He will,” Flash said confidently. “The only risk is that he might not
see me in the water. But if I jump it will attract attention.”

“The idea is just crazy enough that it might work,” Wells said slowly.

“I’m sure it will! Let’s try it!”

“See here! You’re overlooking one point—an important one,” said Wells.
“How are you going to protect your money? You’ll have to keep it dry.”

“I can get you a waterproof container,” the pilot offered quickly.

“And I can use it to protect the films after I get them,” added Flash.
“Sorenson may be decent enough to put me off in a boat so I can contact
the plane for the return trip. If he doesn’t, I’ll jump.”

“We’ll have to arrange an exact schedule,” Dave French declared. “How
long will you need aboard the ship?”

“Give me three quarters of an hour from the time I first jump,” Flash
decided. “That ought to be long enough.”

“A man can drown in thirty seconds,” murmured Wells gloomily. “But if
you’re willing to try it, I shouldn’t kick.”

A waterproof container was quickly found. Then Dave French speeded up
the motors, and the big seaplane scooted along the water. The waves were
fairly heavy. Several times before flying speed was attained, the ship
was thrown a little way into the air, but each time the pilot minimized
the stall by pushing the stick forward. In a moment the plane took off
smoothly and climbed.

Flash transferred his money to the waterproof container which he pinned
securely inside his shirt. He divested himself of shoes and coat, but
decided not to use the life-belt which the pilot had procured for him.
He was afraid it might check his fall into the sea too suddenly, thus
adding to the shock of impact.

The plane flew steadily eastward, sighting small sailing boats and
larger vessels. Presently, Dave French throttled down, and pointed to a
large steamship which could be seen some distance away.

“The _Belmonia_!” he shouted.

Flash’s pulse quickened and a queer feeling came into the pit of his
stomach. His plan had seemed simple back on land. But now, peering down
at the ruffled surface of the water far below, he realized what a small
speck a swimmer must appear to a lookout stationed on the _Belmonia_.

“Better give it up,” admonished Joe Wells, with a worried frown.

Flash shook his head and, feeling of his money to be certain it was
securely fastened, signaled Dave French that he was ready.

The plane drove steadily on and circled the _Belmonia_ twice. Flash and
Joe waved, but the only response they received was from a few of the
passengers. Obviously, the captain of the vessel had no intention of
lowering a boat so they might board.

“All right, I’ll jump!” Flash said. “Any time, Dave.”

The pilot brought the plane lower and motioned for the photographer to
get out on the right wing. While Joe helped give him support, Flash
struggled from the cockpit. The wind struck him full in the face and,
catching him off guard, nearly toppled him from his perch before he was
ready to make the plunge. He recovered and clung tightly.

“We’ll wait to see that you’re picked up,” Wells shouted.

“No!” Flash hurled back.

He was convinced that as long as the seaplane remained in the vicinity,
Captain Sorenson never would rescue him.

The plane dropped lower and lower until it flew level not more than
fifty feet above the surface of the sea. Dave waggled the wings
slightly, a signal that it was time to jump.

For an instant, Flash’s courage nearly failed him. Never in his life had
he dived more than thirty feet. The water looked miles away. But he
dared not think about it or he would be lost.

Taking a deep breath, he jumped. As he shot down feet foremost, Joe
Wells shouted something after him which sounded suspiciously like: “Get
names!”

At the moment, Flash’s one concern was to keep from losing his balance
and being toppled head over heels in the air. He must strike the water
feet first. If he didn’t, he would suffer a nasty blow, and perhaps
crack a rib or injure his back.

Fighting a desire to look downward, he kept his head held high. Straight
as a bullet he shot downward, gathering speed. The wind rushed past his
face, taking his breath.

Then the water loomed up and he bent slightly to take it with as little
shock as possible. Even so, he struck it with a resounding crack and a
jar which shook every muscle.

The force of the fall plunged Flash to a tremendous depth. He fought his
way to the surface, only to have a wave sweep over his head, burying him
again.

Once more he struggled up, gasping for breath. Taking air in great
gulps, he rolled over on his back and rested.

The seaplane had banked and was heading in the direction of shore. Three
hundred yards away the _Belmonia_ plowed steadily on her course.

Flash waited a moment and then began to wave to attract attention. He
felt certain the skipper of the _Belmonia_ must be aware of his plight,
yet there was no indication from the steamship that he had been seen.

Wave upon wave pounded down upon the photographer, burying him and
cutting off his view of the steamship. Minutes passed, and Flash’s panic
grew. The seaplane no longer was visible as a speck in the sky so he
could not expect rescue from his friends. What a fool he had been! He
had not realized that he must battle such high waves. Unless the
_Belmonia_ picked him up he could not hope to keep afloat until Wells
and French returned.

“Sorenson must have seen me jump,” he thought bitterly. “But he has no
intention of taking me aboard. He means to let me drown!”



                              CHAPTER XIII
                         _ABOARD THE BELMONIA_


As Flash watched with increasing alarm, the _Belmonia_ kept steadily to
her course. Minutes seemed an eternity. The cold water was biting into
his skin, chilling him through. An icy fear clutched at his heart.

And then, when he had abandoned all hope, he saw that a small boat was
being lowered from the steamer. He had been seen and would be picked up!

Minutes later two sailors hauled him over the side into the bottom of
the boat.

“They say there’s one born every minute,” remarked a ship’s officer
grimly. “After watching you jump from that plane, I believe it!”

“Had to get aboard some way,” grinned Flash, wriggling into a dry jacket
which a sailor offered him.

“Reporter?”

“Photographer for the _Brandale Ledger_. I aim to get some films our
paper bought from a survivor of the _Alexander_.”

“You’re lucky you weren’t drowned!”

“Guess I am at that,” Flash admitted cheerfully.

The sailors fell to rowing steadily, and in a short while the boat came
alongside the _Belmonia_.

Stepping on deck, Flash found himself confronted by Captain Sorenson, a
stern, red-faced, well-built man of sixty, whose clipped words dropped
like chips of steel. In no uncertain language he gave the bedraggled
young man to understand that he had committed an inexcusable offense in
causing the _Belmonia_ to be detained. Flash accepted the berating as
his just due, responding, “Yes, sir,” and “You are quite right, sir,”
until with a shrug of impatience, the captain took himself to the
bridge.

The first mate, a man with twinkling blue eyes, stepped forward and said
to Flash in a low tone:

“That fellow over by the railing is the one who has the films for sale.
He has bought up everything on board. I understand two other papers
besides yours have radioed him offers.”

Flash thanked the officer for the friendly tip and hastened over to
speak with the man who had been pointed out to him. He quickly
introduced himself, explaining why he had boarded the ship. As he had
feared, the passenger immediately adopted a shrewd attitude.

“Well, I don’t know about letting you have the films,” he said.

“You made a definite deal with us,” Flash reminded him.

“Sure, I know, but a man has a right to change his mind. I’ve already
been offered six hundred for the films. I’d be foolish to let them go
for less. These eight rolls are the only available pictures of the
explosion.”

“I’ll match the offer,” said Flash. “Six hundred dollars.”

“I’m holding out for seven fifty.”

“We can’t pay it,” Flash replied shortly. “We’re offering to buy your
films undeveloped. They may not be worth a dime to us when they’re
printed. We’ll be lucky if we get two or three good pictures in the
lot.”

“Seven fifty.”

“See here,” said Flash, “I risked my life to get these films, and I
don’t like to go back without them. But six hundred is our limit. Take
it or leave it.”

He was bluffing. Riley told him to pay what he must for the pictures.
But he didn’t like to be held up. And he thought, too, that he detected
signs of weakening.

“All right, the films are yours for six hundred,” the passenger agreed
suddenly. “That is, if you’re prepared to pay in cash.”

“I am.”

Flash took out the waterproof container, and to his relief found it
perfectly dry. He stripped off several crisp bills without allowing the
man to see the extent of his bank roll. In turn, he received eight rolls
of camera film which he replaced in the holder.

His most important mission accomplished, he next turned his attention to
the survivors of the _Alexander_. Every available cabin, the salons and
decks were crowded with men, women, and children, many dressed in
clothing borrowed from sailors of the _Belmonia_.

Circulating among the passengers, Flash found them more than willing to
tell of their experiences. He obtained many dramatic accounts of the
explosion, the sinking of the vessel, and the timely rescue. While the
captain of the _Alexander_ had gone down with his ship, he talked with
other surviving officers who were able to give him a list of the known
dead and missing.

Flash worked swiftly and was ready to leave the ship by the time he
sighted Dave French’s seaplane. Already long shadows had fallen over the
water. Within a short while it would be so dark that a swimmer could not
be seen on the surface of the sea. If he were to be picked up, it must
be quickly.

Approaching the mate who had seemed more friendly than the other
officers, Flash asked if he might be put off in a small boat to make
contact with the seaplane.

“Not a chance of it,” the mate told him regretfully. “You would only
waste your breath to ask Captain Sorenson. I’m afraid you’ll have to
stay aboard until we dock.”

Flash had no intention of losing the advantage he had gained. He knew
that if he could get back to Brandale ahead of the _Belmonia_, the
_Ledger_ would scoop every paper in the country with its pictures and
news story. There was only one way. He must jump overboard and trust
that Dave French would be able to pick him up.

His decision made, Flash sauntered toward the stern of the vessel. He
saw the watchful gaze of the mate upon him, but if that worthy suspected
his purpose, he gave no sign.

The drone of the seaplane grew louder, drawing many passengers to the
railing. Flash could make out the pilot and Joe Wells in the cockpit.
They waved and he returned the signal although he was far from certain
they could distinguish him from the other passengers.

Scrambling to the rail, he poised an instant. Then he leaped far out,
away from the turbulent waters which boiled about the ship. Making a
shallow dive, he came to the surface a safe distance astern.

Rolling over on his back, he saw that the seaplane had turned and was
gliding gracefully down. It settled easily upon the water, taxiing
toward him. Flash had only to wait to be hauled into the cockpit.

“Did you get the pictures?” Joe Wells demanded eagerly.

Flash nodded and offered the container. There was an anxious moment as
they examined the films, but all eight were dry.

The roar of the wind as the seaplane once more took to the air made
conversation impossible. Wrapped in Joe Wells’ coat, Flash shivered and
chattered, and drew a sigh of relief when at last the harbor was
reached. Not until then did he tell any of the details of his adventure.

“This day’s deed should win another salary increase for you, Flash,” Joe
said heartily. “But it won’t do you any good if you come down with
pneumonia!”

Flash borrowed a dry outfit, and the two photographers caught a taxi
back to the _Ledger_ building. As they burst into the newsroom, Riley,
who had remained overtime at his desk, leaped to his feet.

“We got the pictures, Chief,” Wells announced dramatically. “Or rather,
Flash did.”

“You both had your nerve disregarding my orders,” Riley chuckled. “I
want to hear all about it. But first, develop those films, and let’s see
what we have.”

Flash and Joe were the target of envious glances, from the other
photographers, as they entered the department. Shutting themselves up in
the darkroom, they decided to develop the rolls of film one at a time to
avoid any risk of scratching the negatives.

The rolls were of all sizes and length. Anxiously, Flash and Joe put the
first batch through and examined the negatives under the light. They
could make out a few blurred figures but that was all. Every picture was
so badly out of focus that it could not be used.

“Better luck on the others—maybe,” said Joe gloomily.

Another roll turned out to be over-exposed. Not until they came to the
seventh strip did they obtain a single printable picture. Even so the
films would need to be specially treated, and the subject matter was
scarcely worth the bother.

“Looks as if we’ve bought six hundred dollars worth of nothing,” Joe
muttered.

Without much hope, they developed the last roll. Almost as soon as it
was dipped into the developer fluid, the set of six pictures began to
appear.

“Boy!” Wells breathed. “Maybe we’ll get something after all!”

Carefully, they removed the shining strip from the tank. For a moment
neither of the photographers spoke. Then Wells laughed aloud, so great
was his relief.

“Beauties!” he exclaimed. “Six of them!”

While his friend finished the pictures, Flash hurried to the newsroom to
report the good fortune to Riley. The editor bade him tell the entire
story of how the films had been obtained. And a little later, when he
saw the pictures for himself, he declared that six hundred dollars had
not been too much to pay.

“Buy yourself a new suit of clothes at the _Ledger’s_ expense, Evans,”
he said heartily. “And you may find a little extra tucked in your pay
check at the end of the week.”

“Thank you,” said Flash, flushing with pleasure.

“You’ve earned it this time,” replied Riley, and his inference was
plain. “Just keep up the good work.”

Back in the photographic department, Flash received the congratulations
of the other photographers. Only Orris seemed to resent the fact that he
had been given a raise.

Later, after the extra was out, and the _Ledger_ had scored its
sensational scoop, Flash was examining a set of old films, when Joe
Wells touched his shoulder.

“Let’s jog down the street and grab something to eat,” he proposed.
“What are you doing anyway? Admiring your own work?”

Flash shook his head.

“Just looking over some of my old films. I keep speculating as to how I
streaked those fire pictures—can’t figure it out.”

“Why try?” Wells asked with a yawn.

“I don’t want the same accident to happen a second time. Mr. Riley seems
to like my work now, and I’d like to keep it that way.”

“You’re a true photographer,” Joe grinned. “Instead of basking in your
success, you worry about your failures! Probably that same mishap will
never occur again.”

“I hope not,” said Flash.

But secretly he wondered.



                              CHAPTER XIV
                          _THROUGH THE WINDOW_


On his way home from work the following afternoon, Flash stopped at the
Sam Davis Home Supply Store. The proprietor was busy with a salesman,
but as soon as he could, he invited the photographer into his private
office.

“I’m glad you dropped around,” he declared heartily. “You and your
friend ran away the other night before I had an opportunity to thank you
for saving both my life and my store.”

“You did have a rather narrow escape,” Flash acknowledged. “Has anything
new happened around here since then?”

“I haven’t had any more trouble if that’s what you mean. I figure
whoever set the fire assumes the store is being watched by the police.”

“And is that the case?”

The furniture store owner crumpled an advertising circular and tossed it
into the waste paper basket.

“No, I asked for a special guard, but they said they couldn’t give it to
me. The police force is undermanned and the commissioner lacks the
courage to fight the rackets. Either that, or he’s tied up with them!”

“I suppose it’s not easy for the police to get evidence,” remarked
Flash. “Most store owners who are approached probably pay the tribute
and keep quiet.”

“Sure,” agreed Sam Davis. “They reason that the police can’t really give
them any protection. It’s cheaper to pay a few dollars a week than to
have your store wrecked, as I very well know! Nearly always, the only
fellows caught are the agents for higher-ups.”

“And the store owners are afraid to testify against them for fear of
getting rough treatment later on.”

“That’s it,” Davis nodded grimly. “Why, I know a half dozen men who have
taken out insurance with this North Brandale Company rather than risk
having their buildings fired.”

“Can you give me a list of the persons?”

“I could,” the store man said reluctantly, “but I don’t see what good it
would do. It might only cause trouble.”

“I’ll not publish the list,” Flash promised. “You see, I thought I might
try to do a little investigation work on my own.”

“I don’t think you’ll get to first base, young man,” Sam Davis said
discouragingly. “But I’ll give you the names. Only don’t ever let on
that you got them from me.”

“I won’t,” Flash promised.

The store owner wrote several names and addresses on a sheet of paper.

“By the way,” he said, “what happened to those pictures you took of me
the night of the fire? I thought you said they were going to be printed
in the _Ledger_.”

Flash had anticipated the question.

“Oh, the paper decided not to use them,” he replied carelessly.

“You see what I mean,” Sam Davis said, nodding his head. “Anything
touching the rackets is dynamite in this town. The police are afraid to
buck them and so are the newspapers.”

“In the _Ledger’s_ case it was a matter of news value rather than
policy,” explained Flash. “I didn’t get the pictures into the editor’s
hands quickly enough.”

“Oh, I see. Well, I’m just as glad the pictures didn’t appear. I don’t
especially care about being made the target of another attack.”

Flash took the list of names. When he was outside the building, he
studied the addresses. Many of the places were close at hand. He decided
to make a few calls during the hour which remained before most business
houses would lock their doors.

His first stop was at the Globe Chain Store, but the manager, a blunt
speaking man, flatly denied he ever had heard or had dealings with any
representative of the North Brandale Insurance Company. Two additional
calls were equally unsuccessful. Although the store owners disclosed by
their manner that the company was unpleasantly familiar to them, they
had nothing to say.

With time remaining for only one more visit, Flash dropped in at the
offices of the Fenmore Warehouse. A stenographer was in the act of
covering her typewriter as he entered the reception room.

“Am I too late to see Mr. Fenmore for a moment?” Flash inquired.

“Mr. Fenmore is still in his office,” the girl replied. “But it is
closing time. I’m not certain he will see you.”

At that moment, a stout bald-headed man came out of the inner office,
hat in hand. He glanced inquiringly at Flash.

“You wished to see me?”

“Yes, I did. I’m Jimmy Evans from the _Ledger_.”

“I’m afraid I can’t see you tonight. I was just starting home.”

“I’ll come back another time,” Flash said, turning away.

“What’s it about?” Mr. Fenmore asked curiously.

“The North Brandale Insurance Company,” Flash answered. “I’m trying to
check up on the outfit—get a little evidence against them.”

Mr. Fenmore’s manner instantly changed.

“Come into the office,” he invited abruptly.

The door closed behind Flash. He dropped into a leather chair in front
of Mr. Fenmore’s desk.

“Now what do you wish to know?” the man asked him. “You say you’re a
reporter from the _Ledger_?”

“A photographer,” Flash corrected. “And this is strictly an unofficial
visit.”

He then went on to explain his interest in the recent fires which had
broken out in the business section of Brandale, mentioning that he
believed many of them to be the work of an arson ring.

“Your guess is a shrewd one, young man,” Mr. Fenmore replied grimly.
“For the past three months, an outfit which operates under the name of
the North Brandale Insurance Company has been shaking down a group of
honest business men. Those who refuse to take out fire insurance at
ridiculous rates, wake up to find their property damaged—fires,
explosions, goods ruined by stench bombs.”

“I take it you’ve been threatened, Mr. Fenmore.”

“I have. But we’ll fight!”

“What can you tell me about the company?”

“Almost nothing. They have no offices or address. The collector who came
to see me called himself J. W. Hawkins, but that means nothing. The ring
is a large one.”

“Can you describe the agent?”

“A little better than average height I would say. Blue suit. Dark hair.
A rather pleasant talking fellow.”

Flash realized that the description was worthless for it would fit a
hundred men he knew. He talked with Mr. Fenmore a few minutes longer,
and then, aware he was keeping him from his dinner, left the warehouse.

“I learned nothing new,” he reflected, “but at least I’ve found a man
who won’t be afraid to testify if ever the police round up the arson
gang.”

Flash made no progress with the investigation during the next few days.
Two small downtown fires occurred, admittedly of questionable origin,
but there was no evidence to attribute them to the work of an arson
ring. Flash tried in his spare moments to gather facts about the North
Brandale Insurance Company. He could learn nothing. Save for the fact
that a policeman had been assigned to watch the Fenmore warehouse, there
were no new developments.

As his work at the office became heavier, Flash tended to lose interest
in the fire case. Twice he was sent out to take strike pictures which
won words of approval from Riley. His week-end pay check had been
increased by another five dollars and it was evident he stood in favor.

Entering the office unexpectedly one morning, Flash overheard Fred Orris
talking with another photographer in the darkroom.

“Evans is riding high these days,” said Orris contemptuously. “He sure
has the big head and has it bad! One of these times we may see him take
a tumble.”

“And would you enjoy it!” thought Flash.

While the remark angered him, he gathered up his camera equipment and
left the office without Orris knowing he had been there. However, he
made up his mind that in the future he must be more careful than ever.
The head photographer was only waiting for an opportunity to humiliate
him and cause him to lose his job.

“Orris must have been the one who took my fire pictures, too,” he told
himself.

Not only did Flash fulfill his regular assignments, but he spent hours
of his own time thinking up ideas for special human interest pictures.
He felt encouraged when one of his shots, a character study of a sailor,
appeared in the rotogravure section of the _Ledger_.

One afternoon Flash was sent to an office building to take a picture of
an executive who had figured prominently in the news. As he stood at a
window waiting to see the man, he chanced to glance across the park. The
Tower building, a slender stone structure and the highest in Brandale,
rose twenty-two stories above the sidewalk.

Many times Flash had photographed the edifice for his own album, but
never before had he viewed the tower from this particular angle. He was
struck with the thought that he might be able to get a remarkable night
picture from the windows of one of the buildings on the south side of
the square.

“I’ll come back here tonight and try it!” he decided. “Even if the
_Ledger_ can’t use it, I’d like one for my collection.”

Flash took the required pictures of the executive, and returned to the
newspaper office. At four o’clock when he went off duty he asked Riley
for permission to use one of the _Ledger_ cameras that evening.

“Go ahead,” the editor replied. “If your picture turns out well, we may
be able to run it.”

Flash took dinner downtown. Afterwards he returned to the office,
helping himself generously to films, plates, and flash bulbs. As he was
going down the back stairs he met Old Herm.

“Special assignment?” the watchman inquired.

“No, just a little job on my own,” Flash responded.

Walking to the park, he studied the lighted tower from every angle.
Finally he decided he could get the best picture from the Brandale Hotel
building.

Entering, he requested permission to use an upstairs window. It was
immediately granted and a bellboy was sent to unlock a room for him.

Flash selected one on the twelfth floor, but upon focusing his camera,
discovered that the angle was not just what he wanted. Gazing about for
a better post, he noticed a wide decorative ledge which extended around
the outside of the building.

“I could get a dandy shot from out there,” he said.

“Better be careful if you try it,” advised the bellboy. “You’re twelve
stories up and a strong wind is blowing.”

“I’ll keep close to the building.”

Flash lowered himself to the ledge, and had the boy hand down his camera
and bag. Below him, pedestrians no larger than ants moved briskly along.
Autos with dimmed headlights made a moving pattern between the street
lamps.

After one quick glance, Flash did not look down again. He felt dizzy for
a moment but the sensation soon passed. With a steady hand, he took two
pictures.

Thinking he might get an even more interesting shot from the corner of
the building, he then moved cautiously along the wall. To reach the
place which he had in mind, it would be necessary to pass directly in
front of the hotel restaurant. Windows were open, and Flash knew that
his unexpected appearance on the ledge might startle any diner who
chanced to see him. But his only concern was for his picture.

As he edged past a window, Flash glanced curiously inside. While
darkness partially shielded him, he could see every person in the room
distinctly. His gaze focused upon a table where three men sat engrossed
in conversation.

Involuntarily, Flash stopped and stared. He was certain he did not know
the diners, yet the profile of one of the men seemed strangely familiar.
Where had he seen him before?

As he started to move on again, the man spoke to his companions. Flash
could not have heard the conversation had he tried, but the tone of
voice carried clearly. The man spoke with a slight hesitation.

“In general build that fellow looks a lot like the man I chased from Sam
Davis’ place!” Flash thought excitedly. “His manner of talking fits in
with the description, too. Just for the fun of it, I’ll find out who he
is!”



                               CHAPTER XV
                            _PUBLICITY PLUS_


Flash hastily took his final picture without attracting the attention of
diners inside the restaurant. He then crept back to the open window and
was helped through.

“Did you get what you were after?” asked the bellboy.

“I think so,” answered Flash, taking a coin from his pocket. “Thanks for
your trouble.”

The boy locked the bedroom door behind them, and they went out into the
hall.

“I notice the café is on this floor,” remarked Flash carelessly. “I
believe I’ll drop around there for a bite to eat.”

Without question the bellboy accepted his explanation and went away.
Left alone, camera strap over his shoulder, Flash drifted down the hall
to the doorway of the restaurant. Unobserved for a moment, he stood
there watching. The three men who had drawn his attention were still
seated at their table near the window.

The head waiter came over to where Flash stood, “How many in your party,
sir?”

“No party,” said Flash, tapping his camera case. “I’m just looking over
the situation.”

“Oh, a photographer,” the waiter murmured. “I suppose Mr. Hodges sent
you to take publicity pictures?”

The question gave Flash a sudden idea.

“May I set up my tripod wherever I like?” he asked.

“Yes, anywhere. Only try to keep the main aisle clear. Mr. Hodges will
expect you to focus so that our new decorations will show up to
advantage.”

Flash nodded, but actually he had no intention of wasting film upon the
new murals of the Green Room.

He followed the head waiter into the café, taking care not to glance
toward the three strangers. The room quieted down as heads turned and
all eyes focused curiously upon him. In his most professional manner,
Flash set up his tripod and trained the lens of his camera toward the
orchestra.

All the while, out of the corner of his eye, he was estimating the
distance to the window table. He saw that the three men were hurrying
through their dinners, watching him alertly. He would need to act
quickly if he obtained the picture he was after.

Suddenly pretending to change his mind, he turned the camera so that it
focused directly upon the three men.

As the shutter clicked one of the diners ducked his head. The other two
raised napkins in front of their faces. Before Flash could change
holders they arose, and with angry glances directed at him, dropped a
bill on the table and left.

His interest deepening, Flash packed his camera and followed. He reached
the corridor in time to see the three men enter the elevator. Taking to
the stairs, he raced down several flights, and there caught another
elevator which was descending.

The three men had crossed the lobby to the main entrance. Flash stood by
the cigar stand until he saw them enter a taxi. He then ran out and,
signaling the next one in line, leaped aboard.

“Follow that checkered cab ahead,” he instructed.

Sinking back against the seat, Flash recaptured his breath. While he
still was far from certain that one of the men was the same fellow he
had chased from the Davis Furniture store, he felt convinced that the
three in the cab ahead had a special fear of being photographed. And
they were well versed in the method of avoiding having their pictures
taken. His snaps would be worthless for purposes of identification.

The checkered cab weaved leisurely through downtown traffic with the
occupants apparently unaware they were being trailed. Presently the car
turned into the park, winding in and out among the curving streets, and
then duplicating its route.

“What do you think?” Flash asked his driver. “Are they wise to the fact
that we’re following?”

“Looks to me as if they’re only killing time,” the cabman answered.
“Plenty of folks do that if they have an appointment.”

“We’ll trail them for awhile longer,” Flash decided. “Drop farther
back.”

He began to watch the meter anxiously. Figures ticked up on the dial
with an alarming speed. Flash examined the money in his wallet. He had a
little over seven dollars, but it must last him to the end of the week.

“Guess you may as well let me out here,” he said at last. “This sport is
getting too expensive for me.”

The cab drew up at the curb, and the one ahead disappeared among the
trees. Flash paid his bill and started afoot through the park, intending
to return to the _Ledger_ office. Ruefully, he reflected that a sizeable
amount of his money was gone, and he had learned nothing.

“Probably my hunch was a crazy one anyway,” he thought. “A man isn’t
necessarily a crook because he doesn’t like to have his picture taken.”

As Flash drew near the park entrance, he was startled to have the same
checkered cab roll past him.

For a fleeting instant he thought that he might become the target of a
brutal attack. Then he realized the three passengers had not seen him.
Darkness and the deep shadow of an arching maple tree protected him
completely.

The checkered cab swung out of the park, turning left into the busy
business street. Immediately it picked up speed.

“It looks as if they’re really going somewhere now,” thought Flash.
“Probably they were only waiting for me to give up the chase.”

The temptation to follow once more was too great to resist. Hurrying to
the main thoroughfare, he glanced up and down for another taxi. He
sighted one drifting by on the opposite side of the street, and hailed
it.

The driver made a quick turn, pulling up beside him.

“Follow that checkered cab,” Flash ordered, slamming the door. “Keep
well back if it slows down.”

The taxi ahead did not slacken speed. On the contrary, Flash and his
driver lost sight of it several times and were hard pressed to remain in
the race. The trail led through downtown Brandale toward the waterfront.

Before many minutes the two cabs were twisting down a narrow street
which Flash recognized as the site of the Fenmore Warehouse. In passing
the darkened building, the taxi ahead slackened speed somewhat. Whether
or not this action was deliberate, he could not determine.

The car cruised past the building. Three blocks farther on, it drew up
at a street corner. Two of the men alighted, while the third passenger
rode away in the cab.

Telling his own driver to pull up farther down the street, Flash climbed
out. His funds had been whittled again, and seemingly to no purpose. He
was disgusted.

The two men had turned and were walking swiftly down the deserted
street, their backs to the photographer. As he watched, his interest
kindled. One of the men carried a small black case.

“Wonder where that came from?” he mused. “I know they didn’t have it
when they left the café. They may have picked it up from the hotel check
room.”

The two men were heading in the direction of the Fenmore Warehouse, a
significant fact which immediately registered upon Flash. Could it be
that the third member of the party had driven past the building for the
deliberate purpose of pointing it out to his companions? He had not
forgotten the threats made against Mr. Fenmore, or the man’s belief that
an attempt would be made to damage his warehouse.

Flash waited until the two men had turned the corner beyond the
warehouse, before following them. He now believed they were returning to
the building. He was certain of it when the men, after glancing
carefully about, slipped down an alley leading to the rear of the
warehouse.

“They’re up to something!” thought Flash, his pulse stepping up a pace.

He glanced about for a policeman. None was in sight. Evidently the man
assigned to guard the warehouse had been withdrawn or else had taken
himself elsewhere.

Stealthily, Flash entered the dark alley, keeping well out of the glare
of a street lamp. Crouching in the angle of a building, he watched and
waited.

The two men walked directly to a rear door of the warehouse. With no
hesitation or delay they unlocked it with a key and entered.

Flash was puzzled.

“Maybe those fellows have a right to be here,” he thought. “They act
that way. And they have a key.”

He moved closer, watching for lights to be turned on inside the
warehouse. The building remained dark. Through a dirt-caked basement
window, Flash caught the gleam of a flashlight. Instantly his suspicions
took definite form. The two men had no business in the warehouse! They
were bent upon mischief!

Turning, Flash darted back to the entrance of the alley. The street was
deserted both of cars and people. There was no sign of either a police
officer or a watchman.

“If I take time to go for help those fellows may get away!” he reasoned.
“This job is up to me!”

He returned to the rear of the warehouse. Quietly opening the door, he
listened a moment and then stepped into the dark interior.



                              CHAPTER XVI
                          _THE BASEMENT ROOM_


From the direction of the basement, Flash could hear a scraping noise as
if a large box were being dragged across the cement floor. A low murmur
of voices likewise reached him, but he was too far away to distinguish
what was being said.

Daringly, he tiptoed along the dark corridor until he came to a
stairway. He groped his way cautiously down. A board creaked beneath his
weight.

Flash paused, listening anxiously. In the stillness of the empty
warehouse the sound had seemed to his over-sensitive ears as loud as an
explosion. But when the low murmur of voices continued without
interruption, he breathed freely again.

He reached the bottom of the steps. A dim light which cast weird shadows
on the cement walls, led him toward the furnace room. Flash could hear
the voices plainly now, and understand most of what was being said.

“How about the watchman, Al? Any danger he’ll walk in on us?”

The other man laughed carelessly.

“Listen, don’t raise a sweat worrying about that. H. J. himself is
taking care of him.”

“Didn’t know the big boss ever dirtied his gloves on these jobs.”

“He doesn’t as a rule. For some reason he’s taken a special interest in
seeing that Fenmore gets his without any slip. If the old warehouse goes
up in smoke, the other boys will take warning and fall into line.”

“Speaking of slips, Al, you certainly muffed that Davis job.”

“Shut up, will you!” the other growled. “I’m sick of hearing about that!
How was I to know the old man slept by the furnace?”

Flash had reached the doorway. Peering inside he saw two men standing
with their backs toward him. From the conversation he knew that the one
who had been called Al was none other than Judd Slater, a self-termed
representative of the North Brandale Insurance Company—the same man he
had chased some nights previously.

One glance disclosed that the warehouse was being fired. The men had
connected up two electric irons which they placed in a box of excelsior.
It was a simple and effective device. The irons would slowly heat,
giving the pair ample time to make their getaway without directing
suspicion to themselves. Later, in the early hours of the morning, the
fire would break out.

Unexpectedly, Flash heard footsteps on the stairway. He held himself
rigid, listening. The two men in the furnace room likewise were aware of
the sound. Neither spoke but their attitude was one of tenseness.

From the stairway came a low whistle. Immediately the pair relaxed and
one of the men responded with a similar signal.

Flash barely had time to crouch back against a wall before a third man
passed directly in front of him to stand silhouetted in the doorway. As
the flashlight beam played full upon him for a moment, the young
photographer saw a bulky, expensively dressed man of middle age who
might have been taken for a substantial business person. The features of
his face could not be discerned, and in a minute he moved beyond view.

“If it isn’t H. J. himself!” exclaimed one of the men from the furnace
room. “You sure gave us a scare!”

“Yeah, we thought you might be the watchman!” added the other.

“Andy is well taken care of,” the newcomer said briefly. “He had a
weakness for a bottle. I left him with two. How are you doing here?”

“We’re through.”

“Let’s have a look. We can’t afford any mistakes this time.”

Flash’s mind worked with lightning-like rapidity. In another minute or
two the men would leave the warehouse and all trace of them might be
lost.

It would be foolhardy, he knew, to try to battle with three armed
assailants. True, he might steal back upstairs and lock the basement
door, but such tactics would not hold the men long. They easily could
break a basement or upstairs window and make a get-away before he could
bring help. In that event, there would be no real evidence against them.

Flash was quite sure he never could give the police a useful description
of the men. In the semi-dark basement room he was unable to obtain a
clear view of their faces. If only he dared set off a flash and take a
picture! Provided with a good photograph of the acknowledged “higher
up,” the police should be able to trace the man and perhaps break up the
entire arson ring.

“This is my big chance,” he thought tensely. “I only hope I don’t mess
it up!”

Flash knew exactly what he must do. He would take his flash gun picture
and then make a dive for the stairway.

Everything depended upon the speed with which he worked. Providing he
moved fast enough, he still could lock the men into the building. But
should they escape he would have incriminating evidence. His picture
would be useful both to the police and the _Ledger_!

Stealing back to the open doorway, Flash hastily adjusted his camera and
stood ready to set off the gun.

“Glad I tested the synchronizing mechanism this afternoon,” he thought.

His heart was pounding. He waited a moment to be certain that his hand
was perfectly steady. The slightest tremble would ruin the picture. In
another moment he had gained complete control of his nerves. Steeling
himself, he said in a loud, curt voice:

“Hands up!”

As he had anticipated, the command electrified the three men. They
whirled to face the camera.

Flash pressed the trigger. The shutter clicked and the flash went off.
He had his picture!

A gun roared heavily and a bullet whined past his head and crunched into
the wall.

Hugging his camera close against his body, Flash ducked and ran. The
beam of a flashlight followed his course and singled him out.

“Get him!” a voice snarled. “And that picture!”

Flash dodged out of the circle of light just as another bullet sang past
him.

He glanced back over his shoulder and plunged squarely against a thick
coil of rope lying in his path. Thrown off balance, he tried frantically
to keep from falling, but could not save himself.

Down he crashed on the cement. Even as he fell, Flash’s mind kept
working. He couldn’t hope to save himself now, but he might save his
picture!

Directly in front and a few feet above him was a cellar window
unprotected by grating. A reflection from an alley light made it an easy
target.

Scrambling to his feet, Flash took aim. With all his strength he hurled
the camera straight at the window.

There was a resounding crash. The camera smashed the glass and sailed
into the alley.

Flash had no chance to get away. A heavy hand grasped his coat.
Whirling, he tackled his assailant just below the knees, and they went
rolling over the floor in a threshing, writhing tangle of arms and legs.



                              CHAPTER XVII
                             _A DOOR OPENS_


The butt end of a revolver slammed against Flash’s skull. Blood trickled
down across his eyelids. His hold on his assailant’s knees loosened.

As if from a great distance he heard a harsh voice order:

“Come on! Come on! We’ve got to get out of here!”

And then Flash became aware of another sound—the opening of an upstairs
door, then footsteps treading on the landing. A powerful flashlight beam
played over the wall.

Flash felt the muzzle of a gun pressing hard into his ribs.

“Keep quiet!” he was advised in a whisper.

From above came a gruff shout: “Hallo, down there!”

Grasping the revolver muzzle in one hand and the man’s wrist in the
other, Flash gave a violent twist and shouted for help. The gun boomed
again, then clattered to the cement. The bullet, sharply deflected,
hummed through the shattered window, while Flash and his attacker groped
for the weapon.

Suddenly the basement room was flooded with light.

“Reach!” commanded a gruff voice from the door.

Flash saw the revolver lying almost at his finger tips. He grabbed it
and, swinging about, jammed it into the chest of the man who had
attacked him, pinning him to the floor.

From across the room another gun belched flame, and there was answering
fire from the doorway. Then the two men who were free made a concerted
dash for the stairs. The lights went out.

Flash heard two more shots, a grunt of pain, running feet on the
stairway, and finally the slamming of an outside door.

In a moment the light came on again. A policeman staggered into the
room. His right wrist was hanging limp, but with his other hand he
flipped a pair of steel bracelets from his pocket and snapped them on
the wrists of the man Flash guarded.

“The others got away?” the photographer gasped.

“Yeah, but I winged one of them. Who are you, kid?”

“Evans, a photographer for the _Ledger_.”

“I came near letting you have it when you reached for that gun,” said
the policeman. “Now who is this hombre?”

Tersely Flash told all that had happened, identifying the prisoner as
Judd Slater, the same man who was thought to have set the Sam Davis
fire.

“We may be able to pick up those other two a little later,” the
policeman commented. “We don’t want tough shot here to get lonesome. He
might miss his little playmates.”

He jerked the prisoner’s arm roughly and half spun him around.

“You won’t be so hard after we’ve worked on you awhile at headquarters.
We’ve softened up tougher cookies than you.”

Flash went into the adjoining room and detached the electric irons. He
then started away, being anxious to learn if the two escaping men had
gained possession of his camera and exposed film.

“Where are you going, son?” the officer demanded.

Flash explained briefly about the picture he had taken.

“All right,” nodded the policeman. “We can use that picture. Go ahead
and get it.”

Flash had reached the door when the officer called after him:

“Say, can you call up headquarters for me while I watch this fellow? My
wounded arm is quite stiff.”

“What shall I say?”

“Tell them to send the wagon. Give them a description of those two men
who got away if you can. And move fast!”

Hurrying to the street, Flash cast a quick glance about the alley. No
one was in sight. He groped for a minute beneath the shattered window.
Failing to find the camera, he was fearful that the two men had taken
it.

Wasting no more time, he ran across the street to a cigar store and
there telephoned the nearest police station. Tersely he made his report.
The desk sergeant assured him the wagon would reach the warehouse within
five minutes, while the district would be bottles up in an attempt to
capture the wounded man and his companion.

Returning to the warehouse, Flash resumed his search for the missing
camera although he had scant hope of finding it. He struck a match. By
its flare he saw the battered case lying against a wall on the opposite
side of the alley. It surprised him that he had been able to hurl it so
far.

He snatched up the camera. The film holder was still there, and
seemingly in good condition.

“Boy! I hope I’ve got something!” he purred to himself.

Tucking the camera under his arm, he hastened back to the basement.

“I phoned headquarters,” he told the policeman. “The wagon will be here
in a minute or two.”

“Good! I see you found your camera.”

“It doesn’t look to be very much damaged. And the plate holder is okay!”

“That’s fine,” said the policeman. “If you snapped those two missing
fellows we ought to run them in without much trouble. You ride along to
headquarters with me.”

“But I took the picture for my newspaper,” Flash protested. “After all,
I’m working for the _Ledger_, not the city.”

“So what?”

“This is a big story. I want to get my film to the paper right away. It
will mean a lot to me, officer.”

“But not half as much as it will to the law, son. You’ll have to come
along.”

Flash was taken back by this development. His film might be tied up for
hours or even days by the police. Yes, there would be a big story in the
_Ledger_ about the arson plot, but it looked very much as if it would
not be illustrated by any art from Flash Evans’ camera.

Then he thought of a plan.

“Listen,” he pleaded, “why not let me take the film to the _Ledger_
office? I’ll have the picture developed and printed before they even
know I’ve taken one at headquarters. I’ll run off some extra prints and
you can send a man to pick them up. That way, we both win.”

The officer grinned good-naturedly.

“Maybe I shouldn’t do it,” he said, “but I will. You run along and I’ll
have a man over there in thirty minutes.”

No taxi cab was in sight as Flash reached the street. He ran three
blocks and finally hailed one.

“Drop me off at the rear entrance of the _Ledger_,” he ordered the
driver.

He leaped out as the cab presently stopped. Tossing a handful of change
into the driver’s hand, he ran into the building. In the doorway he
collided full tilt with Old Herm.

“Hi, young man, where’s the fire?”

“Big story!” Flash returned as he pressed the elevator button. “I have a
corking picture! If only it turns out—and I think it will! Say, has that
fellow gone to sleep?”

Unwilling to wait for the cage to descend, he took the stairs two at a
time.

Pausing in the news room only long enough to tell the night editor what
he had, Flash went on down the corridor to the photography department.
He knew he had stirred up plenty of excitement behind him. The arson
story was important and ought to be given a prominent play on page one.
If the police should capture the two missing men, especially the
mysterious ‘H. J.’ who seemed to be the brains of the ring, it would
mean the biggest picture break since he had started work on the
_Ledger_!

“I hope the film is okay,” he thought uneasily. “A lot depends on it.”

Into Flash’s mind came a dread which he could not have expressed in
words. It was exactly as if he had received an intuitive warning. He had
lost several big pictures, seemingly through no fault of his own.
Something might happen this time.

“I’ll not take any chances,” he told himself. “Until my picture is out
of the darkroom and actually in the hands of the editor, I’ll stay with
it! There will be no slip-up.”

The photographic department was dark and deserted. Flash did not bother
to turn on the lights. Entering the darkroom, he closed the door.

Unwilling to take any chance by using old developer or hypo, he mixed
fresh chemicals before switching on the green light and removing his
precious film from the holder.

Carefully, to avoid the slightest scratch, he lowered it into the tank
and kept the water moving. In an agony of hope and suspense he watched
as a faint image began to appear on the negative. He had something, but
would it turn out to be only a blur?

“Coming up clear and fast!” he exulted, a moment later. “It’s going to
be a beaut!”

The faces of the three men all had been turned squarely toward the
camera. And the focus was perfect.

Flash watched the film closely, removing it from the developer at
exactly the right instant. He saw it through the hypo tank, and gave it
a longer washing than usual.

“A perfect negative!” he congratulated himself in a glow of pride. “Not
a streak or a scratch! Won’t even need to touch it up.”

While the film was drying Flash developed the picture he had taken in
the restaurant. For purposes of identification it was worthless, but he
did not need it now. His picture taken in the basement of the Fenmore
warehouse should be sufficient to tag the three men.

As an afterthought, Flash decided to develop the negatives of the Tower
building. They turned out surprisingly well.

“This seems to be my big night,” he chuckled.

Nevertheless, the fine shots, which an hour before would have thrilled
him, now brought only a mild feeling of pleasure. From an artistic
standpoint the pictures could not be improved, but they lacked news
value. The arson shot was the one which would ring the bell with Riley
and Dan Dewey. And it might bring about the capture of the wanted men.

Behind Flash a latch clicked ever so softly. Deeply engrossed in his
work, the young photographer failed to hear the sound. Nor did he notice
that the door had opened a tiny crack, for the photographic department
was as dark as the room in which he stood.

Oblivious of danger, he bent over the tanks, shifting his film to the
water. His head throbbed from the cut he had received. But until this
moment he scarcely had been aware of any discomfort. Now that his work
was finished, he thought he would bathe the wound and clean himself up a
bit.

Behind him, a board creaked. Every muscle taut, Flash whirled to see a
dark figure looming in the doorway.

“Who is it?” he demanded sharply. “That you, Wells?”

There was no answer, but the man lunged at him. Flash threw up his hands
to ward off the blow. He acted an instant too late. A heavy, blunt
object crashed down on his head.

With a low moan of pain he sagged to the floor and knew no more.



                             CHAPTER XVIII
                              _SUSPICION_


Flash opened his eyes to the glare of an unshaded electric light.
Someone was sponging his head with a damp cloth. Struggling to a sitting
posture, he brushed the back of his hand against his throbbing head.

“My pictures!”

“Take it easy,” cautioned a quiet voice.

The whirling room righted itself before his eyes, and Flash saw Joe
Wells kneeling on the floor beside him. He was still in the darkroom but
the overhead light had been turned on.

“What hit me?” he mumbled. “It wasn’t you, Joe?”

“Hardly. I came in here a minute ago and found you out cold. Looks to me
as if you’ve been slugged with a blackjack!”

Aided by the photographer, Flash struggled unsteadily to his feet.

“That’s a nasty wound on your forehead,” Wells said anxiously. “What
happened?”

“Someone attacked me in the dark,” Flash returned briefly. “But the cut
came from another fight.”

Staggering to the film drier, he took one glance and groaned.

“I knew it! They’re gone!”

“Pictures you were developing?”

Flash felt actually sick. He sagged into a chair, staring at the wall.

“Snap out of it, kid,” Joe advised kindly. “Tell me what it’s all about
and maybe I can help you.”

Flash shook his head.

“Thanks, Joe, but no one ever will be able to get that picture back. The
fellow who slugged me must have come here with the deliberate purpose of
stealing it!”

“What picture are you talking about?”

Flash related in a halting voice everything which had occurred that
evening. The older photographer listened with growing astonishment.

“You’re both the luckiest and unluckiest chap I ever met!” he exclaimed.
“To think of losing a picture like that!”

“It wasn’t bad luck,” Flash said shortly.

“What do you call it?”

“Someone has been laying for me ever since I started work at the
_Ledger_!”

“A number of queer things have happened to your pictures,” Wells replied
mildly. “It may have been accidental—”

“And do you call this an accident tonight?” Flash demanded.

“No, I’m satisfied you didn’t slug yourself,” Wells responded,
unruffled. “But I fail to see that the theft of your picture has
anything to do with those other mishaps.”

“I figured something like this might happen, Joe. I was especially
cautious. Mixed fresh chemicals. Stayed with my pictures every minute.
What I didn’t expect was a personal attack!”

“You think someone who works in the building did the trick?”

“Yes, I do!”

“Maybe you’re right,” Wells said, “but I doubt it. How many persons knew
you had the picture?”

“Not many. Old Herm. And I spread the news in the other room.”

“How about those two members of the arson gang who made their get-away?
They knew you had the picture?”

“Naturally. They nearly did me in for taking it! If the sound of gunfire
hadn’t brought a policeman, they probably would have finished me.”

“All right, those birds knew you had the picture. And they reasoned that
if the police ever saw it, their capture would be certain. So they
waylaid you here—”

“Hold on,” interrupted Flash, “they didn’t know I was a newspaper
photographer or that I worked at the _Ledger_.”

“Couldn’t you have been followed here?”

“Yes,” Flash admitted reluctantly, “but I doubt if I was. Those fellows
knew the police would be on their trail in a very short while. They were
hard pressed to get away.”

“You didn’t see the man who struck you, I suppose?”

“Only an indistinct outline. Funny thing, for a minute I thought it was
you.”

Wells glanced hard at Flash.

“That doesn’t sound very funny to me,” he said. “So you think I did it?”

“No, of course not,” Flash denied, smiling. “But the man did seem about
your height. Wonder how long I was knocked out?”

Joe Wells looked at his watch.

“It’s eleven forty-five now.”

“Then I couldn’t have been unconscious very many minutes before you
reached me. Joe, you didn’t see anyone around here, did you?”

Wells hesitated and then answered: “Only members of the regular staff.”

Flash rose to his feet and went over to examine the water tank. He
swirled his hand deep into it without finding a film rack.

“My Tower pictures are gone, too,” he announced. “Not that I care about
them. Whoever the fellow was, he made a clean sweep of everything. And
look at that!”

Flash pointed to a tiny puddle of water beneath the tank which obviously
had been made when the films were removed. A line of drops led through
the doorway of the darkroom to the outside hall.

The two photographers followed the trail a few steps toward the back
stairway, and then lost it.

“Let’s ask Old Herm and the elevator man if they’ve seen anyone leaving
the building,” Wells proposed.

“All right,” Flash agreed. “But it won’t do any good.”

The passenger elevator did not operate after eleven o’clock. They
located the man who handled the freight cage. He told them he had seen
no strangers in the building during the past hour.

“Who has come down in the last ten minutes?” Flash inquired.

“No one—that is, not in the elevator. I saw a photographer take the
stairway. He rung for me and then didn’t wait.”

“A photographer!” Flash exclaimed. “Who do you mean?”

“I don’t know his last name. I’ve heard him called Fred.”

“Fred Orris!” Flash completed, and his voice was hard.

“Now don’t jump to conclusions,” Wells broke in quickly. “I was talking
to Orris myself as I came into the building.”

“You didn’t tell me.”

“No. I know how you feel about him, but you’re wrong this time.”

Flash turned and entered the elevator. “Third floor,” he said briefly.

Wells followed him into the cage. “Where’s Herm?” he asked the elevator
man.

“Haven’t seen him,” was the reply. “He’s probably around somewhere
punchin’ bells. I wish I had a soft job like that.”

“Let’s see if we can find Old Herm,” Wells suggested, turning to Flash.

“No use. I think I’ll get my hat and go home.”

Wells did not speak until the two had been let off at the third floor.

“I know what you’re thinking, Flash,” he said. “But you have Orris all
wrong. He’s surly, and there’s no denying he’s been unpleasant to you,
but he’s not the type to hit a man with a blackjack or steal films!”

“Did I accuse him?” countered Flash.

“No, not in words.”

“Let’s skip it, then. The pictures are gone, and that’s all that counts.
I’ll have some fancy explaining to do, especially to the police.”

Flash was irritated because his friend deliberately had withheld
information from him. But he felt duly grateful when Wells went with him
to the night editor, supporting his story as to what had happened in the
darkroom.

The ordeal, while embarrassing, was not as hard a one as he had
anticipated. Although disappointment over the loss of the picture was
keen, Wells’ theory that Flash had been attacked by a member of the
arson ring, received credence. And he could not be blamed for having
fallen down upon an assignment since the work had been extra.

It was not so easy to explain to the police officer who came later for
the promised picture. Flash was given to understand that he had thwarted
justice, and that the policeman who had permitted him to keep the film
very likely would be reprimanded. He was asked a number of sharp
questions. At first, the officer seemed rather suspicious, and after
that, plainly disgusted.

“Your picture would have been of great value to us,” he told Flash
curtly. “Both of the men escaped.”

“How about the man you did capture? Won’t he talk?”

“He hasn’t yet.”

“There was a building watchman who saw one of the men—”

“Andy Simpson,” the officer supplied. “We haven’t been able to locate
him yet. What can you tell me about those two fellows?”

“Not very much,” Flash confessed. “I only gained a general impression.
The film was a dandy, though. If I had that—”

“Would you be able to identify either of the men from another picture?”
the officer cut in.

“I doubt it,” Flash admitted lamely. “I never was very good at noticing
details.”

He described the men as best he could and then the policeman said
abruptly:

“Let’s have a look at the darkroom where you were attacked.”

Flash opened the door and switched on the lights.

The policeman glanced about with the unhurried gaze of one who neglected
no details, and photographed it indelibly in his mind.

“Anyone been in here since you were struck?” he questioned.

“Joe Wells and the night editor. Possibly a few of the reporters.”

The officer stooped and picked up an object lying on the floor. It was a
door key.

“Yours?” he asked, showing it to Flash.

“Why, no!”

“But you recognize it?”

“Well, it looks like one of the keys from Old Herm’s ring.”

“Old Herm?”

“The night watchman.”

“Comes in here often, does he?”

“Once in awhile, I suppose.”

“Let’s have a talk with the fellow,” the officer said. “What can you
tell me about him?”

“He’s rather queer, but harmless,” answered Flash. “It couldn’t have
been Old Herm who struck me.”

Even as he spoke, the thought assailed him that actually he knew almost
nothing about the watchman.

“Maybe not,” commented the policeman dryly, “but in this business you
learn not to have any set ideas about the guilty fellow. Give the
evidence a chance to speak for itself!”



                              CHAPTER XIX
                              _A LOST KEY_


Flash silently followed the officer down the hallway to the elevator.
The pointed remark about not having set ideas struck home, making him
suddenly conscious that his attitude had been anything but unbiased.
Hadn’t he been so certain Fred Orris was responsible for the theft that
he refused to consider any other possibility?

Now that he reflected, he realized that the watchman had seemed
unusually interested in his work. As he thought back, it came to him
that when they had been together, he usually was the one to do most of
the talking. Old Herm asked many questions and supplied few answers.

“But it couldn’t have been Herm,” he repeated to himself. “He’s only a
foolish old cod, and he’s always seemed to like me.”

They presently located the watchman on the fifth floor. As Old Herm saw
the police officer striding toward him, he started perceptibly.

“Lookin’ for me?” he inquired uneasily.

“You are the night watchman here?” asked the policeman, gazing steadily
at him.

“That’s right. Anything the matter?”

“Nothing to be skittish about,” the officer said. “All we want is to see
how good you are at answering questions.”

“Answerin’ questions!” the old fellow echoed timidly. “I ain’t done
nothin’, sir.”

“You were in the building at eleven-thirty tonight?”

“Oh, yes, sir,” Old Herm replied. “I’m always here then. It’s my job.”

“What part of the building?”

“On the sixth floor, sir. I punch a clock there every night at
eleven-thirty.”

“And you punched it tonight?”

“Oh, yes, sir. I’ve never missed in five years.”

“Any one see you do it?”

“Maybe so and maybe not so,” Old Herm answered vaguely. “If anyone saw
me, I didn’t see them.”

While the old fellow’s voice and face was innocence itself, it seemed
rather strange to Flash that he did not ask the officer why he was being
questioned. It was barely possible, he thought, that Old Herm knew the
reason, yet the chances were against his having talked with anyone about
the theft and attack.

The officer studied the watchman for a moment. Then he took the key
which had been found in the darkroom and held it before Old Herm’s eyes.

“Ever see that before?”

“Why, ah, yes, I have,” the watchman stammered.

“Yours isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Old Herm admitted readily, “it’s the key to the janitor’s supply
room in the basement.”

“We didn’t find it in the basement. We picked it up in the photography
department. Have you been in there tonight?”

“Yes, sir, I was. I drop in there on my rounds when the door’s open. You
see, the photographers are careless about letting faucets run. It’s no
fun mopping up after ’em.”

“At what hour were you there tonight?”

“Just a bit after 10:30. That’s when I ring the time clock in the
department.”

So far, Old Herm’s account of his whereabouts left no ground for
suspicion. Flash recalled that at ten-thirty he had not yet reached the
_Ledger_ Building. According to the clock in the window of the
advertising department, it had been eleven-twenty when he arrived and
met the watchman in the lower vestibule. Evidently the old fellow had
gone directly to the sixth floor to ring the eleven-thirty time bell.

“The record will show whether or not he did,” Flash thought. “If he’s
telling the truth, he couldn’t have been the person who attacked me.
With his bad leg it would have taken him at least five minutes to get
from the sixth floor to the photographic department. And it was only
eleven-forty when Joe Wells found me lying unconscious.”

“You’ve been around here quite awhile, haven’t you?” the policeman was
asking Old Herm.

“Nigh onto ten years now. And it’s been a mighty tedious life, a dreary
existence—walkin’ to the third floor, walkin’ to the fifth floor,
walkin’ to the basement, ringin’ the rounds registers, lookin’ for
burglars that ain’t there. No, sir, in all my years I never scared up an
intruder—not one! And me a brave man able to take care of myself.”

A light of childish bravado shone in Old Herm’s eyes, and the officer
directed a covert wink at Flash.

“Suppose we check on that time register,” he said.

“Yes, sir,” Old Herm mumbled. “Just come with me.”

He led Flash and the policeman to the sixth floor. The register, which
was located in the front part of the building, gave conclusive proof
that it had been punched at the hour Old Herm claimed.

“You see, it’s just like I told you,” the watchman declared. “I don’t
know what this is all about, but I been tendin’ strictly to my work all
evening. And I ain’t seen no one in the building except those that have
a right to be here.”

“It probably was an inside job,” the officer commented, dropping the
lost key into the watchman’s hand.

“Was something stole?” Old Herm asked anxiously.

“A film from the photography department,” responded the policeman
briefly.

“An important one,” added Flash. “I had just finished developing it when
someone slugged me on the head.”

“Shoo, you don’t say!” Old Herm muttered. “That’s bad. Nasty lookin’
cut, too. Will it get you into trouble, losin’ your picture?”

“It won’t do me any good,” Flash returned.

Turning, he followed the police officer down the hall, leaving the old
watchman to stare after them.

When they were beyond earshot, Flash said: “You were satisfied with his
story?”

“Oh sure,” replied the policeman carelessly. “You were right. He’s only
a foolish old fellow. No motive for the crime.”

“For that matter, what reason would anyone in the building have for
doing such a trick? A personal grudge against me?”

“Might have been. I’m satisfied it was an inside job and not the work of
any of the arson gang.”

After the officer had gone, Flash returned to the darkroom for his hat.
As he passed through the news room a moment later, the editor stopped
him at the desk.

“Here’s something that may interest you,” he said, thrusting a sheet of
copy paper into Flash’s hand. “One of our reporters just brought it in.
About ten minutes ago an old man named Andy Simpson was run over by an
automobile and killed.”

“Andy Simpson!” Flash exclaimed. “Not the watchman at the Fenmore
warehouse!”

“Same fellow.”

“Run over deliberately?”

“No. It appears he was dazed or had been drinking too much. Anyway,
according to the story of the motorist, he ignored the traffic lights
and walked straight into the path of the car.”

“Andy Simpson was the one person who could have thrown new light on the
arson case,” Flash muttered. “He met ‘H. J.,’ the man who is supposed to
be the brains of the arson gang. Now the police never will be able to
get a description.”

He read the brief item through and handed it back to the editor. Never
had he felt more discouraged. With Andy Simpson dead, his missing
picture was of greater importance than ever. But it was definitely gone.
He never would see it again.

While no word of blame was spoken, Flash saw several reporters glancing
at him with a peculiar expression. By morning everyone on the _Ledger_
would have heard the story.

“I’m getting a record for failures,” he thought as he made his way to
the street. “Unless I can figure out who is at the bottom of tonight’s
attack, things may keep on happening.”

The previous mishaps, while personally humiliating, had not been so
serious. But now, with Andy Simpson dead, the loss of the picture
undoubtedly meant that the higher-ups in the arson ring never would be
brought to trial.

As the bus rolled along the deserted neighborhood street, Flash turned
over in his mind every possible person who might have been responsible
for the vicious attack. Aside from members of the arson ring, Fred Orris
and Old Herm seemed the most likely suspects. The watchman had a perfect
alibi, so that left only the head photographer.

“There’s Luke Frowein of the _Globe_,” Flash mused. “He would enjoy
seeing me lose my job. But he couldn’t have known about the warehouse
affair.”

A light was burning in the Evans cottage as the bus drew up a short
distance away. Flash walked rapidly, realizing that his mother must be
waiting up for him.

Hearing his step on the front porch, she opened the door.

“You shouldn’t have waited up, Mother,” he protested.

“Jimmy!” she exclaimed in horror. “Your forehead! You’ve been in an
accident!”

“It’s nothing.”

Despite his protests, she hastened to the medicine cabinet for iodine
and adhesive tape. As she bathed and bandaged the wound, she drew from
Flash an account of what had occurred.

He ended by saying: “This was extra work I was doing tonight, so I’ll
not be fired. But I figure it’s bound to come before many weeks. Someone
is out to get my job!”

“I almost wish you would lose it,” Mrs. Evans shuddered. “Since you
started work at the _Ledger_, I’ve not had an easy moment. I’m so afraid
something dreadful will happen to you. If only you hadn’t become mixed
up in this arson affair!”

“I had a close call tonight,” Flash admitted. “But the same thing isn’t
likely to happen twice. What makes me sore is that by losing the
picture, I’ve fixed it so the real head of the arson gang never will be
captured.”

“It wasn’t your fault.”

“Maybe not, but the result is the same. I muffed a wonderful opportunity
to round up those men, get a scoop for the _Ledger_, and at the same
time make a name for myself.”

“Things have been running against you,” his mother murmured
sympathetically, “but it can’t continue that way indefinitely.”

“It can, unless I do some tall thinking,” he replied grimly. “Someone in
the office has been after my job from the day I started work there!”

“You’re alluding to that man, Fred Orris?” his mother asked in a quiet
voice.

“I’ve heard he has someone in mind for my job. But I don’t know whom I
suspect. The thing has me completely baffled.”

“From what you’ve told me of Mr. Orris, it scarcely seems to me he would
be the type of man to resort to a brutal attack. If I were you, I should
be very careful about accusing anyone.”

“Oh, I know better than to do that,” Flash promised gravely. “But from
now on, I’m trusting no one! And I may think of some scheme to trap that
fellow, whoever he is!”



                               CHAPTER XX
                           _OUT OF THE PAST_


Flash awoke the next morning to find himself clawing the bed clothing
and fighting for breath. He had been dreaming that he was locked in a
death struggle with a masked man who had attacked him in a dark alley.

“Wow! What a nightmare!” he gasped. “Worse than the real thing!”

He became aware that someone was rapping on the bedroom door.

“Wake up, Jimmy!” his mother called. “It’s almost seven!”

His feet struck the floor. “Be right up,” he answered. “I didn’t hear
the alarm go off.”

Dressing hurriedly, he snatched a cup of coffee, and raced out the front
door just as his bus came into view. He barely reached it, swinging
aboard a moment before the door slammed shut. Flash dropped a dime into
the coin box and sagged into an empty seat beside an elderly
white-haired gentleman with a cane.

“You catch a bus the same way your father always did,” chuckled his
companion. “He never was a man to waste any time waiting, either.”

Startled, Flash glanced quickly at the elderly man. He was certain he
had never seen him anywhere before.

“You knew my father?” he inquired in astonishment.

“Jimmy Evans, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Thought so,” the man nodded. “Yes, I knew your father years ago when we
worked together on the _Post_. You’re the spittin’ image of him, and you
have the same mannerisms. When you swung on that bus, I said to myself,
‘that spry young fellow is Evans’ son.’ My name is Thomas Brown.”

“I’m glad to meet you, sir,” Flash responded heartily. “I guess you know
my father died several years ago.”

“Yes, I saw a notice in the paper.” The man nodded sadly. “It hit me
hard when I heard about it. I thought a lot of your father. Working on a
paper yourself?”

“The _Ledger_. But I don’t know how long I’ll last,” Flash admitted with
a grin. “I’m new there and I’ve run into a little trouble.”

“There’s always plenty of it waiting to pounce on a man these days,” Mr.
Brown said philosophically. “Well, don’t let it get you down.”

“I don’t aim to run up the white flag yet. I’m in for the duration of
the war.”

“That’s the spirit,” the old man approved. “I remember once when I
thought I was licked. Your father pulled me out of that jam, and I’ve
always been grateful.”

“Tell me about it, sir,” urged Flash.

“It’s not much of a story. I worked in the cashier’s office at the
_Post_. From time to time we kept missing small amounts of money. The
blame fell on me and I was about to be discharged.

“But your father didn’t agree with the other higher-ups that I was the
guilty person. He took it upon himself to do a little investigating of
his own.”

“With the result that you were cleared?” Flash questioned.

“Yes, it turned out that a new employee, a young fellow named Ronne, had
been taking the money. He was real clever at it, but not smart enough to
fool your father.”

“Did you say Ronne?” Flash asked in a startled voice.

“Yes, his name was Dick Ronne. He would be a middle-aged man by this
time. Never did hear what became of him after he was discharged.”

The old man pressed a signal bell, and Flash arose to let him out of the
seat.

“Well, glad to have met you,” Mr. Brown murmured. “Don’t let that
trouble, whatever it is, get the best of you. Your father would have
licked it!”

“Thank you, sir,” smiled Flash. “You’ve given me something to think
about.”

And it was true, although not exactly in the way that Mr. Brown
understood. The conversation had suggested to the young photographer a
most startling possibility.

Old Herm’s last name was Ronne, and Ronne by no means was a common name.
Flash recalled that Joe Wells had mentioned something about the watchman
having had a son who was no longer living. Could it be that Dick Ronne,
the person his father had caused to be discharged years before, was Old
Herm’s son?

“First chance I get I’m going to ask Joe more about it,” he told
himself.

So deeply was Flash absorbed in his thoughts that the bus went past his
stop before he was aware of it. Jumping off at the next corner he walked
hurriedly back to the _Ledger_ building. He was five minutes late for
work.

Fred Orris, hat pushed back on his head, was repairing the bellows of a
camera as Flash entered the photography department. He made no direct
comment upon the arson story or what had occurred in the darkroom the
previous night. Instead he said sharply:

“You’re fifteen minutes late, Evans.”

“Five,” corrected Flash. “This clock is fast.”

“Get over to the courthouse and shoot some pictures of the Fulton murder
trial. And bring them back, too. Remember, we want pictures, not
adventure stories!”

A glint of anger flamed in Flash’s eyes. He went over to the locked case
for his camera and equipment, deliberately taking his time.

“Orris,” he said coolly, “the elevator man tells me you were in the
building last night between eleven and eleven-thirty.”

“So what?”

“Maybe you didn’t hear what happened to me in the darkroom last night.”

“Listen,” Orris flared, “are you trying to intimate that I had anything
to do with it?”

“I’m just checking up. Thought you might have noticed someone hanging
around the halls.”

“Well, I didn’t,” the photographer answered shortly. “What’s more, I was
here on legitimate business. I came back to leave a memorandum on Dan
Dewey’s desk.”

Flash made no answer. He slipped the camera strap over his shoulder and
went out the door. All morning he was kept busy at the courthouse,
shooting pictures of witnesses, prosecutor, judge, jury and defense
attorneys. He had no time to think of his own problem, for he was
compelled to be constantly alert lest he miss an opportunity to
photograph an unusual facial expression. The break he awaited came when
the defendant lost control of himself for a moment and became consumed
with rage.

Some of his pictures Flash had sent back to the _Ledger_ by messenger.
He carried the remaining holders with him, and upon developing them,
took the precaution of locking himself into the darkroom.

His work completed without mishap, he dropped across the street for a
belated lunch. On the stool next to him sat a _Ledger_ reporter who
covered the police and fire departments.

“Anything new on the arson case?” Flash inquired.

The reporter shook his head.

“That fellow Slater refuses to talk. And if the police have found any
evidence against the so-called North Brandale Insurance Company they’re
not giving it out. Too bad that picture you took last night was stolen.
They say it might have cleared up the case.”

Flash nodded gloomily.

“It was a dandy picture. And one of the men was supposed to be the
brains of the outfit. ‘H. J.’ they called him.”

“Police haven’t any idea who broke into the darkroom and cracked you?”

“No. They thought it must have been an inside job. They didn’t even take
fingerprints because so many persons had smeared around the place.”

“Too bad,” the reporter remarked again, and devoted himself to his bowl
of chile.

Flash had not forgotten his talk with old Mr. Brown. At the first
opportunity upon his return to the office he sought Joe Wells and
quietly questioned him about Old Herm.

“I’ve told you all I know,” the photographer insisted. “Why this sudden
interest? You surely don’t think poor Old Herm sneaked in here last
night and blackjacked you?”

“I haven’t any definite theory,” Flash replied evasively.

“Well, don’t get ideas about Old Herm. He’s simple minded, but hardly a
criminal. Why, the fellow has a crippled leg—”

“Just the same, he could have done it. He’s strong as an ox.”

“You’re almost as goofy as Old Herm,” Wells scoffed. “First you think
Orris did it, and next you blame the watchman. Maybe it was Riley!”

“I’m not accusing anyone,” Flash defended himself. “All I’m doing is
trying to check every angle and keep an open mind.”

“Doesn’t sound very open to me. I’ll grant you some mighty queer things
have been going on here, though. I’m getting the creeps myself when I
close myself into the darkroom.”

“The next time our mysterious visitor pays a call he may not be so
gentle in his methods,” replied Flash. “We ought to get him before he
gets us!”

“Why not make Colt 45’s standard equipment for all _Ledger_
photographers,” Wells said jokingly. “We could have target practice out
in the auto lot.”

“You wouldn’t be laughing so hard if you had been the one to get
cracked,” Flash retorted. “Tell me something. What was the name of Old
Herm’s son?”

“Never heard it. Why don’t you ask him?”

“That’s an idea,” said Flash. “Maybe I will.”

Since the watchman did not come on duty until after the day workers had
left the building, it meant that to talk with the old fellow he must
make a special trip back to the _Ledger_. Flash decided it might be well
worth his trouble.

Accordingly, he remained downtown that evening. After attending a movie
he returned to the nearly deserted building. Locating Old Herm on the
third floor, Flash pretended to run into him by accident.

“Workin’ late again?” the watchman inquired, pausing in surprise.

“No, just dropped in for a minute. I see they keep you busy.”

“I’m at it without a let-up,” the old man sighed. “Since the darkroom
was busted into, the building superintendent clamped down on me
hard—said I wasn’t payin’ attention to my duties. ‘You jest follow me
around for a night,’ I says to him.”

Herm rambled on for several minutes, but presently Flash deftly switched
the subject. After talking about the past he casually asked the old
fellow the name of his son.

“It was Richard,” Herm answered and a different expression came over his
wrinkled face. “My boy died when he was only twenty. Four years older
than you be. They crucified him! They killed him!”

“Whom do you mean?” Flash questioned in a puzzled voice.

But old Herm did not answer. Tears rolled down his withered cheeks.
Turning his back upon Flash, he hobbled painfully away.



                              CHAPTER XXI
                          _FLASH INVESTIGATES_


With mingled feelings of sympathy and misgiving, Flash watched the old
man depart. He felt sorry for the watchman who obviously still brooded
over the death of his son.

From the conversation he had gleaned one fact of importance. Old Herm’s
son had been named Richard, which tended to make him believe that the
boy could have been the same one Mr. Brown mentioned. Then, too, weeks
before, the watchman had said that he had known Flash’s father. It was
something to think about.

Returning home, Flash found his mother locking up the house for the
night.

“Sorry to be so late,” he apologized. “I waited at the office to talk
with Old Herm who doesn’t come on duty until evening.”

“You seem to have taken a deep liking to that old watchman,” his mother
commented with a smile.

“Not exactly a liking,” Flash corrected. “Herm is an interesting
character. By the way, Mother, did you ever hear Father speak of an
employee at the _Post_ named Ronne?”

“Ronne?” she repeated thoughtfully. “The name sounds familiar. Oh, yes,
I remember, because of the trouble it caused your father. There was a
young man employed at the _Post_, who was discharged for stealing
funds.”

“Not Richard or Dick Ronne?”

“I’m not certain, but I believe that was his first name.”

“Was it Father’s fault he was discharged?”

“He was the one who discovered the theft, I believe. Another employee
had been blamed.”

“Thomas Brown.”

“Why, yes,” Mrs. Evans acknowledged in surprise. “But how did you know,
Jimmy? I don’t recall ever having mentioned it before.”

Flash explained that he had fallen into conversation with the old man on
the bus. However, he did not worry his mother by revealing why he was so
eager for additional information.

“Did you ever hear what became of Dick Ronne after he was discharged
from the _Post_?” he questioned. “Was he sent to jail?”

“No, your father persuaded the owner of the paper to take a lenient
attitude. Later he was glad that he did for the boy died. It was an
unfortunate case.”

“What caused the boy’s death, Mother?”

“I can’t tell you that because I never was particularly interested. I
remember your father went to see him at the hospital, and for his
kindness received a bitter tongue lashing from the boy’s father.”

“You never saw the man yourself, I suppose?”

“Dick Ronne’s father? No, nor the boy either. But why are you so
interested, Jimmy?”

“Well, I thought Old Herm Ronne might have been the boy’s father. He had
a son by that name who died, and he knew Dad.”

“Dear me,” murmured Mrs. Evans, frowning. “And the old fellow works in
your building?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Flash said quickly. “He’s always been very
friendly. I rarely ever see him.”

Dismissing the subject, he locked the remaining doors for his mother,
and followed her up the stairway.

“I want to get up early in the morning,” he said carelessly. “If my
alarm doesn’t go off at five be sure to wake me.”

“Five!” his mother gasped. “My, but you are ambitious!”

Flash did not tell her what he had in mind. He had decided to try to
learn more about Old Herm, his habits, and where he lived. If his plan
came to nothing, no one need ever know that he had regarded the watchman
with suspicion.

Even before the alarm went off at five o’clock, Flash was awake. He
dressed quietly, and brewing himself a strong cup of coffee, caught a
bus going downtown.

Timing himself, he drew near the rear entrance of the _Ledger_ building
at exactly six o’clock, the hour Old Herm went off duty. He stepped into
the loading dock where Jeff, a colored boy, was polishing a car.

“Lookin’ for someone, suh?” the lad asked.

“Has Old Herm come out yet?”

“Ain’t seen him.”

Flash loitered where he could watch the rear door. Within a few minutes
men from the night shift began to trickle out in twos and threes. Old
Herm was one of the last. The watchman did not glance toward the loading
dock. With a tin lunch pail swinging from his arm, he started off down
the street.

Waiting until the old man was some distance away, Flash followed. It was
the first time in his life that he had deliberately set himself the task
of trailing an acquaintance, and he felt somewhat ridiculous.

Old Herm, unaware that he was being observed, walked several blocks, and
entered a restaurant which specialized in twenty-five cent plate
lunches. Flash crossed the street and spent nearly half an hour waiting
for the watchman to come out again.

“This was a crazy idea anyhow,” he thought. “Herm may not go to his home
for hours. And I’m due to show up for work at eight.”

Just at that moment the watchman came out of the café. Flash turned his
back quickly, pretending to gaze into a store window. The old man did
not see him.

Again Old Herm started off at a leisurely pace, walking toward the
waterfront. Flash correctly guessed that he was heading for a cheap
rooming house district located in that particular section of Brandale.

Presently the watchman climbed the steps of a dingy, brownstone front
building, and entered. Flash carefully noted down the address. Then he
walked back to the main section of the city, had breakfast, and reached
the _Ledger_ in time for work.

Throughout the day, the young photographer was rather preoccupied.
Fortunately, his assignments were of a routine nature, requiring no
special thought or effort. He was glad when four o’clock came.

Flash went home for dinner, but immediately afterwards he gathered up a
stack of books to return to the public library. Leaving them there, he
then was free to carry out his plan.

Eight o’clock found him at Old Herm’s rooming place. Without ringing the
bell, he entered the front hall. Scanning the mail boxes he saw that the
watchman occupied suite 15.

Moving noiselessly up the dark stairway, Flash located the number on the
second floor. He listened a moment and tested the door. It was locked as
he had anticipated. However, he was fully prepared, having provided
himself with a skeleton key.

The lock was of the common type. Flash gained entrance without
difficulty and took the precaution of re-fastening the door. He switched
on a light.

A hasty glance about revealed a dirty, untidy two-room apartment. Old
Herm had not bothered to make his bed after rolling out of it. Nor had
he washed the pile of dishes in the sink.

Flash moved quickly to the window, lowering a shade which was half way
up. While he knew the watchman would be at work, he did not care to
attract the attention of any other person in the building.

Turning around once more, his gaze focused upon a picture of a young
man. It stood on the center table, mounted in an expensive gold frame.
Beneath it, lay a white carnation.

“That must be a picture of Dick Ronne,” thought Flash. “Poor old Herm!”

His conscience gave him a twinge. Perhaps he was unjust and overly
suspicious to entertain distrustful thoughts. The watchman couldn’t help
being queer. Probably his son’s death had made him that way.

Now that Flash actually had gained entrance to the bedroom, the
possibility that Old Herm had wielded the blackjack seemed more remote
than ever.

“But since I’m here, I may as well look around,” he decided. “I feel
like a crook doing it though!”

Taking care to disturb nothing, he began a systematic inspection of the
room. He pulled out bureau drawers, looking beneath piles of shirts and
underclothing. There was no sign of a blackjack or any weapon which
possibly could arouse suspicion.

Flash had convinced himself that further search was useless when his
gaze roamed back to the center table. Several books were lying there.
The title of one of the volumes captured his attention. It was called
“Newspaper Photography.” And beside the book was a more technical
treatment on the subject of darkroom procedure.

“Now why would Old Herm be interested in photography?” mused Flash. “I
don’t believe he even owns a camera.”

Opening one of the volumes at random, he found several marked passages
which had to do with the mixing of chemicals.

As Flash read one of the paragraphs, he heard a heavy step outside the
door. The next moment a key rattled in the lock. Someone was coming to
investigate!

Dropping the book, Flash barely had time to reach up and snap off the
light. In panic he glanced about for a place to hide. There was no time
even to cross the room to a closet. He chose the only available
place—under the bed.

Barely had he rolled beneath it when the outside door opened. The light
was switched on.

Flash could see only the feet and legs of the man who had entered, but
from the uneven step he knew instantly that it was Herm. Why wasn’t the
watchman on duty at the _Ledger_ as usual? For all he knew, the old
fellow might have been taken ill and had returned home for the night.

Clearly he, Flash Evans, was in a predicament.



                              CHAPTER XXII
                            _A CAMERA TRAP_


The old man did not appear to notice that a blind had been pulled down
in the bedroom. Lowering himself into a comfortable chair, he sighed
audibly. His shoes thudded on the bare floor as he jerked them off. For
a long while there was no other sound.

Daring to peer forth, Flash saw that the watchman was reading one of the
books on photography.

“Wonder why Herm has the evening off?” he thought. “He certainly doesn’t
look or act sick.”

While Flash suffered both mental and physical discomfort in his cramped
quarters under the bed, the old man continued to read. An hour elapsed.
The photographer was afraid to shift his position lest he make a noise
which would betray his presence.

When it seemed to him that every muscle of his body had twisted into a
knot, Old Herm put aside the book. He pulled on his shoes again, brewed
himself a cup of coffee, and then donned warmer outer clothing.

“Back to the old grind,” Flash heard him mutter. “Bells, bells, bells!
Always a-ringin’ the darn things.”

A moment later, the watchman switched off the lights, and leaving the
apartment, locked the door behind him.

Flash waited until the footsteps had died away. Then he rolled out from
under the bed, brushing dust from his suit.

Without bothering to glance again at the photography books, he unlocked
the door with his skeleton key, stepped out into the deserted hall, and
locked the door after himself. He reached the street in time to catch a
glimpse of the watchman disappearing around a corner.

Flash believed that Old Herm meant to return to the _Ledger_ office. To
make certain he followed.

Drawing near the newspaper building, the watchman turned down an alley
and emerged at the loading dock where Jeff, the colored boy was working.

“I’m back now, Jeff,” he said.

“Okay, boss,” the boy responded. “I done just like you told me.”

Old Herm took a coin from his hand and gave it to Jeff. With a friendly
nod, he went on into the building.

Flash waited an interval before approaching the colored boy. Perching
himself on the platform near the paper chute, he watched Jeff polish a
windshield to a high gloss.

“Lookin’ fer someone?” the boy asked.

“Just killing time,” Flash returned. “How are you making out these days,
Jeff? Get quite a few cars to polish?”

“Ten steady customers now,” the colored boy said proudly. “I ain’t doin’
bad.”

“I suppose you pick up a little extra money now and then, doing odd jobs
around the building?”

“Yes, suh!”

“Old Herm?”

“Ah earned fifty cents from Herm dis last week. De easiest money ah
made, too!”

“And what job do you look after for him?” Flash inquired.

Jeff shook his head and grinned. “Ah ain’t ’llowed to tell, suh. Old
Herm get in trouble if de boss find out.”

Flash understood the colored boy well enough to know that he would
divulge the information if offered a small bribe. But he surmised that
Jeff then would reveal to Old Herm who had questioned him. He decided to
allow the matter to rest.

“I can guess what Herm has been doing,” he told himself as he slid down
from the platform. “And if I’m right, his alibi on the night I lost my
arson picture isn’t worth a nickel!”

Debating a moment, Flash entered the _Ledger_ building. After exploring
several floors he finally located the watchman in the deserted composing
room. Old Herm, who was peering into a supply cupboard, did not see the
photographer until he was close by.

Startled, he slammed the cupboard door shut and stood with his back to
it, facing Flash.

“Oh, it’s you!” he exclaimed. “You scared the daylights out o’ me,
coming in so quiet-like.”

“I believe a burglar could carry off half the building and you never
would know it, Herm,” Flash said in a joking tone.

“It ain’t so!” the watchman denied vigorously. “I make my rounds every
hour just as I’m supposed to do.”

“How come I couldn’t find you around during the last hour?”

“Were you lookin’ for me?” Old Herm asked innocently. “Did you go down
into the basement?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“That’s probably where I was. What is it you want?”

“Nothing now,” replied Flash. “It’s too late. Well, so long, see you
tomorrow.”

Without a backward glance, he sauntered from the composing room and made
his way to the street. Riding home in the bus, he thought over what he
had learned. Old Herm was not the honest, genial person he once had
believed him to be. The watchman neglected his duties, lied about it,
and displayed a decided tendency to pry.

“Wonder what he was doing in that supply cupboard when I surprised him?”
he reflected. “Old Herm acted as guilty as the dickens!”

Flash still was thinking about the matter when he went to work the next
morning. He rode up the elevator with Joe Wells and they entered the
photography department together.

“You haven’t solved the darkroom mystery yet?” the older photographer
asked jokingly. “Who slugged you and why?”

Flash shook his head.

“Not yet, but I have a few clues. You know, I’m becoming convinced Old
Herm might have had something to do with it.”

Wells laughed. “Any evidence?”

“I’ve learned Herm has been neglecting his duties here. Now and then he
slips off home while he’s supposed to be at work.”

Wells showed surprise at the information, but he did not interpret the
matter as Flash had expected.

“Old Herm will lose his job if you spread the story around,” he replied.

“And doesn’t he deserve it?”

“Maybe,” Wells shrugged, “but if Herm lost this job he’d never get
another. As far as watching the building is concerned, he never was any
good. But he’s a fixture at the _Ledger_. All the boys like him.”

“And for that reason I’m to let him crack me on the head—”

“You’re cracked now!” Wells interrupted with a trace of impatience.
“Herm is an inefficient, simple old fellow, but he’s harmless. If you
ask me, it’s not very sporting of you to try to throw the blame upon
him. Better get a new theory.”

A wave of anger swept over Flash, but it was gone in an instant. In a
way, Joe was giving him a warning it would be well to heed. He had
forgotten how affectionately Old Herm was regarded by many of the
employees of the _Ledger_. Any hints or direct accusations against the
watchman would only serve to rally many loyal defenders.

“Some day I’ll learn to keep thoughts to myself,” he reflected grimly.
“What I need is absolute proof!”

Flash knew of no way to gain evidence against the old man, and he had
moments when he even doubted that the fellow was responsible for the
loss of the arson picture.

“But if Herm didn’t do it, then it must be Fred Orris,” he reasoned.
“Both of them had the opportunity.”

And then an idea came to Flash. In thinking over past events, it dawned
upon him that always when he had encountered difficulties in the
darkroom, he had been working on an important story. Evidently the
person who plotted his undoing bided his time, waiting until he was in
possession of an unusual picture.

“I’ll set up a camera trap in the darkroom!” he decided. “Then I’ll pass
around the word that I have some remarkable shots! That should prove
enticing bait for my victim!”

His mind made up, Flash only awaited a suitable opportunity for putting
his plan into effect. Knowing that Fred Orris nearly always dropped into
the office late Tuesday night after the theatre, he chose that evening
to carry out his scheme.

Slipping into the office when it was deserted, Flash set up his camera
in a corner of the darkroom, focusing it upon the drying machine. Two
feet away he stretched a cord and fastened it to the camera trigger. The
slightest pressure upon the cord would open the lens and set off the
flash bulb.

“Now if only one of the regular photographers doesn’t barge in here
before I’m ready!” Flash told himself.

Taking another camera from the equipment case, he left the newspaper
building. Crossing the street to the café, he took a table by the window
where he could watch the main entrance of the _Ledger_. Presently he saw
Fred Orris arrive.

“Now my act begins!” Flash thought. “And if it doesn’t come off as I
plan, I’m going to look plenty silly.”

He quickly left the café and returned to the _Ledger_ office. As he
swung through the revolving doors of the front entrance he saw that luck
was favoring him. Fred Orris had paused in the circulation office to
chat for a moment with Old Herm. He would be able to clip two birds with
one stone!

“Where’s the fire, Evans?” Fred Orris demanded as he rushed past the two
men.

“Big story!” Flash tossed over his shoulder, barely pausing. “Didn’t you
hear about the riot?”

“Riot! No! Where?”

“Silverman’s Chain Store warehouse. Employees have been on a strike
there for a week. Tonight the fireworks started!”

The “fireworks” consisted of a rock having been thrown through a
warehouse window, but Flash allowed the two men to draw their own
conclusions.

Fred Orris gazed after the young photographer with an expression of
mingled envy and irritation.

“And I suppose you just happened to be out there,” he said. “You’re a
fool for luck if ever I saw one!”

Flash tapped his holders. “Wait until you see what I have here,” he
boasted. “The best pictures of my career—I hope! I’m putting ’em through
the soup now.”

He ran on up the stairway.

Had his little act gone over? Flash could not be sure. If Fred Orris
doubted the story he could prove it false in three minutes. But both he
and Old Herm had seemed impressed.

Unlocking the photography department, Flash closed the door behind him
but did not snap on the overhead lights. He entered the darkroom and
turned on the green lantern by the developing tank. A glance satisfied
him that the camera trap had not been disturbed. Everything was in
readiness.

Slipping outside again, he carefully closed the door. Then he tiptoed
across the darkened main room.

Hiding himself behind the power cabinets of the wirephoto machine, he
waited.



                             CHAPTER XXIII
                             _ACCUSATIONS_


The minutes passed slowly. Flash had begun to think that his scheme had
failed when he heard a step outside the door. Instantly he became alert.

Fred Orris entered the room. He crossed to his desk and, snapping on a
small lamp, rummaged in a drawer for some object which he had left
there. He sat for several minutes smoking a cigarette. Finally he
switched off the light, and crossed toward the darkroom.

Flash’s pulse quickened as he saw the man pause. Orris seemed to debate
a moment, then with a shrug, he turned and walked out of the department.

“Now why did he hesitate?” thought Flash. “Perhaps he intended to try
something and lost his nerve! It looks as if my scheme wasn’t so clever
after all.”

Deciding to carry out the test for a few minutes longer, he remained in
hiding. Scarcely had Orris’ footsteps died away when another sound
reached his ears. Some other person was approaching from the opposite
direction!

Softly, an inch at a time, the hall door swung open. Peering from behind
the wirephoto cabinet, Flash could distinguish only the shadowy outline
of a man.

The intruder stood motionless for a moment before gliding noiselessly
toward the door of the darkroom. There he paused, and with his ear
pressed to the panel, listened.

“Anyone inside?” he asked in a low tone.

Flash started, for he recognized the voice. His first impulse was to
dart from his hiding place and accost the man, but he forced himself to
wait. Proof he must have.

The man repeated his question. When there was no reply, he quietly
pushed open the door. Flash became tense with anxiety. Suppose the
fellow failed to walk against the cord? What if the flash bulb did not
go off? Why was it taking so long?

Then suddenly he saw the flare of light and heard a muttered exclamation
of fear. The door of the darkroom swung open and a man bolted out. But
Flash was ready for him.

“Oh, no, you don’t!” he shouted. “I’ve got you this time!”

He leaped and they crashed to the floor together. Flash was strong and
muscular for his age, but his opponent had arms of steel. However, he
was gaining the upperhand when the room lights suddenly went on. Someone
grasped him roughly by the collar and jerked him to his feet. Whirling
around, he saw that the newcomer was Fred Orris, who evidently had
returned upon hearing the commotion.

“Say, what’s the big idea?” the head photographer demanded. “Beating up
an old man!”

Flash glanced down at the whimpering figure on the floor. Poor old Herm!
But he steeled himself against a feeling of pity. The watchman was
deserving of no sympathy or consideration.

“Herm is the one who stole my arson picture!” Flash accused. “He’s been
trying to make trouble for me from the day I started work here, adding
chemicals to the hypo tank and doing dirty little tricks to ruin my
work!”

“It’s a lie!” muttered Herm, offering his gnarled hand for Fred Orris to
help him to his feet. “I been workin’ here over ten years and have a
long record of faithful service. He can’t hang nothin’ on me!”

“What were you doing in the darkroom?” Flash demanded.

“I went in there to see if you had left the water runnin’.”

“That excuse is getting rather threadbare, Herm.”

“You’re one of the worst offenders of the lot,” the watchman accused,
glaring at Flash.

“I don’t believe I ever left a tap running in my life. But we’ll not
argue that point. You say you went in the darkroom to turn off the
water?”

“I not only say it! I did!”

“And you didn’t tamper with anything? The film drying machine, for
instance?”

“I wasn’t even in that part of the room.”

“That’s exactly what I wanted to know,” said Flash with grim
satisfaction. “We’ll see!”

Old Herm had brushed off his clothes. He now edged toward the door, but
Flash grasped his arm and pulled him back.

“Oh, no, you don’t, Herm! You’ll stay right here. I may decide to turn
you over to the police!”

“Evans, I consider you’ve gone entirely too far,” Fred Orris interposed
coldly. “You’ve made some very serious accusations. If you fail to prove
them—”

“Don’t worry, I’ll prove them. I just want to make certain Old Herm
doesn’t do a disappearing act. And it might be a good idea to frisk
him.”

The watchman protested angrily as his pockets were searched.
Triumphantly, Flash brought to light a blackjack.

“There ain’t no crime in carryin’ that, I hope,” Old Herm defended
himself. “I need a harmless weapon in case I’m attacked while makin’ my
rounds.”

“A blackjack isn’t exactly a harmless weapon,” Flash returned, raising
his hand to rub the lump on his head.

“What proof do you have that Herm was tampering with anything in the
darkroom?” demanded Fred Orris.

“Because I deliberately set a camera trap. That story about the riot was
made up.”

“Then you had no pictures?”

“Not a one. I hung some old films on the drying machine as bait and
focused my camera there. The flash went off, so I ought to have
something on my plate.”

“You can’t blame me,” Old Herm whimpered. “It was dark in there. I
brushed against something and a flash went off. It was an accident.”

“A camera doesn’t lie,” said Fred Orris quietly. “Develop your plate,
Evans. I’ll keep Herm here until you’ve finished your work.”

Flash shut himself up in the darkroom. With trembling hands he removed
the plate from its holder and lowered it into the developer. Everything
depended upon the picture. The sympathy of the entire office naturally
would go toward Old Herm because of his age and service record. If the
shot revealed nothing, the watchman’s story would be accepted in
preference to his own. He must expect it.

Carefully, Flash timed the plate. As he removed it from the developer
one quick glance assured him that he had his picture! It was slightly
blurred but Old Herm was clearly recognizable. And he had been snapped
in the act of reaching for the film on the drying machine.

“I have my proof!” Flash thought exultantly. “Old Herm can’t talk
himself out of this!”

He washed the plate and as soon as he dared, opened the door and carried
it out into the adjoining room.

Old Herm was still there, guarded by Fred Orris. Other newspapermen had
gathered from the near-by offices, and had evidently been told the
entire story. Flash fancied they gazed at him accusingly, as if to imply
that he was unjust to falsely accuse an old man.

“Get anything?” asked Orris.

Flash offered the wet plate. “Here it is!”

The head photographer studied the evidence a moment in silence.

“This is proof enough for me,” he said. “Old Herm! I never would have
believed it! But now that I think back, he came into the office the
night your Elston fire pictures were streaked—”

“Let me see that plate,” the watchman demanded.

Orris turned toward him. With a quick swipe of his hand, Old Herm
brushed the plate to the floor. It broke into a multitude of tiny
pieces.

“Now where is your proof?” the watchman chuckled in triumph. “You ain’t
a goin’ to hang this mess on me! No, sir! I got an alibi.”



                              CHAPTER XXIV
                          _A SHATTERED ALIBI_


Fred Orris stooped to pick up the broken pieces of glass from the floor.
Those who stood in a circle about the watchman were staring at him with
a new expression.

“Herm, I’m afraid breaking the plate won’t get you out of this,” the
head photographer said coolly. “Your guilt is fairly well established in
the minds of every person in this room.”

“Why did you do it, Herm?” asked Flash.

“I didn’t! It ain’t fair to try to make me lose my job.”

“You’ll be lucky if you don’t spend your declining days in jail,” Orris
said sharply. “It’s a serious business, tampering with pictures, not to
mention striking a man with a blackjack.”

“Herm,” spoke Flash persuasively, “I’m not particularly interested in
seeing you turned over to the police. Maybe if you tell us what you did
with my fire picture we’ll let you go? Did you destroy it?”

“I don’t know anything about your picture,” the watchman insisted
sullenly. “I already proved to the police I wasn’t in this here part of
the building at the time it was stole!”

“You were punching the time clock on the sixth floor?” recalled Flash.

“That’s right. I wouldn’t have had time to get down here even if I had
been a-mind to do such a thing!”

“Suppose we see what Jeff has to say about it?”

Old Herm cringed back against the wall, and every trace of bravado left
him.

“Has Jeff been talkin’ to you?” he faltered.

“You’ve been paying him money to ring the different bells for you,”
Flash accused. “It came in very convenient when you wanted to run down
to your room for an hour off. And it provided you with a perfect alibi
the night my fire picture was stolen.”

“Wait until I lay hands on that boy,” Old Herm muttered. “The no-good
sneak! Carryin’ tales behind my back!”

“Herm, what did you do with the film?”

“I ain’t a-sayin’ nothing from now on.”

“I’ll call the wagon,” said Fred Orris impatiently.

As the head photographer started for a desk telephone, the old man
collapsed into a chair.

“Don’t call the police,” he pleaded. “I’ll tell you everything. Sure, I
did it, and I ain’t sorry, either!”

“Why did you do it, Herm?”

“I’ll tell you,” the old man answered, his eyes glazed with hatred.
“Your father was the cause of killin’ my boy.”

“Your son Dick was discharged from the _Post_ for taking funds which did
not belong to him,” Flash corrected. “My father brought the matter to
the attention of the newspaper owners in order to save an innocent man.
But from what I can learn he did not even send your son to jail.”

“He done worse. Dick couldn’t get a job. He fell in with bad company.
One night he was ridin’ with some boys who aimed to rob a filling
station. There was some shootin’ and Dick was hit in the right lung.
They took him to the hospital. I hired the best doctors, but they
couldn’t do anything for him. I vowed then I’d get even with the man who
was the cause of Dick’s death. I never did have my chance until you came
here to work.”

Old Herm buried his head in his arms, rocking back and forth.

Flash glanced at the silent group of men in the room. Not a person there
but felt sorry for the old fellow whose grief had so distorted his mind.

“Herm, we’re not going to send you to jail,” he said after a moment.
“But we do want you to tell us what you did with the fire picture.”

“You mean the one I took off the editor’s desk?”

“No, it doesn’t matter about that. I mean the films you took the night I
was struck over the head.”

“Several of them, wasn’t there?” the old man asked slowly.

“Yes, but the picture we want was taken at the Fenmore warehouse. If the
police had it they might be able to capture the men who have been
setting fires here in Brandale. Did you destroy the films, Herm?”

“No, I hid ’em.”

“Where?” Flash and Fred Orris asked the question together.

“I’ll show you.”

The old man arose and with a curious group following him, limped to the
elevator, and thence to the composing room. He went directly to the
supply cupboard.

“I might have guessed where the films were hidden,” Flash murmured.

Instead of opening the case, Old Herm stooped and ran his hand into the
narrow crack behind it.

“Here, let me do that,” offered Flash quickly. “You might scratch the
films.”

With Orris’ help he moved the heavy supply case. On the floor against
the wall lay several negatives. Flash snatched them up.

Two of the Tower pictures had been ruined by exposure to light too soon
after developing. The warehouse shot was in good condition, with only
one small scratch which could be retouched.

“Say, this may crack the arson case wide open!” Orris exclaimed,
excitement creeping into his voice. “You call the police while I make up
some 8 × 10 glossies! If we move fast we may be able to catch the last
edition!”

Old Herm was forgotten. Amazed at the change which had come over the
head photographer, Flash rushed for a telephone. Tersely he informed the
desk sergeant at police headquarters that the long missing picture had
been located.

“We’ll have a man right over there,” he was promised.

Flash hastened back to the photography department. The door of the
darkroom was closed, but in a moment it opened, and Fred Orris stepped
out. He offered a print for the younger photographer to see.

“It’s a perfect picture,” he praised. “Look how those faces stand out.
Ever see those fellows before, Flash?”

“Only at the time I snapped the picture.”

“This one on the left looks mighty familiar to me, but I can’t seem to
place him.”

“That’s the man spoken of by the others as ‘H. J.’ He’s supposed to be
the brains of the arson ring.”

“I know I’ve seen his picture before,” Orris repeated. “But where?”

As he was staring at the print, two men strode into the department.
Flash recognized them as plainclothesmen from headquarters, Burnett and
Kimball.

“Let’s have a look at that picture,” said Burnett.

Orris turned it over to him. The detective studied the print a moment,
obviously startled. He indicated the man who had stood nearest the
camera.

“That’s Harry J. McCormand!” he exclaimed.

“McCormand!” echoed Orris. “I was trying to think of him. But McCormand
is one of Brandale’s most prominent lawyers!”

“Prominent, yes,” agreed the detective dryly. “He’s been in some shady
business in his time. No one ever could pin anything on him.”

“You aiming to run this picture in the next edition?” inquired the other
detective.

“That’s up to the night editor, Dewey. He’ll probably slap it on page
one, because it’s hot stuff!”

“If the picture runs, McCormand may have a tip-off before we can bring
him in. We’ll want it held up until we make our arrest.”

“How long will that take?” Flash interposed.

“Can’t tell. We may be able to round him up tonight. Again it may take
days.”

“Better talk with Dewey,” advised Orris.

He and Flash led the two detectives to the desk of the night editor.
When the situation was fully explained to him, Dan Dewey made his
decision instantly.

“We’ll hold out the picture providing you give our paper an exclusive on
the story when it finally breaks.”

“Fair enough,” agreed Burnett. “We’ll take a few men and go out to
McCormand’s house right away. Send your photographers along if you
like.”

“Evans, you and Orris!” said Dewey. Then he hesitated, being fully aware
of the antagonism which existed between the two men. He amended: “Or
maybe I can locate Ralston—”

“I’ll take Orris if it’s all the same to you,” spoke Flash.

Dan Dewey nodded in relief. “Good!” he approved. “McCormand’s arrest
will shock the town. Bring back some real pictures or I’ll fire you
both!”

Orris’ lips curled into a faint suggestion of a smile.

“Come on, Flash,” he said. “Let’s go!”



                              CHAPTER XXV
                           _FRONT PAGE STORY_


The night was one long to be remembered. In the police car, Flash and
Fred Orris rode to the McCormand home on Aldingham Drive. There they
learned from a maid that the man they sought was attending a late
business conference at his downtown office.

Back-tracking, the police car presently drew up before a white stone
building not far from the _Brandale Ledger_. Nearly all of the windows
were dark, but lights glowed in one of the offices on the fourth floor.

The building directory provided information that McCormand occupied Room
407. From the elevator man, police learned that the lawyer had entered
the building shortly after nine o’clock and had not been seen leaving.

Detective Burnett was assigned to post himself on the fire escape
directly opposite Room 407, and the two photographers chose to accompany
him. Gaining access to it from the third floor, they moved noiselessly
to the window.

Inside they could see McCormand at his desk, talking with two other men.
One of them Flash instantly recognized as the same person who had been
involved in the Fenmore warehouse affair.

A loud knock came on the office door. McCormand sprang to his feet.

“Who’s there?” he called sharply.

“Open up or we’ll break down the door!” came the order.

McCormand jerked his head toward the window. His two companions made a
dive for the fire escape, stepping directly into the arms of the waiting
detective. Flash and Orris took pictures simultaneously.

The detective backed his prisoners into the office again, keeping them
covered with his revolver.

“What is the meaning of this intrusion?” demanded McCormand wrathfully.
“I demand an explanation.”

“You’ll get it,” said Burnett coolly.

Flash unlocked the door and let the other detective into the room. Then
he deftly inserted another holder in his camera, and cocked the lever of
the shutter. As Detective Kimball told McCormand he was under arrest, he
pulled the slide and shot his next picture.

Protesting angrily, the lawyer and his companions were hustled
downstairs to the waiting police car. Flash and Orris both obtained
action shots of McCormand trying to free himself from the grasp of two
detectives.

“Not bad,” chuckled Orris as they stood watching the car drive away.

“We haven’t any time to waste,” said Flash abruptly. “If we move fast we
still have a chance to make that last edition.”

The words spurred Orris to action. Running nearly all of the distance to
the _Ledger_ building, they related their story of the capture in a few
terse sentences.

“We’ll hold the edition ten minutes,” Dan Dewey decided. “Get busy!”

Flash and Orris rushed their pictures through in record time, making
prints from wet negatives. Not until each picture had been captioned and
sent to the photo-engraving department did they allow themselves a
moment to relax.

“What a night!” said Flash, sinking into a chair. “Wonder what became of
Old Herm?”

Orris shrugged in his characteristic way.

“Who cares? He won’t make you any more trouble. I imagine he’ll never
show up at the _Ledger_ again after what happened. But if he should be
dumb enough to try to keep his job, I’ll drop a hint in the editor’s
ear.”

“We’ve probably seen the last of Old Herm,” Flash agreed. “From now on
things should roll a lot smoother for me.”

There was an awkward pause. Orris avoided looking directly at Flash as
he said:

“I owe you an apology. The truth is, I didn’t like you very well when
you first started work here. I thought you were a cocky kid who needed
to be put in his place.”

“Guess you weren’t far wrong at that.”

“Yes, I was,” Orris denied. “You had the stuff even if it took me a long
while to recognize it. When you had so much trouble with your pictures,
streaking and losing them, I figured you were inexperienced.”

“I did slip up on the fight pictures, Fred. The other mistakes were the
result of Old Herm’s work.”

“You have what it takes,” Orris resumed. “After being out with you
tonight I know your pictures aren’t a matter of accident. You’re a good
photographer.”

“Thanks,” returned Flash. Coming from Orris, the praise was indeed high.
He added: “But I still have plenty to learn.”

He bore the head photographer no grudge. From now on he would understand
him much better. Orris never would be as friendly or sociable as Joe
Wells and the other photographers, but he knew his work. One could learn
a great deal from him.

Flash felt worn out from the night’s work. However, before starting
home, he printed up the one good Tower picture and dropped it on the
editor’s desk, without caring whether or not it ever was used. As he
picked up his hat to leave the office, Orris asked in surprise:

“Aren’t you waiting for the paper to come out? It shouldn’t be more than
a minute or two now.”

“No, I’m too tired,” Flash yawned. “I’m going home and hit the hay.”

“You might get a by-line,” Orris hinted. “And you know what that means
around here?”

“No, what?”

“Usually a raise.”

“I could do with one,” grinned Flash. “Well, I think I’ll bear the
suspense until morning.”

“I’m sticking around for a few minutes longer,” Orris replied. “See you
tomorrow.”

Flash left the building and, after a wait of ten minutes at the corner,
caught his bus home. Wearily he sagged into the first empty seat. It had
been a big night, but a satisfying one. Due to his work and the recovery
of the warehouse picture, the arson ring would be entirely cleaned up.
He might be called to testify against McCormand, but the man’s
conviction was practically assured.

“And the darkroom mystery is solved, too,” he chuckled. “From now on
I’ll have clear sailing.”

The bus presently stopped at a corner. A well-dressed man of middle age
came into the car, settling himself in the vacant seat beside the young
photographer. He opened his paper to read.

Turning his head slightly, Flash saw that the man had a copy of the
_Ledger_, the last edition which news-boys were just starting to cry.
Bold headlines told of McCormand’s arrest, and a picture had been spread
over four columns.

Flash bent nearer. The picture was the one he had taken of McCormand and
the two other men at Fenmore’s warehouse. Beneath it was a tiny caption,
“by staff photographer, Jimmy Evans.”

“Well, I see they’ve captured the big-shot behind the arson ring,”
remarked the passenger conversationally. “Turns out to be H. J.
McCormand!”

Flash smiled and nodded.

“Interesting picture, too,” the man went on. “These newspaper
photographers always seem to be on the wrong spot at the right time. But
this picture takes the prize. I wonder how he ever got it?”

“If you ask me,” said Flash with a sheepish grin, “the fellow was a fool
for luck. He must have been born with a silver horseshoe around his
neck!”


                                THE END

                       [Illustration: Endpapers]



                          Transcriber’s Notes


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--Silently corrected palpable typos; left non-standard spellings and
  dialect unchanged.

--In the text versions, delimited italics text in _underscores_ (the
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