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First episode, taken from Adventure issue: 1100 February 12th 1944.


The greatest detective mystery story ever written.


Dixon Hawke and Tommy Burke stood at the window of a room on the forty second floor of the Harrigan Hotel, and gazed out over the great city of Philadelphia. Street by street, it was spread before them, the home of more than two million people, one of the greatest manufacturing centres and ports in the United States. “There you are, Tommy,” murmured the famous British detective. “In that manmade jungle there are creatures more dangerous than any lions or tigers. One of the biggest police forces in any city in the world has failed to rout them out.” “Yet they expect you to do it, guv’nor!” said his young assistant, proudly. “They’ve brought you all the way from London to do it for ‘em.” Dixon Hawke’s thin lips twitched in a smile. “I wouldn’t say they expect me to do it, Tommy, but they certainly have hopes. I’ve an idea the Chief of Police doesn’t like the idea of bringing in a British ‘tec, but he was overruled by the District Attorney. It was he who sent for me.” “And do you think the Chief of Police will work with you?” asked Tommy doubtfully. “Well, he’s certainly started badly. I thought I was going to have the advantage of secrecy. I thought the whole idea of fetching me out was to bring in someone the master crooks did not know. Yet our friend the Chief of Police sent an official car to the station to meet our train this afternoon, and gave us an escort of six motor cyclist police with wailing sirens! That’s an uncommonly queer way of keeping my arrival a secret. At the present moment he’s got four cops down below keeping away the newspaper reporters who want to interview me.” There had always been a good deal of crime in Philadelphia. With its vast, mixed population this was inevitable, but during the recent months the number of murders, kidnappings, robberies, and gang controlled rackets had increased far beyond the average. Things had become so bad that questions had been asked in the Senate. Twice the District Attorney had been changed, and it was the present one, William Sherman, who had sent for the British investigator. “It doesn’t look so good, if the police are not going to work with us.” Murmured Tommy Burke, gazing down the blazing highway that was Broad Street. “The General idea is that one man or one small group of men, controls nearly all the criminal activities that go on in the city, isn’t it?” “That’s an idea which has been suggested,” replied Hawke, “but I’ll get the lowdown on everything when I go to see the District Attorney.” He glanced at his watch. “I’ve an appointment with him in half an hour. I must get a few things packed that I want to show him.”

He went into the inner room to pack a small hand-bag, leaving Tommy trying to memorise the layout of the city which resembled a lighted map below him. He knew the other wide road which cut at right angles across Broad Street was called Market Street, and that the immense white marble structure at that point, with a statue of Pen on top, was the City Hall. No doubt that was where the meeting between Hawke and the District Attorney would take place. Tommy had not been asked to this preliminary conference, but he knew the Guv’nor would tell him later everything that occurred there. Hawke came in a few moments later, dressed for the street, in dark inconspicuous clothing, a felt hat pulled well down over his eyes. “Well, Tommy, I must be off. In order to dodge those reporters in the foyer. I’ve arranged with the floor waiter to let me go down the service lift and out through the hotel yard at the back. I expect to be back soon after eleven. Take care of yourself until I get back. I’m certain this is going to be one of our biggest cases, and that we’ll pull it off together.” With a smile and a nod, the detective let himself out through the doorway into the corridor, and the youngster again leaned from the window. He never tired of the view. It was wonderful to be so high up in the centre of a city. Skyscrapers always had appealed to Tommy, and this one had thirty more floors above theirs. He decided to visit the roof on the morrow, where the view would be even more stupendous. The striking of nine o’clock from several city clocks told him that Hawke should be arriving at the District Attorney’s office. He wondered what sort of man Sherman was. It was to be hoped Hawke would get more co-operation from him than he received from the Police Chief. “Jealousy!” muttered Tommy, as he turned at last to pick up a local evening paper, and to scan the huge headlines. “Phew, they seem to have half a dozen murders going at once here!” He sat down to skim through the latest crime reports. They made sensational and interesting reading. Half an hour had elapsed before he realised it, and even then it was the ringing of the phone bell that caused him to look up. Obviously he was expected to answer it. He took the receiver and was told there was a call from the District Attorney’s office. His eyes brightened. “Yes, Guv’nor!” he said. “Er—is that Mr Hawke speaking?” came the voice from the other end. “This is District Attorney Sherman. Can you get me Mr Dixon Hawke right away?” Tommy Burke gulped. “This is Burke, Mr Hawke’s assistant, and the Guv—er—Mr Hawke left here soon after 8.30 to keep his appointment with you. He should have been there by nine o’clock. He is never late, sir.” There was an impatient clearing of the throat at the further end of the line. “He has certainly not arrived here yet, and it is 9.30. I feared he had been delayed. You say he was coming straight here? Could he have been delayed by newspaper reporters outside the hotel?” “No, sir,” was the prompt reply. “The Guv’nor will never talk with reporters. He went through the service entrance for that reason. I—I can’t understand it.” A vague uneasiness had gripped him. The shadow of fear seemed to have entered the room. “Very well, I’ll wait a while longer,” snapped Sherman. “Yes, sir, and would you please ask him to phone me directly he arrives there. I—I’m rather worried,” admitted Tommy. “I’ll do that!” was the answer. There was a click as the receiver was replaced, and the youngster paced the room in a ferment of suspense. What could have caused Hawke to miss his appointment at the City Hall? Even if he had not obtained a taxi cab at once, it could not have taken more than twenty minutes. The more Tommy Burke thought about it, the less he like it. Brr-rrr-rrrrr-rrrrrr! It was the buzzer on the door that sounded, and he crossed to admit a bellboy, who handed over a note on a tray. “This came for Mr Thomas Burke, sir,” he said, and bowed smartly as he backed away. Tommy took the envelope with a sense of relief, for he thought it was a note from Hawke, maybe explaining what had happened to him. But the inscription on the outside was typed—Mr Thomas Burke, Suite 187, Harrigan Hotel. Dixon Hawke did not carry a typewriter about with him. Tommy’s hopes fell. A single folded sheet of paper of good quality was all the envelope contained. The message was short.

“To Mr Thomas Burke. This is to inform you that you will never see Dixon Hawke again. He was foolish to have come to this city, and even more foolish to have allowed so much publicity. Rather than be put to any inconvenience by him, I have let him feel the heat of my fiery breath. R.I.P. The best thing you can do is go back to England and forget all about him. Signed—The Dragon.”

At the bottom of this, underneath the signature, was a brown scorch mark, as though the paper had there been exposed to fire or intense heat. Three times Tommy read this through before he realised what it meant. The colour drained from his face; he stared about the room wildly, then dashed to the telephone. “The District Attorney’s office at once, please. Urgent!” he shouted into the instrument. “Ask for Mr Sherman himself.” Two minutes later he was told he was connected. “Has—has Mr Hawke got there yet, sir?” he almost panted. “No, and I’m afraid I can wait no longer. There must have been some misunderstanding. Maybe he thought our appointment was for tomorrow, and—” “No, Mr Sherman, no! Something terrible has happened to him. He’s been killed or—or something. Who is the Dragon?” “Eh, what? The Dragon? Never heard of him!” snapped the District Attorney. “What do you mean about Hawke having been killed?” “Listen to this,” said Tommy Burke, and hurriedly read the letter he had just received. There was dead silence at the other end, then Sherman drew a long breath. “Either, that’s a genuine indication that the boos of the city crooks has already dealt with Hawke, or it’s a stupendous piece of bluff. I’d like you to come round here at once, and bring that letter. I’ll summon the Chief of Police.”


Less than fifteen minutes later Tommy Burke, hatless and agitated, was ushered into the room where the Attorney waited him with Police Chief Gooch. Tommy had met Sam Gooch at the station, and had not been impressed very favourably by the stout, slow moving man with the double chin. Sherman, on the other hand, was medium sized, lean, quick in his movements, and the possessor of eyes as alert as those of a squirrel. “No news of him yet, sir?” demanded Hawke’s assistant, when he had been given a seat between the two men. “Only this,” replied Sherman, and handed across a piece of paper precisely like that which Tommy had received. “It came by special messenger three minutes after you rang me.” With horrified eyes Tommy read the message.

“To District Attorney Sherman. I am sorry Mr Dixon Hawke will not be keeping his appointment with you, but it is partly your own fault for blazoning the news of his cleverness. As the leader of what you choose to call ‘the forces of evil’ in this city, I have already enough trouble from your stupid police force. I cannot afford to have someone really clever investigating my affairs. For this reason I intercepted him, and let him feel the heat of my fiery breath. R.I.P. The best thing you can do is to resign like your predecessor. Signed—The Dragon.”

Underneath the signature was a brown scorch mark. Tommy went even paler than before and looked from one to the other. “Who is the Dragon?” he demanded. “Is he the leader of all the crooks in the city?” “We’ve never heard the name before,” said Gooch, “though we’ve always suspected there was one man with brains behind all the recent troubles. It seems he heard of Dixon Hawke, and—” “Heard of him!” cried Tommy angrily. “I should think he had heard of him after you sending a police car and escort down to the station to meet us, and after you’d told local reporters the Guv’nor was coming! Anyone’d think you wanted the whole blessed city to know he was here. I believe you did it on purpose!” Sam Gooch went very red, and started to rise from the chair. Sherman put out a hand and pressed him gently back again. “Bickering will get us nowhere,” he said. “I quite understand how you feel, Burke, but you must remember we do things differently in the States. It would have been impossible to have kept the arrival of such a notable man as Mr Hawke quiet. The Press over here have greater powers than in Britain. What puzzles me, presuming these notes are authentic, is how Hawke was attacked. You say he was going out at the rear of the hotel and taking a taxi straight here. I fail to see how anything could have happened to him if that’s all he did.” Tommy Burke gripped the arms of the chair and tried to swallow the lump that had risen to his throat. He must keep control of himself before these Americans. He must! The thought keep hammering in his head that the Guv’nor was dead, but he must keep cool, must show more courage than he had ever shown before. “There are such things as decoy taxis,” put in the Police Chief. “Hawke didn’t know the ropes in this city. One of these special taxis might have been waiting for him, and have whisked him away somewhere where they could—” A gasp from Tommy checked the remainder of what he had intended saying. The boy was on his feet. “If anything has happened to the Guv’nor, I’m going to stop here until his murderers have been tracked down!” he cried. “I’ll do anything—anything to get them into your hands. The Guv’nor didn’t have a chance. He hadn’t even started on the case. He didn’t have a chance to do anything…” “He did one thing,” murmured the District Attorney, looking at the two notes on the table. “He caused them to come out into the open, and for the first time their leader has named himself, even though with a fanciful name. Before this he had been anonymous. We scarcely knew whether to believe there was such a person. Now he’s made himself someone definite, and that will help a lot.”

Tommy gulped. If Dixon Hawke had only been able to achieve this by dying, Tommy wished they had never crossed the Atlantic. The thought of the Guv’nor being taken to some secret den, perhaps drugged, and there silenced for ever, made him want to scream. Instead he sat down stolidly whilst he heard the Police Chief ringing experts to examine the two letters for fingerprints, peculiarities of paper and typing, and other details. “What will these scorch marks be?” asked the head of the research department, as he carefully lifted the letters. “I fancy that’s just a little bit of showmanship by the scoundrel who calls himself The Dragon,” said the District Attorney. “It’s a reference to the old legends that dragons had fiery breath that could consume anything. It’s a sort of trademark, or ext5ra signature. I’d like to see the brute scorched by his own confounded breath!” He saw Tommy was fighting hard to keep control of himself, and moved to the lad’s side. It would be better to keep young Burke occupied, he decided. “Come along. We’re going to the hotel to try and trace every movement Hawke made from the moment when he left the service lift. We might get on to something while the trail’s hot. We might even—even be able to discover if those notes are true.” By his tone Tommy Burke knew Sherman was already convinced the claims made on those notes were genuine ones. The District Attorney was convinced The Dragon had been too quick for them. Fearing Hawke’s brain, he had wiped him out. As in a daze, Tommy Burke walked along the lofty corridor to the waiting car. Police Chief Gooch and another police officer were coming with them. As they stepped into the car a tough looking young man in plain clothes, obviously a detective, came bustling up, and spoke to Gooch. “There’s been a big robbery down at the Perry-Scranton Bank, Chief,” he gasped. “Something like a hundred thousand in notes has disappeared. It was as neat a piece of work as I’ve ever seen. The watchman must have been put out by a gas pistol. Same as in the Loop Road affair last week.” Police Chief Gooch groaned. “I’ll be along there directly, after I’ve attended to this other business. Any clues?” “Only a queer one. The safe had been opened by an expert, without forcing, and the outer door had been picked in the same way, but in each case there were scorch marks near the keyholes. It was almost as though a small blowlamp had been turned on those spots—but it was not necessary. Why was it done?” “Maybe The Dragon breathed there!” remarked Sherman drily. “I’ve an idea he’s trying to show us his organisation is capable of dealing with Hawke and handling a bank robbery in the same night.” The cars sped away towards the Harrigan Hotel, Tommy sitting silent and heartbroken between the two men.


Very little was discovered by questioning the hotel staff. Dixon Hawke had gone down the service lift and had been let out by a rear door usually given over to tradesmen and supplies. He had tipped the doorkeeper, who had told him he would find plenty of taxis across on the opposite corner. Hawke had thanked him and stepped out into the rather narrow road at the back of the hotel. From that moment he had vanished. No one had set eyes on him afterwards. Dixon Hawke could be traced no further than the back door. After that he had vanished. There was no other word for it. The next morning the newspapers were full of his disappearance, and of the startling fact that the leader of organised crime in the city had identified himself as The Dragon. The famous detective’s life story, with stories of his more important cases, was printed at length. It brought tears to Tommy’s eyes to read the things they said about the beloved Guv’nor. Some of the more sensational papers even shrieked in three inch lettering—“Philadelphia’s Underworld Too Clever For British Ace ‘Tec. The Dragon Wins In Round One.” Tommy Burke clenched his fists at that. The lad was nearly mad with grief but he was fired with a grim resolve to avenge the death of his master. Yet his rage was no greater than that of a stout, prosperous looking man who strode up and down, a long, lofty room in the heart of Philadelphia’s most fashionable residential quarter. The usually calm and dignified features of this man were twisted with passion as he thumped one of the offending newspapers. “It’s lies—all lies!” he raged, at the group of silent, frightened men who watched him. “There is no such person as The Dragon! I’ve never called myself that in my life. It—it’s a trick of some kind. He’s nothing but a cheap hi-jacker, yet he dares to claim to be me—the leader of the underworld!” There was no doubt that his pride was hurt. His well manicured fingers clutched the paper so tightly that it had torn. Half a dozen other newspapers had been flung down on the priceless carpet. A tiny trickle of blood showed where the speaker had bitten his own lip. “Would it be a police trick, Chief?” asked one of the others, huskily. “Do you think it’s a plant o’ some kind?” “They wouldn’t dare! A man like Dixon Hawke would never consent to such a thing. It has made him out as an easy victim, and that would spoil his prestige. No, O believe some cheap outsider, trying to crash our territory has started The Dragon racket on his own. Whether he has actually killed Dixon Hawke, I don’t know, but the fact remains that Hawke has disappeared. Of course there is no proof that Hawke is dead, but—” A faint whirring at the other end of the room made itself heard. As one looked around it was noticeable that the room did not posses a door. As a matter of fact it was a penthouse on the top of a famous block of flats owned by a well known banking corporation. No one would have guessed that all the strings that controlled the underworld of Philadelphia were pulled from there.

The distinguished looking leader with the grey hair nodded to one of the others, who stepped over and pressed a hidden button in the wall. A large Japanese cabinet, which stood in one corner, at once began to disappear into the floor. It was mounted on a private electric lift, and when it returned a few moments later the ornamental doors opened to reveal a furtive little individual, rather like a stockbroker’s clerk who hurried forward with a late edition newspaper that was still wet from the press. “Chief, I thought you ought to see this!” he gasped, and stabbed his thumb upon the stop-press news. “Dixon Hawke Is Dead!” it said. “The District Attorney has admitted that he received a second communication from The Dragon this morning. It contained the bloodstained upper joint of a man’s little finger, a cigarette case, a notebook, and a notification from The Dragon that here was proof of Hawke’s death. Thomas Burke, the assistant of the British detective, has confirmed that the notebook and the cigarette case belonged to Dixon Hawke. Check of the prints taken from the severed finger with the known fingerprints of the little finger of the left hand of Dixon Hawke prove that the portion of the finger was indeed his. It is understood that Thomas Burke collapsed when this conclusive evidence was forthcoming, but that he later recovered and has offered his services to the city’s police in the tracking down of his late employer’s murderer.” “Bah!” snorted the man the others addressed as the Chief. “He’s killed Hawke right enough, but what will he gain by it? He is a lone hand. He is trying to horn in on our territory6, and to under cut our organisation. He even had the nerve to rob the Perry-Scranton Bank last night—the Perry-Scranton Bank, mark you! This has got to be stopped. Maybe he did us a good turn in getting rid of Hawke, but he’s got to be liquidated. You understand, Snyder?” A tall, lean individual, who looked like a lawyer, nodded empathically. “I understand, Chief. I’ll get in touch with Shark Elmer and tell him to turn the squads loose on him. Before nightfall I fancy The Dragon will be tasting something hotter than his own breath.” The Chief seemed mollified at that, and looked round at the six men who with him controlled all the lawless elements of the city. These formed his Brains Trust. These were not the men who fired the guns, hurled the bombs, blew open safes, snatched wealthy citizens, or beat up those who opposed the cleaver rackets run by this grey-haired arch criminal. These men only helped him handle the gangsters and roughnecks who did these things at their bidding. They might well have been the Board of Directors of a successful finance corporation. They expressed their agreement with his orders, and accepted their dismissal, but as they turned away he changed his mind. “Snyder, wait! Instead of telling Shark Elmer to give The Dragon the heat, tell him to take the man alive and bring him to Number 3. Branch. I would very much like to see what manner of person he is before I wipe him out. A man capable of killing Hawke is not met with every day. “Very good, Chief, it shall be as you say. We’ll let you know when he is safely at Number 3.”

A phone whirred softly on the massive desk at which the Chief had just seated himself. He took up the receiver and barked—“Yes, the Chief speaking! What? When? This—this is getting past a joke! Yes—yes—I’ll call you back later. Meantime do and say nothing.” His eyes blazed as he glared across at his colleagues, who had paused near the secret lift on hearing the fury in his tone. “Gentlemen,” he said, “that was from Boyer, on the private line. As you know, we had reason last night to explode a bomb in the restaurant of the Red Cat Club, which refused to pay our protection money. The job was carried out neatly and effectively. The proprietor, two waiters, and seven guests having been killed. Only one wall of the place was left intact. Half an hour ago newspaper reporters found a brown scorch mark on the undamaged paintwork of the solitary door which remains in that wall. Underneath was scrawled—‘Let those who do not pay up beware of The Dragon’s breath!’ You see what this means? This—this scoundrel had the effrontery to claim to have carried out that bombing. He is not only committing crimes on his own accord, but he is putting his—his trademark to our work and is claiming our thunder!” His listeners stared wonderingly. Lawyer Snyder was the first to speak. “That’s bad, Chief! If things go on like this hundreds of our minor men will begin to think The Dragon really is their leader—instead of you!” The grey head behind the desk jerked up viciously. “It’s got to be stopped!” he roared. “You understand me, The Dragon has got to be stopped. Call of all other jobs at the moment, and set everyone possible to discovering who this—this imposter is. Then have him treated as I ordered. Go!” The Brains Trust of the Philadelphia criminal world squeezed into the disguised lift and hurriedly left their Chief’s presence. They could quite understand his fury. He had always considered himself the King of the Underworld, and now this unknown had not only distinguished himself by disposing of Dixon Hawke, but was actually claiming to be the power behind organised crime! And in his bedroom at the Harrigan Hotel, Tommy Burke stood pale and grim before a portrait of Dixon Hawke. “They got you, Guv’nor,” he whispered huskily, “my best pal.” For the moment he covered his face with his hands and then his slim figure straightened and he squared his shoulders. “But I’ll carry on like you’d want me to,” he whispered. “I’ll fight this murderer who calls himself The Dragon to the last gasp. Either he gets me or I get him!”

THE DEAD DETECTIVE’S VENGEANCE 13 Episodes in Adventure issues 1100 – 1113 (1944)

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2007