A preface from the metallurgist,
If you are the sort of person who ignores the useless author preface portion of a book and plunges right into the story, then don’t let me stop you. This part is usually self-serving twaddle anyway. I mean, I’m calling myself ‘the metallurgist’, so that doesn’t bode well for the next few paragraphs. Does it?
‘Doc Savage’ was created and written by at least 8 people (but mostly Lester Dent) under the pseudonym “Kenneth Robeson”. The contributors were tireless visionaries, etc. etc. etc. But here’s the thing. They perfected a way to crank out a prodigious amount of material when writing what would become the Doc Savage series. Seriously, they created a formula which allowed a person to knock out a nicely sized book, over and over again, in time for monthly publication. Impressive.
Impressive, but not perfect. You see, a person could write a complete and interesting story, but that shouldn’t imply that the story was written exceptionally well. Doc Savage stories aren’t, in my opinion and the opinion of anyone else who reads above a third grade level, flawlessly written. Reading them is a comical grind. They have a weird sort of charm, and unique voice but it’s still a voice that often makes you wince in embarrassment as you turn the page.
So while making the effort to format the manly Savage for ebook readers, I’m investing the time to burnish that paragon of masculinity. Hence: Burnished Bronze : Doc Savage – The Man Of Bronze. Same to you. Remember what I said earlier about ‘twaddle’. I warned you.
Before I forget, I’m leaving the action alone. It’s all here, jammed on each page. I’m also not touching the, frankly, anglocentric casual racism and general misogyny. I want to clean up the grammar, not police Doc’s words. If something in this book offends you, I suggest you take it up directly with Kenneth Robeson himself.
Since you’ve made it this far, there’s nothing left to do than unleash the story at you. Prepare to grow hair on your chest and walk a little taller, a little prouder, a little more American – knowing that Doc Savage is continuing his tireless life’s work of seeking adventure, helping those who need it and punishing those who deserve it.
To the magazine readers who have been looking for something fresh, something that is entirely different, in the way of exhilarating fiction, DOC SAVAGE MAGAZINE will come as a welcome addition to the magazine group of Street & Smith Publications, the foremost fiction publishing house in America.
DOC SAVAGE MAGAZINE will greet you on the stands the third Friday of each month. Each issue will contain one book-length novel, complete, recounting the thrilling exploits of Doc Savage, the scrapper supreme, and his five adventurous companions. In each tale they face a problem of immense proportions; in each story they fight their battle in a locale far from the previous conflicts.
You will find these stories something above mere tales; something more than a common adventure story. Doc Savage and his companions have a goal, and they undergo all kinds of difficulties, live through every imaginable thrill, in order to accomplish their purpose.
In addition, you will find a collection of sho rt stories that will add spice to your reading, and complete a magazine which has no equal at far above its small price of ten cents.
You’ll want to read this magazine every month. You’ll find yourself looking forward to the next episode in the life of Doc Savage and his gang of adventurers. And we feel sure that you will be well satisfied with the DOC SAVAGE MAGAZINE that will grace the stand of your news dealer on the third Friday of each month.
STREET & SMITH PUBLICATIONS, INC.
THE MAN OF BRONZE
A Doc Savage Adventure by Kenneth Robeson
Originally published in [_Doc _][_Savage _][_magazine _]March 1933
THE SINISTER ONE
THERE was death afoot in the darkness.
It crept furtively along a steel girder. Hundreds of feet below yawned glass-and-brick-walled cracks—New York streets. Down there, late night workers scurried homeward. Clapboard newspaper stands were shuttered, but an enterprising vendor or two were still hawking the latest rumors of F.D.R’s treaty with Cuba and the trouble brewing in the Indian sub-continent. Most of the huddled figures carried umbrellas, and did not glance upward.
Even had they looked, they probably would have noticed nothing. The night was black as a cave bat. Rain threshed down monotonously. The clammy sky was like an oppressive shroud draped over the needle tipped skyscrapers.
One towering building was under construction. It had been completed to the eightieth floor. Only a scattering of offices were in use at this hour.
Above the eightieth floor, an ornamental observation tower jutted up a full hundred and fifty feet towards the invisible skies. The metal work of this was in place, but no masonry had been laid. Girders were like tendons supporting a gigantic steel skeleton. The naked beams were a sinister forest.
It was in this forest that Death prowled.
Death was a man.
He seemed to have the adroitness of a cat finding its way in the dark. Upward, he crept. The girders were slick with rain, treacherous. The man’s progress was remorseless in its vile purpose.
From time to time, he muttered strange, clucking words. A gibberish of hate. The evil chant was spat into the darkness and did not return.
A master of languages would have been baffled trying to name the tongue the man spoke. A linguistical prodigy might have identified the dialect. The knowledge would be hard to believe, for the words were of a lost race, the language of a civilization long vanished.
“He must die!” the man chanted hoarsely in his strange lingo. “It is decreed by the Son of the Feathered Serpent! Tonight! Tonight death shall strike!” Sudden gusts of wind moaned through the steel structure causing the thick beams and cables to throb like a possessed harp played by a mad seven-fingered god. The pulsing notes provided a sick counterpoint to the muffled litany of death.
Each time he raved his paean of hate, the man hugged an object he carried closer to his chest.
This object was a box, black, leather-covered. It was about four inches deep and four feet long.
“This shall bring death to him!” the man clucked, caressing the black case with clammy hands. The storm bleached colors from the skeletal tower, leaving the bars grey as lifeless stone. Likewise, the man’s fingers were corpselike yet seemingly animated by the dark chant.
The rain beat against him. Steel-fanged space gaped below. One slip would mean his death. Without hesitation he climbed upward yard after yard. His pathway was lined with domed blisters, rivets which had been hammered into the girder. Warty nodules of iron ready to catch an unwary step. Any stumble would have been punished instantly with a plunge into the outer darkness, where gnashing teeth would be silenced with abrupt finality on the pavement below.
Most of the chimneys, which New Yorkers call office buildings, had been emptied of their daily toilers. There were only occasional pale eyes of light gleaming from their sides.
The labyrinth of girders baffled the skulker a moment. He poked a flashlight beam inquisitively. The glow lasted a bare instant, but it disclosed a remarkable thing about the man’s hands.
His fingertips were a brilliant red. They might have been dipped to the first knuckle in steaming gore.
The red-fingered man scuttled onto a workmen’s platform. The planks were thick. The platform was near the outside of the wilderness of steel. He leaned against a thick post, his steaming breath whipping away into the void.
The man lowered his black case. His inner pocket disgorged a compact yet powerful set of binoculars.
ON the bottom floor of a skyscraper many blocks distant, the crimson-fingered man focused his glasses. He started counting stories upward.
The building was one of the tallest in New York. A gleaming spike of steel and brick, it rammed upward nearly a hundred stories.
At the eighty-sixth floor, the sinister man ceased to count. His glasses moved right and left until they found a lighted window. This was at the west corner of the building.
Only slightly blurred by the rain, the powerful binoculars disclosed what was in the room.
The broad, polished top of a massive and exquisitely inlaid table stood directly before the window.
Beyond it was the bronze figure. The lurking shadow shuddered as though gripped in a sudden palsy. A chance observer would have mistaken the tremor as the result of the blowing rain, or the frost grimed steel cage against which the man knelt. But neither of these rational things caused the man’s fingers to grip the binoculars tightly until his fists were like rain-slick knobs of ivory.
The figure in the window looked like the head and shoulders of a man sculpted in hard bronze. It was a startling sight, that bronze bust. The lines of the features, the unusually high forehead, the mobile and muscular, but not too-full mouth, the lean cheeks, denoted a power of character seldom seen.
The bronze of the hair was a little darker than the bronze of the features. The hair was straight, and lay down tightly as a metal skullcap. An artist who cast such a figure would have instantly been hailed as a genius.
Most marvelous of all were the eyes. They glittered like a storm of flake gold when the light from the table lamp played on them. Even from that distance they seemed to exert a hypnotic influence through the powerful binocular lenses, a quality that would cause the most rash individual to hesitate.
The man with the scarlet-tipped fingers flinched, as though feeling a hand from the airy darkness suddenly placed on the nape of his neck.
“Death!” he croaked, as if seeking to overcome the unnerving quality of those strange, golden eyes. “The Son of the Feathered Serpent has commanded. It shall be death!” The haunted harp of the tower groaned in reply. Motivated by the omen, the shadow fell to his knees as if in prayer.
He opened the black box. Faint metallic clicks sounded as he fitted together parts of the thing it held. After that, he ran his fingers lovingly over the object.
“The tool of the Son of the Feathered Serpent!” he chortled. “It shall deliver death!”
Once more, he pressed the binoculars to his eyes and focused them on the amazing bronze statue.
The bronze figure opened its mouth, yawned. At this the rain soaked man froze as though the two men had exchanged their former states of animation and statuesque immobility.
THE bronze man showed wide, very strong-looking teeth, in yawning. Seated there by the immense desk, he did not seem to be a large man. An onlooker would have doubted his six feet height and would have been astounded to learn he weighed every ounce of two hundred pounds.
The big bronze man was so well put together that the impression was not of size, but of power. The bulk of his great body was forgotten in the smooth symmetry of a build incredibly powerful.
This man was Clark Savage, Jr.
Doc Savage! The man whose name was becoming a byword in the odd corners of the world.
No apparent sound had entered the room but the big bronze man cocked his head and left his chair. He went to the door. The hand he opened the door with was long-fingered, supple. Yet its enormous tendons were like cables under a thin film of bronze lacquer.
Doc Savage’s keenness of hearing was vindicated. Five men were getting out of an elevator cage, which had come up silently at the end of the long hall.
These men came toward Doc. There was wild delight in their manner that comes from men who have undergone great ordeals together and emerged battered but victorious. But for some reason, they did not shout boisterous greetings. It was as though Doc bore a great grief, and they sympathized deeply with him, but didn’t know what to say.
The first of the five men was a giant who towered four inches over six feet. He weighed fully two fifty. His face was severe, his mouth thin and grim, and compressed tightly, as though he had just finished uttering a disapproving, “Tsk tsk!” sound. His features had a most puritanical look.
This was “Renny,” or Colonel John Renwick. His arms were enormous, his fists bony monstrosities. His favorite act was to slam his great fists through the solid panel of a heavy door, the earsplitting crack of splintering wood usually accompanied by gasps of disbelief. On more than one occasion, accompanied by groans from an innkeeper or hapless landlord. Despite this, his greater fame was attained through intellectual might. He was known throughout the world for his engineering accomplishments, and mechanical insights.
Behind Renny came William Harper Littlejohn. Very tall, very gaunt. Johnny wore glasses with a peculiarly thick lens over the left eye. He looked like a half-starved, studious scientist. He was probably one of the greatest living experts on geology and archaeology.
Next was Major Thomas J. Roberts, dubbed “Long Tom”. Long Tom was the physical weakling of the crowd, thin, not very tall, and with none-too- healthy-looking skin . He was a wizard with electricity.
“Ham” trailed Long Tom. “Brigadier General Theodore Marley Brooks,” Ham was designated on formal occasions. Slender, waspy, quick-moving, Ham looked what he was; a quick thinker and possibly the most astute lawyer Harvard ever turned out. He carried a plain black cane; almost never went anywhere without it. This was, among other things, a sword cane which in his nimble fingers doubled as an equally deadly cudgel when sheathed.
Bringing up the rear of the motley assortment loped the most remarkable character of all. Only a few inches over five feet tall, he weighed better than two hundred and sixty pounds. He had the build of a gorilla, arms six inches longer than his legs, a chest thicker than it was wide. His eyes were so surrounded by gristle as to resemble pleasant stars twinkling in pits. He grinned with a mouth so wide it looked like an accident.
“Monk!” No other name could fit him!
He was Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Blodgett Mayfair, but he heard the full name so seldom he had about forgotten what it sounded like.
THE men entered the sumptuously furnished reception room of the office suite.
After the first greeting, they were silent, uncomfortable. They didn’t know what to say. Doc Savage’s father had died since they last saw Doc, the details of which were still far from clear. The elder Savage had been known throughout the world for his dominant bearing and his good work. Early in life, he had amassed a tremendous fortune—for one purpose.
That purpose was to go here and there, from one end of the world to the other, looking for excitement and adventure, striving to help those who needed help, punishing those who deserved it.
To that creed he had devoted his life.
His fortune had dwindled to practically nothing. But as it shrank, his influence had increased. It was unbelievably wide, spanning oceans and continents, a heritage befitting the man.
Greater even, was the heritage he had given his son. Not in wealth, but in training to take up his career of adventure and righting of wrongs where it left off. To lesser men this would have been dismissed as a mania, a laughable delusion which would burn itself out quickly. But in the firm mental grip of so great a man it became something magnificent. Like a patient marksman, he had fitted his son like an arrow to strike the heart of the dark forces of the world.
Clark Savage, Jr. had been reared from the cradle to become the supreme adventurer.
Hardly had Doc learned to walk, when his father started him on a strict exercise regimen to which he still adhered. Two hours each day, Doc exercised intensively all his muscles, senses, and his brain.
As a result of these exercises, Doc possessed strength superhuman. There was no magic about it, though if it could bottled a salesman could have made a vast pile. Doc had simply built up muscle intensively all his life. Each tissue and fiber blended perfectly together, working in concert to perform tasks many would have deemed impossible.
Doc’s mental training had started with medicine and surgery. It had branched out to include all arts and sciences. Just as Doc could easily overpower the gorillalike Monk in spite of his great strength, so did Doc know more about chemistry. And the same applied to Renny, the engineer; Long Tom, the electrical wizard; Johnny, the geologist and archaeologist; and Ham, the lawyer.
Doc had been well trained for his work.
Grief lay heavily upon Doc’s five friends. The elder Savage had been close to their hearts. Like all men who can truly be called great, he had been one to value friendships over awards. The bonds he forged through loyalty and kindness were cruelly severed by death. The echoes of their breaking would ring through the hearts of his friends for years to come.
“Your father’s death—was three weeks ago,” Renny said at last.
Doc nodded slowly. “So I learned from the newspapers—when I got back today.”
Renny groped for words, saying finally: “We tried to get you in every way. But you were gone. It was like you had been off the face of the earth.”
Doc looked at the window. There was grief in his gold eyes.
A MESSAGE FROM THE DEAD
FALLING rain strewed the windowpane with streaks like melting glass. Far below, very pallid in the soaking murk, were street lights. Over on the Hudson River, a steamer was sounding a foghorn. The frightened, lonely call was hardly audible inside the room.
Some blocks away, the skyscraper under construction loomed a darksome pile, crowned with a spidery labyrinth of steel girders. Only the vaguest outlines of it were discernible.
Impossible, of course, to glimpse the strange, crimson-fingered servant of death who crouched in that wilderness of metal.
Doc Savage said slowly: “I was far away when my father died.”
He did not explain where he had been, did not mention his “Fortress of Solitude,” his rendezvous built on a rocky island deep in the arctic regions. He had been there.
It was to this spot that Doc retired periodically to brush up on the newest developments in science, psychology, medicine or engineering. This was the secret of his universal knowledge, for his periods of concentration there were long and intense.
The Fortress of Solitude had been built on his father’s recommendation. And no one on earth knew the location of the retreat, which was vital for its functioning. Aside from being outfitted with the most modern electrical and scientific apparatus, it was far removed from the pressures of society. Once there, nothing could interrupt Doc’s studies and experiments. As his daily exercises honed his muscles into a balanced machine of force, so did this retreat develop his mind.
Without taking his golden eyes from the glistening window, Doc asked: “Was there anything strange about my father’s death?”
The odd group of men exchanged glances. Physically different, they were alike as dominoes towards their friend and leader. They hesitated to intrude on his sorrow.
“We’re not certain,” Renny muttered, and set his thin lips in an expression of ominousness.
“I, for one, am certain!” snapped Littlejohn. He settled more firmly on his nose the glasses which had the extremely thick left lens.
“What do you mean, Johnny?” Doc Savage asked, casually looking out the rain-rippled glass. He tone was casual, but his great form still as though poised.
“I am positive your father was murdered.” Johnny’s gauntness, his studious scientist look, gave him a profoundly serious expression. “I’d sooner lose a foot than upset you, Doc. But this thing has been gnawing on me from the start.”
Doc Savage swung slowly from the window. His bronze face had not changed expression. But under his brown business coat, tensing muscles had made his arms inches farther around.
“Why do you say that, Johnny?”
Johnny hesitated. His right eye narrowed, the left remaining wide and a little blank behind the thick spectacle lens. In a habit he’s adpoted over the years, he examined his words for flaws before delivering them while the other eye studied his audience. The effect was unnerving when seen for the first time. After a tense moment he gave a barely perceptible nod and continued.
“Only a hunch,” he admitted, and then added, almost shouting: “I’m right about it! I know I am!”
That was Johnny’s way. He had absolute faith in what he called his hunches. And nearly always he was right. On occasions when he was wrong, though, he was very wrong indeed.
“Exactly what did the doctors say caused death?” Doc asked. Doc’s voice was low, pleasant, but a voice capable of great volume and changing tone.
Renny answered that. Renny’s voice was subterranean thunder tumbling up from the depths of a granite fissure. “The doctors didn’t know. It was a new one on them. Your father broke out with queer circular red patches on his neck. And he lasted only a couple of days.”
“I ran all kinds of chemical tests, trying to find if it was poison or germs or what it was caused the red spots,” Monk interposed, slowly opening and closing his huge, red-furred fists. “I never found out a thing!”
Monk’s looks were deceiving. His low forehead apparently didn’t contain room for a spoonful of brains. Actually, Monk was in a way of being the most widely known chemist in America. He was a Houdini of the test tubes.
“We have no facts upon which to base suspicion.” clipped Ham, the waspish Harvard lawyer whose quick thinking had earned him a brigadier generalship in the World War. “But we’re suspicious anyway. If it was contagious, the local hospitals would have records of other cases. But the only thing we came up with when we asked was a bunch of blank looks. No doctor had ever heard of the bizarre symptoms, much less had worked a case matching what we described.”
Renny scratched his plowlike chin. “Everyone knew your old man had rivals, but nobody who’d try to fix him like that. Heck, everyone who knew him though the world of your father.”
Doc Savage moved abruptly across the room to a steel safe. The safe was huge, reaching above his shoulders. He swung the iron reinforced door open.
It was instantly evident an explosive had torn the lock out of the safe door.
A long, surprised gasp ran around the room.
“I found it broken into when I came back,” Doc explained. “Maybe that has a connection with my father’s death. Maybe not.”
DOC’S movements were rhythmic as he swung over and perched on a corner of the big, inlaid table before the window. His eyes roved slowly over the modernly furnished office. There was another office adjoining, larger, which contained a library of technical books that was priceless because of its completeness.
Adjoining that was the vast laboratory, replete with apparatus for chemical and electrical experiments. This was about all the worldly goods the elder Savage had left behind. He’d never been given to worldly comforts. If the tools at hand were enough to do the job, what was the use of wanting more? he would reason. For a man who had so little possessions, he was overflowing with what the previous generation would call character. It was the latter which was his son’s greatest inheritance.
“What’s eating you, Doc?” asked the giant Renny. “We all got the word from you to show up here tonight. Why?”
Doc Savage’s strange golden eyes roved over the assembled men; from Renny, whose knowledge of engineering in all its branches was profound, to Long Tom, who was an electrical wizard, to Johnny, whose storehouse of information on the structure of the earth and ancient races which had inhabited it was extremely vast, to Ham, the clever Harvard lawyer and quick thinker, and finally to Monk, who, in spite of his resemblance to a gorilla, was a great chemist.
In these five men, Doc knew he had five of the greatest brains ever to assemble in one room. Each was surpassed in his field by only one human being: Doc Savage himself.
“I think you can guess why you are here,” Doc said.
Monk rubbed his hairy hands together, calluses rasping. Of the six men present, Monk’s skin alone bore scars. The skin of the others yielded no marks betraying their adventurous past, thanks to Doc’s uncanny skill in treating wounds to heal without leaving scars.
But not Monk. His tough, rusty iron hide was so marked with silver scars that it looked as if a flock of chickens with gray-chalk feet had paraded on him. This was because Monk refused to let Doc treat him. Monk gloried in his tough looks.
“Our big job is about to start, huh?” said Monk, vast satisfaction in his mild voice. “Our real job?”
Doc nodded. “The work to which we shall devote the rest of our lives.”
At that statement, great satisfaction appeared upon the face of every man present. They showed eagerness for what was to come.
Doc laid a powerful hand on the corner of the desk. Unwittingly, for he knew nothing of the red-fingered killer lurking in the distant skyscraper that was under construction, Doc had placed his back out of line with the window. In fact, since the men had entered, he had not once been aligned with the storm streaked pane.
“We first got together back in the War,” he told the five slowly. “We all liked the big scrap. It got into our blood. When we came back, the humdrum life of an ordinary man was no longer suited to our natures. No matter what we tried we became edgy, restless. Stirred by something tasted in battle, we were now unsatisfied. So we sought something else.”
Doc held their absolute attention as if he had them hypnotized. Undeniably this golden-eyed man was the leader of the group, as well as leader of anything he undertook. His very being radiated a calm knowledge of all things, and an ability to handle himself under any conditions.
“Moved by mutual admiration for my father,” Doc continued, “we decided to take up his work of good wherever he was forced to leave off. We at once began training ourselves for that purpose. It is the cause for which I had been reared from the cradle, but you fellows, because of a love of excitement and adventure, wish to join me.”
Doc Savage paused. He looked over his companions. One by one, in the soft light of the well-furnished office, one of the few remaining evidences of the wealth that once belonged to his father.
“Tonight,” he went on soberly, “we begin carrying out the ideals of my father— to go here and there, from one end of the world to the other, looking for excitement and adventure, striving to help those who need help, and punishing those who deserve it.”
THERE was a somber silence after that immense pronunciation.
It was Monk, matter-of-fact person that he was, who shattered the quiet. “What flubdubs me is who broke into that safe, and why?” he grumbled. “Doc, could it have any connection with your father’s death?”
“It could, of course,” Doc explained. “The contents of the safe had been rifled. I do not know whether my father had anything of importance in it. But I suspect there was.”
Doc drew a folded paper from inside his coat. The lower half of the paper had been burned away, as was evident from its charred edges. Doc continued speaking.
“Finding this in a corner of the safe leads me to that belief. The explosion which opened the safe obviously destroyed the lower part of the paper. And the robber probably overlooked the rest. Here, read it!”
He passed it to the five men. The paper was covered with the fine, almost engraving-perfect writing of Doc’s father. They all recognized the penmanship instantly.
CLARK: I have many things to tell you. In your whole lifetime, there never was an occasion when I desired you here so much as I do now. I need you, son, because many things have happened which indicate to me that my last journey is at hand. You will find that I have nothing much to leave you in the way of tangible wealth.
I have, however, the satisfaction of knowing that in you I shall live.
I have developed you from boyhood into the sort of man you have become, and I have spared no time or expense to make you just what I think you should be.
Everything I have done for you has been with the purpose that you should find yourself capable of carrying on the work which hopefully started, and which, in these last few years, has been almost impossible to carry on.
If I do not see you again before this letter is in your hands, I want to assure you that I appreciate the fact that you have lacked nothing in the way of filial devotion. That you have been absent so much of the time has been a secret source of gratification to me, for your absence has, I know, made you self-reliant and able. It was all that I hoped for you.
Strangely enough, that somber look denoted that Renny was beginning to take interest. The tougher the going got, the better Renny functioned and conversely the more puritanical he looked.
The singed letter continued:
Now, as to the heritage which I am about to leave you:
What I am passing along to you may be a doubtful heritage. It may be a heritage of woe. It may even be a heritage of destruction to you if you attempt to capitalize on it. On the other hand, it may enable you to do many things for those who are not as fortunate as you yourself, and will, in that way, be a boon for you in carrying on your work of doing good to all.
Here is the general information concerning it:
Some twenty years ago, in company with Hubert Robertson, I went on an expedition to Hidalgo, in Central America, to investigate the report of a prehistoric —
There the missive ended. Flames had consumed the rest.
"The thing to do is get hold of Hubert Robertson." clipped the quick- thinking Ham . Waspish, rapid-moving, he swung over to the telephone, scooped it up. “I know Hubert Robertson’s phone number. He is connected with the Museum of Natural History.”
“You won’t get him.” Doc said dryly.
Doc got off the table and stood beside the giant Renny. It was only then that one realized what a big man Doc was. Alongside Renny, Doc was like dynamite alongside gunpowder.
“Hubert Robertson is dead,” Doc said with finality. “He died from the same thing that killed my father, a weird malady that started with a breaking out of red spots. And he died at about the same time as my father.”
I took a lot to shake Ham, but this threw him. “But the hospital reports,” he began.
“Covered local cases, or ones in the States,” explained Doc. “Mr. Robertson was in Panama when overcome with the malady. Like my father, the cause doesn’t appear contagious. He was the only victim of the disease, but it cut him down just as completely as an assassin’s bullet.”
RENNY’S thin mouth pinched even tighter at that. Gloom settled on his long face. He looked like a man disgusted enough with the evils of the world to dispair.
“That flooeys our chances of finding out more about this heritage your father left you.” he rumbled.
“Not entirely,” Doc corrected. “I was thinking over the problem before you fellows arrived. Our options are few because facts are scant, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have any. Wait here a moment.”
He stepped through another door, crossed the room banked with the volumes which comprised his father’s great technical library. Through a second door, and he was in the laboratory.
Cases laden with chemicals rose thick as forest trees from the floor. There were electrical coils, vacuum tubes, ray apparatus, microscopes, retorts, electric furnaces, everything that could go into such a laboratory.
From a cabinet Doc removed a metal box closely resembling an old-fashioned magic lantern. The lens, instead of being ordinary optical glass, was a very dark purple, almost black. There was a cord for plugging the device into an electric-light socket.
Doc carried this into the room where his five men waited, placed it on a stand and aimed the lens at the window. He plugged the cord into an electric outlet.
Before putting the thing in operation, he lifted the metal lid and beckoned to Long Tom, the electrical wizard.
“Know what this is?”
“Of course,” Long Tom said, pulling absently at an ear that was too big, too thin and too pale. “That is a lamp for making ultra-violet rays, or what is commonly called black light. The rays are invisible to the human eye, since they are shorter than ordinary light, but many substances when placed in the black light will glow, or fluoresce after the fashion of luminous paint on a watch dial. Examples of such substances are ordinary vaseline, quinine—“
“That’s plenty,” interposed Doc. “Will you look at the window I’ve pointed this at. See anything unusual about it?”
Johnny, the gaunt archaeologist and geologist, advanced to the window, removing his glasses as he went. He held the thick-lensed left glass before his right eye, inspecting the window.
In reality, the left side of Johnny’s glasses was an extremely powerful magnifying lens. His work often required a magnifier, so he wore one over his left eye, which was virtually useless because of an injury received in the World War.
“I can’t find nothing,” Johnny finally declared. “There’s nothing unusual about the window.”
“I hope you’re wrong,” Doc said, in his wondrously modulated voice. “But you could not see the writing on that window, should there be any. The substance my father perfected for leaving secret messages was absolutely invisible. But it glows under ultra-violet light.”
“You mean—” hairy Monk rumbled.
“That my father and I often left each other notes written on that window,” Doc explained. “He is gone from us, but that doesn’t mean he’s unable to still communicate to those who know what to look for. Watch.”
Doc crossed the room, a big, dynamic man, light on his feet as a cat for all his size, and turned out the lights. He came back to the black-light box. His hand, supple despite its enormous tendons, clicked the switch that shot current into the apparatus.
Instantly, written words sprang out on the darkened windowpane. Glowing with a dazzling, electric blue, the effect of their sudden appearance was uncanny.
A split second later came a terrific report. A bullet shattered the glass into thousands of fragments, wiping out the sparkling blue message before they could read it. The bullet passed entirely through the steel-plate inner door of the safe, embedding in the safe back.
THE room plunged into silence as the safe rang like a cracked church bell. One second, two. Nobody moved.
And then a new sound was heard. It was a low, mellow, trilling sound, like the song of some strange bird of the jungle, or the sound of the wind filtering through a primal forest. It was melodious, though it had no tune; and it was inspiring, though it was not awesome.
The amazing sound had the peculiar quality of seeming to come from everywhere within the room rather than from a definite spot, as though permeated with an eerie essence of ventriloquism.
A purposeful calm settled over Doc Savage’s five men as they heard that sound. Their breathing became less rapid, their brains more alert.
For this weird sound was part of Doc—a small, unconscious thing which he did in moments of utter concentration. To his friends it was both a battle cry and a song of triumph. It would come upon his lips when a plan of action was being arranged, foreshadowing a master stroke which made all things certain.
It would come again in the midst of some struggle, when the odds were all against his men, when everything seemed lost. And with the sound, new strength would come to all, and the tide would turn.
And again, it might come when some beleaguered member of the group, alone and under fire, had almost given up all hope of survival. Then that sound would filter through, some way, and the victim knew that help was at hand. It embodied the brass trumpet of an angelic chorus and singing harmony of a sword delivering justice.
The trilling call was a sign of Doc, and of safety, of victory.
“Anyone got it?” asked Johnny, and he could be heard settling his glasses more firmly on his bony nose.
“No one,” said Doc. “Let’s not give them another chance either. Hit the deck and make like a snake towards the door. That was no ordinary rifle bullet, from the sound of it!”
At that instant, a second bullet tore through the room. It came, not through the window, but through several inches of brick and mortar which comprised the wall. An explosion of plaster sprayed across the thick carpet.
DOC SAVAGE was the last of the six to enter the adjoining room. But he was inside the room in less than ten seconds. They moved with amazing speed, these men.
Doc flashed across the big library. The speed with which he traversed the darkness, never disturbing an article of furniture, showed the marvelous development of his senses. No jungle cat could have done better.
Expensive binoculars reposed in a desk drawer, a high-powered hunting rifle in a corner cabinet. Putting thought into action, Doc grabbed both and flew back to the ruined window.
He watched, waited. Solid and immobile as the brickwork outside.
No more shots followed the first two.
Four minutes, five, Doc bored into the night with the binoculars. He peered into every office window within range, and there were hundreds. He scrutinized the spidery framework of the observation tower atop the skyscraper under construction. Darkness packed the labyrinth of girders, and he could discern no trace of the assassin.
“He’s gone.” Doc concluded aloud.
No sound of movement followed his words. Then the window shade ran down loudly in the room where they had been shot at. The five men stiffened, then relaxed at Doc’s low call, Doc had moved soundlessly to the shade and drawn it.
Doc was beside the safe, the lights turned on, when they entered.
The window glass had been blown completely out of the frame. It lay in glistening shards and spears on the luxuriant carpet.
The glowing message inscribed on it seemed destroyed forever.
“Somebody was laying for me outside,” Doc said, betraying no concern at all in his well-developed voice. “They evidently couldn’t get the aim they wanted at me through the window. When we turned out the light to look at the writing on the window, they thought we were leaving the building. So they took a couple of shots for wild luck.”
“Next time, Doc, suppose we fix up the office with some bulletproof glass.” Renny suggested, the humor in his voice belying his dour look.
“Sure,” said Doc. “Next time! We’re on the eighty-sixth floor, and it’s quite common to be shot at here.”
Ham interposed a sarcastic snort. He dashed over, waspish, quick-moving, and nearly managed to thrust his slender arm through the hole the bullet had tunneled through in the brick wall.
“Even if you put up bulletproof windows, you’d have to be blame daft to sit in front of them.” he clipped dryly.
Doc was studying the hole in the safe door, noting particularly the angle at which the powerful bullet had entered. He opened the safe. The big bullet, almost intact, was embedded in the safe’s rear wall.
Renny ran a great arm into the safe, grasped the bullet with his fingers. His giant arm muscles corded as he tried to pull it out. The fist that could drive bodily through inch-thick planking with perfect ease was defied by the embedded metal slug.
“Whew!” snorted Renny. “That’s a job for a drill and cold chisels.”
Saying nothing, merely as if he wanted to see if the bullet was stuck as tightly as Renny said, Doc reached into the safe.
Great muscles popping up along his arm suddenly split his coat sleeve wide open. He glanced at the ruined sleeve ruefully, and brought his arm out of the safe. The bullet lay loosely in his palm.
RENNY could not have looked more astounded had a spike-tailed devil hopped out of the safe. The expression on his puritanical face was ludicrous.
Doc weighed the bullet in his palm. The lids were drawn over his golden eyes. He seemed to be giving his marvelous brain every chance to work—and he was. He was guessing the weight of that bullet within a few grains, almost as accurately as a chemist’s scale could weigh it.
The golden eyes flashed with resolution as he delivered his judgement. “Seven hundred and fifty grains,” he decided, “That makes it a .577 caliber Nitro-Express rifle. It is likely the gun that fired that shot was a double-barreled rifle.”
“How d’you figure that?” asked Ham. Possibly the most astute of Doc’s five friends, Doc’s reasoning nevertheless got away from even Ham.
“There were only two shots,” Doc clarified. “Also, cartridges of this tremendous size are usually fired from double-barreled elephant rifles.”
“Let’s do somethin’ about this!” boomed Monk. “The bushwhacker may get away while we’re jawin’!”
“He’s probably fled already, since I could locate no trace of him with the binoculars,” Doc replied. “But we’ll do something about it, right enough.”
With exactly four terse sentences, one directed each at Renny, Long Tom, Johnny, and Monk, Doc gave all the orders he needed to. He did not explain in detail what they were to do. That wasn’t necessary. He merely gave them the idea of what he wanted, and they set to work and got it in short order. They were clever, these men of Doc’s. Outwardly dissimilar, but with hearts meshed together like a fine Swiss watch.
Renny, the engineer, picked a slide rule from the drawer of a desk, a pair of dividers, some paper and length of string. He probed the angle at which the bullet had passed through the inner safe door, calculated expertly the slight amount the window had probably deflected it. In less than a minute, he had his string aligned from the safe to a spot midway in the window, and was sighting down it.
“Snap out of it, Long Tom!” Monk called impatiently.
“Just keep your shirt on!” Long Tom complained. He was doing his own share as rapidly as the engineer.
Long Tom had made a swift swing through the library and laboratory, collecting odds and ends of electrical material. With a couple of powerful light bulbs he unscrewed from sockets, some tin, a pocket mirror he borrowed from—of all people—Monk, Long Tom rigged an apparatus to project a thin, extremely powerful beam of light. He added a flashlight lens, and borrowed the magnifying half of Johnny’s glasses before he got just the effect he desired.
Long Tom sighted his light beam down Renny’s string, thus locating precisely in the gloomy mass of skyscrapers, the spot from whence the shots had come.
In the meantime, Johnny, with fingers and eye made expert by years of assembling bits of pottery from ancient ruins, and the bones of prehistoric monsters, was fitting the shattered windowpane together. A task that would have taken a layman countless hours, Johnny accomplished in minutes.
Johnny turned the black-light apparatus on the glass. The message in glowing blue sprang out. Intact!
Monk came waddling in from the laboratory. In the big furry hands that swung below his knees, he carried several bottles, tightly corked. They held a fluid of villainous color.
Monk, from the wealth of chemical formulas within his head, had compounded a gas with which to fight their opponents, should they succeed in cornering whoever had fired that shot. It was a gas that would instantly paralyze anyone who inhaled it, but the effects were only temporary, and not harmful. Violence was often a byproduct of the lumbering man’s work but it was accompanied with a crafty side which would stump a quizmaster. He knew Doc wanted answers, and the assassin would give them up only if caught alive. Hurting would come later.
THEY gathered around the table on which Johnny had assembled the fragments of glass. All but Renny, who was still calculating his angles. And as Doc flashed the light upon the glass, they read the message written there:
Important papers back of the red brick—
Before they could make sense of the ghostly glowing words, Renny shouted his discovery.
“It’s from the observation tower, on that unfinished skyscraper,” he cried. “That’s where the shot came from—and the sharpshooter must still be somewhere up there!”
“Let’s go!” Doc ordered, and the men surged out into the massive, shining corridor of the office building, straight to its battery of elevators.
If they noticed that Doc tarried behind several seconds, none of them remarked on the fact. Doc was always doing little things like that—little things that often turned out to have amazing consequences later.
The men piled into an open elevator with a suddenness that startled the dozing operator. He wouldn’t be able to sleep on the job the rest of the night!
With a whine like a lost pup, the cage descended.
Grimly silent, Doc and his five friends were a remarkable collection of men. They so impressed the elevator operator that he would have shot the lift past the first floor into the basement, had Doc not dropped a bronze, long-fingered hand on the control.
Doc led out through the lobby at a trot. A taxi was cocked in at the curb, driver dreaming over the wheel. Four of the six men piled into the machine. Doc and Renny rode the running board.
“Do a Barney Oldfield!” Doc directed the cab driver.
The hack catapulted from the curb as if stung.
Rain sheeted against Doc’s strong, bronzed face, and his straight, close-lying bronze hair. An unusual fact was at once evident. Doc’s bronze skin and bronze hair had the strange quality of seeming impervious to water. They didn’t get appreciably wet; he shed water like the proverbial duck’s back.
The streets were virtually deserted in this shopping region as the taxi raced over the slick road. A misty, roostertail of water fountained behind the charging auto. Over toward the theater district, perhaps, there would be a crowd but this area was thankfully deserted. The eager manner of the men crowding the driver gave the unspoken command to ignore common safety and plunge headlong into risk. Such was their effect that the car behaved like a Langhorne racer instead of the threadbare sedan it actually was.
Brakes giving one long squawk, the taxi skidded sidewise to the curb and rocked to a halt. Doc and Renny were instantly running for the entrance of the new skyscraper. The four passengers shot out of the cab as if they’d been blown out. Ham still carried his plain black cane, his suit miraculously unrumpled despite the crush inside the cab.
“My pay!” howled the taxi driver, his heart still racing after the reckless course he’d taken through the city.
“Wait for us!” Doc flung back at him.
In the recently finished building lobby, Doc yelled for the watchman. He got no answer. He was puzzled. There should be one around. Even in the upscale district of New York, an unfinished skyscraper would hold an attraction to vagrants looking for a dry place to sleep for the night. Scarcely a month could go by without news of a drunk who had wandered onto a construction site and fallen down an elevator shaft, or drifter who had managed to tree themselves on scaffolding hundreds of feet above the city streets.
They found an elevator, sent it upward to the topmost floor. The clattering cage drew no notice, as though the building was truly deserted. They sprang up a staircase to where all construction but steel work ceased. There they found the watchmen.
The man, a big Irishman with cheeks so plump and red they looked like the halves of Christmas apples, was bound and gagged. He was indeed grateful when Doc turned him loose—but quite astounded. For Doc, not bothering with the knots, simply freed the Irishman by snapping the stout ropes with his fingers as easily as twine.
“Begorra, man!” muttered the Irishman. “‘Tis not human yez can be, with a strength like that!”
“Who tied you up?” Doc asked compellingly. “What did he look like?”
“Faith, I dunno!” declared the son of Erin. “‘Twas not a single look or a smell I got of him, except for one thing. The fingers of the man were red on the ends. Like he had dipped ‘em in blood!”
ON up into the wilderness of steel girders, the six men climbed. They left the Irishman behind, rubbing raw welts where the ropes had burned into his flesh, and mumbling to himself about a man who broke ropes with his fingers and another man who had red fingertips.
“This is the right height where our light beam intersected the structure,” said the gaunt Johnny, bounding at Doc’s heels. “He was shooting from about here.”
Johnny was hardly breathing rapidly. A tall, poorly looking man, Johnny nevertheless exceeded all the others, excepting Doc, in endurance. He had been known to go for three days and three nights steadily with only a slice of bread and a canteen of water. Whatever motivated his cadaverous frame was impervious to deprivation and exhaustion.
Doc veered right. He had taken a flashlight from an inside pocket.
It was not like most flashlights, being a device which Doc had turned his gift of invention on. It employed no battery to power the device. Instead, a tiny, powerful generator built into the handle and driven by a stout spring and clockwork, supplied the current. One twist of the flash handle would wind the spring and furnish light current for several minutes. A special receptacle held spare bulbs. There was not much chance of Doc’s light playing out.
The flash spiked a white rod of luminance ahead. It picked up a workman’s platform of heavy planks enclosed by a thin safety railing.
“The shot came from there,” Doc pointed.
A steel girder, a few inches wide, slick with moisture, offered a shortcut to the platform. Doc ran along it, surefooted as a bronze spider on a metal web. His five men, knowing they would be flirting with death among the steel beams hundreds of feet below, decided to go the long way around, and did it very carefully. Doc was an easy man to admire, but only the foolish or suicidal would try to emulate him when he was so driven.
Doc had picked two empty cartridges off the plank flooring, and was scrutinizing them when his five friends put relieved feet on the stout beams.
“A cannon!” Monk gulped, after one look at the great size of the cartridges.
“Not quite,” Doc replied. “They are cartridges for the elephant rifle I told you about. And it was a double-barreled rifle the sniper used, of that there can be no question.”
“What makes you so sure, Doc?” asked big, sober-faced Renny.
Doc pointed at the plank surface of the platform. Barely visible were two tiny marks, side by side. Now that Doc had called their attention to the marks, the others knew they had been made by the muzzle support of a double-barreled elephant rifle resting on the boards.
“He was a short man,” Doc added. “Shorter, even, than Long Tom, here. And much wider.”
“Huh?” This was beyond even quick-thinking Ham.
Seemingly unaware of their great height, and the certain death the slightest misstep would bring, Doc swung around the group and back the easy route they had come. He pointed to a girder which, because it was sheltered by another girder above, was dry on one side. But there was a damp smear on the dry steel.
“The sniper rubbed it with his shoulder in passing,” Doc explained. “That shows how tall he is. It also shows he has wide shoulders, because only a wide-shouldered man would rub the girder. Now—”
Doc cut off his idea suddenly. As rigid as if he had transformed into the hard bronze he so resembled, he poised against the girder. His glittering golden eyes seemed to grow luminous in the darkness.
“What is it, Doc?” asked Renny.
“Someone just struck a match, up there in the front office where we were shot at.”
He interrupted himself with an explosive sound. “There! He’s just lit another.”
Doc instantly whipped the binoculars—he had brought them along from the office—from his pocket. He aimed them at the window. From among hundreds of black squares looking out from the grey brick facade the high powered lenses were drawn to one as if magnetically attuned.
He got but a fragmentary glimpse. The match was about burned out. Only the tips of the prowler’s fingers were visible in the wavering light.
“His fingers—the ends are red!” Doc voiced what he had seen.
THE RED DEATH PROMISE
AN interval of a dozen seconds, Doc waited for another match to strike but none came.
“Let’s go!” he breathed then. “You fellows make for that room, quick!”
The five men spun on their heels began descending from the platform as swiftly as they dared. But it would take them several minutes in the darkness and jumble of girders to reach the spot where the elevators could carry them down.
“Where’s Doc?” Monk rumbled when they were down a couple of stories.
Doc was not with them, they discovered.
“He stayed behind.” snapped waspish Ham.
Then, as Monk accidentally nudged him in the dangerous murk: “Listen, Monk, do you want me to kick you off here?”
Doc, however, had not exactly remained behind. He had, with the uncanny nimbleness of a forest-dwelling puma, darted across a precarious network of girders until he reached the supply elevators. These were erected by workmen on the outside of the building for fetching up materials.
The cages were hundreds of feet below, on the ground, and there was no one to operate the controls. But Doc knew that, and wasn’t expecting any help from that end.
On the lip of the elevator shaft, balanced by the grip of his powerful knees, he shucked off his coat. He balled it into a tight bundle in his hands.
The stout wire cables which lifted the elevator cab were barely discernible. A full eight feet out over space they hung, but with a gentle leap, Doc launched out and seized them. Using his coat to protect his palms from the friction sure to be generated, he let himself slide down the cables.
Air roared past his ears, tore at his trouser legs and shirt sleeves. The coat smoked, began to leave a trail of sparks. Halfway down, Doc braked to a stop by tightening his grip like a pneumatic vice, and changed to a fresh spot in the abused coat.
So it was that Doc had reached the street even while thin, waspish Ham was threatening to kick the gigantic Monk off the girder if Monk shoved him again.
It was imperative to get to the office before the departure of the prowler who had lit the match. Doc plunged into the taxi he had left idling at the curb and rapped an order.
Doc’s voice had a magical quality of compelling sudden obedience when heard. With a metallic ratchet of clashing gears and the squawl of spinning tires, the taxi doubled around in the street, reaching the first intersection before all four tires touched the ground at the same time. Against its utilitarian design, the taxi covered the several blocks in a fraction of a minute.
A bronze streak, Doc was out of the cab and through the skyscraper lobby. He confronted the elevator operator.
“What sort of man did you take up to eighty-six a few minutes ago?”
“There ain’t a soul come in this building since you left!” said the elevator operator.
DOC’S brain grappled the problem an instant. He had naturally supposed the sniper had invaded the room above, but it was becoming clear that there was more than one perpetrator behind the attack.
“Get this,” he clipped at the operator. “You wait here and be ready to sic my five men on anybody who comes out of this building. My men will be here in a minute. I’m taking your cage up!”
In the cage with the last word, Doc sent it sighing upward a couple of city blocks. He stopped it one floor below the eighty-sixth, slipped from the cage and crept furtively up the stairs and to the suite of offices which had been his father’s, but which was now Doc’s own.
The suite door gaped ajar. Inside was sepia blackness that might hold anything.
Doc popped the corridor lights off as a matter of safety. He feared no encounter in the dark. He had trained his ears by a system of scientific sound exercises which was a part of the two hours of intensive physical and mental drills Doc performed daily. So powerful and sensitive had his hearing become that he could detect sounds absolutely inaudible to other people. He had the advantage, ears were all crucial in a scrimmage in the dark.
But a quick round of the three rooms, a moment of listening in each, convinced Doc the quarry had fled.
His men arrived in the corridor with a great deal of racket. Doc lit the offices and watched them file in. Monk was absent.
“Monk remained downstairs on guard,” Renny explained. He ran the edge of a thumbnail down his jaw. “No telling what our quarry is capable of. He don’t want a stand up fight, that’s for sure.”
Doc nodded, his golden eyes flickering over towards the table. On that table, where none had been before, was propped a blood-red envelope.
Crossing over quickly, Doc picked up a book, opened it and used it like pincers to pick up the strange scarlet missive. He carried it into the laboratory, and dunked it in a bath of concentrated disinfectant fluid, stuff calculated to destroy every possible germ.
“I’ve heard of murderers leaving their victims an envelope full of the germs of some rare disease. It could be in the form of dust or powder, or something as subtle as the glue sealing it shut. For now, caution will be our byword,” he told the others dryly. “Remember, it was a strange malady that seized my father.”
Carefully with metal tongs, he pried the crimson envelope apart until he had disclosed the missive it held. Words were lettered on scarlet paper with an odious black ink. They read:
SAVAGE: Turn back from your quest, lest the red death strike once again.
There was no signature.
A silent group, they went back to the room where they had found the vermilion missive, each to their own thoughts.
IT was Long Tom who gave voice to a new discovery. He leveled a rather pale hand at the box which held the ultra- violet light apparatus.
“That isn’t sitting where we left it,” he declared. “I knew something was off the moment we came back.”
Doc nodded. He had already noticed that, but he did not say so. He made it a policy never to disillusion one of his men who thought he had been first to notice something or get an idea, although Doc himself might have discovered it far earlier. It was this modesty of Doc’s which helped endear him to everybody he was associated with.
“The prowler who came in and left the red note used the black-light apparatus,” he told Long Tom. “It’s a safe guess that he inspected the window Johnny put back together.”
“Then he read the invisible writing on the glass!” Renny rumbled.
“Could he make heads or tails of it?”
“I hope he could,” Was the bronze man’s reply. They all betrayed surprise at that, but Doc, turning away, indicated he wasn’t ready to amplify on his strange statement. Doc borrowed the magnifying glass Johnny wore in his left spectacle lens, and inspected the door for finger prints.
“The burglar slipped up. Getting in the building was a mistake because we’re guarding the exit and know he’s here. We’ll get whoever it was.” Ham decided.
The waspish lawyer made a wry smile and continued. “One look at Monk’s ugly phiz and nobody would try to get out of here.”
But at that instant the elevator doors rolled back, out in the corridor.
Monk waddled from the lift like a huge anthropoid.
“What d’you want?” he asked them. They stared at him, puzzled.
Monk’s big mouth crooked into a gigantic scowl. “Didn’t one of you phone downstairs for me to come right up?”
Doc shook his bronze head slowly. “No.”
Monk let out a bellow that would have shamed the beast he resembled. He stamped up and down. He waved his huge, corded arms that were inches longer than his legs.
“Somebody run a whizzer on me!” he howled. “Whoever it was, I’ll wring his neck! I’ll pull off his ears! I’ll give—”
“You’ll be in a cage at the zoo if you don’t learn the manners of a man!” waspish Ham said bitingly.
Monk promptly stopped his apelike prancing and bellowing. He looked steadily at Ham, starting with Ham's distinguished shock of prematurely gray hair, and running his little eyes slowly down Ham's well- cared-for face, perfect business suit, and small shoes.
Suddenly Monk began to laugh. His mirth was a loud, hearty roar.
At the gusty laughter, Ham stiffened. His face became very red with fury.
For all Monk had to do to get Ham’s goat was laugh at him. It had all started back in the war, when Ham was Brigadier General Theodore Marley Brooks. The brigadier general had been the moving spirit in a little scheme to teach Monk certain French words which had a meaning entirely different than Monk thought. As a result, Monk had spent a session in the guardhouse for some things he had innocently called a French general.
A few days after that, though, Brigadier General Theodore Marley Brooks was suddenly hauled up before a court-martial, accused of stealing hams. Somebody had expertly planted plenty of evidence.
Ham got his name right there and it stuck even though the charges didn’t. To this day he had not been able to prove it was the homely Monk who framed him. That rankled Ham’s lawyer soul.
Unnoticed, Doc Savage had reached over and turned on the ultra-violet- light apparatus . He focused it on the pieced-together window, then called over his men. “Take a look!”
The message on the glass had been changed
THERE now glowed with an eerie blue luminance exactly eight more words than had been in the original message. The communication now read:
Important papers back of the red brick house at corner of Mountainair and Farmwell Streets.
“Hey!” exploded the giant Renny. “How—”
With an uplifted hand, a nod at the door, Doc silenced Renny and sent them all piling into the corridor.
As the elevator rushed them down to the main floor, Doc explained: “Somebody decoyed you upstairs so they could get away, Monk.”
“Don’t I know it!” Monk mumbled. “But what I can’t savvy is who added words to that message?”
“That was my doing,” Doc admitted. “I had a hunch the sniper might have seen us working with the ultra-violet-light apparatus, and was intelligent enough to understand what it was. I hoped he’d try to read the message. So I changed it to lead him into a trap.”
Monk popped the knuckles in hands that were near as big as gallon pails. “Trap is right! Wait till I get my lunch shovels on that guy!”
Their taxi was still waiting outside. The driver began a wailing: “Say—when am I gonna get paid? Union rules say you gotta pay for the time I been waitin’ here.”
Doc casually passed the man a bill that not only silenced him, but nearly made his eyes jump from his head.
North along Fifth Avenue, the taxi raced. Water whipped across the windshield and cascaded in runnels down the doors. Doc and Renny, riding outside once more, were lashed with rain. Renny bent his face away from the stinging drops feeling more like gravel than water, but Doc seemed no more affected than a marble statue. His hair and skin appeared dry as ever although his shirt clung wetly to his powerful physique.
“This red brick house at the corner of Mountainair and Farmwell Streets is deserted,” Doc called from outside. “That’s why I gave that address in the addition to the note.”
Inside the cab, Monk rumbled about what he would do to whoever had tricked him.
A motorcycle cop fell in behind them, triggered his siren, and came up rapidly. But when he caught sight of Doc, looking like a bronze Atlas on the side of the taxi, the officer waved his hand respectfully. Doc didn’t recognize the man although his work often brought him into contact with people from all the boroughs of New York. The officer must have been one who knew and revered the elder Savage.
The cab reeled into a less frequented street, slanting around corners. Rows of dark houses made the thoroughfare like a black, ominous tunnel.
“Here we are.” Doc told their driver at last.
GHOSTLY described the neighborhood. The streets were narrow, the sidewalks narrower; the cement of both was cracked and rutted, sometimes entirely gone in places. Rain-filled potholes reached halfway to their knees.
“You each have one of Monk’s gas bombs?” Doc asked, just to be sure.
Doc spelled out the terse orders of their campaign. “Monk in front, Long Tom and Johnny on the right, Renny on the left. I’ll take the back. Ham, you stay off to one side as reserve if some quick thinking and moving has to be done.”
Doc gave them half a minute to place themselves. Not long, but all the time they needed. The jostling between Ham and Monk instantly subsided as both jumped into action. Renny spread his fingers wide, loosening up the corded tendons of his fists in preparation for anything he might encounter. Doc met their eyes in turn and gave a short, satisfied nod. The small but well trained group crept forward.
The red brick house on the corner had two ramshackle stories. It had been deserted a long time. Two of the three porch posts canted crazily. Shingles still clung to the roof only in patches and even these were starting to slide off. The windows were planked up solid. And the brick looked rotten and soft.
Any attempt at landscaping happened so far in the past as to allow nature to reclaim the entire front of the house all the way to the crumbing street out front. A small stone path was barely discernable under thorny weeds which grew between the imbedded steps.
The street lamp on the corner cast light so pale as to be near nonexistent.
Doc ignored the path and entered the weed-choked yard, easing into it with a peculiar twisting, worming movement of his powerful, supple frame. He had seen great jungle cats slide through dense leafage in that strangely noiseless fashion, and had copied it himself. He made absolutely no sound.
And in a moment, he had raised his quarry.
The man was at the rear of the house, going over the backyard a foot at a time, lighting matches in succession.
He was short, but perfectly formed, with smooth yellow skin and a misleading plumpness that probably masked great muscular development. His nose was curving, slightly hooked, his lips full, his chin not particularly large. A man of a strange race.
The ends of his fingers were dyed a brilliant scarlet.
Doc did not reveal himself at once, but watched curiously.
The stocky, golden-skinned man seemed very puzzled, as indeed he had reason to be, for what he sought was not there. He muttered disgustedly in some strange clucking language.
Doc, when he heard the words, motioned to his men to hold back even longer. He was astonished. He had never expected to hear one speak that language, much less use it as though it were his native tongue. For it was the coarse consonants and slurred vowels of a lost civilization. It was a language that could only have been invented by a culture intimately familiar with sounds of both gurgling water and crunching bones. The crack of fire consuming dry logs, and the whisper of a serpent about to strike. It was both primitive and exotic.
The stocky man showed signs of giving up his search. He lit one more match, stuffing the small cardboard box away as though he didn’t intend to ignite more. Then he stiffened.
Into the soaking night had permeated a low, mellow, trilling sound like the song of some exotic bird. It seemed to emanate from underfoot, overhead, to the sides, everywhere—and nowhere. The stocky man was bewildered. The sound was startling, and the effect it hand on the man was immediate.
Doc was telling his men to beware. There might be more of the enemy about than this one fellow.
The stocky man half turned, searching the darkness. He took a step toward a big, double-barreled elephant rifle that leaned against a pile of scrap wood near him. It was of huge caliber, that rifle, fitted with telescopic sights. He reached for the smooth wooden stock which held nearly three feet of rifled barrel.
Doc had him before he could get a grip on the massive firearm. Doc’s leap was more fluid even than the lunge of a jungle predator, for the victim gave not even a single bleat before he was pinned, helpless in arms that banded him like steel hoops, and a hand that cut off air as though his throat had been packed with sand.
SWIFTLY, the others came up behind their leader. Renny had somehow managed to squeeze his massive shoulders between the dilapidated house and a splintering fence, scattering surprised field mice as he made his way through a warren of trash and refuse. Although there was plenty of evidence that someone had searched the causeway, it was otherwise empty.
They had found no one else about.
“I’d be glad to hold him for you,” Monk suggested hopefully to Doc. His furry fingers squeezed into fists. “If we’re lucky he’ll try to struggle.”
Doc shook his head and released the prisoner. The man instantly started to run. But Doc’s hand whipped out with incredible speed, collaring the man with a snap that made his teeth pop together like clapped hands.
“Why did you shoot at us?” Doc demanded in English.
The stocky man spewed clucking gutturals, highly excited.
Doc looked swiftly aside at Johnny, noting the puzzled look which flashed behind the odd spectacles.
The gaunt archaeologist, who knew a great deal about ancient races, was scratching his head with thick fingers. He took off the glasses with the magnifying lens on the left side, then nervously put them back on again.
“It’s incredible!” he muttered. “The language that fellow speaks—I think it is ancient Mayan. The lingo of the tribe that built the great pyramids at Chichen Itza, then vanished. I probably know as much about that language as anybody on earth. Wait a minute, and I’ll think of a few words.”
But Doc was not waiting. To the squat man, he spoke in ancient Mayan. Slowly, halting, having difficulty with the syllables, it was true, but he spoke intelligibly.
The squat man, more excited than ever, spouted more gutturals.
Doc asked a question.
The man made a stubborn answer. “He won’t talk,” Doc translated to the men watching the odd transaction in fascination.
“I can understand him perfectly; however everything he says just creates more questions than answers. He freely admits to trying to kill me. Seems rather proud at being given the job actually, and not just a little put out that he couldn’t pull it off,” he explained, his mouth a serious line although his tone tinged with an ironic humor. “Killing me would have been a big deal, and not just for him. He’s convinced that he needs to kill me to save his people from something he calls the Red Death.”
THE FLY THAT JUMPED
ASTOUNDED silence gripped the group until the archeologist broke the spell.
“You mean,” Johnny muttered, blinking through his glasses, “You mean this fellow really speaks the tongue of ancient Maya?”
Doc nodded. “He sure does.”
“It’s fantastic!” Johnny grumbled. “Those people vanished hundreds of years ago. At least, all those that comprised the highest civilization did. A few ignorant peons were probably left. Even those survive to this day. But as for the higher-class Mayan”—he made a gesture of something disappearing—“Pouf! Nobody knows for sure what became of them.”
“They were a wonderful people,” Doc said thoughtfully. “They had a civilization that probably surpassed ancient Egypt. Their spears were deadly, even more so when used with an atlatl.”
Monk’s small eyes screwed up in bewilderment at the odd word.
“It was a lever which they invented,” Doc explained. “It increased the force and distance of their flint-headed spears. Alone they were deadly, but with an atlatl they could punch through a steel breastplate at a fifty yards. The Spanish explorers were suitably impressed when they first encountered them.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet. This specimen looks like he’s given up the spear for something with a little more oomph!” scoffed Monk, nodding towards the double-barrel rifle which lay at Doc’s feet.
“Ask him why he paints his fingers red. Maybe it’s the latest fashion for exiles from ancient empires visiting the Big Apple?”
Monk’s interest didn’t extend to talk of lost civilizations, especially when he was in the presence of someone who’d recently tried to remove his friend from the roles of the living.
Doc put the query in the tongue-snarling Mayan language.
The stocky man gave a surly answer.
“He says he’s one of the warrior sect,” Doc translated. “Only members of the warrior sect sport red finger tips.”
“Well, I’ll be dag-gone!” Monk snorted.
“He won’t talk anymore,” Doc advised. “He’s caught on that we don’t mean to kill him instantly, and seems to be bracing himself for torture.” Then he added grimly, “We’ll take him down to the office, and see if he won’t change his mind about us.”
Searching the prisoner, Doc discovered a remarkable knife. It had a blade of obsidian, a darksome, glasslike volcanic rock, boasting an edge surpassing a razor for sharpness. The handle was simply a leather thong wound around the upper end of the obsidian shaft.
This knife Doc appropriated. He picked up the prisoner’s double-barreled elephant rifle. The marvelous weapon was manufactured by the Webley & Scott firm, of England.
Monk eagerly took charge of the captive, booting him ungently out to the street and into their taxi.
Swishing downtown through the rain, Doc, speaking through the taxi window, tried again to persuade the stocky prisoner to talk.
The fellow disclosed only one fact—and Doc had already guessed that.
“He says he’s really a Mayan,” Doc translated for the others.
“Tell him I’ll pull his ears off an’ feed ‘em to him if he don’t come clean!” Monk suggested.
Doc, curious himself to note the effect of torture threats on the Mayan, repeated Monk’s remarks.
The Mayan shrugged, clucked in his native tongue.
“He says,” Doc explained, “that the trees in his country are full of them like you, only smaller. He means monkeys.”
Ham let out a howl of laughter at that, and Monk subsided.
RAIN was beating down less vigorously when they pulled up before the gleaming office building that spiked up nearly a hundred stories. The energy of the storm seemed to have finally been spent, content with flooding most of the storm sewers on the east end, and scouring soot from the brick and mortar factories from Seaview Avenue down to the parkway. They trooped inside and rode the elevator to the eighty-sixth floor, their strange captive wedged in the middle of the group.
The Mayan again refused to talk. “If we just had some truth serum,” suggested Long Tom, running pale fingers through his blond, Nordic hair. “There is no way this joker’s story adds up.”
Renny held up a monster fist. “This is all the truth serum we need. I’ll show you how it works!”
Long Tom pulled the engineer back before he could give a demonstration. “That will get him to talk, but not necessarily give us the truth.”
“Anything is better than what he’s been spouting so far,” suggested Renny. “If he knows anything about what happened to Doc’s father, than we’ve got a right to know about it. You saw that red letter he left behind for us to find. What else could it have meant?”
“I read it,” admitted Long Tom. “But I’m not automatically assuming that our Mayan friend here wrote it. There is just too much we don’t know yet. If we act without thinking, we risk missing what is vital.” He gave a meaningful glance at Renny’s blocky fists. “What is vital right now is information. Good information.”
“Yeah,” said Renny, lowering his meaty hands. “I hear you loud and clear. But I can’t shake the feeling that this guy is blowing a tune and we’re happily dancing along. Let me have a crack at this nut.”
Big, with sloping mountains of gristle for shoulders, and long kegs of bone and tendon for arms, Renny sidled over to the library door with the same graceful footwork that prizefighters use when approaching an opponent. His fist came up in a blur.
Wham! Completely through the stout panel Renny’s fist pistoned. It seemed more than bone and tendon could stand. But when Renny drew his knuckles out of the wreckage and blew off the splinters, they were unmarked.
Renny, having demonstrated what he could do, came back and towered threateningly over their captive.
“Talk to him in that gobble he calls a language, Doc. Tell him he’s in for the same thing that door got if he don’t tell us whether your father was murdered, and if he was, who did it. And we want to know why he tried to shoot us.”
The prisoner only sat in stoical silence. He was visibly scared but determined to suffer any violence rather than talk.
“Wait, Renny,” Doc suggested. “Let’s try something more subtle.”
“I’m all for that,” Renny said. The big man leaned forward. “Want me to twist that elephant gun around his neck?”
“I was thinking hypnotism might be more effective than a gunmetal necktie,” said Doc. “If this man is of a savage race, his mind is probably susceptible to hypnotic influence. It’s no secret that many savages hypnotize themselves to such an extent that they think they see their pagan gods come and talk to them.”
Positioned directly before the stocky Mayan, Doc began to exert the power of his amazing golden eyes. They seemed to turn into haloed vortexes, holding the prisoner’s gaze inexorably and exerting a compelling, authoritative influence.
For a minute the squat Mayan was quiet, except for his bulging eyes. He swayed a little in his chair. Then, with a piercing yell in his native tongue, the prisoner lunged backward out of his chair.
The Mayan’s plunge carried him toward Renny. But the big-fisted giant had been watching Doc so intently he must have been a little hypnotized himself. He was slow tearing himself away from the golden gaze that by the time he realized what was happening it was too late to do anything about it. Futile as it was, he grabbed for the fleeing Mayan but came up well short of the panicked target.
Straight to the window, the squat Mayan sped. A wild jump, and he shot head-first through it, into the night skies of that great city and into the next world when his body impacted on the sidewalk far below.
AWED silence was in the room for a while. Each man thinking of the implications of what had just happened, without fully grasping what to do next.
“He realized he was going to be made to talk,” Ham clipped, whipping his elegant frame over to the window to look callously down. “So he killed himself.”
“Insanity? A critical breakdown of the nervous system?” Long Tom puzzled, absently inspecting his unhealthy-looking features as reflected by the polished table top. His left eye becoming unfocused as he examined possibilities for the man’s apparent desire to extinguish his life in such a dramatic way.
“Maybe he knew he’d never get another shot at Doc and so went to his heathen gods to apologize,” said Monk. “I don’t get it. One minute he was all set to take a pounding without flinching, but then he looks a Doc and nearly jumped out of his skin.”
“I wasn’t going to pound him,” said Renny thoughtfully. “Not as much as he deserved, anyway.”
“I know that,” said Monk, not taking his eyes from the torn window frame. Rain had soaked the carpet in front of the smashed window, and the blinds had been ripped nearly from the sash. They swayed drunkenly in the late night breeze off the ocean.
In the strange silence that followed, a foghorn from the port sounded. The sound was one of loss, and the men were at a loss with it.
“Let’s see if the message my father left written on the window won’t help,” Doc suggested.
They followed Doc to the library in a group. “Important papers back of the red brick,” read the message in invisible ink which could only be detected by ultra-violet light. They were all curious to know where the papers were, anxious to see that they were intact. Above all, they wanted to know the nature of these “important papers.”
Doc had the box which manufactured ultra-violet rays tucked under his arm. On into the laboratory, he led the cavalcade.
Every one noticed instantly that the laboratory floor was of brick, with rubber matting placed here and there especially in front of workstations where powerful acids were concocted and tested.
Monk looked like he understood, his wide mouth twisting up on one side in approval. “Huh!”
The floor bricks were all red.
Doc plugged the ultra-violet apparatus into a light socket. He switched off the laboratory lights. Deliberately, he played the black-light rays across the brick floor. The darkness was intense.
And suddenly one brick was shining with an unholy red luminance. The brick was the lid of a secret little box set in the floor, and the elder Savage had treated it with some substance that had the property of glowing red under the black-light beams.
From the secret cavity, Doc removed a packet of papers wrapped securely in an oilskin cloth that looked like a fragment of a slicker. Ham clicked on the lights. They gathered around, eagerly waiting.
Doc opened the papers. They were very official looking, replete with gaudy seals. All were printed in Spanish, although some were stamped with sigils which could have been Portuguese.
One at a time, as he finished glancing over them, Doc passed the papers to Ham. The astute lawyer studied them with great interest. At length, Doc finished scanning through the bundled papers. He looked at Ham.
“These papers are a concession from the government of Hidalgo,” Ham declared. “They give to you several hundred square miles of land in Hidalgo, providing you pay the government of Hidalgo one hundred thousand dollars yearly and one fifth of everything you remove from this land. And the concession holds for a period of ninety-nine years.”
Doc nodded. “Notice something else, Ham. Those papers are made out to me. Me, mind you. Yet they were executed twenty years ago. I was only a child then.”
“You know what I think?” Ham asked, arching an eyebrow towards the ceiling.
“Same thing I do, I’ll bet.” Doc replied, with a rare smile. “These papers are the title to the legacy my father left me. The legacy is something he discovered twenty years ago.”
“But what is the legacy?” Monk wanted to know. “Seems a steep price to pay for a chunk of real estate. Why the big price tag?”
Doc shrugged. “I haven’t the slightest idea, brothers. But you can bet it’s something well worthwhile. My father never did anything by half measures. Small financial deals were handled through the family lawyer. He only involved himself with things on a grand scale, and even then only if they interested him. I have heard him treat a million-dollar transaction as casually as though he were buying a cigar.”
Pausing, Doc looked steadily at each of his men in turn. The whirling gold flecks in his eyes shimmering strangely. He seemed to read the thoughts of each.
“I’m going after this heritage my father left,” he said firmly. “I don’t need to ask—you fellows are with me!”
“And how!” grinned Renny. And the others cheered his sentiment.
And how many other men know what you passed on to me, father? Doc wondered as he looked at the gaping portal through which the strange man had taken his strange, fatal plunge. You set this in motion twenty years ago, he thought. That’s twenty years your enemies have had to booby-trap every mile between here and Hidalgo!
PLANTING the papers securely in a chamois money belt about his powerful waist, Doc walked back through the library and into the outer office. Far below, had anyone been leaning over the damp windowsill looking down upon the grey ribbon of street below, they would have seen more activity than normal for a blustery night.
A lone police car idled at the curb, the single red lantern cycling slowly on its roof. The siren wailing ambulance had left not long ago, far more slowly than it had arrived. When it first came to a stop a few yards from the Mayan’s extremely fatal landing, the white clad emergency crew hesitated before getting out to survey the aftermath. The experienced team knew a hopeless case when they saw it.
Now, after taking as much as they could find of the remains with them, the van drove slowly off. Its siren silent.
A pair of police officers on foot patrol conferred with the officers seated in the car, hunched over the laboring heater. The rainy night produced no witnesses to interview, and no identity for the smashed figure they’d found on the pavement.
After a while the pair continued their patrol towards the north end, while the black-and-white car swung south. Its light turned off.
“Did the Mayan race hang out in Hidalgo?” Renny asked abruptly, eyeing his enormous fist.
Johnny, fiddling with his glasses that had the magnifying lens, took it upon himself to answer.
“The Mayans were scattered over a large part of Central America,” he said. “But the Itzans, the clan whose dialect our late prisoner spoke, were situated in Yucatan during the height of their civilization. However, the republic of Hidalgo is not far away, being situated among the rugged mountains farther inland.”
“I’m betting this Mayan and Doc’s heritage are tied up somewhere,” declared Long Tom, the electrical wizard.
Doc stood facing the window. With his back to the light, his strong bronze face was not sharply outlined except when he turned slightly to the right or left to speak. Then the light play seemed to accentuate his remarkable features.
“The thing for us to do now is corner the man who was giving the Mayan orders,” he said slowly.
“Huh—you think there’s more of your enemies?” Renny asked.
“The Mayan showed no signs of understanding the English language,” Doc elaborated. “Whoever left the warning in this room wrote it in English, and was educated enough to understand the ultra-violet apparatus. That man was in the building when the shot was fired, because the elevator operator said no one came in between the time we left and got back. Yes, brothers, I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet.”
Doc went over to the double-barreled elephant rifle which had been in possession of the Mayan. He inspected the manufacturer’s number. He grasped the telephone.
“Get me the firearms manufacturing firm of Webley & Scott, Birmingham, England,” he told the phone operator. “Yes, of course—England! Where the Prince of Wales lives.”
To his friends, Doc explained: “Perhaps the firm that made the rifle will know to whom they sold it.”
“Somebody will cuss over in England when he’s called out of bed by long-distance phone from America,” Renny chuckled.
“You forget the five hours’ time difference,” clipped waspish Ham. “It is now early morning in England. They’ll just be getting up to their scones and tea about now.”
“Hey, that’s a thought,” said Monk, running ragged nails under his chin in a shaving motion. “Maybe we should grab a bite in solidarity to our Brit cousins. Did anyone notice if that corner shop is still open, the ones that sells those bread crosses?” He got a thoughtful look. “Ramming around in the rain all night has me about spent.”
“The delicacy you are thinking of is properly called a croissant, you cretin,” sighed Ham. “But when you think with your stomach, you have better ideas than when you try to use whatever rattles around in your skull where a person’s brain normally sets. I’m famished too!”
Doc was facing the window again, apparently lost in thought. Actually, while standing there a moment before, he had felt vaguely that something was out of place about the window.
Then he got it! The mortar at one end of the granite slab which formed the window sill was fresher than on the other side. The strip of mortar was no wider than a pencil mark, yet Doc noticed it. He leaned out the window.
A fine wire, escaping from the room through the mortared crack, ran downward. Even in the dim light he could tell that it entered the window below.
Doc flashed back into the room. His supple, sensitive, but steel-strong hands explored the frame until he found a bulge where some object had been expertly plastered into the trim. He brought to light a tiny microphone of the type radio announcers call lapel mikes.
“Somebody has been listening.” His powerful voice throbbed through the room. “One floor down, right under our feet. Let’s go!”
NO southern hurricane could have gone out of the room and down the stairs more speedily than Doc made it. The distance was sixty feet, and Doc had covered it all before his men were out of the upstairs room. And they had moved as if jolted with electric prods.
Whipping over to where the wall provided shelter from ordinary bullets, Doc tried the doorknob. Locked. He exerted what for him was a mild pressure. Wood splintered, the brass mechanism of the lock gritted and tore—and the door slumped ajar.
A gunshot crashed in the room. The bullet, a cone of naked lead blistering hot from the barrel, passed Doc’s bronzed features so closely that he felt the sizzle of its flight. A second lethal missile followed. The gunshot was a great bawl of sound. Both bullets punched craters in the elaborately decorated corridor wall.
Within the room, a door slammed.
Doc instantly slid inside, scanning the smoke hazed room for threats. The hot sting of burning power assaulted his nose, but the room was empty. The shooter could only have retreated to the connecting office.
All this he had absorbed in a flash—Doc’s men were only now clamoring at the door.
“Keep back!” Doc directed. He liked to fight his own battles. He wasn’t one to shun help when needed, but was loath to expose his friends and brothers in battle to unnecessary danger.
There seemed to be only one man opposing him. Good odds, no matter how great the other man’s abilities.
Doc crossed the office, treading new-looking but cheap carpet. He circled a second-hand oak desk with edges blackened where cigarette stubs had been placed carelessly. He tried the connecting door.
It was also locked—but gave like wet cardboard before his powerful shove. Alert, almost certain a bullet would meet him, he doubled down close to the floor. He knew he could bob into view and back before the man inside could pull trigger.
But the place was empty.
Once, twice, three times, Doc counted his own heartbeats. Then he saw the explanation.
A stout silken cord, with hardwood rods about the size of fountain pens tied every foot or so for handholds, draped out of the open window. The end of the cord was tied to a stout radiator bolted to the floor. A tense jerking showed a man was going down it.
With a single leap, Doc was at the window. He looked down.
Of the man descending the cord, little could be told. In the streaming darkness he was no more than a black lump. Already he was out of arm’s length, and showing no signs of stopping.
Doc drew back, whipped out his flashlight. When he played it down the cord, the man was gone.
The fellow had ducked into a window. He’d been descending fast, but there was only one or two he could have reached in the few moments Doc hadn’t been watching.
The flash went into Doc’s pocket. Doc himself clambered over the window sill. Grasping the silken cord, he used techniques he’d learned from scaling the Alps. Bracing his feet against the gritty brick of the building, he pushed off while letting the cord play freely through his strong fingers. Because of the coordination of his great muscles, Doc negotiated the cord just about as fast as a man could run.
He passed the first window. It was closed, the office beyond darkened and deserted-looking.
Doc went on down. He had not seen which window the quarry had disappeared into, but was determined not to let him get away through carelessness. The second window was also closed. And the third. Doc knew then that he had passed the right window. The man could not have gone this far down the slippery silk cable.
It was typical of Doc that he did not give even a glance to what was below—a sheer fall of hundreds of feet. So far downward did the brick-and-glass wall extend that it seemed to narrow with distance until it was only a yard or so across. And the street was wedge-shaped at the bottom, as though cut with a gigantic scalpel.
Doc had climbed a yard back up the compact ladder when the silk cord gave a violent jolt. He looked up.
A window had opened. A man had shoved a chair through it, and was pushing on the cord so as to swing Doc out away from the building. The murk of the night hid the man’s face. But it was obvious he was the armed eavesdropper who had tried his best to end Doc’s life with a bullet.
Like a mightily pendulum arcing a timeless path, Doc was swung out several feet from the building. He would have to chance to grab a window sill.
The man above hacked at the cord, a long knife glistening in his hand. For the man of bronze swinging over the avenue below, the knife looked very sharp indeed.
AT no time had Doc Savage ever put his ability to think like chain lightning to better use than he did now. In the time it took his golden eyes to register the deadly menace of that knife, he formed a plan of action.
He let go completely of the silken cord.
This, in spite of the sheer fall of more than eighty stories directly below him—with not a possible chance of saving himself by clutching a projecting piece of masonry. This building was of the modernistic architecture which does not go in for trick balconies and carved ledges.
But Doc knew what he was doing. And it was a maneuver calling for iron nerve and stupendous strength as well as unmatched dexterity.
The silken cord, going abruptly slack before the chair the man above slammed against it, nearly caused the would-be murderer to pitch headlong out of the window. The fellow dropped both the chair and his knife and by a wild grab, saved himself from the fall he had meant for Doc.
Doc, with a maneuver little short of marvelous, caught the end of the silken cord as it snaked past. A drop of a few feet, which his remarkable arm muscles easily cushioned, and he was swinging close to a window sill, none the worse for his narrow escape.
Doc stepped easily to the window ledge.
Not a moment too soon, either. The man above had recovered and, desperate, had employed a small penknife to sever the silken line. It slithered down past Doc, writhing and twisting into fantastic shapes as it dropped those eighty stories to the street.
The window on the ledge of which Doc found himself was locked. He popped the pane inward, and sprang into the office. A typical accountant’s office by the look of it; long closed after business hours. He lunged across the room.
The outer door literally jumped out of its casing, lock and all, when Doc charged through, taking the impact on his shoulder. He halted in the corridor, listening intently.
His attuned ear could detect the updraft of an elevator dropping downward. He knew his target was on the move, and would soon be beyond hope of capture.
A couple of floors above, Renny was yelling, his deep baritone voice weirdly distorted by distance. “Doc! What’s become of you?”
Doc paid no attention. He ran across the corridor to the elevator doors. Sprinting so quickly he seemed to spring directly to the landing. It was a modern bank of elevators, although at this hour only one would officially be in service. He touched each the sliding brass doors until a faint vibration betrayed the one in use. His fist came back like a battering ram and then plowed into the smooth door.
The sound as Doc’s knuckles hitting the sheet-brass elevator door was like the boom of an ancient cannon. An onlooker would have sworn the blow would shatter every bone in his fist. But Doc had learned how to tighten the muscles and tendons in his hands until they were like cushioned steel, capable of withstanding the most violent shock.
As a matter of fact, it was part of Doc’s daily two-hour routine of exercises to subject all parts of his great body to terrific blows in order that he might be able to steel himself against them.
The machine-forged elevator door crumpled like a crushed tin can. In a moment Doc had thrown the safety switch which the door, closing, ordinarily operated. Such safety switches are a part of all elevator doors, so the cage cannot move up or down and leave a door open for some child or careless person to fall through into the shaft. They controlled the motor current.
Many floors below, the elevator car halted, motor circuit broken.
Doc thrust his head in and looked down the shaft. He was disappointed. The elevator car was nearly at the street level.
Five minutes elapsed before the lackadaisical elevator operator got a cage up and ferried Doc and his friends down to the street.
By that time, their quarry had long fled into the night, taking their spirits with them.
The indifferent elevator chauffeur could not even give them a description of the would-be killer who had fled the building. Monk had to be physically restrained from putting a dent into him the same way that Doc had broken the doors above.
THERE was considerable uproar around the police station that night. A sleepy duty officer got the shock of his life when Doc Savage Jr. and pals walked in to give a statement about the deceased Mayan.
Doc Savage told a straightforward story to the police, explaining exactly how the Mayan had come to his death. And such was the power of Doc, and the esteem in which his departed father was held, that the New York police commissioner gave instant orders that Doc be not molested, and, moreover, that his connection with the suicide be not revealed to the newspapers.
It was an informal arrangement and one never written down in any ledger or duty log. Doc Savage had his own way of doing things that often diverged from standard police procedure. His respect for the rule of law was matched by the New York Police Department’s respect for his judgement in handling any special circumstances that came his way. All they asked was to be informed if he discovered something which was a threat to that great city or country as a whole.
As was his way, he repaid trust with trust.
Hours later, as the street sweepers were starting to noisily collect the soggy, storm-soaked debris, Doc was left free to depart for the Central American republic of Hidalgo to investigate the mysterious legacy his father had left him.
Back up in the eighty-sixth-floor lair, Doc made plans and gave orders to their execution.
To waspish, quick-thinking Ham, he gave certain of the papers which had been under the brick in the laboratory.
“Your career as a lawyer has given you a wide acquaintance in Washington, Ham,” Doc told him. “You’re intimate with all the high government officials. So you take care of the legal angle of our trip to Hidalgo.”
Ham plucked back a cuff to look at an expensive platinum wrist watch. “A passenger plane leaves New York for Washington in four hours. I’ll be on it.” He twirled his black, innocent-looking sword cane.
“Too long to wait,” Doc told him. “Take my autogyro. Fly it down yourself. We’ll join you at about nine this morning.”
Ham nodded. He was an expert airplane pilot. So were Renny, Long Tom, Johnny, and Monk. Doc Savage had taught them, managing to imbue them with some of his own genius at the controls.
“Where is your autogyro?” Ham inquired.
“At North Beach airport, out on Long Island,” Doc replied. “Be extra careful who you trust. My father arranged this transaction more than two decades ago. There is no telling how many hands they passed through before, or who might have been put in place to watch for them to resurface.”
Ham whipped out, in a hurry to get his share done.
“Renny,” Doc directed, “whatever instruments you need, take them. Dig up maps. You’re our navigator. We are going to fly down, of course.”
“Righto, Doc,” said Renny, his utterly somber, puritanical look showing just how pleased he was. For this mystery promised action, excitement and adventure aplenty. And how these remarkable men were enamored of that!
“Long Tom,” said Doc Savage, “yours is the electrical end. You know what we might need.”
“Sure!” Long Tom’s pale face was flaming red with excitement. If Doc gave him any more orders, it would have been addressed to the back of his head. Long Tom had already made a beeline to the equipment laboratory and left the room, already assembling a vast mental list of gadgets for the journey.
Long Tom wasn’t as unhealthy as he looked. None of the others could remember him suffering a single day of illness. Unless the periodic rages, the wild tantrums of temper into which he flew, could be called illness. Long Tom sometimes went months without a flare-up, but when he did explode, he certainly made up for lost time.
His unhealthy look probably came from the gloomy laboratory in which he conducted his endless electrical experiments. The enormous gold tooth he sported directly in front helped, too.
Long Tom, like Ham, had earned his nickname In France. In a certain French village there had been ensconced in the town park an old-fashioned cannon of the type used centuries ago by rovers of the Spanish Main. In the heat of an enemy attack, Major Thomas J. Roberts had loaded this ancient relic with a sackful of kitchen cutlery and broken wine bottles, and wrought genuine havoc. And from that day, he was Long Tom Roberts.
“Chemicals,” Doc told Monk.
“Okay,” grinned Monk. He sidled out. It was remarkable that a man so homely could be one of the world’s leading chemists. But it was true. Monk had a great chemical laboratory of his own in a penthouse atop an office building far downtown, only a short distance from Wall Street. He was headed there now.
Only Johnny, the geologist and archaeologist, remained with Doc.
“Johnny, your work is possibly the most important.” Doc’s golden eyes were thoughtful as he looked out the window.
“Dig into your library for dope on Hidalgo. Also on the ancient Mayan race.”
“You think the Mayan angle is important, Doc?”
“I sure do, Johnny.”
The telephone bell jangled.
“That’s my long-distance call to England,” Doc guessed. “They took their time getting it through.”
“Sic Long Tom on the problem,” suggested Johnny. “If he can’t fix up a way to get a quick overseas connection, he’ll invent a new telephone that would make ol’ Alexander Bell spit with envy.”
Lifting the phone, Doc spoke, got an answer, then rapidly gave the model of the double-barreled elephant rifle, and the number of the weapon.
“Who was it sold to?” he asked.
In a few minutes, he got his answer.
Doc rung off. His bronze face was inscrutable; for a moment the only animation in the great man was from the golden storms in his eyes. As he digested what he learned, the storm seemed to whip itself into an even greater frenzy.
“The English factory says they sold that gun to the government of Hidalgo,” Doc said thoughtfully. “It was a part of a large lot of weapons sold to Hidalgo some months ago.”
Johnny adjusted his glasses which had the magnifying lens. He peered off into space with his good eye, and his tone was thoughtful.
“We’ve got to be careful, Doc,” he said. “If this enemy of ours persists in making trouble, he may try to tamper with our plane.”
“I have a scheme that will prevent danger from that angle,” Doc assured him.
Johnny blinked, then started to ask what the scheme was. But he was too slow. Glancing around from behind the thick lens, he discovered Doc had vanished from the office.
With a grin, Johnny went about his own part of the preparations. He felt supreme confidence in Doc Savage.
Whatever villainous moves the enemy made against them, Doc was capable of checkmating. Already, Doc was undoubtedly putting into operation some plan which would guarantee them safety in their flight southward.
The plan to protect their plane would be one worthy of Doc’s vast ingenuity.
THE rain had stopped.
A bilious dawn, full of fog, shot through with a chill wind, was crawling along the north shore of Long Island. The big hangars at North Beach airport, just within the boundary line of New York City like pale-gray, roundbacked boxes in the mist. Electric lights made a futile effort to dispel the sodden gloom, and glinted off the corrugated tin roofs.
A giant tri-motored, all-metal plane stood on the tarmac of the flying field nearby. On the fuselage, just behind the bow engine, was emblazoned in blocky black letters:
Clark Savage, Jr.
A baggage carrier was parked under the wing and airport attendants, uniforms made limp by fog and streaked with grease, were busy transferring crates into the hold of the large plane. The boxes were light but of stout construction and on each was imprinted, after the manner of exploration expeditions, the words:
Clark Savage, Jr., Hidalgo Expedition.
“What’s a Hidalgo?” a thick-necked mechanic wanted to know. He leaned against and open hanger door and took a pull on his Chesterfield, one hand cupped over the burning ember to shield it from the damp as well as the watchful eyes of the small airport tower.
“Dunno- a country, I reckon.” a companion greaseball told him, looking out at the cargo being loaded. The gear was being stowed quickly but carefully balanced in the hold to distribute the weight evenly. It wouldn’t be long before the ground crew gave an ‘all clear’ to the pilot and the chocks were removed in preparation for takeoff.
“Can’t be expecting much of a welcome, wherever it is,” the first mechanic mused. “Looks like they’re bringing along the entire welcome wagon with them.”
The last box was finally strapped in the hold and an airport worker slid the door shut, sealing the hatch. Fog misted the aircraft’s windows but a warm glow from the cockpit showed the plane was manned. Shortly it wouldn’t be necessary for the pilots to preserve their night vision, and so the cabin light was on and the instrument panel was lit.
A mechanic climbed atop the tin pants over the big wheels, and standing there, cranked the inertia starter of first one motor, then the other. All three big radial engines thundered into life. More than a thousand throbbing horsepower.
The big plane trembled to the tune of the hammering exhaust stacks. It was not an especially new ship, being about five years old.
Perhaps one or two attendants about the tarmac heard the sound of another plane which had arrived overhead. Looking up, maybe they saw a huge gray bat of a shape go slicing through the mist. But that was all, and the basso-thrum of its great, muffled exhaust was hardly audible over the roar emanating from of the stacks of the old-fashioned tri-motor.
The tri-motor was moving now. The tail was up, preliminary to taking off. Faster and faster it raced across the tarmac, shedding gravity as it took to the element it was designed for. Prop blades bit into the fog, shredding it into long streamers as the craft took to the air.
Without banking to either side, climbing gently, the big all-metal plane flew past the airport boundary and towards the brightening horizon.
An astounding thing happened then.
The tri-motor ship seemed to blossom instantaneously into a gigantic sheet of white-hot flame. This resolved into a monster ball of villainous smoke. Scorched and burning fragments of the plane fell like a hellish rain upon the roofs of Jackson Heights, a conservative residential suburb of New York City.
So terrific was the explosion that windows imploded in the houses underneath, and shingles tore from roofs.
No piece more than a few yards in area remained of the great plane. Indeed, the authorities could never have identified it, had not the airport men known it had just taken off moments before.
No human life could have survived aboard the tri-motor aircraft.
DOC SAVAGE merely blinked his golden eyes once after the blinding flash which marked the blast that annihilated the aircraft.
“That was what I was afraid of.” he said dryly.
A rising wall of superheated air thrown by the explosion caused his plane to reel. Doc unconsciously twisted the controls to right it, adjusting the trim with his free hand.
For Doc and his men had not been in the ill-fated tri-motor plane. They were in the other craft which had flown over the airport a moment before the tri-motor took off. Indeed, Doc himself had maneuvered the taxi and eventual takeoff of the large craft, using remote radio control to direct it.
Doc’s radio remote control apparatus was exactly the same type used by the army and navy in extensive experiments, employing changing frequencies and sensitive relays for its operation. If nothing had befallen the craft once it had taken flight, he would have been perfectly capable of landing it safely again, all while cruising silently in the skies above.
The great man studied the streak of fire left by the smoldering wreck, grateful that no one on the ground appeared to have been harmed. Homes were engulfed in smoke and an ancient Studebaker was burning fitfully along with what looked like a piece of the craft’s rudder. But he knew how easily the disaster could have been much worse.
He set his jaw and brought the plane’s nose around to the south and headed on.
Doc did not know how their mysterious enemy had managed to blow up the aging but durable plane. But thanks to his foresight, Doc’s men had escaped the devilish blast. He had used the large, steel craft for a decoy taking a chance that direct efforts to stop him, like the bullet through the office window, would move on to easier targets. The gamble cost him a craft, but still paid off. It was one of his old ships, almost ready to be discarded, anyway.
“They must have managed to slip high explosive into one of our boxes,” Doc concluded aloud. “It is too bad we lost the equipment in the destroyed plane. But we can get along without it.”
“What dizzies me,” Renny muttered, “is how they fixed their bomb to explode in the air, and not on the ground.”
Doc banked his plane, set a course directly for the city of Washington, using not only the gyroscopic compass with which the craft was fitted, but calculating wind drift expertly.
“How they made the bomb explode in the air can be simply explained,” he told Renny at last. “They probably put an altimeter or barometer in the bomb. The altimeter would register a change in height. All they had to do was fix an electrical contact to be closed at a given height, and then when the plane ascended-”
“Bang!” Monk put in, grinning. “We’re out one plane, and out of the picture altogether! Those devils still think they pulled one over on us though.”
“If the muffled engines in our craft are working as well as I designed them, then yes.” answered Doc
Their plane flashed past the upraised arm of the Statue of Liberty, and sang its song of speed southward over the Jersey marshes.
Unlike the tri-motor which had been destroyed, this plane was of the latest design. It was a tri-motor craft also, but the great engines were in metal pods riveted directly into the wings and nose. It was what pilots call a low- wing job, with the wings attached well down on the fuselage, instead of at the top . The landing gear was retractable—folded up into the wings to lower wind resistance.
It was the ultra in an airman’s stable, this supercraft. And two hundred miles an hour was only its cruising speed.
No small point was the fact that the cabin was soundproof, enabling Doc and his friends to converse in ordinary tones. At the moment the crew was pressing their faces to the rounded squares of the windows which ran down the length of the fuselage. Waving at the little figures that peeked from between the spokes of Lady Liberty’s crown.
The loss of a large portion of equipment was offset by what was safely stowed in the rear of the speed-ship cabin. Packed compactly in light metal containers, an alloy metal that was lighter even than wood, each carton was fitted with straps for carrying.
Never making a careless move, Doc had kept the most critical supplies where he could reach them in an emergency.
In a surprisingly short time they picked out the clustered buildings of Philadelphia on the blue-tinged horizon. Doc maneuvered the plane a little east of the city hall, the center of the downtown business districts.
Onward they swept, finally arriving at an airport at the outskirts of Washington.
THE landing Doc made was feather-light, a sample of his wizardry with the controls. He tailed the plane about with sharp revs of the nose engine, and taxied to the little airport administration office.
In vain did he look about for his autogyro. Ham should have left the windmill plane here, had he already arrived. But the whirligig ship was not in evidence.
An attendant, an eager spick-and-span man in a white uniform, ran out to meet them.
“Didn’t Ham show up here?” Monk demanded of the man, calling down from the cockpit while the massive engines wound down.
“Brigadier General Theodore Marley Brooks!” Monk yelped down, somehow making the stately name sound insulting.
The airport attendant registered shock, then great embarrassment at the words. He opened his mouth to speak, but instead, excitement made him merely stutter.
“What has happened?” Doc asked in a gentle but powerful tone that compelled an instant answer.
“The airport manager is holding a man over in the field office who says his name is Brigadier General Theodore Marley Brooks,” the attendant explained.
“The manager is also a deputy sheriff. We got a call that this fellow had stolen an autogyro from a man named Clark Savage. So we arrested him.”
Doc nodded absently. He was clever, this unknown enemy of theirs. He had decoyed Ham by a neat ruse. Behind him, Monk’s bushy eyebrows lowered in bafflement then began to slowly rise as the Ham’s predicament became clear.
“Where is the autogyro?” Doc asked.
“Why, this Clark Savage who told us the plane had been stolen asked us to send a man with it to bring him here and confront the thief.”
Monk let out a loud snort. “You simple rube! You’re talkin’ to Clark Savage right now!”
The attendant stuttered again. “I don’t understand—”
“Someone foxed you,” Doc said without malice. “Don’t beat yourself up about it though; he’s had us chasing our tales more than once.”
Monk ground his broad, square teeth audibly. The memory of being duped in a similar fashion was still a raw one.
“The pilot who flew that plane to get the fake Clark Savage may be in danger. Do you know where he went?” asked Doc.
“The manager knows.”
They hurried over to the administration building. They found a Ham who was burning up. Ham could ordinarily talk himself out of almost any situation, given a little time. But he hadn’t made an impression on the blond, bullet-headed airport manager.
Doc handed Ham a phone. “Get the nearest army flying field, Ham. See if you can raise me a pursuit ship fitted with machine guns. It’s against regulations, but—”
“Hang regulations!” Ham snapped, and seized the instrument.
From the blond airport manager Doc learned where the autogyro had gone to meet the man who had put one over on the airport staff. The spot was in New Jersey.
Doc located it on the map. It was in the mountainous, or, rather, hilly, western portion of Jersey.
Ham cracked the telephone receiver onto its hook. “They’re warming up a pursuit job for you, Doc.” he said evenly, although still hot under the collar. “I hope you don’t mind me dropping your name, but sometimes it does a better job opening locked doors than shouting ‘Open Sesame!’”
In less than ten minutes Doc ferried over to the army depot, belted his powerful frame into a cockpit, eased the throttle back, and was pressed back into the seat as his craft took to the sky. He had a regulation war plane now.
FLYING northward in the P-26, Doc had a fair idea of the purpose of their enemy in decoying the autogyro. The place was within motor distance of New York, so the villainous unknown one would probably be on hand. He would destroy the autogyro, thus hampering Doc and his friends if at all possible.
Whoever it is, they’re willing to do anything to keep us from getting to that legacy of mine in Hidalgo, thought Doc. Losing the cargo plane, and now the autogyro. Neither one is a critical blow to their venture, but a delay. Almost as though we’re racing a deadline.
He looked over the side of the open cockpit, tracing his course by a twisting inlet below. He wondered how much time they had left before then next blow fell.
Over the Delaware River, Doc pushed the joystick forward and dived. He tested his machine guns by shooting at the shadow of his plane on the water. Grey plumes leapt up in response to the clattering 7.62mm Brownings.
Knobby green hills sprang up underneath. Doc used a pair of binoculars to scrutinize the terrain.
Farmhouses were scattered on the low hills, ramshackle. Very few of the roads were paved.
Doc spotted his autogyro at last.
The windmill plane perched in a clearing on its spindly carriage. Nearby ran a paved road.
In the clearing with the plane was a green coupé and two men. One of the men was holding a gun upon the other.
The gun wielder, Doc perceived when he came nearer, was masked. The man dismissed the low drone of Doc’s army pursuit plane, likely imaging it to be one of the privately owned field-jumpers which were common to the farming area.
He discovered its true capability and purpose when Doc dipped a wing suddenly and put the nimble craft into a sudden dive, motor cans a-thunder. Earth erupted between the two men. The masked gunman took flight.
Deserting the other man, who must be the autogyro pilot, the fleeing man raced to the windmill plane. The gun in his fist spat a bullet into the fuel tank of the weird looking craft. Gasoline ran out in two pale ribbons and splattered onto the wild grass.
Before Doc could wrestle the craft around for another strafing run, the masked man struck a match and tossed it into the fuel. Instantly the autogyro was engulfed in flame.
Doc’s mouth was a grim line above his strong chin. Another delay. More destruction without purpose, other than to frustrate his team’s movement south.
The distance was great and the powerful Pratt & Whitney powerplant made the craft buzz like an enraged steel hornet, but even so Doc was able to see a startling feature about the masked man—the fellow’s fingers were a deep scarlet hue for an inch of their length.
The man was also squat and wide. He ran with short legged, pegging steps for the green coupé, dived into it. The green car bolted out of the field just in time for Doc to align his crosshairs on the wide chrome bumper.
The P-26s machine guns spat a stream of lead that forked up dust behind the coupé. The car slewed onto the road and bounced north, one saucer-shaped hubcap pinwheeling on the ground behind it.
Again Doc’s Browning guns tore off their ripping cackle of death. After the army fashion, every fifth bullet in the ammo cans was a phosphorous-filled tracer. These burst with hot red blots directly behind the green coupé.
Slowly, inexorably, the gray cobwebs of tracer smoke closed with the wildly careening rear of the automobile.
The car was pushed to the limits of its design, and the driver was panicked. With a wild swing, the green car suddenly left the pavement. It vaulted a ditch, miraculously remaining upright, and skewered to a stop amid tall brush that practically hid it.
Doc distinctly saw the passenger quit the car and take to the concealment of the timber.
A couple of times Doc dived and let the Browning guns spew their twelve hundred shots a minute into the timber. He did it more to give the masked man one last scare than from any hope of bagging the fellow. The timber offered perfect concealment.
Not a little disgusted, Doc landed on the road and launched a hunt afoot for the masked man. But it was too late.
The airport attendant who had flown the autogyro here could give no worthwhile description of the masked man when Doc consulted him. The fellow had merely sprung out of the green car with a gun.
Doc telephoned the authorities and had a net spread for the masked man before he took off again for Washington. But he was pretty certain the fellow would evade the Jersey officers. The man was smart, as well as very dangerous. And something about the way he’d taken to the concealing woods marked him as a man more at home in the country than the city.
Doc took the chagrined airport attendant with him in the army pursuit plane back to Washington. The attendant marveled over the modern controls while being wedged into the ‘trainer’ seat, but Doc was silent and his thoughts far away, focused on a land he’d never visited but suddenly figured prominently in his future.
HAM and the others were waiting when Doc arrived, after restoring the pursuit plane to the army field.
“Have any trouble getting our papers up?” Doc asked.
Ham tightened his mobile, orator’s mouth. “I did have a little trouble, Doc. It was strange, too. The Hidalgo consul seemed very reluctant to O.K. our papers. At first he wasn’t going to do it. In fact, I had to have our own secretary of state make some things very clear to Mr. Consul before he gave us the official high sign.”
“What’s your guess, Ham?” Doc asked. “Was the official directly interested in keeping us out of Hidalgo, or had someone paid him money to make it tough for us?”
“He was paid.” Ham smiled tightly. “He gave himself away when I accused him of accepting money to hold up papers that just needed his rubber stamp. But I was not able to learn who had put the cash on the line.”
“Somebody,” Renny rumbled, his puritanical face very long, “is taking a lot of trouble to keep us out of Hidalgo. Now, I wonder why? I’m up for a fair scrap, but can’t stand this hiding-from-the-shadows shtick.”
“I have a hunch.” Ham declared. “Doc’s mysterious heritage must be of fabulous value. Men are not killed and diplomatic agents bribed without good reasons. That concession of several hundred square miles of mountainous territory in Hidalgo is the explanation, of course. Someone is trying to keep us away from it.”
“Then why don’t they just make an offer?” reasoned Renny. “Buy Doc’s property outright?”
“Does anybody know what they raise down in that neck of the woods?” Monk inquired.
Long Tom hazarded a couple of guesses, “Bananas, chicle for making chewing gum—”
“No plantations in the region Doc seems to own,” Johnny, the geologist, put in sharply. “I soaked up all I could find on the precise region. And you’d be surprised how little it was!”
“You mean there was not much information available about it?” Ham prompted.
“You said it! To be exact—the whole region is unexplored.”
“Unexplored?” Monk and Ham said together, then glared at each other.
“Oh, the district is filled with mountains on most maps,” Johnny explained, ignoring the byplay. “But on the really accurate charts the truth comes out. There’s a considerable stretch of country no white men have penetrated. And Doc’s strange heritage is located slap-dab in the middle of it.” He took off his glasses and polished the thick left lens on his cuff.
“That’s not too unusual. There are lots of places that get put on maps without being fully checked out from the ground. Badlands and swamps, mostly. Places that you’d want to see only while flying over. But what is unusual about Doc’s land is the size of it. There could be literally anything there, for all the world knows.”
“So we gotta play Columbus.” Monk snorted.
“You’ll think Columbus’s trip across the briny was a cakewalk when you see this Hidalgo country.” Johnny informed him. “That region is unexplored for a good reason; white men can’t get into it.”
“Can’t get into it, or can’t get out?” asked Renny.
“Both, it would appear,” said Johnny, placing the odd spectacles back on his bony nose. “If any expeditions were planned to chart that part of the country, I can’t find mention of them in the usual news reports. For certain, there are no traces of expeditions returning from that region.”
Doc had been standing by during the exchange of words. But now his calm, powerful voice commanded quick attention.
“Is there any reason we can’t be on our way?” he asked dryly.
They took off at once in the monster, low-wing speed plane. But before their departure, Doc telephoned long distance to Miami, Florida, where he got in touch with an airplane-supplies concern. He ordered pontoons for his plane, after determining the company kept them in stock.
THE approximately nine-hundred-mile flight to Miami was accomplished in slightly more than five hours, thanks to the tremendous cruising speed of Doc’s superplane.
Working swiftly, with lifting cranes and tools and mechanics supplied by the plane-parts concern, they installed the pontoons before darkness flung its pall over the lower end of Florida.
Doc taxied the low-wing speed ship out over Biscayne Bay a short distance, making sure the pontoons were seaworthy. Back at the seaplane base he took on fuel and oil from a seagoing filling station built on a barge.
Cuba lay not quite another three hundred miles south, beyond low scudding clouds. They were circling over Havana before the night was many hours old. Another landing for fuel, and off again.
Doc flew. He was tireless. Renny, huge and elephantine but without equal when it came to angles and maps and navigation, checked their course periodically. Between times he slept.
Long Tom, Johnny, Monk, and Ham were sleeping as soundly among the boxed supplies as they would have in sumptuous hotel beds. A faint grin was on every slumbering face. This was the sort of thing they considered real living. Action! Adventure!
Across the Caribbean to Belize, their destination on the Central American mainland, was somewhat over five hundred miles. It was an all-water hop.
At mid-day they were buffeted by chaotic winds, updrafts which were lazily gathering strength to become real barn-squashers which the coast was infamous for.
To avoid a headwind for a while, Doc flew quite near the sea, low enough that at times he sighted barracudas and sharks. There was an island or two, flat, white beaches bared to the lambent glory of a tropical moon that was like a huge disk of rich platinum.
So stunningly beautiful was the southern sea that he awoke the others to observe the play of phosphorescent fire and the manner in which the waves glowed as if lit from below, or were blown into faintly jeweled spindrift.
They thundered across Ambergris Cay at a thousand feet, and in no time at all were swinging wide over the flat, narrow streets of Belize.
THE sun was up, blazing with a wild revelry. Away inland, the jungle was lost in a horizon infinitely blue.
Doc slanted the powerful craft down and planed the pontoons against the small waves. Spray fanned up and roared against the idling propellers. He taxied in toward the mud beach.
Renny stretched, yawned. The yawn gave his extremely puritanical face a ludicrous aspect.
“I believe that in the old pirate days they actually built a foundation for part of this town out of rum bottles,” Renny offered. “Ain’t that right, Johnny?”
“I believe so,” Johnny corroborated from his wealth of historical lore. He gathered a faraway look as his mind cast back for remembered details. “Hand blown glass bottles provided insulation against temperature changes. Cushioning sand packed tightly around rows of bottles were found to be an effective base for small structures. Ingenious, actually.”
Monk squinted out the window into the glare of the tropical sun.
“You don’t suppose any of them bottles would still have a swallow or two left in them?” he wondered aloud. “Seems likely, considering the size of the place. They couldn’t all be empty.”
“Leave it to you to look for an angle,” offered Ham. “Especially if it means saving a few bucks, you cheapskate.”
The sound was exactly like a rivet popping under stress.
Clank! It came again.
Then a metallic roar split the air, followed by another as Doc gunned the massive engines flanking them.
“Well, for—” Monk swallowed the rest as he was thrown to the back of the cabin when Doc slammed the engine throttles wide open.
Engines laboring, props scooping up spray and turning it into a great funnel of mist behind the tail, the plane lunged ahead—straight for the mud beach.
“What’s happening?” demanded Ham, dodging debris which suddenly flew around the cabin.
“Machine gun putting bullets through our floats.” Doc said in a low voice. “Watch the shore! See if you can spot whoever it is.”
“For the love of mud!” muttered Monk. “Ain’t we never gonna get that red-fingered guy out of our hair?”
“No doubt he radioed ahead to someone here,” Doc offered over the sound of the powerful engines.
Distinctly audible over the bawl of the motors came two more metallic pops, then a series of hollow hammering thuds shook the craft. The unseen sniper was doing his best to hole the pontoons and sink the craft.
All five of Doc’s men stared through the cabin windows, seeking any trace of the one shooting. It was to their credit that when the bullets started flying their first thought was to follow orders instead of duck for cover. The bronze man said to look for a muzzle flash or plume of smoke, and that’s what they were going to do.
Abruptly bullets began to whiz through the plane fuselage itself. Renny clapped a hand to his monster left arm. But the wound was no more than a shallow gash. Another wad of lead wrought minor havoc in the box that held Long Tom’s electrical equipment, lodging itself in a spool of insulated wire.
It was Doc who saw the sniper ahead of all the others, thanks to an eye of unmatched keenness.
“Over behind that fallen palm,” he said. One long finger pointed to a small, rocky outcrop above the shoreline.
Once pointed out, it was easy for the rest of them to pick out the straight line of a muzzle which projected over the rotting trunk. The sniper’s weapon projected over the bole of a fallen royal palm that lay in the sand like a pale, shaggy bone.
Rifles leaped magically into the hands of Doc’s five men. A whistling salvo of lead shivered the palm log, preventing the sniper from releasing further shots.
The plane dug its pontoons into the mud beach, gouging deeply into the silt. It was not a moment too soon, either. The hallow floats were filling rapidly with water as some of the bullets, striking slantwise, had opened sizable rents in the metal. Now, scraped by land and ragged holes streaming water like blood, the floats were hopelessly ruined.
SWIFTLY, grim with purpose, three men bounded out of the plane. They were Doc, Renny, and Monk. The other three, Johnny, Long Tom, and Ham, all excellent marksmen, continued to lay a barrage of rifle lead against the palm log.
The log lay on a finger of land which reached out from the inland forest towards a small cay, or island. Between cay and the land finger stretched a length of smooth water.
The sniper tried to reach the mainland, only to shriek and drop flat as a bullet from the covering fire nicked him. Meantime Doc, Renny, and Monk had floundered to solid ground and flung themselves into the scrawny tropical growth. The smell of the beach was strong in their nostrils—sea water, wet logs, dead fish and decaying vegetation making a pungent odor.
To the right of the team lay Belize, a warren of scraggly, narrow streets and romantic houses with protruding balconies, brightly painted doorways, and every window crosshatched with decorative iron bars.
The sniper knew they were closing in on him. He tried again to escape, but he had not reckoned with the accuracy of shooting that was coming from the beached plane. Even on solid ground and unwounded, there was no way he could make it to the mainland without being gunned down.
Desperately, the fellow slithered out toward the end of the land finger. Stunted mangroves offered puny shelter, but he made the best of it. The man shrieked again as a bloody furrow was dug into his calf by a bullet.
In his circle of acquaintances, it must have been customary to shoot prisoners—give no quarter—because he didn’t offer to surrender. Evidently he was out of ammunition, and aware that his position was hopeless.
Wild with terror, he leaped up and plunged into the water. He was going to try to swim to the little island.
“Sharks!” grunted Renny. “These waters are full of the things!”
But Doc Savage was already a dozen yards ahead, racing down the rocky spit of land.
The sniper was a squat, dark-skinned fellow but his features did not resemble those of the Mayan who had committed suicide in New York. He was a low specimen of the Central American half-breed.
He was not a good swimmer, that much was clear. Whatever small ability he possessed was negated by his wounds. He splashed a great deal, but managed to make slight progress towards the small, sandy hill which rose from the bay.
Suddenly he let out a piercing screech of terror. He had seen a dark, sinister triangle of fin sizzling through the water toward him. He tried to turn and head back to shore, but so frightened was he that he hardly moved for all his flailing in the clear water.
The shark was a gigantic man-eater. It came straight for its prospective meal, not even circling to investigate. The mouth of the monster gaped, revealing the horrible array of teeth. Its liquid eyes rolled back into its wedge-shaped head as if in ecstasy for the meal it was about to swallow.
The unfortunate sniper let out a weak, ghastly bleat.
It seemed too late for anything to help the fellow. Renny, in discussing the affair later, maintained Doc purposely waited until the last minute so that terror would teach the sniper a lesson—show the man the fate of an evil-doer. If true, Doc’s lesson was mightily effective.
With a tremendous spring, Doc shot outward and cleaved head-first into the water.
THE dive was perfectly executed. And Doc, curving his powerful bronze body at the instant of impact with the water, seemed to hardly sink beneath the surface.
It looked like an impossible thing to do, but Doc was beside the unfortunate man even as the predator surged in with a final burst of speed. Doc vaulted over the man, and spun around to face the massive creature head on. In doing so, Doc put himself between the shark’s razor-studded jaws and the sniper.
But the bronzed, powerful body was not there when the serrated teeth snapped together. Doc was alongside the shark. His left arm flipped with electric speed around the head of the thing, securing what a wrestler would call a strangle hold.
Doc’s legs kicked powerfully. For an instant he was able to lift the shark’s head out of the water. In that fleeting moment his free right fist traveled a terrific arc—and found the one spot where his vast knowledge told him it was possible to stun the man-eater.
The shark became slack as a kayoed boxer.
Doc shoved the sniper ashore. The breed’s swarthy face was a study of bruises and slack-jawed horror. He looked like someone had jerked the cover off hell and let him see what awaited men of his ilk.
Now that the shark was drifting atop the water where rifle bullets could reach it, Renny and Monk put the finishing touch to the ugly monster.
“Why did you fire upon us?” Doc asked the breed, couching the words in Spanish. Doc spoke Spanish fluently, as he did many other tongues.
Almost eagerly, so grateful was he for what Doc had done, the breed made answer:
“I was hired to do it, señor. Paid by a man in Blanco Grande, the capital of Hidalgo. This man rushed me here during the night in a blue airplane.”
“What was your employer’s name?” Doc questioned.
“That I do not know, señor.”
“Don’t lie,” persuaded the man of bronze. His golden eyes bored into the miserable man’s brown orbs.
“I am not lying to you, señor! Not after what you did for me a while ago. Truly, I do not know this man.” The breed squirmed uneasily. “I have been a low mozo, hiring out for evil work to whoever pays me, and asking no questions. I shall desert that manner of living. I can take you to the spot where the blue airplane is hidden.”
“Do that.” Doc directed.
They started off, quickly reaching the outskirts of town. Doc prepared to hail a fotingo, or dilapidated flivver taxi. Then he lifted his golden eyes to the heavens.
His remarkable hearing caught the faint drone of an airplane motor. Somewhere, an aircraft was knifing through in the hot copper sky. Shortly it came into view, a brilliant blue, single-motor monoplane.
“That is the plane of the man who hired me to kill you!” gasped the bedraggled prisoner.
The gaudy blue craft banked overhead, engine stacks chuffing, and set course directly for the mud inlet.
Without a word, Doc spun and ran with tremendous speed for the beach where Johnny, Long Tom, and Ham waited with his own plane.
HALF-NAKED children gaped at the blur of bronze racing over the salt-grass swept dunes. Women muffled in rebozos, a combination shawl and scarf, scampered out and yanked them clear of the thundering charge of Renny, Monk and the prisoner, following in Doc’s wake.
On the beach a machine gun suddenly crackled. Doc knew by the particularly rapid rate of its fire that it was one of his own design. His friends had assembled it from where it had been stored in the cargo hold, and now used it for defense against the blue monoplane.
The small plane dipped from view behind the tufted tops of a strand of royal palms, accompanied by a whistling scree. The crump of a bomb and concussive shock rippled the air. The light craft had been outfitted to carry bombs.
Up above the palm fronds the blue plane arced into view again. It was behaving erratically now. The pilot or some part of his modified craft was hit.
Straight inland it flew. The growl of its engine faded and finally disappeared. It did not come back.
Doc, reaching the beach, saw the bomb had been so badly aimed as to miss his plane by dozens of yards. Close enough to pelt it with shrapnel, but not enough to put it out of action permanently.
His three men were sitting on the wing with the machine gun, grinning widely.
“We sure knocked the feathers off that bluebird!” Long Tom chuckled.
“He won’t be back!” Ham decided, after squinting at the distant blue dot that was the receding aircraft. “Who was it?”
“Obviously one of the gang trying to prevent us reaching that land of mine in Hidalgo.” Doc replied. “A member of the gang in New York radioed to Blanco Grande, the capital of Hidalgo, that we were coming by plane. Right here is the logical place for us to refuel after a flight across the Caribbean, so they set a trap here and we landed into it. They hired this breed to drill us the moment we came into view, when that didn’t work, the pilot tried to bomb us.”
At that, Renny and Monk came up with a renewed interest in the shabby figure panting behind Doc. They were both so big the breed looked like a little brown boy between them.
“What do we do with his nibs?” Monk asked, reaching a scruffy mitt towards the cowering man.
Doc replied without hesitation. “Free him.”
The swarthy breed nearly broke down with gratitude. Tears sprung to his eyes. He blubbered profuse thanks, which lacked dignity but made up for it in sincerity. Before he departed, he came close to Doc and murmured an earnest question. The others could not hear the breed’s words.
“What did he ask you?” Monk inquired after the breed had left with many promises of good behavior and blessings upon Doc’s friends. Even Johnny wearing his peculiar glasses noted the strange new confidence in the fellows walk.
“Believe it or not,” Doc smiled, “he wanted to know how one went about entering a monastery. I think there is one chap who will walk the straight and narrow in the future.”
“We better catch a shark and take him along if a close look at one reforms our enemies like that!” Monk laughed.
With ropes from a local warehouse, and long, thin palms which Doc hired willing natives to cut, the plane was pulled to dry land. The holed craft had hardly finished moving to its timbered pad before Renny climbed under it for a full inspection.
The other men kept out of his way. Renny was a big man, and when he was engrossed in a project he wasn’t careful with his elbows or knees. As his muttering grew more colorful, they stepped further back.
The news was bad. The floats were badly torn. They didn’t have material for patching, nor was there any in Belize. To save a great deal of work, Doc radioed to Miami for a fresh set. A transport plane brought the pontoons down.
Altogether, four days were lost before the amazing craft was airworthy again.
NOT a morning passed that didn’t find Doc performing his exercises. From his youth, he had not neglected the two-hour routine a single day. He did them, although he might have been on the go for many hours previously.
His muscular exercises were similar to ordinary setting-up movements, but infinitely harder, more strenuous on the tendons and nerves. He didn’t need apparatus, but used his own amazing physique to improve his stamina. For example, he would make certain muscles attempt to lift his arm, while the other muscles strove to hold it down. That way he grew not only muscular tissue, but control over individual muscles as well. Every part of his great, bronzed body he exercised in this manner.
From one of the leather pockets which lined his belt, Doc took a pad and pencil and wrote a number of several digits long. Eyes closed, he extracted the square and cube root of this number in his head, carrying the figures to many decimal places. He multiplied and divided and subtracted the number with various figures. Next, he did the same mental exercise with a number composed of a dozen digits. This disciplined him in concentration.
Out of a boxy case came an apparatus which could produce sound waves over a wide range of octaves, some at a wavelength so short or so long as to be inaudible to the untrained ear. For several minutes Doc strained to detect these waves inaudible to ordinary people. Years of training had enabled him to hear many of these customarily unheard sounds.
His eyes shut, Doc rapidly identified by the sense of smell several score of different odors, all very vague, each contained in a small vial racked in the case.
The full two hours Doc worked at these and other more intricate exercises.
To this regimen, he applied his mind to his current adventure and the mystery it contained. Sorting and filtering motives, possible moves by his adversaries and likely traps they would have set. It was yet impossible to see the moves against him clearly, or the people who were so intent on stopping the expedition. But one conclusion was arrived at again and again: the final encounter would be deadly.
THE morning of the fifth day after arriving in Belize, they took to the air for Blanco Grande, capital of Hidalgo.
It was jungle country they flew over, luxuriant, unhealthily rank trees in near solid masses. Lianas and grotesque aërial roots wove these into a solid carpet choking rivers and marshy lowlands.
Confident of his specially adapted engines, Doc flew low enough that they could see tiny parakeets and pairs of yellow-headed parrots feeding off the chichem berries that grew in abundance.
Some hours later they were over the border of Hidalgo. It was a typical country of the southern republics. Squeezed between two mighty mountains, traversed in its own right by a half dozen smaller but even more rugged ranges, it was a perfect spot for those whose minds run to revolutions and banditry.
In such localities governments are unstable not so much because of their own lack of equilibrium, but more because of the opportunities offered others to foment revolt. Corruption was matched with insurrection.
Half of the little valleys of Hidalgo were unknown even to the bandits and revolutionaries who were most familiar with the terrain. The interior was infested by savage tribes, remnants of once powerful nations, each still a power in its own right and often engaging in conflict with its neighbors. Woe betides the defenseless white man who found himself wandering about in the wilder part of Hidalgo.
The warlike tribes, the utter inaccessibility of some of the rocky interior, probably explained the large unexplored area Renny had noted on the best survey maps of Hidalgo.
The capital city itself was a concoction of little, crooked streets, balconied-and-barred houses, ramshackle adobe huts, and myriads of colored tile roofs, with the inevitable park for parading in the center of town.
In this case, the park was also occupied by the presidential palace and administration buildings. They were imposing structures which showed past governments had been free with the taxpayers’ money.
There was a small, shallow lake to the north of town.
On this glossy, sun-dappled surface Doc Savage landed his plane.
DOC gave some necessary instructions at once. The work fell to Ham, whose understanding of law made him eminently capable.
“Ham, you pay the local secretary of state a visit and verify our rights in this land grant of mine,” Doc directed.
“Maybe somebody had better go along to see he don’t steal some hams, or something,” Monk couldn’t resist putting in.
Ham bristled instantly.
“Why should I want a ham when I associate with a crowd of them all the time?” he demanded.
“Monk, you’d better accompany Ham as bodyguard,” Doc suggested. “I’d hate to break up such a merry band.”
Contrary to appearances such as the mutual ribbing they constantly hurled at each other, Monk and Ham made a good team of quick thinking and brawn. They got along perfectly, regardless of the fact that to hear them talk one would think a violent confrontation was inevitable.
Ham shaved and changed to a natty suit of white flannels before departing. He was sartorial perfection in his white shoes, panama, and innocent-looking ebony sword cane.
Monk, more to aggravate Ham than anything else, didn’t even wash his homely face. He cocked a battered hat over one eye, and with pants seemingly on the point of dropping off his tapering hips, he swaggered behind Ham.
It was later that afternoon when they were ushered into the presence of Don Rubio Gorro, Secretary of State of Hidalgo.
Don Rubio was rather short, well knit. His face was entirely too handsome for a man’s. His complexion was olive, his lips thin, his nose straight and a bit too sharp. His eyes were dark and quick to sparkle with a lively gleam over a witty remark or shared confidence.
Don Rubio had ears exactly like ones artists used to depict a capering devil. They were pointed and laid back against his head.
Extreme politeness characterized the welcome Don Rubio gave Ham, after the Latin fashion. Monk remained in the background. He didn’t think Don Rubio was so hot, taking snap judgment. Anyone who instantly glommed on to Ham in Monk’s book couldn’t be that great a judge of character.
Don Rubio lived up to Monk’s impression as soon as Ham made his business known.
“But my dear Señor Brooks,” said Don Rubio smugly, “our official records contain nothing concerning any concession giving any one named Clark Savage, Jr., even an acre of Hidalgo land, much less some hundreds of square miles. I am very sorry, but that is the fact.”
Ham executed a twirl with his cane. “Was the present government in power twenty years ago?”
“No. This government came into being two years ago.”
“The gang before you probably made the concession grant.”
Don Rubio flushed slightly at the subtle inference he was one of a series of gangs, seizing power before being inevitably overthrown by the next group of armed reactionaries in line.
“In that case!” he snapped, “we have nothing to do with it. You’re just out of luck.”
“You mean we have no rights to this land?”
“You most certainly have not,” Don Rubio added sadly. He smoothed his slick hair with a moist palm. “If it is not in the current records, for all purposes, it doesn’t exist. Your claim has as much legal weight as…” The dapper man seemed to reach for the right words. “As a child’s fairy tale” he finished.
HAM’S cane suddenly leveled at a spot directly between Don Rubio Gorro’s devil-like ears. “You’ve got another guess coming, my friend!”
Don Rubio eyes crossed as he focused on the tip of the cane hovering inches from his nose. “There is nothing that—”
“Oh, yes, there is!” Ham poked his cane for emphasis. “When this government came into power, it was recognized by the United States only on condition that the new regime respects the property rights of American citizens in Hidalgo. Isn’t that right?”
“Well, technically,” he stammered.
“You bet its right! And do you know what will happen if you don’t live up to that agreement? The U.S. government will sever relations and classify your government as an untrustworthy gang of bandits. You couldn’t obtain credit to buy arms and machinery and other things you need to keep your political opponents in check. Your export trade would dry up overnight. You would— But you know all that would happen as well as I do. In six months your government would in exile, and a new one sworn in.
“That’s what it means if you refuse to respect American property. And if this land concession isn’t American property, I’m a string on Nero’s fiddle.”
Don Rubio’s swarthy face flushed a smudgy purple, reaching even to his pointed ears. His hands trembled with rage and not a little worry. He knew all Ham was telling him was true. Uncle Sam was not somebody to be fooled with. He seized desperately at any straw which offered a way out of the mess he suddenly found himself.
“We cannot recognize your right because there is no record in our archives!” he said wildly.
Ham slapped Doc’s papers on the desk.
“These are record enough. Somebody has destroyed the others, but these are notarized both locally and in the States. I’ll tell you something else; there are some people who will go to any length to keep us away from this land. They’ve attacked us almost every step of the way. No doubt they destroyed the copies in your files.”
As he made that statement, Ham watched Don Rubio intently. He felt there was something behind Don Rubio’s attitude, had felt that from the first. Ham believed Don Rubio was either one of the gang trying to keep Doc from his heritage, or had been hired by the gang. And Don Rubio’s agitation tended to corroborate Ham’s suspicion.
“It’s going to end badly for whoever is causing the trouble.” Ham ground out, every word a dark promise. “We’ll get them in the end.”
Various emotions played on Don Rubio’s too-handsome, swarthy face. He was scared, worried. But gradually a desperate determination came uppermost. He clipped his lips together, shot out his jaw, and offered his final word.
“There is nothing more to be said! You have no claim to that land. That’s final!”
Ham lowered his cane and smiled ominously. “It will take me just about one hour to get a radio message to Washington,” he promised grimly. “Then, my friend, you’ll see a diplomatic storm break over this office so fast you’ll think you’re wearing lightning-rod underwear!”
LEAVING the government building, Ham and Monk ascertained the location of the radio station and set a course for it. Darkness had arrived while they were talking to Don Rubio. The city, quiet during the heat of the afternoon when they had entered, was awakening. Carriages occupied by staid Castilians, the blue blood of these southern republics, clattered over the rough streets. Here and there chugged an American car.
“You talked kinda tough to that Don Rubio gink, didn’t you?” Monk suggested. “I thought you was always supposed to be polite to these Spaniards. Maybe if you’d handled him with gloves on, you’d have got somewhere.”
“Hur-r-rump!” said Ham in his best courtroom manner. “I know how to handle men! That fellow Don Rubio has no principles. I give politeness where politeness is due. And it is never due a crook!”
“You said a mouthful!” rumbled Monk, for once forgetting himself and agreeing with Ham.
They soon found the meanderings of Blanco Grande streets most bewildering. They wound themselves around large trees and natural obstacles, instead of taking the most direct course through them. The effect was charming when viewed from a canopied café, while holding a sweating glass of the local cervesa. But when needing to be used for quick travel, they were a labyrinth of stucco and clay tile.
They had been told the radio station and message office was but a few blocks distant. An easy walk in the warm afternoon. But when they had covered that distance, there was no sign of any radio station.
“Fooey—we’re lost!” Monk grunted, and looked about for someone to ask regarding directions.
There was only one man in the street, a shabby side thoroughfare in what, as they only now perceived, was a none-too-savory part of Blanco Grande. The sole pedestrian was ahead of them, loitering along as though he had no place to go, and plenty of time to get there.
He was a broad-backed fellow with a short body and a block of a head. He wore dungarees, a bright-green calico shirt, and no shoes. His dusty feet splayed out on the brick sidewalk. His head, ludicrously enough, was topped with a battered black derby.
He had his hands in his pockets.
Ham and Monk overhauled the loafer.
“Can you direct us to the radio station?” Ham asked in Spanish.
“Si, señor!” replied the loafer. “Better yet, for a half a peso I will guide you there myself.”
Ham, baffled by the crookedness of the Blanco Grande streets, thought it cheap at the price. He hired the native on the spot.
Not once did the stocky, ill-clad fellow take his hands out of his pockets. But Ham and Monk thought nothing of that, passing it up as laziness on their guide’s part.
If anything, the streets which they now traversed became more offensive to the eye and nostril. Sour fruit odors came from the darkened mud houses, mingling with the soupy stench of unwashed humanity.
“Strange district for a radio station,” Monk muttered, beginning at last to get suspicious.
“Only a little distance now, señor!” muttered their guide, giving the pair a sidelong glance.
Monk, studying the man’s plumpness, his curving nose, his prominent lips, was struck by something vaguely familiar. It was as though he had known the guide, or one of his relatives. Monk cudgeled his brains, trying to place the fellow.
And then the whole thing became unpleasantly clear.
Their guide halted suddenly, grimy feet slapping to a stop. He pulled his hands from his pockets. The finger tips were stained red for an inch of their length!
The fellow’s broad chest swelled under the shabby green shirt and he let out a bellow of warning. Instantly from every doorway and darkened alcove for yards around, shadowy forms sprang.
MONK emitted a great howl. Monk’s fights were always noisy, unless there was reason for them being quiet. Like a gladiator of old, Monk fought best when the racket was loudest.
Knives glittered in the dark. Sandals, made of tapir hide and held on with coarse henequin rope, slapped the cobbles.
Monk lunged and got the man who had been their guide by the nape and the seat of his dungaree pants. As though he were a straw effegy, Monk whirled the man up and back, letting him fly. The victim screamed in a strange tongue. A knot of attackers went down like ten-pins before his hurtling body.
The scream, the crumpled guide’s red finger tips, told Monk something. The man was a Mayan. The same race as the fellow who had committed suicide in New York. That was why he seemed familiar.
Like the gigantic anthropoid he resembled, Monk went into action. His first punch jammed a ratty, dark-skinned man’s jaw back under his ear. The fellow dropped, convulsively throwing a rust-pitted knife high in the air.
Ham, dancing like a fencer, tapped a swarthy skull with his sword cane. The cane looked very light, almost like a long riding crop. But the sheath over the long, keen blade of spring steel was heavy. The blade itself was by no means light.
As the first assailant went over backward, Ham unsheathed his sword cane. He expertly skewered a fellow who tried to stab him from behind.
But where one besieger went down, a half dozen took his place. The street was full of snarling, vicious devils. None of these had red finger tips, or even resembled Mayans.
The one who was a Mayan, their former guide, groggily regained his feet, dazed.
Men were clinging like leeches to Monk. One sailed fully ten feet straight up when Monk threw him off. But suddenly, weighted by hopeless odds, Monk was borne down.
Ham, his sword in another unlucky assailant, was overcome an instant later.
Outnumbered, they had been trapped.
A resounding blow delivered on the head of each one rendered Monk and Ham senseless.
MONK’S awakening was one long blaze of pain. He rolled his eyes. He was in a mud-walled, mud-floored room. There was not a single window, and the one door was low and narrow. Monk tried to sit up and found himself tied hand and foot—not with rope, but with heavy wire.
Ham sprawled nearby on his back.
Wire also tied his arms and legs. From where he lay bound, Monk could see the slow seep of blood welling under the coils wrapping Ham’s wrists.
The red-fingered Mayan was bending over Ham. He had just appropriated the lawyer’s papers, Doc’s sole documentary proof of ownership of the tract of land in interior Hidalgo.
Evidently he had been after these. He hissed a number of words in Mayan, which neither Ham nor Monk understood. It didn’t sound complimentary whatever it was, but they couldn’t mistake the gloating tone.
The Mayan whipped a knife from inside his bright-green shirt.
But even as his knife started up, he seemed to get a more satisfactory thought. From within the capacious green shirt he drew an evil-looking little statuette. The features carved on this faintly resembled those of a human being, a tremendously long nose being most notable. It was artfully sculptured out of a dark obsidian rock.
The Mayan mumbled words, and there had suddenly come into his voice a religious fervor. Monk caught the name “Kukulcan” a time or two, and recognized it as the name of an ancient Mayan deity. With sickening, blasphemous horror, the chemist realized they were going to become a sacrifice to this hideous little idol.
Monk heaved against the wires, but only bruised his huge muscles. A hot, wet trickle ran down his hands, telling of torn skin. Countless loops of the wire held him fast.
The Mayan concluded his paean to the idol. He was slavering like a madman, but a dim trace of cunning intelligence glazed his eyes.
Faint light scintillated from the knife as it was raised to the crumbling mud roof.
Monk clamped his teeth in frustration, waiting for the final stab that would end his hopeless struggle against the cables. But almost instantly his small eyes shot open in joy. It was all he could do to bite off a yelp of laughter.
For into that unsavory room, a low, mellow sound penetrated the packed dirt walls. It trilled up and down the scale like the song of some rare bird. It seemed to filter through the earth itself, rising past the ceiling and beyond. The sound was strengthening, inspiring.
The sound of Doc!
The Mayan was puzzled. He looked about, saw nothing. The idol- worshiping fervor seized him again . His red-tinged hands tightened their grip on the cruel weapon.
The blade plunged down.
It travelled no more than a foot before stopping as though it had struck a block of invisible marble. Out of the narrow black doorway flashed a gigantic figure of bronze. A Nemesis of power and speed, Doc Savage pounced upon the devilish but luckless Mayan.
Doc seemed to lightly slap the Mayan’s knife wielding arm away, but the bone snapped loudly and the knife gyrated into a grimy corner. The Mayan twisted. With surprising alacrity, his other hand darted inside his green shirt and came out with a shiny pistol.
He aimed at Ham, not Doc. Helpless on the floor, still groggy from the beatings he’d received, Ham was the easiest target.
There was only one thing Doc could do to save Ham. His bronze fist became a wedge, fingers together like the head of an axe. The edge of his hand was like a metal blade. A quick chop snapped the Mayan’s neck instantly. The fellow died before he could pull trigger.
It took only a moment for Doc to free Ham and Monk from the wires.
A swarthy native—one of the Mayan’s hirelings—popped through the door with a long-bladed knife. It was a corn knife, with “Made in U.S.A.” on the handle. But the native would have called it a machete.
His precipitous arrival was just his hard luck. A leap, a blow so swift the native probably never saw it, and the fellow was flying head over heels back the way he came.
Doc guided Ham and Monk outside, half carrying the dazed lawyer who was still trying to gather his wits. Monk followed behind, trying to rub feeling back into his abraded limbs. They ran awkwardly down a worn path threading between sickly trees.
Rounding a small bend, Monk saw they had come to the outskirts of a simple village. Rude huts were erected seemingly at random and the unmistakable smell of wood smoke was in the air.
Doc seized Ham and gave him a toss that lifted him to a low stone wall connected to a primitive dwelling. Monk managed the jump unassisted, and Doc followed. They ran along the wall to a low mud roof. From that landing they sprang to another roof, and then another.
On the final one billowed the silken folds of a parachute.
“That’s how I got here,” Doc explained. “News of that fight spread fast. Most of the lower quarters in the town were in that riot. I heard it and took off in the plane. At two thousand feet I touched off a parachute flare. That lit up the whole town. I was lucky enough to see the gang haul you into that joint. So I simply jumped down to help you.”
“Sure!” Monk grinned. “There wasn’t nothin’ to it, was there, Doc?”
“Well, you fellows did make it easy to spot,” said Doc, his posture visibly relaxing now that his close allies were safe. “I doubt their usual uprisings are half as violent as the scrap you two put on.”
“You said it,” grinned Monk, his tongue feeling around in his mouth for new gaps. He found some loose teeth, but all seemed to be accounted for. He let out a loud Whuf! and slumped to the gritty rooftop.
“The government may be shakier than a giraffe in an earthquake, but all their revolutions keep these folks in practice!”
DOC, Ham, and Monk strolled through the moonlight to the spot on the lake shore where they had pitched camp. A crowd of curious natives were there inspecting the plane, talking among themselves. Aircraft were still a novelty in this out-of-the-way spot.
Doc, a bronze giant nearly twice as tall as some of the swarthy fellows, mingled among them and asked questions in the mixture of Spanish and Indian lingo they spoke. Muddled as their language was, his dialect was perfect and they understood him easily. He asked about the blue plane which had attacked him at Belize.
The blue plane had been seen a few times by the natives. But they did not know from whence it came or where it went.
Doc noticed some of the swarthy little men were very superstitious about the blue plane. They give him little information, when they could be convinced to talk at all. In each case, the features of such men showed they were of Mayan ancestry.
Doc recalled that blue was the sacred color of the ancient Maya. It only added to this mystery confronting him.
Renny and the others had erected a silken tent, light enough to block the oppressive heat at midday, but sturdy enough to withstand the sudden squalls which came off the ocean.
Inside the tent they dug a shallow hole, a low sort of a trench in which to sleep. From the outside, the excavation would escape detection. They were taking no chance on a sudden machine-gun burst taking them by surprise in the night. They knew their foes were still watching them, and seeing the team gathered together in the small tent would be a tempting target for the cowardly thugs.
The scarlet marks on their fingers were supposed to mark them as warriors, but warriors who fought like the lowliest criminal when cornered.
Monk and Ham, soon recovered from their narrow brush with death, decided to sleep in the plane cabin, taking turns at guard duty.
Doc himself set off alone through the night. Thanks to the marvelous faculties he had developed by years of intensive drilling, he had little fear of enemies taking him by surprise.
He went to the presidential palace. To the servant who admitted him, Doc gave simply his name and a request to see the President of Hidalgo.
In a surprisingly brief interval, the flunky was back. Carlos Avispa, President of Hidalgo, would see Doc at once.
Doc was ushered into a great, sumptuously fitted room. The chamber was in twilight, and a small motion-picture projector was throwing shifting images onto a white screen. However, the film being run was one concerning military tactics instead of the typical mushy love drama so popular back home in the States.
Carlos Avispa came forward with a warmly outstretched hand. He was a powerful man, a few inches shorter than Doc. His upstanding shock of white hair lent him a distinguished aspect. His face was lined with care, but intelligent and pleasant. He was near fifty.
“It is a great honor indeed to meet the son of the great Señor Clark Savage,” he said with genuine heartiness.
That surprised Doc. He was not aware his father had known Carlos Avispa. But Doc’s father had many friends of whom Doc was not aware.
“You knew my father?” Doc inquired.
Carlos Avispa bowed. There was genuine esteem in his voice as he replied. “Your father saved my life with his wonderful medical skill. That was twenty years ago, when I was but an unimportant revolutionist hiding out in the mountains. You, I believe, are also a great doctor and surgeon?”
Here was a break, Doc reflected. He nodded that he was both a doctor and surgeon. For among the talents in which he excelled, medicine and the workings of the human body was the field he knew more about than all others.
In the course of a few minutes Doc had told his story and mentioned that Don Rubio Gorro, the Secretary of State, had refused to honor his grant to the territory in interior Hidalgo.
“I shall remedy that at once, Señor Savage.” declared President Carlos Avispa. “Anything I have, any power I control, is yours.”
AFTER he had thanked the elderly, likable man properly, Doc inquired whether President Avispa had any idea what made the tract of land so valuable that many men were anxious to do murder rather than allow him reaching it.
Carlos considered the matter. “I cannot imagine,” he finally replied. “I do not know what your father found there. He was bound for the interior of Hidalgo when he came upon me ill in camp twenty years ago. He saved my life. And I never saw him again. As for the region, it is very near impregnable, and the natives are so troublesome I have given up trying to send soldiers to explore.”
President Carlos Avispa reflected deeply for a long moment, then went on.
“It worries me, this action of my Secretary of State, Don Rubio Gorro,” he said. “Some saboteur,” he struggled with the foreign syllables, “has destroyed the records of this heritage your father left you. They should be in our archives. But I cannot understand why Don Rubio should act as he did. Your papers were proof enough of ownership, even though ours had vanished.”
His brow furrowed in distaste. “He shall be punished for his impertinence.”
Doc was silent. The moving-picture machine was still running off the reel of military maneuvers, the type of film shown at war colleges.
Seeing Doc’s interest, the statesman gave a proud smile. “You see our modern ways, yes?” President Avispa indicated the cinema machine. “I must keep myself advised of the latest fighting methods. It is indeed regrettable. But it seems we can never have peace here in the south. There is always a revolution brewing.
“Just recently I have heard strong rumors that an attempt is to be made to assassinate me and seize power. Many of my people of Mayan ancestry are involved. But I do not know the ringleaders. I understand they await only money to buy arms before making the attempt.”
There came into the elderly chief executive’s eyes a fiery, warlike glint. “If I could but find from what source their money is expected to come, I would soon put a quietus on them. And, best of all, it would be done without bloodshed!”
Doc gave a cautious nod in agreement. “That would be most impressive, Mr. President. Plots against a government are usually founded in bloodshed, and rarely stopped without much being spilt.”
Carlos gave a grim chuckle. “Yes, and suffering. And violence. And death. But you see, Señor Clark, I may have started as a hot-blooded insurgent, but now I’m an old revolutionary. I’ve seen death, lived in villages where it danced on rooftops and capered in the village square.
His eyes closed, the flickering light of the film played over his noble features. “When I lay delirious with fever in that cot I couldn’t even raise a finger without assistance. I could do nothing buy lay there sick with an internal fire as I listened to my companions disappear one by one. Lost to sniper fire, or a military ambush in the mountain passes. Lost to plots for power.”
He opened his eyes and shared a surprisingly desperate look with the man of bronze.
“I rule this fragile nation knowing that it has already lost so much. My duty to myself, as well as my people, so to see that it doesn’t lose any more.”
Doc conversed for a considerable time, mostly about his great father. Politely declining an invitation to spend the night at the presidential palace, he departed at a late hour.
Striding through Blanco Grande’s sleepy streets, Doc was thoughtful. Could it be that the money for the revolution against President Carlos Avispa was tied up directly with his heritage? The fact that Mayans were involved in both pointed that way. Maybe his enemies were trying to rob him of his legacy, and use it to finance a revolution to overthrow President Avispa.
The enemies had tried extremely hard from the first to prevent him finding out about the legacy’s existence. Their failure to conceal that knowledge didn’t mean they hadn’t been unsuccessful elsewhere. Perhaps there were other clues his father had left for him waiting to be uncovered in the wilds of Hidalgo.
Doc stopped suddenly in the narrow street.
Before him, on the dimly moonlit cobbles, lay a knife. It had an obsidian blade and a hilt of tightly wound leather—exactly like the one the Mayan in New York had carried.
WHILE Doc pondered the primitive weapon, a curious meeting gathered in the single penthouse of Blanco Grande’s one hotel modern enough to be fitted with running water and a radio in every room. The hotel was a national pride for all Hidalgo. It was the only commercial structure that boasted three stories.
The men crowding the top-floor room were easily the scourge of Hidalgo. They were the revolutionary ringleaders. The ones quick enough, or well-connected enough, to avoid the firing squad after periodic roundups swept the city. No high ideals motivated these men, or lofty dreams of freedom burned in their hearts. If so, they wouldn’t have gathered in such a shifty mob. Because no kinder or more upright official ever administered that nation than the elderly President Carlos Avispa.
Greed was behind every act of these men. They wanted to overthrow President Avispa’s honest, efficient government, so they could loot the public treasury, tax the citizens to bankruptcy then skip to Paris and the fleshpots of Europe for a life of luxury on the proceeds.
Of course settling old scores and eliminating rivals was the first order of business. Hidalgo would bleed, and then be bled dry.
Eleven outlaws from the hills were hunched together on one side of the room, shoulder to shoulder. Shaggy, vicious fellows, every one of them was a murderer many times over.
Before them was a curtain. Behind the curtain was a door leading to an adjoining room. This door opened, and the assembled bandits could hear a man enter. They grew tense, wary. But when the man spoke, they relaxed.
They wouldn’t know their boss by sight, but they recognized his voice.
The swarthy bunch was of low intelligence, but they sensed in him the fire of leadership, similar to how a pack of wild dogs will automatically defer to one alpha canine. To them his name was irrelevant. His plans would make the Hidalgo treasury vaults burst like a Mexican piñata. That was all that mattered.
“My delay,” said the concealed boss “was unavoidable. The thrice-consecrated blade was lost and needed to be found.”
“Did you find it?” interrupted one of the bandits. “That thing is important. You need it to impress those Mayans. They think only members of their warrior sect can touch one and live. If an ordinary man gets one, they think he will die.” He didn’t bother hiding his sneer. “So you need it to make them think you’re the son of that god of theirs they call the Feathered Serpent.”
“I found it,” said the man behind the curtain. “Now, let’s get down to business. This Savage person has proved to be more of a menace than we ever dreamed.”
The speaker paused, and when he continued, there was a distinct twinge of fear in his voice. “Savage visited President Avispa tonight, and Avispa O.K.‘d the papers, the deed; everything! The miserable, old fool. We shall soon be shut of him. But we must stop Savage! We must wipe him out, and those five fighting devils with him!”
“Agreed,” muttered a hairy cutthroat. “They must not reach the Valley of the Vanished!”
“Why not let them go ahead into the Valley of the Vanished?” growled another bandit. “That would be the end of them. They’d never get out.” He lit a hand-rolled cigarette from a paper match and inhaled deeply. “No one ever comes back or ever will. They’d be lucky if their bones were found by scavengers once the Valley was done with ‘em.”
The voice behind the curtain shook with fear, the mastermind struggling to not succumb to panic before the hired thugs.
“You idiot! You do not know Savage! The man is uncanny. I went to New York, but I failed to stop him. And I had with me two members of that fanatical sect of warriors from the Valley of the Vanished. Those men are accomplished fighters. Their own people are in terror of them, and with good reason! But Savage escaped.”
An uneasy silence filled the suite. Eddies of cigarette smoke drifted towards the curtain but no further. A healthy dose of paranoia had kept these men alive so far, and they’d taken the precaution of sealing all the hotel room windows.
The air was getting stale with the stench of cheap tobacco and unwashed clothes. The men shifted uncomfortably.
“What if the members of this warrior sect should find you are not one of them?” asked an outlaw. “You’ve led them to believe you are the flesh-and-blood son of one of their old deities. They worship you. But suppose they get wise that you’re a faker?”
“They won’t!” snapped the man behind the curtain. There was a pause exactly the length of a deep breath before the hidden figure answered in a more measured tone, “They won’t, because I control the Red Death.”
“The Red Death,” muttered one man bitterly.
Another breathed: “The Red Death—what is it?”
Loud, ugly laughter came through the curtain, causing it to writhe like a snake shedding its skin. “A drunken genius of a scientist sold the secret of causing the Red Death, as well as the cure. He sold it to me! And then I killed him so no one would ever get it—or, rather, the cure for it.”
A nervous shuffling passed between the assembled bandits.
“If we could just solve the mystery of that gold that comes out of the Valley of the Vanished,” one mumbled. “Find the source of that treasure and we could forget this revolution.”
“We can’t!” declared the man back of the curtain. “I’ve tried and tried. Morning Breeze, the chief of the warrior sect doesn’t even know where it comes from. The thick-headed savage actually yawned in boredom when I asked. He asked why gold would interest a warrior.”
An explosive curse shook the curtain before the boss continued.
“Only old King Chaac, ruler of the Valley of the Vanished, knows. And you couldn’t torture it out of him.”
“Stuff my pockets with enough cash and I’ll put together a gang with machine guns!” a scarred bandit muttered. “Real hell-raisers too, not like the local scum,” he said, his voice rising with enthusiasm.
“You tried that once, didn’t you?” chuckled the curtain speaker. “And you were nearly wiped out for your pains. The Valley of the Vanished is impregnable. The best we can do is grab enough golden tribute to finance this revolt.”
“How do you get the gold?” asked a robber, his eyes darting warily between the bandits and the curtain. He was new to the outfit and many peculiar details of this plot hadn’t been explained to him. But the word ‘gold’ snagged his attention like a hand around his throat.
Laughter again shook the opaque curtain. “I simply turn the Red Death loose on the tribe. Then they make a big offering of gold as tribute, hoping to mollify my anger. I let them stew for a while before giving them the cure for the Red Death.” He snorted mirthfully. “The ignorant dupes think their deity sends the Red Death, and the gold offering appeases his wrath.”
“Well, you had better turn the Red Death loose soon,” suggested a man. “We need an offering bad. If we don’t get it, we can’t pay for those guns we need to trigger the revolt.”
“I will, very shortly. I have been sending my blue plane over the Valley of the Vanished. That’s a new idea of mine. I’d like to say it came to me in a dream, but I stumbled across the idea in the library.” The voice became more composed, the earlier trace of terror faded away as he explained. “It impresses the inhabitants of the Valley a lot. Blue is their sacred color, only the big Ju-Jus can wear it and anything painted with it is imbued with their favor. Combine that with modern aviation and a miracle is born. The backward rubes think the plane is a big winged god!”
There was a lot of evil laughter in appreciation of their leader’s ruse.
“That Red Death is great stuff!” grated the man behind the curtain. “It put old man Savage out—”
The speaker suddenly emitted a frenzied scream and sprang forward, taking the curtain with him. He plunged head over heels across the floor.
The stunned bandits saw a towering figure silhouetted in the door behind the curtain. A great bronze, striking figure of a man. There could be no doubt of his identity.
“Doc Savage!” one bandit squawked.
DOC SAVAGE it was, right enough. When he had seen the stone knife lying in the street he’d also been aware of footsteps approaching down a nearby garbage strewn alley. Without seeming to move he blended into the shadows.
His instincts were right. Silently, he’d watched as a man approached, head down. The man’s path swept from side to side down the alley as though the figure was looking for something among the filth lining the passage. The moment the man spied the slick black blade, he grabbed it by the twisted thong handle, spun on his heel and hurried back the way he’d come. Doc followed the man back to this hotel room. The shuffling man he followed was so engrossed in hurrying to his destination that he was oblivious to the mighty figure on his trail.
Unseen by the vicious gang and ringleader, Doc had heard the whole vile plot.
And for the first time in his career, Doc had failed to get his man. Rage at the revolutionary leader and the dismissive way he’d acknowledged murdering his father, had momentarily blinded Doc. Built like a steam engine and nearly as powerful, Clark Savage Jr. was still a man.
A bandit drew a pistol. Another doused the lights. Guns roared deafeningly. Blows smacked. Terrific blows that tore flesh and smashed bone. Blows such as only Doc Savage could deliver!
The window burst with a crash as somebody leapt through, heedless of the fact that it was three floors to the courtyard below. A second man took the same insane jump.
The fight within the room was over in a matter of thundering seconds.
Doc Savage turned on the lights. Ten bandits in various stages of stupor and unconsciousness were strewed about the room. Three of them would never murder again. The Blanco Grande police, alerted by the clamor, were already swarming up the corridor outside.
To the window, Doc swept. Vaulting through the shard-lined opening, he took the three-story drop as lightly as a panther.
He landed aside a cutthroat, twisted on the flagstones beneath the shattered window. The man had broken his neck in the plunge.
There was no trace of their leader. The man had survived the jump and escaped.
Doc stood there, rage tingling all through his powerful bronze frame. The murderer of his father gone, and he didn’t even know who the man was.
For Doc, in following the fellow to the hotel, had not once been able to glimpse the master villain’s face. Up in the room, the curtain had enveloped the fiend until the lights went out.
Doc quietly stole away from the vicinity of the hotel with its holocaust of death. In that hostelry room, he had left something that became a legend in Hidalgo. A dozen men overcome in a matter of seconds. For weeks, the Blanco Grande police puzzled over what manner of fighter had overpowered the worst of Hidalgo’s bandits in a hand-to-hand fray.
Every cutthroat had a reward on his unkempt head. The reward went unclaimed. Finally, by decree of President Avispa, it was turned over to charity.
Doc Savage, his mind already tackling the next moves for himself and his loyal team, returned to his camp on the beach and to bed.
VALLEY OF THE VANISHED
BY the time the sun had crawled above the highest of Hidalgo’s spike like mountain peaks, Doc and his men were ready to depart.
Doc had taken his usual two-hour exercise long before dawn, while the others still slept.
After renewing his body, Doc had awakened his men and gave marching orders which were immediately obeyed. They seized brushes and quick-drying blue paint, and gone over their entire plane. The unique aircraft quickly sported a new appearance; one which Doc hoped would help them at their long delayed destination. The plane was bright blue from the streamlined engine cowling to stubby tail rudder. The same sacred color which figured so highly to the ancient Maya civilization.
“If the inhabitants of this mysterious Valley of the Vanished think we’re riding in a holy chariot,” Doc explained, “they may let us hang around long enough to make friends.”
Ham, waspish and debonair, carrying his inevitable sword cane—for he had several of them—offered jocosely: “And if they believe in evolution, we can arouse their interest by passing Monk off as the missing link.”
“Oh, yeah?” Monk grinned. “Someday you’re gonna find yourself in a pile that will pass for hamburger steak, and you won’t know any more about who done it than you do about who framed that ham-stealing charge on you.”
Red-necked, Ham twiddled his cane and had nothing more to say.
Gasoline for twenty hours’ flying reposed in the tanks of the big tri-motor speed plane.
Doc, in the control bucket, activated the radial motors over with the electro-inertia starting mechanism. He let the cylinders warm so there would be no such unpleasantness as a cold motor stalling at a critical moment during take-off.
Out across the lake, Doc ruddered the plane. He rocked the deperdussin-type control wheel. The floats went on step— skimming the lake surface. Then they were off. Doc banked about and headed directly for the most rugged interior region of Hidalgo.
It was Doc’s own idea, borne out by Johnny’s intensive study of the country’s topography, to use pontoons instead of landing wheels on the plane. Due to the wildly rank jungle and the unbelievably craggy nature of the region, chances were one in a thousand of finding a clearing large enough for a proper landing.
On the other hand, Hidalgo was in a sphere of great rainfall, of tropical downpours. The streams were small rivers, and here and there in a mountain chasm lay a tiny lake. In such conditions, and with few options, floats were the best bet.
While Doc flew the plane to ten thousand feet searching for a favorable air current, one that would cut gasoline consumption and extend their range, his five friends used binoculars through the cabin windows.
They hoped to find trace of their enemy, the blue monoplane. But not a glimpse of its hangar did they catch in the nodular, verdurous carpet of jungle. It must be concealed, they reasoned, somewhere very near the capital city of Blanco Grande. But the thick, green canopy they flew over revealed nothing. A squadron on fighters could be parked in the leafy tangles, but still they scanned diligently.
Below was an occasional patch of milpa, or native corn, growing in jungle clearings. Through the glasses, they could see natives carrying burdens in macapals, or netting bags suspended by a strap about the forehead. As they flew inward, leaving the capitol behind, scenes like these became scarcer. Haphazardly cultivated milpa patches were replaced by thick growths of uamil bushes ten to twenty feet high. They were leaving civilization behind with every mile. Hours passed.
Great barrancas, or gorges, began to split the terrain. The earth seemed to tumble and writhe and pile atop itself in inconceivable derangement. Mountains lurched up, gigantic, made black and ominous by the jungle growth. From above, the flyers could look down into canyons so deep their floors were nothing but gloomy chasms shrouded by fog.
“There’s not a level place down there big enough to stick a stamp on!” Long Tom declared in an awed voice, binoculars plastered to his face.
Johnny laughed, scanning from the window opposite. “I told Monk that Columbus tackling the Atlantic Ocean had a picnic compared to this.”
Monk snorted. “You’re crazy. Us settin’ in comfortable seats in this plane, and you call it somethin’ hard! I don’t see nothin’ dangerous about it.”
“You wouldn’t!” Ham said dryly. “If we should be forced down, you could take to the trees. The rest of us would have to walk. And a half mile a day is good walking in that country under us!”
Monk, lowered his military-grade glasses with an acid barbed retort on his lips.
Renny, up in the pilot’s with Doc, called: “Heads up, you eggs! We’re getting close!”
RENNY had checked their course figures repeatedly. He calculated angles and inscribed lines on the map, eyes darting between the creased paper and the flight instruments on the control panel. They were nearing their destination, the tract of land that was Doc’s legacy. It lay directly ahead.
Before them grew a mountain range more sinister and sheer than any they had sighted yet. Its foothill peaks were like stone needles. The rampant sides of the mountains were patched by stringy clumps of jungle, fighting for existence.
The great speed plane bucked like a stallion as it sheared through the tremendous air currents forced upward by the precipitous wastes of stone below. This, in spite of Doc’s masterful hand at the controls. An ordinary pilot would have succumbed to such treacherous currents, or prudently turned back.
It was as though they were flying through the tumultuous heart of a vast cyclone.
Monk, hanging tightly to a metal framed seat, which was in turn bolted with to the plane fuselage, had become somewhat green under his usual ruddy brick complexion. Plainly, he had changed his ideas about the ease of their exploration method. Not that he was scared, but he was about as seasick as a man could be.
“This devilish turbulence explains why the region has never been mapped by plane,” Doc offered.
“A guy would have to be a bloody genie to enjoy this,” groaned Monk. “I’m going to make a map of Hidalgo myself and save the next poor sap the trouble of getting his teeth rattled out of his head. I’ll just write ‘don’t bother’ smack-dab in the center of the country and leave it at that. If someone thinks they can do better, they’re welcome to try.”
“Can’t be any worse than the maps we’ve got to work with,” called Renny from the front where he’d been listening.
“Hang tight men,” said Doc. “We’ve been though flack thicker than this in the War. A bounce or two just keeps us on our toes.”
A few minutes later, he leveled an arm towards a stubbly range breaking through the forest canopy. “That canyon should lead to the center of this tract of land we’re hunting.”
Their eyes, all of them, followed Doc’s pointing arm.
A narrow-walled gash that seemed to split the mountain met their gaze. This cut was of bare stone, too flinty for erosion to soften its broken edges. The cleft didn’t show any trace of green growth on its steep sides.
The plane careened closer to investigate.
So deep was the cliff-walled canyon that the lower reaches were in a limbo of twilight. Renny, keen of eye and using binoculars, saw movement along the canyon floor. He quickly determined the source. “There is quite a stream of water flowing down there, moving at a good clip too. Whitecaps heading back where we came from, or at least as far as I can tell.”
Fearlessly, Doc nosed the plane down. Another pilot would have banked away in terror from those malicious air currents. Doc, however, knew just how much his plane could stand. Although the craft might be tossed about a great deal, they were all quite safe—as long as Doc’s hand was on the controls.
Into the monster slash of a chasm, the plane rumbled. The muffled exhaust was tossed back in roaring waves from the slab walls. Suddenly, air cooled by the small river rushing through the cut seemed to suck the plane into the depths. The change in pressure grabbed the wheeling, twisting speed ship and yanked it into the murky shadows.
Monk was now a striking example of the contention that sudden danger will cure seasickness—for he was entirely normal again.
Doc had the throttles against the wide-open pins. The three radial motors moaned with redoubled life and the exhaust pipes chuffed blue flame.
The progress of the craft along the chasm was a procession of leaps and drops and side-whippings, as though they were riding an amusement-park jack rabbit, or roller coaster.
“It’ll be a long old day before another gang of white explorers penetrate into this place!” Renny prophesied.
Renny and Ham looked very white indeed. Every plunge of the streamlined craft blanched a little color from their faces. Even Long Tom looked more unhealthy than usual, which was amazing for him. Normally sallow, he was now positively corpselike.
Doc’s arm suddenly leveled like a bronze bar.
“The Valley of the Vanished!” he cried.
Shimmering into view as their eyes adjusted to the gloom, it appeared before them as a tapestry of olive and brown.
A widening in the strange, devilish chasm formed it. The steep cliffs arched around leaving a wide, rough oval cavity. The floor was sloping, littered with rubble from the surface far above. Attempting to land a wheel-equipped plane on it without calamity would be impossible.
There was only one spot of comparative levelness, and even that was no greater than an acre or two in area.
It was on this level spot that the eyes of Doc and his five men instantly focused. They stared, unbelieving.
“Good Heaven!” gasped Johnny, the archaeologist.
From the flat patch of land towered a pyramid. It adhered in a general way to the architecture of the Egyptian type of pyramids, but there were differences which even Monk, no great study of foreign cultures, couldn’t fail to notice.
The sloping sides, instead of drawing inward in a series of steplike shelves, were smooth as glass from top to bottom, as though polished. Only in the front of the structure was there a flight of steps. Not more than twenty feet wide was this flight, and the steps were shallow compared to those found in an American home. The stairway climbed like a ribbon up the glittering, sleek face of the pyramid.
The apex of the structure was flat, and on this stood a sort of temple, a flat stone roof supported by square, wondrously carved pillars. Except for the pillars, the structure was open on all sides, permitting glimpses of fantastically wrought idols of stone.
Strangest of all, perhaps, was the color of the pyramid. Of a grayish- brown stone, yet it glowed all over with a strange yellow, metallic aurora . Pinpricks of light danced across the surface. Whatever odd matter the builders crafted the pyramid from, it caught rays of light from every angle and scattered them back.
“Priceless!” murmured Johnny, the archaeologist.
“You said it.” grunted Renny, the engineer, never taking his eyes off the wondrous structure.
“From a historical standpoint, I mean.” corrected Johnny.
“I meant from a pocketbook standpoint.” Renny snorted. “If I ever saw quartz absolutely full of wire gold, I see it now. I’ll bet the stone that pyramid is made of would mill fifty thousand dollars to the ton in free gold.”
“Forget the gold!” snapped Johnny. “Don’t you realize you’re looking at a rare sample of ancient Mayan architecture? Something any archaeologist would give both hands and a leg to inspect.
“They’d have to have some limbs left after the flight in,” said Monk tightly. “Until we’re down and out of this tin can, I doubt that’s even possible!”
As the plane arrowed closer to the impossible pyramid, another feature became noticeable. There was a sizable volume of water pouring steadily down the pyramid’s front, coursing in deep troughs inlaid beside the steps.
This water came out of the pyramid top by some artesian effect. Continuing away from the structure in a straight channel, it fed a long, narrow lake. This body of water in turn funneled into the stream that ran back down the chasm up which Doc and his friends had flown.
Climbing the sides of the oval valley, not far from the pyramid, stood rows of impressive stone houses. These were lavishly carved, strange of architecture but constructed with obvious skill. It was as though the flyers had slipped backward into an age before recorded history.
There were people, drawn by the resonating din of the tri-planes motors. Many more appeared as the crew watched.
They were garbed weirdly.
Doc dropped the plane pontoons on the narrow lake surface.
IT was an awed group of men who peered from the plane as it grounded floats on the clean white sand of the tiny beach.
The natives of the Valley of the Vanished were running down the steep sides to meet them. It was difficult to tell whether their reception was going to be warlike or not.
“Maybe we’d better assemble the machine gun?” Renny suggested. “I don’t like the looks of that gang making its way to the front!”
“No,” Doc shook his head. “After all, we haven’t any moral right here. If things start going pear shaped, we can still get out without a massacre.”
“But this land is all yours.” Renny said.
“In the eyes of civilized law, probably so,” Doc agreed. “But there’s another way of looking at it. It’s a lousy trick for a government to take some poor savage’s land away from him and give it to a white man to exploit. Our own American Indians got that kind of a deal, you know. Not that these people look so savage, though.”
Johnny nodded. “A lot is going to depend on what sort of contact they’ve had with the outside world, and how long ago that took place. If it was nothing but sugar and cream, then we’ll have an easy time of it. But if it was the typical meeting between stranger nations, then it’s going to get hairy fast.”
“They’ve got a pretty high type of civilization, if you ask me,” Renny declared. “That’s the cleanest little city I ever saw.”
The men fell to watching the oncoming natives.
“Everyone’s a pure Mayan.” Johnny declared. His voice, lowered in amazement, continued. “No outside races have intermarried with these people.”
The approaching Mayans were going through a strange maneuver. The bulk of the populace was holding back to let a group of similarly garbed men come forward.
These men were slightly larger in stature, more brutelike, of a thickness of shoulder and chest advertising powerful muscles. They wore a short mantle over the shoulders, a network of leather which had projecting ends rather like modern epaulets. They wore broad girdles of a dark blue, the ends of these forming aprons to the front and rear. Each man wore leggings not unlike football shin guards, and sandals which had extremely high backs.
They carried spears and short clubs of wood into which vicious-looking, razor-edged flakes of stone were fitted in the manner of saw teeth. In addition, each had a knife with an obsidian blade, and a hilt of wound leather. This was strapped in a businesslike fashion around their waist and thigh.
“Uh oh,” said Johnny.
“Are you calculating the odds?” asked Long Tom.
“Actually, I was noticing the weapons. They look fanciful, but they’re not as ornate as I’d hoped,” Johnny replied.
Monk gave him a puzzled look, which coming from his thickly browed face made the expression twice as effective. “You only want to be carved up by a fancy lookin’ man sticker?”
Johnny gave a grim chuckle, “Not hardly. What I mean is those aren’t ceremonial weapons. Mayan societies had gear for show just like we do. Think of the sword issued with your regulation dress uniform. Technically it’s a weapon, but not one you want to rely on to save your neck repeatedly.
He surveyed the men assembling on shore. “Those are designed for heavy use. I don’t know who they are, but I doubt they’re an honor guard. Besides, something else about those fellows concerns me.”
Every one of these men also had his fingertips dyed scarlet in the manner Doc’s men had come to recognize. None of the other tribesmen seemed to have the red fingers.
Suddenly the man who led this group halted. Turning, he lifted his hands above his head and harangued his followers in a voice of vast emotion and volume. This man was more stocky than the others. Indeed, he had Monk’s anthropoid build without Monk’s gigantic size. His face was dark and evil.
Doc listened with interest to the Mayan dialect as shouted by the speaker.
“That fellow is Morning Breeze, and the gang he is talking to are the sect of warriors, his followers.” Doc translated for his men, giving his own accurate deductions rather than the gist of Morning Breeze’s speech.
“He looks more like an alley wind at midnight to me,” Monk muttered. “What’s he ribbin’ ‘em up to do, Doc?”
Angry light danced in Doc Savage’s golden eyes. “He is telling them the blue plane is a holy bird.”
“That’s what we wanted them to think!” said Renny. “So it’s all right if—”
“It’s not as right as you think,” Doc interrupted. “Morning Breeze is telling his warriors we are a human offering the holy blue bird has brought to be sacrificed.”
“They’re going to kill us, if Morning Breeze has his way.”
MONK instantly whirled for the hatch, rumbling: “I’m gonna meet ‘em with a machine gun in each hand!”
But Doc’s low voice stopped him. “Wait,” Doc suggested. “Morning
Breeze’s warriors haven’t worked up their nerve yet. I have a scheme to try.”
Doc exited the craft, advancing alone to meet the belligerent fighting sect of this lost clan of the ancient Mayans. There were fully a hundred red-fingered men in the conclave, every one armed to the teeth.
Seized with the insane fervor which comes upon addicts of exotic religions, they would be vicious customers in a fight. But Doc stepped up to them as calmly as he would go before a chamber of commerce luncheon gathering.
Morning Breeze stopped shouting at his followers to watch Doc. The chief warrior’s features were even less agreeable at close range. They were tattooed in colored designs, making them quite repulsive. His little, piggy eyes glittered at Doc’s confident stride.
Doc dropped his right hand into his coat pocket. Here reposed the obsidian knife he had taken from the Mayan who had killed himself in New York. Doc knew, from what he had heard in the Blanco Grande hotel room that great significance was attached to these weapons.
With dignity, Doc elevated both bronze hands high above his head. In doing so, he carefully kept the sacred obsidian knife hidden from the Mayans. He had palmed it like a magician.
“Greetings, my children,” he said in the best Mayan he could manage.
Then, with a quick flick of his wrist, he brought the knife into view. With such expert sleight-of-hand did he accomplish this that it looked to the Mayans like the obsidian blade had materialized in thin air.
The effect was noticeable. Red-fingered hands moved uncertainly away from sheathed blades. Feet shod in high-backed sandals shifted about in the sand and a low murmur rose among through the throng.
With timing worthy of the greatest vaudeville act, Doc’s powerful voice vibrated over the group as the import of his words sunk in.
“Myself and my friends come to speak with King Chaac, your ruler!” he said.
Morning Breeze didn’t like this at all. A variety of emotions played on his unlovely face. He was rapidly losing control of the situation.
Watching the warrior chief, Doc catalogued the man’s character accurately. Morning Breeze was hungry for power and glory. He wanted to be supreme among his people. And for that reason, he was an enemy of King Chaac, the ruler. The darkening of Morning Breeze’s tattooed countenance at mention of King Chaac apprised Doc of this last state of affairs.
“Tell me your business here!” commanded Morning Breeze abruptly, seeking to give his coarse voice a ring of overbearing authority.
Doc, knowing that if he gave Morning Breeze an inch of rope, the fellow would take the whole lasso, made his tone more commanding.
“My business is not with underlings, but with King Chaac himself!” he said, his voice carrying to the back of the crowd easily without being shouted. This insult hit home, and had instant effect on Mayans. Morning Breeze, who turned purple with humiliation and rage, and on the other warriors, who were plainly impressed with the unexpected ‘supernatural’ visitor. Doc could see they were of a mind to postpone the sacrificing and take the white strangers to King Chaac.
Putting a volume of dignity and command in his voice which few other men could have managed, Doc directed spread his arms wide. “Our need is great, and we cannot delay any longer. Who among you will do his part, and guide us to your King?”
Doc’s sleight-of-hand with the knife, his knowledge of their language, his dominant bearing, all worked triumphantly to his advantage.
The phalanx of red-fingered men melted away in the middle, forming an encircling group to escort Doc and his men to King Chaac. Pride was stamped clearly on each face in every language. There was no mistaking how seriously they took their holy duty. The most fit and bold among the natives set a pace that soon had the small band whipping up the sandy slope and towards the ancient city.
“That is what I call runnin’ a whizzer!” Monk grinned admiringly.
“Here’s something to remember.” Doc told him. “Anything that smacks of magic impresses these red-fingered fighters. That’s the principal thing that saved us a lot of trouble.”
They left the plane on the narrow sand beach, counting on superstitious fear to keep the Mayan populace at a distance. The yellow-skinned folk would hardly be irreligious enough to disturb the holy blue bird.
JUDGING from their physical appearance, the other Mayans were an entirely sociable people. They were not hard on the eyes, either, especially some of the young women. Their clothing showed expert weaving and dyeing, and in some of it, fine wire gold had been interwoven with luxuriant effect.
Their skins were a beautiful golden color; absolutely without blemish.
“I don’t believe I ever saw better complexions in a race of people,” Ham declared.
The young women and some of the younger men wore high headdresses of gorgeous tropical flowers. Some had trains that fell in graceful manner about their shoulders.
Monk remarked on the uniform beauty of the Mayans, with the exception of the red-fingered warriors.
“Looks like they pick out the ugly ducklings and make fighters of them!” he chuckled in his high-pitched voice.
“Then get ready to be fitted for a pair of high backed sandals and a spear,” said Ham. “Of course they’d have to find a pair that fit those wide boats of yours.”
Monk gave an outraged squawk. “You’re just sore that everyone is dressed better than you, you shop-window mannequin!”
“Clam up, you mugs,” said Long Tom. “’Friends of the gods’, remember? They keep seeing you jokers mouthing off, they’re going to think the gods are sending them brats for babysitting.”
Their native escorts seemed not to hear their loud banter, or if they did they gave no sign of noticing.
Doc’s team they later learned that Monk’s theory was more accurate than he knew. To become a warrior, a Mayan had to attain a certain degree of ugliness, both physically and of the mind. The Mayans had no prison system. When one of their number committed a minor crime, he was sentenced, not to exile or prison, but to become a fighting man—a protector of the tribe.
These red-fingered warriors fought off invaders, and kept the Valley of the Vanished for the Mayans alone. Thus, many of them were slain in battle, and hence actually punished.
The city was isolated by location, but also by the natural predators lurking in the jungle around them. The thick, green world was inhabited by countless creatures armed with fang, claw and poisonous barbs. The warrior sect had tremendous fighting skill and lethal armaments, but that only balanced the odds slightly. The jungle has been perfecting ways of killing since man’s first ancestors climbed town from their vine-draped trees.
Battle hardened and brutal, they were the most ignorant and superstitious in the Valley of the Vanished, these crimson-fingered fighting men.
The cavalcade trod the streets of the little Mayan city.
Johnny, with the excitement of a born archaeologist making new discoveries of stupendous interest, could hardly be kept in line.
“These buildings!” he gasped. “They are erected exactly as in the great ruined city of Chichen Itza and elsewhere. See, they never use the arch in construction of roofs or doorways!”
One peculiarity about the buildings struck the others, who, with the exception of Doc, did not know a great deal about the Mayan type of architecture. The structures were replete with carvings of animals, grotesque human figures and birds. Not a square inch but was sculptured in some likeness. The Mayans seemed to dislike leaving even a tiny bit of unadorned space.
The carvings displayed skill and creativity. Stylized figures wrestled with wild boars or slavering leopards. Coiled vipers, seemingly poised to strike from the chiseled stone, were flanked by mice gamboling with colorful frogs in some unguessable game. Johnny concluded the murals didn’t have purpose beyond decoration. “Or maybe they’re just showing off their skill,” he hedged. “Certainly they’re masters of craft. You’d have to go to Mesopotamia to find anything close to what they’ve achieved here.”
“But why hide a city in a mountain?” asked Ham.
“Defense, surely,” said Johnny. “Maybe they’re naturally a private people too. Just because they can create beautiful houses doesn’t mean they want neighbors dropping by unexpectedly.”
“Then I hope they don’t mind,” added Monk, “that we didn’t phone ahead.”
They came to a stone house larger than the rest, though covered with the same intricate designs. It was lifted slightly above the others upon a foundation of masonry.
With gestures and sounds of encouragement, they were ushered inside into the presence of King Chaac.
KING CHAAC was a distinct shock.
But a pleasant one.
He was a tall, solid man only slightly stooped with age. His hair was a snowy white, and his features were nearly as perfect as Doc’s own. Dressed in an evening suit, Chaac would have been a distinct credit to any banquet table in New York. He wore a maxtli, or broad girdle, of red, with the ends forming an apron in front and back.
He was stationed in the middle of a large audience chamber.
Beside him stood a young woman. She was by a long stretch the most attractive of the Mayan girls they had seen, and the ones they’d encountered on the jog from the beach were stunning. The elegant nobility of her features instantly revealed that she was King Chaac’s daughter. She was nearly as tall as her father, but slender as a whip. Even so, her slim figure seemed to hold his strength coiled inside. The exquisite fineness of her beauty was like the work of some master craftsman in gold.
“A pippin!” gasped Monk.
“Not bad,” admitted Renny, his long, tight-lipped face losing a bit of its puritanical look.
Doc, in a low voice only the pair discussing the girl could hear, said sharply, “Dry up, you gorillas. Can’t you see she understands English?”
Monk and Renny looked sharply at the regal girl—and both instantly became red as stewed beets.
For it was evident the ravishing young Mayan lady had heard their remarks and understood them. Her features were flushed, and she was distinctly embarrassed.
Doc, in his halting Mayan, began to greet King Chaac.
“You may speak your own language,” interposed King Chaac kindly.
He spoke English with an odd accent, but could still be understood well enough by the dumbfounded visitors.
For once, Doc was taken with surprise. It was a long twenty seconds before he marshalled his thoughts enough to begin again. He waved an arm slowly to take in all his surroundings.
“I don’t quite understand all this,” he said in English. “Here you are, obviously descendants of an ancient civilization. You are in a valley practically impregnable to outsiders. The rest of the world does not even dream you are here. You live exactly as your ancestors did, hundreds of years ago. Yet you greet me in excellent English.”
King Chaac bowed at the compliment. “I can dispel your curiosity, Mr. Clark Savage, Jr.”
Had Doc been less of a man than he was, the polite and proper address would have knocked him over. He was known in this remote corner of the world, wedged between rocky cliff and with a humid jungle for a moat.
“Your esteemed father taught me the English tongue,” smiled King Chaac. “I recognize you as his son. You resemble him.”
Doc nodded slowly. He should have guessed that his father would have visited the lands he purchased and later willed to his progeny. And it was very good to know his great father had been here among these people, perhaps in this very room. For wherever Savage, Sr. had gone, he made friends among all people who were worthy of friendship.
The next few words exchanged had to do with introductions. The ravishing young Mayan lady’s name was Monja. She was, as they had surmised, a princess; King Chaac’s daughter.
The squat, surly chief of the red- fingered warriors, Morning Breeze, was banished from the chamber by King Chaac . His going was slinky, reluctant. And he paused in the door for a final, hungering look at Princess Monja.
That leer told Doc something else. Morning Breeze had a crush on Monja. And judging from Monja’s uplifted nose and dismissively turned cheek, she didn’t think much of the chief of fighting men.
“I don’t blame her, either,” Monk whispered to Ham, making very sure his voice was so low nobody else heard. “Imagine having to stare at that phiz of his across the breakfast table every morning!”
Ham looked at Monk and bit off a loud laugh. Monk’s face was fully as homely as Morning Breeze’s, although in a more likable way.
“Obviously he reaches further than he can grasp,” said Ham. “First, making eyes at the King’s daughter then making an enemy of Doc. That pug-ugly is going to find his limits soon, and is going to be none too happy when he does.”
Monk caught himself nodding before realizing he was agreeing with his man he’d made a career out of verbally sparring with.
DOC SAVAGE put the query that was uppermost in his mind. “How does it happen your people are here, like this, as they lived hundreds of years ago?”
King Chaac smiled benignly. “Because we are satisfied with our way of living. We lead an ideal existence here. True, we must fight to keep invaders away. But the warlike tribes surrounding this mountain do most of that for us. They are our friends. It is only every year or two that our red-fingered warriors must drive off some especially persistent invader. Thanks to the impregnable nature of this valley, that is not difficult.”
“How long have you been here; when did you settle here, I mean?” Doc asked.
“More than seven generations ago, at the time of the Spanish conquest of Mexico,” explained the old Mayan. “My ancestors who settled the valley were a clan of the highest class Mayans, the royalty. They fled from the Spanish soldiers to this valley, but not before giving a good account of themselves in battle. We have been here since, satisfied, as I said, to exist apart from the rest of the world.”
“But the world progresses every day,” countered Doc.
“Does it?” said the King.
Doc, reflecting on the turmoil and bloodshed and greed that had racked the rest of the world in the interim, could not but agree that the course these people had taken had its merits. They might be without a few conveniences of modern homes, but they probably didn’t miss them.
Elderly King Chaac spoke up unexpectedly “I know why you are here, Mr. Savage.”
“Your father sent you. It was agreed that upon the passage of twenty years, you were to come to me. And I was to be the judge of whether or not to give you access to the gold which is of no value to my people of the Valley of the Vanished.”
Understanding flashed in Doc’s golden eyes. His mind had never strayed far from the partial message which launched this puzzling adventure. He’d just discovered another piece, one which connected large fragments of mystery together. This had to have been the text of the remainder of that letter, the burned first portion of which he had found in his father’s robbed safe.
It was all plain now. His father had discovered this lost valley with its strange inhabitants and its fabulous hoard of gold. He had decided to leave it as a legacy to his son. He’d then secured possession of the land inclosing the Valley of the Vanished at the capitol. But before signing deeds and obtaining rights to the land, he must have made some arrangement with King Chaac. The thing to do was to find out what kind of agreements existed between the two men.
Doc chose to be direct, seeing as this man had also held his father in high esteem, he could be trusted to speak plainly about important matters. “What sort of an agreement did my father have with you?”
“He did not tell you?” the old Mayan asked in surprise.
Doc lowered his head. Slowly, he explained his father had died suddenly. The elderly Mayan maintained a reverent silence for a time alter he heard the sad news. Then he outlined the business aspects of the gold deal.
“You will necessarily give a certain portion to the government of Hidalgo,” he said.
Doc nodded. “The agreement is one fifth to the government of Hidalgo. That is eminently fair. The President of Hidalgo, Carlos Avispa, is a fine old gentleman.”
“A third of all gold removed is to be placed in a trust fund in the name of my people,” explained King Chaac. “You are to establish that fund and see that suitable honest administrators are appointed. The other two thirds you are to have, not to build up a personal fortune, but to spend as you see fit in furthering the work in which your father was engaged: in righting wrongs, relieving the oppressed, in benefiting mankind in every way possible.”
“A third to your people doesn’t seem like a very big percentage,” Doc suggested.
King Chaac smiled. “You will be surprised at the sum it will come to. And we may never need it. This Valley of the Vanished, you understand, remains just as it is, unknown to the world. And the source of this gold will likewise not be revealed. On this, I cannot bend. The world has been blind to us for hundreds of years, and we have survived because of it. Our continued survival hinges on being invisible.”
JOHNNY, twiddling his glasses which had the magnifying lens on the left side, was memorizing every word that passed between the two men. Now he broke in with a puzzled query.
“I noticed the nature of the rock on the cliffs,” he said. “And, although the pyramid is made of high-grade gold ore, there is no sign of any of the rock nearby. If you’re figuring on giving us the pyramid, will your people stand for it?”
“The pyramid remains untouched!” There was a sharpness in King Chaac’s voice which made them jump. “That is our shrine! It shall stand always.”
“Then where is the gold?” asked Johnny. “I didn’t see anything that could be the source of the soft metal.”
King Chaac turned to Doc. “You will be shown to it within thirty days, or sooner if I decide it is time. But until then, you will know no more.”
“Why this condition?” Doc inquired.
There seemed the slightest of twinkles in the old Mayan’s eyes as he answered. “That I do not care to disclose,” he said. “But in our time together, I observed your father was a patient man. I trust his son inherited similar qualities.”
Throughout the entire confab, pretty Princess Monja had been standing to one side following the exchange but not participating. The whole time, she watched Doc with a strange, veiled expression in her eyes.
“I wish she’d look at me like that!” Monk confided to Ham.
King Chaac’s declaration of the thirty-day moratorium on all information concluded the interview. He gave orders to his followers that Doc and his men should be treated as honorary tribesmen.
Doc and his men spent the remainder of the day making friends with the Mayans. They did little tricks of magic that highly entertained the simple people. Ham revealed exceptional talent at this, his long, supple fingers making objects seem to levitate or jump from one hand to the other.
Long Tom with an electrical shocking apparatus he rigged up, and Monk with some chemical displays, were the favorites. Morning Breeze and his warriors, however, kept severely aloof. They were often seen chatting in surly groups.
“They’re gonna give us trouble,” Renny declared, playfully cracking soft rocks with his ironlike fists to awe and amuse a young Mayan.
Doc agreed. “They’re more ignorant than the others. And this devil who is behind the Hidalgo revolution is a nabob in the sect of fighting men. He’s going to send the Red Death on the tribe before long.”
“Can’t we stop it? That infernal Red Death, I mean?”
“We can try,” Doc said seriously. “But I’m doubtful that we can do much until it strikes. We don’t even know how they spread it, much less what the cure is.”
“Maybe if we got them the gold in the form of a bribe so they wouldn’t inflict this Red Death—”
“That would mean the success of the Hidalgo revolt, and hundreds of people killed, Renny!”
“That’s right,” Renny muttered thoughtfully. He looked at the young woman who was handing him another grapefruit sized rock to pulverize. She was clearly enjoying the attention of the large man as much as the novelty of seeing him crumble the rock to dust.
“But we can’t have them infect these people, can we?” Renny asked. “That stuff is horrible, Doc.”
“I know,” said Doc. And indeed, he knew better than most, having lost his father to the ghastly plague. His eyes hardened to golden bullets at the thought of these people meeting the same fate.
For sleeping quarters, they were allotted a multi-room house not a great distance from the gleaming golden pyramid. The rushing water cascading down its face blending with the sounds of tree-frogs as night stole into the valley.
They turned in early. The night gave promise of not being as chilly as they had expected it to be up here in the mountains. Sheltered from the ocean winds and nestled in the warm heart of the mountain, the crew was asleep before they even thought of setting watch.
THE following day was devoted to nothing more glorious than killing time. The natives were eager for more sleight of hand tricks, but the team was eager to learn more about the ancient world they’d discovered. So Doc and Renny set out to explore the Valley of the Vanished.
They found it as much a prison as a fortress. The narrowest of paths chiseled into the sheer gorge side was the only route out, afoot. And by air, nothing except a seaplane could land. No dirigible could withstand those terrific air currents. Any man hearty enough to rappel down the overhanging cliffs would be smashed to bits by the same forces.
The sides of the valley were in cultivation, growing vegetables and many milpa patches. There was cotton, and domesticated, long-haired goats, for clothing. Jungle growth was rank everywhere else.
“They’re pretty well fixed,” Doc remarked. “Not fancy. But you couldn’t want more.”
Strolling back to the little city beside the golden pyramid, Doc and Renny encountered the attractive Princess Monja. Obviously, she had maneuvered this meeting. She was, it could plainly be seen, greatly taken with the handsome Doc.
This embarrassed Doc no little. He had long ago made up his mind that women were to play no part in his career. Anyway, his was not a nature to easily lend itself to domestication. So he answered Princess Monja’s eager patter in monosyllables, and carefully avoided being led into discussions about how pretty American girls were in comparison to, well—Monja, for instance.
It was not an easy course to take. Monja was one of the most ravishing young women Doc had ever encountered.
She was coy in a clumsy way, obviously unskilled at using her feminine abilities compared to modern women of her same age. But when she drew the bronze man out with questions about the world, her eyes glittered in genuine curiosity.
Behind her exotic allure, full lips and lithe figure was a quick mind which easily absorbed knowledge like a born academic. Secluded in the unmarked city she’d been denied opportunities to expand her mind, experiences which citizens in developed countries take for granted. But instead of turning into a placid watcher, she seized life eagerly. The strangers were a window into a greater world than she’d ever dreamed, and she was set on her course to learn all she could.
And the fact that the rugged man, who was the obvious leader of the bizarrely clothed strangers, made her pulse sing was as confusing to her as it was uncomfortable for Doc.
In fact, the more Doc showed his distress with gruff words and short responses, the wider her smile became. Somehow, encoded into her feminine being, she knew that the manly explorer who spoke with a voice like thunder was on the ropes!
Walking through the city, the team of adventurers could not help but notice a subtle change in the attitude of many of the Mayans. Even those who were not of the red-fingered sect now looked at Doc and his friends with unfriendly eyes.
The red-fingered warriors were mingling with the populace, doing a lot of talking but edging suddenly away as they approached.
Doc’s trained ear caught one of these conversations. It told him what was happening, and he quickly gestured to his men to a halt. The red-fingered ones were poisoning the minds of the other Mayans against the whites. Doc and his men, the warriors claimed, were pale-skinned devils that had ridden here like worms in the innards of the great blue bird that landed on the water. And so, as worms, they should be destroyed.
It was clever work on the part of the red-fingered ones, and far more cunning than he had given them credit for. Doc motioned them away, out of the city and back towards their lodgings, thoughtful.
That night, Doc and his five friends turned in early again, largely because the Mayans seemed to go to roost with the chickens. Whether it was the hardness of the stone benches that served these golden-skinned folk for beds, or because of nervous excitement over their position here in the Valley of the Vanished, they didn’t sleep well.
LONG TOM, occupying a large room with Johnny and Ham, stuck it out on his stone slab exactly one hour. Then insomnia got the best of him. He yanked on his trousers and took a stroll in the moonlight that threaded down the mountain chasm somehow to illuminate the rich loam of the valley.
For no particular reason, Long Tom’s footsteps took him toward the pyramid. The structure fascinated him. So rich was the ore of which it was built that it was literally a mound of gold. What a fabulous treasure, not only culturally but in hard cash!
Long Tom thought looking at such wealth would make him sleepy. The lazily shimmering sides would lull him into dreams of endless wealth and happiness. Or so he hoped.
It didn’t. It cost him dearly.
While taking his first eye-filling look at the golden pyramid with the streams of water running steadily out of its flattened peak, a man sprang onto his back. A vile hand clapped over Long Tom’s mouth before an alarmed shout could pass his teeth.
Long Tom looked like an underfed wraith in the moonlight, but below his sallow hide were some very ropy, powerful muscles. He couldn’t have stood the gaff with Doc’s bunch without them. He could probably whip ninety-nine out of every hundred men walking along a Jersey pier, and not shown fatigue in doing it.
He angled both fists around, drove them behind him. He hit nobody. He bit at the unclean fingers clamped over his jaws. The fingers jerked away leaving his teeth to clack together empty. Long Tom started a yell. A hand, thoroughly protected by cloth this time, wedged itself in his mouth.
Other attackers rushed in. They were bounding dervishes in the moon glow. The red fingered warriors swarmed like jackals.
Long Tom kicked mightily backward. He peeled a shin. He and his assailants toppled among round rocks and soft dirt.
One of Long Tom’s clawlike hands found a rock. He clocked it against a skull, knowing by the feel of the blow jolting up his arm, that one of the red-fingered fiends was through with this world.
Sheer weight of numbers mashed Long Tom out before he could do more damage. He was securely hamstrung at wrist and ankle with rough fiber cords, and then drawn into a helpless knot as his wrists and ankles were lashed together in a single wad.
A red-fingered Mayan who had kept well away from the fight, now came up. Long Tom recognized the shadowy figure as Morning Breeze, chief of the fighting men, by his shambling walk.
Morning Breeze clucked a command in the Mayan tongue, which Long Tom didn’t need to know the language to understand.
Lifting Long Tom, they bore him around to the rear of the pyramid. They shoved through a high growth of brush, coming then to a circular flooring of stone blocks. In the center gaped a sinister black, aperture like a howling mouth.
Long Tom couldn’t fathom what the circular hole was for. A well was unlikely. Besides, the freshwater lake which could be seen in the distance and the twin columns of water running down the front of the pyramid showed that water wasn’t in short supply. Anyone wanting a drink could just bring a cup to the temple or down the sandy shore. They never have to do the backbreaking work of digging a well.
Long Tom focused on the squat warrior, and suddenly wished he’d not been so curious about the stone lined hole.
Morning Breeze picked up a pebble, smirked evilly at Long Tom, and then tossed the rock into the inky darkness.
One second dragged, then another. The pebble must have fallen two hundred feet. Right when Long Tom was convinced he’d missed the impact, there was a loud clatter as it struck bottom. Then out of the yawning pit came a bedlam of hissings and grisly, slithering rustles.
The hole was a sacrificial well. Long Tom recalled reading how the ancient Mayans had tossed human offerings into such structures, never dreaming that he’d witness the event first hand. The hissings and slitherings were snakes. Aggressive, most likely. Poisonous, beyond a doubt. There must be hundreds of them infesting the well bottom.
Morning Breeze barked a command, lips pulled back in an evil grin.
Long Tom suffered unutterable tortures as he was lifted and tossed bodily into the awful black opening.
Morning Breeze listened. A moment later came a horrible thump from the well bottom. The poisonous serpents hissed and slithered.
Morning Breeze and his evil followers melted back into the night, highly pleased.
UNKNOWN to Long Tom when he left the sleeping quarters, Ham had not been sleeping soundly. One eye drowsily open, Ham had watched Long Tom pull on his trousers and go out.
Ham drowsed a while after that. But Long Tom’s departure had done something to what little desire he had for sleep, so it was not long before Ham also got up and pulled on his own trousers and followed his lanky companion. Thanks to the balmy night, no more clothing was needed.
Ham took his sword cane along, although for no particular reason. He just liked the feel of it in his hands.
Outside, he saw no sign of Long Tom. But a little use of his keen brain told Ham where the electrical wizard would be likely to stroll; the most fascinating spot in the Valley of the Vanished, if one disregarded the really entrancing Mayan girls. The golden pyramid was the most likely destination.
Long Tom, like the rest of Doc’s men, would not be wooing a Mayan damsel at this hour. They had pledged to help restore their friend’s legacy, and wouldn’t be detracted until the job was done proper. Monk, the only one whose judgement crumbled when it came to the fairer sex, was loudly sawing wood back in the stone house. Through unspoken agreement, the rest of the team kept close watch on their apelike companion once they first saw the lissome native girls.
Ham ambled toward the pyramid, breathing in deeply of the lambent night air. He heard no sound, certainly nothing to alarm him. He clipped the gaudy flower off a tropical vine with a jaunty swing of his cane.
A split second later, Ham was buried under an avalanche of red-fingered men.
No gallant of old ever bared his steel quicker than Ham unsheathed his sword cane. He got it out in time to skewer two of the devils who piled atop him. The ribbon of steel was wrenched out of his hand as the bodies tumbled away. He lashed out with a fist as another sneering face swam into view and was rewarded with a startled yelp of pain and the sound of a crunching nose.
A heavy club slammed into his shoulder, and another caught him behind the ear. To Ham, the hazy night suddenly became much darker.
Outnumbered hopelessly, he was bound and gagged.
They carried Ham to the sacrificial well, and without a word, threw him in.
Morning Breeze, poised on the stone lip of the well, listened until he heard the loud impact of a limp body thud on the pit floor two hundred feet below. The snakes, enraged and writhing in the darkness, hissed like a score of leaky radiators.
Morning Breeze nodded and clucked to himself. Two of the pale skinned interlopers gone! A promising start, he thought, but only that. The job wasn’t yet half over. Still smiling, he growled another command to a pair of easily-led lackeys.
The three red-fingered warriors who had been killed by Long Tom and Ham were hauled up. One after the other, the dead were pitched into the sacrificial well. Three loud thumps accompanied angry rustling. No Mayan prayers were uttered over the fallen warriors by those still living.
Very elated indeed, Morning Breeze led his followers to get further victims.
MONK had been sleeping soundly. The stone bed favored by the natives was hard but he didn’t mind. Like every other man in Doc’s band, he’d adjusted to rough quarters during the war. Cold mud or scorching sand was all the same to him. Many nights found him counting sheep in the bed of a Liberty Truck or some shady spot on the flight line. He treated the rock mattress like a Savoy bunk.
Even so, quick twitches disturbed the slumbering figure. His small eyes darted back and forth under closed lids. With a perceptible growl, his wide mouth parted in a grimace. Monk was having a nightmare.
In his dream, he was fighting an endless tide of clawing, crimson-tipped fingers while a beautiful Mayan princess looked on. Monk whipped all the red fingers in his dream, happily roaring as he set about business. Awake or dreaming, there was little that brought him pleasure as much as dishing out punishment to crooks and villians. His fireplug build was never still, cannoning from one scrum to another, always keeping his foes at bay.
When it seemed that the mob was wrung out and nothing could be heard but groans and whimpering, he looked over to the native beauty. She beamed approval, full lips parted in an inviting smile and delicate frame flushed, and heaving in with excitement. Her long, brunette hair fell in wide curls over her shoulders and framed her tanned face.
A small spray of freckles dotted her pert nose. Like most men, Monk had a weakness for freckles.
The dream Monk hooted in triumph and took a step towards the beautiful young woman, but then stopped as though he’d smacked into an invisible wall. The jungle princess wasn’t looking at him with obvious interest, but in something over his shoulder. He was about to turn, when Doc strode from behind him and gathered the princess in his Olympian arms. She swooned, seemingly to have forgotten all about the famous chemist and the display of martial prowess he’d demonstrated just moments ago. Dream Monk pursed his wide lips in frustration and sulked. The real Monk, the one who was fidgeting and tossing on the stone bed, angrily woke up.
He sat erect for a moment, brow deeply furrowed, then stood on his feet to stretch. Looking about, he discovered something startling which he’d missed before in the shadowy room. Both Doc and Renny should have been slumbering in the small chamber, but he was alone.
Their stone couches were empty.
Monk thought a moment, brushing away the irritating dream which had wounded his pride no little bit, and worked on this new puzzle. It was unlikely they’d left in a hurry. He’d have heard any commotion, and besides, they’d have woken him up if something like an emergency was happening.
Most likely, he reasoned, the pair was out talking somewhere, discussing strategy or just working out what they’d buy first with their sudden windfall. Frowning at his hard bed and the dreams it would give him if he tried to sleep; he decided to join his buddies. He started to put on his trousers then changed his mind. He had noted a maxtli, one of the broad girdles the Mayan gentlemen wore. Evidently it had belonged to whoever gave up the house for their comfort, since it hung on the wall.
Monk girded the maxtli twice about his thick midriff in lieu of pants, and sauntered out. He had an idea of going swimming if nothing better turned up.
Unable to locate either Doc or Renny, Monk made for the lake shore. He was not worried about his two friends. That anything could happen to them without an alarm being raised was hardly likely.
The lake was an appealing blue, the thin line of white beach shining palely at its edge. Away from the shore a few yards were large rocks. Monk wended his good- natured way through these.
Suddenly he got a tremendous start by encountering the stunningly beautiful Princess Monja face to face. She was evidently out strolling in the moonlight. Most surprisingly, she was likewise alone.
Monk felt a great deal of confusion. He made a move to go back hastily the way he had been coming.
But Princess Monja smiled sweetly at Monk’s pleasantly ugly face, and grabbed his rough hand before he could react. Her grip was soft, and warm like a sundrenched orchid. “Do not leave so quickly, please! I wish to ask you a question.”
Monk hesitated, his arm as rigid at a fencepost in her delicate hands. He asked bluntly in his high, incongruous voice, “What’s the question?”
Princess Monja blushed prettily. For a moment it looked like she was going to be too bashful to put the query. Then, out it came.
“What is there about myself that your leader finds so undesirable?”
“Huh?” Monk stuttered, at a loss for an answer. Her accent was present, but not so thick as to make her hard to understand. Still, Monk played her words in his head before he could make sense of them. “Oh, Doc likes you all right. He likes everybody.”
“I do not believe so,” said the entrancing Mayan. “He remains aloof.”
“Well,” floundered Monk, “I guess that’s just Doc’s way.”
“There is a girl… he is…?” she prodded.
“In love with anybody?” Monk snorted. “Heck no! There ain’t a girl livin’ who could make Doc’s heart—”
Monk abruptly swallowed the rest, but it was too late. Still fuzzy with sleep and mind unsettled, even he could tell he’d said the wrong thing.
Princess Monja spun on her heel and vanished among the large rocks. The trace of a sob lingered behind her.
MONK stood there in the moonlight a while not sure whether to curse or laugh in sympathy. Silently doing both, he turned and went back to his sleeping quarters. Doc and Renny were still missing.
Just to ascertain that things were all right, Monk stepped into the adjoining room where Johnny, Long Tom, and Ham were supposed to be slumbering.
All three were gone.
Monk’s huge fingers curled and uncurled. He knew something was wrong now. All five of his friends would not be out taking the night air at once. Not without leaving some message, or taking him along. His mind kicked off the last traces of slumber, and he mentally cracked his knuckles. The work day is starting, he thought. Time for me to punch in.
A giant, animallike figure, Monk sprang outside. His keen ears strained. They detected faint noises masked by the usual jungle sounds when the moon is full. To the right, they were louder although impossible to make out in detail. He angled for them, his leaps enormous, bounding.
He knew he was risking a turned ankle or worse, running over an uneven surface in the dark. But his short legs fell into a natural hopping stride which quickly left the hewed stone quarters behind. Near the surrounding tree line he saw movement.
Quite a number of men seemed to be receding furtively through the night. Monk put on a burst of speed to overhaul them.
The golden pyramid came in view.
On the left of it, Monk discerned the men he was following. Fully a dozen of them loped together across the clearing. They carried a limp, bound form in their midst.
Monk had a technique for running in the dark. His unnaturally long arms played an important part. He simply doubled over and traveled by great bounds, balancing himself with his long arms when he stumbled. In this way he bounded over the terrain at incredible speed.
He raced his best now. He tried repeatedly to see who it was the men, obviously the red-fingered warriors who were causing trouble earlier, were carrying. He glimpsed a flash off a peculiar set of glasses worn by the bound figure. Johnny! The thick magnifying left lens flashed again. There was only one man in this end of the world who wore a set of queerly modified headgear like that.
Monk did not know Long Tom and Ham had already gone into the sacrificial well, or he would have been even more horrified than he was.
The red-fingered men saw his jarring gate as he plunged towards them. They quickened their own pace seeing caution was now unnecessary. They spilled onto the stone pavement around the sacrificial well.
Still a good distance from the warriors, Monk saw them lift Johnny’s bound and gagged frame and toss him into the fiendish pit.
Monk heard the loud, heavy thump come up from the well bottom.
At that, Monk turned into a fighting devil. He enjoyed trading blows as though it was sport, but he seldom became the embodiment of range which now exploded at the savages. His great hands scooped up two rocks and without pause, hurled them with the velocity of cannon balls.
Both rocks squarely downed their men.
So sudden was the attack, so fearsome a figure did Monk present, that the red-fingered group turned to a man and fled wildly into the brush. Monk overhauled one before the thug got away. He heaved the loathsome creature up like a human mallet and dashed him against a tree. The lifeless body bounced back almost to his feet, so terrific was the impact.
Into the undergrowth Monk dove. He searched the scrubby vegetation like a terrier after rats. But the warriors knew the area and Monk’s outraged cries motivated them in a way nothing else could. They evaded him.
It was high tribute to the fright Monk inspired that they did not even dare throw a knife or a spear at him, but crept away like sneaking coyotes into the night. Some fleeing down the canyon until exhaustion finally knocked their legs out from under them.
Slowly, with his heart the heaviest it had ever been, Monk went back to the sacrificial well. He had heard that thump come up from the depths; he knew the well must be at least two hundred feet deep.
That Johnny, the mighty adventurer and archeological whiz could meet a fate like this seemed unimaginable. One of the most brilliant men in his field snuffed out at the dawn of his career. It was awful.
Nearing the well, Monk could hear the gruesome spitting and twining of serpent bodies deep in the black Gehenna of a pit. He recognized the noises for what they were. Bound hand and foot the way he was, Johnny didn’t stand a chance. Salty tears came to Monk’s eyes.
With an effort, he brought himself to peer over the rim of the softly hissing well.
Out of the pit came Ham’s sarcastic drawl.
“I ask you, brothers, did you ever see an uglier face than that?”
DOC PULLS A RESURRECTION
SO astounded was Monk that he came within a hair of toppling head-first into the sacrificial well himself. He hastily scrambled back from the brink.
A sibilant “Sh-h-h!” came out of the hole, warning silence.
Johnny then appeared, shoved from behind. Johnny was a little scuffed and pale, but otherwise none the worse for his grisly encounter. He adjusted the glasses which were askew on his long nose, then crouched low and shuffled quietly behind the screen of bushes that surrounded the sacrificial well.
Long Tom was helped out next, his sickly face creepily appearing from of the black hole like a morose corpse from its grave. His pallid visage was followed by Ham. Both men, like Johnny, were unharmed. When they were safely out of sight, they whispered that the coast was clear. At this sign, Renny quickly clambered from the well.
Followed by their friend and leader, Doc himself.
“You wait here,” Doc whispered. “I’m going to the plane to get some materials.”
He vanished like a bronze ghost in the moonlight.
“What happened to you birds?” Monk demanded. Although lowered, his whisper carried his sudden relief clearly.
“The red-fingered rascals got us, one at a time, bound and gagged us, and threw us in the well,” Long Tom explained.
“Aw-w-w! I sussed that out. Unless you lot decided that dancing with serpents was good for your health, I figured you’d been grabbed and tossed in that deathtrap! I mean, what saved you?” said Monk.
“Doc.” said Johnny, cleaning his magnifying lens on a tattered sleeve.
“How?” demanded Monk.
“It beat anything you ever saw,” Long Tom murmured admiringly. “Doc and Renny were out prowling, and saw the warriors grab me. Doc ran to the plane and got a stout silk rope, or, rather, two of them.” Long Tom pointed. “There they are!”
Monk looked, and perceived what he had not before noted in the moonlight. Two lengths of rope, thin but extremely strong, were tied to a couple of stout shrubs surrounding the paved circle. The ends of the ropes dangled in the well. The Mayans, too, had missed seeing them in the dark.
“Doc and Renny lowered themselves into the well before the warriors got here,” Long Tom continued. “Renny held a big rock in his arms. He tied the rope end around his waist to support him.”
Long Tom laughed softly, but not very heartily. “When the red-fingered men tossed me in, Renny dropped the rock to make it sound like I had hit bottom.”
“And Doc simply swung out and caught them, one at a time, as they came down,” Renny chimed in. “Then they clung to the sides of the well. That was not much of a job, because the sides are very rough, some blocks sticking out enough for a man to sit on in comfort.”
“You looked like you were crying when you stuck your mug into the pit,” Johnny chided Monk. “Did you really hate to see me go that much?”
“Aw-w, fooey on you!” Monk grinned.
Doc came back, appearing with the silent unexpectedness of an apparition.
“Why didn’t you and Renny pitch in and clean up on the warriors when you saw them grab Long Tom?” Monk asked.
“Because I reasoned he’d be thrown into the sacrificial well alive,” Doc replied. “That is the customary manner of sacrificial offerings among South American tribes. Mayan pictographs often depicted sacrifices alive and whole before being offered to their gods. It followed that this tribe in Hidalgo, uninfluenced by modern civilization, would have continued the ancient practice.”
“And,” he added mysteriously, “I wanted the red- fingered devils to think Long Tom, Johnny, and Ham are dead . I’ve got an idea to pull.”
“What?” said the team as one.
“The warriors are our immediate trouble here,” Doc explained. “If we can convince them we are really supernatural beings, we’ll have half the battle won. Then we can concentrate on trapping this man who is behind the Hidalgo revolution scheme.”
“Sure,” Monk agreed. “But how to convince them is the catch.” He rubbed his big knuckles. “I’m in favor of glomming onto Morning Breeze and the rest of them, and explain it to them until they drop. That’d fix it.”
“And we’d have the rest of the Mayans on top of us,” Doc pointed out. “No. I’m going to convince those superstitious fighters there’s something special about us, and they’d be better off staying on our good side unless they want to get steamrolled. I’ll run such a whizzer on them that they won’t dare listen to Morning Breeze and his poisoned tongue.”
Doc paused thoughtfully. “I respect a man who is protecting his home, even one who is fighting on the wrong side for the right reason. But there’s more going on with Morning Breeze than we know. He’s not just slamming our fingers in the door so we stay out of the Valley of the Vanished. He wants our blood, but we don’t yet know why.”
Gathering his men in a huddle, he revealed his plan. “I’m going to bring Long Tom, Johnny, and Ham to life for the warrior sect’s benefit!”
Monk digested that. “That’s a nice trick, Doc. But how do you plan to pull it off?”
“Watch us,” Doc suggested, “and you’ll catch on.”
WORKING rapidly, Doc pried up paving stones in a line to the thickest part of the surrounding jungle. In the soft earth beneath, he dug a narrow trench.
He had brought with him from the plane a coil of stout piano wire. No greater in diameter than a match, it had a strength sufficient to support several men. This he laid in the trench, afterward replacing the paving stones, careful that no evidence remained of their having been disturbed.
The end of the piano wire he ran into the sacrificial well, and straight across and out the other side. To a dead-man-stick anchor some yards beyond he secured the end, uprooting other paving blocks and replacing them so the whole work would go unnoticed.
Directly below the well mouth he rigged a sort of saddle on the spun steel wire.
“Catch on?” He glanced at the burly chemist.
Monk did. “Sure. I hide out there in the brush and give the wire a big pull when you pass the word. Long Tom, Johnny, and Ham take turns sitting in that saddle arrangement. When I yank the wire tight, they will be tossed out of the well. Just like an arrow shot from a bow.”
“Or a rock from a kid’s bean shooter,” Doc agreed. “One more little detail and the ruse is complete.”
Inside the well, close to the anchored end, Doc cut the wire. He tied the end in a loop. The other end he secured to that in such a manner that, by yanking on an ordinary twine string which Doc attached, the last man thrown out by the ingenious catapult could separate the wire.
“And you pull in the end, saddle and all,” Doc pointed out to Monk. “That gets rid of the evidence, in case anybody is suspicious enough to look into the well.”
Johnny, Long Tom, and Ham climbed down into the well, to spend the rest of the night roosting on the jutting ends of the huge rocks which formed the masonry wall.
“Don’t get drowsy and fall off,” Monk chided.
“Not much danger of that,” Long Tom shuddered. “Just you concentrate on holding that wire in your big paws while I’m in the sling!”
Monk leered delightedly at his old roasting mate, Ham. “Now, there’s an idea!” he chuckled with mock threat. “I’ve got the ugliest face in the world, have I?”
To which Ham grinned: “You’re a raving beauty until I get out of that saddle, Monk!”
A FAIR degree of daylight crept into the long valley before the sun actually rose above the stony sides of Valley of the Vanished, due to the tremendous depth of the chasm.
With the first flush of luminance, Doc was in conference with old King Chaac, benign sovereign of the lost clan of Maya.
The elderly ruler was enraged when he heard Morning Breeze and his red-fingered men had consigned three of Doc’s friends to the sacrificial well during the night.
Doc had neglected to mention that his three men were still quite alive.
“The time has come for a firm hand!” the Mayan chief said in his surprisingly good English. A dangerous fire appeared in the elder’s eyes. “In the past the people have put the warrior sect in its place when their depredations became unbearable. They are vital to our security, true! But they are not above the laws of our tribe.
“Morning Breeze has been working for a long time, slowly undermining my authority. He is not satisfied with being chief of the fighting men, which is not an honorable post but neither is it a mark of shame. This legged serpent desires to rule. It is also no secret that he wishes my daughter in marriage, laughable as the thought of such a mismatched union is. I shall call together men and seize Morning Breeze and his lieutenants. They shall follow your men into the sacrificial well!”
Likable old King Chaac, Doc reflected, had waited a little too long before putting a firm hand upon Morning Breeze.
“Your people are under the spell of Morning Breeze’s eloquence,” Doc pointed out. “To lay hands on him would cause an uprising.”
The Mayan winced a little at the blunt statement that his power had ebbed. But he was a wise man, and knew that deliberately rejecting uncomfortable truths was the first step to ruin. Reluctantly he agreed.
“I have let Morning Breeze go too far, hoping to avert violence,” he admitted. Then he looked wryly at Doc. “I should have been more alert. Our warriors have never been considered members of an honorable profession. It is not like your country, where soldiers are fine men. We Mayans are by nature a peaceable folk. To us war is a low thing.”
He shrugged. “Those of our men who are inclined to violence naturally turn to the warrior sect. Many lazy men join the fighting group because the warriors do no labor. Too, petty criminals are sentenced to join the red-fingered ones. The fighting guild is a class apart, a brotherhood not of joined hearts but of shared weakness. No upstanding Mayan would think of taking one of them into his home.”
“But they seem to have more influence than that now,” Doc observed.
“They do,” King Chaac admitted. “The red-fingered men fight off invaders from the Valley of the Vanished. Otherwise their sect would have been abolished hundreds of years ago.”
Doc now broached the subject of his visit. “I have a plan which will sap the influence of the red-fingered sect.”
Renewed energy flowed into the elderly Mayan sovereign at Doc’s statement. He looked at this bronze Apollo of a man before him, and seemed to gather confidence. More than ever, the visitor resembled his close friend, Clark Savage Sr. Doc’s father.
“What is your plan?” he asked.
“I am going to bring my three friends who were thrown in the sacrificial well back to life,” Doc said.
This brought varied expressions to the staid Mayan’s face. Uppermost was skepticism.
“Your father spent some months in this Valley of the Vanished,” he told Doc. “He taught me many things—the fallacy of belief in evil spirits and heathen deities. And along with the rest he taught me that what you have just promised to do is impossible. If your men were hurled into the sacrificial well, they are dead until judgment day.”
A faint smile warped Doc’s strong bronze lips; appreciation glowed in his golden flecked eyes. The Mayan sovereign was as free of superstitious, heathen beliefs as any American. Probably more so than many.
So Doc explained how he had caught his friends as they were thrown into the fiendish sacrificial pit. A bystander would have marveled how insignificant Doc made his feat sound.
Elderly King Chaac fell in heartily with the resurrection scheme.
EVERY community of human beings has certain individuals who are more addicted to talking than others. These gossips no sooner get a morsel of news than they start imparting it to every one they meet.
King Chaac, using his deep understanding of his Mayan subjects, selected two score of these walking newspapers to witness the reanimation of Johnny, Long Tom, and Ham. There was not enough room for the whole tribe, which would have been the best audience for the miracle. They would have overflowed the stone paving about the sacrificial well and surely discovered Monk hidden in the luxuriant tropical growth. The whole resurrection gambit depended on Monk’s tremendous strength to jerk the wire, which would fling Johnny, Long Tom, and Ham out of the well mouth.
Doc, since his knowledge of the Mayan language was not sufficient to make a public speech, left the oratory to King Chaac. The elderly Mayan was an eloquent speaker, his mellow voice making the clattering gutturals of the language pleasantly liquid.
King Chaac told of the fate of Doc’s three friends during the night. He gave the impression, of course, they had perished among the sharp rocks and poisonous serpents in the depths of the sacrificial well. The enraptured natives visibly flinched at this. To them, the serpents were tools, made use of by deities, to convey sacrifices to them. But although their purpose was holy, the process was often gristly.
One strike from their hallow-fanged mouth and a strong man crumpled to the ground. He would never rise again. His swollen, purple remains were a morbid sign that the sacrifice was accepted by their simple gods.
Finally, the Mayan king announced Doc’s act. Truly impressive was the figure Doc Savage presented as he made his solitary way to the gaping, evil mouth of the sacrificial well. His face was stony; not the slightest humor flickered in his golden eyes.
The situation held little comedy. If his trick failed, there would be serious consequences for him and all his men. The crimson-fingered warriors would brand him a faker and set upon him instantly. The other Mayans, who until now were withholding judgement, wouldn’t object.
He glanced at the scruffy warriors. The entire clique of fighting men stood to one side, varying expressions on their pocked, pinched faces ranging between frank disbelief to fear. The only thing uniting them aside from their crimson fingers was naked curiosity. Morning Breeze stood before them, closest to Doc, glaring hatefully.
Doc brought his bronze arms out rigidly before him. His fists were closed tightly, dramatically. In his left hand was a quantity of ordinary flash powder, such as photographers use. In his right was a cigarette lighter.
After what he considered the proper amount of incantations and mysterious rigmarole, Doc stooped at the well mouth. His broad, muscular back shielding his movements, he poured out a little pile of the flash powder. He touched a lighter spark to it.
There was a flash, a great bloom of white smoke. And when the smoke blew away a loud howl of surprise went up from the red-fingered men.
For Long Tom stood upon the lip of the well, his fungus colored face scrunched up in the morning light.
The trick had worked perfectly.
Doc followed exactly the same procedure and got Ham out of the sacrificial pit, appearing from the crowd brushing a fleck of dust from his freshly pressed lapels.
Immediately Morning Breeze tried to dash up and look into the well. But Doc, with an ominous thunder in his voice, informed Morning Breeze that powerful invisible spirits, great enemies of his, were congregated about the sacrificial well mouth. Being denied two white-skinned sacrifices, they would surely content themselves with taking his oily hide instead. Morning Breeze retreated, scared in spite of himself.
Johnny was resurrected next. As Johnny came out of the pit, he jerked the trip string which separated the wire. And Monk, concealed in the brush, drew wire and saddle out of the well.
When Doc turned after the last reanimation and saw the effect on the red-fingered men, it was difficult not to show his satisfaction. For every warrior was on his knees, arms upstretched. Only Morning Breeze alone stood. And, after a compelling, hypnotic look from Doc’s golden eyes, even Morning Breeze slouched reluctantly to his knees along with the rest.
It was a perfect victory, and achieved without bloodshed. The lay tribesmen present were as impressed as the red-fingered men. The news would spread as though broadcast by radio. To Doc would be ascribed the same type of superstitious power, but an infinitely greater amount, that Morning Breeze supposedly held.
Hearts were light as Doc, his five friends and King Chaac turned away towards the royal palace. Entrancing Princess Monja followed shortly behind, her eyes wide with amazement and desire.
BUT their jubilation was short-lived. With a piercing howl, Morning Breeze was on his feet. He urged his satellites erect, even kicking some of the less willing.
Jabbering again in dramatic fashion, Morning Breeze pointed at the lake shore.
All eyes followed his arm.
Doc’s low-wing speed plane had floated into view around a rocky headland. It was being pushed by a number of red-fingered warriors who had not attended the session at the sacrificial well.
The plane was no longer blue.
It was daubed with a bilious, motley assortment of grays and pallid yellows. And prominent upon the fuselage sides were large red spots.
“The Red Death!” The words rose in a low moan from the Mayans!
Morning Breeze was quick to seize his advantage.
“Our gods are angered!” he shrieked. “They have sent the Red Death upon the blue bird which brought these foreign devils to our land.”
Renny knotted and unknotted his gigantic, steel-hard fists.
“The whelp is clever! He repainted our plane last night.”
Doc spoke in a voice so low it carried only to his five friends. “Morning Breeze does not have the intelligence to think that up, if I am any judge. Somebody is goading him, playing him like a fiddle. And that somebody can only be the murderer of my father, the fiend who is planning the Hidalgo revolution.”
“But how could that devil get in touch with Morning Breeze?” asked Long Tom
“You forget the blue monoplane,” Doc pointed out. “The craft could have dropped him by parachute in the Valley of the Vanished.”
They ceased speaking to watch Morning Breeze harangue his uncertain followers.
“The gods are wroth that we permit these white heretics in our midst!” was the gist of his exhorting. Violent gestures made it clear what punishment he had in mind for these unwanted interlopers. Even Monk was impressed with the bloke’s creativity.
Morning Breeze was rapidly undoing the good work Doc had accomplished.
King Chaac addressed Doc in a voice that was strained but resolute. “I have never executed one of my subjects during my entire reign, but I am going to execute one now. Morning Breeze!”
But before things could progress further, there came a new and startling interruption.
THE BLUE BIRD BATTLE
MORNING BREEZE it was who called attention to the new development. And it was evident from the way he did it that the whole thing was planned. Whoever was scheming to discredit Doc was working overtime, starting with the painting of Doc’s plane and now moving to an even more direct confrontation.
Morning Breeze raised a fist and pointed at the sky with a grime encrusted finger.
“Behold!” he shouted. “The genuine holy blue bird has returned! The same holy blue bird of which we saw in sky borne visions before the impostors arrived!”
Necks craned upwards, searching.
Perhaps five thousand feet above, a blue plane was circling slowly. Doc’s keen eyes ascertained instantly that it was the monoplane which had attacked his expedition in Belize. The same plane the instigator of the Hidalgo revolt was using to impress the superstitious Mayans.
Loud gasps came from the assembled people. The scarlet-fingered warriors recovered their punctured dignity and cast ominous glances at Doc and his friends. It was plain the tide was turning against the adventurers.
Johnny knew from archeological digs that the ancient Mayans were fierce fighters, often working themselves into a mania in which pain and wounds were regarded as minor irritations. These descendants were easily swayed, true. But if focused on brutality, Doc and his gang would be up to their necks in no time.
Morning Breeze was already whipping up indecisive natives, giving them a crude mockery of leadership they could rally around.
High overhead, the blue plane continued to spiral. Its presence had a ghostly quality, for no sound of its motor reached their ears. Doc, with all his keenness of hearing, could detect but the faintest drone of the engine. But he knew the explanation for the phenomenon, and wasn’t troubled. The terrific winds that compressed the air currents over the chasm were sweeping the sound waves aside like a submarine’s baffle. The scientific explanation was beyond the simple native’s understanding, however, and wouldn’t have done any good to explain.
“I am worried.” benign King Chaac confided in shaky tones. “My people and the warriors are being whipped into a religious frenzy by Morning Breeze. I fear they will attack you, and my power is not so secure that I can prevent it.”
Doc nodded. He could see that very thing impending. There was certain to be violence unless he did something to prevent it.
“The blue bird you see above is supreme!” Morning Breeze was shrieking, nearly biting his tongue in ecstasy. “It is all-powerful. It is the chosen of your gods It has no white-skinned worms inside it. Therefore, slay these white worms in your midst!”
Doc reached a decision.
“Stand by your guns,” he directed his men. “If you have to, shoot a few red-fingered men. But try holding them off a while, we don’t want to decimate the misguided sods if we can help it. Renny, you come with me!”
Doc’s friends’ whipped out automatic pistols which they had kept under their clothing. These automatics were fed by sixty-cartridge magazines, curled in the shape of compact rams’ horns below the grips. The guns were continuously automatic in operation; they fired steadily as long as the trigger was held back. Both guns and magazines were of Doc’s invention, infinitely more compact than ordinary submachine guns.
At the display of firearms, excited cries arose from the populace. Ample proof that they understood what guns were. Doc hoped it would be enough to keep the hot blooded ones in check. The guns couldn’t perform miracles, but they’d mow down the first wave of an assault before the warriors could get within throwing distance with their obsidian tipped spears.
Long Tom flicked off the safety of his heavy shooter. “You guys remember No Man’s Land?”
“I’ll never forget it,” said Johnny tonelessly.
“Me either. Let’s not create another one here, eh chaps?” said Ham, voice drained of his usual waspishness.
Doc and Renny sprinted for their hideously repainted plane.
AMID a great splashing, Doc and Renny waded out to the low-wing craft and hoisted themselves into the cabin. Doc planted his powerful frame in the pilot’s bucket.
“Now to see if the engines have been tampered with.” Renny grated, anxiety on his long, puritanical face.
Doc stepped on the electro-inertia starter buttons. The port motor popped black smoke out of the stacks, then started turning over. Nose, port, starboard. All three functioned.
Vastly relieved, Renny lunged back in the cabin. His massive, flinty hands tore the top from a metal case as another man would open a cigarette pack. Out of the case came the latest model of Browning machine gun, airplane type. An ammo box gave way to his iron fingers. Showing surprising dexterity for such stony mitts, he fed cartridges into the weapon until long snakes of metal link belt were coiled at his feet.
The low-wing speed plane was skipping down the narrow lake now. Renny threaded a belt into the reserve catch, doubling the guns capacity. The Browning was fitted with a riflelike stock, which he jammed into his shoulder.
At the lake end, Doc jacked the ship about with a protesting whine from the engines. The craft banked completely around then gathered speed, suddenly having the run of the whole lake length ahead of it. On step, it went. Then with open throttle, it launched into the air.
With a touch little short of wizardry, Doc banked the speedy plane before it shattered itself against the sheer stone sides of the chasm. For one dizzying moment, Renny swore he could have stepped from the hatch smoothly onto the roof of the temple atop the glittering pyramid. Then the angular structure fell away and the rock walls of the canyon smeared together as they rose higher.
In tight, corkscrew turns, climbing, using all the power of the motors, Doc climbed out of the great cut.
Overhead the blue monoplane still lurked.
The treacherous air currents seized Doc’s plane, worried it like a Kansas whirlwind picking apart a barn it had a personal grudge with. Once, despite his expertise, Doc found himself doing an involuntary wingover. He recovered smoothly and continued to climb out of the Valley of the Vanished.
The air currents, after an interminable battle, became less violent, resigned to let the craft escape after they’d battered it about. Doc, whose grip never relaxed for a moment on the yoke, pointed the great ship’s nose into a steeper climb.
Suddenly the blue monoplane came hoicking down the sky lanes on the attack. Grayish wisps like spectral ropes suddenly streaked past Doc’s ship. Tracer bullets! The monoplane was evidently fitted with a machine gun synchronized to shoot through the propeller blades.
Doc had not expected to be on the defense. The blue plane had not possessed such armament when it attacked him in Belize. But he was not greatly perturbed. At his back was Renny, whose equal with a machine gun would be hard to find. Renny knew just how to lean into the firing weapon so as to withstand the recoil and still maintain an accurate aim even under these conditions.
Renny’s Browning abruptly released a long, ripping burst.
The blue monoplane rolled wildly to get clear of the slugs that searched for its steel vitals.
“Good work!” Doc complimented Renny.
“Think you can give me more breathing room?” asked Renny. He braced himself with a barrel like arm against the airframe behind him. “Another run like that and I’ll have more ventilation than the plane.”
Then it was Doc’s turn to sideslip, and quickly. He twisted the craft in an aerial skid, dodging a procession of slugs that were eating vicious holes through the port wing. The pilot of the blue plane was no tyro.
WARILY the ships jockeyed. Doc’s plane was infinitely the larger, but that was certainly no advantage. Its control surfaces were not designed for combat flying. The two crafts were nearly evenly matched, with Doc having the great edge in speed on a straightaway. But this was no straightaway.
Lead from the other ship chewed at the fuselage, short of the aft hatch and well to the rear.
“Now, Renny!” Doc shouted, and stood his ship on one wing tip.
Renny’s Browning hammered and forked one long tongue of red hot lead from the barrel.
The burst punched clean through the cockpit of the blue plane, ripping the crescent windscreen completely away. The ship canted over, motor racing out of control. It bored in a howling, unguided dive for the craggy mountaintop.
Its antics were even wilder as the air currents gripped it. Far to one side it skittered, then back. Right before smashing into a great slab of stone perched on the cliff face; a gigantic downdraft suddenly pulled it down into the Valley of the Vanished.
Striking the deeper part of the lake, it raised a great geyser of foam tinged with flame.
By the time Doc had battled the tumultuous air down to the lake surface, not a trace of the blue monoplane could be seen.
Doc taxied over to the beach below the pyramid. He sprang ashore and ran up the sloping floor of the valley. Morning Breeze was his target and he had the agitator in his sights. Now was the time to settle accounts.
Long Tom, Johnny, Ham, and Monk had not been harmed as yet. But they were ringed around with agitated Mayans. The Mayans seemed to want to attack the white men as Morning Breeze ordered, but at the same time were afraid of Doc’s wrath. The resurrection stunt gave them the idea Doc was a superior being, and they were still impressed by the sight of his friends miraculously restored in a cloud of smoke. He had killed the blue bird, one that was divine in their eyes.
Morning Breeze saw Doc bearing down on him like a tidal wave of retribution. Terror seized the squat, homely looking culprit. He shouted for his fellow warriors to protect him, ignoring how cowardly he looked. Four of his warrior brethren advanced. Two had short spears, held low to thrust wicked finishing blows. The other pair had the vicious clubs with razor-sharp flakes of obsidian embedded in the heads. Emboldened by Morning Breeze’s shrieked orders, they rushed Doc. Fifteen more warriors, all armed, were heartened by the display and joined the attack.
What followed went into Mayan history.
Doc’s bronzed body seemed to make a single move forward. His great, muscular arms became a bronze blur around him. They moved with such incredible speed that even had they been anticipating it, their eyes would have caught nothing.
Two spearmen reeled away without making a thrust. One had a face knocked almost flat by Doc’s fist; the other’s right arm was broken and nearly pulled from his body.
The two club wielders found themselves suddenly pushed forcibly together by two hands which apparently possessed the power of granite avalanche. Their heads collided; they saw stars and nothing else.
Doc grasped each of these unconscious warriors by the woven leather mantles they wore secured about their necks. He slung them, blue girdles whipping out straight from their bodies, into the midst of the other attackers. A full half dozen of these went down, bruised and bewildered. The others pulled up short, sandals skating across the soil. The leading warrior went down taking his neighbors with him.
Suddenly Doc was among them like an angry messenger from their gods. Not satisfied with overpowering the four, he pitched into the whole crew. Terrific blows came from his flashing fists as if he were slinging golden sledgehammers in the fray. Red-fingered men began to drop only to be trampled underfoot by the desperately fighting mob. Piercing yells of pain echoed along the beach.
As one, the mob of warriors fled. They couldn’t fight this bronze being that moved too quickly for them to land a single blow.
Morning Breeze, tremendously chagrined, spun to flee with his bootlicking minions. Planting a sandal on a fallen comrade’s back, he took a panicked leap towards the city. Then Doc, with a great spring, had him by the neck.
Doc took Morning Breeze’s sacred knife, his only weapon, away from him.
“Have you some place we can lock him up so he won’t give more trouble?” Doc asked King Chaac. Doc was not even breathing heavily.
The Mayan sovereign was both amazed and highly elated. It took him a moment to realize the man of bronze had asked him a question. “I have,” he finally declared.
To one side, entrancing Princess Monja of the Mayans had been an admiring observer. Her dark eyes, as she watched Doc, radiated a great deal of feeling.
Monk, who had been watching the captivating princess; partially to make sure she wasn’t in harm’s way and partly because she was so enchanting to watch, shook his head sadly.
“That poor, naïve girl!” he chuckled.
MORNING BREEZE was cast into a dark, windowless stone dungeon of a room, the only access to which was through a hole in the ceiling. Over this was fitted a stone lid which required the combined strength of four squat Mayans to lift.
King Chaac was all for expelling the troublesome chief warrior from the Valley of the Vanished. He saw the undesirability of this, though, when Doc pointed out that Morning Breeze would only disclose to the world the existence of the golden pyramid.
“Give him a chance to cool off there in the cell,” Doc suggested. “A chance to think over the error of his ways has done wonders for many a criminal.”
The Mayan sovereign consented to follow that course.
Such was the simple temperament of these golden-skinned Mayans that Doc and his friends now found themselves generally accepted in defiance to the red-fingered men’s solemn warnings. The influence of the latter was deflated to such a degree that the other Mayans refused to even listen to their sinister propaganda—for the warriors quickly tried to talk themselves into power again.
“We’re sitting pretty!” Monk declared, rubbing his big, furry hands together.
“Knock on wood, you lunk.” Ham muttered somberly.
Monk grinned and tried to knock on Ham’s head. “I wonder why his nibs, the king, is making us wait a month before he concludes arrangements about this gold?”
“I have no idea,” Ham admitted, swatting Monk’s knobby hand away. “But you recall he mentioned it might not be thirty days.”
Monk stretched and yawned tremendously.
“Well, this ain’t a bad place to spend a month’s vacation,” he decided. “It’ll probably be quiet around here now.”
CURSE OF THE GODS
THAT night, in the Valley of the Vanished, darkness lay everywhere with the black intensity of drawing ink. Impenetrable clouds massed above the great chasm blocking all light. The air was a sultry, still carrying departing hints of smoke and gunpowder from the dogfight. Even a novice forecaster could have told one of the tropical downpours common to Hidalgo was on its way.
Doc and his friends took the precaution of posting a guard and keeping a light burning. They alternated guard duty, but nothing eventful came to their notice.
At the stone hut where Morning Breeze was incarcerated, two Mayan citizens kept alert vigil. From time to time the surly Morning Breeze called them uncomplimentary names and promised them the wrath of the gods if they didn’t release him at once. But the watchmen had been promised the wrath of Doc Savage if they let Morning Breeze escape, and they feared that the greater. To them, the night gave nothing portentous.
In one spot in the Valley of the Vanished, however, a devil’s cauldron of evil simmered and stewed.
This was near the lower end of the egg-shaped valley, where the stream cut through the great chasm. In a tiny natural amphitheater among the boulders had congregated most of the red-fingered warriors. There they lit a fire in a sheltered pit and offered a chant to the fire god, one of their principal deities. There added prayers to Quetzalcoatl, the Sky God; and to Kukulcan, the Feathered Serpent to the mix.
They seemed to be waiting for something, these villainous ones, and killed the ensuing time with chants calculated to redeem their sadly depreciated standing. If their simple gods were mollified, they were keeping tight lipped about it. The fire blew as much smoke as it did flame, and their spirts sunk further. They then launched into a ritual devoted to the Earth Monster, another pagan deity.
This rite was interrupted by a low rustling emanating from the leafy camouflage that edged the recess. Small eyes turned towards the noise, and hands flew to wooden clubs and spears. An amazing figure clambered through the cover and joined them.
A man it was, but he wore a remarkable masquerade. The body of the garment consisted of an enormous snakeskin, the hide of a giant boa constrictor. The head of the reptile had been carefully skinned, and probably enlarged by some stretching process until it formed a fantastic hood for the one who wore it. It masked the intruder.
The man’s arms and legs, projecting from the fearsome garment, were painted a gaudy blue, the Mayan holy color. Starting at the forehead and down the middle of the back, and nearly to the dragging end of the snake tail, were feathers. They resembled the trains on the feather headdress of an American Indian.
The newcomer was obviously made up in some weird likeness of the Mayan god, Kukulcan, the Feathered Serpent.
The gathering of red-fingered warriors were greatly impressed. To a man they sank upon their knees and kowtowed to the hideous apparition in snakeskin and feathers. They undoubtedly knew there was a man inside the rigmarole, but they were overawed anyway, such superstitious souls did they possess.
Like the patchwork religions of some Caribbean tribes, a person dressed like a god was somehow imbued by its presence until his voice and the deity’s voice were inseparable.
HALTINGLY, with the greatest of difficulty, the snake man began to speak Mayan. A large proportion of his words were so poorly uttered as to convey no meaning to his listeners. At such times the blank expression of the warriors warned him to go back and repeat. The snake man was plainly an outsider.
But the red-fingered men were completely under his sway.
“I am the son of Kukulcan, blood of his blood, flesh of his flesh,” the serpent one told his awed audience. “Did you seize such of the white invaders as you could and throw them into the sacrificial well? Did you change the color of the white devils’ blue plane, painting marks of the Red Death upon it? This I commanded. Did you show your obedience and perform my will?”
“We did,” muttered a warrior.
“All you asked, we performed, oh great one!” seconded another, banging his head on the dusty ground to show his fervor.
The brain inside the snake mask sensed something wrong. The hideous head jerked, surveying the assembled Mayans. “Where is your commander, Morning Breeze?”
“He is imprisoned.” The information came reluctantly.
A great rage shook the masked figure. “Then Savage and his men are still in the good graces of your people?” he grated.
The first native who spoke now did a startling contortion by seeming to bow in supplication while edging towards the back of the shallow cave. The swarthy warriors drew back, avoiding the gaze of the serpent god. Even the one thumping the ground with his skull seemed to try burying himself out of sight by using his head as a shovel.
Slowly the serpent one extracted the story of what had happened from the humiliated gathering. The information seemed to stun him. He stood silently, thinking. The colorful feathers barely stirred.
A warrior, bolder than the rest, inquired: “What, O master, became of the two of our number we sent with you into the outer world to slay this Savage and his father?”
The warriors, seeped in superstition and irrationality nevertheless recognized the man under the garment. He was the murderer of Doc Savage’s father, the master of the Red Death, The ringleader behind the Hidalgo revolution movement. That he was one with the Feathered Serpent, they didn’t question. Pagan gods were known to possess the bodies of man for their own designs. Clearly, that is what happened here.
Words of answer were slow coming from the evil mask. The fiendish brain was racing. It would not do to let these red-fingered men know their two fellows had succumbed to the power of that supreme adventurer, Doc Savage. It might wipe out some of their faith in the impostor, influence which had been slowly built up over the years and at a great cost.
He needed all his power now. His plane and pilot destroyed by Doc Savage! This was a blow! He had intended to use that machine-gun- equipped plane in his revolution against President Carlos Avispa's government of Hidalgo, but that idea was so much scrap like the plane itself now littering the bottom of the Mayan’s lake.
Savage and his friends were soundly entrenched in the Valley of the Vanished. That foolish old king welcomed them like blood brothers! Soon all chance of securing the vast sums needed to finance the revolution would be gone.
“Has Savage gained access to the gold?” asked the snake man in a hallow voice.
“No,” replied one scarred Mayan. “As far has he knows, the pyramid contains all the yellow metal in the Valley of the Vanished. King Chaac has not told him the truth yet.”
All of the red-fingered ones heard the words next breathed from the serpent mask, but they were in the man’s native tongue and the meaning was lost on them.
“Thank Heaven for that!”
The collected warriors began to stir uneasily. This son of the Feathered Serpent had been full of egoism and orders on other occasions. Now he was cautious, as though afraid of being overheard by the mysterious man of bronze himself. He had not explained what had happened to their two comrades. One Mayan repeated the question about their two fellows.
“They are alive and well!” snapped the snake man. “Listen!” he said, straightening his back and spreading his blue arms wide. Hear me well, my children, for here are my words of wisdom.”
The warriors fell under the spell as if it were a narcotic.
“The Red Death shall strike very soon!” rumbled the voice from the back of the serpent mask. “My great anger will make this happen, and unleashed it will destroy all who stand before it!”
Genuine terror now seized upon the Mayans. They shuddered and drew together as if for protection. Not a one voiced a word.
“The Red Death strikes soon!” repeated the snake man. “It is the way of Kukulcan, the Feathered Serpent, my father, to show you he will not suffer these white men in your midst. You have sinned grievously in letting them stay, each one of you! You were warned to destroy them to a man and you heeded not. I, the voice of my father, the Feathered Serpent, warned you.”
A warrior began, words spilling out through chattering teeth, “We tried—”
“No excuses!” boomed the voice from the mask. “By doing two things only can you avert the Red Death, or stop its progress after it has descended upon the Valley of the Vanished. First, you must destroy Savage and his men. Second, you must deliver to me, son of the Feathered Serpent, as much gold as ten men can carry. I will see the gold gets to my father as atonement for your cowardice.”
The Mayans shuddered; the most weak willed actually trying to crawl up the overhanging cliff walls to escape the impressive figure.
“Destroy Savage and bring me all the gold ten men can carry!” repeated the one they feared. “Only that will cause the Feathered Serpent to take back his Red Death. I have spoken. Go.”
With hasty bounds driven by their terror of this feathered snake of a thing, the red-fingered men departed the cave and fled upriver. They would sit in their huts and talk about it the rest of the night. And the more they talked, the more likely they would be to do as they had been commanded. For it is a strange fact that a crowd of men are less brave in the face of threat than a single individual. They add to each other’s fear.
The snake man did not linger after they had gone. He quit the sheltered rendezvous, walking furtively, wincing as his bare feet were mauled by the sharp rocks.
Reaching a low bush, he drew from under it two ordinary gallon fruit jars. One of these was filled with a red, viscous fluid. The other contained a much thinner, paler substance.
On one jar was written:
Germ culture for Red Death.
On the other was inscribed:
Cure for Red Death.
These the man in the serpent masquerade carried most carefully as he made his way in stealth toward the gilded pyramid.
WITHOUT being observed or arousing any slumbering Mayans, the snake man reached the pyramid. His trailing feathers whispered over the packed ground as he came near the monster pile of fabulously rich gold ore. He could not control his breathing, so strong was his lust for the yellow metal. It came in gasps and starts under the leathery hood. The noisy purling of the water streaming down the pyramid eliminated any chance of his being overheard, though.
Up the steps the man felt his way in the intense darkness. The water raced past the steps and sprayed his legs with a cool mist. He reached the flattened top of the structure. There he felt about in the sepia murk until he found what he sought. A small, squared off pool was set into the pinnacle.
It was this pool that fed the racing brooks down the pyramid front. Just how the pool was kept continuously supplied with water, in spite of its position high atop the pyramid, the man did not know or care.
He furtively lit a match.
The jar containing the syrupy germ culture was painstakingly opened and emptied into the stone reservoir.
From experience, the fiend in the serpent mask knew the deadly germs would contaminate the pyramid water stream for about two days. And the entire clan of Mayans obtained their drinking water from that source.
Two days and every person in the valley would be a victim of the gruesome Red Death. Only one thing could save them; treatment with the pale concoction from the other jar. Previously, he’d extorted many tributes from the natives using fear as a lever. Then, the man in the snake mask had administered the cure exactly as he had the disease, by dumping it into the Mayan water supply.
Once Doc Savage appeared on the scene with a claim to the legendary valley, the man had sought to keep Doc from reaching the Valley of the Vanished.
Carrying the empty jar, and the full jar of the cure, the man retreated down the pyramid. He made his way in silence to the remote end of the valley, where he’d constructed a crude lair to wait. It was here he had concealed himself after his pilot had dropped him by parachute into the valley the previous night.
En route, the man paused to smash the empty jar.
The sharp report of breaking glass instilled an ugly thought in his brain. He toyed with it.
“I will never learn the source of this gold from old Chaac,” he growled. “The ancient fool is stubborn and no one else knows the secret. So why should I trouble with curing them after they get sick?”
He made angry noises with his teeth. Voice no longer full but now withered to a petulant whine, “If all in the valley were dead, I could take my time hunting the gold. And there is a fortune in that pyramid for the taking.”
A mean grin crooked the lips underneath the snake-head mask. “They will make many gold offerings before they find out I am not going to cure them! ‘All the gold ten men can carry,’ ha! There won’t be ten men left in this backward hole by the end of the month. The valley will be one giant grave!”
He reached a decision that showed how evil and cruel his warped mind had become. He had no regard at all for human life.
He smashed the bottle of Red Death cure against a rock. Healing serum splashed over its surface like innocent blood.
THE BATTLE OF MERCY
DOC SAVAGE, up ahead of the sun, spent the usual time at exercises which kept his amazing bronze body the wonderful mental and physical creation it was. From force of habit he liked to go through his ritual alone. Bystanders were always asking questions as to what this and that was intended to do, distracting him.
He understood their curiosity, and overlooked their ignorance. He didn’t hoard his vast knowledge of how to improve the human anatomy, but didn’t advertise it either.
Morning Breeze was still a prisoner, safely squirreled away in the stone vault. Doc paid the cell a visit to be sure. The guards on duty eyed Doc’s bronze form in open wonder, marveling at its perfection. Doc had not as yet donned his shirt.
Doc’s bared arms looked like those of an Atlas. The muscles, in repose, supple. They brought to mind an image of bundled piano wires over which a thin bronze skin had been painted. Across his chest and back, great slabs of tendon lay layer upon layer. It was a rare sight, that body of Doc’s. The Mayans’ eyes popped and they stood a little straighter.
Part of the morning Doc spent in conversation with King Chaac. Considering the elderly sovereign had never heard of a modern university, he had some remarkably accurate knowledge about the universe.
Pretty Princess Monja, Doc discovered also, would pass in any society as a well-educated young woman. She lacked the technical words for some things, true. But she grasped complex concepts easily and asked pointed questions which revealed an impressive maturity. Simply put, she was amazing.
“We lead a life of leisure here in the Valley of the Vanished,” King Chaac explained. “We have much time to think, to reason things out. When one is not plagued with need, with wanting more than what is sufficient, then the mind can work unencumbered.”
A little later King Chaac made an unexpected, and pleasant, revelation.
“You may have wondered why I said I would delay thirty days or possibly less before I disclosed to you the location of the gold supply?” he asked.
Doc admitted he had.
“It was my agreement with your father,” smiled King Chaac. “I was to satisfy myself you were a man of sufficient character to put this fabulous wealth to the use to which it should be put.”
“That was not a bad idea,” Doc agreed. “I thought I detected my father’s stamp on it.”
“He was a rare man,” agreed the ruler. “We were together for many seasons, and I learned to trust his words even if the meaning behind them was elusive. In all things he was honorable, as you know. The suggestion for a delay was wise.”
He leaned forward, placing an open palm in the center of Doc’s chest. “I am satisfied,” said King Chaac the corners of his eyes crinkling in pleasure. “Tomorrow I show you the gold. But first, tomorrow morning you must be adopted into our Mayan clan. You and your men as well. That is required not only by me but my ancestors. For centuries our law was clear that none but a Mayan should ever remove the gold. Your adoption into the tribe will fulfill that command.”
He thumped Doc’s chest for emphasis. “Your heart will be a Mayan heart and shall pulse with the blood of my people.”
Doc expressed the proper appreciation, and agreed to the unconventional clause which had been added to his legacy. The conversation came around to how the gold was to be transported to civilization.
“We can hardly take it in the plane, due to the terrific air currents,” Doc pointed out.
The elderly Mayan sovereign smiled. “We have donkeys here in the Valley of the Vanished. I will simply have a number of them loaded with gold and dispatched to your banker at Blanco Grande.”
Doc was surprised at the simplicity of the scheme. “But the warlike natives in the surrounding mountains will never let a pack train through.”
“In that you are mistaken,” chuckled King Chaac. “The natives are of Mayan ancestry. They know we are here; they know why. And for centuries it has been their fighting which has kept this valley lost to white men. Oh, yes, they will let the pack train through. And no white man will ever know from whence it came. And they will let others through as the years pass.”
“Is there that much gold?” Doc inquired.
But King Chaac only smiled secretively and gave no other answer.
THE Red Death struck in the middle of that afternoon.
A cluster of excited Mayans flocked around stone house drawing Monk’s attention. Unlike his pals, Mayan architecture could have been designed for his compact stature. He didn’t have to bend down to look inside the elaborately carved dwelling.
A Mayan was sprawled on a stone bench. His yellow skin was mottled, feverish, and he was calling for water.
On his neck were vile red patches.
“The Red Death!” Monk muttered in a horror-filled voice. He ran for Doc, absently bowling over onlookers in the process. He found him near an open square politely listening to the attractive Princess Monja. The young lady had finally cornered Doc alone.
He burst between the two and quickly gasped out what he’d seen. Had he eyes in the back of his scraggly head, he’d have seen a look from the delicate young woman which wouldn’t have bode well for his future. But his attention was on Doc, and he thankfully missed it.
Doc raced to the square towards his plane, with Monk right on his heels. The athletic man quickly outpaced his friend, leaving the burly chemist sprinting behind.
Monja watched them with consternation and worry. She didn’t understand their language enough to have followed, but she knew a catastrophe was on them. The two figures ran on, one silently as a ghost and the other accompanied by the loud slapping of flat feet on the packed earth, until even these faded and were gone.
Entering the Mayan’s stone dwelling, Doc became at once the thing for which he was eminently skilled above all others; a great doctor and surgeon. From the most highly credited medical universities and the greatest hospitals in America, from the best that Europe had to offer, Doc built a fabulous bank of knowledge of medicine and surgery. He had studied with brilliant surgeons in the costliest clinics all over the world. He had conducted unnumbered experiments of his own when he had advanced beyond the greatest master’s ability to teach.
With his instruments, his supersensitive ear, his feather-light touch; Doc examined the Mayan.
“What ails him?” Monk wanted to know.
“It escapes me as yet,” Doc was forced to admit. “Obviously it is the same thing that seized my father. That means it was administered to this man in some fashion by the same devil behind all our troubles. Whoever he is, the fiend must be in the valley now. Probably the blue airplane brought him and dropped him by parachute at night.”
In that, Doc’s reasoning could not have been more accurate had he witnessed the enemy’s arrival firsthand.
“Which means he can’t get out the same way he came in,” reasoned Monk.
“And with a little luck,” said Doc, pausing to take a pulse on the feverish Mayan before him, “we’ll nab the devil before he turns tail and runs.”
At this juncture Long Tom ran up. “The Red Death!” he puffed. “They’re collapsing with it all over the city!”
Doc administered an opiate to the first Mayan to be stricken to ease his pain, and then raced to attend a second victim. He questioned each closely on where they had been and what they had eaten. Four more Mayans he asked the same thing.
His mind worked while his doctor’s hands worked on the suffering natives. He narrowed down disease vectors until one loomed to the forefront.
“The water supply!” he announced with conviction.
He showed Long Tom, Johnny, Ham, and Renny how to administer the opiates that lessened suffering. The cool stone beds would help break fever, but little else could be done.
“Monk, your knowledge of chemistry is going to be in need,” he declared. “Come on.”
Securing test tubes for obtaining samples of the water, Doc and Monk hurried toward the glittering pyramid. By midday, the temple seemed to be frosted with a golden skin of glass.
Although the epidemic of Red Death had been under way less than an hour, the cult of red-fingered warriors had been making full use of the panic it engendered. They were falling over themselves to spread word that the disease was punishment inflicted upon the Mayans for permitting Doc and his friends to remain in their secluded valley.
Ominous mutterings arose. Blue-girdled men everywhere harangued madly, eyes rolling with prophesy, seeking to fan the flames of hatred.
“And just when things were sailing smooth for us!” Monk muttered.
DOC and Monk reached the golden pyramid and started up. Instantly a loud roar of anger lifted from a crowd of Mayans following in their wake. The crowd was composed of about half red-fingered fighting men.
They made threatening gestures, indicating Doc and Monk should not ascend the pyramid. It was an altar, inviolate to their gods, they screamed. Only Mayans could ascend without bringing calamity to their tribe.
It was the red-fingered men who howled the loudest.
“We’re going to have a fight on our hands if we go up,” Monk warned.
It was Doc who solved the delicate situation. He did it simply. He beckoned to attractive Princess Monja, gave her the test tubes, and told her to dip water from whatever sort of a tank or pool was on top of the pyramid.
The confidence the young woman showed Doc did its bit to allay the anger of the Mayans. No matter how the tongues of gossip wagged, the King’s daughter was always held in high esteem.
Back at the stone house assigned to himself and his friends, Doc set to work.
He had brought a compact array of apparatus. All together it made a sturdy but portable workstation. Monk had his tiny, wonderfully efficient chemical laboratory arranged on a stone table. Doc combined the two and went to work analyzing the water.
He had trouble with the Mayans almost from the moment he started. Two of the homeliest of the ugly, red-fingered gentry came dancing and screaming into the place. They had rubbed some evil-smelling lotion on themselves, and the odor angered Doc, who depended a great deal on his sense of smell in his analyzing.
Doc kicked both warriors bodily through the stone archway which served as an entrance. Had there been a door in the carved frame, they would have sailed right through it as well. For a moment it looked like the house was going into a state of siege. Hundreds of Mayans shrieked and waved arms and weapons outside. An astounding the number of spears and terrible clubs were unearthed. Some were obviously family relics, but others were still stained with dark blotches showing recent use in battle.
But memory of what had happened to the gang of warriors who had attacked Doc the day before made them hesitate.
“Monk,” Doc questioned, “did you bring that gas you made up in my laboratory in New York? The stuff that paralyzes without harming, I mean.”
“I sure did,” Monk assured him. “Lemie go get it.”
Doc heaved a heavy stone bench into the archway and continued his analyzing.
Rocks began to bounce against the engraved walls and the flat stone roof. A couple whizzed in the square window.
The yelling had risen to a bedlam.
Suddenly the note of the howling changed from rage to fear. It diminished greatly in volume. Doc looked up from his work and out the window.
Monk had broken a bottle of his gas where the wind carried it over the besieging Mayans. Fully half of the malefactors were stiff and helpless on the earth. They would be thus for possibly two hours, then the effects would wear off.
The rest of the mob were bolting towards their homes, some dragging limp forms with them.
This eased the tension for a time, enabling Doc to continue his work undisturbed.
Test after test he ran on the water. He had very early isolated a tiny quantity of red, viscous fluid which he had determined was some sort of germ culture. The question was to find out what kind of germ could create such a lethal outbreak.
Time was short. His father had succumbed less than three days after being stricken. Probably that was about the time required for the ghastly disease to prove fatal, but that was only a guess. Clark Sr. was known for his vitality, and much larger than these smaller tribesmen. He might have been given a larger dose of the foul poison, or less. There was no way to know.
An hour dragged past. Another. Doc worked tirelessly, with every ounce of his enormous concentration.
The humor of the Mayans rapidly became worse. Johnny, Ham, and Renny were herded to the stone house where Doc worked. They were joined by elderly King Chaac and entrancing Princess Monja. Of all the Mayans, the faith these two had in Doc remained utterly unshaken.
There were other Mayans too who remained aloft from the turmoil boiling over in the city. Level headed Mayans who would probably side with Doc when the showdown came.
Doc worked without lifting his head all that afternoon. He labored the night straight through, his experiments lit by electric bulbs Long Tom fixed up for the purpose.
ANOTHER dawn had come before Doc straightened from the stone table he’d transformed into a modern laboratory.
“Long Tom!” he called.
Long Tom sprang to Doc’s side and listened to Doc explain what was wanted.
It was an intricate apparatus Long Tom was to rig, a mechanism to create one of the newest and most marvelous healing rays known to medical science. Long Tom, electrical wizard that he was, knew pretty much how it should be made. Doc supplied such details as Long Tom was not familiar with, but in his mind the device was already taking shape.
Then Doc left the stone building.
His friends flocked to the doors and windows, armed with machine guns while Monk toyed with a gas bomb in his hairy fist. They were certain Doc would be attacked by the Mayans, who had kept vigil outside all night.
But they witnessed something little short of a miracle. Doc walked through the crowd untouched. No warrior dared lay a hand upon him, such a hypnotic quality did his golden eyes contain. No doubt his reputation as a superman in a fight helped.
Fifty or so Mayans trailed Doc. Afraid to attack him but not letting him out of their sight, they followed. The warriors loosened obsidian blades in animal hide scabbards, but didn’t dare draw.
They didn’t have far to go.
Doc reached the jungle-carpeted lower end of the little valley. With a bound he sprang above the grasping undergrowth and seized a limb. An acrobatic flip put him atop the branch. He ran along it, balancing perfectly, and vaulted to another bough.
Then he was gone, silent as a bronze owl flitting along the jungle lanes.
The Mayans milled a while, unsure what to do. A few low types made to climb the tree Doc first grasped, but then thought better of it. After some bold but empty gestures, they returned to their city.
They were met by a group of crimson-fingered fellows who upbraided them fiendishly for permitting Doc to slip through their hands. The white man, they screamed, must be slaughtered.
Somebody had freed squat, tattooed, ugly Morning Breeze from his dungeon. He was rapidly whipping the Mayans into a frenzy. He goaded them toward the stone house where Doc’s friends were barricaded. Exerting all his powers of persuasion, Morning Breeze got them to attack.
Monk promptly expended all his gas on the assailants. They fled, such of them as could. Again, the lane outside was littered with slumped, yellow skinned natives. But the bulk of the disreputable warriors reunited at a short distance and listened to the red-fingered men spew his chant of hatred.
Now and then a Mayan would stumble off to his stone home, seized with the horrible Red Death. By now, a fourth of the tribe was already prostrate from the malady.
HALF the morning had gone when Doc returned. He came via the roofs of the closely spaced houses, crossing the narrow streets with gigantic leaps only he could manage. He was inside the stone house with his besieged friends before the Mayans caught on to his arrival.
The natives sent up a rumble of anger, but did not advance.
Doc had brought, tied with roots in a great bundle, many types of jungle herbs.
With these he set to work. He boiled some, cooked others, and treated some with acids. Slowly he refined the product.
Johnny examined the lacy leaves of many species, mentally cataloguing the ones he could identify and speculating on others. Peering at one specimen through his magnifying lens, he claimed it could only be a member of an extinct genius. The only surviving remains were a scanty fossil record housed in the Chicago Natural History Museum.
“Seems pretty healthy for a plant that’s been dead for a few thousand years,” Monk observed.
“Obviously this herb survived in this forgotten pocket of the world,” said Ham. “The line only became extinct outside the valley.”
“Well it better be packing the good stuff,” said Monk somberly. “Otherwise our Mayan buddies outside will be following suit.”
Noon came. The fourth of stricken Mayans had risen to a third. And with the increased rate of collapse, the temper of the besiegers was getting shorter. The low caste warriors had them believing that only the death of the white men would solve their problem, vanquish the malady.
Normally, they would have been scoffed at, or thrown headfirst into the clear lake to cool off. But fear is a poison of its own, and it had stricken the tribe.
“I think I’ve got it,” Doc said at last, snicking a test tube snugly into its metal rack. “The cure for the diabolic germ.”
“I’m out of gas,” Monk muttered. “I don’t mean to complain, Doc, but how are we going to get out of here to treat them?”
For answer, Doc pocketed vials of the thin pale fluid he had concocted. “Wait here,” he directed.
He elbowed the stone bench ajar and stepped outside. The Mayans saw him, rumbled. A couple of spears sped through the air. But long before the obsidian heads shattered against the stone house, Doc had vaulted to the roof and was gone.
Furtively he prowled through the strange city. He found a Mayan who had been stricken and forcibly administered some of the pale medicine. At another home he repeated the operation on an entire family.
The tribespeople who were most without hope were the ones left to care for the sick and dying. They gave him no trouble as he worked on his patients. Angry red marks marred their smooth skin and were accompanied with wracking muscle spasms. Even though they didn’t understand a tenth of what Doc said, his calm manner soothed victim and caretaker alike.
When set upon by armed Mayans, he simply evaded them. His bronzed form would flash around a corner and all trace would be gone when the Mayans reached the spot. Once, about mid-afternoon, he was cornered by three swarthy, club wielding men who happened upon him treating a household of five Mayans. When Doc left the vicinity, all three warriors were still unconscious from the blows he’d delivered.
Thus, as furtively as though he were a criminal instead of the angel of mercy he was in reality, he was forced to skulk and give by main strength the treatment he had devised.
By nightfall, however, his persistence began to tell. Word spread that the bronze god of a white man was curing the Red Death. Until now, the only news passed from mouth to ear was grim. Lists of the sick, families struck ill. Dire predictions of how much time was left. The announcement that Doc was working yet another miracle was pounced upon. Not only did it strengthen resolve, it was true.
Doc’s concoction, thanks to his unique medical skill, was proving effective.
By nine o’clock Long Tom could venture forth without danger and treat unfortunates with his health-ray apparatus. This had remarkable properties for healing tissue burned out by the ravages of the Red Death.
“Doc says the Red Death is a rare tropical fever,” Long Tom explained to the greatly interested Princess Monja. They made an odd pair, the vibrant young woman next to the gaunt man who seems to be visibly wasting away.
“Originally it must have been the malady of some jungle bird. Probably similar to an epidemic known as ‘parrot fever’ which swept the United States a year or two ago.”
“Mr. Savage is a remarkable man!” the young Mayan woman murmured.
Long Tom nodded soberly. “There is not a thing he can’t do, I reckon.”
A WEEK passed. During that time, Doc Savage’s position among the Mayans not only returned to what it had been before the epidemic of the Red Death, but far surpassed it.
As man after man of the yellow-skinned people recovered, a complete change of feeling came about. Doc was the hero of every stone home. They followed him about in droves, admiring his tremendous physique, imitating his mannerisms. It should have been a laughable sight, but so deep was their appreciation that it lent their actions a certain nobility.
They even spied upon him taking his inevitable exercise in the mornings. By the end of the week, half the Mayans in the city were also following a similar routine adapted to their smaller frames.
Renny, who never took any exercise except to knock things to bits with his great fists, thought it very funny.
“Exercise never hurt anybody, unless they overdid it,” Doc told him.
“But c’mon, Doc,” Renny said. “You gotta admit its weird seeing them jumping and flapping about like goony birds.”
“They’re just starting,” Doc said. “Give them time. Some will get bored, others will give up. But in a few months, who knows? Maybe a couple will be able be bend horseshoes like a certain famous engineer.”
Renny looked at a group of young women, limbering up beneath a spreading jungle tree. “Hooo ee!” he exclaimed at last.
The red-fingered warriors were a chagrined lot. Morning Breeze lost a large part of his following. His erstwhile satellites scrubbed the red stain off their fingers, threw their blue maxtlis, or girdles, away, and forsook the fighting sect, with King Chaac’s consent.
Less than fifty of the most villainous remained in Morning Breeze’s fold. These were careful not to make themselves noticed too much, because there was some talk among the upright Mayan citizens of seeing if there wasn’t enough warriors to fill the sacrificial well.
They were a grim lot, and Morning Breeze made sure never to turn his back on them.
Things seemed to have come to an ideal pass.
Except, possibly, in the case of the ravishing Princess Monja. She was plainly infatuated with Doc, but making no headway. She was, of course, well-bred enough not to show her feelings too openly. She was coy, but all of Doc’s friends could see how it was.
Doc removed all firearms to the house that became their headquarters. He locked the weapons in a back room where they could be reached in an emergency, but under close watch as well. Long Tom even installed a simple electrical burglar alarm. Monk made up more of his paralyzing gas, and stored it with the arms. In the face of peace, such preparations seemed unnecessary though.
Everyone noted Doc was inexplicably missing from the city at times. These absences lasted several hours. Then Doc would reappear, as unruffled as if he’d just stepped out to the corner market. He offered no explanation for these periods of absence, which wasn’t surprising. His men we used to Doc’s disappearing acts, and knew he always had good reason for slipping away on occasion. They also knew he valued his privacy and they respected it.
Actually, he had been ranging the jungle sections of the Valley of the Vanished. He was seeking his father’s murderer, but with little success. He traveled, ghostlike, among the trees, or silent as a bronze shadow on the ground.
Near the lower end of the valley he found what his keen senses told him was the camp of his quarry. It was a cold trail, but the best clue he’d found so far. The camp had been deserted some time, but the man had left plenty of tracks on the loamy jungle floor. Doc tracked the killer a considerable distance through the brush to a point where it merged with a narrow trail leading out of the valley.
THERE came the day when a dignified King Chaac announced that enough tribesmen had recovered in health (and passions cooled) that it was time to adopt Doc and his men into the tribe. This almost unheard of act was to be marked with a great ceremony.
Afterwards, the newly minted tribesmen would be shown the source of the gold.
The ceremony was eagerly arranged, starting at the base of the sacred pyramid itself.
Since Doc and his friends were to become honorary Mayans, it was needful that they don Mayan costume for the festivities. King Chaac furnished the attire, and seemed to enjoy himself far more than necessary.
The garb consisted of short mantles of stout fiber interwoven with wire gold, brilliant girdles, and high-backed sandals. Each had a headdress to denote some animal. These towered high overhead, and interwoven trams of flowers fell in ropes down their backs.
Ham took one look at Monk in this paraphernalia and burst into laughter. “If I just had a grind organ to go with you!” he chuckled.
Monk’s ruddy face darkened, but the effect was lost because of his gaudy headdress. The Mayans had elected to decorate the top of the swaying hat with the face of a grinning ape.
Because pistols did not harmonize with native garb, they left them behind. No danger seemed likely to threaten them, anyway.
The entire populace assembled at the pyramid for the event. The Mayan men wore the same costume as Doc and his friends. In addition, some wore padded cotton armor, stuffed with sand. These resembled baseball chest protectors, but much heavier. Those attired in the armor carried ceremonial spears and clubs, festooned with colorful blossoms.
Doc noted one thing a little off about the event. Morning Breeze and his red-fingered cohorts were nowhere about. Doc gave some thought to that. But there seemed no serious harm the tattooed scoundrel could do. His fifty remaining men were hopelessly outnumbered in case they started trouble.
The Mayan king motioned him forward. The rituals were under way.
Doc and his men first had their faces daubed with a blue pigment to catch the eye of the sacred deities. Mystic designs in other colors were painted on their arms, starting at the shoulder and winding down to the wrist.
They were next offered various foods to which ceremonial significance was attached. They each drank gooey dollops of honey which made their tongues cleave to their palates until they could no longer talk. This was followed by atole, a drink made from maize, and kept in most elaborate and beautiful jars.
Atop the pyramid, native incense was now burning in an immense quiche, or ceremonial burner. The fumes, sweeping down the great golden pyramid in the calm, bracing air, were quite pleasant.
Seated in orderly rows about the pyramid base, the entire Mayan populace kept up a low chanting. The sound was rhythmic, certain musical words repeated over and over. There were a few musical instruments, well handled, which gave the event a feeling of formality.
The affair moved rapidly toward the climax, which suited the man of bonze just fine. He enjoyed talking with the mysterious tribe, and quite at ease when doing so. But any event, especially one in which he was singled out for recognition, put him on edge. The newspapers often suggested this was a sly attempt at cultivating the air of mystery which surrounded the name ‘Savage’, but the truth was much simpler. He was a modest man at heart.
Doc and his friends were led towards the long flight of steps. Each one had a part to play in the finale. They would make their way to the altar atop the pyramid bearing offerings of incense for the great burner and little stone images of the god Kukulcan. Looking up the flight of smoke wreathed steps, the Mayan King had an additional geas for the party.
It was necessary, King Chaac had explained, to mount the steps only on their knees. To do otherwise would not be according to Hoyle.
The Mayan women were taking an equal part in the ritual with the men. Most of these were very attractive in their shoulder mantles and knee-length girdles. Sparkling rays from the holy structure played over their sun browned skin in a very distracting way, which was especially noticed by Monk.
The time came when Doc and his friends started up the long line of steps. It was tricky business balancing on their knees. Around them, the Mayan chanting pulsed and throbbed with an exciting, exotic quality.
Yard after yard the adventurers ascended.
Suddenly, Morning Breeze appeared. Shrieking, he sprang through the hundreds of Mayans ringing the pyramid base.
THE grand ritual slammed to a halt.
It was unheard of. The ritual was sacred. For one to interrupt was dark sacrilege. Hundreds of angry Mayan eyes bore upon the chief of the red-fingered fighting guild.
Morning Breeze commanded attention with uplifted arms.
“O children!” he shrilled. “You cannot do this thing! The gods forbid! They do not want these white men fouling their temples with unclean hands and feet!”
Some Mayan muttered loudly that the Mayans didn’t want Morning Breeze, either. But the swarthy degenerate was deaf to this as he was blind to the, frankly dangerous, glares of his tribesmen.
Ignoring the hostility, the warrior leader continued:
“Fearsome will be the doom to fall upon you if you make these outsiders Mayans. It is vile, and forbidden!”
Doc Savage made no move. He saw in this dramatic interruption a last, wild bid by Morning Breeze. The fellow was desperate. His hotly blazing eyes, the shaking in his arms, showed that.
Doc also respected the Mayans who wanted him as a member of the tribe, adopted into their valley as one of their own. He would let them decide how much heed to pay the raving warrior. He imagined they wouldn’t listen to Morning Breeze lampoon the white men for long.
Dignified King Chaac called a sharp command. Armed Mayans, the fellows who wore the quilted armor and bore weapons strapped around their middles, surged for Morning Breeze.
The warrior chief took fight. Like a jack rabbit in spite of his short legs, the ugly fellow bounded away. At the edge of the crowd he halted.
“You fools! For this you must come to Morning Breeze with your noses in the dirt and beg his mercy! Otherwise you die! All of you!”
With that proclamation he spun and fled. Four or five well-cast javelins lent wings to his big, ungainly feet.
The dissenter disappeared in the jungle.
Doc was very thoughtful. He had learned to judge by men’s voices when they were bluffing. Morning Breeze sounded like a man who had an ace in the hole.
What could it be, Doc pondered. He became more uneasy as his mind examined the problem like a daunting mathematical formula. The fiend who had murdered the elder Savage was still at large. That man was clever, capable of anything. The very fact that he was able to avoid Doc in the jungle showed he was wily, and not just a crackpot looking to swipe gold from simple natives. It was also true that this man worked with Morning Breeze, although it was unlikely that he’d reveal everything to the warrior chief.
Morning Breeze would make a good toady to someone manipulative enough. He had a low character but was persuasive enough to be useful in influencing others. Still, anyone sharp enough to work the Red Death scam would also be smart enough to keep Morning Breeze in the dark about many things. He’d make a useful tool, but an unreliable partner.
Doc wished his men had their guns.
The ceremonials resumed where they had left off. In quick order, the animal hide drums pounded a rhythm and the chanting took it up. Bodies swayed as one. The savage cadence had a quality to arouse the soul, inciting strange feelings.
Again Doc and his friends advanced up the pyramid stairs, balancing on their knees. The bundles of incense and the stone images they carried were getting burdensome.
All eyes were on Doc’s magnificent frame. Truly, thought the yellow-skinned people, here was a worthy addition to the clan of Maya.
Doc and his five men were almost at the top. King Chaac, elegant in ceremonial garb, stood before them like a stone deity regally come to life. He waved a multi-ringed hand, showing where the incense should be placed.
The final words of ritual were about to be spoken by the sovereign of the Valley of the Vanished.
Then the holocaust erupted.
SUDDEN staccato reports rattled. Shots! They were so closely spaced as to be almost one continuous roar. The noise broke against the great yellow pyramid in terrible waves.
“Machine guns!” Renny barked.
Piercing screams, moans of agony, arose from the assembled Mayans. Several had dropped from the murderous leaden hail, never knowing what cut them down.
A soft haze of blue and white smoke settled around the temple from the incense braziers which had been in use since before the sun rose over the valley wall. The heady scent was now punctuated with the acidic bite of gunpowder.
There had been four rapid-fire guns, one positioned to sweep each side of the pyramid. So well screened were the weapons that no trace of them or the operators could be seen.
Doc shoved his friends, as well as King Chaac and the Princess Monja, into shelter behind two large stone idols. The great rock effigies on the pyramid now providing literal protection for their people.
It wasn’t a moment too soon. Lead tore through the spot where they had been kneeling. Rock chips burst off the images and showered on the huddled team. One big, long-nosed likeness toppled over, the wide eyes and gaping mouth of the idol looking comically surprised.
Renny jerked his hand back suddenly, as if bitten. He’d absently placed his leathery mitt on a small grey stone which burned like a branding iron. It was a flattened bullet
Doc picked up the lead slug, studied it. His brain, replete with ballistics lore, instantly catalogued the bullet.
“This is not the caliber of our guns,” he said. “That means they haven’t seized our weapons. So someone has brought in machine guns from the outside.”
“Sounds like they brought in a small army, Doc.” Said Renny.
The adventurers looked at each other. They knew the answer to the unasked question. The murderer of Doc’s father was still in the valley, and he brought backup.
The hail of lead ceased.
To the right, on a low knoll backed by brush, Morning Breeze made his appearance.
“You behold the fulfilling of my prophecy!” he shouted. “Destroy these white men! Crawl to me and beg for your lives! Acknowledge me as your ruler! Otherwise you shall all be slaughtered as sacrifices!”
Even from that distance they could see Morning Breeze’s wild eyes rolling in pagan mania.
“He’s insane,” Monk muttered. “Plumb dingy!”
A flight of spears gave Morning Breeze’s answer. With wild yells of anger, a group of the Mayan citizens clad in quilted armor charged the warrior chief. A machine gun forced them back, slaying several.
Then elderly King Chaac raised a great shout. He was one of the oldest of the tribe, true. Be he was a leader down to the soles of his feet. He called some command at his people. So rapidly did he speak that Doc’s knowledge of Mayan was not sufficient to follow him.
The Mayan people began to charge the pyramid steps. They came with orderly speed, in a column the full twenty feet wide.
Doc stared at them, not realizing what they were intent on. The first of the yellow-skinned people passed him.
Doc now observed King Chaac had exerted pressure on the large Kukulcan idol beside the water tank that was always flowing. The idol levered back on a hidden hinge, revealing a large cavity. Well-worn stone steps stretched downward into darkness.
Into this opening the column of Mayans dived. Like well-trained soldiers they sped up the side of the pyramid, but they seemed as surprised as the white men at sight of the opening.
Doc glanced askance at the elderly Mayan sovereign.
“Of all my people, only I knew of this hidden door,” explained King Chaac.
The machine guns of the red-fingered warriors were silent. The orderly retreat up the pyramid side must have them puzzled. And no doubt they thought they had wrought enough havoc with their weapons to bring the Mayans to terms.
Doc watched the gun emplacements closely, his sharp eye had located each one. In the brief pause he saw the red-fingered devils show themselves.
He saw one other man—a fellow masquerading in a repulsive snakeskin costume. Colored feathers were arrayed down the back of the hideous serpent outfit. This revolting figure seemed to be directing the assault. He even gave Morning Breeze orders. Doc, catching the man’s voice faintly, knew by the accent he was no Mayan.
Suddenly the machine guns went into operation again.
But they had waited too long. Practically all the Mayans were inside the pyramid. Even as the deadly hail of metal started anew, the last of the golden-skinned people ducked through the wide, secret door.
King Chaac and Princess Monja now descended. Doc and his five friends followed.
The Mayan ruler showed them slits in the masonry. Through these, it was possible to observe whether anyone was coming up the steps.
Even as they looked, some of the red-fingered warriors ran to the foot of the pyramid and started up the stairs.
“If we just had our guns!” Renny groaned. His puritanical face was genuinely forlorn. “That’s a rotten stunt to pull even at war, but that ambush was criminal. We didn’t stand a chance.” His broad hand clinched around an imaginary Browning, but Doc and his men had left their weapons in their store house.
“Watch!” commanded King Chaac. He called a low order to some of his men far down the darkened passage into the depths of the pyramid.
Great, round rocks were passed up and chucked outside. The door knockers bounded down the steps. The cowardly warriors were battered back. Those that could, picked themselves up and fled.
“They cannot get to us here,” said King Chaac. “But as I’m sure you’ve noticed, we’re trapped as well.”
DOC SAVAGE listened to the shouting voice of the man in the snake masquerade. The tones penetrated the rock, but only the man of bronze had the superlative hearing necessary to pick out the shouted words.
Doc identified the coarse voice. The snake man was the slayer of the elder Savage, and the prime mover in the planned Hidalgo revolution. It was the voice Doc had heard in that hotel room in the Hidalgo capital city, Blanco Grande.
Doc knew now why he had found no trace of the killer during the past week. The man had been away from the Valley of the Vanished, getting the machine guns.
“How about food supplies?” Doc asked.
Reluctantly, King Chaac admitted: “There is no food.”
“Then we’re penned up,” Doc pointed out. “There is plenty of water, I presume?”
“Plenty. The stream that supplies the pool atop the pyramid—we have access to it.”
“That helps,” Doc admitted. “Your people may be able to hold out a few days. My men and myself, accustomed to hardship, might beat that. But we’ve got to do something.”
Suddenly Doc bounded upward to the lip of the opening in the pyramid top. He glanced quickly about. He decided to take a chance. It was a chance so slim only a man of Doc’s unique powers could wrench success from it.
“No one shall try to follow me!” he warned.
Then, with a swift spring, he was out of the passage that dived down into the innards of the golden pyramid.
So unexpected was Doc’s appearance that a moment elapsed before the clumsy red-fingered machine gunners could turn a stream of lead on the pyramid top and the tiny temple there. By the time metal storm abated, Doc had bounded off the top.
He did not aim for the stairs. He had a better means of descent planned, although infinitely more dangerous. He made for the steep, glass-smooth side of the pyramid. The gold-bearing ore of which the great structure was made was hard. Ages it had stood there and the elements had not weathered away enough of the soft gold to roughen the original sleekness.
Leaning well back, Doc skidded downward on his heels. His leap had given him great momentum.
Twenty feet, and he spun over and over expertly. Thus, he flashed to one side several yards. It was well he did. Machine- gun bullets chewed into the course he had been following, and screamed off into space.
Rich gold ore, broken loose, tumbled down the pyramid. But Doc left it far behind. Mere sliding speed was not enough. He jumped outward once, a second time, until he was traveling faster than the cascading debris.
He hit the foot of the pyramid at a speed that would have shattered the ankles of an ordinary man. Tremendous muscles of sprung steel cushioned Doc’s landing. He never as much as lost his balance. Like a whippet, he was away.
He came to a shallow depression, and lay prone. Hungry lead slugs thudded like hail, but always a yard or two behind Doc. The speed of his movements was too tremendous for inexperienced marksmen. Even an expert shot would have had trouble getting a bead on that bronze, corded form.
The depression wound off into low bushes. And from that moment he was lost to the murderers with the machine guns.
To the red-fingered warriors, it was incredible. They clucked among themselves, and looked about wildly for the flashing wraith of bronze that was Doc. They scoured the area but found nothing. It was almost as if the earth had swallowed up the extraordinary white man.
Their leader, the repulsive figure masqueraded in snakeskin and feathers, was more perturbed than the others. He cowered among them. He kept very close to a machine gun, as though he expected that great, bronzed Nemesis of his kind to spring upon him from thin air.
Great was the snake man’s terror of Doc Savage.
THE BRONZE MASTER
DOC SAVAGE sped for the stone city. It lay only a few rods away. He haunted low tropical vegetation to the first stone-paved street. Among the empty houses he glided.
So quiet was his going that wild tropical birds perched on the projecting stone roofs of the houses were undisturbed by his passage; no more scared than had he been the bronze reflection of some cloud overhead.
Doc threaded his way to the building which had been his headquarters. In it, he had left his machine guns, rifles, pistols, and the remarkable gas that was Monk’s invention.
He wanted those weapons. With them, the fifty or so warriors could be defeated in short order. Armed equally, the men of Morning Breeze could not stand against Doc and his five veteran fighters. So Doc had taken tremendous chances to get to the guns.
The headquarters house appeared ahead. Low, replete with stone carving, it was no more elaborate than the other Mayan homes. It seemed deserted. The door, which was ordinarily only curtained, gaped invitingly. Doc paused and listened.
Back toward the pyramid, a machine gun snarled out a dozen shots. He heard nothing else.
Doc pushed back the curtain and slid into the stone house.
No enemies were there.
Doc went across the room, seeming to glide on ice, so effortlessly did he move. He tried the door of the room in which they had placed their arms.
He perceived suddenly that Long Tom’s electric burglar alarm had been expertly put out of commission.
No Mayan had the knowledge to do that. The man in the snakeskin has been very busy, Doc thought. I knew you weren’t a local hoodlum, but you’re doing your best to keep us guessing.
The door gave before a shove by a great bronze arm. Doc looked in, half expecting what he found. The weapons were gone.
A faint sound came from the street.
Doc spun. Across the room he flashed, not to the door, but to the window. His keen senses told him a trap was closing upon him.
Before reaching the window, an object tumbled through the open frame, thrown from outside. The object, a bottle, broke on the stone wall. It was filled with a vile-looking fluid, which now sprayed over most of the room.
Doc surmised what the stuff was.
His bronze features set with determination, Doc continued for the window. But a gun muzzle snaked in, spitting flame. Doc ducked clear of the wild shots. Gas clouded the room, filling it.
Seeing that escape from the window was impossible, he whirled on the door. But the muzzles of two automatic pistols met him. They were the guns he had invented. He knew just how fast they could deal death.
Then, slowly, Doc Savage collapsed.
The lifeless bronze figure crumpled to the stone floor.
“THE gas got him!” snarled the man in the snake garb, appearing from a haven of safety behind several red-fingered fighters.
Then, realizing he had spoken in a language the Mayans could not understand, he spoke again. “The all-powerful breath of the Son of the Feathered Serpent has vanquished the chief of our enemies.”
“Indeed, your magic breath is powerful!” muttered the warriors in great awe.
“Retreat from the doorway and windows until the wind has time to sweep my magic breath away,” commanded the snake man.
A gentle breeze had sprung up, sweeping along the streets of the Mayan city and over slate roofs. In a few minutes, the serpent man decided all the gas had dissipated from the stone house and it would be safe to enter.
“Get in there,” he directed. “Seize the bronze devil and drag him into the street!”
His orders were complied with. It was, however, with the greatest fear that the red-fingered ones laid hands upon the magnificent bronze form of Doc Savage. Even though the great figure was still and limp, they feared it.
In the street, they dropped the bronze giant hastily as though he were cursed.
“Cowards!” sneered the snake man. Puffing out his chest and strutting forward as though he’d singlehandedly delivered his foe. “Can you not see he has succumbed to my magic? He is helpless! Never again will he defy the son of Kukulcan, the Feathered Serpent!”
The red-fingered Mayans did not look as relieved as they might. All too well, they remembered an occasion when Doc had brought three of his white companions out of the sacrificial well, very much alive, when they should have been dead. Doc might do the same for himself, they reasoned.
“Fetch tapir-hide thongs,” commanded the snake man. “Bind him. Not with a few turns, but with many! Wrap him until not an inch of his evil white skin shows!”
The warriors scurried to obey. They returned, bearing long strips of the tough hide.
“Fear him not!” said the serpent man. “My magic breath has stricken him, so that he will lie helpless for two hours. Even now his spirt is before Kukulcan, answering for his sacrilege.”
The fellow had profited by talking to the victim of Monk’s gas. He learned about how long its effects lasted, but also understood it to be nonlethal.
“I shall go now to send my magic breath into the interior of the pyramid!” snarled the snake man. “Six of you remain here and bind the bronze devil. Bind him well! Death shall strike all six of you if he escapes! He is to be sacrificed to the Feathered Serpent. Nothing less can undo the blasphemy performed today.”
With that warning, the hooded man departed, the long, feather-studded snake tail scraping behind him. He was even more sinister than the reptilian monster after which he was disguised.
He disappeared from view, moving with deliberation towards the glistening temple.
The six evil Mayans seized their coils of tapir-hide thongs and leaned over to lay violent hands on Doc.
They got the shock of their lives.
STEEL talons seemed to seize the throats of two. Another pair bounced away, driven by pistoning bronze legs.
At no time had Doc Savage been unconscious.
Monk’s remarkable gas depended for its action upon inhalation. Unless some of it penetrated to the lungs, the stuff was quite ineffective. It did not permeate skin and could be safely handled.
Because of his conscientious exercises, Doc had lungs of tremendous capacity. An ordinary man can, by straining himself, usually hold his breath about a minute. Several minutes is not uncommon for pearl divers in the South Seas. And Doc Savage, thanks to years of practice, could hold his breath fully twice as long as the most expert pearl diver.
He had held his breath all the while the snake man was waiting for the gas fumes to vent from the stone house.
By this ruse, which only he could manage, Doc had escaped being shot on the spot.
Doc shook the two Mayans whose throats he held. He brought their heads together with a sharp klunk, knocking their senses out. The other two were tangled in the tapir-hide strands, scrambling for their obsidian knives.
Using the two men in his hands as human clubs, Doc beat the others down. The two his powerful legs had knocked away had collapsed where they fell.
A single piercing squawl of agony, one warrior managed to emit. But that was the extent of the resistance the pockmarked native managed to raise. Soon all six were sprawled unconscious in the stone-paved street.
Doc straightened, never having left fighting condition. Into the stone house he leapt. He would only have a moment if he was lucky, and he never relied on luck when he could help it. The city had been deserted, and the yell of the red-fingered man would spread an alarm.
The metal case which contained Monk’s chemicals was not behind the stone bench where Monk had kept it.
Doc smooth brow furrowed. He had hoped to get enough chemicals to rig up gas masks effective against Monk’s remarkable vapor. But the snake man had evidently appropriated the chemicals.
Out of the building, Doc ran. A machine gun blasted at him from down the narrow street. But it was in untrained hands and poorly aimed. The slugs went wide.
Before the serpent-skin-clad man, for it was he who had fired, could correct his aim, Doc’s metallic form had vanished like smoke. It seemed to float to a building top.
To another roof, Doc leaped, thence onward. Dropping down into a street, he ran several hundred feet.
There, he purposefully let the red-fingered scouting party glimpse him. He disappeared with lightning speed before they could fire. Howling like a wolf pack, they rushed the spot.
Dozens of them quit the siege of the pyramid to aid in the chase.
That was what prompted Doc to execute such a dangerous maneuver. It was imperative that he get back into the pyramid and devise something to defend the Mayans against the gas now in the possession of the fiendish warrior sect.
Unseen by any, Doc raced for the pyramid. So silently did he come, and so swiftly, that he was gliding up the steps before they saw him. And then it was too late.
A machine gun cackled angrily. Shots ricocheted off the steps, or sent fountains of spray where they struck the continually running stream.
But Doc was already up the stairs and inside the pyramid.
EVEN Renny and the others were startled at the suddenness of his appearance. They were awed, too. It was near unbelievable that even Doc could go and come as he had, with four alert machine guns emplaced about the pyramid.
“They have secured Monk’s gas,” Doc explained. “They’ll try to toss bottles of it into the secret doorway exposed by moving the idol.”
“Then we’ll move the idol back!” Monk grunted.
“You lunk,” chastised Ham. “You left your pixie potion out where they could swipe it!”
“No I didn’t!” shot back Monk, angry that the villains were using his invention, but more upset at the thought of bumbling hands touching his prized mobile chemical lab. “That was under lock and key, they must have jimmied the lock.”
Exerting his enormous strength, Monk shifted the massive stone image of Kukulcan back.
A light sprang up below. One of the Mayans had fired a torch. This was composed of a bowl filled with animal oils and equipped with a wick, not unlike an ordinary lamp. Evidently it had been placed in this weird place for just such an emergency.
“Chink the cracks with mud,” Doc directed. “They’ll break the glass bottles of the liquid that makes the gas, hoping it will seep inside.”
“But what about our peepholes!” Renny objected. “We can’t see them if they start up the stairs!”
For answer, Doc reached over and took off Johnny’s glasses which had the powerful magnifying lens on the left side.
“Use the right glass—the one that does not magnify,” he suggested. “Pack mud around it, and where could you find a better porthole? It will keep the gas out.”
“Dag-gone!” Monk grinned. “I don’t believe anything will ever stump Doc!”
The Mayans were stirring about below. Hundreds of them had gone into the pyramid, Doc reflected. There must be something in the nature of an underground room, or series of passages below.
“If they throw the gas bottles,” Doc told Renny, “they won’t rush the steps until they know the fumes have blown away. So when you see them coming, you’ll know it is safe to open the secret door and roll rocks down the stairs. You can tell the Mayans to pass up rocks, using sign talk.”
“Where you goin’?” Renny wanted to know.
“To explore,” he said with his unusual eyes glittering in the gloom. “I am very curious about this place!”
DOC SAVAGE took Johnny and Monk with him as he made his way into the depths of the golden pyramid.
He was surprised at the amount of wear the steps underfoot showed. In spots, they were worn to half their depth. It must have taken thousands of human feet to do that.
The sovereign of the Mayans, King Chaac, had said only he knew of the existence of this place. That meant it had not been used extensively for generations, possibly not for hundreds of years. For information about a place such as this would be handed down from father to son for ages.
At a spot which Doc’s expert sense of distance told him was several feet below the surface of the surrounding ground, they entered a large room.
Doc noted a cleverly constructed stone pipe which bore the water that fed the pool on top of the pyramid. This crossed the room and vanished into another, larger chamber beyond.
This latter was a gigantic hallway, narrow and low of roof, but of unfathomable length. In fact, it was more of a tremendous tunnel. It stretched some hundreds of yards, then was lost in a turn upward.
Down the middle of it ran the finely constructed stone conduit carrying fresh water.
In this subterranean corridor, King Chaac and Princess Monja waited with their subjects.
The entrancing young Mayan princess had retained her nerve remarkably well during the attack. Her golden skin was a trifle pale, but there was no nervousness in her manner. One again, Doc was reminded that although she was a young woman, she was nobility. She looked as though a strong wind would blow her over, but when crisis threatened her people, she was immobile!
King Chaac was maintaining a mien befitting a ruler.
Doc drew the aged Mayan sovereign aside. “Would you care to guide Johnny, Monk and myself into the depths of this cavern?”
The Mayan hesitated. “I would, gladly! But my people,” he sought for words, “they might think I had deserted them in their need.”
That was good reasoning, Doc thought. He had about decided to go on alone with Monk and Johnny when King Chaac spoke again.
“My daughter, Princess Monja, knows as much of these underground passages as I do. She can guide you.”
That was agreeable to all three. It seemed very welcome to Princess Monja, too. They set off at once.
“This has the appearance of having been built and used centuries ago,” Doc offered, running a firm hand along the smooth tunnel wall.
Princess Monja nodded. “It was. When the Mayan race was in its glory, rulers of this great region, they built this tunnel and the pyramid outside. A hundred thousand men were kept working steadily through the span of many lifetimes, according to the history handed down to my father and myself.”
Johnny murmured wonderingly. Johnny had been taking notes on bits of little-known Mayan lore, intending to write a book if he ever got time. He probably never would, he reflected sadly. The book would be complete in his mind without ever seeing a publisher. But what wonders the world would learn from it if they could!
Princess Monja continued. “This has been a guarded secret for centuries. It has been handed down through the rulers of the Mayans in the Valley of the Vanished. Only the rulers! Until a few minutes ago, when the attack came, only my father and myself knew of it.”
“But why all the secrecy?” Johnny inquired.
“Because word of its existence might reach beyond our small paradise.”
“Huh?” Johnny was puzzled.
Princess Monja smiled slyly. “Wait. I will show you why knowledge that this existed would inflame the outside world.”
They had reached the upswing in the tunnel, having covered many hundred yards. Doc knew they were far under the walls of the chasm that hid the Valley of the Vanished.
Suddenly Princess Monja halted. She pointed and spoke in a voice low and husky.
“There is the reason! There is the gold you are to have, Mr. Savage. The gold you are to expend in doing good throughout the world!”
Johnny and Monk were staring. Their eyes popped. They were stunned until they could not even voice astonishment. Monk was rarely at a loss for words, but the enticing princess had his number.
DOC SAVAGE himself, in spite of his marvelous self-control, felt his head swim.
It was unbelievable!
Before them, the corridor had widened. It became a vast room. Walls, floor and roof were comprised of solid rock and the weight of the mountain seems to press down on the silent group. The rock showed veinings of gold. It was the same kind of rock of which the pyramid was made, softly glimmering by torchlight.
But it was not this that stunned them.
It was the row after row of deep niches cut into the walls. Literally hundreds of thousands of cupboardlike recesses marched beyond view. In each was stacked golden vessels, plaques, goblets, amulets. Everything the ancient Mayans had made of the precious yellow metal was on display, although no foreign eyes had seen it for time beyond memory.
“This is the storeroom,” said Princess Monja in a low voice. “Legend has it forty thousand artisans were continuously employed making the articles, which were then placed here.”
Doc, Monk, and Johnny hardly heard her. Sight of this fabulous wealth had knocked them blind, deaf, and dumb to everything else.
For the niches held only a fraction of the hoard. It lay on the floor in heaps. Great stacks of the raw, rich gold. And the treasure cavern stretched far beyond the limits to which their rudimentary lamp projected its light.
Doc shut his eyes tightly. His bronze lips worked. He was experiencing one of the great moments of his life.
Here was wealth beyond dream. The ransom of kings. But no king could ever pay a ransom such as this. It was enough to buy and sell realms.
Doc’s brain raced. This was the legacy his father had left him. He was to use it in the cause to which his life was dedicated; to go here and there, from all points of the globe and to places still undiscovered, looking for excitement and adventure; striving to help those who need help; punishing those who deserve it.
To what better use could it be put?
Pretty Princess Monja, in whose life here in the Valley of the Vanished, gold meant not a thing, spoke.
“The metal was taken from deeper within the mountain. Much yet remains, legend says. Much more, indeed, than you see stacked here.”
Gradually, the three adventurers snapped the trance which had seized them. They moved forward.
Ahead of them ran the stone pipe which fed water to the pyramid pool.
Monk started to count his steps the length of the treasure vault. He got to three hundred and lost track, his faculties upset by looking at so much gold. The piles seemed to get higher, the artifacts more expertly crafted.
Their route narrowed abruptly. The tunnel floor slanted upward steeply. A couple of hundred feet, they nearly crawled. Then they came to a tiny lake, where the stone pipe ended. This was in a small room.
The walls of this room had been but partially hewn by human hands. Water had excavated a great deal. The stream ran on the floor.
Ahead stretched the cavern. It seemed to go on infinitely.
Doc now realized the cavern was partially the work of the underground stream. It probably extended for miles. Originally, the Mayans had found gold in the stream mouth. They had ventured into the cavern, knowing it must have washed out of there.
And they had found this fabulous lode.
PRINCESS MONJA put a query. “Do you wish to go on?”
“Of course,” Doc replied. “We are seeking an outlet. Some manner in which the Mayans can escape starvation or surrender.”
“Phooey to surrendering to that clown,” Monk said. “He didn’t seem too interested in taking prisoners.”
Princess Monja lowered her eyes. “You speak truly. Something has poisoned his heart against his people. As a warrior he was to protect the valley. It is a hard duty, and often deadly, but one which he took seriously.”
“Then why the stampede to put holes in his kin?” Johnny asked.
“That I cannot say,” she answered. “The lives he was charged to protect now seem like nothing to him. Just flames to be snuffed out in his madness.” The captivating woman shot Doc a look full of meaning. “But insanity will not spare him when he has to answer to me.”
They continued into the depths. The air was quite cool. There was a wide path, hewn by human hands.
Sizable stalagmites, like icicles of stone growing upward from the path’s middle, showed convincingly that ages had passed since feet had last trod here.
Often, great rocks nearly blocked the trail. They had fallen from the ceiling. And everywhere, gold inlaid the stone in an ore of fantastic richness.
Doc thought Renny would have to explore this stretch for himself. His engineering mind would thrill at seeing the simple yet effective irrigation system. But more importantly he would be able to determine if the tunnel was at risk for a cave in. It didn’t seem likely. After all, the stream had carved this stretch eons ago, and the rock was durable. But knowing the vast riches it guarded, he wanted to be sure.
Two hours, they toiled ahead. By then, they had gotten beyond the area of rich ore. There was no path now. No gold glistened in the stone.
The way grew more tortuous. The character of the rock walls changed. Johnny stopped often to examine the formations. Monk ranged off into every cranny they came to, hoping to find an exit.
“There is one, somewhere,” Doc declared. “Not far off, either.”
“How can you tell?” Princess Monja wanted to know.
Doc indicated the flame of their torch. It was blowing about in a manner that showed a distinct breeze.
Johnny dropped behind as far as he could, and still kept them in sight. In darkness as he was, he knew he would be more liable to discover an opening into the outer sunlight.
For the same reason, Monk went ahead. The hairy anthropoid of a fellow had more confidence in his ability to get over unknown ground.
Doc was himself an interested observer of the formations of rock through which they were now passing. A villainous, yellowish-gray deposit attracted him. He scratched it with a thumbnail, and burned a little in the torch flame.
“Sulphur,” he said aloud. “Not too surprising considering the strata we’ve passed through.”
But no solution to their troubles presented.
They came soon to a rather large side cavern. The formation was mostly limestone here.
While they waited, Johnny ventured up the side cavern to explore for an opening. Five minutes passed. Ten.
Johnny returned, shaking his head. “No luck!” He shrugged.
He was juggling a white, crystalline bit of substance in a hand.
Doc looked at this. “Let me inspect that, Johnny.”
“Sure thing, Doc.” Said Johnny. “But don’t get your hopes up. I thought it was a crystal shard, something sharp we could whip up a few spears out of. But it crumbles under pressure. There’s a whole vein of the stuff up ahead, but it’s useless to us.”
Johnny passed it over. Doc touched the end to his tongue. It had a saline taste.
“Saltpeter,” he said. “Not pure, but pure enough.”
“For what?” Johnny murmured.
Doc recited a formula: “Saltpeter, charcoal, and sulphur. I noticed the sulphur back a short distance. We can burn wood and get the charcoal. What does that add up to?”
Johnny got it. “Gun powder!”
Even as he exclaimed the word, they received fresh cause for elation.
Monk had gone ahead a hundred yards, exploring. His howl of delight came bouncing back along the tunnel walls.
“I see a hole!”
MONK’S hole proved to be a crack in a boulder of considerable size. Sunlight blazed through.
Doc, Princess Monja, Johnny, and Monk clambered up to it. They found crude steps, proof the ancient Mayans had known of this exit. They sidled cautiously outside, squinting in the sun’s glare.
They stood on a shelf. Above, to each side, and below, stretched a sheer wall of rock. It looked almost vertical.
But a close inspection showed a procession of steps leading downward. Only from close range could these be discovered. They offered a way to safety, precarious though it might be.
Doc addressed his companions: “Monk, you go back inside and start work on that Sulphur deposit. Get it out as rapidly as you can. Select the purest stuff.” He told Monk where he had noticed the gritty, yellow material.
“Johnny, you harvest a supply of the saltpeter. Was there much of it?”
“Quite a little,” Johnny admitted. “Enough that it got my hopes up when I saw big crystals of the stuff. I stopped looking for more when I realized how brittle they were. But I could dig out a few pounds of the stuff easy.”
“Dig it out. I think it is pure enough for our purpose. If we could refine it, we’d be better off. But we’re going to have to take what we can in its natural state.”
Doc turned to Princess Monja whose quick mind was following the conversation, even though she’d never heard half the words before today. He hesitated, then said: “Monja, you’ve been a brick.”
“What’s that?” she asked. Evidently her supply of English slang was limited.
“A wonderful girl,” Doc grinned. “Now, will you do something else. Your people are brave, but even they can’t hold out forever. If you help it will save us precious time.”
She smiled. “I will do anything you say.”
The unmistakable adoration in her voice escaped Doc’s notice.
He directed: “Return to the Mayans gathered under the pyramid. Select the most powerful and active among the men, and send them here, along with Long Tom, Renny, and Ham.”
“I understand,” she nodded.
“One thing more, send along a number of those gold vases. Select those with thick walls, very heavy. Say about fifty of them. Tell Renny, Long Tom, and Ham I want to make bombs out of them. They will know which ones will serve best.”
“Bombs of gold!” Monk gulped.
“The only thing handy,” Doc pointed out. “And when the men reach you fellows, load them up with the saltpeter and sulphur.”
Before departing, Johnny asked a question. “You sure you know where we are? The Valley of the Vanished ain’t exactly short, and all those rock slabs look the same. I’m not sure if we trudged a mile or 20 in this prehistoric subway.”
Doc smiled and pointed. There was another wall of rock opposite them a few hundred yards. A thousand feet or so below poured a rushing stream.
“We’re in the bottleneck where we first sighted the valley. The Valley of the Vanished lies upstream and it can’t be very far.”
“I guess it just seemed longer with us getting slapped around by turbulence the whole way in,” Monk grumbled.
“We might have discovered a rare instance where travelling on foot is better than air,” suggested Doc.
Johnny, impatient, said: “Come on, Princess. Come on, Monk. Let’s get going!”
WHEN the three had left, Doc made his way along the precarious steps to more level footing. He found a patch of jungle. Gathering armfuls of fallen branches, he selected a spot for making his charcoal where the smoke would not be noticed.
The charcoal oven he built of stone and mortar. Two rocks flinty enough to spark a fire could not be located. So, with a leather string from his mantle, and a curved stick, he made a fire bow. This twirled a stick until friction started a tiny glow. In a moment a dully glowing red ember sprung to life.
The charcoal-manufacturing process was well under way when his friends appeared. They had about a hundred of the most manly Mayan in tow. And from the way they were laden with golden jars, they might have thought they would not have another chance at the fabulous wealth.
The making of charcoal was tedious, but Renny and Monk flung themselves at it knowing its importance. Work on the saltpeter and Sulphur called for a great deal of Doc’s vast ingenuity and knowledge.
All that afternoon and through the night, they prepared and mixed.
“We won’t rush it,” Doc explained. “This time we want to settle this red-fingered warrior menace for once and all.”
He was ominously silent a bit, then added: “And one in particular—the man in the snake suit.”
Runners were dispatched back through the long reaches of the treasure cavern to its termination beneath the Mayan pyramid. They reported the defenders holding out successfully although the assaults were getting bolder.
“They have repulsed several attacks,” one messenger brought notice. “One of the fire-spitting snakes the red-fingered men are using brought hurt to our ruler, King Chaac, though.”
“Is he hurt bad?” Doc demanded.
“In the leg only. He cannot walk about. But otherwise, he is not in bad shape.”
“Who has charge of the defense?” Doc wanted to know.
“Princess Monja.” Was the instant respose.
Monk, who had overheard, grinned from ear to ear. “Now there is a girl!”
The Mayan runner could guess what Monk had said in English, the complimentary tone ringing clearly in any language. The native swelled with pride.
The bombs were rapidly pushed to completion. Obsidian, glasslike rock flakes were placed in the gold jars. A quantity of the powder was poured in to from a core. The gold, being pure and soft, permitted the jars to be sealed together at the top by pounding the edges together. The pounding was done carefully.
Fuses were a problem. Doc solved that by selecting lengths of a tough tropical vine which had a soft middle. Using long, hardwood twigs, he poked out the core, leaving a hollow tube. One of these he left extending down into the powder of each bomb.
Making use of his vast fund of knowledge, Doc concocted a slow-burning variety of the gunpowder. He filled the improvised fuses with this substance, after making experiments to see what lengths were effective.
With the first silvery glow of dawn, Doc gathered the natives and his men into a counterattack. He’d worked through the night, exercising his brain and taxing his stamina. Even so, his step was sure and movements quick. He gave no sign that he hadn’t slept since for over 24 hours.
Some of the Mayans were familiar with the trail into the Valley of the Vanished. It seemed these men had travelled the narrow cut to further relations with surrounding natives, who, though not pure Mayans after the passage of these centuries, were of Mayan ancestry. Hence the friendship with the lost clan.
Through the treacherous entrance to the valley, the grim little cavalcade worked. One of the men walking point looked around at the high walls, clearly searching for something he expected to see, but wasn’t there. The native cast a worried look at Doc, and seemed eager to talk but hesitant at the same time. Doc singled him out and quickly learned the problem. There was no lookout posted at the chasm path, the first time that had happened in centuries, the Mayan said.
Since the lookouts were usually red-fingered warriors, Doc understood how the snake man had been able to come and go unnoticed.
The distant crack of gunfire alerted Monk and Johnny how close they were to the city. Soon the landscape looked familiar. The crystal lake widened before them. They were back at the ancient city.
Without revealing themselves to the besieging warriors, they closed in with grim determination. The Mayans understood how to light the bombs. They carried smoldering pieces of punklike wood.
At Doc’s signal, an even dozen bombs rained upon the red-fingered killers.
THE GOLDEN DEATH
THUNDEROUS explosions of those twelve bombs was the only warning those of the warrior sect had of the attack.
Doc had apportioned three explosive missiles to each of the four emplaced machine guns. He had instructed his Mayan followers in the art of hurling grenades. They had taken instruction well and applied themselves wholly to the task. Just how well was instantly evident.
All four rapid-fire guns went out of commission in deafening blasts.
The devilish warriors, rent and torn by the obsidian shrapnel, were blown high into the air. Many perished instantly, paying full measure for their murderous attack on the Mayan citizenry during the ceremonials.
But enough savages remained to put up a fierce fight, aided by stolen guns which had once belonged to Doc and his friends.
With piercing howls, the Mayans fell upon the surviving rascals. They bombed them wherever four or five clustered together.
Monk had picked up two stout clubs en route. One in either hand, he laid about with terrific results.
Renny needed no more than his great iron fists. Long Tom, Ham, and Johnny stood off and pitched bombs wherever opportunity presented.
Doc, his golden eyes seeming to take in the entire battlefield at a glance, moved back and forth through the combat always being where he was needed most. Time after time, red-fingered fiends dropped before his skill and strength without even knowing what manner of blow had downed them.
The great stone likeness of Kukulcan atop the pyramid gave a sudden lurch to one side, uncovering the secret entrance to the mammoth treasure vault of ancient Maya.
Tribesmen poured out. Roaring for vengeance on the red-fingered ones, they poured down the pyramid stairs. Their raised warcry easily audible over the earsplitting concussions. These men and women weren’t warriors and were untrained in combat. Still, no one could doubt their spirit or their intent. Rocks, sticks, anything handy, they seized for the fray.
A spike of steel poked furtively out of a clump of jungle shrubs. It was the snout of a machine gun. It snarled two shots, four—
A bronze hand closed on the warming barrel. A hand with the strength of alloy steel and a grip like a car compactor. It yanked the gun from its concealment. The gunman, a finger unluckily snagged in the trigger guard, was hauled out of the tropical foliage.
The red dyed digits announced the gunman was a warrior. The man probably never saw it was Doc Savage who had seized the weapon. A block of bronze knuckles belted the man’s temple. He went to his spirit hunting grounds as suddenly as a Mayan man ever did.
Doc was satisfied with the counterattack, but also disappointed. He had hoped to get the snake man or Morning Breeze. The machine gun was one of Doc’s own weapons. He tossed it to Renny.
Rapidly, Doc flashed among the combatants. His showed no exhaustion and fought with masterful ability. But even as he set about, it was clear his full attention wasn’t on the mayhem swirling around him. He showed fight only when tackled. Then the consequences were invariably disastrous.
Doc was hunting the man masquerading in the serpent skin. He wanted Morning Breeze, too. Both had warranted his wrath.
DOC perceived shortly that the snake man and Morning Breeze were not taking part in the battle.
With this discovery, Doc slid through a knot of warriors and was quickly swallowed up by the luxuriant tropical leafage. He had an idea the two leaders were skulking somewhere nearby until they saw the outcome of the battle. Around the scene of the engagement, Doc skirted. No one saw him.
Fully half of the exhausted warrior clan had now perished. The Mayan populace, terribly incensed, were giving no quarter. The sect of warriors was being wiped out to a man.
Nowhere about the battlefield could Doc find the two he sought.
He began a second search in a wider circumference, and picked up the trail. The tracks of two men scuffed the packed earth. The mark left by the dragging serpent tail identified them with certainty.
Like a comet through a turbulent sky, Doc followed the signs. Most of the tracks would have been lost to the eye of an ordinary observer. The snake man and Morning Breeze had taken the greatest care to conceal them, even in flight. They crossed rocky gullies. They even waded a distance along the shore of a lake, only emerging from the cool water when a strand of thick grass went right to the water’s edge.
It was plain the pair had taken to their feet the moment their cause was lost. Having threatened, bullied and blackmailed the fighting clan to destruction, they now left them to die alone.
The tracks wound but always turned towards the narrow exit leading out of the Valley of the Vanished. The bottleneck which guarded the shadowy valley from the outside world provided their only escape route. Even with modern climbing gear, it was unlikely that even the most seasoned rock climber would have been able to top the cliffs. Attempting to hunker down in the jungle might delay their discovery by a few days, but never escape it completely.
Doc suddenly abandoned the tracks snaking through the undergrowth. He had been moving swiftly, but it was like the wind he now traveled. He knew whence they were bound and made for it. Like a bronze javelin, he sped straight for the chasm exit.
Even so, the snake man and Morning Breeze beat him there.
The villainous pair had been running past the point of collapse. They had perspired, leaving the smell of sweat on rocks they scrabbled over. So precarious was the route that they were continually clutching handholds as they half ran and half staggered through the brush.
Into the chasm, Doc swung. He traversed fifty yards then stopped to kick off his high-backed Mayan sandals. He needed a delicate touch on this fearsome trail. The way slanted upward.
A few hundred feet below, the little stream threshed and plunged. So tortuous was his channel that the water became a great, snarling rope of white foam.
Doc caught sight of his quarry. The pair were ahead, each trying to leave the other behind. Some ancient sense of self-preservation must have gripped them for they looked back, discovered Doc the same time he spotted them.
Over the sizzling blast of water through the chasm, Morning Breeze’s scream of terror penetrated. It was a piping wail of fear.
The snake man still wore his paraphernalia. Probably there had not been time to take it off. He wheeled at Morning Breeze’s shriek.
Evidently they thought Doc had a gun.
Morning Breeze, cowardly soul that he was, sought madly to get past the snake man. There was not room on the trail for that.
Angered, the snake man slugged Morning Breeze. The Mayan warrior chief fought back blindly, flailing madly about as though trying to strike the very air itself. The fellow in the serpent garb struck again catching the panicked warrior square in the stomach.
Morning Breeze was knocked off the trail.
OVER and over spun the squat, vicious Mayan’s body. It struck a rock spur. If his ancient, pagan gods were kind, Morning Breeze probably died then. If so, he was saved the terror of watching the rock-fanged bottom of the abyss reach for him. The foaming river was like slaver on those ravenous stone teeth.
Thus, indirectly, did mere terror of Doc bring death to Morning Breeze.
The snake man stumbled onward. He had one of Doc’s modified pistol like machine guns. It could be seen hanging at his belt as he tore down the crumbling path. The garbed man did not try to use it. No doubt he thought he would let Doc get closer.
The chase resumed. Doc did not go as swiftly now, but never let the man out of his sight. He was unarmed and fresh whereas his prey was rapidly running out of steam. Still, a chance shove could send him over the drop which would finish him as surely as a bullet.
His great brain sought a plan.
An agonizing mile was traversed, then two. The chasm walls became less steep and wispy lichen grew wherever it could find purchase. The stone was crisscrossed with tiny weathered cracks, most of these no wider than a pencil mark.
Doc suddenly angled off the trail. Seeing the fissures, he had an idea.
Upward, he worked. Where seemingly no possible foothold offered, he clung like a fly. His steel fingers, his mobile and powerful feet, somehow found solid support where the eye said there was none. Doc could make the barest projection support his weight, thanks to his highly developed sense of balance.
The speed he made was astounding. Nearly a thousand feet above the snake man, Doc passed the fellow. He went on. His course now descended, so as to intercept his quarry.
Doc found the sort of a spot he sought. The trail rounded a sharp curtain of rock. A thousand feet below, hundreds above, was almost vertical stone. Doc waited around the angle.
Before long, he heard the hard, rattling breath of the snake man. The fellow was nearly exhausted. His tread was faltering on the path.
The man was looking back as he came around the angle in the trail, trying to spot the incredible man who had clung to him like a bronze shadow.
Doc reached out a great, muscular hand. The long, powerful fingers closed over the snake man’s gun belt. An abrupt yank and the gun belt snapped before that tremendous strength. Doc tossed gun and belt into the abyss.
Only when he felt the terrific wrench about his middle did the snake man turn his cloaked head and discover Doc. He had thought his Nemesis was behind him. From behind the shadowed cowl, Doc plainly saw the whites of the man’s stunned eyes.
As though moving of their own volition, the man’s arms reached up and removed his serpent-head mask.
THERE was terrible silence for a moment.
Then, coming from everywhere, and yet nowhere, arose a low trilling sound. Like the song of some exotic bird it was, or the sound of wind filtering through pinnacles of ice. It had an amazing quality of ventriloquism seeming to come from the sky itself.
Even looking directly at Doc’s lips, one would not realize from whence the sound emanated.
It was doubtful if Doc even knew he was making the sound. For it was the small, unconscious thing he did in moments of utter concentration. It could mean many things. Just now it was a sign of victory.
The godlike dispassion of the terrible melody made the snake man trembles from head to foot. The fellow’s mouth flapped like a broken hinge, but words would not come. He took a backward step.
Doc did not move. But his inexorable golden eyes seemed to project themselves toward his quarry. They were merciless. They chilled. They shriveled. They promised awful things.
Those eyes, far better than words could have, told the snake man what he could expect.
The costumed man tried to speak again. He tried to make his nerveless legs carry him in flight. He couldn’t. Like a nocturnal scavenger startled by a sudden light, he froze.
Finally, by a tremendous effort, he did the one thing that could get him away from those terrifying eyes of Doc’s.
The snake man jumped from the cleft.
Slowly, his body spun on its way to death. The face was a pale, grotesque mask.
It was the face of Don Rubio Gorro, secretary of state of the republic of Hidalgo.
GREAT was the jubilation when Doc Savage returned to his Mayan friends in the Valley of the Vanished. Doc’s five men gave him a rousing welcome. King Chaac’s wound looked gristly, but proved to be insufficient in slowing the hearty man down. He joined in the boisterous celebration.
“We cleaned the slate!” Monk grinned. “Not a red-fingered warrior survived.”
Elderly King Chaac put in with a firm declaration. “The sect of red-fingered men will never be permitted to revive. Henceforth, we shall punish minor criminals by making them mine the gold. Of our citizens, only those most fit through temperament or steely nerves will do whatever fighting has to be done.”
So jovial did the Mayans feel that they insisted the ceremony of inducting Doc and his friends into the clan be picked up at once where it had been interrupted.
The rituals went through without a hitch.
“This makes us members of the lodge,” Ham chuckled, eyeing the gaudy Mayan trappings they wore. Fresh clothing had been supplied, since even the most durable ceremonial gear had been no match for golden grenades or subterranean exploration.
Renny, whom Doc had dispatched to check over their plane, returned looking better than he had in days. Grease was now under his fingernails and motor oil staining one pantleg where he’d carelessly kneeled in a puddle of the stuff. He was in his element and couldn’t be happier.
“The ship is O.K.,” he reported. “And thanks to the big supply of gasoline we started out with, there’s plenty left to take us to Blanco Grande.”
“You are not leaving so soon?” King Chaac inquired, clearly surprised.
The entrancing Princess Monja, standing near, looked as disappointed as a pretty young lady could.
Doc did not answer immediately. It was with genuine unwillingness that he had resolved to depart at once. This Valley of the Vanished was an idyllic spot in which to tarry. One could not desire more comforts than it offered.
“I would like to remain,” he smiled at the Mayan sovereign. “But there is the work to which my life and the lives of my friends are dedicated. We must carry on, regardless of personal desires.”
“That is true,” King Chaac admitted slowly. “It is the cause to which goes the gold from the treasure-trove of ancient Maya. Have you any further instructions about how the wealth should be moved? We will send it by burro train to Blanco Grande, to whoever you designate as your agent.”
“To Carlos Avispa, President of Hidalgo,” Doc supplied. “It would be difficult to find a more honorable man than he. I shall designate him my agent.”
“Very well,” nodded the Mayan, satisfied.
Doc repeated the other details. “A third of the gold I shall use to establish a gigantic trust fund in America. It shall be for the Mayan people, to be used should they ever have need of it. One fifth goes to the government of Hidalgo. The rest is for my cause.”
Preparations for departure now got under way.
Long Tom, the electrical wizard, at Doc’s command, rigged a radio receiving set in the palace of the Mayan sovereign. The current for this was supplied by a small generator and water wheel which Long Tom installed beside the stream flowing from the pyramid top. He made the work very solid. The set should function perfectly for years. He left spare tubes and instructed the King in their use.
With long-lasting ink, Doc made a mark on the radio dial. This designated a certain wave length very high up the band.
“Tune in at that spot every seventh day,” Doc instructed King Chaac. “Do so at the hour when the sun stands directly above the Valley of the Vanished. You will hear my voice sometimes. But not always, by any means. I shall broadcast to you at that hour, but only if there is something of great import happening which will affect your people. If I’m ever in danger or need, I’ll broadcast then as well. But you have my word that I’ll do everything possible to keep your existence secret.”
King Chaac took careful note of the frequency mark. “But you are one of us now, united by ritual and by spirit. A danger to you demands an answer.” He continued on, “If a serpent bites a tribesman, do his neighbors leave him to die? If a Mayan woman is lost in the jungle, do my people ignore her cries? How can we not share your danger as we share your triumph here?”
Doc put a strong, bronze hand on the elder’s shoulder. “How can I accomplish what I need to do, knowing it would expose you to risk, and endanger the people I am proud to call my own? You must trust me in this.”
“It shall be done,” agreed the Mayan ruler.
PRETTY PRINCESS MONJA was a sensible girl. She saw the bronzed, handsome Doc Savage was not for her. So she made the best of it. Bravely, she hid her disappointment within her bosom.
She even discussed it philosophically with homely Monk.
“I suppose he will find some American girl,” she finished, with a catch.
“Now you listen,” Monk said seriously. “There won’t be any women in Doc’s life. If there was, you’d be the one. Doc has come nearer falling for you than for any other girl. And some pippins have tried to snare Doc.”
“Is that the truth?” Princess Monja asked coyly.
“So help my Aunt Hannah if it ain’t!” Monk declared.
Then Monk got the shock of his eventful life. Princess Monja suddenly kissed him. Then she fled.
Monk stared after her, grinning from ear to ear, carefully tasting the young Mayan princess’s kiss on his lips.
“Gosh! What Doc is passin’ up!” he sighed.
Two days later, Doc Savage and his five men took their departure. Their sturdy plane battled the air currents up and out of the Valley of the Vanished.
Their regret at leaving the idyllic paradise was assuaged by the thought of what was ahead of them. The yearning for adventure and excitement warmed them like cognac on a cold night. Wealth untold was in their hands. It was ample for even their great purpose in life.
Many parts of the world would see the coming of this bronze man and his five friends of iron. Many a human fiend would rue the day he pitted himself against them. Countless rightful causes would receive help from their powerful hands and superbly trained minds.
Long Tom, Renny and Johnny tossed fantasies back and forth about how the piles of gold should be spent. Monk and Ham did the same, but with the aim of one-upping each other’s imaginations. Gold had cast its spell on the lot but not with greed. To them the windfall let them cast their nets for adventure further than they’d ever imagined.
The low slung plane surged towards new, considerably expanded horizons.
Doc Savage, scrapper supreme, with his five companions, comes into a new, weird conflict with man and nature—and an evil mind.
Almost before Doc’s very eyes, one of his dearest friends dissolves into the air! Doc’s own companions are captured and threatened with death; Doc himself is almost vanquished.
Such are the experiences these intrepid fellows undergo in
*“The Land Of Terror” *
The second episode in the exploits of Doc and his companions, which is told, in a complete book-length novel, in the September issue of DOC SAVAGE MAGAZINE.
From one of our largest industrial plants, to a pirate ship anchored at the very edge of our greatest metropolis; across the sea to a land not forgotten, but entirely unknown—such is the trail that leads you through page after page of thrilling, fighting, exciting experiences. Never a moment of peace, of security. Danger all about, and death at each turn!
You’ll thrill to it; you’ll want more of it.
And it will be complete in the September issue, together with plenty of short stories that will give you a real kick.
DOC SAVAGE MAGAZINE
The Modern Magazine—Ten Cents a Copy
On Sale Every Third Friday
September Number at Your News Stand Friday, August 18th
A preface from the metallurgist, If you are the sort of person who ignores the useless author preface portion of a book and plunges right into the story, then don’t let me stop you. This part is usually self-serving twaddle anyway. I mean, I’m calling myself ‘the metallurgist’, so that doesn’t bode well for the next few paragraphs. Does it? Doc Savage stories aren’t, in my opinion and the opinion of anyone else who reads above a third grade level, flawlessly written. Reading them is a comical grind. They have a weird sort of charm, and unique voice, but it’s still a voice that often makes you wince in embarrassment as you turn the page. So while making the effort to format the manly Savage for ebook readers, I’m investing the time to burnish that paragon of masculinity. Hence: Burnished Bronze : The Man of Bronze. Same to you. Remember what I said earlier about ‘twaddle’. I warned you. Before I forget, I’m leaving the action alone. It’s all here, jammed on each page. I’m also not touching the, frankly, anglocentric casual racism and general misogyny. I want to clean up the grammar, not police Doc’s words. Since you’ve made it this far, there’s nothing left to do than unleash the story at you. Prepare to grow hair on your chest and walk a little taller, a little prouder, a little more American – knowing that Doc Savage is continuing his tireless life’s work of seeking adventure, helping those who need it and punishing those who deserve it.