The Avenger 3 - The Sky Walker (7 page)

BOOK: The Avenger 3 - The Sky Walker
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Every ring at phone or doorbell might be the preliminary to some murder attempt.

This ring seemed all right, however.

“A Mr. Carlisle to speak to Miss Gray,” came the voice of the hotel’s switchboard operator. “Concerning Mr. Benson,” she added.

Then the voice of the man in question.

“Miss Gray?” He spoke urgently, hurriedly. “May I come up for a moment? I have an important message for you, from Mr. Benson. Or, if you like, you can come down to the lobby.”

Nellie decided on the first suggestion.

“Come up, please.”

The elevator boys, drilled by Smitty, had a code when they stopped at this top floor occupied only by Benson and his associates. When they brought someone up, they were to clang the door for every passenger in the car. They were to stop the cage just a bit off line, start to open the door, clang it shut and send the cage up or down a fraction to correct the mistake. It was easy and unsuspicious. One clang for a single visitor, two for a couple, three for more than that.

Nellie heard the door clang only once. Then there were quick steps, and a tap at their door. Josh opened it. He had slid into his role of a sleepy, harmless Negro.

“Yas, suh?” he said inquiringly.

“To see Miss Gray,” came a man’s voice. Then the man stepped in.

He was young and well dressed and blond. He looked like a bank teller or some such person. He turned quickly to Nellie Gray, hat in hand.

“I’m John Carlisle, private secretary to the superintendent of the Catawbi Railroad,” he said. “I was sent here by Mr. Benson, with orders to come and get you and a certain chemical he wants, and return as soon as possible. He is out along the roadbed and needs it.”

“The chemical?” Nellie asked.

“Some concentrated sulphuric acid. He wants to make a rough analysis of the track steel. You’re to come, too, because he intends to stay in the town of Rosemont, nearby, overnight, and has work for all of you in the early morning.”

Wherever Benson went, three large trunks went with him. In the trunks, which were miracles of compactness, were racks of chemicals and of delicate apparatus. It was a complete traveling laboratory.

Nellie Gray hurried to one of the opened trunks and got a vial of the super-sulphuric mentioned by the man. It was deadly, terribly stuff, this concentrated acid.

She glanced at Josh in indecision. His quick intelligence caught her unspoken question.

“If Mistah Benson wants ever-body to be on hand early in the mohnin’,” Josh said sleepily, “mebbe me an’ mah wife oughta come ’long with Miss Gray.”

Carlisle shook his head. “Mr. Benson said you were to stay and take any phone calls that might come.”

“But if he wants
of us—”

Carlisle seemed unconcerned.

“I’ll leave that up to you. Mr. Benson said for you to stay. But if you feel you should join him, that, of course, is your lookout. I’m not familiar with his methods.”

“You’d better stay, Josh,” Nellie said. She was hurriedly putting on a poker chip of a hat and thrusting the little vial of concentrated sulphuric acid into her purse.

She caught up the sensational newspaper on the way out. At the elevator, she showed it to the man.

“Has Mr. Benson seen this, do you know?” she said.

Carlisle shrugged.

“I don’t know. But I wouldn’t put much stock in it, myself. An enemy invasion! It seems pretty ridiculous.”

They went down through the crowded lobby and to the street. Carlisle’s sedan was near the door. It was black, streaked with the dust of the dune region.

“We’ll go by car to South Chicago and by speedboat from there,” Carlisle said. “That’s the fastest way. Will you sit in the back, Miss Gray?”

Nellie nodded, and got into the rear of the car. Carlisle slid under the wheel, and the sedan began humming south over the boulevards. They got out to South Chicago in short order, and turned toward the lake.

And suddenly Nellie felt herself growing overpoweringly sleepy!

It was such a natural feeling of drowsiness that for a few seconds she didn’t question it. But after that, she felt wild alarm flood through her. Something was the matter! Something was happening!

She tried to get up, and couldn’t. She fumbled weakly for the handle of the rear window, but her fingers fell from it after a bare touch.

She saw that Carlisle, at the wheel, had the lapel of his coat up and that his head was twisted sideways. He was breathing through the lapel. Probably the fabric had been chemically treated to counteract whatever fumes were making her so sleepy.

She saw the lake, at the street end ahead. And then she slumped against the side of the car with her sleek gold hair against the window.

But Nellie Gray wasn’t quite out.

The rear windows of the sedan were of the type which slide backward an inch, with a turn of the handle, and then lower.

Her one touch at the window handle had slid the glass back a quarter of an inch or so. And when she slumped, she managed to do so in a manner that brought her pert nose to this crack.

So she was not quite unconscious when the car stopped at a small, rickety dock, but she might as well have been, for the fumes had made her too weak to put up a fight.

At the dock there was a motor cruiser almost large enough to be called a yacht. Two men were on deck. They grinned at Carlisle as he opened the car door. They were hard-looking customers, but in Carlisle’s smooth face was now a look harder even than theirs.

“Got her, huh?” said one of the men as Carlisle picked Nellie up and carried her to the cruiser. The speaker caught the girl rough by the arms and dragged her over the rail and aboard. “Good going! Now we’ve got ’em
in a bag.”

Carlisle went back to the sedan.

“See you at the ferry,” he said. “So long.”

The sedan moved off and the boat moved out. It was getting along toward dusk. One of the men lit the boat’s riding lights. The other stepped to where Nellie lay.

She was drawing in lungfuls of fresh air, and was snapping out of it rapidly. But not rapidly enough! She still hadn’t the strength to put up a battle.

The man picked her up like a sack of meal and took her below. She felt herself dropped into darkness. Forward, she heard the loud roar of the marine motor and knew she was very close to it. Under her, right next to her ear, it seemed, she heard the rush of water as the boat forced itself ahead at thirty miles an hour.

Over her, the last crack of light went out as a stout hatch was closed. She was held in the tiny hold of the cruiser, caught as securely as any prisoner behind bars in a penitentiary.

Carlisle’s demand for her to bring a chemical to Benson had been just natural enough for her to be caught off guard. And it looked as if she were going to pay bitterly for that.

Death—Odds-On Favorite!

Fergus MacMurdie had a most peculiar trait. When everything was going smoothly, it was his dour Scotch nature to predict the most dreadful things that were sure to happen any minute. Always he looked on the gloomy side of life.

But when an emergency arose in which these seemed no conceivable way out, he grew almost cheerful, and predicted sure success.

On the work train, Smitty’s gigantic muscles were writhing and straining against his bonds as he stared out the window. Free, and with a good purchase for back and arms and shoulders, he might possibly have broken the rope. But in his cramped position a solid inch of good new hemp was a good deal too much, even for him.

“We’re sunk,” he said, looking out the window at the scenery flashing past. “Those guys said we’d hit seventy. My guess is we’re topping even that speed. And when we hit that sharp curve—”

“Whoosh, mon,” said Mac, straining at his own ropes, “we’ll come out of this. We’ve come out of worse.”

“You’re nothing but a disgusting Pollyanna,” snapped Smitty.

“And ye’re just an overgrown schoolboy who gives up at the first lick of teacher’s ruler on the back of yer hand,” burred Mac.

“Oh, I am, am I!” In his indignation, Smitty almost broke free.

Behind them the overstrained switch engine roared like a tortured bull, with its drive wheels turning so fast they were mere blurs. And Smitty thought of something else. Something adding no cheer whatever to the scene.

“Those two flatcars loaded with rails!” he said suddenly.

“What about ’em?” said Mac.

“When we go off the track, the car we’re in will bury itself and stop—but the rails on those flatcars won’t! They’ll break their chains and keep right on sliding forward. Two carloads of steel rails. They’ll spill all the way through this old wooden day coach like a couple of hundred half-ton lances.”

Smitty began fighting his bonds with renewed fury. And then Benson’s quiet voice sounded over the uproar of the speeding work train.

“Mac, are your legs free?”

“Yes, they’re free.”

“Then,” said Benson, “put your feet against the back of my seat, if you can, and push me as far forward toward Smitty’s seat as you’re able.”

They were seated in line, first Smitty, then Benson, then MacMurdie. The gang had bound them to the backs of the three seats, but hadn’t bothered with their legs. Why should they? A man can’t untie himself with his feet.

But the gang had neglected to search the three from the knees down, as well as up, for weapons. Which proved that they were quite unfamiliar with at least one of The Avenger’s armament habits.

Benson habitually wore, in a slim holster strapped to his right calf, the small, special, silenced .22 pistol which he called, with grim affection, Mike. Strapped to the other calf was a needle-like throwing knife with a light, hollow tube for a handle, which was designated Ike.

Now, the man with the white, dead face and the death pools of eyes had managed to draw his left leg up enough to get the handle of razor-sharp Ike in his fingers.

Benson couldn’t cut himself free—he hadn’t that much leeway of motion. But he could cut the giant Smitty loose if he could lean forward enough to reach the ropes where they wound around the back of Smitty’s seat.

And the seats of the day coach were standard, in that they could be tilted forward to reverse the seating arrangement when the end of a run had been reached.

Mac put his huge feet against the back of Benson’s seat and shoved. Benson and seat back and ropes all shifted forward. Ike’s sharp edge almost touched Smitty’s lashings.

“More,” said Benson.

The Scot shoved harder. Benson drew his lithe body in on itself at the waist, and the knife touched.

The blade had bitten only half through the key loop when Smitty’s giant muscles suddenly completed the task by snapping the rest. He burst free and stood up.

A powerful thrust freed Benson, and another did for MacMurdie. Then the three stared out the front door of the car in the direction in which they were speeding, and Smitty’s great hands clenched.

The work train was almost on the curve the gang leader had mockingly mentioned.

The roadbed hugged the lake shore here as it did in most of its length. The water was about twenty feet down, over a sand bluff which formed a natural breakwater to keep the track from being washed out during storms.

A little ahead, the track curved sharp right, to follow a similar curve of the beach. And the work train, roaring over the rails, could not possibly make that turn. It would plow straight ahead, over the twenty-foot drop and into the. lake.

“Whoosh!” cried Mac. “We’ll have to jump—”

But a leap from the train at that great speed would be as deadly as staying on it and being plunged on and on into the lake.

They couldn’t jump off and they couldn’t stay on.

It is the main characteristic of great leaders that in times of catastrophe, other men, who might be brilliant and capable themselves, look to them for direction.

Mac and Smitty looked at their ice-eyed chief that way now. And without faltering Benson answered. His face, unable to change expression even at such a time of crisis as this, was a fearful, dead mask. His eyes were like cold gray flames. But his voice was quite calm.

“Top of the car. Fast! At the last moment, jump to the side as far as possible.”

BOOK: The Avenger 3 - The Sky Walker
13.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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