Книга Quest of the Spider. Содержание - Chapter vii. killers at work


IN the course of a little time, Lefty and Bugs turned up before the modernistic Danielsen & Haas building. They entered, carrying the cheap, new handbag.

An elevator lifted them to the top floor. Both men now had a spray of cold sweat on their evil faces.

"This is what I call walkin' into a lion's den!" shivered Bugs.

It was on this floor that Big Eric Danielsen had his office. If the fire-eating lumberman should see them, it would be too bad. And well they knew it!

Danielsen & Haas employees hurried about in the corridor. No one paid the two villainous lumber detectives particular attention. Although Big Eric knew the pair were the Gray Spider's men, he had not spread the word.

"The Gray Spider said we'd be tipped off if the cops started lookin' for us," Bugs muttered. "He said it'd be safe to walk in here, as long as Big Eric, Edna, Ham or the bronze guy didn't see us. I hope he was right!"

"Forget it!" sneered Lefty. "The dope we get from the Gray Spider is always right! He's one guy who don't make mistakes!"

They scuttled swiftly past the door of Big Eric's office. The next door bore the inscription:


Lefty and Bugs exchanged uneasy glances. Then Lefty knocked on the door of Horace Haas's office.

Nothing happened.

"I wonder if whoever answers this door is the Gray Spider?" Bugs muttered.

"I was just wonderin' the same thing," whispered Lefty. "I’m gonna get a look at his face when he opens the door!"

The panel marked with the name of Horace Haas suddenly opened about six inches.

Lefty and Bugs hastily moved to stare into the crack. They were disappointed. They could see only the head of the man inside. And that head was muffled in a mask made out of a very large and brightly colored silk handkerchief.

"Give me the hand bag!" rasped the man in a tone so muffled Lefty and Bugs could not tell whether they had ever heard it before.

The cheap, new bag was passed into the room.

"You understand clearly what you are to do next?" demanded the masked man.

"You mean about goin' to the hotel named on the slip of paper we took from the messenger boy?" Lefty faltered.

"Exactly! You are to go there. You will find some of my swamp men waiting. You are to kill any and all men who registered at that hotel last night and this morning!"

Lefty and Bugs were bewildered. They didn't understand the purpose for the wholesale murder. "But why—"

"It is obvious the dictaphone records you intercepted were orders from Doc Savage to his men!" snarled the masked one. "Since Doc Savage only arrived in New Orleans last night, it is certain his men got here later. By wiping out all late comers to the hotel, we will be certain to get them!"

"What do Doc Savage's men look like?" quizzed Bugs. "How many are there?"

"I do not know that!" hissed the masked man. "I have exhausted my resources in an effort to learn! But it is no use. Whether he has one man or a hundred, I do not know! His aids might even be women! That is an idea! Kill all women who have registered lately at the hotel. Wipe them out along, with the men!"

Lefty and Bugs swapped knowing glances. The conversation had shown them something.

The masked man was the Gray Spider!

The master villain was taking the slaying of mighty bronze Doc Savage into his own hands.

"Go!" rasped the Gray Spider.

The unsavory pair turned away. They almost ran to the elevators. It was as if the devil himself stood in the door of Horace Haas's office at their backs. They had met the Gray Spider—and they were more afraid of the fiend than ever.

"The fools!" hissed the Gray Spider into his silken mask. "Their haste could easily attract suspicion. Their very clumsiness makes them dangerous men to have around. I shall have to add them to my playthings at the Castle of the Moccasin—as soon as they finish these murders for me."

The Gray Spider closed the door of Horace Haas's office.

* * *

CARRYING the new, cheap hand bag, the Gray Spider crossed the office. He did not remove his mask. He walked with his body drawn into a hunched bundle. He had a pronounced limp.

However, all these physical quirks were assumed. Should some one enter the office unexpectedly, he did not want to be recognized. He kept a big automatic pistol in his hand against just such a contingency.

An eyehole of the Gray Spider's silken mask pushed close to the keyhole of the door that connected with Big Eric's office.

A faint gritting came from behind the silk mask, as though the wearer were grinding his teeth in hate at what he saw.

Doc Savage, striking as a mighty bronze statue, occupied a chair near the window. Sunlight slanted against his remarkable features. An unending play of tiny flickerings came from his eyes, as though they were pools of flake gold being continually stirred.

Big Eric, Edna, and Ham lounged in chairs. None of the three were more than an arm's length from the bronze giant. Ham had recovered his sword cane from where he had lost it during the attack of the swamp men at Big Eric's mansion. He twiddled it idly in his fingers.

The group talked in low voices. Big Eric and Edna were giving Doc details about the Gray Spider—details which there had been no time to deliver before. They were also discussing peculiar phases of the situation.

"Horace Haas has not been attacked by the Gray Spider, as I understand it," Doc suggested.

"Not a single time," admitted Big Eric.

"If you and your daughter should meet death, control of the company would fall into the hands of Horace Haas. Is that right?"

Big Eric looked like he had been slapped. His vast face purpled.

"Now, listen here!" he grumbled: "Horace Haas may be a fop and a spendthrift, but I'll stake my life he wouldn't lay a finger on Edna or me! He's not the Gray Spider!"

"You're jumping to conclusions," Doc said dryly. "What I was getting at is this—the Gray Spider may be trying to kill you two so control of your concern will go to Horace Haas. The Gray Spider could then terrorize Haas into doing his bidding. I think you will agree with me that Haas does not seem to be a man of particularly strong character. The Gray Spider could control him, I'm afraid."

Big Eric was thoughtful. Then he muttered: "I’ll bet that's it!"

Again the gritting sound of gnashed teeth came from the silk-masked man hunkering at the keyhole in the adjacent office.

The Gray Spider swiftly opened the new, cheap hand bag. He wore pale-gray gloves for this work.

The bag contents consisted of a strong but small steel tank, to which was attached several feet of tough hose somewhat smaller than a lead pencil.

"Poison gas!" gritted the Gray Spider, stroking the steel tank. "The same kind they managed to escape when my plane released it ahead of their craft. But they will not evade it this time! The slightest breath of it is death! Even its touch brings a terrible fate."

He inserted the hose end in the keyhole. He turned on a valve at the tank. With a shrill squeal, gas began escaping. The stuff was under high pressure.

The Gray Spider scuttled out of Horace Haas's office.

* * *

THE squeal of the liberating gas seemed to increase its note. So great was the velocity with which it left the hose that it was thrown completely across the office in which the four intended victims sat.

Luckily, the gas cloud did not blow directly against Doc and his friends. But it made a barrage between them and the other door—a barrage which it would be death to penetrate.

The only other means of exit was the window. And below that was a death-fall of ten stories.

Doc Savage's amazing muscular development gave him the ability to ascend or descend the average brick wall as easily and rapidly as a lesser man would dash up a flight of stairs. But the Danielsen & Haas building had been constructed of white marble blocks polished to a glassy luster, and fitted together with joints that were hardly visible to the naked eye. Even Doc could find no handhold on that sheer wall!

Nevertheless, the window was the only escape.

Sinewy bronze arms wrenched up the window a chip part of a second after the gas began to whistle.

"Outside!" Doc's powerful voice crashed. "Stand on the sill!"

Big Eric and Edna hastily scrambled out. Ham followed. The window sill was hardly six inches wide. They were forced to grasp every handhold that offered to their finger tips.

"No use!" Big Eric wailed. "The infernal gas will seep around the window edges and get us! These sashes don't fit tight! I've often felt a draft when they're closed!"

It was Doc Savage's keen brain that solved the problem.

A small pot of ordinary white paste stood on Big Eric's shabby desk. Doc scooped this up. He joined the others outside on the window sill. He closed the window.

With quick strokes, Doc strung the gummy white paste around the window, effectively sealing all cracks.

"That's what I call quick work!" Big Eric said admiringly. "But why couldn't we have dashed through the gas cloud to the door?"

"The stuff is not only deadly if inhaled, but fatal if it touches the skin, unless I am mistaken," Doc explained. "I believe it is closely akin to the terrible mustard gas used in the World War."

Doc sidled swiftly to one end of the window sill.

The next window was half a dozen feet distant. The wall between was every bit as smooth as glass.

But Doc Savage, employing the springy tendons of his legs, and the balancing effect of his strong arms, leaped side-wise from the window sill. It seemed an impossible feat to accomplish without falling outward from the sheer building.

His great bronze frame appeared to skid a rising arc along the wall. He reached the next window. His powerful fingers grasped and held.

He was safe!

It had happened before the others could as much as emit a gasp of amazement.

"Stay where you are!" Doc commanded them.

* * *

A FRECKLED stenographer strangled on the gum she was chewing as the big bronze man appeared like magic in the window beside her desk. She was still coughing when Doc crossed the room and entered the corridor. She had received the shock of her gum-chewing career.

Doc watched the building entrance several minutes. He saw no one leave in a suspicious manner.

Returning upstairs, he noted that old Silas Bunnywell, the bookkeeper, occupied a tiny cubicle from the door of which the entrance of Horace Haas's office could be seen. Old Bunnywell was stooped over his ledgers.

"Have you noticed Horace Haas leave his office recently?" Doc inquired.

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