Книга Quest of the Spider. Содержание - Chapter ix. the swamp encounter
Chapter IX. THE SWAMP ENCOUNTER
MONK departed to become an outlaw chemist fleeing from spies of a foreign country. Renny left to get his commission as special forest ranger. Long Tom ambled out full of his plans for a phone-tapping campaign, such as had probably never been equaled for wide-spread scope.
Doc and Johnny added Bugs to the growing collection of sleepers in the hotel room. In fact, so extensive was his conquest becoming, Doc engaged an additional room. He made sure each of the villains was properly under the influence of the drug which kept them slumbering and out of mischief.
"Twelve, thirteen, fourteen," Johnny counted them. "If this keeps up, you'll have to hire a special train to up-state New York. They'll be a lot of bother and expense."
"But they'll be fourteen upright citizens when they're turned loose from that institution," Doc replied.
"I don't understand how it's done!" Johnny chuckled. "I mean—how one of these rats can be taken and made into an honest man. And that whether he wants to be made an honest man or not!"
"It's too complex to go into now," Doc told him. "It is done by many methods. Most undergo intricate brain operations that wipe out all memory of their past. Then they are taught a trade by which to make a living, as well as upright citizenship.
"In other words, we merely reduce their minds to a blank and give them the sort of training they should have had. When they're released, crime does not occur to them—simply because they don't know they've ever been criminals."
They left the hotel where the prisoners slept. Going to his plane at the airport Doc secured a metal case about the size of an old-fashioned telescope bag such as granddad used to carry. They retired to a room they engaged at a private residence.
"Strip!" Doc commanded.
Johnny obeyed. Doc opened the case. It proved to be a most complete make-up box.
With ingredients from the box, Doc proceeded to dye Johnny's hide a muddy yellow from head to foot. He clipped Johnny's somewhat thin hair, dyed it an intense black, and gave it a permanent curl.
"None of this stuff will wash off," Doc reminded.
"Holy smoke!" Johnny ejaculated. "You mean I gotta go around lookin' like this until my coloring wears off?"
"Sure," Doc chuckled. "That'll only be six months or so."
DOC SAVAGE continued to work over Johnny. He stood back at last.
"From now on, you're in blackface!" he smiled.
Where Johnny had sat, there now sprawled a lanky, scrawny-looking yellowish-brown man. He had thick lips. His nose looked as if it had been stepped on during his youth. Several realistic scars gave his eyes a mean cast.
ejaculated Johnny, imitating the conglomerate dialect of the swamp men. "Yo' haf feenished, non?"
"And how!" Doc declared. "You'll do. What's your name, swamp boy?"
"Name ees plain Pete. Mees swell name, Pete ees. Oui?"
"The name will do," Doc replied, judiciously. "But you're about a foot and a half taller than the rest of the swamp dwellers. Maybe they'll overlook that."
The two men now separated.
Doc Savage returned to the Danielsen & Haas building to keep watch over Big Eric and his daughter, and to await reports from his men.
Johnny swaggered down into the foreign quarter. Doc had supplied him with a number of voodoo charms. These Johnny exhibited quite often, toying with them when he saw he was under the scrutiny of any one who looked as if he might belong to the voodoo Cult of the Moccasin.
The net result was that he wasted an afternoon. From the look of things, New Orleans might never have heard of any kind of a voodoo cult, much less the Cult of the Moccasin with the fiendish master mind, the Gray Spider, at its head.
"I'll have to tackle the swamp," Johnny muttered. Then, realizing he had slipped out of his dialect, added: "Me—I do not t'ink much of de swamp! Whew! I gotta even do my thinkin' in this crazy lingo, to play safe!"
Johnny now stuck himself in a telephone booth and called Doc Savage.
"My results so far are what the little boy shot at," he reported. "Thought I'd tell you I probably won't communicate with you again for a while."
"Go to the Lake Ponchartrain water front, near the old Spanish fort," Doc directed.
"Huh?" grunted Johnny, much surprised.
"Be there shortly after dark," Doc added.
"O.K." Johnny grinned. "I'll be there."
DUSK had dropped a steamy, clammy grasp upon New Orleans and environs. A faint, hot fog lent the moonlight pallor. The Gulf breeze, stirring the fog, made it seem as though the air were full of fine ashes. On the horizon in all directions, heat lightning flickered luridly.
Johnny—a scrawny and sinister-looking gentleman of a pale-brown color—lurked in City Park near the old Spanish fort. Long, narrow Bayou St. John emptied into placid Lake Ponchartrain near by.
Johnny settled behind an aromatic magnolia shrub and listened. He could hear cars honking occasionally on distant Gentilly Road, and on nearer park drives. Behind him, to the south, the lights of the New Orleans business district made a vast glow in the steaming night.
Suddenly there reached Johnny's ears a series of droning noises. It was as if some one were holding a bumble bee near by, and letting it buzz its wings at intervals of a half minute or so. The sound came closer. Johnny recognized it.
"A seaplane taxiing along the lake edge!" he decided aloud.
Soon the buzzing quality left the motor spurts. They became violent hisses. The exhaust had been cut into mufflers.
"Doc's speed job!" Johnny concluded. "It's the only craft I know of fitted with silencers."
He grinned. Doc was going to get him into the swamp by plane! That would simplify things.
Johnny knew Doc must have had floats installed on the big speed ship during the afternoon. The craft was equipped for quick installation of a type of float commonly carried in stock by large plane-supply concerns.
Boldly, Johnny advanced for the lake edge.
He did not expect danger. He knew positively he had not been trailed here. So he took no pains to muffle his footsteps or keep to the shadows.
That was a mistake.
Something sailed out of the blackness beneath a near-by tree. It settled on Johnny's neck. It tightened. It jerked him from his feet.
Johnny clawed at the thing that had him. It was a lasso of thin piano wire. It yanked again, digging into the flesh of his throat.
Three scrawny swamp men pitched from the murk beneath the tree. One flashed an ordinary cane knife which was honed like a razor.
gritted one of his fellows. "Gray Spider ees want talk to dis scamp!" He knocked the knife aside.
Johnny kicked a man in the middle. He booted so hard that he distinctly felt his heel push a stomach in and jar against a backbone. The fellow sailed ungracefully away.
A club rapped Johnny's head, causing a burst of colored lights and lances of flame. That, and the wire drawing steadily tighter around his neck, sapped his strength. His struggles weakened. They became slower. He was like a clockwork toy that was running down.
puffed one of the Gray Spider's swamp men. "Eet ees about over!"
It was. But not like the swamp man expected.
There suddenly wafted over the scene of strife an uncanny trilling note. It was a whistle, and yet not a whistle. It had a low and mellow quality that might be likened to the song of some rare bird of the jungle, or the melodious but untuned note of a wayward breeze filtering among the pipes of a great organ.
It seemed to come from everywhere.
Johnny heard it, although but half conscious. The sound of Doc Savage!
THE sound had a remarkable effect on Johnny. Renewed energy flowed into his faltering muscles. He struck and flailed fiercely.
Out of the night came flashing a mighty bronze form. The charge of a lion would hardly have been more disastrous to the Gray Spider's two men.
Only two blows, coming so close together that they sounded like two men clapping hands simultaneously, and the pair went tumbling like rabbits shot on the run. It was doubtful if either had seen what caused their downfall. The third man, disabled by Johnny, writhed and moaned near by, entirely helpless.
Doc freed Johnny's neck from the wire noose.
"You're a handy guy to have around, Doc," Johnny laughed shakily. Then he noticed that the seaplane still taxied out on the lake. It was nowhere near shore. "Huh—I thought you were in the plane."
"Ham is flying the bus," Doc explained. "It occurred to me after you called that the Gray Spider might be doing some wire-tapping himself. In that case, he might have heard us make the appointment to meet here. So I dropped around merely to play safe. And here we are."
"Yeah—thanks to you," Johnny said wryly, feeling his sore neck. "One thing that is fortunate—on my call to you I didn't say a thing which would give the Gray Spider a clue to my identity or purpose."
"Sure—there's no harm done," Doc agreed. "In fact, we've added three more prisoners to our menagerie. Every little bit helps."
The plane now taxied close in. Ham, slender and waspish, waded ashore. He held his sword cane high over his head and said some uncomplimentary things about the mud underfoot.
"You are to take the plane into the swamp," Doc told Johnny. "Park it at some spot where nobody’ll find it. Use the radio to get in touch with me. Long Tom has installed a receiving and transmitting station in it. You will, of course, use the Mayan language, so no one will understand our talk."
"Righto," Johnny agreed.
"There's some stuff in the ship that you might need," Doc added.
Johnny now waded out to the plane, hauled himself up on one of the newly installed metal floats, and sprang into the cabin. The silenced motors sped up. The propellers churned the air shrilly. Out across Lake Ponchartrain, the craft streaked, then leaped into the air.
Johnny banked for the swamp country. He was an expert pilot, thanks to the teaching of Doc Savage. The remarkable bronze man seemed gifted with the ability to impart much of his own vast knowledge and skill to those whom he taught, and it was this strange quality which had turned his five friends into accomplished airmen, second only to Doc himself.
THE foggy area proved to be only in the vicinity of New Orleans. Johnny soon left it behind. He kept the silencers on the motors, made the cabin airtight, turned on the apparatus which supplied artificial air, and flew very high—about twenty-five thousand feet. He used powerful binoculars to observe the terrain below.