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Книга Quest of the Spider. Содержание - Chapter vi. death-end trail

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A GLORIUS dawn had seized upon New Orleans. Crowds hurried to work. In Canal Street, traffic boiled. The Walnut Street, Jackson Avenue, and Canal Street ferries carried a full load every time they crossed the Mississippi.

The business day was starting.

Doc had brought his friends and prisoners to town. Leaving the prisoners in the hotel room with the previously-captured men, Doc was back again in his roadster.

Wheeling the car along St. Charles Avenue, then turning right shortly after Julia Street, Doc stopped before the Danielsen & Haas building, and all got out.

The Danielsen & Haas building was one of great beauty. The masonry was gleaming white, with a modernistic scheme of ornamentation carried out in black stone. It looked like the conception some artist had formed of how buildings of the future would appear. It was not a skyscraper, reaching upward only ten stories.

A large number of people hurried in arid out.

"You seem to work quite a force," Ham suggested.

"More on the pay roll than we ever had," Big Eric replied proudly. "And I'm one lumberman who has not taken advantage of conditions to cut salaries."

They entered the lumber concern's offices.

"A note for Doc Savage," said the reception clerk. "The watchman claimed it was shoved under the front door some time during the night."

Doc took the note and opened it. Inside was a sheet of plain white paper.

The paper was perfectly blank—except for a thumb print. The thumb print was enormous. It looked big as a baby track.

Doc smiled slightly. He recognized the print easily. Its very size was enough. Doc doubted another man on earth had a hand as big as the one which had made the print.

It belonged to Colonel John Renwick, the one of his five friends and aids who was called Renny. A man noted all over the world for his feats of engineering—that was Renny. He was also famed as the man who had a playful habit of knocking panels out of the heaviest doors with his vast fists.

The strange message told Doc his four men—Renny, Monk, Long Tom, and Johnny—had arrived in New Orleans during the night. No doubt, they had flown by a slightly slower plane.

Big Eric now led the way to his private office. In striking contrast to the palatial air of the rest of the building, Big Eric's sanctum was no more ornate than that of a sawmill foreman. The rug was full of holes, so that one had to step high to keep from tripping. The desk was old, with the edges pitted where cigars had carelessly burned.

"I can't work in a joint where they put on a lot of dog," Big Eric apologized. "This is the equipment I started out with thirty years ago."

Adjoining, was an office the exact opposite of Big Eric's in fittings. It had the finest Oriental rugs on the floor. The desk must have cost more than a sawmill jacket-feeder would make in a year. A complete bar with refrigerating and mixing machines occupied a corner. Pictures of young women—obviously chorus cuties—were about.

"The office of Horace Haas, my junior partner," explained Big Eric. Then, realizing the place hardly looked like a business office, he added defensively, "Horace Haas may not be a crack business man, but he furnished the capital for my start in life!"

At this point, a shrill, whanging voice said, "Could I have a word with you, Mr. Danielsen?"

Big Eric turned. "Oh, it's Silas Bunnywell, one of the bookkeepers."

* * *

SILAS BUNNEYWELL was a typical movie bookkeeper. He was tall, but his upper body was hunched as though he had sat on a stool all his life. His face was shrunken. He had a little pot belly, but the rest of him was too thin. His hair was white as a cottontail rabbit's tail.

He wore a shiny blue suit. His glasses were the sort Edna Danielsen had expected Doc Savage to be wearing. The lenses were like bottle bottoms.

"What is it, Bunnywell?" inquired Big Eric.

Old Bunnywell kneaded his hands together nervously. He seemed reluctant to talk.

"It is rather private," he muttered. "If I could see you alone—"

"Shoot!" Big Eric commanded. He waved an arm at Doc, Ham and Edna. "Ain't nothin' too private for these folks to hear."

"I'd rather only you—"

"C'mon, c'mon, Bunnywell!" rumbled the massive lumberman. "Talk up!"

"It's about Horace Haas," Bunnywell whined. "I loaned him five hundred dollars some time ago. He promised to pay it back within ten days. But when I ask him for it, he just laughs me off. I wonder—I wonder if you would speak to him. Five hundred dollars may not seem to you like much, but it is a large sum to me. I worked very hard to save it"

Big Eric cleared his throat noisily. He scowled. It was plain that he was disgusted with his business partner. He drew a large wallet from his pocket and extracted several bills.

"Here's your five hundred!" he boomed. "I'll collect it from Horace Haas!"

Old Bunnywell seemed about to sob. "Oh, thank you."

"Forget it!" thumped Big Eric. "I want my employees to make a complaint against an executive of the company just as soon as they would against an office boy, or quicker!"

Silas Bunnywell shuffled out, all but hugging his money.

"It's about time for me to hand Horace Haas another trimming with my fists!" growled Big Eric. "I have to knock him into line about once a year."

"Here he comes now, dad," interposed Edna.

Horace Haas came in. One noticed first the light-yellow, double-breasted tea vest he wore. Second in prominence was an enormous diamond ring. Morning coat, striped pants, too-shiny shoes and spats were noteworthy, as well as a flashy cravat.

The least striking thing in all this flamboyance was Horace Haas, the man. He was just a weak-chinned, florid, watery-eyed and roly-poly fat man. His hair was very dark.

He was excited. He flourished a sheet of paper.

"Big Eric!" he barked loudly. "I got something important! Lookit! A letter come through the mail this morning from Topper Beed, the man who has been helping us against the Gray Spider!"

Big Eric took the letter. He gave it a glance.

"Read this!" he boomed, and thrust it to Doc.

Doc's golden eyes translated:

If you want to seize the Gray Spider, I can tell you where to get him. TOPPER BEED.

"Give me Topper Beed's address!" Doc commanded.

"He has a large sawmill equipment repair shop and secondhand store over beyond Canal Street," replied Horace Haas. He gave the exact address.

Haas stared at the mighty bronze man. His weak jaw fell slowly. His shifty eyes seemed to swell in their watery sockets. He was awed by the giant metallic figure before him.

"So this is the Doc Savage you told me you was goin' after!" he muttered to Big Eric.

Doc Savage moved silently for the door. "I am going to interview Topper Beed," he said grimly.

* * *

TOPPER BEED’S sawmill repair shop and secondhand store was not located far from the old French quarter. Beside the place, and easily accessible to a wharf on the Mississippi, lay what looked like a junk lot of the parts of scores of sawmills. Some of the stuff was in good shape.

No sign of life was apparent around the ramshackle sheet-iron building which housed the shop. The door was secured with a heavy chain and a padlock.

Doc Savage's sinewy bronze fingers worked for a moment with the padlock. They manipulated a steel tool that looked much like a darning needle, with a crook on the end.

The padlock opened. Doc entered the shop.

The place was built like an airplane hangar, although not quite as large. A sizable drill stood in one corner, an enormous forge and anvil in another. Grease and metal chips made a gum underfoot.

In one spot, water shone glassily on the greasy floor. It had been splashed there not many hours ago. Near the water stood a wooden tank. This had evidently been made by sawing in half a very large barrel.

The tublike tank was full to the brim with water. A coat of oil floated on the surface. Evidently it was the water used to temper metal after it had been worked with on the forge and anvil.

Doc stuck a pair of long-handled blacksmith's tongs into the tub—brought up the body of a man!

The form was stocky and muscular, with the rough red skin and calloused palms of one who has long worked with heat and metal.

The man had been stunned by a blow on the head, and held in the tank until he drowned.

Several letters reposed in an inner pocket. The addresses were still legible. They bore the name of Topper Beed.

The man had surfeited his life for his activities against the Gray Spider!

* * *

DOC SAVAGE soon quitted the shop. The killers had been either clever or lucky, for they had left no clue to their Identity.

As Doc came out of the shop, two men down the street hastily settled low in the car they were driving.

"We gotta look out for that guy, Lefty!" one said.

"And how!" breathed the other. "Don't go staring at him like he was Santa Claus! He might notice!"

The pair were Lefty and Bugs, the two lumber company detectives who were in the Gray Spider's gang—the same pair who had treacherously struck down Big Eric!

Only a few minutes ago, they had received rush orders from the Gray Spider to come here and pick up the trail of the bronze man.

"We're to croak 'im if we get the chance!" muttered Lefty. "We might cut down on him right now!"

"Too risky!" Bugs hastily protested. "There's a cop in the next block."

They watched Doc Savage enter his roadster.

Lefty glanced about uneasily, as if to make sure no one was near, then growled: "I wonder if the bronze guy found anything to show we scragged old Topper Beed?"

"We didn't leave no clues!" snarled Bugs.

Doc Savage was unaware of the two murderers of Topper Beed crouched in their car. The morning sun shone on the windshield of their machine in such a manner that the reflection made it impossible to see inside.

Doc's roadster carried him over to Canal Street, thence southward. It halted shortly before a concern which sold dictaphones.

Lefty and Bugs, following discreetly far to the rear, saw Doc enter the establishment.

"I wish to purchase several dictaphone recording cylinders," Doc informed a clerk. "I wish also to use a dictaphone for several minutes."

It was an unusual request, but the clerk complied.

Seating himself at a machine used for demonstration purposes, Doc clipped on one of his new records and proceeded to dictate a long message.

No one heard his voice. The machine recorded smoothly. Doc gave order after order, together with detailed instructions on how they were to be carried out.

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