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Книга The Polar Treasure. Страница 24

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The jockeying for position ended suddenly. A quick flip of Doc's bronze wrist, a gentle pressure from one foot, and the tiny seaplane pounced like a bull pup. It was doubtful if the pair in the big plane understood quite how the maneuver had been managed. But Doc was upon them while the pilot still goggled through the empty sight rings of his cowl rapidfirers.

Doc's small machine gun shimmied and lipped flame. His bullets pushed cabin windows out of the other ship. They tore the goggles off the other pilot.

The big plane did half a wingover, eased into a dizzy slip, and would have collided with Doc's little bus. He evaded it by zooming sharply.

The second man in Keelhaul de Rosa's craft took over the controls.

Once again, the man-made birds skulked each other's sky trails warily. The motors panted and steamed. The evil gray mist squirmed and boiled in the prop wakes.

Doc got in a burst. His lead started colorless streams of liquid stringing from the wings of the other plane. He had opened the fuel tanks in the wings.

In return, he took a lead-whipping that gnawed a ragged area in the fuselage of his little fiivver. After that, the craft flew with a strangely broken-backed feel.

Then fresh trouble loomed. Doc's fuel gauge needle had retreated a lot. It already covered the first two letters of the word "empty." There had been no time to charge the fuel tanks before he took off.

Doc calculated. Fifteen minutes more, and he would have to come down. He'd better finish this sky brawl quickly.

For the second time. Doc's small craft pulled its bewildering pounce of a maneuver. His gun hammered. Lead went home to vital points of the opposing plane. The plane climbed up on its tail and hung hooting at the borealis. It slipped off on a wing tip. It rocked into a tailspin.

It hit a floe hard enough to knock a hole through four feet of pan ice. After that, nothing was left but a wad of tin and wire sticking out of the ice.

Doc slammed his bus back for the cove. He found it in the gray haze.

A disquieting sight met his gaze.

The Helldiver was stealing straight for the open sea — or, rather, the ice-covered sea. All hatches were battened.

Doc's powerful bronze hand closed over the tank valve. He had it in the plane cockpit. If the submarine dived with the tank open, it would never come up.

The sub dived!

* * *

TWO MINUTES — three — Doc circled the spot where the Helldiver had gone under the ice pack. Green water boiled. A lot of bubbles came up. Small growlers of ice cavorted like filthy blue animals. And that was all.

Doc's bronze features, remarkably handsome in their rugged masculine way, did not alter expression. He banked away. The tiny folding seaplane climbed. It boomed along at the speed most economical on the fuel.

Doc was hunting his friends.

The outlook was not pleasant. The plane his friends had flown was no match for Keelhaul de Rosa's killer ship. This tiny collapsible crate of Doc's was far more efficient, and Keelhaul de Rosa's bus would have sky-scalped it easily except for Doc's master hand at the controls.

The fog wrapped him around like an odious, ash-colored death shroud. The small engine moaned defiantly. But its life blood, the high-test gas in the tank, ran lower and lower.

Suddenly Doc sighted a human figure below. It was a tiny form. It crawled on all fours, like a white ant in its light-hued fur garments.

Doc dropped his plane to within a score of feet of the ice. The jagged hummocks fanged hungrily at the floats. They seemed to miss them by scant inches.

The crawling human being flashed beneath

It was Victor Vail. He carried a bundle of white silk.

Doc's bronze head gave the barest of nods. He could guess why Victor Vail was down there, carrying the folds of a parachute.

Monk, Renny, Long Tom, Ham. and Johnny — Doc's five iron-nerved, capable friends — had given battle to the sky killer of Keelhaul de Rosa. They had dumped Victor Vail overboard by chute. They had wanted him clear of danger. That meant they knew they were fighting hopeless odds.

It boded ill for Doc's five pals, did that crawling figure of Victor Vail. It meant the five had felt they were going to their death.

Doc flew on. He aimed the noisy snout of his little plane in the direction Victor Vail was crawling. For the violinist had been headed, not for land, but out into the grisly waste of the polar ice pack.

This indicated he had some goal out there.

Doc found that goal in slightly more than a minute-about two miles from where Victor Vail crept.

It was a horrible sight. The mighty bronze man had seen few more ghastly. None that tore at the insides of him like this one did!

A ruptured seaplane float lay on the ice. It was a mass of splinters. Forty yards farther on was the second. Then the ice bore a sprinkling of airplane fragments.

A section of a wing still poured off gruesome yellow smoke.

Gaping, sinister, an open lead in the ice yawned just beyond. Into this had plainly gone engine, fuselage, and the heavier parts of the plane.

To Doc's golden eyes, the whole sickening story was clearly 'written. Tracer bullets had fired the fuel tanks of the shabby seaplane. It had crashed in flames.

The odious green depths of the polar sea was the grave of whatever and whoever had been in the fuselage when the old crate cracked up.

Doc circled slowly.

The engine of his plane gurgled loudly. It coughed.

Then it stopped dead.

Chapter 13


THE FUEL had run out. Doc realized this — and slammed the nose down.

Practically no height for maneuvering lay below. The little flivver, due to small wingspread and not inconsiderable weight, would glide about as well as a brickbat.

The only landing place was the lead which had swallowed the remains of the shabby seaplane flown by Doc's friends. And that had hardly the width of a city street. It was about half a block long.

Had Doc Savage's hand on the controls been a whit less masterful than it was, the rent in the arctic ice would have claimed his life. Nothing short of a miracle was the landing Doc made in the cramped space.

Above one end of the lead — smaller than many a private swimming pool — the plane abruptly turned broadside in the air. As swiftly, it turned to the other side. This fishtail maneuver lowered air speed to near the stalling point. With a sizable splash, the floats dug in the icy water. They plunged so deep the plane wetted its bottom.

Doc had known from the first he was due for a crack-up. He was not wrong. The plane sloughed for the wall of ice. Doc vaulted out of the cockpit

Only fractional seconds elapsed between the time the plane plumped into the water and the instant it smashed into the icy bank of the lead. It taxed even Doc's blinding speed to get out of the control bucket in time. He leaped. His feet landed on the ice. He slid a dozen yards as though on skates.

The plane hit. There was a jangling crash remindful of an armload of tin cans dumped on a concrete walk. Metal rent, crumpled. The plane sank like a monkey wrench.

By the time Doc had ceased sliding and wheeled back, the craft was gone. The repellent water boiled as in a hideous cauldron. Big bubbles climbed to the surface with ghastly glub-glubs. It was as though a living thing was drowning in the depths.

Doc Savage turned away. The valve from the submarine had gone down with the plane. So had the machine gun.

Doc stood on the menacing arctic ice pack armed only with his tremendous muscles and his keen brain. He had no food. He had no tent, no bedding, no boat to cross leads in the ice.

Probably no one could have understood more fully than Doc the meaning of this. He was in a region so rugged, so bleak, that out of countless expeditions traveling on the ice and equipped with the finest of dog teams and food, few escaped a dire fate.

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