Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Doc Savage: Man of Bronze (part 8 of 22)

By Lester Dent writing as Kenneth Robeson
VIII -- Persistent Foes

The Sun was up, blazing with a wild revelry. Away inland, the jungle was lost in a horizon infinitely blue.
Doc slanted the big plane down and patted the pontoons against the small waves. Spray fanned up and roared against the idling propellers. He taxied in toward the mud beach.
Renny stretched and yawned. The yawn gave his extremely puritanical face a ludicrous aspect.
"I believe that in the old pirate days, they actually built a foundation for part of this town out of rum bottles," Renny offered. "Ain't that right, Johnny?"
"I believe so," Johnny corroborated from his wealth of historical lore.
The sound was exactly like a boy shooting at a tin can with a small air rifle.
Plink! It came again.
Then bur-r-r-rip! One long roar!
"Well for …" Monk swallowed the rest and sat down heavily as Doc slammed the engine throttles wide open.
Engines thundering, props scooping up water and turning it into a great funnel of mist behind the tail, the plane lunged ahead straight for the mud beach.
"What happened?" demanded Ham.
"Machine gun putting bullets through our floats," Doc said in a low voice. "Watch the shore. See if you can get a glimpse of whoever it was."
"For the love of mud!" muttered Monk. "Ain't we never gonna get that red-fingered guy out of our hair?"
"No doubt he radioed ahead to someone he knows here," Doc offered.
Distinctly audible over the bawl of the motors came 2 more metallic plinks. Then a series of them. The unseen marksman was doing his best to perforate the pontoons and sink the craft.
All 5 of Doc's men were staring through the cabin windows, seeking trace of the one who was shooting.
Abruptly, bullets began to whiz through the plane fuselage itself. Renny clapped a hand to his monster left arm. But the wound was no more than a shallow scrape. Another blob of lead wrought minor havoc in the box that held Long Tom's electrical equipment.
It was Doc who saw the sniper ahead of all the others thanks to an eye of matchless keenness.
"Over behind that fallen palm!" he said.
Then the rest perceived. The sharpshooter's weapon projected over the bole of a fallen royal palm that was like a pillar of dull silver.
Rifles leaped magically into the hands of Doc's 5 men. A whistling salvo of lead pelted the palm log, preventing the sniper from releasing further shots.
The plane dug its pontoons into the mud beach at this point. It was not a moment too soon, either. They were filling rapidly with water because some of the bullets -- striking slantwise -- had opened sizable rips. Indeed, the floats were hopelessly ruined!

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Swiftly and grim with purpose, 3 men bounded out of the plane. They were Doc, Renny, and Monk. The other three -- Johnny, Long Tom, and Ham -- all excellent marksmen -- continued to put a barrage of rifle lead against the palm log.
The log lay on a finger of land which reached out toward a very small "cay" or island. Between cay and the land finger stretched about 50 yards of water.
The sniper tried to reach the mainland, only to shriek and drop flat as a bullet from the plane creased him. Meantime Doc, Renny, and Monk had floundered to solid ground and doubled down in the scrawny tropical growth. The smell of the beach was strong in their nostrils -- seawater, wet logs, soft-shell crabs, fish, kelp, and decaying vegetation making a conglomerate odor.
To the right of the friends lay Belize with scraggly narrow streets and romantic houses with protruding balconies, brightly painted doorways, and every window as becrossed with iron bars as if it were a jail.
The sniper knew they were coming upon him. He tried again to escape. But he had not reckoned with the kind of shooting that was coming from the plane. He couldn't make it to the mainland.
Desperately, the fellow worked out toward the end of the land finger. Stunted mangroves offered puny shelter there. The man shrieked again as he was creased.
In his circle of acquaintances, it must have been customary to shoot prisoners and give no quarter because he didn't offer to surrender. Evidently he was out of ammunition.
Wild with terror, he leaped up and plunged into the water. He was going to try to swim to the little island.
"Sharks!" grunted Renny. "These waters are full of the things!"
But Doc Savage was already a dozen yards ahead, leaping out on the land finger.
The sniper was a squat, dark-skinned fellow. But his features did not resemble those of the Mayan who had committed suicide in New York. He was a low specimen of the Central American half-breed.
He was not a good swimmer, either. He splashed a great deal. Suddenly he let out a piercing squawl of terror! He had seen a dark, sinister triangle of fin sizzling through the water toward him. He tried to turn and come back. But so frightened was he that he hardly moved for all his slamming of the water with his arms.
The shark was a gigantic man-eater! It came straight for its prospective meal, not even circling to investigate. The mouth of the monster thing was open, revealing the horrible array of teeth.
The unfortunate sniper let out a weak, ghastly bleat.
It seemed too late for anything to help the fellow. In discussing the affair later, Renny maintained Doc purposely waited until the last minute so that terror would teach the sniper a lesson, to show the man the fate of an evil-doer. If true, then Doc's lesson was mightily effective.
With a tremendous spring, Doc shot outward and cleaved head-first into the water.

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The dive was perfectly executed. Curving his powerful bronze body at the instant of impact with the water, Doc seemed to hardly sink beneath the surface.
It looked like an impossible thing to do. But Doc was beside the unfortunate man even as the big shark shot in with a last burst of speed. Doc put himself between the shark's teeth and the sniper!
But the bronzed, powerful body was not there when the needled teeth slashed. Doc was alongside the shark. His left arm flipped with electric speed around the head of the thing, securing what a wrestler would call a "strangle hold".
Doc's legs kicked powerfully. For a fractional moment, he was able to lift the shark's head out of the water. In that interval, his free right fist traveled a terrific arc and found the one spot where his vast knowledge told him it was possible to stun the man-eater.
The shark became slack as a kayoed boxer!
Doc shoved the sniper ashore. The breed's swarthy face was a study. He looked like someone had jerked the cover off Hell itself and let him see what awaited men of his ilk.
Now that the shark was atop the water where rifle bullets could reach it, Renny and Monk put the finishing touch to the ugly monster.
"Why did you fire upon us?" Doc asked the breed, couching the words in Spanish. Doc spoke Spanish fluently as he did many other tongues.
Almost eagerly -- so grateful was he for what Doc had done -- the breed made answer:
"I was hired to do it, Señor. Hired by a man in Blanco Grande, the capital of Hidalgo. This man rushed me here during the night in a blue airplane."
"What was your employer's name?" Doc questioned.
"That I do not know, Señor."
"Don't lie!"
"I am not lying to you, Señor! Not after what you did for me a while ago. Truly, I do not know this man." The breed squirmed uneasily. "I have been a low mozo, hiring out for evil work to whoever pays me and asking no questions. I shall now desert that manner of living. I can take you to the spot where the blue airplane is hidden."
"Do that!" Doc directed.
They started off and soon reached the outskirts of town. Doc prepared to hail a fotingo or dilapidated flivver taxi. Then he lifted his golden eyes to the heavens.
An airplane was droning in the hot copper sky. It came into view -- a brilliant blue, single-motor monoplane.
"That is the plane of the man who hired me to shoot at you!" gasped the breed prisoner.
The gaudy blue craft whipped overhead with its engine stacks bawling and sped directly for the mud beach.
Without a word, Doc spun and ran with tremendous speed for the beach where Johnny, Long Tom, and Ham waited with his own plane.
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Half-naked children gaped at the blur of bronze that Doc made in passing them. And women muffled in rebozos -- a combination shawl and scarf -- scampered out and yanked them clear of the thundering charge of Renny, Monk, and the prisoner coming in Doc's wake.
On the beach, a machine-gun suddenly cackled. Doc knew by the particularly rapid rate of its fire that it was one that he had brought along. His friends had set it up and were firing at the blue monoplane.
The blue plane dipped back of the tufted top of a royal palm, going down in a whistling dive. Then came a loud explosion. A bomb!
Up above the palm fronds, the blue plane climbed. It was behaving erratically now. The pilot -- or some part of his azure ship -- was hit!
Straight inland it flew. And it did not come back.
Reaching the beach, Doc Savage saw the bomb had been so badly aimed as to miss his plane fully 50 yards. His 3 men were sitting on the wing with the machine-gun, grinning widely.
"We sure knocked the feathers off that bluebird!" Long Tom chuckled.
"He won't be back!" Ham decided after squinting at the distant blue dot that was the receding aircraft. "Who was it?"
"Obviously one of the gang trying to prevent us reaching that land of mine in Hidalgo," Doc replied. "The member of the gang in New York radioed to Blanco Grande -- the capital of Hidalgo -- that we were coming by plane. Right here is the logical place for us to refuel after a flight across the Caribbean. So they set a trap here. They hired this breed to machine-gun us. And when that didn't work, the pilot tried to bomb us."
At that moment, Renny and Monk came up. They were both so Big that the breed looked like a little brown boy between them.
"What do we do with his nibs?" Monk asked, shaking the breed.
Doc replied without hesitation. "Free him."
The swarthy breed nearly broke down with gratitude. Tears stood in his eyes. He blubbered profuse thanks. And before he would depart, he came close to Doc and murmured an earnest question. The others could not hear the breed's words.
"What did he ask you?" Monk inquired after the breed had departed with a strange new confidence in his walk.
"Believe-it-or-not," Doc smiled, "he wanted to know how one went about entering a monastery. I think that is one chap who will walk the 'straight-and-narrow' in the future."
"We better catch a shark and take him along if just a close look at one reforms our enemies like that!" Monk laughed.
With ropes from a local warehouse and long, thin palms which Doc hired willing natives to cut, the plane was staked to dry land.
The news was bad. The floats were badly torn. They didn't have material for patching. Nor was there any in Belize. To save a great deal of work, Doc radioed to Miami for a fresh set. A transport plane brought the pontoons down.
Altogether, 4 days were lost before they got in shape for the air again.

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Not a morning did Doc miss his exercises. From his youth, he had not neglected the 2-hour routine a single time. He did them religiously although he might have been on the go for many hours previously.
His muscular exercises were similar to ordinary setting-up movements but infinitely harder and more violent. He took them without apparatus. For instance, he would make certain muscles attempt to lift his arm while the other muscles strove to hold it down. That way, he furthered not only muscular tissue but also control over individual muscles as well. Every part of his great, bronzed body he exercised in this manner.
From the case which held his equipment, Doc took a pad-and-pencil and wrote a number of several figures. Eyes closed, he extracted the square and cube root of this number in his head, carrying the figures to many decimal places. He multiplied, divided, and subtracted the number with various figures. Next he did the same thing with a number of an even dozen figures. This disciplined him in concentration.
Out of the case came an apparatus which made sound waves of all tones -- some of a wavelength so short or so long as to be inaudible to the normal ear. For several minutes, Doc strained to detect these waves inaudible to ordinary people. Years of this had enabled him to hear many of these customarily unheard sounds.
His eyes shut, Doc rapidly identified by the sense of smell several score of different odors, all very vague -- each contained in a small vial racked in the case.
The full 2 hours Doc worked at these -- and other more intricate -- exercises.
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The morning of the 5th day after arriving in Belize, they took the air for Blanco Grande, capital of Hidalgo.
It was jungle country they flew over. Luxuriant, unhealthily rank trees in near solid masses. Lianas and grotesque aerial roots tied these into a solid carpet.
Confident of his motors, Doc flew low enough that they could see tiny parakeets and pairs of yellow-headed parrots feeding off chichem berries that grew in abundance.
Some hours later, they were over the border of Hidalgo. It was a typical country of the Southern republics. Wedged in between 2 mighty mountains and traversed in its own right by a half-dozen smaller but even more rugged ranges, it was a perfect spot for those whose minds run to revolutions and banditry.
In such localities, governments are unstable not so much because of their own lack of equilibrium, but more because of the opportunities offered others to gather in revolt.
Half of the little valleys of Hidalgo were lost even to the bandits and revolutionists who were most familiar with the terrain. The interior was inhabited by fierce tribes -- remnants of once powerful nations, each still a power in its own right and often engaging in conflict with its neighbors. Woe betide the defenseless white man who found himself wandering about in the wilder part of Hidalgo!
The warlike tribes and the utter inaccessibility of some of the rocky fastnesses probably explained the large unexplored area that Renny had noted on the best maps of Hidalgo.
The capital city itself was a concoction of little crooked streets, balconied-and-barred houses, ramshackle mud huts, and myriads of colored tile roofs with the inevitable park for parading in the center of town.
In this case, the park was also occupied by the Presidential Palace and administration buildings. They were imposing structures which showed past governments had been free with the taxpayers' money.
There was a small, shallow lake to the North of town.
On this Doc Savage landed his plane.

To Be Continued...Tomorrow!