Friday, February 6, 2009

Doc Savage: Up from Earths Center part 2 (of 3)

This Time its "Doc Savage: Up from Earths Center" Part 2 of 3, By Lester Dent.

Chapter V

As the automobile rushed around a curve in the road, Doc Savage told Monk Mayfair, "Turn on the gadget. Let's see what Linningen and Williams have to say to each other."

"This radio, you mean?"

Monk hauled a small portable out of the rear seat, turned the switch, and asked, "What frequency are they on?"

"Try 860 megacycles," Doc replied.

Monk tuned in the receiver and got a rush of background noise along with the kind of sounds that would come from a microphone concealed in a car.

"They're kinda quiet," Monk said.

The Maine woods -- a thick green mass all around them in spite of the early Winter -- rushed past almost brushing the car. The second car carrying Linningen and Williams was about half-a-mile behind them.

"Do you suppose they suspect we have a radio transmitter concealed in their car?" Ham Brooks asked.

"There's a small chance," Doc replied. "But I don't think so."

Wail was riding with Doc, Monk, and Ham. They noted that he was staring at the radio in perplexity. Finally, his puzzlement got the best of him and he asked, "What is that thing?"

Monk and Ham both laughed. Then Monk said, "It's a high-frequency radio receiver, buddy. The sending set is hidden in the car in which Williams and Linningen are riding."

"I don't understand," said Wail.

"I don't know how I'd make it any clearer," Monk told him. "But if the thing works, we can hear anything Williams and Linningen say to each other."

Mr. Wail looked vaguely alarmed.

"Indeed? I don't believe it."

"Aw, don't be a sap. It's a very ordinary radio set-up. You should see some of the more complicated stuff we use!"

"You mean you can hear them in that other vehicle without being there?" Wail demanded nervously.

"That's right."

Wail's eyes popped slightly.

"And you don't consider such a miracle unusual?"

"Nope," Monk said. "It's nothing compared to even such a commonplace thing as television."

Wail examined them in apprehension.

"You ... uh ... haven't been where I have been, by chance?" he asked uneasily.

"What," Monk asked, "do you mean by that?"

"I … nothing."

Wail seemed sorry that he had brought up the subject.

Monk flung put a large hand and gripped Mr. Wail's loud necktie before the latter could dodge.

"Just what did you mean by that crack, hub?" he demanded.

"Nothing. Nothing at all," Wail insisted.

"You ain't pretending you don't know what 'radio' is, are you?" Monk asked.

"I … I shouldn't have said a thing," Wail mumbled.

"Because if you're pretending that," Monk said, "I'll bat you one on the ear. I've listened to all the preposterous stuff I want to hear."

Wail only ducked his head.

"And furthermore," Monk went on, "if you're talking us off into the Maine woods on a wild goose chase, I'll shake you loose from your feathers. We'd better find that poor Gilmore has a sister living back here in the woods -- and that she hired you to locate Gilmore -- or you're in trouble!"

Mr. Wail looked uncomfortable.

"I think he's lying to us," Ham Brooks put in.

"If he is," Monk said, "he probably isn't the only one. Just between you and me, nobody connected with this crazy affair has said 2 consecutive words I can believe."

The road became rough and crooked and it climbed into rugged hills. In the car behind, Linningen and Williams hardly spoke although Linningen growled once, "This is a hell-of-a road! I wonder if they know where they're going?"

"Who cares?" Bill Williams asked bitterly.

"Everybody is crazy, anyway. I must say you certainly acted demented," Williams added.

Linningen snorted. "You should talk!"

"Let's not argue about it," Bill Williams muttered. "But we're free of that Gilmore. And I don't see the sense of trying to find him again. That guy is trouble!"

"He's trouble all right," agreed Linningen.

"A kind of trouble I don't understand," said Williams.

"You're sure right about that," Linningen told him emphatically. "But I don't think we should drop it now. I think we should satisfy our curiosity."

"Satisfy your curiosity?" Williams asked bitterly. "Or keep straight with Doc Savage?"

"A little of both," Linningen replied.

Doc Savage smiled slightly.

Monk Mayfair complained, "That doesn't give us much except the reason they tagged along so readily when you asked them to. I wish they'd talk more. They must be scared."

Doc locked the brakes … skidded to a stop at a fork in the road … and asked, "Which road do we take here, Wail?"

Wail seemed confused.

"Let me step out a moment and have a look," he said.

Ham Brooks burst out impatiently, "Dammit, my man! There are the road signs as clear as the nose on your face. Route 'F' or 'G'? Which one?"

"The road signs don't mean much to me," Wail mumbled.

"Why not?" Ham barked.

"The roads weren't here when I passed this way last!" Wail retorted with his first show of temper. "Things have changed. You've no idea what a handicap that is when I try to find my way around!"

Ham's jaw dropped. Wail jumped out of the car. Ham looked at Doc and Monk and made a twirling motion with a forefinger beside his forehead.

"Our happy-faced guide is as full of nuts as a squirrel's dream," Ham said. "Doc, how long ago would you say these highways were built?"

"Some time back," Doc said.

He was thoughtful.

"We might ask at the next service station."

Wail sprang atop a large boulder and peered in the direction of some distant mountain peaks. He seemed to be making a sincere effort to get his bearings. In a moment, he returned, pointed to the right-hand turn, and said, "That one."

2 miles farther on, an elderly farmer riding a cart came into view. Doc brought the car to a stop.

"Hello, there," he called to the farmer. "Have you lived in this neighborhood long?"

"All my life," the farmer replied.

Doc nodded. "Fine. You're just the man to give us the answer to something we were wondering about. How long ago was this road-- and the one back a couple-of-miles at the fork -- built? Could you give us an idea?"

The farmer asked, "You mean how long ago were they paved?"

"The roads were here before they were paved?"

"Oh, sure."

"In the same spot?"

"That's right. The State just graded 'em and put on the blacktopping."

"When was that?"

"Right close to 30 years ago," said the farmer.

"But the roads were here prior to that time?"

"Oh, sure."

"How much before that would you say?"

"Well, more'n a hundred years, I could say fur sure," the farmer replied. 'About half-a-mile down the road, there's a stone bridge with the date cut in it. 1839. The road was probably here before that."

Doc thanked the farmer and put the car in motion. Monk and Ham exchanged puzzled glances and Monk gave Wail a poke in the ribs.

"The road wasn't here when you passed last. But it was here more than a hundred years ago," he said.

Wail winced. "I could have told you that."

"My God! You're not sticking to that story?" Monk demanded.

"I certainly am!" Wail snapped.

"You think I'll swallow that?"

"I wish," said Wail violently, "that you would swallow your own head! As for believing me, I am accustomed to not being believed."

"I can sure see where you would be," Monk told him. "You're full of nice 'believable' stories."

Doc Savage whipped the car over a hilltop, pointed, and demanded, "Is that the place, Wail?"

Wail smirked.

"It is! Didn't think I would find it, did you? Well, I can find anything give me time."

In a moment, the car carrying Linningen and Williams came to a stop alongside. Doc got out and walked to their car.

"Wail says the place yonder is where Gilmore's sister lives," he told them.

"It looks like a fancy joint," Williams said. "Mountain lodge or something."

"It seems impressive," Linningen appended. "Do we all descend at once? The whole army of us?"

Doc looked at the psychiatrist sharply.

"Is there a reason why we shouldn't arrive as a party?"

"It occurs to me that such a large number of us might make the young lady nervous," Linningen said.

"Do you have a reason for not wanting Gilmore's sister to see you?" Doc inquired.

"Of course not!" Linningen replied hurriedly.

"The young lady might be attractive and worth meeting," Doc suggested dryly.

"I don't know she is young!" Linningen snapped.

"You said she was. Just now."

"Well, it was just a thoughtless remark," Linningen barked. "Look here, Savage! Wat do you mean by this line of questioning? I believe I resent it."

Doc said, "Let's pay the lady a visit and see how near you came to the truth without thinking."

The 2 cars climbed a hill. The lodge -- an attractive structure made of logs -- stood against a backdrop of low mountains which bore a covering of snow. There was frost on the gravel that crunched under the tires as they came to a stop.

"I wonder if Gilmore is here," Monk murmured.

"We should know before long."

Doc strode to the door … glanced at 2 pairs of skis which were propped against the lodge wall … then knocked. The skis were well waxed and the snow caught in the harness looked fresh.

The lodge door was opened by an elderly man in a checked wool shirt and corduroy trousers. Plainly the servant.

"We'd like to see Mr. Gilmore Sullivan," Doc said.

"Gilmore hasn't been here for weeks," the servant replied promptly.

"In that case, we'd like to see Miss Leona Sullivan, Gilmore's sister," Doc told him.

"Who shall I say is calling?"

"Tell her Clark Savage, Jr. and party."

The servant withdrew, closing the door in Doc's face. Hearing a commotion behind him, Doc wheeled.

He saw Monk in the act of making a flying tackle at Mr. Wail who had started a hasty departure. He brought Wail down and said, "Oh no, you don't! Try to skip out, will you?"

"You'll regret this!" Wail declared bitterly.

Now the door was opened by a redheaded girl wearing skiing trousers and a wool sweater. Her friendly face was also wearing, Doc thought, an expression that came from making a great effort to repress fear.

"I'm Leona Sullivan," she said.

Doc Savage made the introductions.

"This is Dr. Linningen, whose yacht rescued your brother from the desolate rock where he was marooned. And my 2 associates -- Monk Mayfair and Ham Brooks … "

He paused, trying to decide what was causing Miss Sullivan to become pale.

"And these gentlemen," Doc added, "are Mr. Williams -- a guest on the yacht -- and Mr. Wail -- whom I believe you are supposed to know."

She didn't speak. And Doc noted that neither Wail nor Williams had faced the young woman. They were turned in another direction.

"Mr. Wail and Mr. Williams," Doc said deliberately, "this is Miss Sullivan."

Wail and Williams turned reluctantly.

Miss Sullivan's breath in her throat made a low sound like paper tearing. She swayed and would have fallen had not Ham -- moving with alacrity -- caught her. She had fainted.

Throwing the door open, Doc gestured for Ham to carry Miss Sullivan's limp figure inside. Monk had jumped around to a spot where he could head off any contemplated retreat by Bill Williams and Wail.

Scowling at Wail, Monk said, "I would say she knew you, all right!"

Williams glared at Wail.

"I don't blame her much for her reaction," he told Wail.

"You give me the creeps, too." Wail smiled.

"She was looking at you when she fainted."

Williams lunged forward, his fist flew out. There was a smacking report as the fist landed not against Wail's cherubic face but in the palm of Doc Savage's outflung hand.

Doc jerked and Williams spun into the lodge, stumbled, and landed in a chair. He started to get up, hands fisted … but thought better of it.

He shouted, "By God, you can't manhandle me and get away with it!"

Linningen -- gazing at Williams in puzzled alarm -- said, "Take it easy, Bill. What has got into you?"

"I don't come up here to be pushed around!" Williams snapped.

"Why did you come?" Monk asked pointedly.

"Damned if I know! Because I didn't have any better sense, I guess," growled Williams.

The old man-servant in the checkered shirt came in … gazed at them with disapproval … and did not seem reassured by the information that Miss Sullivan had merely fainted. He ran away shouting for his wife.

"Mary! Mary, come quick! Something's happened to Miss Leona!"

His wife was a bustling plump lady several years his junior. She didn't seem alarmed.

"Miss Leona hasn't been feeling well lately," she said. "I'll get some brandy."

Doc asked, "Has Miss Sullivan been ill?"

"Just nervous," the woman explained. "Just nervous and jumpy. Will you carry her into one of the bedrooms? I'll take care of her."

When they were alone, Linningen took out a handkerchief and mopped his forehead.

"What do you make of this, Savage? Somehow, I have a feeling there is something intensely wrong here."

"If you ask me, the girl had a reason for fainting," Monk said.

He scowled at Ham Brooks.

"Depend on old 'Johnny-come-Legal' to be ready to catch her, though."

"It was nice work," Ham told him. "Too bad you didn't think of it first."

That being exactly the thought in Monk's mind, he merely scowled.

"I think they all seem frightened," Linningen observed. "The 2 servants as well."

"You don't look as if you were at a picnic yourself," Ham Brooks observed.

"Nevertheless, I think I'm still competent to recognize fear when I see it!" Linningen snapped.

15 minutes later, the woman appeared and announced, "Miss Sullivan will see you, Mr. Savage."

Leona Sullivan was resting in a comfortable chair. But the hands in which she held a cup of coffee (probably laced with brandy) were not too steady.

She arose and extended her hand, saying, "I'm afraid I got off to a shocking start as a hostess. I'm sorry. I'm particularly sorry to extend such a distressing reception to Mr. Linningen and Mr. Williams -- the men who rescued my brother."

"You knew Gilmore had been found?" Doc asked.

Without looking directly at Doc, she said, "I remember your saying so. That was what you did say, wasn't it?"

"Perhaps we should have broken the news more gradually," Doc said.

"No. It was very good news. One doesn't mind how good news comes."

"You didn't seem surprised."

"Didn't I?"

"No. You appeared frightened."

"Why shouldn't I?" she said quickly.

She resumed her chair and picked up the cup and saucer. When her shaking hand caused the cup to tinkle on the saucer, she put them down again.

"I've been frightened for weeks," she added.

"Of what?"

She shuddered.

"Of something terrible that might have happened to Gilmore. You have no idea how disturbing it is -- just waiting -- after something strange has happened to your brother."

"Strange?" Doc inquired pointedly.

She did not answer immediately but took a sip of the coffee.

"I wouldn't say I'm frightened as much as worried."

"Miss Sullivan," Doc Savage said, "I have some questions I'd like to ask you about your brother,"

Leona Sullivan frowned.

"Why are you interested?" she inquired.

"I'm afraid that I have a weakness for the odd and the unusual, Miss Sullivan."

She nodded. "I know. You could have said you were interested because you are Doc Savage. I've heard of you, Mr. Savage."

"That's fine. Then you won't consider my interest so odd," Doc told her pleasantly. "I'd like to know a little more about Gilmore, Miss Sullivan. I have heard enough to outline picture of him in my mind. That of a well-educated young man -- on the scholarly side -- interested in geology."

"What else do you want to know?" she countered.

"I want you to fill in the picture of Gilmore. Put color in."

She thought for a moment.

"Gilmore was a geologist. He 'was a specialist dealing with the subterranean materials composing the Earth and how they were formed."

She hesitated … then added quickly, "He wasn't very practical, I am afraid. He was interested in caves. Natural caverns. He would spend weeks exploring a new cave. And often did."

"Was cave-exploring Gilmore's profession?" Doc asked.

"You might call it that, yes."

"It doesn't sound profitable."

"It wasn't," Leona Sullivan told him. "But Gilmore inherited a little money from father. He didn't spend much, and he got along."

"You do not sound as if you had a high opinion of your brother's specialty" Doc Savage suggested.

She smiled faintly.

"I can't say I did. I don't like caves. They're clammy places. And I quit going into them with Gilmore when I was a little girl. Gilmore certainly didn't share my dislike."

"Gilmore spent a lot of time in cavern exploration, I take it?" Doc said.

"Yes. More than was good for him," she agreed, after hesitating a moment.

"Why did you hesitate before saying that?" Doc asked.

"Did I? I didn't intend to. It meant nothing," she replied quickly.

"I don't think you intended to hesitate either," Doc told her. "But I still think it meant something."

She grimaced. "Yes. It did, I'll admit that. And I'll tell you why."

She fell silent, biting her lips, clenching her hands tightly.

Then she blurted, "It isn't easy to discuss mental aberration in one's family. It's hard to do in fact!"

"You mean," Doc suggested quietly, "that Gilmore's mind became unstable?"

"Yes, that's exactly what I mean," she murmured miserably

"As a result of spending too much time in cavern exploration?"

She nodded quickly. "I can't think of anything else that would bring it on."

"What," Doc asked, "was the exact nature of Gilmore's trouble?"

"Hallucinations," she replied.

"Of what sort?"

Leona Sullivan started to speak … jerked the words back … and Doc saw her compress her lips firmly.

"I can't discuss such a personal matter with a stranger!"

In a serious tone, Doc said, "Not even if it might be vitally important to Gilmore's well-being?"

"No. It couldn't be important, anyway. No, I can't discuss his hallucinations."

"In that case," Doc said, "I feel you should know that Gilmore has disappeared again. And under very puzzling circumstances."

Leona Sullivan glanced at him sharply. She leaned back in the chair and took a sip of coffee. Her hand was a bit steadier.

"I'm afraid I don't know a thing that will help you," was all she said.

Doc Savage jumped to his feet, saying, "I'm sorry to have bothered you when you weren't feeling well, Miss Sullivan."

"I don't mind." She smiled wanly. "I'm glad you're trying to help poor Gilmore. Thank you for that."

Swinging to the door, Doc appeared to recall something and wheeled to ask, "Did you get a good look at the man I introduced as 'Mr. Wail'?"

"Yes, I did."

But Doc couldn't "read" much from her expression.

"Had you ever seen him before?"

"No." She shook her head promptly. "No, never."

"Then why did you faint when you saw Wail?" Doc threw at her. "Or was it Bill Williams who brought that on?"

The girl gave Doc a cold look.

"You're being utterly preposterous! If I fainted, it was only because I didn't feel well."

"I see," Doc Savage replied. "Well if that is your story, you better stick to it."

He rejoined the others.

To Monk's questioning look, he answered, "Miss Sullivan says she never saw Wail before in her life."

Monk spun and collared Wail, who didn't look very surprised nor apprehensive.

"All right! Wipe that smirk off your face and explain why you lied to us!" Monk yelled in Wail's face.

"You're certainly gullible," Wail told him. "You believe everything you're told, don't you?"

And that was all they got out of Wail.

The man-servant appeared bearing coffee and a tray of sandwiches, explaining, "We dine rather late as a rule. My wife thought you might get hungry before dinnertime."

"Are we invited to stay?" Doc asked.

"Why, I suppose so. Miss Sullivan told my wife to prepare the guest rooms," the servant explained. "It's a long, tiresome drive to the nearest hotel. The tourist camps are all closed at this season of the year."

The sandwiches were good. In the West, a snow-covered mountaintop speared the Sun and the long gray winter twilight set in. They sat about, all of them uncomfortable except Mr. Wail who went after the sandwiches with the celerity of a glutton, dropping crumbs off his chin now-and-then.

Miss Sullivan joined them, wearing a long hostess gown of a shade of green which did a lot for her red hair and figure. She was carrying a bulky scrapbook. And she handed this to Doc Savage.

"This is a scrapbook which I kept of articles -- mostly scientific ones -- which Gilmore wrote and had published," she explained. "I thought you might want to look them over."

Doc Savage examined the book for some time reading a number of the items -- some of them from beginning-to-end. Here was convincing evidence that Gilmore Sullivan knew his geology and his caves. He was evidently a pretty fair photographer as well, judging from the color photographs of mineral samples and rock strata which accompanied a number of the pieces.

Doc returned the book. "This indicates your brother knew his business, Miss Sullivan."

He watched her intently … saw she was not satisfied with his comment … and with a trace of satisfaction, he added, "But answering the question you had in mind when you handed me the book, the writings don't sound like the work of a man who had anything basically wrong with his mind."

Tears suddenly filled her eyes. She murmured "Thank you!" and quickly left the room.

Bill Williams scowled at Doc Savage and growled, "Why kid her? She looks like a nice babe. Brother Gilmore is as screwy as a pet coon and you know it!"

"Linningen doesn't think so," Doc told him.

Leona Sullivan didn't rejoin them until dinnertime. The man-servant (his name was "Clancy") showed them over the lodge, which proved to be a homey place that had cost a considerable sum. Clancy pointed out several spare sets of skis, indicating they were welcome to use the boards if they cared for that winter sport. Doc gathered that it wouldn't grieve Clancy too much if they went skiing and broke their necks.

Clancy's wife turned out an excellent dinner, which was served at 8 o'clock in a large beamed dining room with candlelight and a blaze in the fireplace. Doc noted that Leona Sullivan hardly touched her food. He thought several times that her eyes were on him appealingly.

After dinner, Doc sought the girl out in the privacy of a glassed-in veranda which gave a wide view of an impressive amount of blue-cold moonlight and too-bright stars.

"Miss Sullivan," Doc told her quietly, "we're here to help you, you know. I'll admit that curiosity brought us. But that's a motive that gets us into quite a few things."

He thought she wasn't going to reply. But when she did, the terror in her voice shocked him.

"Curiosity!" she gasped. "Would you tell me curiosity about what?"

"Sit down, Leona," Doc said gently. "I'll tell you the whole story. At least as much as we know of it."

The narrative took several minutes. Doc included the finding of Gilmore and the latter's unwillingness to be rescued and his odd statements to Linningen at the time. He left out nothing in the way of incident but drew no conclusions and did not complete the recital because Leona Sullivan suddenly shuddered, gripped her hands together. She drew up, pale and tense.

"Mr. Savage!" she gasped. "Is there a Hell?"


"If there is a Hell, is it where they've always said it is?"

"Good Lord," Doc said.

"Is Hades down below?" she blurted.



Doc Savage took a moment to control his surprise.

"I'm sure I couldn't say for certain," he replied. "That's one place I haven't visited as yet."

Leona Sullivan made a whimpering sound.

"Don't treat it facetiously!" she wailed.

"I'm not. And don't be so upset."

"Gilmore found Hell!" she gasped.

"He was exploring in a cave near here -- a tremendous cavern which he has been exploring on and off for several months. Gilmore was in the cave nearly 2 weeks. And when he came out he … He had undergone a terrible change. He said he had found that Hell was exactly where they have always said it was -- in the Center of the Earth -- and he'd had a look at it."

Doc reached for her hand.

"Oh come now, Miss Sullivan!"

"No, it's true! Gilmore said."

"Take it easy," Doc broke in sympathetically. "You must understand that Gilmore could have suffered a fall and an injury that would disarrange his mental processes. You shouldn't really believe … "

She jerked her hand away.

"I had hoped you wouldn't take a patronizing attitude," she said bitterly.

"Really, you don't expect me to believe …"

"Mr. Savage!" she whimpered. "That Mr. Wail! He isn't human! He's a … an assistant devil sent up to dispose of Gilmore because of what Gilmore learned!"

Doc swallowed.

"Miss Sullivan, what you need is rest. Perhaps a bromide to make you sleep."

She twisted. Her hand flew up and cracked against his cheek! Then she turned and fled.

Doc stood there, his face blank.

His hand was held motionless against the cheek she had struck for quite a while.

Chapter VI

Monk Mayfair doubled a hand into a great fist, smashed it down on a knee, and exploded, "Of all the cock-and-bull stories, this one is the winner! It lays me out flat!"

Doc Savage assumed a look of disapproval.

Ham Brooks said, "It's a dilly, all right."

"It's a honey," Monk added.

"Don't you believe in Hell?" Ham asked Monk. "Don't you feel there might be a Tophet and a Devil?"

"A little spot down below with brimstone heating? And a host with a spike tail and horns?" Monk sneered at him. "What are you trying to start?"

"I should think," Ham told him dryly, "that you would have given a little more thought to your future residence."

Doc Savage gestured impatiently.

"Don't start one of your quarrels now. We have a job cut out for us here if we can only get our teeth into it. I'd like to see you fellows concentrate on that instead of a private fuss."

The pair looked at Doc in surprise.

"You don't put stock in this Hell stuff, do you, Doc?"

Doc jumped to his feet!

"Let's deal with proven facts -- the ones in front of our nose. First, this one: Miss Sullivan knows where her brother is!"

Monk and Ham stared at him with open mouths and round eyes.

Doc added, "Gilmore isn't far away either, I have a hunch."

"How do you know?" Monk demanded, swallowing his surprise.

"Miss Sullivan is a perfectly normal young woman who would show a normal anxiety about the welfare of a brother who had vanished several weeks ago and who had been found starving and freezing on an island. Isn't that right?"

Monk nodded. "Yeah, she's normal enough. Except about 6 times prettier than that. But I don't see … "

"The tip-off," Doc told him, "was that she wasn't the least bit anxious about Gilmore. She didn't ask how he was -- not convincingly -- and she didn't show genuine surprise when told he had disappeared again."

"Gosh!" Monk said.

"Exactly! The logical explanation for her unconcern is that she already knew about it, knew where Gilmore was, and that he was okay"

Ham Brooks frowned. "She's a mighty good-looking liar. And that's just what she is!"

"What do we do about this?" Monk wanted to know.

"You," Doc said, "don't do anything about it. Except this. Monk, you shadow Mr. Wail. Latch onto him. Don't let him make a move without your surveillance."

"Do I let him know I'm watching him?" Monk demanded.

"I don't care what Wail knows," Doc exclaimed. "His feelings about it do not enter the picture. I want him watched. Watch Wail every minute. Keep your eyes on him. Got it?"

"Right," Monk said. "I'll clamp an eye on him right now."

He wheeled for the door.

"Wait! If anything 'odd' begins happening, make plenty of uproar about it. Don't just stand there and let it happen."

Monk's expression became queer.


"And, Monk, don't take too lightly Miss Sullivan's statement that Wail isn't what he seems."

Monk started, then swallowed.

"Oh, for Cripes Sake!" he said. "When you're kidding me, why don't you use the tone of voice that goes with it?"

"Because I might not be kidding," Doc replied grimly. "Now get on the job."

Doc next swung to Ham Brooks.

"Linningen and Bill Williams are your babies, Ham. Glue yourself to their backs. Watch everything. Count how many breaths they take if you have to."

Ham said, "I'd rather count Miss Sullivan's respiration."

"Never mind."

"Somebody should sort of watch her, shouldn't they?" Ham suggested hopefully.

"She'll be watched."

"Oh? You thought of that already," Ham said in a crestfallen voice. "How do you want me to report in if I notice anything unusual?"

"Report it," Doc told him, "the quickest and loudest way. Don't bother being subtle. I have a feeling that if something breaks, haste will be the watchword. So don't blow any gentle bubbles about it."

Ham grinned. "You're expecting action?"

"Plenty of it!" Doc said. "I think the stage is set."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The screech -- when it came -- had teeth like monstrous fangs. And it bit into the calm cold night and punished it and shook it as a dog shakes a rat. The quiet of the night died violently.

Rolling out of the chair in which he had been sitting, Doc Savage hit the floor uncertainly on all fours. He remained there briefly. Not quite positive what had occurred. Not even positive of the shriek. And most of all unwilling to credit the apparent fact that he had been asleep.

The shriek broke off and fell away like a great fragment broken from a cliff and falling into space. There was silence and absolutely nothing in the silence. There was the silence for long enough to show that it had been a very effective shriek -- one that had paralyzed the night.

Then an old hen began cackling in alarm in a nearby henhouse. And in a moment, at least 50 other hens joined her.

Doc Savage came to his feet now. He did it by seizing a chair and thrusting himself upright. And this -- the fact that he needed a chair -- seemed to confuse and puzzle him. But not for long and he swung around and crossed the room and hit the door. The door was locked. He did not remember locking it.

But it was not a strong door. He hit it once with a shoulder and got through.

The hail was quiet enough. No one had stirred in the house as far as he could tell. There was a strange cavity-like silence with the hens cackling.

He saw the stuff on the floor -- the tiny patches of it that he had sprinkled in front of the doors of the bedrooms. It was powder -- the grains of which would become very sticky when they absorbed a bit of moisture from the air. The powder had the same basic ingredients with just a little variance in each type so that the fluorescence would have a different color.

The powder was stuff that he had used often before. And it should not have seemed as important to him as it did now. He stared at it and could not think why it was so prominent in his mind. There didn't seem to be a good reason. It was just stuff that would stick to your shoes and a little would rub off as you walked during the next day-or-two. The particles that rubbed off would be microscopic. But with a good ultraviolet "black light" projector -- and preferably in darkness -- a trail would be left that could be followed. Also the trail could be photographed with the proper equipment if evidence was needed in court.

But it didn't seem vital now. What counted was the scream.

Now he got it clear. The screech had been in Monk's voice.

Doc wheeled and lunged toward Monk's room. The room was supposed to be occupied by Monk and Mr. Wail, as a matter-of-fact. And reaching the door, he found it locked.

He struck the door 4-or-5 times with his fist. They were hard blows! And it was like hitting the head of a drum that had gone soft.

Back of him, a door opened. He wheeled at the sound and saw the psychiatrist Linningen standing there in the open door. Linningen seemed to weave slightly in a dazed fashion, and he kept blinking.

"What is the difficulty?" Linningen asked in a voice that somehow did not seem his own.

"You hear that yell, Linningen?"

"I … something awakened me."

"Where did it come from?"

Linningen stared blankly. "I haven't the least idea. Where has everyone gone? What's up?"

Doc stared at Linningen. Ham Brooks and Bill Williams were supposed to be sharing Linningen's large room.

"Isn't Ham Brooks in there?" Doc demanded.

"No. He and Williams are gone. I don't know where they went or how they did it without arousing me. I'm a light sleeper."

Lunging past him into the room, Doc said, "Look for signs of a struggle!"

"Struggle?" Linningen repeated in a foolish tone. "Why, there couldn't have been the least sort of commotion or it would have awakened me!"

"They could have taken the house apart around you!" Doc told him grimly. "You've been doped, man. It shows all over you."

"Doped? I was fed something at dinner?" Linningen asked blankly.

"I don't know when you were fed it," Doc snapped. "But it was a pretty slick job because they got me, too. And I was looking for it!"

The room clearly bore no sign of a struggle, however. And Doc Savage -- with Monk's howl again on his mind -- raced back into the hall. He was about to strike Monk's door when it opened and the chemist shuffled out.

"You yelled?" Doc demanded.

Monk batted his eyes owlishly … held the palm of his hand up in front of his nose and examined it … then suddenly rubbed the palm violently over his face.

"A yell?" he said. "You call that a mere 'yell'? Why, that was the most noise I've made in years! I tried to shake the house down!"


"I'd ... uh …rather not say," Monk mumbled.

Doc lunged past Monk … saw that Mr. Wail was sitting upright in bed staring in alarm ,,, and asked, "What made Monk shout?"

"Shout?" said Wail bitterly. "You can refer to such a noise as a 'shout'? I can assure you that no man ever uttered a worse squawk on finding he had been assigned to Hell. And I have listened to some excellent efforts in my time."

"You don't know what upset Monk?"

"I have no idea. Although he might have chanced to get a look at his own face in a mirror! That might do it," Wail said.

"He awakened you?"

Wail nodded. "Awakened me and made me a paralytic and a nervous wreck at the same time."

Doc Savage swung on Monk.

"All right, Monk, out with it! You didn't sound off like that without a good reason."

Monk was rubbing his face and pinching his cheek.

"I've been doped," he said. "I've been fed something to make me sleep."

"Along with the rest of us," Doc said. "But why did you let loose the howl?"

Monk wouldn't meet Doc's eyes. "Do I hafta tell you, Doc?"

"Yes. And hurry it up, too!"

Monk took a deep breath … then spoke rapidly in a tone of knowing he wouldn't be believed.

He said, "I saw a devil floating around the room. I couldn't describe him exactly except that he didn't have the customary forked tail and horns. But he was a devil. There wasn't a bit of doubt in my mind that he was a devil."

Doc asked dryly, "How in God's name do you recognize a devil as such if you didn't see enough of him for a description?"

"When you see a devil," Monk said sheepishly, "you just know that it's the devil. You don't need a description. Take it from an old boy who just saw one."

Doc gestured impatiently. "All right, now you've described your sensations. What actually happened? Where did this demon go?"

"When I yell like that, I close my eyes," Monk said somewhat guiltily. "After I got the whoop out, my visitor was gone. That's all I know."

Doc Savage noted that Mr. Wail was pale and pasty and the man's chubby hands were twitching.

"Wail, what is the matter with you?" Doc demanded.

"They've sent one of the boys to check on me," Mr. Wail said gloomily.

"One of the 'boys'?"

Wail jerked a thumb downward.

"From down below. They probably think I haven't been doing my best. To tell the truth, I haven't."

Monk emitted a howl of anger.

"You and your talk about devils!" Monk bellowed. "Damn you! That's what caused me to have a nightmare like I had. Dreaming I saw Old Nick walking around in here. It's your fault!"

"You didn't see the 'Head Boy'," Wail told him with an air of certainty. "You wouldn't be standing there unscorched jumping up-and-down like an ape if the Head Rascal had paid you a visit."

"Oh, shut up before I flatten your nose!" Monk bellowed at him.

"Monk, get control of yourself," Doc said. "You think it was a nightmare?"

"Sure it was! Somebody did dope me, though, because I can tell … "

"Ham is gone," Doc broke in.

" … tell from the way I feel. It was a barbiturate or some …"

Monk's mouth remained open a moment.

"Ham isn't here? What's that?"

"Neither is Williams," Doc said.

Mr. Wail showed considerable excitement.

"Williams is gone too?" he shouted. "If that fool amateur knew what he was monkeying with, he wouldn't be so persistent. The silly loon! I thought I'd taught him a lesson."

"What lesson?" Doc demanded.

"When I caused him to start to paddle out into the tide rip," said Mr. Wail, leering. "And a few other little things I caused him to do that he didn't tell you about."

"Deviltry, you mean?" Doc asked dryly.

"That's right."

"What," Doc inquired, "do you think Williams is doing? And where is he right now?"

Mr. Wail snorted. "Find that out for yourself!"

Monk debated between belaboring Wail with a fist and investigating to see whether Ham Brooks and Williams were really gone. The latter won and he rushed into the hall. A moment later, he was bellowing, "Miss Sullivan … She's gone too!"

This proved true. Leona Sullivan's room was empty.

Now the man-servant Clancy came from the rear of the lodge bearing a double-barreled shotgun and a flashlight. He was trailed by his wife who had a .22 rifle. Their faces were anything but peaceful.

"Master Gilmore is gone!" Clancy croaked.

Doc took a step forward.

"What's that? Gilmore is … "

"We hurried out to see if Gilmore was being molested. We heard a shriek," Clancy explained excitedly. "Gilmore is gone. I'm afraid there was violence."

His voice had risen to near incoherence.

"Gilmore has been here?"

"I ... .yes."

"How long?"

"Since this morning. He came in haste. We hid him because he did not want anyone to know he was here."

"Clancy!" his wife snapped. "You're talking too much! You're not supposed to tell about Gilmore."

"Oh, hell!" Clancy snapped. "I'm tired of these goings-on that nobody can understand. I'll talk if I want to!"

Doc demanded, "Didn't Gilmore tell a story to explain his long absence?"

Clancy shook his head. "He didn't tell any story. And I wasn't a bit surprised. Gilmore is a nice boy. But he's as nutty as a fruitcake."

"Clancy!" his wife exclaimed.

"I don't care!" Clancy told her. "He's crazy! And he's not the only crazy one around here. And if all this doesn't stop, you and I are going to hunt a new job!"

Doc asked quickly, "Will you show us where Gilmore was hiding?"

"No! He won't!" Clancy's wife snapped.

"Yes I will!" Clancy said. "I don't care what happens. I'm sick of mystery, talk about devils, and goings-on. I want to stop it. And I figure Mr. Savage is the man who can stop it. I've heard about you, Mr. Savage."

Doc told Monk, "Get your black-light scanner. I'll get mine."

Paying no attention to further objections by his wife, Clancy led them about 200 yards up the mountainside to a stone-and-log structure. At first it seemed to be a guest cabin. But Clancy said it was rented out every summer.

"Gilmore was holed up here," Clancy explained. "From the window, you can see the trail to the lodge. There's practically no other way to get up here. You can come down from the other side -- down the mountain trail, of course. But it's a roundabout way. And you can see that route from the window, too. There's a back door, so … "

"What do you find?" Doc demanded of Monk.

The latter had been casting the beam of his ultraviolet light projector about experimentally

"You sprinkled that tracer stuff where everyone would walk in it!" Monk exclaimed, wheeling to turn the beam on his own footprints which glowed a rather evil shade of green mixed with a reddish cast.

"Poke around with that scanner and see what colors you get," Doc told him. "That'll tell us who was here. Let's not waste time!"

They cast the beam of light about, calling out colors as they distinguished them. Monk found another shade of green. Doc located a yellow-purple and a blue.

"Williams brought Ham Brooks and Miss Sullivan here," Doc said, interpreting the findings. "They picked up Gilmore Sullivan. Presumably Williams did that by force, probably with the threat of a gun. And they departed on the trail that climbs the mountain."

Clancy had been a skeptical onlooker.

"That sounds like tall guesswork to me."

"No, it's probably close to what happened," Doc told him. "Ham Brooks and Miss Sullivan walked close together in approaching the cabin. They stopped in one place while Williams moved over to a window, then came back. After this, they all entered. Ham and Leona then stood in one spot while Williams did the moving about. That indicates he probably had a gun and was making them stand still.

"And from the places Williams walked, it is pretty clear he aroused Gilmore Sullivan from sleep on that bunk yonder and forced him to accompany them. We have, of course, no record of Gilmore's footprints."

"Aw, nuts!" Clancy said unbelievingly. "How come they're leaving footprints?"

"There were substances in the bedrooms they occupied. They walked in them and then they leave prints which become conspicuous under 'black light'," Doc explained.

"I don't believe it," Clancy said.

"You're a hard guy to convince," Monk told him.

"If you had been around here the last 6 months," Clancy said, "you would be a hard guy to convince, too."

"What do you mean by that?" Monk asked.

"Clancy!" warned Clancy's wife.

Clancy said, "For 6 months -- or almost that -- Gilmore's been sure that a devil was chasing him. Not a full-fledged Devil but a junior-grade one of some sort who didn't have full Devil powers. Lately, Miss Leona has started believing it was a fact. Now I ask you … "

"We have heard all that, Clancy," Doc told him. "Why are you repeating it?"

"I was just going to ask you how a man could believe anything around here," Clancy said, "with such goings-on! My God, everybody has jumped the trolley?"

Doc shrugged. "A little skepticism keeps a man on solid ground, Clancy. Too much of it keeps him from realizing when he's undermined. Come on, everybody! Let's see where the trail leads."

The Moon had dropped out of sight. But there was some bluish cold light from stars. They managed the steep, narrow trail with difficulty. The footprints were quite obvious except at times when there was some fluorescence by minerals in the Earth or stones underfoot to confuse them.

"The tracks turn off here," Monk exclaimed.

Suddenly he thrust into the bushes using the white beam of his regular flashlight.

"Hey! Here's a side trail! They took it."

"Ye Gods! They're going to Gilmore's cavern!" Clancy exploded.

"Leona told me about this cavern of Gilmore's," Doc said. "So it's up this way, is it?"

"Pretty close. Not more'n a quarter-of-a-mile," said Clancy.

"I understand that Gilmore spent a lot of time the last few years exploring this cave. So it must be a large one."

"I guess it's a big one all right."

"You've been in it?"

"Not me. Well … about 10 feet," Clancy admitted hurriedly. "Me, I'm no caveman. I keep wondering what if the roof fell in on me."

They continued the climb and came eventually to a heavy wooden door that closed an aperture in the stone.

"That the cavern entrance?"

"That's it," Clancy replied.

"And they went in, didn't they?"

Mr. Wail burst out in a shrill voice, "I'm getting out of here!"

"Grab him, Monk," Doc ordered.

Chapter VII

A few red fingers of dawn were thrusting upward in the eastern sky. The cave entrance was high, affording a view of the valley which was now floored with cotton-like fog. Presently Monk Mayfair returned -- panting -- from the lodge.

"Here's the stuff you wanted, Doc," he said.

"You brought the rope, the gadget case, the generating flashlights, and sandwiches and water?" Doc demanded.

"Yep. All of it. Why you wanted grub enough for a week, I can't imagine. I don't plan to stay in nobody's cave a week."

"Me neither!" declared Clancy vehemently.

"Clancy, you're not even going in there!" his wife told him.

Clancy nodded. "My idea exactly if I can make it stick."

He looked up at Doc Savage anxiously. "You seem to suspect everybody around here, Mr. Savage. I can't say I blame you. We did hide out poor Gilmore, pretending we didn't know he was here. But what about it? Do I have to go cave-crawling? I sure don't hanker after the idea."

"You'd like to stay outside, is that it?" Doc Savage asked.

"Didn't I make myself clear?"

Doc eyed him intently.

"You have some plans, I take it?"

"Not any you would object to if you're on the up-and-up," Clancy said.


Clancy said grimly, "I'm going to call the State Police. That's my plan."

"Good for you, Clancy. You do just that," Doc said.

"Whew! You mean I don't have to go in there?"

"Not if you call the police."

"I'll see that he does, Mr. Savage!" Clancy's wife said emphatically.

Doc approached the wooden door … listened … heard nothing suspicious and wrenched the door open. Nothing happened.

He tossed a rock inside. It clicked against stone … magnified echoes returned … and there was silence.

"Monk, are you ready to go in?" Doc asked.

"No," Monk replied. "But I'm as ready as I'll probably ever be. You want me to go first?"

"Tie one end of the rope to Mr. Wail. We'll let him lead the way like a bloodhound," Doc said dryly. "Does that meet your approval, Wail?"

Wail sneered: "You'll wish you hadn't done this! You'll wish it more than you ever wished anything in your life!"

"Lead on, Wail," Doc ordered curtly. "Leona Sullivan and my friend Ham Brooks are in there somewhere. If you think we're not going to help them, you're crazy."

To enter the cavern mouth was a nerve-wracking thing. The entrance was narrow. Even the pallid icy moonlight must have been a background that silhouetted them. It was a perfect spot for an ambush. But they passed inside and traversed about 40 feet without contact with any physical danger.

When Doc was inclined to halt, Mr. Wail gave the rope an impatient jerk, saying, "Come on, come on! Nothing is going to bother you yet."

Doc gave the rope a wrench of his own, hauling Wail back on his heels.

"I take it you've been this way before," Doc said.

"Did I say differently?"


"I chased Gilmore Sullivan all over this place," Mr. Wail said. "Believe me, it was some job! And not a very successful one either or I wouldn't be here now."

Doc said dryly, "We're to understand that you didn't catch Gilmore?"

"I caught him all right. Several times. But it didn't do me much good. I couldn't handle him all in one batch. And he got to the exit and escaped before I got him worn down to my size."

"You're frank, anyway," Doc told him. "An unusual sort of frankness, too. The kind that can get you into trouble."

Wail snorted! "You haven't any trouble that will compare with the doses of it I've already had. In fact -- speaking as a lad who has had quite a sojourn in Hades -- I can say that when you threaten me with trouble, you're being pretty damn childish."

Monk put in grimly, "Tell me this, Wail. How are your physical senses? Do you feel pain?"

"Unfortunately, my body for the time-being is as human as yours."

"Then," Monk said, "if I gave you a good kick on the fantail deck, you would feel it? Now if you don't shut up about this Tophet stuff, that's just what you're going to get!"

"Worry you, do I?" Wail asked.

"You irritate me, anyway."

"That's right. You probably haven't brains enough to be worried. Worry is the exclusive burden of the intelligent mind."

Monk said, "Oh, dry up and let's listen. The footprints show Miss Sullivan, Ham, Williams, and probably Gilmore Sullivan entered here. This place can't be so big. We may be able to hear them."

"It'll surprise you how BIG this place is," Wail said.

Their straining ears caught no sound. Not even the dripping of water, Doc noted. He reflected that it was evidently a dry cave at this level. There was a pronounced flow of air against their faces. It was freighted with a faint and not distasteful odor.

"Odd odor," Linningen commented.

It was practically the first word the psychiatrist had spoken.

"What," asked Wail curiously, "would you say the odor was?"

Linningen pondered in the darkness.

"It has a flowery quality," he remarked. "I would say -- if I were outside -- that there were flowers some distance away. But in here, I presume it means the presence of some sort of subterranean plant life. Or possibly a reaction of chemical nature between the content of rock strata and moisture."

Wail seemed to consider this funny. He burst into a cackling roar of hilarity. The sound of his laughter rose and tumbled away, hit the walls and interstices of the cavern, and came gobbling back with a tremulous labyrinthine overtone that gave it a demoniacal glee. The laughter kept up and Doc Savage -- suddenly unnerved by the Satanical reverberations of the mirth -- gave Wail a hard poke in the ribs with his thumb. That stopped the unholy yakking.

"Lead on," Doc said. "Monk, you fall back about 50 feet with Linningen. Better just keep us in sight in case there is an ambush. That way, we will not all be trapped. And use your flashlights sparingly."

"Flowers!" Wail exclaimed, giggling. "Can you beat that? The boys in the outer room would think that very funny."

The way led downward. Doc Savage played his flashlight beam on the walls. He took note that the strata was not unusual, being typical of the caves which were a tourist attraction in New York state and parts of New England. Like practically all such subterranean labyrinths from Mammoth Cave to Carlsbad Caverns (the 2 best-publicized natural caves), it was the work of time and seepage water against rock strata that was either soluble or softer than the surrounding stone.

One fact became evident. At least one person in the party they were following knew where he was going.

There being no trail, progress was vastly a different matter from strolling along a prepared route inspecting the wonders of such a cavern as Carlsbad. This one was far from being as large as Carlsbad. And for the time-being, there were no stalagmites or stalactites. Jagged patterns in the stone, however, often bore a resemblance to the stone icicles.

The rate of descent was astonishing. More-and-more frequently, there were declines where they had to slide for yards where the return trip would not be easy. Monk called nervously from some distance back.

"Doc, is there much danger of this fluorescein stuff fading so we can't find our way back out by following the trail it makes?"

"Not much," Doc said. "But pick up loose stones whenever you find them and make cairns."

"Okay. But there aren't many loose stones."

Several times they halted to rest. Now the silence came to their attention. The utter and complete silence of a tomb. And coupled with the darkness which was absolutely complete when their flashlights were extinguished, it was an unnerving experience.

Monk began clicking 2 small rocks together during the rest periods, working out a signal code based on Morse. And Doc Savage -- after his initial feeling that the act was childish -- welcomed the little sounds that broke the silence. After that, he replied to Monk.

Consulting his watch, Doc was astonished to find they had been engaged in the descent into the entrails of the Earth for nearly 6 hours. Time had passed rapidly and he called a halt for lunch.

"You better go easy on your stock of food," Wail said contemptuously. "You've got farther to go than you think."

"We've come quite a distance already," Doc remarked.

"A couple of miles," Wail said.

"No, more than that. We must be making at least 2 miles-an-hour and we've been at it 6 hours."

"I meant straight down," Wail said.


Doc was impressed in spite of himself. Wail was probably right at that.

"How much farther would you say we'll have to go before overtaking Williams and his prisoners?" Doc inquired.

This drew no answer although Wail had been quite willing to talk up until now. Turning the light of his flash on Wail's cherubic but somehow evil face, Doc saw with astonishment that Wail looked greatly worried.

"Well?" Doc said sharply. "Haven't you a guess as to how much farther? You've been mighty positive about everything until now."

"If I knew for sure how much brass this guy Williams packs, I would have a better idea of what to expect," Wail replied.

"By 'brass', do you mean rank?"

"That's it," Wail said. "If he's a junior grade imp like myself, we haven't much to fear. I mean, you can cope with these fellows who rate as about 99th assistant devil. But if the chap has more rank, your goose is cooked."

And in a moment, Wail added gloomily, "And so is mine."

"If you and Williams are fraternal brothers, there's probably no cause for you to be alarmed," Doc said dryly.

Wail groaned. "What kind of place do you think Hell is? It's full of devils. And they keep in practice with their work by deviling each other."

Doc chuckled in spite of himself.

"Practice makes perfect, eh?"

Wail became resentful.

"It's not amusing, I can tell you! It isn't a pleasant place."

"You don't sound as if you liked it down there?"

"I sure didn't!" Wail declared vehemently. "I'd have liked it less, only I arrived with a pretty good record."

Then Wail added thoughtfully, "I got in about 170 years ago when the entrance requirements were stiffer."

"Oh, you died 170 ago?"

"That's right. 171 to be exact." Wail sighed. "A bunch of Colonials were chasing me with the notion of hanging me. My horse stumbled and I fell off and broke my neck. I wish they'd hanged me because it would have looked better on my record. Maybe I could have made better rank than junior grade devil by now."

"But you say you arrived pretty well equipped with entrance credentials?" Doc prompted.

"Well, right fairish," Wail admitted. "I was quite a scoundrel if I do say so myself. I looted a bank, married 7 wives, financed some piracy expeditions, and sailed on one myself although pirating was a rougher business than I liked."

He sighed. "We had rugged times back in those days. But nothing compared to chaps like Genghis Khan and a couple of the Caesars and Napoleon."

"Oh, you met them down there?"

Wail sniffed. "No, of course not! Do you think a fellow could circulate and meet all the guests in Hell in a mere 170 years? But I've heard they were there and hold pretty good ratings."

"But you didn't like it?"

"You're darn tooting I didn't!" Wail said gloomily. "That's why I sort of laid down on the job of catching up with Gilmore Sullivan and fetching him back."

"The object hasn't been to kill Gilmore?"

"No. Nothing like that. That would be worse than his staying alive on Earth, although that wouldn't be good either. He would be sure to pass around information about our place down there. People would find out about conditions in the future, and it would make the deviling business tougher. A lot of people don't believe there's a Hell. That makes our job easier."

"And if Gilmore died?"

"Oh, he'd go packing his information off in the other direction. That would he bad for our side. You see, Gilmore Sullivan got a good look at our layout. He'd have firsthand information to pass along."

"How," Doc asked, "did Gilmore happen to get this look at your place?"

"You remember a slight earthquake shock about 6-or-8 months ago?" Wail asked.

"There was something in the newspapers about one, yes."

"Well, it opened a crack," Wail said. "Gilmore Sullivan was down about 15 miles, exploring. And he came across the crack and peeked through. You can imagine how he felt. And how quick he got out of there. I was dispatched to bring him back. Not because I was a qualified devil -- being only junior-grade -- but because I was the handiest man at the time."

"Only 15 miles down?" Doc inquired.

"Yeah. They been enlarging down there and I guess they carelessly pushed out too close to the surface."

"How about the crack? It still open?" Doc asked.

"Why? Do you want to have a look?"

"I don't believe I would care too much about that," Doc replied solemnly.

"You are wise. Well, about the crack … They've got a bunch of apprentices busy closing it up. But I understand it's going slow."

"Working like the Devil, eh?"

"Well, they're in there trying," Wail said.

Monk Mayfair -- in a mixture of plaintive rage and terror -- called, "Cut out that line of kidding, will you! You may think it's an amusing pastime. But I don't! Not in a place like this!"

"So he thinks it's 'kidding', no less," Mr. Wail murmured and sniffed.

To BE Concluded

No comments:

Post a Comment