Thursday, March 26, 2009

Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze (part 2 of 22)

II -- A Message from the Dead

Falling rain strewed the outer side of the windowpane with water. Far below -- very pallid in the soaking murk -- were streetlights. Over on the Hudson River, a steamer was tooting a foghorn. The frightened, mooing horn was hardly audible inside the room.
Some blocks away, the skyscraper under construction loomed a darksome pile, crowned with a spidery labyrinth of steel girders. Only the vaguest outlines of it were discernible.
Impossible, of course, to glimpse the strange crimson-fingered servant of death in that wilderness of metal!
Doc Savage said slowly, "I was far away when my father died."
He did not explain where he had been -- did not mention his "Fortress of Solitude", his rendezvous built on a rocky island deep in the Arctic regions. He had been there.
It was to this spot that Doc retired periodically to brush up on the newest developments in Science, Psychology, Medicine, Engineering. This was the secret of his universal knowledge, for his periods of concentration there were long and intense.
The "Fortress of Solitude" had been his father's recommendation. And no one on Earth knew the location of the retreat. Once there, nothing could interrupt Doc's studies and experiments.
Without taking his golden eyes from the wet window, Doc asked, "Was there anything strange about my father's death?"
"We're not certain," Renny muttered and set his thin lips in an expression of ominousness.
"I, for one, am certain!" snapped Littlejohn. He settled more firmly on his nose the glasses which had the extremely thick left lens.
"What do you mean, Johnny?" Doc Savage asked.
"I am positive your father was murdered!" Johnny's gauntness and his studious scientist look gave him a profoundly serious expression.
Doc Savage swung slowly from the window. His bronze face had not changed expression. But under his brown business coat, tensing muscles had made his arms inches farther around!
"Why do you say that, Johnny?"
Johnny hesitated. His right eye narrowed, the left remained wide and a little blank behind the thick spectacle lens. He shrugged.
"Only a hunch," he admitted … then added, almost shouting: "But I'm right about it! I know I am!"
That was Johnny's way. He had absolute faith in what he called his "hunches". And nearly always he was right. But on occasions when he was wrong, though, he was very wrong indeed.
"Exactly what did the doctors say caused death?" Doc asked. Doc's voice was low and pleasant. But it was a voice capable of great volume and changing tone.
Renny answered that. Renny's voice was like thunder gobbling out of a cave. "The doctors didn't know. It was a new one on them. Your father broke out with queer circular red patches on his neck. And he lasted only a couple of days."
"I ran all kinds of chemical tests trying to find if it was poison or germs or what it was caused the red spots," Monk interposed, slowly opening-and-closing his huge red-furred fists. "I never found out a thing!"
Monk's looks were deceiving. His low forehead apparently didn't contain room for a spoonful of brains. Actually, Monk was in a way of being the most widely-known chemist in America. He was a Houdini of the test tubes!
"We have no facts upon which to base suspicion," clipped Ham, the waspish Harvard lawyer whose quick thinking had earned him a brigadier generalship in the World War. "But we're suspicious anyway."
Doc Savage moved abruptly across the room to a steel safe. The safe was huge, reaching above his shoulders. He swung it open.
It was instantly evident that explosive had torn the lock out of the safe door!
A long, surprised gasp swished around the room.
"I found it broken into when I came back," Doc explained. "Maybe that has a connection with my father's death. Maybe not."

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Doc's movements were rhythmic as he swung over and perched on a corner of the big, inlaid table before the window. His eyes roved slowly over the beautifully furnished office. There was another office adjoining the Reception room. It was larger and contained a Library of technical books that was priceless because of its completeness.
And adjoining that was the vast Laboratory room, replete with apparatus for chemical and electrical experiments.
This was about all the worldly goods the elder Savage had left behind.
"What's eating you, Doc?" asked the giant Renny. "We all got the word from you to show up here tonight. Why?"
Doc Savage's strange golden eyes roved over the assembled men. From Renny, whose knowledge of engineering in all its branches was profound … to Long Tom, who was an electrical wizard … to Johnny, whose fund of information on the structure of the Earth and ancient races which had inhabited it was extremely vast … to Ham, the clever Harvard lawyer and quick thinker … and finally to Monk, who in spite of his resemblance to a gorilla was a great chemist.
In these 5 men, Doc knew he had five of the greatest brains ever to assemble in one group. Each was surpassed in his field by only one human being -- Doc Savage himself!
"I think you can guess why you are here," Doc said.
Monk rubbed his hairy hands together. Of the 6 men present, Monk's skin alone bore scars. The skin of the others held no marks of their adventurous past, thanks to Doc's uncanny skill in causing wounds to heal without leaving scars.
But not Monk. His tough, rusty iron hide was so marked with gray scars that it looked as if a flock of chickens with gray-chalk feet had paraded on him. This was because Monk refused to let Doc treat him. Monk gloried in his tough looks.
"Our big job is about to start, huh?" said Monk, vast satisfaction in his mild voice.
Doc nodded. "The work to which we shall devote the rest of our lives."
At that statement, great satisfaction appeared upon the face of every man present. They showed eagerness for what was to come.
Doc dangled a leg from the corner of the table. Unwittingly -- for he knew nothing of the red-fingered killer lurking in the distant skyscraper that was under construction -- Doc had placed his back out of line with the window. In fact, since the men had entered, he had not once been aligned with the window.
"We first got together back in the War," he told the five slowly. "We all liked the big scrap. It got into our blood. When we came back, the hum-drum life of an ordinary man was not suited to our natures. So we sought something else."
Doc held their absolute attention as if he had them hypnotized. Undeniably this golden-eyed man was the leader of the group as well as leader of anything he undertook. His very being denoted a calm knowledge of all things and an ability to handle himself under any conditions.
"Moved by mutual admiration for my father," Doc continued, "we decided to take up his work of good wherever he was forced to leave off. We at once began training ourselves for that purpose. It is the cause for which I had been reared from the cradle. But you fellows -- because of a love of excitement and adventure -- wish to join me."
Doc Savage paused. He looked over his companions one-by-one in the soft light of the well-furnished office -- one of the few remaining evidences of the wealth that once belonged to his father.
"Tonight," he went on soberly, "we begin carrying out the ideals of my father: To go here-and-there, from one end of the World to the other, looking for excitement and adventure, striving to help those who need help … and punishing those who deserve it!"

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There was a somber silence after that immense pronunciation.
It was Monk -- matter-of-fact person that he was -- who shattered the quiet.
"What flubdubs me is who broke into that safe? And why?" he grumbled. "Doc, could it have any connection with your father's death?"
"It could, of course," Doc explained. "The contents of the safe had been rifled. I do not know whether my father had anything of importance in it. But I suspect there was."
Doc drew a folded paper from inside his coat. The lower half of the paper had been burned away. That was evident from the charred edges. Doc continued speaking.
"Finding this in a corner of the safe leads me to that belief. The explosion which opened the safe obviously destroyed the lower part of the paper. And the robber probably overlooked the rest. Here … read it."
He passed it to the 5 men. The paper was covered with the fine -- almost engraving-perfect -- writing of Doc's father. They all recognized the penmanship instantly. They read:

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I have many things to tell you. In your whole lifetime, there never was an occasion when I desired you here so much as I do now. I need you, Son, because many things have happened which indicate to me that my last journey is at hand. You will find that I have nothing much to leave you in the way of tangible wealth.

I have, however, the satisfaction of knowing that in you I shall live.

I have developed you from boyhood into the sort of man you have become. And I have spared no time or expense to make you just what I think you should be.

Everything I have done for you has been with the purpose that you should find yourself capable of carrying on the work which hopefully started and which -- in these last few years -- has been almost impossible to carry on.

If I do not see you again before this letter is in your hands, I want to assure you that I appreciate the fact that you have lacked nothing in the way of filial devotion. That you have been absent so much of the time has been a secret source of gratification to me. For your absence has, I know, made you self-reliant and able. It was all that I hoped for you.

Now, as to the heritage which I am about to leave you:

What I am passing along to you may be a doubtful heritage. It may be a heritage of woe. It may even be a heritage of destruction to you if you attempt to capitalize on it. On the other hand, it may enable you to do many things for those who are not so fortunate as you yourself and will -- in that way -- be a boon for you in carrying on your work of doing good to all.

Here is the general information concerning it:

Some 20 years ago -- in company with Hubert Robertson -- I went on an expedition to Hidalgo in Central America to investigate the report of a prehistoric …

There the missive ended. Flames had consumed the rest.
"The thing to do is get hold of Hubert Robertson!" clipped the quick-thinking Ham. Waspish and rapid-moving, he swung over to the telephone an scooped it up. "I know Hubert Robertson's phone number. He is connected with the Museum of Natural History."
"You won't get him," Doc said dryly.
"Why not?"
Doc got off the table and stood beside the giant Renny. It was only then that one realized what a BIG man Doc was. Alongside Renny, Doc was like dynamite alongside gunpowder!
"Hubert Robertson is dead," Doc explained. "He died from the same thing that killed my father -- a weird malady that started with a breaking out of red spots. And he died at about the same time as my father."

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Renny's thin mouth pinched even tighter at that. Gloom seemed to settle on his long face. He looked like a man disgusted enough with the evils of the World to cry.
Strangely enough, that somber look denoted that Renny was beginning to take interest. The tougher the going got, the better Renny functioned and the more puritanical he looked.
"That flooeys our chances of finding out more about this heritage your father left you!" he rumbled.
"Not entirely," Doc corrected. "Wait here a moment."
He stepped through another door and crossed the room banked with the volumes of his father's great technical Library. Through a second door … and he was in the Laboratory.
Cases laden with chemicals stood thick as forest trees on the floor. There were electrical coils, vacuum tubes, ray apparatus, microscopes, retorts, electric furnaces -- everything that could go into such a laboratory.
From a cabinet, Doc lifted a metal box closely resembling an old-fashioned "magic lantern". The lens -- instead of being ordinary optical glass -- was a very dark purple, almost black. There was a cord for plugging into an electric-light socket.
Doc carried this into the room where his 5 men waited. He placed it on a stand, aimed the lens at the window, and plugged the cord into an electric outlet.
Before putting the thing in operation, he lifted the metal lid and beckoned to Long Tom, the electrical wizard.
"Know what this is?"
"Of course." Long Tom pulled absently at an ear that was too big, too thin, and too pale. "That is a lamp for making ultraviolet rays -- or what is commonly called 'black light'. The rays are invisible to the human eye since they are shorter than ordinary light. But many substances when placed in the black light will glow or fluoresce after the fashion of luminous paint on a watch dial. Examples of such substances are ordinary vaseline, quinine …"
"That's plenty," interposed Doc. "Look at the window I've pointed this at. See anything unusual about it?"
Johnny -- the gaunt archaeologist-geologist -- advanced to the window and removing his glasses as he went. He held the thick-lensed left glass before his right eye, inspecting the window.
In reality, the left side of Johnny's glasses was an extremely powerful magnifying lens. His work often required a magnifier. So he wore one over his left eye which was virtually useless because of an injury received in the World War.
"I can find nothing," Johnny declared. "There's nothing unusual about the window."
"I hope you're wrong," Doc said with sobriety in his wondrously modulated voice. "But you could not see the writing on that window, should there be any. The substance my father perfected for leaving secret messages was absolutely invisible. But it glows under ultraviolet light."
"You mean …" hairy Monk rumbled.
"… that my father and I often left each other notes written on that window," Doc explained. "Watch!"
Doc crossed the room -- a big, dynamic man, light on his feet as a kitten for all his size -- and turned out the lights. He came back to the black-light box. His hand -- supple despite its enormous tendons -- clicked the switch that shot current into the apparatus.
Instantly written words sprang out on the darkened windowpane! Glowing with a dazzling electric blue, the effect of their sudden appearance was uncanny.
A split-second later came a terrific report! A bullet knocked the glass into hundreds of fragments, wiping out the sparkling blue message before they could read it. The bullet passed entirely through the steel-plate inner door of the safe. It embedded in the safe back.

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The room reeked silence. One second … then two … Nobody had moved.
And then a new sound was heard. It was a low, mellow, trilling sound. Like the song of some strange bird of the jungle. Or the sound of the wind filtering through a jungled forest. It was melodious, though it had no tune. It was inspiring, though it was not awesome.
The amazing sound had the peculiar quality of seeming to come from everywhere within the room rather than from a definite spot as though permeated with an eerie essence of ventriloquism.
A purposeful calm settled over Doc Savage's 5 men as they heard that sound. Their breathing became less rapid; their brains more alert.
For this weird sound was part of Doc -- a small, unconscious thing which he did in moments of utter concentration. To his friends it was both the cry of battle and the song of triumph. It would come upon his lips when a plan of action was being arranged, precoursing a master stroke which made all things certain.
It would come again in the midst of some struggle when the odds were all against his men, when everything seemed lost. And with the sound, new strength would come to all … and the tide would always turn.
And again, it might come when some beleaguered member of the group -- alone and attacked -- had almost given up all hope of survival. Then that sound would filter through some way … and the victim knew that help was at hand.
The whistling sound was a sign of Doc. Of safety. And of Victory!
"Who got it?" asked Johnny. He could be heard settling his glasses more firmly on his bony nose.
"No one," said Doc. "Let us crawl, brothers … crawl! That was no ordinary rifle bullet from the sound of it!"
At that instant, a second bullet crashed into the room! It came not through the window but through some inches of brick and mortar which comprised the wall. Plaster sprayed across the thick carpet!

To Be Continued...Tomorrow!

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