Sunday, March 29, 2009

Doc Savage: Man of Bronze (part 3 of 22)

III -- The Enemy

Doc Savage was the last of the six to enter the adjoining room. But he was inside the room in less than 10 seconds! They moved with amazing speed, these men!
Doc flashed across the big Library. The speed with which he traversed the darkness -- never disturbing an article of furniture! -- showed the marvelous development of his senses. No jungle cat could have done better.
Expensive binoculars reposed in a desk drawer. A high-power hunting rifle was in a corner cabinet. In splits-of-seconds, Doc had these and was at the window.
He watched … waited.
No more shots followed the first two.
4 minutes … 5 minutes … Doc bored into the night with the binoculars. He peered into every office window within range. There were hundreds. He scrutinized the spidery framework of the observation tower atop the skyscraper under construction. Darkness packed the labyrinth of girders, and he could discern no trace of the bushwhacker.
"He's gone," Doc concluded aloud.
No sound of movement followed his words. Then the window shade ran down loudly in the room where they had been shot at. The 5 men stiffened … then relaxed at Doc's low call. Doc had moved soundlessly to the shade and drawn it.
Doc was beside the safe and the lights were turned on when they entered.
The window glass had been clouted completely out of the sash. It lay in glistening chunks and spears on the luxuriant carpet.
The glowing message which had been on it seemed destroyed forever.
"Somebody was laying for me outside," Doc said with no worry at all in his well-developed voice. "They evidently couldn't get just the aim they wanted at me through the window. When we turned out the light to look at the writing on the window, they thought we were leaving the building. So they took a couple of shots for wild luck."
"Next time, Doc, suppose we have bulletproof glass in these windows?" Renny suggested, the humor in his voice belying his dour look.
"Sure," said Doc dryly. "Next time! We're on the 86th floor and it's quite common to be shot at here."
Ham interposed a sarcastic snort. He bounced over -- waspish, quick-moving -- and nearly managed to thrust his slender arm through the hole the bullet had tunneled in the brick wall.
"Even if you put in bulletproof windows, you'd have to be blame careful to set in front of them!" he clipped dryly.
Doc was studying the hole in the safe door, noting particularly the angle at which the powerful bullet had entered. He opened the safe. The big bullet -- almost intact -- was embedded in the safe rear wall.
Renny ran a great arm into the safe and grasped the bullet with his fingers. His giant arm muscles corded as he tried to pull it out. The fist that could drive bodily through inch-thick planking with perfect ease was defied by the embedded metal slug.
"Whew!" snorted Renny. "That's a job for a drill and cold chisels."
Saying nothing -- merely as if he wanted to see if the bullet was stuck as tightly as Renny said -- Doc reached into the safe.
Great muscles popped up along his arm suddenly split his coat sleeve wide open. He glanced at the ruined sleeve ruefully … and brought his arm out of the safe.
The bullet lay loosely in his palm!

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Renny could not have looked more astounded had a spike-tailed Devil hopped out of the safe! The expression on his puritanical face was ludicrous.
Doc weighed the bullet in his palm. The lids were drawn over his golden eyes. He seemed to be giving his marvelous brain every chance to work. And he was! He was guessing the weight of that bullet within a few grains almost as accurately as a chemist's scale could weigh it.
"750 grains," he decided. "That makes it a .577 caliber Nitro-Express rifle. Probably the gun that fired that shot was a double-barreled rifle."
"How d'you figure that?" asked Ham. Possibly the most astute of Doc's five friends, Doc's reasoning nevertheless got away from even Ham.
"There were only 2 shots," Doc clarified. "Also, cartridges of this tremendous size are usually fired from double-barreled elephant rifles."
"Let's do somethin' about this!" boomed Monk. "The bushwhacker may get away while we're jawin'!"
"He's probably fled already since I could locate no trace of him with the binoculars," Doc replied. "But we'll do something about it right enough!"
With exactly 4 terse sentences -- one each directed at Renny, Long Tom, Johnny, and Monk -- Doc gave all the orders he needed to. He did not explain in detail what they were to do. That wasn't necessary. He merely gave them the idea of what he wanted … and they set to work and got it in short order. They were clever, these men of Doc's.
Renny, the engineer, picked a slide rule from the drawer of a desk, a pair of dividers, some paper, and a length of string. He probed the angle at which the bullet had passed through the inner safe door, and calculated expertly the slight amount the window had probably deflected it. In less than a minute, he had his string aligned from the safe to a spot midway in the window and was sighting down it.
"Snap out of it, Long Tom!" he called impatiently.
"Just keep your shirt on!" Long Tom complained. He was doing his own share as rapidly as the engineer.
Long Tom had made a swift swing into the Library and Laboratory collecting odds-and-ends of electrical material. With a couple of powerful light bulbs he unscrewed from sockets, some tin, and a pocket mirror he borrowed from -- of all people! -- Monk, Long Tom rigged an apparatus to project a thin, extremely powerful beam of light. He added a flashlight lens and borrowed the magnifying half of Johnny's glasses before he got just the effect he desired.
Long Tom sighted his light beam down Renny's string, thus locating precisely -- in the gloomy mass of skyscrapers -- the spot from whence the shots had come.
In the meantime, Johnny -- with fingers and eye made expert by years of assembling bits of pottery from ancient ruins and the bones of prehistoric monsters -- was fitting the shattered windowpane together. A task that would have taken a layman hours, Johnny accomplished in minutes.
Johnny turned the black-light apparatus on the glass. The message in glowing blue sprang out. Intact!
Monk came waddling in from the Laboratory. In the big furry hands that swung below his knees, he carried several bottles, tightly corked. They held a fluid of villainous color.
From the wealth of chemical formulas within his head, Monk had compounded a gas with which to fight their opponents should they succeed in cornering whoever had fired that shot. It was a gas that would instantly paralyze any one who inhaled it. But the effects were only temporary and not harmful.

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They all gathered around the table on which Johnny had assembled the fragments of glass. All but Renny who was still calculating his angles. And as Doc flashed the light upon the glass, they read the message written there:
Important papers back of the red brick …
Before the message could mean anything to their minds, Renny shouted his discovery.
"It's from the observation tower on that unfinished skyscraper!" he cried. "That's where the shot came from … and the sharpshooter must still be somewhere up there!"
"Let's go!" Doc ordered. And the men surged out into the massive, shining corridor of the building straight to the battery of elevators.
If they noticed that Doc tarried behind several seconds, none of them remarked the fact. Doc was always doing little things like that. Little things that often turned out to have amazing consequences later.
The men piled into the opened elevator with a suddenness that startled the dozing operator. He wouldn't be able to sleep on the job the rest of the night!
With a whine like a lost pup, the cage sank.
Grimly silent, Doc and his 5 friends were a remarkable collection of men. They so impressed the elevator operator that he would have shot the lift past the 1st floor into the basement had Doc not dropped a bronze, long-fingered hand on the control.
Doc led out through the lobby at a trot. A taxi was cocked in at the curb, its driver dreaming over the wheel. 4 of the 6 men piled into the machine. Doc and Renny rode the running board.
"Do a 'Barney Oldfield'!" Doc directed the cab driver.
The hack jumped away from the curb as if stung.
Rain sheeted against Doc's strong, bronzed face and his straight, close-lying bronze hair. An unusual fact was at once evident. Doc's bronze skin and hair had the strange quality of seeming impervious to water. They didn't get appreciably wet. He shed water like the proverbial duck's back!
The streets were virtually deserted in this shopping region. Over toward the theater district, perhaps, there would be a crowd.
Brakes giving one long squawk, the taxi skidded sidewise to the curb and stopped. Doc and Renny were instantly running for the entrance of the new skyscraper. The 4 passengers came out of the cab door as if blown out. Ham still carried his plain black cane.
"My pay!" howled the taxi driver.
"Wait for us!" Doc flung back at him.
In the recently finished building lobby, Doc yelled for the watchman. He got no answer. He was puzzled. There should be one around.
They entered an elevator and sent it upward to the topmost floor. Still no watchman! They sprang up a staircase to where all construction but steel work ceased. There they found the watchmen.
The man -- a big Irishman with cheeks so plump and red they looked like the halves of Christmas apples -- was bound and gagged! He was indeed grateful when Doc turned him loose. But quite astounded! For Doc -- not bothering with the knots -- simply freed the Irishman by snapping the stout ropes with his fingers as easily as he would cords.
"Begorra, man!" muttered the Irishman. "'Tis not human yez can be with a strength like that!"
"Who tied you up?" Doc asked compellingly. "What did he look like?"
"Faith, I dunno!" declared the son of Erin. "'Twas not a single look or a smell I got of him. Except for one thing. The fingers of the man were red on the ends. Like he had dipped 'em in blood!"

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On up into the wilderness of steel girders, the 6 men climbed. They left the Irishman behind. He was rubbing spots where the ropes had hurt him and mumbling to himself about a man who broke ropes with his fingers and another man who had red fingertips.
"This is about the right height," said the gaunt Johnny, bounding at Doc's heels. "He was shooting from about here."
Johnny was hardly breathing rapidly. A tall, poorly looking man, Johnny nevertheless exceeded all the others -- excepting Doc -- in endurance. He had been known to go for 3 days and 3 nights steadily with only a slice of bread and a canteen of water.
Doc veered right. He had taken a flashlight from an inside pocket.
It was not like other flashlights, that one of Doc's. It employed no battery. A tiny, powerful generator -- built into the handle and driven by a stout spring and clockwork -- supplied the current. One twist of the flash handle would wind the spring and furnish light current for some minutes. A special receptacle held spare bulbs. There was not much chance of Doc's light playing out.
The flash spiked a white rod of luminance ahead. It picked up a workman's platform of heavy planks.
"The shot came from there!" Doc vouchsafed.
A steel girder -- a few inches wide, slippery with moisture -- offered a short cut to the platform. Doc ran along it as surefooted as a bronze spider on a web thread. His 5 men -- knowing they would be flirting with death among the steel beams hundreds of feet below -- decided to go around. And they did it very carefully.
Doc had picked 2 empty cartridges off the platform and was scrutinizing them when his 5 friends put relieved feet on the planks.
"A cannon!" Monk gulped after one look at the great size of the cartridges.
"Not quite," Doc replied. "They are cartridges for the elephant rifle that I told you about. And it was a double-barreled rifle the sniper used."
"What makes you so sure, Doc?" asked big, sober-faced Renny.
Doc pointed at the plank surface of the platform. Barely visible were 2 tiny marks side-by-side. Now that Doc had called their attention to the marks, the others knew they had been made by the muzzle of a double-barreled elephant rifle rested for a moment on the boards.
"He was a short man," Doc added. "Shorter even than Long Tom here. And much wider."
"Huh?" This was beyond even quick-thinking Ham.
Seemingly unaware of their great height and the certain death the slightest misstep would bring, Doc swung around the group and back the easy route they had come. He pointed to a girder which -- because of the roof effect of another girder above -- was dry on one side. But there was a damp smear on the dry steel.
"The sniper rubbed it with his shoulder in passing," Doc explained. "That shows how tall he is. It also shows he has wide shoulders because only a wide-shouldered man would rub the girder. Now …"
Doc fell suddenly silent. As rigid as if he were the hard bronze he so resembled, he poised against the girder. His glittering golden eyes seemed to grow luminous in the darkness.
"What is it, Doc?" asked Renny.
"Someone just struck a match … up there in the room where we were shot at." He interrupted himself with an explosive sound. "There! He's lighted another!"
Doc instantly whipped the binoculars -- he had brought them along from the office -- from his pocket. He aimed them at the window.
He got but a fragmentary glimpse. The match was about burned out. Only the tips of the prowler's fingers were clearly lighted.
"His fingers … the ends are red!" Doc voiced what he had seen.

To Be Continued...Now!

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