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ARTHUR LEO ZAGAT

DOC TURNER'S INQUISITION

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A DOC TURNER STORY



First published in The Spider, November 1934

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version Date: 2017-11-27
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

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The Spider, November 1934, with "Doc Turner's Inquisition"



The man who menaced one of Morris Street's own was a torture fiend incarnate... but Doc Turner mixed a wizard's brew that might well have made the devil himself know fear!



THE price of her Eastern Mink wrap would have maintained a Morris Street family for five years; that of the Schiaperelli pumps in which she tapped over the worn threshold of Turner's Drugstore might have paid for the shabby footgear that crossed it in a month. But all the ministrations of ten-dollar-an-hour beauticians could not conceal the taut dread in the woman's face, nor the anguish lurking beneath the lustrous surface of her brown eyes. Those not uncommon companions, wealth and distress, were equally eloquent in the svelte tension of her soigné body and the pallid line edging the artful tinting of her tight lips.

As Andrew Turner, emerging from his prescription room at the sound of the opening door, saw her, his age-bleared eyes lit with sudden, pleased recognition—and were as suddenly masked and expressionless in instant response to a furtive signal of her gloved hand. It was evident that Elise Warrenton of Newport and Garden Avenue did not wish her escort to know that once she had been barefooted Elsie Keller of the Morris Street slum, sticky-countenanced with jelly beans and gumdrops from the lavish box under the old druggist's counter.

Natural enough—except that the man with her, despite the thick nap of his camel's-hair ulster and the pearly sheen of his Dobbs felt, was as incongruous to Elise's sleek loveliness as he would have been to Elsie's tomboy gawkiness. Something in the feline stealth of his walk and the predatory sharpness of his dark face bristled the short hairs at the base of Doc Turner's skull with queer antagonism. Then, as he knuckled the worn top of his sales counter and arched inquiring, bushy brows, the old pharmacist saw the man's eyes—and his skin crawled with a premonition of uncanny evil.

"May I have an aspirin tablet and a glass of water?" Mrs. Warrenton's rich, low voice inquired. Her forehead knitted, as if with a twinge of pain. "I have an excruciating headache, and that seems to be the only thing that does it any good."

"Certainly, madam. Just a minute."

Doc went through the dirt-stiff curtain screening the mysterious sanctum of the back room. Queer, he thought, as he took a white powder-paper from a drawer and dexterously spilled a whiter tablet onto it from a square brown bottle, how like a cat's that fellow's eyes were. Weirdly unlike the perfect round of the usual human's, their pupils were vertical black slits in greenish irises. And why should Elise be so afraid that he know where she was bred? He drew water into a glass. Someone who knew her in the old days might come in at any moment and give her away. The thought was strangely a threat, stirring him to quicker movement, to an inexplicable urgency of haste. His fingers were trembling slightly as he took tablet and water out to her.

"Thank you." The man drummed a quarter impatiently on the counter-edge as Elise took the dose. His gloves were just a shade too light in color for perfect taste. The woman handed the glass back to Doc, started out. Her companion slid the coin across the counter and twisted to follow.

"Your change, sir. That is only five cents." Turner's tone was sharp; he wanted another look at the man's face, at his uncanny eyes. But the fellow slid a hand under the woman's elbow and flung a gruff, "Never mind—keep it," over his shoulder. Then they were out of the door, and the muffled roar of a powerful motor was the last of them.

Doc rang up the sale mechanically, went through the curtain once more with the glass, which he had not set down, in his hand. The drab fabric dropped behind him, and he was unfolding a tight twist of paper which somehow had gotten into the palm of that hand. He read tiny words on it. His face was suddenly bleak, and he was tugging at his white, nicotine-stained mustache. He read the message once more:


Doc, am I still one of your children, even if I haven't lived on Morris Street for ages? Unless you will help me I shall live nowhere, very soon. Will you? I shall try to get this to you, somehow, and to meet you, the same night, where you found Jimmie Bayliss when he was 'losted.' Please, Doc. Please help me.


THERE was no signature, but it seemed almost as if she were talking to him, pleading with him—the little catch in her voice pulling at his heartstrings the way it did that long ago night when she begged him to convince old Margaret Keller that she could safely trust her one chick to Hal Warrenton. Soon after, Margaret had followed her Paddy to that place where one did not have to keep one's door bolted against demanding landlords and rapacious installment collectors; but Hal had driven a truck by day and studied law at night till now paunchy corporation directors, who had never known hunger or want, strutted pouter-pigeonlike when they called him "our attorney."

What could he do for her, this white-haired, aging old druggist who had doddered on in his dingy shop while they had won their way across the two-block-long world that separated the squalor of Morris Street from the golden luxury of Garden Avenue? His people were here, dragging out drab lives in the teeming warrens across which fell the shadow of the elevated. Bewildered aliens, bringing him the inscrutable puzzles of a strange land to solve; tatter-clothed youngsters caught between the upper and lower millstones of their parents' Old-World ways and the surge in their hot veins of the New; he had served them for more years than he liked to think and found in that serving the fullness of life. But when those children—his children, he called them—had once sloughed the rags and mire of the slum, they passed to a glittering land where Doc Turner was only a dim, forgotten phantasm. And now from that land a cry came to him for help; an incoherent, hysteric note from one rustling in thick silk—and squired by that other whose countenance was lean with evil and whose eyes were slit-pupiled like a cat's.

"No." Doc said it aloud. She had no claim on him. If she were threatened, she could go to the police. He was old, tired. When his people were threatened by the mangy wolves who prey on the defenseless poor, he sprang to their aid; for if he did not, none other would. But the police were for her kind, the police or those men whose business it was to sell their brains and their guns to the wealthy who needed them. She was no longer of Morris Street and—

His eyes fell again to the paper. "Am I still one of your children?"

Doc Turner tore the frantic note into microscopic fragments. Then he was walking stiff-legged to a shelf outside. His gnarled hand took down a carton of thin blue pasteboard across which was printed, in faded letters, Nastin's Coughex. A minute later that carton was in the store's show-window, where it could be seen by one who would look for it, and Doc was scraping closed the dust-covered window-backing.

"No fool like an old fool," he muttered. But a glow of eagerness had banished the weary film that had grayed his wrinkled face.

The door opened, and a thin voice piped, "Ai, Meester Toiner, I see ees excitement again. Vot ees dees time?"

Turner came around slowly, tried to glare sternly at the stunted, black-eyed urchin whose outsize nose seemed to march before him into the store. "You're late, Abe. School was out a half-hour ago."

"I got kept een. Baht vot ees it?" The errand-boy's curiosity was not to be put off. "I seen you put eet de Coughex de vinder een. Vot you vant it Jeck Rensom for?" He knew, did little Abe, the signal that would summon the broad-shouldered, carrot-topped young mechanic from his garage around the corner; knew that it was a portent of doom for some crook, somewhere. "Shall I go tell it my mommer I'll be late tonight?"

"No, you brat. This hasn't got anything to do with you. Take out that prescription on the counter and make sure you don't leave it unless you get the money from Mrs. Grablewski. She owes me five dollars already."

Abe picked up the wrapped package, hesitated. "Well," Doc growled, "what are you waiting for?"

"I vass teenking. Vot's de use from my taking it out? Johnny Grablewski told it me choost now his fadder got laid off again. Dey ain't got it no money." There was a queer twinkle in his eyes.

Doc scowled. "Well, maybe you'd better leave it anyway. And here—" His hand fumbled in a pocket, came out with a crumpled bill. "Better give them this, too. They might need it."


DOC TURNER pulled his frayed overcoat more tightly about him. The chill of the fall night was unwelcome to old bones, and the vague light of the single park lamp showed mist hugging the dark surface of the scummy lake ahead. It was just about here that small Jimmie Bayliss had called to him, a little scared at his adventure, while Morris Street buzzed with the panic cry of "Kidnapers." That had been long ago, but the old pharmacist smiled again as he recalled how he had let the little fellow sail his whittled-out boat just once more before he had lifted him to his shoulder and taken him home. Only Doc had remembered that boat and guessed where the missing lad might be.

It was just about here. Strange that Elsie had remembered. It seemed they did not all forget Morris Street when they vanished from its debris-strewn sidewalks...

Light feet crunched gravel, from the direction of the bush-hidden entrance. Turner peered into dimness from which a slender form took slow shape. His pulse beat a little faster, slowed again. A white cap and long dark cape showed that this was only some maid keeping a midnight tryst.

"Doc," a tremulous whisper came to him. "Is it you, Doc?"

"Elise!" It was she; the veiled girl in cap and cape was Elise Warrenton, mistress of a fourteen-room apartment on Garden Avenue and a mansion at Bailey Beach! "Elise, my dear, why—"

"Why the masquerade?" An icy hand crept into his. "It was the only way I could get by his spy—in my maid's uniform." She looked about her, nervously, and Turner could feel her tremble. "And I am not sure, even then, that he doesn't know. He's a fiend, Doc—a fiend!" Low-pitched as were her words, hysteria quivered in them. "You must help me, Doc, or I shall kill myself, before—before—" A sob choked her.

"Head up, Elise, and the old grin. It doesn't hurt me at all." How many times had he said it just that way to urchins whose cuts and bruises he was tending? "The old Doc will fix it." Would she remember that too?

"Oh, can you, Doc. Can you?" It was a little girl's voice. "But you can't. Nobody can. There isn't anything else to do but to—"

"If you don't stop this nonsense and tell me what's the trouble, I'll turn you over on my knee and spank you. It won't be the first time."

He could not see her face behind the veil, but there was a perceptible lessening of tension in her tone. "I ought to be spanked. I've been a fool, an idiot. And now he has that picture, and he'll take it to Hal, if I don't give him five thousand dollars by day after tomorrow or—or—"

Doc, remembering the possessive manner in which the man had taken her arm, the way his uncanny eyes had stripped the very clothing from her, did not need the words she could not speak.

"What picture is that?" He might have been saying, "In which eye is the cinder?"

"The awful picture they took in that room." The story came with a rush, now. "It was at Palm Beach, last winter. Hal couldn't come with me, and Thorne—Ronald Thorne, they called him—was—around. We were friendly, nothing more, but everybody saw us together all the time.

"Then, one day, he told me of a movie company that was making screen tests in Miami—teased me into betting him that I would be offered a contract if I took one. We flew down—and he made sure we were seen leaving. They filmed various poses. The last was to be as a girl asleep, waking to the ring of a telephone that would tell her her fiance was killed. I got into bed, in a nightgown over my underwear.

"Then suddenly he was there, in pajamas, bending over me. A flashlight went off before I realized what was going on. I had only one thought—to get dressed, to get out of there. They didn't stop me. But there were no more trains that night, and I couldn't get back to Palm Beach till morning."

"And he's used that photograph to blackmail you ever since?"

"I've given him all my allowance, pawned my jewels. Hal was getting suspicious, and I told Thorne I was through. Either he would leave me alone or I would kill myself. That was when he started having me watched, meeting me everywhere I go unaccompanied, sticking to me like a leech. 'Safeguarding his investment,' he calls it, and laughs."

"Why didn't you let him go to Hal, but tell your story first? He would have known what to do. He's a lawyer."

"But he's a man and a husband first. He's hot-tempered as he was when he got into fights every day, back here. He would have jumped Thorne, and Thorne—would have shot him."

Doc snorted. "Poppycock. These blackmailers are all cowards. He would have tucked his tail between his legs and run."

"Not he. Oh, Doc! His right name isn't Thorne. It's..." She husked it, and the druggist's lips were a straight gash under his mustache. That name had faded from the newspapers since Repeal, but during the halcyon days of Prohibition it had been a synonym for sadistic, merciless murder.

As if in response to the druggist's jerk of startlement and dismay, there was a rustle in the bushes that was not of the wind. Elise wheeled about, whimpering, half-crouching.

"It's nothing," Doc said quietly. "A squirrel, perhaps." But his brow creased. That sound had come from the left... "Let me think what there is to do."

"Do? Doc, if you love me give me some poison, something that will put me to sleep quickly, forever." The richness of her voice was flattened, rough-edged. "It's the only way."

Turner kept his tone calm, steady, discussing the proposal as if she had suggested taking a train to Newport. "No. That is no way at all. Thorne will surely go to Hal then, threaten to publish the picture, sure that your husband will be as anxious to protect your reputation dead as alive."

Elise's slender body stiffened spasmodically, and one arm swept out in a gesture of despair. "Then—the other thing. It's the only way to save him. Oh, Doc—pray for me." The arm buckled, went up across the veil hiding her eyes, and a sob retched from the very foundations of her being, a sob of utter horror. She turned away.

"Wait! Wait, you little ninny." He growled it as he growled at Abe, affectionately. "Why the devil did you make me come here in the middle of the night if you're going to make your own decisions? It's no novelty to me to have someone weep on my shoulder, and I'd rather be in my warm bed than catching my death of cold listening to your hysterics."

"I'm sorry, Doc. Terribly sorry. I should have—"

"Done just what you did, asked me to help you. But let me do it."

"Then you have a plan? You—"

"Of course I have." Age had not dulled the cunning of his brain, nor physical weakness his indomitable courage. "Listen. He goes everywhere with you, you say. Get him into my store at eleven tomorrow night. I'll be ready for him, and Mr. Ronald Thorne will trouble you no longer."

"No?" The bushes at the left of the walk parted, and a shadowy figure was suddenly in the open! But the glint of light on an automatic was not shadowy, nor the menacing gape of its barrel, rock-steady on Doc's slight figure. "Perhaps Mr. Ronald Thorne will have something to say about that." It was a velvety purr, dangerous as pointed claws hooking out of soft paws, and his eyes were disks of green luminance floating in the dark.

The woman's scream was almost soundless, squeezing through the constricted muscles of her throat. "Cut that, you she-devil," Thorne rasped. "Or you'll taste lead, too. I'm about fed up with your tricks."

"You can't get away with it," Doc said quietly. "We're fifty feet from the Avenue, and the sound of your shot—"

"Will sound like a backfire to any harness bull that hears it. How many stiffs do you think I've laid out in this park without the law even getting a flash at my physog?" The extortionist's strangely furry voice somehow held more of a threat than his weapon itself. In the intonation of his speech, in the twin points of green radiance glaring from the sharp, pale oval of his face, a feline cruelty was implicit that recalled to Doc suggestive omissions in the newspaper descriptions of corpses credited to this man's account. A cat does not kill cleanly...

"Ronald!" Elise had found tongue. "Take me. You can do anything you wish with me. But leave Doc alone. He—"

"I'll take you, all right. And leave Doc. Alone. Till they find him here in the morning."

The movement was so swift as to be almost imperceptible, the movement that lashed the side of his gun against her cheek, crumpled her to a shapeless mound on the path, brought him back to tense aim at the old pharmacist.

"Now you," he purred. "Mr. Nosey-body Druggist. Let's see how you like a hot pill in the guts."

"Thorne!" Doc snapped the name. "If you kill me you'll have all Morris Street on your trail." And the way he said it held the man's finger on his trigger. "Sicilians who played with knives in their cradles. Jews with the patience the centuries have taught them. Poles with fists like hams, too oxlike to know when to quit. Children, hundreds of children, with ferretlike little eyes, whispering, whispering. They'll hunt you down. And even the devil will pity you when they find you."


FOR a moment the killer hesitated. Then: "Rats!" His paper-thin lips snarled back from teeth curiously white and pointed. "Rats!" Orange flame jetted from his gun.

But the flame went downward, into the ground. A fist had struck his wrist down from behind, and now a muscle-bulging arm clamped tight about his neck. The automatic twisted from his hand, shod feet kicked his legs from under him, and he went over backward. A squat, burly figure thudded down on top of him. Grease-streaked knuckles lifted momentarily into lamplight, pounded down. Breath popped from the prone blackmailer, and he was limply still.

"Jack!" Doc exclaimed. "Good work, Jack."

Ransom heaved to his feet, panting. "Gee, Doc. That damn flivver of mine busted a lung, and I had to run all the way."

"I wondered where you were, but I stalled him as long as I could, hoping you'd show up." The old pharmacist was on his knees, pulling Elise's veil aside, feeling for her pulse. "Just long enough, as it turned out. But watch him, boy. He's a slippery customer."

"Good thing you saw that he caught her passing you the note and figured you'd need help. Judas Priest! If he..." Elise groaned, and her eyes opened. She stared unbelievingly up into the seamed, white-haired face. "Doc. Doc Turner. I thought—"

"You shouldn't think, my dear, you're too apt to come to the wrong conclusions. What's more important is how you feel."

"I—I'm a bit dizzy, but otherwise all right."

"That's fine. And we're getting along with a solution of your troubles." Doc got to his feet again, wearily, and the woman lifted with him. "Search him, Jack, and see if he has any photos in his pockets."

"I've done that already, Doc. He had another gun, but that's all except keys and a wad big enough to choke a cow. There was nothing like a photo."

"Hmmm. That means we'll have to do a little more work. Not here, though. We'll have to get him to the store, somehow. Too bad your rattle-trap's out of commission."

"There's a Blanton-twelve limousine on the motor-road, just inside the park gate, and there's a key for one on this ring. Must be his."

"Good. We'll use it."

"He's out cold—won't come to for a quarter-hour yet, if I know anything about how hard I hit him."

"Still better. Elise, you had better go home. This isn't going to be any too pretty."

She touched Doc briefly with a slim white hand that still shook. "No. I'll stay with you. There were others in this with him, and they might suspect something if they see me come back alone."

The druggist shrugged, muttered a few words of direction to his redheaded aide. In moments a dim group was moving out of the park, two men who supported a third between them, evidently much the worse for liquor, and a veiled servant girl. But their precautions were needless. As they came up to the long, dark car with its gleaming hood, they were utterly alone.

"Wait a minute, Jack, while I get the door open." Thorne was propped against the rear fender, Elise helping Ransom hold him erect, while Doc fumbled a key into the door-lock, clicked it over. The big door swung open.

And a voice from inside said, "Stick 'em up, all of yuh! Fast!"

Jack's face went white. His hands reached for the sky, as did Doc's. Thorne slid from the fender onto one knee, then he scrambled to his feet. "Out for a quarter-hour, huh?" he snarled. "You figured a little wrong, smarty. It isn't going to be pretty, druggist, but you're going to be on the receiving end, with your pal. And the she-devil is going to watch, whether she likes it or not. All right, Steve, frisk them and get them inside. The redhead's got my heats."

Elise moaned as wire went around her wrists and ankles, was twisted tight. But Doc and Jack were grimly silent during the same operation, listening to Steve's husked gloating. "Tought yuh put somethin' over on the boss, huh? Yuh gotta be smarter'n him to do that, an' they ain't nobody that is. He don't never travel alone, business or pleasure."


BLINDS made the inside of the big limousine pitch-dark as it slithered into motion, but Thorne's eyes were two balls of emerald glare facing them from the little seat he had let down in front of his prisoners, and the sound of his breathing was like the ominous purr of a cat watching a mouse-hole. Doc's chest was tight-squeezed by dread for Jack and for the girl whose warm, quivering body was pressed against his. As for himself, at the best he had only a few years more to live—Thorne could not rob him of much.

The car's whispered progress seemed interminable, but brakes took soft hold at last. Doc heard motion up front, beyond the black curtain pulled down over glass behind the driver's seat, then the muffled grate of a sliding door. The car moved forward, stopped again.

The side door opened, and yellow light came in. The old pharmacist saw the whitewashed brick walls of a garage big enough for four cars. Steve yanked him out, dragged him across to a wooden bench along one of the walls, thumped him down on it, hard. Thorne slid lithely out, pulled out the woman and carried her to a broken-backed swivel chair a little to one side. But it took the two of them to lift Jack's bulking frame and deposit it beside Doc.

They did all this in silence, the cat-eyed man in his shaggy coat, and his sycophant. If Thorne was feline, the other was snakelike. There was an odd, hard glitter to his skin; his bald head was queerly diamond-shaped and his eyes brittle black points beneath lashless, fish-belly-gray lids. His tongue licked out of a lipless mouth, flashingly, and there was a queer sinuousness to the movements of his painfully thin frame.

To one side of the bench on which he half-sat, half-slumped, Doc saw a black-stained work table on which tools were scattered and to which a vise was clamped. There was a tangle of frayed wires too, from one of which hung an electric soldering iron...

"Take their shoes and stockings off," Thorne directed, speaking for the first time. "And we'll see how they can take it." He had the soldering iron in his hand, clicked on its switch, now, as Steve complied.

"Ronald!" Elise's voice was scarcely audible, but it was distorted somehow, high-pitched like an unuttered scream. "Don't. Don't do that. I—I know what I'll do. I'll go to my husband, tell him I want a divorce. He'll give it to me, give me heavy alimony—he—loves me enough for that. Then—then you can have it all, and me too. Money and—love." She spewed the word as if it were an obscene epithet. "If only you'll let them go."

The point of the iron in his hand passed through glowing red to white heat, and Thorne's face was engorged with blood, his uncanny eyes misted with an ecstasy of sadistic anticipation. "I've got you now, sweetheart," he said. "And money can't pay me for this." His free hand gestured to the bruise on his pointed chin. "I'll attend to you when I get through."

Doc saw Steve's nostrils flare as he stood to one side, flat automatic in his hand—saw the twitching of his colorless mouth, and knew that between the lust for cruelty of the master and the drug-stultified brain of the servant, there was no hope here for mercy, for an appeal to reason. Horror was a quivering ague within him.

Thorne moved slowly across in front of him, dragging the black, white-splotched wire of the tool over the work table, squatted in front of Jack. "Clout me on the jaw, will you," he purred, and his hand closed about Ransom's wire-clamped bare feet—pulling them up to meet the iron's glowing point.

Elise screamed then. Her wire-edged cry sliced the tense air in a single unending crescendo that stabbed ears with knifelike pain. The cat-man twisted. "Shut her up, you ass. Shove your fist down her throat."

Steve's tongue licked out and in. He glided across to the woman, bent over her.

At that moment Doc's legs jerked out, thumped against Thorne! Unbalanced, the man toppled. As he went down the wire tightened, pulling worn insulation down against the jaws of the vise.

Blue sparks sputtered, exploded in a crackling burst of white flame. The one light flared and was gone. Darkness swept in. Jack's black bulk rolled off the bench, thumped squarely down on Thorne's dim sprawl. His head butted a sharp chin, butted again.

"Ouch," Steve's exclamation popped out of the dark. "Bite me, will yuh?" The slap of a hard hand on flesh spatted from the corner. Doc, too, had squirmed off the bench, was rolling across the floor. He brought up against thin legs, heaved. Steve's length thumped down.


TURNER'S wired hands felt cold metal. He managed to get the butt of the gun between them, to get a finger on its trigger. He twisted, felt the weapon nose into threshing flesh, heard the clothes-muffled pop of the automatic's explosion. Blood gushed over his hands, and Steve's cadaverous frame was suddenly flaccid.

"Jack," Doc called. "Jack."

"Okay, Doc," Ransom's thickened voice welcomed him. "He's out again. Told you my thick skull would be good for something someday!" The swift action had taken seconds only, and the soldering iron still glowed redly. "But we've got to do something quick, or he'll come to. This guy ain't like a normal human."

The old pharmacist squirmed once more, got across the floor to where Jack's voice had sounded from. "Your fingers are strong," he grunted. "Untwist the wires on my wrists."

"Jumping Jehosaphat, Doc! That was quick thinking. I thought we were through, this time."

"We would have been if I hadn't seen that a frayed part of the insulation was just across the edge of the vise and that it wouldn't take much of a push to throw Thorne over."

Turner, free now, was on his feet, had groped to the workbench and found a wirecutter his observant old eyes had noted. In seconds Jack, too, was released. "Here's some more of that wire. I think Thorne can use it."

There was light again in the garage. Ransom finished screwing in the spare fuse he had found by the flickering light of matches, and turned. "What now, Doc? Call the cops?"

The old pharmacist's glance slid over Steve, coiled in a pool of his own blood; over Thorne's form, wired helplessly, in his turn; went to Elise's pale, contorted face.

"Not yet," he said.

The woman was staring, fascinated, at the blackmailer's gray countenance, at his unblinking eyes in which black dashes split greenish, pulsating irises. "Yes, Doc. Yes," she squeezed out. "Call the police. I'm afraid of him. Afraid."

"No." Andrew Turner's tired voice was implacable. "Not till we get the photograph back, and a signed confession from him."

Thorne was conscious again. His eyes glittered with malevolent evil. "Try and get them. You can burn me, cut me to pieces, but you won't get out of me where the pic is. It isn't in this place—it's where Society Scandals will get it, if I don't call up a certain party at eight tomorrow morning."

Doc studied him. "I believe you." His long years of human contacts had told him the man was telling the absolute truth. "But you will make that call, and sign that confession, before I'm through with you. And I won't have to use your crude methods of torture to make you."

Thorne did not answer, but his mouth tightened with determination. This was a matter of pride with him, of crook's pride. He would show that he could take it if the old man stripped every bit of skin from him, as he himself had done to more than one screeching victim.

Turner smiled grimly, no humor in his eyes. He turned to Ransom. "Jack," he said, "here are the keys to my store. Take Thorne's car and get me..." His voice dropped to a mumble.

"God, Doc," Jack interjected, aloud. "You couldn't do that! It's—"

"He was going to burn your feet, wasn't he, and worse?"

The druggist's mutter dropped below hearing again. At length the youth nodded, slipped into the limousine's front seat, and was out through the sliding doors that Doc opened and slid shut behind him.

Turner prowled back into the garage, stood near where Elise, wide-eyed and pallid-faced, was seated limply in the swivel-chair. He had a gun in his hand and was watching Thorne, but he talked to the girl.

"You see, my dear, these criminals think they know all about torture, with their burnings, and flayings, and what not. They forget that science has made a great deal of progress since the days when the Chinese and the Indians used those methods. Of course, the ancient Tartars were quite ingenious. They would impale a man on a stake, for instance, that was simply a living tree cut to a point. Then they would water the tree and it would send out tendrils—have you ever seen grass that had split a rock? That's what that tree would do to their victim."

"Don't Doc. Don't. I can't stand it!" Her voice quivered, her fingers went up to her mouth, and the fear in her eyes was transferred from Thorne to the old man. But Turner went on, evenly, his quiet voice musing.

"I should like to try that on our friend here, but we haven't time. Besides, it's crude. There are certain drugs, Elise, that do horrible things to a human being. There is one that speeds up all the bodily processes so that he who takes them burns up, literally, in hours—burns with a devastating fever that comes from inside and is worse than a blazing furnace. I might have sent for that one, except that we don't want Thorne, here, to die. Even that death would be too easy for him, and if he died, the photo we want would be published in Society Scandals."


HE went on, talking about the effects of mysterious potions as if each marrow-chilling word-picture titillated him with increasing pleasure. Quivering horror piled higher and higher in the dim-lit garage, but each description was ended with a statement that it was not his intention to use that particular compound on Thorne.

At last a horn honked three times, outside, and as Doc padded to the door to let Jack in, he finished, "No. None of those quite fit the case. But there is one, Elise—there is one that does, one just a little bit more severe in its effects than any of the others." The car rolled in, hissed to a stop. "That's the one I sent Jack for. You have it, boy?"

"Sure thing, Doc." Ransom was grim-faced as he came out of the limousine, tenderly carrying a package. "But we ought to give him a chance to come across before we use it on him. Gosh, even if he was ready to burn me I don't think I could stand watching that happen. It turns my stomach to think about it."

Turner wheeled to his prisoner, fixed burning eyes on his livid face. "Well?"

"Go to hell," the extortionist snarled. "I can take it." Did his voice shake a little...?

Doc smiled. "Good. I hoped you would refuse. I am anxious to see just how this would work on a human being. I've tried it only on animals. Funny—it seemed to be more effective on cats than on any others." A pause. Then, "Elise, get into the back of the car and pull the curtains down. I don't want you to see this."

She pushed herself up out of the chair, tottered, rather than walked, to the car. Her eyes were pleading, the pallor of her lips matching that of her face. But Turner had turned away and was saying, "Don't, Jack. Don't open that package. You might get some on your hands and..."

He took the bundle from the young man. Paper rustled, and he was spreading its contents on the tool table: A bottle in which a green liquid seemed to gather light, a rubber bulb to which a long rubber tube was fitted, two pairs of rubber gloves... He tossed one pair of the latter to Jack, pulled the other over his own gnarled hands.

The two were working in silence, now, as Thorne watched from the floor. Little lights burned in his catlike eyes, and in one drawn cheek a muscle twitched. Doc uncorked the bottle. Whitish fumes rose from it, and a pungent aroma stung nostrils. The druggist inserted the end of the flexible pipe into the liquid, squeezed the bulb. The fluid's surface lowered.

"All set, Jack. Get his mouth open."

Ransom padded across to Thorne, knelt. Doc stood above him, bulb in one hand, tube-end in the other. Jack's thumbs found Thorne's jaw-angles, pressed in.

The man's mouth came open. He gagged, spluttered. Doc bent to him. And abruptly he shrieked: "No! For God's sake! No! I give in. I'll phone. I'll give up the pics. Only don't make me drink that. Oh, God! Don't make me!"


DAWN grayed the sky as a big limousine slithered along Garden Avenue. Jack Ransom was at the wheel. Doc was slumped next to him, half-asleep. Elise Warrenton sat bolt upright in the rear. Fear still dwelt in her eyes as they fastened on the white hair that showed just above the seat before her, fear and puzzlement.

Jack chuckled. "Good Lord," he said. "The dicks almost kissed me when I brought Thorne in and told them who he was. They have fingerprints enough to convict him of a dozen murders, although they didn't know what he looked like."

"He had too much imagination for them," Turner responded sleepily. "But that's what licked him at last."

"Imagination?" Elise's exclamation was throaty. "Doc! What do you mean? What was that horrible stuff in the bottle?"

"Water, my dear. Colored water. With some ammonia in it to make it fume."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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