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ARTHUR LEO ZAGAT

DOC TURNER — WITCH-BAIT

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A DOC TURNER STORY



First published in The Spider, December 1935

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version Date: 2017-12-19
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

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The Spider, December 1935, with "Doc Turner — Witch-Bait"



Year after year, Doc Turner guarded the ignorant, jittery folk on Morris Street—from themselves and from preying cutthroats. So naturally, when their grim secretiveness brought a new extortion plague upon them, he accepted the challenge, sallied forth to save his flock, pitting his feeble strength and courageous kindliness against old-world fears and an ugly death!



ANDREW TURNER came awake with the swift awareness of old age. The sound that had roused him continued as he stared wide-eyed into the darkness of his room, which was close with a mustiness the open window could not defeat. The quavering, shrill scream of agony stabbed through the wall like a white-hot needle.

The thump of running, unshod footfalls underlay the screaming. Suddenly, the chamber resounded to the thunder of pounding knuckles on wood, as though it were the inside of a drum. Doc flung spindly shanks out from under sheets, called: "Who is it?" He padded through keen cold, which struck through his pajamas and racked his frail chest with a hacking cough. The doorknob was icy to his fingers. He cried again: "What is it?"

The knocking cut off, and a guttural voice, muffled by wood and tainted by the far-off anguish of that wailing scream, groaned, "Doc! Come quick. Mealy—Ach Gott!—Mealy iss shtricken."

Stale odors of forgotten meals gusted in as Turner jerked the door open. The tortured stare of china-blue eyes drowned in fat-rolls; the blanched colorlessness of pendulous, quivering cheek-flesh, made tragedy of the otherwise comical ballooning of candy-striped nightshirt over a swollen abdomen and the grotesque flapping of its hem against gargantuan, quivering thighs. A hand like a blob of un-shaped dough came out of dim, gaslight luminescence and folded on Doc's shoulder.

"Gome," the little, writhing mouth spurted. "Gome, Doc. Quick!"

"Otto!" Turner snapped. "I'll see what I can do, but you get pants on and go call a doctor."

"Kein—no doctor can her help. Ach! If she hatt only told me, die Hexe...!" Doc was past the corpulent man, hurrying through the malodorous corridor of the flat—where he rented a small room for the few hours' sleep his drugstore allowed him—plunging up uncarpeted, unwashed stairs. Pain-wail threaded out of vagueness—aiii!—aiii!—guiding him to where fierce agony made the night hideous. Surprisingly, there was no one in the hall; the paint-peeling doors he passed were tight-shut, blank-faced. Queer, he thought fleetingly, that the denizens of this slum-warren were not cluttering the halls and crowding into the Germels' flat. It is ordinarily only the well-to-do who smugly ignore the need of an ill neighbor.

He was in Amelie Germel's room. The twisting, contorted thing on the rumpled bed must be Mealy herself, but she appeared scarcely human. She was doubled over amid the tossed bed sheets, her hands clawing at her flanneled middle; her straggled, silver-yellow hair masking her; shrillness slicing out of the hirsute false-face. Her knees were pulled up into her belly by a tight spasm of suffering, and her corn-knobbed toes were outspread like stumped, raying fingers.

Doc put a palm on quivering, tight-knotted muscles of a nude back. The flesh was clammy cold to his touch. No fever; not appendicitis then. The woman threw over, flinging his hand away. "Aiii!" she screamed. "Aiiiii!" Turner twisted away. The kitchen must be in here—these flats were all the same. He found it, saw glowing red cracks of banked fire in the coal-range, saw the vague shape of a kettle on its surface. Good! These people always kept water heating against their bitter tea in the morning. He snatched a dish-towel from above the sink, grabbed the kettle. The spiral-wire handle burned him, but his hand was very steady as he poured the heated liquid over the cloth, soaking it.

"Doc!" Otto's hoarse voice yammered in his ears. "Doc, she...!"

Turner swung around. "You fool! I told you to call a doctor..."

"Aber—" The shaking, columnar arms flung wide. "Ich..."

"Never mind now. She's eaten something—have you got powdered mustard here? Yes? Mix a tablespoonful in a glass of this hot water, bring it in. We've got to make her throw it up." He thrust past the fright-paralyzed man, wringing out the hot compress, then was back in the sickroom.

And he was conscious only then that Mealy's screaming had stopped...


SHE was still—a dreadfully motionless, unnaturally convulsed heap on the bed. Too late! The old druggist knew it was too late for the hot application—for the emetic—even before his long, almost transparent fingers shoved through rigid flesh to find a pulseless wrist.

"Here iss der mustard. Ach, mein Gott! Sie ist...!" The tumbler crashed on the floor, splashing its scalding contents over Turner's bare toes. "Vy dittn't you tell me, Mealy? I vould haff paid..."

"Paid!" Doc whirled fiercely on the man whose overflowing fat was a-shudder with something more than grief. "Whom would you have paid? What are you talking about?"

Pallid lips clipped tight. An expressionless veil slid over the sweat-glistening billows of Germel's countenance, and only his tortured eyes were alive. But there was more than grief in them. There was something like—very like—shuddering fear.

"Answer me, Otto!" There was some mystery here, some new threat to the bewildered-eyed, fumbling-tongued population of Morris Street. "What's behind this?"

Splayed, lumpy fingers rubbed down quivering thighs. "Ich—I gannot. I—I do not dare." The bass rumble was gone from the man's tones, and his voice was a husked, rasping gasp. "I—I do not vant to die—like dot!"

This was not the first time Andrew Turner had found himself rebuffed by just such closed-mouthed dread. The people of Morris Street—his people—still lived under the shadows of old superstitions, old fears, which followed them to this new country that promised so much and gave so little.

Their petty troubles of body and mind they brought to the white-mustached, kindly druggist who had pottered around his dingy pharmacy more years than he cared to remember. He was their only friend, their only interpreter of the incomprehensible customs of a strange, queer land. But when the trouble that descended on them stemmed out of the soil from which their lives had been uprooted, despair and a peculiar clannishness shut him out. He was helpless then to help them—or so they thought.

"All right," Doc said. "If it's that way with you." His wrinkled face was bleak, his faded, blue eyes somehow agate hard. "I'll leave this to the police and the medical examiner. But you can take a message from me to whomever it is that you fear. You can tell him that Morris Street is verboten. You can tell him Doc Turner has fought wolves before, and beaten them. Beaten them, you understand, and nailed their skins to his wall!"

"Go," Otto's look told him. "Go and leave me with my dead. You cannot help me. No one can help me. Not even God."

Turner padded wearily out of the room, along the gloomy flat corridor. Fabric-rustle ahead of him made him leap to the outer door. He jerked it open.

No one was there in the flickering shadows cast by the single, turned-down gas-jet. No one was there, but a whisper of sound slid down the dark stairs. Doc sprang to the rickety bannisters, looked down into the murky well. No one. Nothing. But of course whoever it was who had been crouched here, listening, had had plenty of time to find covert.

He went back to shut the door on Otto Germel's grief. His foot struck a lump that skidded along the floor and brought up against the splintered threshold. A tiny doll some child had dropped. He bent mechanically to pick it up...

And he was staring at the thing he held with widened, aching orbs while his scalp tightened to make a tight cap for his skull. This doll, this mannikin he held, was no child's toy. It was crudely shaped from gray, char-streaked candle-tallow. Two combings of silver-yellow hair were glued to its head; a nail-paring was stuck into a wax-blob meant for a hand; its dress was a bit of blue gingham torn from a woman's apron. Thrust through its middle, in the place where Mealy's hands and knees had vainly striven to smother pain, was a glittering steel needle!

Doc Turner knew now what manner of thing had come into Morris Street. But there was nothing he could do about it. Not yet. Nothing except carry the doll-shape gingerly down to his room and thrust it deep into a drawer...


"I'VE just had the medical examiner's office on the phone, Jack." The El structure filtered grimy daylight into Andrew Turner's ancient pharmacy so that a sort of luminous gloom folded around the old man and around the broad-shouldered stalwart youth to whom he talked. "There wasn't any poison in Amelie Germel's stomach and nothing to show that she had eaten spoiled food. The autopsy showed no pathological condition at all. And yet she died, my boy, in excruciating pain."

Jack Ransom's fist knotted on the worn edge of the sales counter, and a tiny muscle twitched in his freckled cheek. "Something must have killed her. It's impossible that a woman could just—die—and there be no cause for it. Not one as young and strong as she was."

Doc stabbed at the counter-top with an acid-stained thumb. "Not something—someone killed her. She was murdered as surely as though a knife had ripped her abdomen. But the killer needed neither knife nor poison. The lethal agent is as old as time, and neither the reagents of the chemists nor the microscopes of the biologists can discover it."

Jack pushed fingers through his carrot-tinged hair, making its usual disorder more chaotic. "You're talking riddles, Doc. What's this mysterious thing?"

"Thought, son. Thought."

"You pick out damn queer things to joke about. Thought can't..."

"What is there thought can't do? What is existence itself, but thought? 'Cogito,' Descartes once said, 'ergo sum!—'I think, therefore I am.' He should have said, 'As I think, so I am.' Thoughts, utterly believed in by those whose brains they inhabit, have made emperors—are making dictators today! What is the 'bedside manner' of the skilled physician but a personality that inspires thoughts of health, of recovery in his patients? Without faith there can be no cure. Conversely, if I can make you think yourself ill, you will be ill; if I can make you think yourself about to die, you will surely die!"

"Hell! You couldn't make me think that, if I knew there was nothing wrong with me. You couldn't."

"Right. Because you know I haven't the power. But if you believed I had; if generations of superstition had taught you that by doing thus and so I could draw your soul out of your body at will, and then you knew that I was doing that very thing..."

"Gee, that sends a chill up my spine."

"You see? Thought..."

"Look!" Jack's exclamation cut sharply across Turner's tired voice. "Look at that!" His arm was out, stiff, in front of him, his shaking finger was pointing at the scrubbed, white-wood slab between himself and the druggist.

That counter had been clean, empty, a moment before. Now there were lines on it, curves. Angular letters in some brown pigment had magically appeared on the old wood. They made words: "To powers he knows not, a wise Mann does not say, 'Forbidden'."

"Good Lord," Ransom chattered. "How did that get there? How did...?"

"Clever," the old pharmacist said. "Damned clever." His countenance was set, emotionless, but an eager light danced in his eyes. "Jack, my boy, we've got a fight on our hands,"

"A fight! What do you mean?" The redheaded youth was spluttering. "You sound as if you were expecting that."

"I was. I sent a message last night to Amelie Germel's murderer. I expected an answer, and I expected to trap the killer through that answer. But he is shrewder than I thought. There have been fifty people in here this morning. Any one of them might have left that there."

"Left that... Doc! There wasn't anything there. I was looking right at that counter, and there was nothing there. It's magic. Black magic!"


TURNER'S thin lips quirked with a momentary smile under the bushy, white fringe of his mustache. "Black magic? You don't believe thought can kill. But the instant something you cannot explain occurs, all your careful veneer of civilization strips from your mind and you are back in medieval times when they burned sorcerers and magicians in every village square."

"Hell, Doc. You don't mean someone is making us see that writing by thinking it?"

"Of course not. It's a simple trick. Wait a minute and I'll show you." He swung away, disappeared through the doorway over whose grime-stiff curtain a sign said "Prescription Department—No Admittance." Ransom heard the gurgle of a liquid, the clink of a glass stirring-rod. Turner was back with a small graduate containing some colorless, transparent fluid in one hand, a sharp knife in the other. The gaping youth watched him scrape with the latter at the final n of "forbidden," watched him lift the scrapings on the point of the blade and flick it into the graduate.

"This is nothing but a very diluted solution of hydrochloric acid," Doc said quietly. "Pure muriatic acid. But watch—"

The brown specks floated on top of the brine. Minuscule tendrils seemed to grow out from under them, tiny, milk-white spirals that swirled as the druggist twisted the glass to whirl the liquid within it. They seemed almost alive for an instant; then they were gone, and the whole solution was faintly clouded.

There was a note of satisfaction in Doc's tone. "There you are."

Jack looked dazed. "Yeah, I know I'm there. But where?"

The pharmacist chuckled. "I forgot that you never studied chemistry. That was a test for silver, Jack. The writing was done with a silver salt—in nitrate or the bromide—which is altogether colorless when first prepared but is darkened on exposure to light. That's the reaction on which photography is based. Our clever Dutch friend inscribed it while I was in back mixing a prescription. He knew it wouldn't show up for a long time in the very much tempered daylight that reaches in here."

"Dutch...?"

"German, I should have said, except that we call those people Pennsylvania Dutch. The phrasing of that sentence is typically Germanic, and the doubled n in 'Mann' is quite conclusive. The Germels are Pennsylvania Dutch, remember. They came here with the Bearmans and the Niedes and a whole bunch of others, when their district was flooded by a new reservoir about three years ago. They are Americans from far back, descendants of the Hessian mercenaries perhaps—but they are just as foreign as the first generation Italians or Slavs among whom they came. They have kept alive their old-country ways and, Jack, their old-country superstitions."

"Super—?"

"Superstitions that lay their minds open to the murder thoughts. Superstitions the killer is playing upon for his own nefarious purposes. Mealy Germel's death was only the beginning, Jack. Only the beginning."

"The beginning!" Jack's face was somber. "God, Doc, we've got to stop it. But how? In the name of all that's holy, how are we to get at someone who kills without being near his victims, who makes them suffer the torments of the damned while he himself may be miles away? Where are we going to look for him?"

"We are not going to look for him."

"But...?"

"But, nothing. We are going to make him come to us." The white-haired druggist's frail figure was tense, suddenly, seemed to be animated with a new eagerness. His weary stoop was gone. "Jack, you're not going to the garage today. You've got a lot of things to attend to for me. Listen carefully..."


EVENING had once more descended on Morris Street, and its malodorous length teemed with pinch-penny shoppers and penniless strollers. But the usual slow stream surging beneath the long sprawl of the El structure was damned tonight by a clotted crowd in front of Turner's Drugstore. The knot swirled there, blocking the street corner. Shawled women, shabby-coated men joined the crowd, others left it. But always the throng was there, and the gabble of wondering exclamations.

"Oy," a high-pitched voice shrilled. "He is meshuggah! Crazy! Such things, to put de vinder in!"

And the soft, dulcet accents of a son of Sicily answered: "De Doc no is crazee. Wat he wan to putta in hees window, he can do."

"I'm scared, mom," a child's cry wailed. "Take me away. Take me away."

"It's a swell advertising stunt," a pinch-waisted, yellow-shoed youth remarked authoritatively to the giggling, ecstatically shuddering girl leaning on his arm.

"Looka the crowd he's got. Now if that old mossback Rumpelstein would listen to me..."

The show window was topped and backed by funeral drapings of jetty cloth. A single bulb shed an eerie, blue light on the agglomeration of weird objects displayed in that macabre frame. There was an articulated skeleton squatted on bony haunches, its fleshless hands gripping a paddle in the act of stirring some unseen mixture in a huge, black cauldron. Warty toads hopped helter-skelter over the ebony flooring, pursued by a slithering snake. A glass jar contained a yellowish liquid in which floated something that looked like a tiny dog curled into a tight ball. The wiseacres in the staring crowd knew that this was the fetus of some mammal—perhaps of an unborn human babe.

In one corner, small bags of gauze were piled, stitched in two-inch squares, with tapes wriggling from their corners. On this curious heap, a vivid green cardboard rested, cut in the shape of a skull. Scarlet letters wriggled across the emerald surface:


AMULETS AGAINST THE HEX

Protect yourself.
Hang one of these around your neck.

FREE! FREE! FREE! FREE!


"ABER, Doktor," a tow-haired, leathery-faced man was saying to Doc Turner inside. "Nefer has it been known dot die Hexe defeated could be by such a thing. Vunce der varning has been received there is no more hope!"

The old druggist's eyes fastened with a blank frankness on the doubter's blue ones, and his tones rang with authority. "Science, Mein Herr Deffenbaugh; science is the answer. Music through the air, wagons that run without horses, talking to someone half-around the world from you—those are all things that 'nefer' were known until science created them. Science has defeated smallpox, diabetes, the plague. And now science has found a way to fight the hex. If I was a faker, would I be giving the amulets away free, gratis? They have cost me thousands. What would I gain by lying as to their power?"

Suspicion still lay on the other's face, hesitancy. "I am incurring the wrath of the hex by doing this, am I not?" Doc went on. This was the bellwether of the flock. If he could convince Deffenbaugh, the others would be easy. "Would I dare to do that if I knew I had not made myself safe from his anger? Look!" His slim fingers tugged at the seam under his collar, pulled out one of the square, white bags. "I wear one myself, and the hex cannot harm me. You know very well I would not be standing here, talking like this to you, if he were not powerless against me."


THAT did the trick. "Gott sei Dank!" Deffenbaugh exclaimed. "Thank Gott, a savior at last!" His weather-beaten, gnarled hands snatched for one of Doc's, and his dry lips were mumbling it in a trembling kiss. "Giff me a dozen, fifty of dem. I go und giff them to all, efferybody who die Hexe has been draining of hard-earned Geld. I giff dem to effery-body..."

He was gone. Turner heard his cracked, squealing voice outside. "Karl, Otto, Paul. Es ist wahr! It is true. Ve needt not pay anymore. Ve needt nodt pay!"

"Gees, Doc," Jack Ransom was suddenly in the prescription room doorway. "You've done it. You've got 'em winging. They won't believe in the death thoughts anymore, and then the death thoughts can't hurt them. They—"

"Get back in there, you damn' fool," Doc barked sharply. "Get back in there and lie low. We haven't won yet."

Ransom was out of sight, but he still argued from his hiding place. "Hell! He's licked. You know damn' well you've got him licked."

"No. The fight's just begun. He can win yet. He can win..."

"How? I don't see..."

"By killing me and appearing to do it the same way he killed Amelie Germel." Doc said it quite slowly, quite calmly. "By killing me in spite of the amulet. He's got to try that now, and if he succeeds, he will be stronger, more powerful than ever. He won't have to confine himself to the few Pennsylvania Dutch, then. He'll levy tribute to all Morris Street. By now, they all know what it's all about; if he gets me, they'll pay. How they will pay!"

"Gosh! You've played right into his hands..."

"Or played him into mine. We'll see. We'll see very soon which it—" Door-rattle checked him. A woman was coming in. A bent little woman whose dirt-hued apron jerked to her hitching hobble, whose brown shawl folded over and framed a tiny face that would be birdlike except for the deep seams time had cut into it—except for the fact that the deep-sunk sockets where her eyes should be held only the blue-gray membranes of sightless orbs. A grime-blackened cane groped in front of her, wielded by a fleshless, rheumatism-twisted claw.

The door thudded shut behind her, and she paused. "Druggist." Her voice was a thin quaver. "Druggist!"

Doc went to her, his face tightening. "Yes, mother, what is it?" His years seemed few against the great age that had laid its heavy hand on this other. "What's the trouble now?"

"My granddaughter—the medicine you made this morning did no good." She looked fixedly before her, making no effort to turn her head to the sound of his voice. She had outlived such petty subterfuges. "The fever burns her, and she calls for you. You must come."

"But mother, I can't do anything for her. I'll call her doctor..."

"Doctor!" The word spat from her mouth. "A money-leech! Had I not come to her from across the city, sensing her need, he would still be draining her little savings from her stocking and her blood from her veins. No, you must come. She has faith only in you; only you can give her the will to live."

Doc's own arguments were coming back on him. "Without faith there can be no cure." He had seen this ancient for the first time this morning, but Rose Gorton was an old customer of his, one of the few native Americans left on Morris Street.

"When I close up, mother. In two hours..."

"It will be too late. I have seen death come for too many not to know. Come now or stay. Stay. Life is not so precious that you need discommode yourself to keep breath in another. I, who have had too much of it, can tell you that." Her cracked cackle was mirthless. "If she had not cried your name so piteously, I should not have come for you. Stay."

She turned, poked out with her cane to find the door. "Wait, mother!" Doc cried. "Wait... I will go with you." Never in the long years of his serving had he refused the call of distress. He could not refuse it now...


WITH his hand on her skeleton arm to make the tapping grope of her stick needless, she hobbled with surprising speed. But she was feeble, so feeble. God, Doc prayed, take me before I become like this. The odd couple turned a corner away from Morris Street's clamor, into a side street where the odorous night was cheered only by a single street lamp midway of the block.

"Four-forty, isn't it?" Doc asked.

"Yes. In the cellar."

The areaway reeked with fermenting garbage. A gaunt cat darted away. Doc pushed open a rusting iron gate, was swallowed immediately by the darkness under a high stoop.

"Isn't there any light here?" he asked.

"There will be light enough for you in a moment," the old woman cackled. "More light than you will wish to see. Adolph! Rudolph! I have him here!"

Her arm jerked from Doc's hold, and the darkness clotted into formless shapes of denser blackness. He twisted—was held helpless by hands that grabbed his arms and legs. A hard palm closed across his mouth, cutting off a shout that had not had time to start. He was lifted high.

Ahead, he heard the uneven shuffle of the old woman's crippled feet, the tap, tap, tap of her cane. The air pulling into his nostrils seemed different, suddenly, and the unmistakable sound of a slammed door thudded from behind. Those who carried him set his feet down on the floor; but almost immediately, he felt cords twisting about his wrists and ankles, felt himself jerked back against something hard. His skull thumped on wood, and a rope went around his chest, his knees, pulled tight.

"Light." The tenuous cackle of the old woman sounded. "He wanted light, Adolph."

A match scratched, rasping Doc's quivering nerves. A tiny flame fluttered in the darkness. Grotesque shadows fled from it. It moved, seemed to grow. It was the flickering flame of a candle, and he saw that he was in a small room walled by splintered, unpainted boards. A pipe crawled across its ceiling between cobweb-tangled beams. He was bound to a vertical wooden rafter...

The candlelight danced across the blind woman's face. It was cruel now, rapacious, vulturine—and triumphant! She was seated at a hacked table on which the candle stood in a gnarled pile of melted and frozen tallow. Two huge, brutish-visaged men thumped across the floor to stand at her side. Their yellow hair, their slitted blue eyes, told him their race.

"Was jetzt, Mutter Frieda?" one asked. "What now, mother Frieda? We have him like a pig trussed up."

A dried-up object on the table was a dead toad, very like those in his window. There was a snake, too, coiled and lifelike, and some sere leaves clustering on a stem from which black, dried sap exuded. It was to this latter Doc's eyes clung. He knew what that was—nightshade. Deadly nightshade, the source of strychnine. He knew what it was, and he knew the fate in store for him.

"You can't get away with it, Frieda," he said quietly, with an indomitable assurance he did not feel. "You aren't in the hills of Pennsylvania any longer, where everyone feared you. This is the city, where there is law. Law and jails and the electric chair."

For all the attention the sightless sorceress paid to him, he might as well not have spoken. "Geh'—fetch the fool Deffenbaugh," she croaked. "Bring him that he may see of what avail are the amulets he distributes to his friends..."


THE two men went out. Theirs was a prompt, implicit obedience inspired by fear. And that fear lay heavily in the room as Doc watched Frieda dig sharp nails into the black exudate from the twisted stem on the table. That sap he knew was virulent with a poison which would bring him madness first—and then horrible death...

The shrunken, blind, awful woman was about to stage a drama of incredible horror in which Doc Turner was selected to play the leading role. Footfalls trampled outside, and her acolytes were back. They were back—and with them, Deffenbaugh.

"You are here, Herr Deffenbaugh," the virago shrilled. "You were not too busy handing out useless bits of cloth filled with beans and sand to come to my summons. You are wise. How wise, you will know very soon. Watch. Watch and learn! Watch and learn and carry back what you learn to those who will profit by the tale."

Her gnarled hands were busy. She had torn a gob of wax from the pile atop which the candle flickered and her withered fingers were shaping it, her fingers tipped with death. Quickly, as with long practice, she shaped a crude mannikin; head, body, legs; and four pairs of eyes watched her while silence brooded in that little chamber—silence, and the fear of death.

It was finished. Queerly, the tiny doll, grotesque as it was, had somehow the resemblance to a miniature Andrew Turner. And now Frieda leaped up.

"You will see," she cackled. "You will soon see, man of little faith, what comes to those who would challenge the power of the hex." Her claws tore at Doc's shirt, tore a strip from it. The amulet was visible now, rising and falling on his heaving chest. The woman's livid fingers darted to his scalp. He felt a sharp sting as she snatched two white hairs from his sparse store. And then her nails raked down across his cheek.

The long scratches burned. But the pain was as nothing to the searing realization that the sap of the deadly nightshade was now in his blood—now coursing through his veins!

Frieda flung back to her chair. The hairs she had torn from his head were on the head of the mannikin now. The strip from his shirt was wound around the wax doll. From somewhere in the interstices of her clothing, the blind woman plucked a shining needle.

"Watch, Herr Deffenbaugh," she yammered. "Watch and learn!" She plunged the needle into the figurine...

Fingers kneaded the pit of his stomach, knotting pain there. Oh, God! It... no! That fierce cramp was thought, was imagination. It wouldn't work. He fought the death-thought.

"You see?" Try as he might, he couldn't keep a quiver out of his voice. "You see, Deffenbaugh. She is powerless."

"The devil!" the woman screamed. "The devil! He has fooled me. Kill, Rudolph. Kill, Adolph. Kill them both. They must not report my failure...!"


THERE were knives in the hands of the blond giants, knives flashing in the candlelight. A keen blade drove at Doc's throat... Wood splintered, crashed. A redheaded fury exploded into the narrow hex-chamber, a fist flailed against Adolph's jaw. The man flew back. A shot pounded sharp thunder, and Rudolph went down at Deffenbaugh's feet, his knife clattering across the cement floor. Blue-coated figures were in the room—two—three of them—and the old woman was a shrieking, tossing bundle of rage in their grip.

"God, Doc, I was scared to death," Jack gritted, tugging at the ropes binding Doc to the pilaster. "Suppose I had lost you? I had to stay pretty far back, trailing you. Suppose I hadn't got the cops in time?"

"I was frightened, too," Turner smiled grimly. "More frightened than I have ever been. I figured she'd use strychnine to reproduce as closely as possible the way Amelie died, but I wasn't sure. And if she had used something else, the antidote in my blood wouldn't have worked."

"It was a hell of a chance to take, Doc."

"It was hell. But there would have been worse hell on Morris Street, if I hadn't taken it. And even if I'd passed out, at least I wouldn't be like..."

A scream cut across his sentence—a wailing, high scream of unspeakable agony. Frieda, the hex, was twisting in a convulsive spasm of agony. Her contortions tore her out of the grip of the blinking policeman who held her, threw her writhing across the floor. Then, quite suddenly, she was still.

"Gosh," the officer mewled. "What—?"

Doc smiled wearily. "She managed to scratch herself with her poisoned nails—to embrace the death she meant for me. Probably that was just as well."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
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