Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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A cry pierced the night, as the dwellers of Morris Street first felt the poison of an ancient fear--a horror from the homeland that they had foresworn. And the Devil, with unholy glee, loosed his killer to strike down Doc Turner, the champion of the oppressed.
THE pushcarts were gone from Morris Street. It was very late, so late that even Andrew Turner's long day was done, and he was turning the key in the door of his ancient drugstore.
A three-car "El" train thundered by overhead, the yellow oblongs of its lighted windows projecting duplicates of themselves on the debris-strewn sidewalk. Doc turned with a weary sigh, shambled off toward the hall bedroom that had been his home for more years than he cared to remember. His was a bent, feeble figure in his shabby overcoat, lonely on that deserted slum street.
The kindly night cloaked with dimness the tenement's drab facades that he passed, so that they appeared not quite as stained, not quite as decrepit as daylight would reveal them. But the night could not make anything except a foul miasma out of the smell of stale food and stale bodies that is the odor of poverty. The old druggist turned a corner, neared the center of the block.
A scream shrilled out of the night; a long, high scream of agony and grief! It twisted Doc to the broken-stepped stoop of the tenement from which it had come. It cut off, sharply, but he was already up those steps, was through the vestibule and in a dark, noisome hall.
Then sound came again to guide Doc Turner up uncarpeted stairs and to a splintered door that was paintless and drab in the glimmer of a pinpoint gas jet.
Only one with the lion-hearted courage his feeble frame enclosed would have dashed so unhesitatingly toward the source of that sound. For it was no longer a scream.
It was a laugh, more fearful than any scream, a screeching laugh that held in it no gaiety, no reason even, but some un-nameable quality that melted the marrow of its hearers and chilled their spines with ancestral terror.
Doc rattled the doorknob. The door was locked. He rapped. The laugh went on unchecked.
The panel was so thin that even the old man's fist could smash a hole through it. He reached in, turned the key in the lock, went through into a room that was living room and kitchen combined. A whistling gas jet fitfully lit a table strewn with gay-colored tissue paper, with green-covered wire and green cloth cut in the form of leaves. A huge pasteboard box on the floor was half-filled with artificial flowers.
He could see no one. The laugh came through another door, half-open, next to the broken stove.
The room beyond was brightly lighted. It held a bed, and a crib crudely hammered together out of soapbox wood. A woman stood above that crib, and the mad laugh spewed out of her twisted, colorless lips. Her hair straggled wildly about her gaunt face, but not so wildly as her eyes stared into the crib as she laughed.
Doc got to the little bed and looked down into it. He saw a six-month old infant, and he did not have to look twice to know it was stark in death.
It lay wholly naked atop the snow-white sheets, its tiny sleeping garment bundled in a corner as the distrait mother had ripped it from the child to search for the injury that had taken it from her. The small body lay peacefully, not doubled up from a convulsion. There was no blue tinge of cyanosis at its finger and toe tips to show that heart failure had taken it. There was nothing to show how death had come... The only mark was a tiny scratch under the pink shell of its wee ear.
That was not a scratch! It was a puncture, triangular in outline. It went deep, but it had not bled.
Andrew Turner's eyes darted about the little chamber. No smallest detail escaped his keen scrutiny.
"Phwat's happened here. Phwat..." Turner wheeled to a burly, blue uniform shoving in through the doorway, a lifted nightclub and a gun. Behind the policeman was a tall Swede in flapping nightshirt, emboldened to enter by the presence of the law.
"Mis' Corrio bane kill her son," the blonde janitor gurgled. "He war born after her husband die, ant she worrk all day ant all night making flowers, ant she go crrazy from no sleep ant too little food."
"No," Andrew Turner said. "Mary Corrio didn't do it. She came in to see if the baby were uncovered. She lit the light and she found him like that. It was then she went mad, and not before."
"The window is shut tight an' locked," the cop objected. "An' I see yuh bruk in th' door, so thot was locked when yuh got up here, an' from the inside. The key's still in it. She must of done it."
Doc shrugged. "You won't find the instrument that made that incision anywhere in the flat. Call your Homicide Squad and let them try."
He was right. The detectives went over every inch of the flat's contents. They searched the areaway under its windows. They fairly tore the place apart. And they found nothing to tell how the thing had come to pass.
They took the mother away, at last. It was dawn by then, and there was no sleep in him, so Andrew Turner went back to his store to ponder over the gruesome puzzle.
WITHIN an hour news came to him that in a tenement five blocks away from that in which the babe had died a woman had waked to find her mate lying stiff and cold beside her. Under his ear the triangular puncture had turned black with the clotting of a single drop of blood. This time a leathery-faced old crone had stared with bleared eyes at that black stigma and whispered a word, and the word was whispering along Morris Street, along Hogbund Alley and all the other fetid blocks of the slum, and fear was spreading like the icy waters of a river overflowing its banks.
The shadow of the long "El" trestle stalking above Morris Street on its high steel legs was no deeper than the shadow of the fear that brooded all day over the sleazy slum.
It hushed the raucous cries of the pushcart hucksters. It underlay the swarthy skins of the tenement dwellers with a sick pallor. It stilled the noisy play of the tatterdemalion urchins and sent them early to seek safety in drab and cheerless rabbit-warrens they called home, where there was no safety.
Morris Street was accustomed to the fears that poverty breeds; the fear of the landlord, of the installment collector and the gas man. The men of Morris Street were used to the eternal fear of being fired. The women chattered gossip in a dozen different languages, while beneath their sagging breasts the dread was heavy that little Giuseppe might at any moment be brought home crushed by some juggernaut truck because he had no place to play but the teeming gutters; or that eighteen-year-old Rebecca might some night not come home at all because she was tired of sewing long hours on silks and laces more fortunate girls would wear and had decided to wear them herself, at any cost.
The brave hopes that had brought these aliens to a new land were unfulfilled, yet at least they had escaped the terror of marching armies, Dictatorships' omnipresent spies and inexplicable punishments. They had escaped the nightmare terror of mobs sweeping down upon the ghetto shrieking the pogrom, the massacre. And so they had found some small modicum of happiness, of contentment, some small measure of security, at the gray end of their rainbow.
Now from out of the dark, whispered traditions of the homeland they had forsworn, a horror had come. And with it, a fear with which their stoicism could not cope.
The police had been promptly on the scene of the second killing. They had asked innumerable questions; had searched, photographed, dusted their fingerprint powders over ramshackle furniture, paintless sills and thresholds, cracked and crumbling walls.
The police had gone again. "We got plenty of clues," they had growled. "You jabberin' monkeys get on about your business, an' we'll nab the homicidal maniac who done this inside of twenty-four hours."
The people knew they lied. There had been no fingerprints, nothing to show how the killer had entered or left. The people didn't expect the cops to do anything but lie, for the denizens of the tenements were only kikes and wops and heinies; without money, most of them without votes; and along Garden Avenue the limousine tires of the wealthy were being slashed by some vandal. That outrage must be stopped, the Commissioner had announced, if he had to put his whole force on twenty-four-hour duty.
THE cops wouldn't help them. The cops couldn't help them, the old, wise folks murmured, if they wanted to. In their terror and despair the people of Morris Street turned to the one man who had always before helped them in their times of stress and trouble; to a little white-haired man, who was frail in stature and muscle, who was bent and weary with his long years of service, but whose heart and courage were as great as all outdoors.
"I promised them I'd stop it." Andrew Turner probed the edge of his prescription counter with a gnarled, acid-stained thumb. "But I don't even know what it is I'm supposed to stop."
"Maybe they're wrong." Jack Ransom—stocky, barrel-chested, carrot-topped—was the old pharmacist's strong right arm in all of his forays against the wolves who prey on the helpless poor. "Maybe there won't be any more of these killings."
"Dere vill be." The interjection was a thin pipe from an urchin who was washing graduates at the sink in the far corner of the backroom. "Ven de Golem starts een he dun't stop teel de man vot made heem keels heem."
"You got them big ears and mouth of yours open again, brat!" Ransom glowered, swinging around. "Suppose yuh get the hell out of here."
"No, wait." Turner laid his blue-veined, almost transparent hand on Jack's bulging biceps. "Where did you get that from, Abie? Who told you that?"
"Mein grendmudder." Abe Ginsburg's hand went up to shove wet fingers through his black, tightly curled hair—and thumbed his immense proboscis, in passing, with a swift gesture of derision for Jack. "She says dot she voiked vunce for de Vilner rebbi, und he used to read eet to her from de Kabbala aboudt de Golem."
"The Golem." The wrinkles on Doc's brow deepened. "That's the word I was trying to think of. Old Aaron Lubitz was so scared he forgot most of the little English he knows, and I couldn't make out half he said. The Golem. Seems to me there was a play about that, some time ago."
"A movie, Doc. I saw it." Ransom left off glaring at Abe. "The Golem was a stone statue some guy made come alive, sorta like a Frankenstein monster. It used to go plunk-plunking around, killing people, an' you could hear it for a mile. It hasn't anything to do with this thing nobody can see or hear."
"Sez you! Dot's only vun kind of a Golem, Meester Toiner." Abe twisted to the old man. "De void means anyt'eeng dot shouldn't be alive, only a man breathes life into eet. De devil teaches him how, so eet's alvays somet'eeng awful bad. Und dot's vot dees t'eeng ees."
"Eet ain't supersteetion! Eet's de troot. You esk my grendmudder. You esk anybody vot comes from de old country. Dey're all talkeeng from eet."
The breathless earnestness in the lad's voice; the utter, terrible conviction in his wide-pupiled, black eyes, somehow brought the fear into the gleaming backroom of the ancient drugstore. For a long moment the dusty silence quivered with grisly dread. Then Doc's bony finger snapped against his thumb-pad.
"That's it!" he exclaimed. "By Jove, that's it."
"You've got something, Doc?"
"You ought to have it too, Jack. It's superstition of course, but it's believed by some of the people around here, and the others will believe it before long."
Turner drummed on the counter, white eyebrows beetling over faded-blue eyes in which excitement glinted, thin lips hardly moving under a bushy, nicotine-stained mustache.
"Get the picture: A thing that kills mysteriously, and leaves no trace. It's neither human nor animal, and therefore invulnerable. It was made by a man, and only that man can halt its evil career. Do you perceive the implication?"
"Sure! He'll get them good and scared and then he'll demand payment to call the thing off. He plans to drain them dry. But it isn't working, Doc, because they remember how you beat the Hex-woman and the Voodoo Papaloi and they know you can save them again."
"Exactly. He knows that. That's why before he makes his demands there's got to be at least one more murder."
The blood seeped from the surface of Jack's face, so that his freckles became black spots on a blanched background. "You mean..."
RANSOM'S big hands fisted. "He wouldn't dare. They worship you, Doc. Superstition or no superstition, they'd tear him to little pieces the minute he revealed himself."
"No." Turner's smile was bleak, grim as death itself. "They'll fight to protect him, against the police, against an army. You forget, son, that they will be utterly convinced that he is the only one who can control the Golem. That if he were slain the Thing would go on forever, killing their loved ones, their dear ones. They will not dare avenge my death. They dare not help me, even now. It was only because the poison of ancient fear hadn't had time to develop its full effect that they came to me this morning. We've got to battle this alone, you and I. The two of us..."
"An' me too," Abie piped up. "Dun't fergit eet me."
"Let's get going, then!" Jack's heavy voice blanketed the youngster's thin voice. "What are we waiting for?"
Doc's fleshless lips twitched. "For the attack on me."
"It's the only thing we can do. The Golem's master won't show himself till I'm disposed of. We have no other way of telling where he will strike. We've got to leave the next move to him."
"But nothing. I'm bait for the silent killer, and I'm going to be a most attractive lure. Go home, both of you. Go on, Abe, get out of here. Quick!"
There were tears of vexation in the urchin's eyes, but he knew better than to argue with his employer when he used that particular tone. He wiped his hands, donned his frayed jacket and shuffled reluctantly out. There was a minute or two more of conversation between the others, and then Jack Ransom followed.
"Doc" Turner was alone. The tumult of Morris Street, fading as midnight approached, was muffled by the pharmacy's closed door. The old man measured some liquid into a graduate, laid a pea-size gray bit of what looked like steel wool alongside it. He weighed two powders, sifted them into a mortar, started to mix them with a pestle.
Andrew Turner's hands were very steady. He seemed to have forgotten the peril that threatened him in the routine tasks of his profession. But a tense quiet crept into the store. As if in apprehension of some weird doom, the very light shuddered...
...And went out! Darkness smashed into the little backroom...
With a strange automatism, as though his startled brain had forgotten to turn off the impulse that had started it, the old druggist's pestle continued its rub, rub, rub, but every nerve in his frail body was intent. He was listening...
The only sound within the store was the steady scrape, scrape of the pestle against the side of the little stone bowl. By the evidence of every recognized physical sense, Doc was still alone.
But he knew he was not. The strange instinct danger teaches to those who meet it often enough warned him that something had moved, outside the prescription partition, just as the light went out. It wasn't moving now. It was waiting for him to come out to the fuse box near the display window, as would have been natural had he not anticipated just that ambush.
Time dragged, in the stygian gloom, so that the sixty seconds of waiting for the killer's next move dragged out to infinity.
A SLITHER of sound ended the pulsating silence! Not a footfall. A low whirr, quickly ended. A pulse throbbed in Andrew Turner's temple. But still he did not move. He was still waiting, matching the assassin's patience with his own iron composure. The impending battle must be fought on ground of his own choosing.
Abruptly the mortar on the counter glowed, with a spectral green luminance that was wholly within the circular bowl! The low, menacing whirr sounded again. Closer! Too close!
Doc snatched up the tiny wad of metallic fibre, threw it into the liquid in the graduate, leaped away from the counter. Flame spouted out of the graduate, its yellow flare striking to every inch of the backroom. It glinted on something slender, reptilian, that lashed through the spot where Doc's head had been an instant before...
That writhed now, blindly, a thumb-thick snake. Twisted as if it could not in the light see the victim at whom it had so unerringly struck in the dark.
It was not a snake! It was nothing that by any rule of science should have had life at all! It was a writhing finger-thick cable of silvery metal spirally wound for flexibility, and its head was a sharpened inch of triangular file. The killer was a length of electrician's BX cable magically endowed with lethal life!
Doc gasped, sprang. Not away from the thing, toward it. His bony fingers clutched it. The demoniac file-head struck at his arm, missed, struck again. His grip slid up along the eerily animate metal to immobilize the steel fang that twice had killed in the dark, was fighting to kill again.
The Golem's length undulated, jerked powerfully. It ripped through Doc's palms, scarifying them, writhed momentarily on the floor. And vanished!
That, at any rate, was explicable. The Thing had slid through a ragged opening in the floor where the sink's pipes came through from the basement...
Muffled shot-pound from beneath his feet—a faraway shout—whirled Doc around. He hurtled through the curtained doorway in the partition, darted across the store-floor, slammed out the front door... in time to see a roadster shoot away from the curb, slew around the corner.
"Gone!" Doc threw his arms wide in disappointment. "Skipped." He had had only a fleeting glimpse of the roadster's driver, but he knew it was his enemy. Impossible not to know it, for the squat figure crouched over the car's steering wheel had had no face. Only a black head and two eyes big as Jack's fists.
Jack! The old man spun again, to the open iron doors, flat against the sidewalk, of the basement entrance. Turner flew down the stone steps into the store cellar. His feet thumped on level concrete, and then he was groping along a shelf for the flashlight that was kept there for emergencies.
He found it. The white beam shot out, danced along dusty, unpainted pine shelves that were cluttered with surplus stock for the store above. Struck a wall of whitewashed foundation stone at the far rear and flickered down.
The disk held steady. Spotlighted by it was Jack Ransom's crumpled, motionless body, a dribble of blood dying his red hair a deeper scarlet.
"I shouldn't have let him try to handle it alone," Doc groaned in belated remorse. "I shouldn't have..." He knelt beside the flaccid form of his youthful friend, groped for and found a thick wrist, laid anxious fingertips against the pulse.
Breath hissed from between the old pharmacist's teeth, the released breath of relief. That pulse beat evenly, strongly. A quick examination revealed that the wound under the carrot hair was only a deep furrow. The bullet had creased Jack, had only stunned him.
DOC'S light drifted along a shelved row of gallon bottles, stopped at one labeled "Liq. Ammon. Aromat". Turner got to it, twisted out its cork. The sweetly pungent odor of Aromatic Spirits of Ammonia stung his nostrils. It was the work only of a moment to soak his handkerchief in it, to return to Jack and shove the wet wad against his nose.
The sturdy body stirred. Ransom's hand jerked up, batted Turner's away. Then Jack's eyes were open.
"Doc! You're all right?"
"Yes. But what happened here? How did you miss up?"
"I went all the way around the block, and came back to hide in the doorway of the grocery next door, like we'd planned. But as I turned the far corner I saw your lights go out. I pelted up here as fast as I could go, saw that the cellar doors were open, dove down. I heard someone swear, far back, started to pull my gun. I caught my foot in something, stumbled. I guess that saved my life, because that was when the fellow took his lucky shot at me. It would have been luckier if my head hadn't dipped, just then."
"It wasn't lucky, Jack." Doc said grimly. "It was damned good shooting."
"Hell! It was pitch dark in here. He must have fired at sound, he couldn't see me."
"He did see you, dark as it was. He saw you because it was dark. That man is dangerous, Jack, more dangerous than you have any idea, because he knows too much. And we've lost track of him. I was in danger enough before, but now I'm in far greater peril, because now he knows I can outthink him. He won't be caught by this trick again. I'm afraid he won't be caught by any..."
"Meester Toiner!" Abie's anxious call came down into the cellar. "Meester Toiner. Ees dot you down dere?"
"Abe! What the...!"
The youngster darted down the steps, three at a time. "Oi," he panted, his swarthy countenance working, his birdlike eyes gleaming with excitement. "I know vere he vent. I know vere de momser ees got hees hideavay."
Doc jumped up. "What do you mean?" His fingers dug into the urchin's scrawny arm. "How do you know?"
"Because he took me dere. He showed eet to me himselluf."
Jack had managed to struggle erect. "Cut the comedy, you brat, and spill it."
"Eet's like dees. I dun't like dot you sent me home und so I shneak beck to find ouidt vot you vas up to. I hide acrosst de stritt. I see dat car drive ahp und someboty go down in de cellar, baht I don't do noteeng because I t'ink maybe you vos figgering on dot. Den de lights go oudt und I shtart to get vorried, baht I see Jeck come runneenk. Den I see fire een de beck from de store, und hear somevun shoot in der cellar und I teenk, ‘Abie, old keed—looks like Meester Turner und Jeck beet off more den dey ken chew. Ees time fahr you to take ah hend.'
"So I start acrosst de gutter, baht before I ken get accrost ah guy mitout no face chumps ouidt from de cellar und into der roadster. So I got eet time only to chump on de runnink board und skvat down ven it's swooshin' around de corner.
"He vaggles all ofer de stritt, like he can't see vere he's goink."
"He couldn't," Doc broke in. "Not very well. There was too much light. Did he pull off his goggles?"
"Hees goggles?" Abe looked puzzled. "I dun't know. All I know ees he dun't go far. Only two blocks, to dat old haunted vooden house, down by de river. Ven he slows down I chump off und duck avay. Baht I see dot he drifes de roadster een de beck yard. Vot gets me ees he deedn't see me."
"There was too much light," Doc repeated his baffling explanation. Then, before either of his hearers could demand what he meant, he was blurting, "We've got to get after him, Jack. Quick. Before he works out some other scheme to get me out of his way!"
"Hell! All we got to do is call the cops..."
"They aren't any good. Neither they nor any jury would ever believe the truth about him. We've got to handle this ourselves." Doc whirled, headed for the stairs. "I'll get something I need, and lock up, and we'll get going."
Jack looked after the old man, scratched his head. "I dunno," he muttered. "Maybe he knows what he's talking about, but it sounds nuts to me. The guy saw me because it was dark. He didn't see you because it was light. I don't get it."
FOG, rolling up from the River, wrapped the sagging old house in brooding mystery. It lay heavy and dank and clammy on the block sloping down to the waterfront street.
The two vague figures picking a path through the piles of rusted iron in that backyard might have been ghosts, so silently did they move. But that soundless progress of theirs was purposeful. It led them to broken back steps of the derelict domicile, up to the little, square back-porch.
"Oil the hinges while I pick the lock." Doc's command was an almost inaudible whisper. The furtive prowlers moved apart. There was the barest perceptible click of metal on metal, a slightly louder snap. Then the dark wall was gashed by a vertical darker slit.
The door was heavier than they thought. But they were inside the house. Only the musty closeness of disuse told them that, and the feel of carpetless boards beneath their feet. As far as sight or hearing were concerned, they might be anywhere at all where there was no light, no sound.
"What next?" Jack breathed.
"Queer," the older man murmured. "It seems empty. Maybe Abe made a mistake."
Jack gurgled incoherently. And then...
"There is no mistake." The voice was startling, coming out of the darkness. "None at all." No less startling was the looped rope that suddenly was tightening around Turner's arms, pinioning them to his side. Another whipped around his ankles. Unseen hands fumbled, and he was lashed, helpless, in the twinkling of an eye.
"I have been expecting you." Abruptly light spilled down from an unshaded bulb, and the Voice was no longer disembodied. "And I was ready for you."
It was a ghastly apparition that spoke. A black robe was shapeless about a shapeless form. Fist-size goggles indented the ebony fabric of a black hood, but they were shoved high up, and beneath them glittering eyes peered out of narrow slits. Behind the grotesque figure a black curtain cut off a full three-quarters of the room.
"You—you knew we would come!" Doc's voice was quavering, flat with defeat. "How could you?" Jack, he saw, was wound in a cocoon-like mesh of rawhide rope, like that with which he himself was bound. They had been helpless to prevent that in the sightless dark, but it was impossible that any ordinary human could have managed the swift trussing by feel alone.
"I saw your spy leave my running board, and I let him go so that he would send you to me. I was certain you would not notify the police. They would laugh at your unbelievable story."
"Clever!" Reluctant admiration squeezed the exclamation from Turner's pallid lips. "But I should have known the mind that created the Golem would outthink me.
The black-robed figure bowed, mockingly. "That is praise indeed, from the man who so quickly solved my methods and came so near to checkmating me. Blinding me with light was a tour de force. How did you manage that so quickly? I made sure there was no flashlight in your backroom, and when you didn't come out to see what had gone wrong with the store lights, I thought I had you, even though I was forced to seek another aperture for the Golem to reach you."
"I had gasoline ready in a graduate, and dropped a bit of activated platinum sponge into it—the principle of the flameless cigarette lighters, Jack. You understand, don't you?"
"Yeah," the youth growled. "I understand that. But I don't understand why you two are gabbing like a pink tea party. What's this bloke going to do with us, now he's got us trussed up?"
"This bloke," their captor chuckled, "is going to kill both of you—with black light. Like this."
A BLACK-GLOVED hand appeared from the robe's ebony folds. It held something like a flashlight, somewhat bulkier. Its lens pointed at Jack's head but, oddly enough, did not light up.
"Well," the redhead growled, "go ahead. What are you waiting for?"
"I'm not waiting," the other responded, amusement threading his low tone. "You feel something on your left cheek?"
"Huh! Damned if I don't!" There was astonishment in Ransom's explanation, the type of modified fear inspired in the bravest by the unknown. And then pain thinned his voice. "It's hot. It's burning me!" A circle of redness grew on that cheek, of redness that deepened momentarily, darkened...
Something clicked. "That's what I'm going to do with you and your friend. The two of you will be found in the street tomorrow morning, burned to a crisp, and the mark of the Golem will be upon you. Morris Street's protectors killed by the Golem! Will Morris Street pay tribute to me then, or not?"
"What is it, Doc?" Ransom groaned. "What devilish thing is that?"
"An ultraviolet-ray lamp, projecting the upper end of the sun's spectrum that gives the most painful burns, although they are not visible to the naked eye. Black light. I took a chance on its being the ultraviolet he was using, and not the infrared, when I powdered some calcium tungstate and some powder containing an infinitesimal trace of radium bromide in the mortar. When the ultraviolet struck that, it glowed and warned me the Golem was about to strike. That's how I dodged it."
"Brilliant, Doctor Turner! I knew I had met a foeman worthy of my steel."
"You had to see to be able to direct the Golem so expertly, and you couldn't be using visible light because both your previous attacks were perpetrated in the dark. That was easy. But I'd like to know the secret of your weapon before I pass out. Mechanical, isn't it?"
"Mechanical, of course." The black robe shrugged. "I think only you can fully appreciate its ingenuity. It can do no harm to show you how it works, because you will not live to make use of your knowledge. Here it is..."
The man reached between the folds of the curtain behind him, brought out a seven-foot length of whirring, writhing cable. It was the snakelike thing with which Doc had fought in his prescription room, its file-head still virulent-looking as before. But there was a fan of metal rings at its other end, five of them, through which black gloved fingers slid.
"Wires are attached to these rings," their owner murmured, "and run through the inside of the spiral cable to its further end. By pulling on the appropriate rings I can make the contrivance do anything I wish. See —"
The thing writhed on the floor, arched up, looped around Jack's legs, around Doc's waist. Even though they knew now exactly what animated it, there was still a similitude of grisly, vicious life about it. It darted at the druggist's face, and he ducked. Then it thumped laxly to the floor.
"You sent that up through the hole from my cellar to strike at me," Doc accused, "just like you sent it through cracks in the decrepit walls of tenement flats from vacant rooms next to them. You had a periscope, too, at the end of a hollow rod, with a violet-ray lamp lighting the mirror, like a surgeon's bronchoscope. I saw that peeping out, under the sink. Your goggles are nickel oxide glass, filmed with calcium tungstate and some radium salt, making a fluorescent screen that enables you to see by the light that to everyone else is darkness. That's the way you killed the father of a family and a little, helpless infant."
The robed man laughed. "That's the way I killed them. But it's not the way I'm going to kill you." He moved suddenly, sweeping the partitioning curtain aside. "I've long wanted to try the full power of this contrivance on a human."
A CEILING-HIGH machine stood revealed, an intricate mass of insulated wire coils, of gleaming copper buss-bars, of overgrown radio bulbs. But that which focused Jack's eyes and Doc's was a ten-inch glass lens jutting out of its very center. The great bulbous eye stared straight at them, ineffably menacing.
The gloved hand curled about the handle of a huge switch. "I've confessed murder to you, my friends, but you won't repeat that confession on any earthly witness stand." The great copper bar started to move upward toward the waiting receptacle.
"Don't," Andrew Turner screamed, his poise shattered at last. "Don't use that on us!" His cry was high-pitched, edged with hysteria.
The killer laughed. The switch-knife moved faster. A fine spray shot out, apparently from Doc's chest itself. It struck the hood squarely, soaked it. Its wearer staggered. Made a last despairing effort to push home that switch. Thumped down on the floor and lay there motionless, like a gutted meal sack.
"Phew," Doc gasped. "I thought I'd never be able to get my elbow worked around to press the atomizer bulb I had hidden under my coat. I expected him to tie my wrists together in the usual manner, not my arms to my sides."
"Let's—get out—of here," Jack choked. "That ether smell is getting me, too."
They had to fall to the floor and roll to the door, and it was only a bit of acrobatic dexterity on Jack's part that got the thick portal open. But then the fresh air of the Morris Street night revived them.
"Here's that razor blade we stuck in the steps, Doc. It'll get us free in a second. Good thing you thought of that."
"Seems to me," the old man said slowly, "it was a good thing I thought of a great many things tonight. Starting with how two murders could be committed in absolute darkness without a sound and without the killer entering the room where his victim lay.
"It was a battle of wits, a chess game against death. That was a first class brain I was up against, Jack, and I'm a little proud of the fact that I could outmaneuver it sufficiently to get a confession of murder from its owner, and then escape with my own life. A little proud."
"Gees, Doc. That's the first time I ever heard you hand yourself a bouquet. But I guess it's coming to you. Come on, I'm kinda eager to wrap this rawhide rope around that guy in there before he comes to. Maybe my brain is second-class, but it's good enough to figure out that the first-class one you're talking about won't be worth much after twenty or thirty thousand volts of juice gets done slicing through it."
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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