Roy Glashan's Library
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EMILE C. TEPPERMAN

FIVE MINUTES TO DEATH

Cover

RGL e-Book Cover 2017©

First published in Secret Agent "X", October 1934

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version Date: 2017-11-09
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

Only the original raw text of this book is in the public domain.
All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

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Cover

"Secret Agent 'X', October 1934, with "Five Minutes to Death"



The life of Doctor Brant Carter lay in the two hands of a clock.



DOCTOR BRANT CARTER felt no sense of foreboding as he came into his office from the operating room. He still wore his surgeon's robe. He lit a cigarette and smiled at Emily Blanshard, his trim little secretary; he dropped the match into a tray and said, "The operation was successful," in answer to her unspoken question.

Emily said, "As usual." Her warm eyes glowed with admiration. The operation had been just another one of thousands to Carter, but to her it was a miracle every time he dragged another human from the toils of disease by the dexterity of his fingers.

Brant went through the mail on his desk, allowing the smoke to trickle through his nostrils with languorous enjoyment. There was one letter that attracted his attention. His name and address were printed on the envelope in pencil, and there was no return address. He was about to slit it open when the fateful telephone call came.

Emily answered it and handed him the phone. "It's Doctor Sabin," she told him, "calling from the Lister Memorial Hospital."

Still with no feeling of impending disaster, Brant took the instrument and spoke into it. "Hello, Doc. How's tricks?" But he straightened stiffly in his chair as he heard Sabin's jerky, tense voice.

"Look here, Brant!" The words slapped against his eardrum. "I've got to see you—at once. I just got a letter—from—him! It says I'm first—you're next!"

Brant's face set grimly. "You mean—from Blantry?"

"Who else? Haven't we expected it long enough? Come over—drop everything. I'll wait in the office." Sabin was the superintendent of the Lister Memorial Hospital. "Will you—Good God! Brant! Help!"

Brant Carter clutched the instrument fiercely. He shouted, "Harry, what is it?" There was no answer. There were muffled sounds of a struggle, and then a crash as if the phone had been slammed to the floor.

Brant bounded out of his chair. He shouted to Emily, "It's that devil, Blantry. He's gotten to Harry Sabin somehow. Call the police, tell 'em to shoot an alarm to the radio cars!" He was halfway to the door. "I'm on my way. God grant somebody gets there in time!"

Without stopping to remove his operating robe, he sprinted down the short flight of steps and into his coupé which stood before the door. From his office in the West Eighties it was a five-minute drive to the East River where the Lister Memorial towered to the sky, a living structure of steel and concrete, devoted to the service of humanity.

He tore across town, blind to traffic lights. Madly he drove through the tunnel in Central Park, both hands gripping the top of the wheel, forearm pressing down on the button of the horn. Pedestrians stopped; cars pulled over at his raucous signal and gave him the right-of-way. He kept his eyes bleakly ahead. His young-old face was set in lines of sternness. He was a queer sight in his white robe, with his black hair prematurely graying at the temples.

He came out of the tunnel at Fifth Avenue with his horn still braying. He waved at a radio-car that was just turning into the cross street, and it swung in behind him.

The two cars shot across town, and the tower of the hospital came in sight a block away. At the same moment there was a thunderous detonation as if the earth had collided with a major planet. The tower of the hospital seemed to decompose and to leap into the air. The walls of the massive building buckled and caved in. The whole structure crumpled and crashed down upon the heads of its inmates, crushing the life out of patients, internes, nurses and attendants!

A terrific wave of hot air belched down the street and literally stopped Brant Carter's car. He saw the radio-car pull alongside, saw the startled faces of the two patrolmen in it. And then debris came showering down upon them. For long minutes it descended out of the sky, a deluge of wreckage from the hospital. Brant saw a luckless pedestrian darting for shelter, only to be smashed to the ground under a twisted steel girder that catapulted down on him.

Brant, himself, sat helplessly in the car, awaiting destruction. Miraculously, the wreckage missed him. The two cops in the prowl car were not so fortunate, however. An immense section of concrete hurtled down upon them, burying car and all. Brant shuddered. He would never forget their horrified eyes as they watched destruction leap upon them from the air. He clenched his fists so tightly about the wheel that the skin burst at the knuckles. He knew who was responsible for this holocaust, yet there was nothing he could do!


PRESENTLY the shower of debris ceased. There was comparative silence—but not for long. For the quiet was soon superseded by the clanging of fire apparatus and ambulances. A crowd gathered. But it was a subdued crowd, shocked by the catastrophe.

Brant got out and walked up the street. The end of the thoroughfare was blocked by debris. It was impossible to get through. Firemen were already struggling with axes, trying to smash a way for the white-coated internes who waited with their canvas stretchers.

A siren bellowed behind, and Brant turned to see the stooping shoulders of Inspector Kerwin as he got out of the police-car that pulled up alongside. The two men knew each other well. Brant Carter had assisted the police department on numerous occasions in the capacity of surgical expert. He even had a special card of authority from the commissioner.

Kerwin had a bewildered look. "It seems impossible, Doc," he said to Brant, "that a thing like this should happen in New York!" He waved toward the ruins from which flames were beginning to dart in a dozen places. "It must have taken a charge of dynamite to do that! Who's this Blantry that your secretary named when she called headquarters?"

Brant's eyes blazed. "He's a fiend! Sabin and I incurred his hate. You wouldn't know about it, Kerwin, because it happened in Paris—five years ago—when Harry Sabin and I lectured one summer at the Sorbonne." He drew the inspector aside, out of the way of the sweating firemen. "I'm going to give you this quick, then I want you to send out a general alarm for him."

"Go ahead," said Inspector Kerwin, his eyes roving everywhere while he listened, checking up on the efforts of the patrolmen to keep the hysterical crowds in check.

Brant Carter talked swiftly, somberly. "While Harry and I were in Paris, this case of Blantry's arose. He had a wife and daughter who were heavily insured. He himself was—is—a well-educated man, an expert chemist. Well, he gave his wife and daughter injections of typhoid germs. They would have died and he would have collected the insurance. Luckily, Harry and I were called in. We operated, removed an ulcer, and saved the two women. Also we proved that Blantry had given them the injections. He was tried and convicted—sent to Devil's Island for life!"

Kerwin said nothing. He was listening intently.

Brant went on. "Last year he managed to escape. We heard of it. Sabin was worried, but I pooh-poohed his fears. Now I'm sorry. You see, the last thing he said at the trial was that he would escape and get us, no matter what part of the world we were in!"

Kerwin said, "Hell, is that why you think it's this Blantry who blew up the hospital? How could you ever prove it? There isn't a person left alive in there who could tell you what happened!"

"Sabin told me on the phone just before he called for help that he had a letter from him—" Suddenly Brant snapped his fingers. "Sure! And I got one too!" He recalled the queerly printed envelope he had been about to open when Sabin's call came in. Unconsciously he had carried it out with him. In the excitement of the race to the hospital, he had dropped it to the floorboard. It must still be there. "Wait a minute," he said to Kerwin. "It's in the car. I'm pretty sure that's it. I'll show it to you."

He threaded his way through the throng. His wrist watch showed eleven-twenty. Only eleven minutes had elapsed since he had left the office that morning.

The letter was in the car. He split the envelope open with his penknife, and swiftly read the cryptic note it contained:


Rx

C2H2 CH3 (NO2)3

THIS IS THE FORMULA THAT WILL CURE YOU FOREVER. SABIN FIRST—YOU NEXT. REMEMBER PARIS? IT IS JUST FIVE YEARS. DEVIL'S ISLAND IS A HORRIBLE PLACE!


Brant crumpled the paper fiercely. It read like the raving of a madman, but it carried a deadly note. He knew what those letters meant at the top of the sheet. They represented the chemical formula for trinitrotoluene—T.N.T.—one of the most powerful explosives known to man!

It was Blantry, no doubt of it, even though there was no signature. And he was still free—a madman at large, bent on revenge; revenge in a hideous form, that carried along to destruction hundreds of innocent people who had never even heard of anyone named Blantry.

Brant Carter looked up, and his eyes suddenly narrowed. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of a twisted face that peered at him from an alley between two buildings. Even as he looked, the face disappeared, but his blood began to race. Memory, just jogged by the note of horror he had read, bore him back five years. Yes, there was no mistake. It was Blantry whose red-rimmed eyes he had seen.

Impulsively he raced for the alley, turned into it in time to catch sight of a figure sliding around the rear of the building. He was halfway down the alley before he realized he should have summoned help. Now it was too late. If he turned back he would lose his quarry. He regretted that he had left his gun in the desk drawer at the office.

This was apparently a warehouse along which he raced. The building on the left of him was a garage. There'd be no one around. Everybody was out front in the street, gawking or helping.

He swung around the rear of the warehouse and spotted the fleeing figure slipping into the cellar entrance. It seemed almost as if his quarry was deliberately slowing up in order to lure him on.

But regardless of the danger, thinking only of hundreds of mangled bodies that lay with Harry Sabin in the ruins of the hospital, he sprinted across and down the cellar steps, his feet drumming swiftly on the concrete.

Inside it was gloomy. He stopped for a moment to accustom himself to the lack of light. Slowly he felt his way along the wall, till his hands came in contact with metal. He explored the object with his hands. It was a truck. This wasn't the cellar then. Probably the warehouse garage.

He heard a movement close beside him. He distinguished a shadow that seemed to be moving toward him along the side of the truck. He stood stock-still, not daring to breath.

Suddenly there was a little click, and he was blinded by the beam of a flashlight. He flung himself toward the shadow, but even as he did so he felt his face covered by a fine spray that filled his nostrils with sweetly cloying fumes. Nitrous Oxide! He recognized the odor. An anaesthetic used only when it was desirable to render a patient unconscious in a very short time.

He was weakening fast under the nitrous oxide fumes, but his groping hands clamped around a throat, and he squeezed. His opponent offered no resistance, and he realized why. The other must be wearing a mask. He raised a hand to tear it away, but just then a wave of blackness engulfed him and he slid to the floor. His opponent had not uttered a word.


NITROUS oxide leaves you with a wretched, nauseous feeling. Which is just the feeling Brant Carter experienced when he came to. In addition, he had a blinding headache. His eyes wavered around groggily, and focused on a clock on the wall. It seemed somehow familiar. Gradually he became aware of his surroundings. There was an instrument cabinet beside him. And there, across the room, was a desk—his desk. Of course! He realized with a shock that he was in his own operating room!

And then, with another, greater shock, he realized that he was bound in his own examining chair. He couldn't move his elbows—a coil of wire was wound tightly across his chest and behind the chair. His wrists were bound with wire.

And then his gaze settled on the object strapped in his lap. It was a box—an ordinary wooden box. On the side facing him was pasted one of his own prescription blanks. His head ached so he couldn't read what was written on it. He closed his eyes gently, and the pain subsided. After a moment he opened them again, and read:


Rx.

T.N.T.

THIS OPERATION WILL BE SUCCESSFUL...


The writing blurred again. But he didn't close his eyes this time. He had to know the meaning of this. There was something dreadful about it. He forced himself to examine the box. Two terminals protruded from the top. A wire ran from each. He followed the wires. His forehead wrinkled. He was still groggy from the anaesthetic his mind wasn't working as quickly as usual. It took him a long time to realize his awful predicament.

Then he forgot the headache. One of those wires was tied to the hour hand of the clock, the other to the minute hand. There was a strand hanging loose from each. The time was ten minutes to twelve. At noon the two hands would meet. So would the strands of wire. And alongside the box, wired up to it, was a battery. When the two hands of the clock met, the circuit would be completed. That much he saw, and through his mind there ran the thought, "Electricity detonates trinitrotoluene!"

Suddenly his mind was clear. He understood. And involuntarily he exclaimed aloud, "God, what a devil!"

From behind him came a sardonic chuckle, A gloating voice said silkily, "I was waiting for you to realize it all by yourself, Doctor Carter!"

He turned his head, and saw—Blantry!

Blantry was mad, there was no doubt about it. His eyes seemed to drink in the helpless position of his victim.

Brant Carter strained at the wire about his chest. It wouldn't give, but dug deeply into his flesh. He realized the futility of struggling, and relaxed.

Blantry came around in front of him. There was some surplus wire on the floor, and he kicked it aside with his foot. "The next ten minutes of your life are going to be very interesting, Doctor Carter," he said suavely. "Also, they will be your last." He bent forward, suddenly savage, his lips curling back from discolored teeth. "I hope they will be as long for you as the four years I spent on Devil's Island!"

Brant Carter forced a derisive smile. "You've certainly gone to a lot of pains, Blantry. How did I get here? The last I remember is that warehouse. You sprayed me with something—nitrous oxide, from the odor."

Blantry nodded. His eyes danced wildly. "I used an ordinary insecticide spray. Then I dumped you into the truck and drove out. No one suspected. I brought you here, and your pretty secretary was terribly upset when I told her you'd met with a slight accident. She helped me carry you up here."

Brant interrupted anxiously. "What about her? Where is she?"

The madman grinned nastily. "That will be something else for you to think about, Doctor. She's nicely tied up in the next room. She'll go up with you." He tapped the box on the doctor's lap. "There's five pounds of nitro in here—enough to blow up this whole block of apartment houses! And they'll all go with you!" He raised his arms in the air and crowed. "To hell with them all! The revenge of Blantry!"


BRANT CARTER compelled himself to be cool. "Look here," he said. "You've got it in for me. All right. But what have you got against all these people? There's close to five thousand women and children in this square block. They'll all be wiped out. Why not kill me and let them go?"

Blantry glanced at the clock. It was eight minutes to twelve. He leered. "Sorry I can't stay to talk about it, Doctor. I've got to be going. I'd like to stay and watch you till the blow-off, but you know how it is—safety first. I'm going to put a lot of distance between me and this little box!"

He bowed, and turned to go.

Brant's blood rushed through his veins as he saw that Blantry's foot was right in the middle of the coil of wire he had kicked. His own feet just touched the floor, and he stepped down viciously, scraped the wire backwards along the floor just as the madman started away. Blantry's foot caught in the coil, and he went flying headfirst, to crash against the corner of the desk. A deep sigh was forced out of him, and he curled up on the floor, unconscious. A heavy welt appeared on his forehead, and a little blood trickled where the skin was cut.

Brant muttered to himself, "Just out for a while—and a short while at that." His eyes darted to the clock. Five minutes to twelve! Well, Blantry would be out for at least five minutes, if that was any consolation. Then he thought of Emily, helpless in the next room; of the thousands of people in the surrounding houses who knew nothing of the cataclysm that would speed them to eternity at the stroke of noon!

Vainly he struggled against the wire that bound him, with that prescription for murder on the side of the box staring him mockingly in the face. He found that though he couldn't move his elbows, he could raise his hands.

In desperation he bent his head and started to gnaw at the wire that bound his wrists. A single strand came loose, and cut his lip. Blood flowed down, and the palms of his hands became moist. Recklessly he bit and tore at the wire. His forehead was damp with perspiration. The drops trickled into his eyes. More strands came loose, yet the wire held.

He blinked his eyes rapidly to get the sweat out of them, and looked up at the clock through a film of moisture. Two minutes of twelve. The ends of the wires on the hands of the clock stuck out a little. They would meet just a little before the hands themselves. The contact would be established before twelve!

He redoubled his efforts. His head ached horribly. His lips bled freely. The wire was loose!

Now he could stretch his hand out. He tore the wires from the terminals on the box and looked defiantly at the clock. It was noon!

Blantry stirred and groaned.

Brant Carter cracked under the strain to the extent of laughing out loud. He reached up and started to work on the wire that bound his chest.

"Wait," he said to the still unconscious Blantry, "till I wriggle out of here, and get rid of this little box of sudden death. I've always been against cops beating up prisoners. But I can see their point of view now, all right. You are headed for the electric chair, but you may plead insanity. So I'm just going to have a little session with you before I turn you in!"


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is in the Australian public domain.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.