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NORBERT DAVIS

THE DEVIL'S SCALPEL

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First published in Dime Detective Magazine, November 1935

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2021-06-19
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan
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Dime Detective Magazine, Nov 1935, with "The Devil's Scalpel"



Illustration

He was a travesty of surgery—garbed all in black.



There in that hospital on the hill two corpses had been found—each slashed with the same ghastly criss-cross marks. And now, on the operating table lay Doctor Nolan's daughter, cringing under the scalpel of the surgeon in black. Who was this murder fiend who masqueraded as a medico? What grisly impulse prompted him to use the instruments of healing for his kill-fest?




THE blast of chill wind came swooping down the slope at Bill Ray, to spin him around in a whirling vortex of dead leaves and small twigs that bit at his face like vicious things alive. It buffeted and battered him malignantly, whipping the thin duck trousers tight around his legs, snatching with greedy fingers at his uniform coat.

He bent his body against it, walked on up the slope through the barren trees like drear black sentinels, toward the spots of yellow light blinking from the top of the hill. He had his hand cupped over his eyes to protect them from the hard-driven dust, and as he squinted up the winding gravel path, he could see another hurrying figure ahead of him. A queer, squat little figure, it was, with short legs driving hard, like some bug grown grotesquely large, scuttling for its hole.

Bill Ray recognized its blurred outlines. It was Doctor Nolan, the man for whom he worked, hurrying for the warm sanctuary of the little hospital on the top of the hill. Bill shouted at him—but in vain. The wind whipped his voice away from his lips with snatching fingers, ripped it to shreds. He put his head down, lowered his big shoulders, plodded up the path.

Bill Ray had taken this job to help pay his way through medical school. He was a sort of semi-interne and laboratory assistant to Doctor Nolan. The private hospital at which he worked was really an experimental laboratory. Doctor Nolan was an internationally known authority on paralysis. He was working on a theory of spinal injections to bring withered limbs back to life again; it was an honor to work for him. And then there was his daughter, Jeanette Nolan. Bill smiled a little wryly at the thought of her slim, soft beauty. Little use for him to dream of that. A mere medical student—


HE WAS at the top of the hill now. The glass doors of the hospital were just ahead. Doctor Nolan was scuttling up the broad stone steps, bent over, hurrying as he always hurried, as if life was too short and he had many things to do before Death reached for him with cold hands. He was tugging at the brass handles on the door, fumbling. He always seemed clumsily uncertain, except when he was handling the test tubes in his laboratory. Then he worked with artistic grace. Bill Ray trotted up the steps behind him. "Hello, Doctor," he said cheerfully. "Just a minute, and I'll give you a hand."

The effect of his words, shouted against the wind, was ghastly and startling. Nolan gave a thin, moaning sound of terror. He whirled around, flattening his squat body against the glass of the door. The lenses in his thick spectacles flickered coldly. He had a big blue-black automatic in one thin, acid-stained hand, and pointed it waveringly at Bill Ray's tall form, while the little scientist's lips moved and writhed in a frenzy of fear.

Bill Ray went down a step, away from him, staring in sheer, blank amazement. "What—" he began, fumbling for words.

Nolan collapsed against the door with a little moan of relief. With palsied fingers he tried to hide the automatic under the folds of his big overcoat He attempted a smile with bluish, trembling lips. The effect was ghastly.

"H-hello, Bill," he said breathlessly. "Frightened me, coming up that way. The wind...." He turned quickly, hauled at the door, got it open and scrambled inside.

Bill Ray followed him, still blankly surprised, unbelieving. The thought of Nolan frightened was incredible. The little scientist was always so calm, so busily preoccupied with his experiments. But now terror had him close in its cold grip. He was leaning against the wall, as though he needed its warm support. In the dim fight of the hall his round, plump face was shiny with perspiration, twitching.

"Is there anything wrong, sir?" Bill Ray asked hesitantly.

Nolan made a little gesture. "No, no. Don't mind me. Nerves—just nerves, Bill. Too much work, and too little sleep."

"Are you sure that's all?"

Nolan nodded quickly. "Yes, yes. That's all. Of course it's all. What else could it be?"

Bill Ray shrugged. "I don't know, sir. Perhaps you'd better take a rest. You aren't going to work tonight, are you?"

"No, no," Nolan said nervously. "Just some accounts—some materials to order. Take me only a short time. Then I'm going to bed. Sleep." He said the word hungrily, wistfully, as though it were a thing to be greedily desired.

He gave a long, quivering sigh and turned, walked on down the corridor toward his office. He went a little uncertainly, as though his legs were wooden things under him, and there was a hunched tenseness about his back, as though he wished to turn and look behind him and was keeping himself from doing it by sheer will power. The door of his office opened, shut behind him. Immediately there was the flare of a light through the frosted panel.

Ray shrugged his shoulders. There was no use wasting time in idle speculation. Nolan had preferred to keep the secret of his fear, if it was a secret, to himself. And Ray had work to do.

He went up the rubber-covered stairs to the right of the hall. The hospital was deadly still, but Ray was used to that. There was no reason why there should be any noise. The capacity of the hospital was only five or six patients; there was no need for it to be any larger. Nolan's work was not only in the experimental stage, still, but it was tremendously expensive. Nolan had no intention of making money from his work, but until he had gone far enough to get an endowment from some charitable institution he had to charge patients what it cost him to treat them. His funds were limited.


THE hospital was in a remote district, far from the city. And now most of the paralytics who could afford its services had sought warmer and sunnier climes. Only one, Tenniwell, remained in the hospital. He was a little, dried-up man, paralyzed from the waist down. His legs were shrunken things, skin hugging tightly to the bone. But he seemed to keep his hope up—a feverish, frantic hope that Nolan's genius would somehow bring full life to his withered body.

Ray would go see him now, have a little talk with him, cheer him up, if that were possible. But first he would stop and see Jeanette Nolan. She would be at the desk in the upper hall. She helped out at the hospital as much as she could. Stayed at the desk to answer phone calls, receive visitors, type her father's correspondence.

Ray topped the stairs, turned to the right. Ahead of him was the soft glow of a green light over a flat desk in a niche in the short corridor. He stepped forward with a smile, a gay greeting on his lips.

The smile died, and the greeting went unuttered. The chair behind the desk was empty. Bill Ray felt the coldness of the disappointment in him turn to a little gnawing doubt. Jeanette Nolan was always there to greet him when he came in. Never before had the little niche where she sat been vacant.

He came up to the desk and then stopped short. Fear came up and gripped his throat like an icy hand. Blood! Blood in a little glistening pool on the smooth top of the desk, winking redly in the soft light. Bill Ray's eyes, straining, found more crimson—in little drops, sliding down the side of the desk, on the wall behind it.

His brain refused to accept the mute evidence of those glinting splotches of red. No—he whirled around, the muscles of his throat tight and strained. Quick, tapping footsteps came down the hall. A soft voice was humming very cheerfully. Jeanette Nolan swished around the turn of the corridor and saw him there.

"Hello, Bill," she said, smiling at him. She was small and dainty. Bill Ray always had the feeling that she was tenderly fragile, that she would break in his big hands if he touched her. Yet he knew that this was absurd. There was glowing health and strength in that softly rounded body.

Now he staggered a little and leaned against the wall. His relief was too great. It choked in his throat, and he could feel the cold dampness of perspiration on his forehead and the palms of his hands.

Jeanette Nolan came closer, staring at him anxiously. "Why, what's the matter, Bill? You look so strange!"

Ray pointed at the spots of blood. "I— I thought you—"

She stared with wide blue eyes. "Elsa!" she gasped. "I left her here! What happened? Where is she?"

Ray shook his head. "I don't know, I just got here. There was no one at the desk when I came."

Jeanette wasn't hurt. Thank God for that! It wasn't her blood glittering there so redly. But whose was it? Did it belong—had it belonged—to Elsa Winters? She was the trained nurse hired to take care of Tenniwell. A big, blond woman, now in her middle thirties, placidly strong, cheerful in her unruffled, stolid way.

"But—but what could have happened to her?" Jeanette Nolan was asking in a voice that was edged with panic. "Where could she have gone? She was talking to me here. She said Mr. Tenniwell was asleep for the moment. I left her to mind the desk while I went to get paper." She indicated the packet of typing paper she held in one hand. "Do you suppose that she could have hurt herself? A nose-bleed, perhaps?"

Bill Ray's lips were drawn into a tight line. "No," he said grimly. He indicated the blood spots on the wall. "Those are arterial spurts. It was more than a nosebleed." Bill Ray jerked his wide shoulders. "We'd better go tell your father. Come on."


HE TOOK her arm, and she went with him unquestioningly. Together they went down to the end of the corridor, back down the rubber-covered steps. The lower hall was empty, as it had been before. The yellow light came cheerfully through the frosted panel of Doctor Nolan's office. They went toward it, and Bill Ray knocked softly on the door.

"Doctor Nolan!" he called.

There was no answer, except the echo of his voice coming back in a thin, hushed whisper to mock him. Jeanette Nolan pressed close to him, shuddering, and he grasped her arm tight, comfortingly.

"I don't like this," she said. "Father never leaves his light on when he goes out. Open the door, Bill."

Ray turned the knob with a soft click; the door went slowly back. He gasped then, once, and felt crawling icy fingers along his back-bone. Jeanette Nolan gave a little cry and hid her face against his arm, trembling.

The office was a small one. Stacks of dusty textbooks lined the walls. There was a small desk, littered untidily with papers, in front of the door. And behind that desk, sitting in Doctor Nolan's chair, was stark, freezing horror.

It was the partially nude body of a woman, sprawled there, arms and legs flung wide, head hanging down crazily. The face was untouched, but the eyes bulged in terrible agony. The bared torso was a criss-cross welter of slashing wounds, overlapping each other, laying the firm white flesh back redly. Blood was everywhere—on the floor in a ghastly purple pool, matted in the woman's long blond hair, streaked on her arms and legs in a weirdly macabre design.

Bill Ray stood in the doorway, frozen there, rooted to the spot, fighting the cold numbness that had clamped down over his brain and stopped the processes of thought. This thing wasn't so. It couldn't happen. But the ghastly horror in the chair stayed there, never moving.

Jeanette Nolan's voice was a thin whisper, muffled against the cloth of his sleeve. "Is—is it Elsa?"

"Yes," Bill Ray said thickly. "You stay outside. I'll—I'll look at her. See if I can do something." But the words were an empty mockery. There was death there in the chair—beyond human aid.

"No!" Jeanette said quickly. "I'm afraid to be alone. I'll stay here in the doorway. I—I can't look."

Bill Ray approached the thing behind the desk on leaden feet, while Jeanette stood rigid in the doorway, both hands clasped tightly over her eyes, sobbing a little now in choked gasps. He felt for the pulse in one blood-drenched wrist. There was no throb of life there. He had known there would be none. But the flesh was warm. Death had been recent.

Ray was thinking more clearly now. This was murder, and the ugly sound of the word was like a breath of biting cold air. The numbness left him. He reached for the telephone on the desk. He would call the sheriff.

The receiver clicked emptily under his thumb. There was no wire-hum. He jerked again and again at the receiver, feeling the cold grip of panic close to him. Then very slowly, fighting for calmness, he put the telephone down on the desk again.

"The wire's been cut," he said, and his voice sounded very small and far away in his own ears. Where was Doctor Nolan? Had this slashing death overtaken him? Was this the thing he had feared?

The only answer to those questions was the whip of the wind past the building, the grind of dead branches one on the other, the clatter of a loosened shutter. And then, far away, faint through the yowl of the wind, there was another sound.

Human, this was—not the wind. Thin and small and muffled by distance it came again and again. A scream—rising, rising to a crescendo. Fear, horror, helpless anger—all were expressed in that scream.


RAY felt little prickles at the back of his neck, and his face seemed like a wax mask, immovable. Jeanette Nolan was staring at him, eyes very wide and blue through her spread fingers.

"It came from upstairs," Ray said, and it surprised him that his voice sounded so calm. "Come with me. Stay close to me until we find out what's happening around here."

They went out of the office, and the door swished shut quickly behind them, as if it was anxious to hide the horror inside. They went down the corridor to the stairs, up the stairs, into the upper corridor.

And then that scream again—closer now, and weaker, too—freighted with its ghastly burden of fear and terror and helpless despair. It drifted into a bubbling wail, slid off into thick silence.

"This way," Bill Ray said. He had to say something, had to hear the relatively normal sound of his own voice. Jeanette Nolan was like a trembling shadow, close against him.

They went past the desk with its mutely glittering spots of blood, on down the hall. The scream had come from the end room, where the patient, Tenniwell, was lodged.

Ray walked straight to the door, put his hand firmly on the knob, turned it. He could feel cold horror welling up inside him. What would he find when that door opened? What new horror would be brought to light? Slowly he pushed on the door.

The scream came again—terror-stricken, ringing in their ears. It was Tenniwell. He was sitting up in his bed as straight as his skinny arms could thrust him; fighting against the dead weight of his paralyzed legs, staring at the two in the doorway with fear-crazed eyes, while cold sweat beaded his high, bony brow, slid down gleaming into the thin hollows of his cheeks. The upper part of his emaciated body threshed frantically back and forth in the bed. The lower part was as still as death itself.

He recognized them, and the scream died in his throat. His skinny arms suddenly gave out under the strain he had put on them, and the withered body dropped back limply on the bed.

"I thought," he muttered through stiff lips, "I thought—it was—coming back to get me." His eyes stared wildly. "Take it away! Take it away! The blood!" And he pointed with one claw-like finger.

It was on the floor as thought it had been hurled through the door with one tremendously powerful sweep—a limply crumpled body. It sprawled there loosely and there was blood in a great red pool, those same criss-cross slashes that marked the horror in the room below.

Only this was the body of a man. He had been short, squatly powerful, with long thick arms, rippling with muscle. One of those arms had been broken, now lay angled out behind him. He had fought, this man—fought the horrible death that had caught him. There were blue bruises, puffy swellings, on his broad heavy-jawed face.

Jeanette Nolan made a faint choking noise. "Is it—is it father?"

"No," Ray said quickly. The man was a stranger; he had never seen him before. Ray stepped closer, and his eyes widened in stupefied amazement.

The man was still alive. Life still clung stubbornly to that squat body. In spite of the terrible slashes that criss-crossed his torso, in spite of the blood that had leaked oat on the floor, breath came in faint little wheezes between the white lips. Red little bubbles grew and burst regularly in time with faint, fluttering breaths. Ray had been wondering who this man was. How he came to be here. But at the sound of that ghastly, sputtery breathing he forgot all that. It didn't matter what had happened, what had dropped this man here in a mangled, broken huddle.

It mattered only that he was alive. He must be kept alive. All his fear, all his numbing horror, left Bill Ray's mind. His training came to the fore. There was a human fife there on the floor, slipping fast away, waning. It was his duty to save that life. The puzzle of the disappearance of Doctor Nolan, the death of Elsa Winters—all must wait. Nothing was so important as guarding that precious flutter of life in the broken, slashed body on the floor.

Bill leaned over, picked up the squat body easily, heedless of its limp weight, heedless of the blood that smeared it. His voice was quick, sharply commanding. "Quick! The surgery! The bleeding has to be stopped! He hasn't much more blood to lose!"


AUTOMATICALLY Jeanette Nolan answered the command in his voice. She led the way across the hall, into the little room that served as an emergency surgery. It was a small room with glistening white walls, a big window in the slanting ceiling.

She pulled out the white operating table, switched on the big green-shaded lamp and pulled it low over the table on its linked steel chain. Ray laid the limp body on the table, straightened out the thick, muscular arms and legs with hands that were gentle and at the same time quickly efficient.

No time except for the scantiest of preparations. Two arteries were cut. Clips for those, to hold precious blood in the weakened body, keep that sturdy heart pumping. Bandages in white rolls. Strips of thin, tough gut to close the gaping wounds. Disinfectant.

Ray's hands hurried, like separate things, each with a life and intelligence of its own; hurried with a quick efficiency, while Jeanette Nolan watched him, breath coming in tight little gasps, blue eyes startlingly wide in the chalk whiteness of her face. And the flicker of life sputtered weakly in the still, blood-smeared body on the table.

And then, with no warning at all, the lights flickered once and went out. Dead blackness closed down on them like evil, clutching hands. Jeanette gave a little breathless cry of fright. But Ray had no sensation of fear; only a quick, bursting anger. Rage that the life under his hands was slipping, slipping, and he couldn't see to stop it.

"Quick!" he said tensely. "On the table. The flashlight!"

It was always kept there, in case of emergencies just such as this when the lighting system might fail at a critical moment. He could hear Jeanette's feet stumbling across the room, hear her hands fumbling among the instruments on the table, raising little metallic rattles and clinks that sounded very loud in the breathless blackness.

Then the flashlight clicked in her hand, and the white, round circle of brilliance crept across the floor, found the operating table. Light once more. Bill Ray bent to his work, thinking of nothing but that. The light wavered and jerked in Jeanette's trembling hand. Bill Ray had no time to comfort her, no time to reassure her.

"Steady!" he snapped. "Hold that light steady! Rest your arm on the table!"

She gave a gasping sob, a small pitiful sound in the darkness. But the light steadied, centered on the sprawled body. Ray's hands worked on—quick, sure, deft, never wasting a second, every movement relentlessly efficient.

The lights came on again, as suddenly and mysteriously as they had gone off. Jeanette Nolan screamed—the tortured cry of nerves strained to the breaking point suddenly giving way to hysteria. Bill Ray looked up with a jerk.


IT was there in the doorway, and Bill Ray knew this was the answer to the murderous madness of the night. It was a man, but you could hardly think of him as human. He filled the doorway— from side to side, from top to bottom. Immense, he was—thickly immense— dressed in black from head to foot. And as Bill Ray stared at him, he caught the macabre significance of that weird costume. It was a horrible travesty of a surgeon's dress—in black instead of white. But every detail was carried out with a sort of fiendish exactitude. Even to the antiseptic mask over the face, every detail was correct, only black instead of white. The mask hid all the face except the eyes. But they were enough. They were black and small, set wide apart, and they had the boiling sparkle of madness bubbling and seething in them.

Bill Ray, strangely enough, felt no fear, no horror, after that first surprised start. Then anger gripped him. A cold, vicious anger that his work should thus be interrupted twice by the senseless machinations of this monster.

"Get out!" he said, and his voice was flat and tense, lips pulled back thinly from his teeth. "You! Get out!"

They made a strange picture. The girl, flat against the wall, staring in horror. The thing in the doorway, silently sinister. And Bill Ray with blood in great smears on his shirt, on his hands and forearms, leaning across the still body on the table, protecting it.

"Get out!" he snarled again, and he came around the operating table in tight little steps, crouching.

The black figure in the doorway said nothing at all. But it came forward a long step into the room, and its eyes were boiling pits behind the blackness of the surgeon's mask.

Bill Ray was tough, with a lean, bony toughness, thin muscles trained to steel-like strength. He knew it was useless to talk. Nothing but sheer force would move this monster. Its maddened mind was incapable of understanding a verbal threat or order, incapable of grasping the significance of words.

All that shot through Bill Ray's mind in one split second, and in the next he took two short steps and dove straight at the monstrous figure in a low, swooping tackle. The room was a queer, revolving blur before his eyes, as though it turned slowly on some monstrous pivot. He saw the blackness of the monster's costume floating toward him, saw it ripple with motion.

Then something hit him on the side of the head, seemed to jerk his neck loose from his body. The floor came up and smashed into his face, and he went down, down. Spinning into darkness that was cut with red little flashes that were pain; spinning down into unconsciousness with the scream of Jeanette Nolan ringing in his ears like the despairing, frantic cry of a lost soul.


BILL RAY came struggling up out of the void of spinning darkness. His head was swollen, hot, drumming in a booming cadence that was the pump of his own blood. His mouth was hot and dry, his tongue like a thin piece of leather. He fought with the blackness, beat it back. He forced the lids of his eyes open. He was lying there on the floor exactly where he had fallen. The limp figure on the operating table was still there, but there was something different about it now. It seemed smaller, deflated. Bill Ray knew the meaning of that look. Death! And he cursed with a weakly futile anger the monstrous black thing that had brought it about.

And then his rage turned dead and cold inside him and fear was like a mocking, gibbering thing in his brain. Jeanette! She was gone! Bill Ray could only think of that, and it squeezed every other thought out of his brain as though it had been a dry-wrung cloth.

He was on his feet and out the door now. And he stood there helpless in the corridor, staring first one way, and then the other. Which way? Which way? Time was going so rapidly. It was so precious, and it was slipping out of his cold hands.

Then there was a thudding bang from the end of the corridor. He whirled tensely. An open door, swinging in the wind. It opened now, slowly, like a pendulum, before his eyes, and then the wind caught it, slammed it again, emptily. Bill Ray stared for a moment. That was the door that led to the stairs that traversed the back of the building, went down into Doctor Nolan's laboratory in the basement of the hospital.

And then suddenly he was running for it, head down, arms pumping like a sprinter's—through its black emptiness, down the bottomless well of darkness that were the stairs. On tip-toe, now—quiet as the drift of a shadow on rubber-soled shoes.

The big swinging doors to the laboratory, were directly ahead. One of them was ajar, just a little. And through that crack, light was seeping out into the darkness like a thin yellow knife. Bill Ray crept close, listening.

There was a thin, reedy voice raving in a tirade of gloating glee. Through the mist that seemed to float close about his mind, Bill Ray recognized that voice. It was Tenniwell, the paralyzed patient. Cracked, his voice was—screeching. But not with fear—not with terror, as it had been in his room when Bill Ray and Jeanette Nolan had come in and found the bloody body lying on the floor beside his bed. Now it was triumphant, not terrorized.

"Do you remember, my dear Doctor Nolan? Do you remember that stormy night twenty years ago? I see you do. Yes, you remember. You needn't shake your head. I can see in your eyes that you do. My wife was sick, unconscious with the pain of bringing forth a new life. I was driving like mad through the darkness to get her somewhere where she could have comfort and aid. You remember, Doctor Nolan? Does it come back to you? That black night, with the wind howling like mad and the rain coming down in thick sheets, the roads like gray, slippery glue?"

Doctor Nolan's voice came then, strained, very tired, trembling a little. "I remember. Your name wasn't Tenniwell, then."

The crazy voice shrieked with laughter. "No, no! No, my dear Doctor! It was Harvey! You lived in this same place, Doctor. This same cursed spot. And those two stone pillars were at the gate into the main road just as they are now. The main road curved past them. It was pitch-dark on that night. I had no lights on my buggy, and the horses were half-crazy with fear of the thunder and lightning. I was driving hard, hard. I didn't see the curve, and I overran it. My buggy smashed into your doubly-damned gates!"

"There were lights on the pillars," Nolan said thickly.


THE thin voice screeched at him madly. "You lie! You lie! Dozens of your friends got up on the witness stand and swore there were lights there, but they all lied! There were no lights! I smashed into the pillars in the darkness. The buggy smashed like paste-board. And you took care of us! You! You were drunk! You were a young, blundering fool, and you didn't care! My wife died! I was turned into the half-dead, crippled thing that I am! And my unborn son! You saved his life, but you made him into an idiot—a maniac! There he is! Look at him! All because of your blundering! Your criminal negligence!"

Doctor Nolan's voice was stronger now, and firm in a hopeless way.

"You lie," he said evenly. "You've concocted all this nonsense in your mind, because you've been brooding for years. That accident and what happened afterwards was entirely your fault. I wasn't drunk. I never drink. I did the very best I could for you. You were crippled because your spine was injured when you smashed against the pillars. Your wife was in a weakened condition. It was very doubtful if she would have lived anyway. The shock killed her. As for your son, the accident had nothing to do with his insanity. That, madness was inherited—from you. You're mad. Your father was mad before you—and his father before him. I studied the history of your family at the time and your line is shot through with madness, generation after—"

"No! No!" The voice yelled at him frantically, refusing to accept the truth in those level words. "No!" There was silence then while Tenniwell gasped and choked, fighting for breath. His voice, when it came again, was lower—a thin, oily whine—gloating. "That's what you say. That's your excuse. Little good it will do you now, you fool. I waited— waited all through these years. And now it's my turn for revenge. Oh, I planned it carefully. My son was in an asylum for the criminally insane. I came here, knowing you wouldn't recognize me, waited until the hospital was empty of patients. Then I engineered his escape from the asylum, had him brought here. He got out of hand tonight, hurried my plans. He killed the man I had hired to bring him here. Killed him in spite of the foolish efforts of your assistant to save him. He killed the nurse. But then his poor mind became puzzled and bewildered, and he came back to obey my orders again. He caught you, brought you here. And he caught your daughter and brought her here!"

"What do you propose to do?" Nolan asked wearily.

Tenniwell giggled, and the sound was an abomination. "You had great fun that black night twenty years ago, Doctor Nolan. Experimenting on me and my family. Fumbling with your drink-drugged mind. Now you'll have a chance to witness just such another performance. Only this time, it will be you and yours that are the subjects of the experiment My son is under the illusion that he is a doctor—a great surgeon. Tonight he is going to operate on your daughter and you!" Tenniwell screamed in insane mirth. "How do you like that thought, my dear Doctor? Madness fumbling with a surgeon's scalpel. You're afraid! I can see you squirming! Now you can realize how I've felt for the last twenty years!"

Doctor Nolan's voice was very slow, measured. "You fool. You poor fool. I've faced death more times than you can count in the laboratory. Death more horrible than you could even conceive of. Radium —cancer—germs and diseases that you've never even heard of. Do you think you could frighten me? You, with your childish idea of revenge and your half-wit son?"

Tenniwell could only make thick, incoherent sounds of rage.

Doctor Nolan went on in the same slow voice. "Sooner or later, if you let me go, one of those invisible means of death would get me, and I would die so horribly that even you would be satisfied. It's only my work that makes me try to reason with you. It's very near completion now. That's why I stayed here. I knew your son had escaped. I was sure he would come here seeking me. I could have gone somewhere else, somewhere I would have been safe. But I stayed. My work is more important than my life. When you kill me, you condemn a million people like yourself—some living, some unborn—to a life-time of misery and suffering. That's the price you pay for your revenge."

"Words!" Tenniwell raved at him incoherently. "Just words! They won't save you now!"

"And not only that," Nolan said evenly. "Are you such a fool as to think you can control your son's madness? Do you think he'll stop killing with myself and my daughter? You know he won't. He killed his keeper, a man he probably knew better than he does you. Do you think you'll be safe?"

"Lies!" Tenniwell screamed. "All lies!" His voice rose to a frenzy of raving. "Go ahead! Go ahead with the operation!"

"DILL RAY, crouching there outside the swinging doors, heard then for the first time the voice of Jeanette Nolan. She gave a little gasping cry of terror—half-stifled. It cleared Ray's brain of the mist of horrified fascination that Tenniwell's words had placed there. Slowly he pushed the doors back, an inch at a time, silently, and as he did so, Doctor Nolan's voice came again.

"I'm sorry, my dear," he said, and his voice was freighted with helpless despair. "I can't help you. I tried. I tried. . . ."

"Can't help her!" Tenniwell chanted madly. "Can't help her!" He rocked with crazy laughter.

Ray had the door open now, and he was looking down the three narrow cement steps, down into the laboratory. It was a long, low room with shelves of bottled chemicals lining its walls like weird modernistic decorations. A big floodlight hung on a long chain from the ceiling. Under the light was a white-sheeted operating table. And on that table lay Jeanette Nolan.

It was like some fantastic distortion of an operating scene. The big black figure that was Tenniwell's son dominated. There was a death-like intensity about it, and everything moved with nightmare slowness. The black figure there in the center of the room was solemnly preparing for his ghastly work.

Ray had the door open wider now, and he could see Doctor Nolan and Tenniwell. They were sitting side by side at the far end of the laboratory, in two chairs close against the wall. Tenniwell—shrunken, tiny, withered, demonic, holding a gun in a trembling hand. Nolan—white, strained, bound in his chair with a thick rope that was wound around and around him until he was swathed in it like a cocoon. Tenniwell had a blanket, evidently snatched from his bed over his withered legs, and he rocked back and forth, giggling, watching Doctor Nolan, watching his mad son.

The immense madman had bound Jeanette Nolan tightly to the operating table on her back, arms and legs spread wide, hands and feet fastened securely with strips of cloth drawn cruelly tight. He had wheeled up a little table with an array of surgical instruments on it, and he was solemnly pawing them over now, trying to select the one that, to his twisted brain, seemed the best suited.

It was an unbelievable scene, and the white faces of Tenniwell and Nolan were vague splotches. All that Ray could see plainly was that white figure on the operating table with hair tumbled like a golden cascade. Stretched there tautly, straining against her bonds, she stared with an unwilling fascination at the weird black figure.

Suddenly, without any conscious volition on his part, Ray was moving. It seemed to him suddenly that his muscles were like electrically charged wires, endlessly powerful. There was no thought of self in him. Jeanette was in danger, and the thing that was putting her in danger must be destroyed.

He was through the door, down the three steps, while time seemed to stand still. Then across the laboratory floor, toward that table of surgical instruments. Tenniwell's mad scream of surprise and rage was a dim sound buzzing in his ears. The black figure, stepping back amazed, blocked his view, made him hold his fire.

Then Bill was at the table. In one swift, precise swoop he picked up a scalpel with a short glittering blade, curved coldly. He seized it and stepped back. The black figure made a thickly incoherent sound of rage, wordless, beast-like, muffled behind the black surgeon's mask.

Then it came for him, with one black-gloved hand grasping a scalpel the twin of the one he himself held. Ray knew now the tremendous rock-like strength in that bulky body. He ducked back instead of trying to stand against it. Ducked back and whipped the scalpel down in a slashing glittering curve as he ducked.

"Kill, kill, kill!" Tenniwell was screaming wildly, rocking back and forth in his chair, threshing against the dead weight of his paralyzed legs.

Ray felt the scalpel cut through cloth and flesh in the one sweep. Sharp as a razor, that little knife was. He heard it grate sickeningly against bone. Then the big figure was whirling at him again, mouthing thick sounds of pain and rage, while blood made the black surgeon's gown blacker along one side. There was a long rip in the cloth there.


TENSELY Ray danced back, breathing hard. The other came forward with a rush.

Bill ducked, but not quickly enough. Those thick black-clad arms were immensely long. A glittering slash coming at him through the air, and he felt a red-hot wire drawn along his forearm. He could feel his own blood running down warmly, dripping off the fingers of his left hand. Jeanette made a low, moaning sound of despair. Tenniwell shrieked in glee.

The black figure rushed at him again. Bill was ready, dodging low, this time— clear down, under that long sweeping arm. He gave a quick backhand slash as he came up. Again the feel of the little knife cutting through flesh. And this time, a wordless scream from the black figure.

Then before Ray could fully recover his footing, it was on him. The glittering blade flashed in front of his eyes. A blindingly quick criss-cross slash at him, across his chest, ripping through the flesh in a great red X. Blood dripped warmly down across his stomach. He stumbled back.

The two figures were moving slower now. Ray's feet were like leaden things. It was a conscious effort to lift them. Stumbling, he staggered backwards, panting through his open mouth. And always that huge black figure was in front of him.

He couldn't lift his feet any more, and he stood there swaying weakly—waiting. Waiting with the little scalpel held out in front of him. It was as heavy as a lead bar now, and his hand wavered with the weight of it. The black figure was within reach of him now, and the thick arm went up and then down toward him.

It seemed to Bill Ray that the arm was moving very slowly. That it was taking it hours to reach him. His own arm was moving, too. Moving without any conscious command on his part, straight at the thin fold of cloth that hid the throat under the black surgeon's mask.

The big arm brushed him then. He didn't even feel the pain of the slashing blade, but the force of the blow knocked him backwards, off his feet. He sprawled heavily on the floor, staring up at the black figure with despair. He was beaten.

But the black figure wasn't moving toward him now. Wasn't taking advantage of his fall. It was standing stiff and rigid, immensely tall, with both hands clasped tight over his throat. And as Bill Ray watched, not understanding, it began to sway as a tall tree sways. And then suddenly it fell full-length, crashing on the floor, blood gushing out of its throat.

There was an inhumanly shrill screech. It was Tenniwell. He had dropped the gun he'd never gotten a chance to use and now his hands were extended out in front of him, rigidly claw-like. The veins in his skinny throat stood out like thick pencils. Suddenly his thin face turned bluish, and his eyes bulged horribly. He fell straight forward out of his chair and lay rigid on the floor.

Bill Ray stared wonderingly. There was a thick black mist in front of his eyes that obscured everything. He was tired, tired.

"Bill!" Jeanette called desperately.

He answered the appeal in that loved voice—crawled slowly up. His eyes were smarting, burning things that had no sight. But he followed the sound of her voice across the room, staggering in short little rushes on legs that didn't belong to him, that wouldn't obey the commands of his brain.

Now he was fumbling with the strips of cloth that bound her hands—blindly. The little bloodstained scalpel cut through them easily. Then something gave way inside him, and he fell across the soft warmness of her, and he felt her arms, cool and soft and unbelievably comforting, holding him close while he slid swiftly downward into cool blackness.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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