Pulp Heroes - The Spider # 1 - THE SPIDER STRIKES, Chapter 2
THE SPIDER STRIKES
First The Spider-Novel,
Published in The Spider # 1, October 1933
Chapter 2 - Seal of the Spider
Reluctantly now he left the rail and turned his mind to the task in hand.
Blunton sat, comfortably bulked, in the largest chair of his suite. Outwardly he was a wealthy passenger who was accustomed to all the luxuries of life. But his face was very hard and displayed innate cruelty as he scowled at the cards which he dealt upon a small table in a game of solitaire.
A few minutes earlier Blunton had declined to enter a game of poker which might have been exceedingly profitable to him. He had declined because a steward had brought him a surprising message which included mention of the Commissioner of Police of New York. He did not like New York's Commissioner of Police, especially when he was about to arrive in New York, and did not wish to have anything to do with him.
Consequently he was playing very safe by remaining in his suite and amusing himself, or trying to amuse himself, by playing solitaire. Certainly there was no law against solitaire.
There was a knock upon the door. Blunton's right hand slipped beneath his dinner coat and paused for a moment beneath his left armpit. There was a slight click as the safety catch was thrown off. It was well to be prepared in his profession.
The door opened and closed, and Richard Wentworth stood with his back to it as he looked across the little table at the big man with the merciless, poker face.
"And what may I do for you?"
"My name is Wentworth."
One of the Wentworths of Chicago?"
"I see that your profession has familiarized you with the names of the leading families of America."
Blunton's face remained entirely expressionless as he leaned back in his chair. "Did you come here to insult me?" he asked coldly.
Richard Wentworth drew a handkerchief from the side pocket of his coat. Leisurely he touched it to his nose, partially replaced it in the same pocket and took a chair, uninvited, across the table from Blunton.
"This is serious, Blunton." Wentworth also was very calm, but his manner was easier, more adroit, than that of Blunton. "I came for the thousand dollars that you took away from Parsons. He couldn't afford to lose it."
"He should not play cards if he cannot afford to lose," returned Blunton indifferently.
"Quite right," agreed Wentworth. "Parsons, however, has a wife and she, too, is going to suffer."
Blunton laughed with the trace of a sneer. "If Parson's wife is unusually good looking , it is just possible that I might make a deal with her."
"Do you never do a kind act, Blunton?" The big man laughed sarcastically. "You amuse me."
"Well, I am being highly entertained myself," returned Wentworth.
There was a silence while the two men watched each other across the little table. Blunton's eyes had become a little tense. But his expression, if it could be called an expression, was one of determined waiting.
Wentworth's face, in contrast, held considerable mobility, but that mobility placed him at no disadvantage because it gave him the appearance of having nothing to conceal.
"You might as well know at once," said Blunton after the pause, "that I refuse to give you any money at all."
"Too bad!" snorted Wentworth as though he really meant it. "In that case I shall have to take the money away from you."
Blunton bent forward and regarded his opponent very keenly. Was it possible that his visitor was insane? But there was no insanity in those searching eyes which met his so easily.
"Mr. Wentworth, what is your real reason for interfering in my affairs?" he asked deliberately.
"I happen to be on my way to New York, Blunton," explained Wentworth suavely, "to meet one of the greatest criminals of all times, a man whose nature is so cunning and, at the same time so brutal, that it is a delight to fight him. Compared to him you are a repulsive child, a contemptible card-sharp, who affords me some trifling excitement to break the monotony of this trip."
Blunton was becoming angry. He was losing his temper. "Get out of here before I smash you and throw you out!" he barked savagely.
Wentworth raised a finger from the edge of the table and regarded the spot upon which it had been pressing. Slowly his hand dropped to his right pocket and rose with the large handkerchief. He rubbed the spot carefully and regarded it again.
"You know, Blunton," he said as he again partially replaced the handkerchief in the same pocket, "I don't want any of my fingerprints around here in case I am forced to kill you."
Blunton's hand stole a little way beneath his dinner coat.
"I would advise you not to do it," warned Wentworth, "unless you wish to die sooner than may be necessary."
Blunton's hand stopped. He had the feeling of being slowly caught in a web, a sensation which he disliked exceedingly although he had, himself, administered it to many of his victims. He resented the feeling so much that his anger increased.
"I shall ring for the steward," he stated slowly, not quite controlling his voice.
"By all means!" Wentworth agreed emphatically. "You will be surprised when you see who answers the bell."
This was pure bluff, but Blunton did not know it or, at least, could not be sure of it. He paused to think while Wentworth picked the cards from the table and arranged them into a pack.
"Cut you for a hundred."
With the gambler's instinct Blunton nodded and cut the cards, a five spot. Wentworth cut and exposed a seven spot. It was pure luck, Wentworth's luck perhaps.
Wentworth held out his right hand, and Blunton drew forth his pocketbook, bulging with money. Wentworth's left hand, the unexpected hand, shot forward and back with lightning speed, and Blunton was left without his pocketbook.
Momentarily stunned, Blunton saw Wentworth's right hand sink to his coat pocket and rise again so that his handkerchief was exposed just above the edge of the table. But Blunton was too hardened a man to be stunned for more than a moment. With incredible speed his hand flashed beneath his coat. His eyes blazed fury, and a black automatic seemed to leap into the air.
In one more second Wentworth would undoubtedly have been dead, but an almost inaudible cough sounded from beneath his handkerchief. The black automatic clattered upon the table. From a hole in Blunton's forehead two drops of blood emerged and struggled downward as far as an eyebrow before the heart ceased beating.
The gambler, who had baffled international police systems, had ended his career.
Wentworth retained his usual calmness, but he moved quickly. A steward, or somebody else, might come to the stateroom at any moment, and time was valuable. Quickly he bolted the door, first putting on thin, silk gloves so that no finger prints might remain. From the gambler's pocketbook he removed two five-hundred dollar bills and returned the rest of the money to the pocket of the dead man. He performed this act as though it were of very little consequence and instantly became intent upon something of greater importance.
With infinite care, but with incredible rapidity, he began a search of Blunton's clothing and baggage. His agile fingers, thinly covered as they were, touched, moved and left exactly as found everything that the gambler possessed. Not until the very last, when success seemed highly improbable, did he find anything that interested him. Then, returning to the body in the chair, he fingered the shoulder holster which had contained the automatic pistol that still lay upon the table. At the back of the holster was a small flap covering a tiny pocket in the leather, and from this pocket he drew a thin piece of oiled paper.
For a few moments Wentworth scrutinized the fine writing which appeared with a diagram upon the oiled paper. He was looking at the description of the strong room, or bunion room, of a great ocean steamship. The name of the liner appeared at the bottom of the description, and Wentworth knew that the ship in question was even then in mid-ocean with a huge foreign payment to the United States!
Wentworth pocketed the slip of paper and shrugged his shoulders. Blunton was now harmless, but he knew that Blunton had only been the tool of a criminal so dangerous that the police seemed helpless to combat him. That criminal, it would seem, was planning such a crime as would leave the entire world aghast!
Then it was that Wentworth did a dangerous thing. From a cunning artifice, secretly contrived at the bottom of his cigarette lighter, he withdrew a tiny seal and pressed it upon the forehead of the dead man. There, close to the small hole, was clearly depicted, in rich vermilion, the tiny outline of an ugly Spider the mark of the mysterious killer who had shocked New York City at intervals throughout a number of years.
The act seemed more than dangerous. It seemed utterly reckless. Only a man like Richard Wentworth, if there were such another man, would have incurred such a risk.
In a few hours, perhaps in a few minutes, the ship would be agog with excitement. A murder had been committed, and the most baffling criminal of modern times would be known to be on the ship. The news would be flashed to shore and would be the sensation of the morning papers. "The Spider" was coming to New York! Hundreds of the best detectives would meet the boat, and the greatest minds of New York's great police force would study the lives and habits of every person who arrived on the boat.
Even as Wentworth replaced the tiny seal his death seal if discovered in his possession and dropped the cigarette lighter into his pocket, a knock sounded upon the door. Perhaps he had reached the closing scene of his adventurous life. He had only split seconds in which to think and to act.
But most of his life Wentworth had been accustomed to thinking and acting in split seconds. Quickly and silently he unbolted the door, again using his handkerchief to protect his fingers. Then he flattened himself against the wall close to the door and waited. The long fingers of his right hand delicately toyed with the blue flower in his lapel ready, from that advantageous position, to curve into a fist if he should need to strike.
Again the knock sounded and, after a brief pause, a steward opened the door and took a few steps into the room. He halted abruptly upon catching sight of the seated man with head sagging gruesomely to one side. The steward's mouth opened in dismay.
Behind him he heard someone else knocking upon the door and turned to see Wentworth apparently entering the room.
"Something wrong?" asked Wentworth, pointing to the man in the chair.
But the steward, a young man, was so upset that he rushed wildly from the room to report his grisly discovery.
Unhurried, Wentworth also left the room, mingled with other passengers and walked out upon the deck where unnoticed, he dropped the deadly air pistol into the sea. A few minutes later he was at the wireless desk, writing a radiogram to the Commissioner of Police of New York:
ARRIVING WITH THE SPIDER, WHO HAS JUST
PLACED HIS SEAL ON A PROFESSIONAL
GAMBLER STOP FELLOW DESERVED TO BE
KILLED BUT THIS IS YOUR CHANCE TO GET
YOUR MAN STOP MEET THE BOAT WITH THE
CREAM OF YOUR DETECTIVES STOP HOPE TO
PLAY GOLF WITH YOU NEXT WEEK...
To Parsons, when he finally returned to his suite, Wentworth handed the two five-hundred dollar bills.
"I found the fellow dead," he explained, "and was able to take your money from his pocketbook. There will be an investigation of course, but there is no need for your employer to learn about your misconduct if you do not talk."
The expression on Parson's face was pathetic as his eyes looked his gratitude. And it was plain to be seen that fear of disgrace would silence his tongue, even if he should believe that there was reason for him to talk.
Later that night, Wentworth, clad in black pajamas and propped up by pillows on his bed, held his muted violin to his chin and played low, throbbing music. Much of the music was improvised and seemed to express, a longing for something unobtainable in its mingled sadness and sweetness. Ram Singh squatted on the floor in the sitting room, his body slightly swaying with the rhythm of the music. Richard Wentworth could have been a great musician if he had taken up the violin professionally.
Abruptly the violinist placed his instrument by his side and took up the hand telephone from the little table by his bed.
"Ship to shore service," he requested and gave a New York City telephone number.
In a remarkably short time, such progress has science made, a feminine voice came across the expanse of ocean, a low, throaty voice, vibrant of life upon a spring day. For a few moments Wentworth spoke in French, the modern language of love, and in his voice was some of the longing of the music he had been playing.
Presently Ram Singh was summoned to the bedroom and, as he had done before on several occasions, held the telephone to his master's ear while the violin was again taken up. Softly Wentworth began to play Kreisler's Caprice Viennois. The sweet, haunting music fled from the great, ocean liner to the listening ear in New York. Few women, if any, had ever been wooed in such a way.
Suddenly the captain of the ship, unannounced, stood in the doorway of the bedroom. His face was stern and authoritative as he raised a hand to stop the music, perhaps not quite understanding what Wentworth was doing.
But Wentworth did not stop immediately. Abruptly the soft music changed to one of the most difficult of all violin compositions The Devil's Trill by the immortal Tartini. With the back of his bow Wentworth knocked the mute from the bridge and sent the wild, impetuous music tumbling over itself in throbbing bars of angry, devilish rhythm.
Then the torrent of music ended as abruptly as it had begun. Wentworth handed the violin to Ram Singh and replaced the telephone without speaking a word.
"I have a wireless about you, Mr. Wentworth, from the Commissioner of Police in New York," stated the captain.
"Yes?" questioned Wentworth indifferently.
"He has asked me to do him the favor," the captain explained, "of having you and all your belongings minutely searched for the seal of the notorious ' Spider '."
"Yes?" repeated Wentworth with the same indifference. "Hand me my cigarettes and lighter, Ram Singh."