Pulp Heroes - The Spider # 1 - THE SPIDER STRIKES, Chapter 21
THE SPIDER STRIKES
First The Spider-Novel
(Published in The Spider # 1, October 1933)
"It seems to me," drawled Wentworth in reply, "that you did not do much wrecking with the poison gas on the Molly Ann."
"Bah!" ejaculated the doctor venomously. "That was a small matter, a mere foreign-debt payment. "No ship could carry so much money as Wall Street holds. In the morning, when the banks are open, the deadly gas will flow out of my great boilers which are charged with it under high compression. Every human being within a mile of Wall Street will die, and the vast treasure will be collected by my men who will wear the only masks ever invented to render this gas harmless."
"That gives us until ten o'clock in the morning," whispered Wentworth to Nita. "The banks do not open till then and much can be done in so many hours."
Rapidly Wentworth began an examination of the small room in which he found himself. By sense of touch he discovered that it was constructed wholly of concrete and that it was windowless. It seemed as though the iron door gave the best chance for escape. Such a door, however, required more patience than skill. Without loss of time Wentworth selected a small drill from his kit of tools and began to drill a tiny hole at the height which, from memory, he judged one of the bolts to be placed. Once the bolt was definitely located, a larger hole could be cut and the bolt shifted from the inside.
Industriously he worked, oiling the drip frequently to render the drilling quite soundless. One of the bolts was located, and a hole was cut large enough to move the bolt from the inside when the right moment came. But the job was long and tedious and it became a race against time. It was a race for Nita's life and for his own life, as well as the lives of thousands of people in the great financial district.
Through the tiny grille Wentworth could see the group of men sitting round the card table. They had tired of cards and seemed to be dozing. Dr. Quornelle was not to be seen.
At nine o'clock in the morning, as indicated by the luminous dial of Wentworth's wrist watch, one bolt was ready to be moved. But there was a lot of work to be done on the other bolt. The situation was desperate, if not quite hopeless.
Desperately Wentworth worked at his drilling while Nita crouched beside him and held the tube of oil which had almost been squeezed empty. Even if he did succeed in opening the door, Wentworth, unarmed, would have to face fearful odds on the outside.
Suddenly there was the distant sound of a shot. Another and another report sounded faintly. Dr. Quornelle came running within view.
"The police are attacking!" he exclaimed. "Two of our men are holding them off at the front door. Now, men, there is nothing to be afraid of. If anybody breaks in here, put on your masks and let the gas into the basement. But do not send it out through the manholes in the street before the banks open at ten o'clock. I am going up on the roof to turn the machine gun on the police. Remember your orders, and we can't lose!"
"But who told the police?" one of the men asked nervously.
"Bah!" barked Dr. Quornelle viciously. "Do as you are told and don't ask questions. The police probably traced us through the trucking company that carried our gas cylinders to the Molly Ann. But it's too late. They can't beat us now."
The little drill snapped as Wentworth pressed it against the iron. The others had already been worn blunt and useless. In the darkness of the little room, with Nita beside him and depending upon him, Wentworth realized his desperate situation. He dropped his tools and pressed Nita to him for a moment in silence. But it was only for a moment. His tools might be useless, but his mind was still working. And he never admitted defeat.
Outside Dr. Quornelle continued to reassure his men. "Remember," he said, "that we are impregnable. Nobody can beat us."
"I think I can." It was the cold, cutting voice of Richard Wentworth, speaking through the small grille in the iron door. "Do you remember the gas mask which you left by your safe in your boarded up house, Dr. Quornelle?"
Dr. Quornelle wheeled and strode swiftly toward the locked room from which Wentworth spoke. "What of it?" he snapped.
"I have it here," lied Wentworth and followed the lie with a laugh. "I had it hidden in my hat. I can live through your gas and weeks, months or years afterwards I shall kill you, Dr. Quornelle!"
Furiously Dr. Quornelle tugged at the big bolts, flung open the door and entered the room. In his right hand he carried Wentworth's .45 automatic. In his left he held a flashlight which sent a beam straight into Wentworth's face.
Wentworth sprang to one side, out of the beam of light, and crouched to spring. But the beam of light followed him instantly, and the pistol, behind it, held him helplessly within its menace. Again he sprang, and again the beam found him.
"Now where is the gas mask?" demanded the doctor.
"Come and get it," retorted Wentworth.
"I have no time to waste," countered Dr. Quornelle. "I'll shoot you now."
The heavy automatic rose into plain view beside the flashlight, both leveled at Wentworth. To spring seemed hopeless, yet there seemed nothing else for Wentworth to do.
"Drop that gun." It was Nita speaking, her voice low but determined. Into the doctor's back she was pressing the tiny heel of a shoe which she had slipped from her foot.
With a cry of rage Dr. Quornelle whirled and fired straight into the darkness behind him, not waiting to use his flashlight. At the same instant Wentworth leaped forward and seized the doctor's pistol arm just as the flashlight clattered to the floor and left the room in complete darkness once more.
It was then that Dr. Quornelle did a very clever thing. He dropped the pistol so that he might escape while Wentworth bent to grope for it in the dark. But both men were thinking fast. Wentworth had not heard Nita fall when the doctor had fired at her in the dark. He, therefore, depended upon her to obtain the pistol while he sprang after the doctor, just in time to block the closing door with his foot.
And Nita brought the pistol to him and the flashlight also almost immediately.
Outside Dr. Quornelle shouted to his men to shoot down the prisoners if they emerged from the little room. The next minute he had fled up the stairs on his way to the roof and the machine gun.
More shots sounded in the distance. Wentworth watched through the little grille, his foot still blocking the door. Still more shots sounded, and the men by the boilers began nervously to adjust their gas masks. One of them stood beside a valve wheel on a pipe leading into a boiler. It was this man who kept his gun pointed at the door behind which Wentworth stood.
"I am going out, Nita," whispered Wentworth. "Crouch down in a corner till it's over."
"Dick, you can't!" she whispered back. "There are too many of them."
"It won't be much of a gun fight," he reassured her. "They can't do good shooting while they wear those masks."
As he spoke, Wentworth flung the door open.
There was a roar from his heavy pistol which drowned out a shot from the man by the valve wheel, who jerked backward and dropped dead. The heavy pistol continued to roar out its messages of death as Wentworth charged straight at the panic-stricken group by the table. Man after man staggered under the impact of the .45 caliber bullet which crashed through his chest or splintered its way into his brain. Seven men in all went down.
Nita, white with shock from the horror of the scene, staggered toward Wentworth. He caught her by the arm and half carried her up the stairs to the big entrance hall.
Much of the boarding had evidently been torn down by the police and considerable light was coming into the hall through the glass doors which had been badly shattered by bullets. Two men, crouching behind pillars, were firing through the glass of these doors.
Wentworth, unseen by the men behind the pillars, sprang onto the next flight of stairs with Nita. She crouched in an angle of the stairs while he slipped a new magazine of cartridges into the pistol and sent a bullet into each of the men below him. He could not tell how badly he had hit them, but he saw one of them jerk and the other one wriggle as he handed Nita his pistol for her protection and, weaponless, dashed upward to the roof in pursuit of his greatest enemy.
Wentworth followed the circling stairway which wound about the elevator shafts. Twenty flights of stairs are a stupendous feat to accomplish in a run. Yet he did it. Always in training, his muscles were superb, and the fury within him drove him as nothing else could.
Infuriated as he was, and with his muscles over-tired, he paused abruptly at the top of the last flight of stairs to seize an opportunity which his ever-alert mind instantly recognized. At his feet was a disreputable coat, cast off by some workman, and beside it lay a battered straw hat. Quickly he discarded his own coat and donned the torn, black coat of the workman. He placed the ridiculous straw hat upon his head. One of his shoulders seemed to lower. Out upon the roof he hobbled, skipped and jumped a horrible scarecrow of a man.
The Spider was attacking.
Upon the roof there was already sounding the stuttering reports of a machine gun. Protected by a heavy iron shield from the windows of higher buildings, Dr. Sylvester Quornelle lay upon the edge of the roof firing downward with a machine gun which was cleverly braced by iron supports, so that it could be fired straight down into the street below.
Waving his arms and lurching grotesquely, the scarecrow of a man approached the edge of the roof and looked down into the street where police lines were herding the masses of the curious out of danger from the machine gun. Still waving his arms the scarecrow tottered along the very edge of the roof so that people in nearby windows held their breaths. Apparently the man with the machine gun did not see the strange figure which was approaching him.
Slowly the wild figure came nearer to the maniac with the machine gun under the iron protection, then dived out of sight beneath that iron covering. The machine gun ceased its sputtering, and for a brief moment all seemed still upon the roof.
There followed a scream which could be heard by people in windows across the street. Into view, upon the roof, rose two men, the scarecrow and another man. Hundreds of people in neighboring windows stared horrified at the sight of those two, apparently maniacs, fighting to the death on the edge of the roof twenty stories above the street.
Richard Wentworth, in the ragged coat and broken hat, acted the part he was playing in the face of death as he fought Dr. Quornelle so close to the edge of the roof that it seemed certain they would both crash into the street far below. The two men struck and grappled, broke away and closed again. Twice they tottered, grappling, on the edge of the roof, and Wentworth had to save his enemy in order to save himself. Yet, if necessary, Wentworth knew that he would even sacrifice himself in order to defeat this man.
Then, suddenly, the two figures were down flat on the roof with the grotesque figure on top. Wentworth's steel-like fingers seized his enemy's throat and squeezed until Dr. Quornelle lay still. Quickly he took his cigarette lighter from his vest pocket, opened the secret compartment and bent low as he pressed the design of the vermilion spider upon the forehead below him. People in nearby windows thought that the man beneath him was being killed.
But the people were wrong. Abruptly the man in the ragged coat rose to his feet. He bent and lifted the other man, kicking and wriggling, straight above his head. For an instant the wild, misshapen figure held the wriggling man aloft, then tossed him, screaming, from the roof to the police-cleared street below!
Rapidly Wentworth reentered the building, changed his coat and descended to Nita, reaching her as a flood of policemen surged into the entrance hall. They had only time for a word or two before Wentworth's friend, the inspector, found them seated side by side upon the first flight of stairs. But was the inspector still his friend?
"Mr. Wentworth," exclaimed the inspector, "a thousand people have just seen the Spider at work on the roof, and Dr. Quornelle is dead in the street with the spider mark on his forehead."
"So?" Wentworth raised his eyebrows. "It seems to me, inspector, that the Spider is the best policeman in New York."
The inspector frowned. "Were you on the roof, Mr. Wentworth?" he asked, bluntly suspicious.
My dear inspector," returned Wentworth, smiling, "if you wish to know what I have been doing, let me suggest that you go take a look at some dead people in the basement. However, they will wait while you search for the Spider."
But in all the building the police found only one living person to place under arrest Madame Pompé, hiding in a telephone booth.
There was no sign of the Spider.