Pulp Heroes: OPERATOR #5 - RAIDERS OF THE RED DEATH, Chapter 6

novelRAIDERS OF THE RED DEATH

CHAPTER SIX - Slavery or Death!
NEWARK airport was a bedlam of excitement. Bright incandescents made daylight of the field. Planes were taking off one after the other, each with a full quota of passengers.

Near one edge of the field, a squad of Secret Service men were anxiously watching a huge transport that had banked into the wind and was settling to a perfect landing. Brakes squealed as the plane taxied toward them.

The Secret Service men swarmed about it, while several of them made sure that no unauthorized person approached. They all seemed nervous, high-strung, as if they expected trouble.


From the pilot's compartment of the plane emerged Operator 5. He had not yet removed the uniform or make-up of Major Horgavo, and he had to identify himself to the Secret Service operatives. He shook hands with B-6, a small, wiry man, who was in charge of the squad. "Why are all these planes taking off?" Jimmy asked. "The airline seems to be having a rush of business."

B-6 nodded jerkily. "People are fleeing the city," he replied in terse, clipped accents. "Montezuma is striking here. That's why Z-7 hurried to New York, and wired you to fly directly here to meet him. He's waiting for you at Address Y." B-6 extended a yellow sheet. "Here's a message from Z-7. He instructed me to deliver it to you as soon as you landed."

Jimmy took the message, and his eyes clouded as he read:

OPERATOR 5--MEN WOMEN DYING BY

EXPLOSION IN STREETS

OF NEW YORK...MONTEZUMA

DEMANDS UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER...

CLAIMS HE CAN DESTROY NEW YORK CITY

WITHIN

TWENTY-FOUR HOURS...WE

CANNOT LOCATE HEADQUARTERS

OF AGENTS HERE...MUST ACT

QUICKLY OR POPULAR PANIC

WILL FORCE PRESIDENT TO CAPITULATE....

RUSH POWERS TO

MEDICAL CENTER FOR ATTENTION.... SEE

ME AT ONCE AT ADDRESS Y...Z-7...

Jimmy crushed the paper in his hand. He spoke swiftly. "I've got George Powers in the plane, with his wife and daughter. The Aztec princess, Dolores, is also in there, being watched by Tim Donovan."

He added in explanation, as he saw B-6's surprised look: "I picked Tim up at Fort Sam Houston on the way up. Now the first thing to be done is to get Powers into the hands of competent physicians."

"We've arranged that," B-6 told him. "We have half a dozen specialists at the Medical Center, waiting for him right now--the biggest men in the country. If they can't do anything with him, nobody can. There's even a doctor from Washington, who just flew in by plane."

"All right," Jimmy said. "You take care of him. I'll take care of Powers' wife and daughter. Have two cars ready--one for Powers, and another for the two women. Tim and I will take care of the Princess Dolores."

He watched B-6 walk over to the plane to take charge of the scientist, then he entered the operations-office and used the phone to arrange for a room for Helen Powers and her mother at the Beacon Hotel which was often used by Intelligence....

When Jimmy came out of the operations--office, he saw Powers being driven off in a car with a guard of Intelligence men. At his direction, B-6 ordered another car to take Helen and her mother to the Beacon; then the wiry little agent returned and reported. "Your roadster is here, too, Operator 5. Z-7 ordered one of the men to drive it out for you. It's parked back of the operations office."

"Splendid!" Jimmy retorted. "Have the roadster brought here."

B-6 left to execute the order, and Jimmy went over to the plane, entered the passenger compartment. He found Tim Donovan grimly guarding the Princess Dolores, who sat stiffly disdainful. When Jimmy climbed in, her dark eyes flashed with momentary fear.

"What are you going to do with me?" she queried huskily.

Jimmy said gently: "You will not be harmed, princess. Come with me."

He turned and led the way out. The princess' eyes flashed, but she followed, accompanied by Tim Donovan.

AS Jimmy Christopher drove swiftly toward New York City, his mind reverted to the crisis facing the nation. B-6's sketchy information had been filled out by the messages which Jimmy had gotten over the phone. All of New York, he learned, was under martial law. People did not dare to leave their homes, for the exploding death struck everywhere. And even their homes were not safe, it appeared, for men had been exploded within theatres, offices and residences. Montezuma's mysterious force could reach everywhere, and he was spreading terror and demoralization throughout New York.

Operator 5's eyes scanned with grim bitterness the motor trucks full of soldiers which they passed on the road. The mobilizing of these men was only a futile gesture--for Montezuma could destroy them in a moment, just as he had destroyed others. These soldiers were contingents of the National Guard, which had been called to the colors overnight. It was the only thing that the government could think of doing--well knowing the futility of mobilizing troops that could be wiped out by the enemy at will; yet--what else was there to do ....?

The soldiers in the trucks were not laughing and singing as the National Guard usually do when on their way to training camps in the summer. This was no pleasant two weeks of training and target practice that they were going to; at any moment, without warning, they might be destroyed in a dreadful, inexplicable manner. Their faces were very somber, gray...

At the Holland Tunnel, Jimmy was stopped by a lieutenant of the regular army in charge of a detail of men. Every car was being examined. Jimmy Christopher had removed his gaudy uniform, but he still kept the make-up on his face. He produced credentials showing that he was George Wakely, of the Department of Justice. The lieutenant at once stepped aside.

As they drove through the tunnel, the princess Dolores fidgeted in her seat between Jimmy and Tim Donovan. Finally she spoke. "Where are you taking me, Operator 5?"

"To the apartment of a very good friend of mine," Jimmy told her. "A young lady who will take excellent care of you. We're not going to any of the regular Intelligence offices because I'm afraid that your father's agents will already be watching those spots. Where I am taking you, you will be er--safe!"

Tim exclaimed: "We're not going to Diane's apartment, are we Jimmy?"

Operator 5 nodded. "I need an unofficial place. The princess is an unofficial prisoner. Diane, being a newspaper reporter, and not an Intelligence agent, will not be suspected by Montezuma's agents."

AT the New York end of the tunnel, Jimmy swung north to Gramercy Park, drew up before a small, two-story brownstone house. With himself on one side and Tim on the other, the princess was brought up the short flight of stone steps. Before they could touch the bell, the door was opened by a trim, chestnut-haired young lady whose softly modeled face reflected deep anxiety as she gazed at the princess, at Jimmy, and finally at Tim Donovan.

"Hello, Tim," she said. "I'm so glad you're safe." She looked questioningly at Operator 5, not recognizing him in his disguise. Then she glanced once more at Tim Donovan, a question in her eyes. "W-where is Jimmy? He phoned me from the airport that he was coming here with you--"

She was gazing directly at Jimmy, but seeing only the gross-featured face of Horgavo which the make-up showed.

Operator 5 chuckled, and Tim burst out laughing. "I fooled you that time Di--I didn't think you'd fall for it!"

Tim Donovan took the princess by the arm, escorted her into the house.

Jimmy walked ahead with Diane, explaining to her swiftly what had taken place in Mexico City. "As long as we can keep Dolores out of the way, Di," he finished, "Dad may be comparatively safe. Montezuma won't dare to harm him for fear of reprisal. Of course, he doesn't know that we aren't capable of the same kind of cruelty that he indulges in. Men like him can't understand anyone who is different from themselves."

Diane said eagerly: "I'll put her in the spare bedroom. There are bars on the window, because it's a ground floor. She won't be able to get away."

Jimmy nodded. "And stay here every minute of the time, Di. If you see anyone or anything suspicious in the neighborhood, phone me at Dad's house. If I'm not there, talk to the man who answers the phone. He'll be some one you can trust."

When they had gotten the princess safely in the spare room, Operator 5 and Tim Donovan prepared to take their leave. Diane went to the door with them. Her face bore a troubled expression. "Jimmy," she said! "I'm--I'm afraid for the country. Terrible things are happening. Tonight the entire audience of the International Theater and two other theaters were killed in their seats. They exploded--" she snapped her fingers--"poof! Just like that! The theater was like a--like a charnel house! I went over there to cover the story for the Amalgamated, and it was--beyond description. No one can understand how it was done."

Jimmy soothed her. If we can only bring George Powers back to sanity, we'll know the answer. He pressed Diane's hand. "We're off, Di. Remember, stay here every minute. Come on, Tim...!"

OUTSIDE, Tim scrambled into the seat beside Operator 5. As the powerful Diesel engine purred to life, and the car slipped effortlessly away from the curb, Tim asked: "Where to now, Jimmy?"

"We're going to Dad's house," Operator 5 told the lad. "Z-7 is waiting for us there. Then we'll phone the Medical Center, and see what progress they've made with Powers."

Four times they were stopped on their trip, forced to show their credentials. The city was in the grip of a reign of terror....

Jimmy swung north on Fifth Avenue, drove to a quiet residential street in the East Forties. Here was the unpretentious brownstone house which was John Christopher's home in New York. It had also been entered among the official addresses of the United States Intelligence as "Address Y." Jimmy had a laboratory here, and did much work in this house. It was here that he had perfected his anaesthetic powder that he had used with such success on the Princess Dolores.

Jimmy Christopher, with the caution that had many times saved himself and Tim Donovan from death, did not drive up directly to the house. He slowed up upon turning the corner, observed the street keenly. It was deserted, as were all the other streets of the city. He drove past slowly, blew his horn twice, and watched the window on the ground floor.

In a moment, a face appeared at that window--the face of Z-7, Jimmy's chief. Z-7 lowered the shade, then raised it--the signal that the coast was clear. Then his face disappeared.

JIMMY pulled in close to the opposite curb, preparing to make a complete turn and park before the building. But at that moment, a man darted out from a doorway near by, ran up close to the car. The man was swarthy, might have been a Latin American; but he might also have been a Mexican Indian.

Jimmy's hand involuntarily strayed toward his shoulder holster, and his eyes narrowed. But the man made no threatening moves. Instead he said, speaking rapidly in Spanish, and looking right past Tim at Jimmy:

"Do not go into that house, major. In five minutes the explosive death will be directed against it!"

For a moment, Jimmy had forgotten that he still retained make-up that duplicated the features of Major Horgavo. Now, suddenly, the full import of the man's words struck home. In five minutes, everybody within Address Y would be destroyed!

Jimmy saw that Tim Donovan's puzzled face was directed at the man, and he gripped the lad's hand before he could say anything that would give the game away.

Jimmy said sternly: "Who ordered this destruction?"

The man appeared nonplussed. "Why, major, you yourself ordered it, only a half hour ago, as soon as you arrived in New York. I thought that you were here to see that your orders are carried out."

Jimmy thought quickly. Horgavo in New York! It meant that the Aztec invaders must have removed their headquarters from Mexico City. Horgavo could have flown here as well as Jimmy had. This was an opportunity to discover where the major was holed up. Five minutes to go. One was elapsed already.

Jimmy spoke swiftly, mimicking Horgavo's imperious tones: "You must be mistaken. Where was I when I ordered this?"

"Why, major," the man answered puzzled, "you were in the big house on the river--secret headquarters. You even gave me the address yourself!"

Jimmy thought quickly, while Tim Donovan sat tense, not understanding the Spanish, but realizing that something vital was in the wind. Horgavo must have discovered the secret of Address Y from some other agent whom he had tortured as F-3 had been tortured. Even now, Z-7 was in that house. With the shrewd chief of Intelligence dead, the whole service would he crippled for hours.

Jimmy said crisply in Spanish: "I wish to change my mind. I wish to countermand the order to direct the explosive death against that house. Cancel the order!"

The man stared at him suspiciously. "You know that cannot be done, major. The instruments have been set at the house on the river. You set them yourself. The explosion will take place unless you yourself telephone to change the order. And--" he glanced at his watch--"there are but three minutes left!"

Jimmy Christopher said, very low: "I see." At the same time his hand darted out past Tim's astonished face, in a lightning quick, stiff-fingered jab that caught the swarthy man at a point just beneath the Adam's apple. The man's eyes bulged, his mouth dropped open, and he collapsed to the pavement, writhing in agony.

Jimmy exclaimed: "Watch him, Tim!" and frantically punched his horn in a raucous summons. He turned his head as he did so, watching the window of the brownstone house. A face appeared there, and Jimmy thrust open the door of his car, sped across the street...

"Come out!" he shouted "Come out! Danger in there!"

The face at the open window was that of Z-7. The chief of Intelligence saw Jimmy gesticulating, but did not recognize Operator 5 behind the gross features of Horgavo. Z-7 frowned, thinking, perhaps, that it was some sort of trick to lure him into the open. He stepped back frown the window as Jimmy raced toward the house, and in a moment his hand appeared with an automatic.

THERE was, perhaps, only a minute or a minute and a half to spare. Jimmy Christopher acted like lightning, with the well-trained coordination of mind and muscle that had helped him in many a crisis in the past.

His right hand moved with eye-defying speed, came away from his shoulder bolster with his own automatic; and before Z-7 could take aim, Jimmy Christopher's pistol had barked a single shot. The slug went true to its mark, struck Z-7's automatic, sent it spinning from his numbed hand.

And in a bound Jimmy Christopher was up the three steps of the stoop, calling frantically:

"Z-7! It's Operator 5! Come out of there---through the window! There's no time to lose!"

Z-7 looked out, his face pale, puzzled. He started to say: "Op--?"

But Jimmy did not let him finish. He reached over, grasped Z-7 by the sleeve, yanked powerfully. Z-7 lost his balance, came tumbling over the windowsill. Jimmy let him fall to the pavement, then leaped over the railing down beside him. Z-7 was struggling to his knees when Jimmy landed next to him, gripped him about the waist, raised him to his right shoulder and ran across the street.

Z-7 gasped: "Wait--what--?"

Jimmy said: "It's Operator 5, Z-7. Montezuma is going to send his exploding death into that house in less than a minute!"

Z-7 gasped: "My God! There's some one else in there--Yes! He was reporting--"

His words were cut off by the sound of a terrific, dull detonation emanating from the interior. Something like a cold draft of air pressed around them, and Jimmy suddenly found it hard to breath. He staggered to the opposite curb, let Z-7 rise to his feet. Then he looked toward the house. Every pane of glass in the brownstone house was shattered. Bits of clothing and torn flesh came catapulting through the open window from which Jimmy had dragged his chief.

Z-7 groaned: "Y-8! That's the end of him!" His face was purple with the effort of breathing. It was as if the air in the neighborhood had suddenly become polluted....

Immediately to the left of the brownstone house was an empty lot; but on the right was another building, also of brownstone, and this one seemed also to have suffered from the detonation, but not to the same extent. For the glass windows were also shattered, and a man and a woman came running from it, clutching at their throats as if to tear something dreadful away from them. Out on the sidewalk, they could run no more. They both dropped, writhed, and then stiffened, lay still.

Jimmy had been breathing in deep lungfuls of air. Now, suddenly, breathing seemed to become easier. In a moment it became normal. Jimmy left Z-7, crossed the street to the two prostrate bodies. He knelt beside them. Both were dead....

He looked up to find Z-7 and Tim Donovan beside him, staring down at the disfigured faces of the man and the woman. It seemed that their veins had burst, for their faces were clotted with blood, their eyes bulging, their tongues hanging from their mouths. They had both died in exactly the same way.

Z-7 said: "They were choked, somehow!"

Jimmy shook his head. "No, Z-7, they weren't choked. It's the same sort of death as killed our troops, as killed Y-8 in there. They exploded. Only the process wasn't completed with them for some reason, and they didn't die immediately. Perhaps the attack was concentrated on Dad's house, here, and they only got the excess."

Tim Donovan was staring about him, wide--eyed. "Gee, Jimmy, is it a sort of gas?"

"No, Tim, it isn't a gas. It is something far more deadly. Let's get hold of that fellow that warned us. He knows a lot, and we'll make him talk!"

Jimmy raced across the significantly empty street. Not even the sound of the explosion had brought anybody out--so great was the fear of the public. And that fear was very well based indeed, as the bodies of the man and woman on the pavement testified...

The swarthy man was just scrambling to his knees as Jimmy got across the street. He saw Jimmy coming, snarled, and his hand went to his armpit. Jimmy still had his automatic in his hand, and snapped a shot that caught the other in the right shoulder. The swarthy man's hand fell away from his holster, and he reeled against Jimmy's car.

Operator 5, with Tim Donovan at his side, came up to the man, caught him as he was about to fall. He looked up at Operator 5 with hate-filled eyes, gasped: "You--you are not Major Horgavo!"

Jimmy shook his head. "You are going to tell us everything you know about this explosive death, do you understand? Do you want to talk now, or shall I take you where you will be made to talk?"

The man winced with the pain of his wounded shoulder, whispered: "I will--"

He seemed to slump, but in a moment he straightened up, pushed Jimmy away from him. He wavered on his feet. He was holding a small white pellet in his hand. Operator 5 leaped toward him, but it was too late. The man lifted it to his mouth, swallowed it.

His lips twisted in a ghastly smile. In Spanish he said: "You cannot make--me talk--any more. I--have been faithful to my emperor!" His body was suddenly convulsed in agony; he slumped to the pavement.

Jimmy bent beside him, heard him murmur through froth-flecked lips: "I--pay the penalty--of failure. I go to the bosom--of Huitzilopochtli!" And the man was dead....

Jimmy arose slowly, gazed somberly at Z-7 and at Tim Donovan. "At least," Jimmy said, "he died bravely. But I hope there are not many more like him in the service of Montezuma!"

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