Pulp Heroes: OPERATOR #5 - RAIDERS OF THE RED DEATH, Chapter 7

novelRAIDERS OF THE RED DEATH

CHAPTER SEVEN - The Road to Hell
JIMMY CHRISTOPHER, with Tim Donovan and Z-7 in the car, drove uptown to the Medical Center.

At One Hundred and Sixty-eighth Street, Jimmy swung the roadster left, in through the wide gate leading to the grounds on which were erected the dozen or so buildings that comprised the huge institution.

They went up in the elevator to the ninth floor, where a dozen of the most eminent physicians in the country were gathered in the consultation room adjoining the chamber where George Powers was resting.

Dr. Angus Maynard, the head of the psychiatric department of the biggest hospital in the city, was presiding. In answer to Jimmy Christopher's terse question, Dr. Maynard replied: "It is our opinion, young man, that the patient suffers from a trauma of the brain. That, of course, is a very general diagnosis. For more definite findings, it will be necessary to subject him to a series of tests to ascertain the extent to which his coordinative faculties--"

Jimmy Christopher interrupted him. "How long will these tests take that you propose?"

Dr. Maynard raised his eyebrows. "In cases such as these, young man, we cannot hasten things. I have often kept a patient under observation for as long as ten weeks--"

Jimmy Christopher heaved a deep sigh, cast a significant glance at Z-7 who had remained in the background, standing near the door with Tim Donovan.

"If you don't mind, doctor," Jimmy broke in, "I should like to talk to Powers myself. Perhaps I can extract some information from him without waiting ten weeks. The entire nation may well be destroyed while you conduct your tests!"

Doctor Maynard smiled in superior fashion. "The layman," he said indulgently, "never appreciates the problems which face the physician--"

"Pardon me, doctor," Jimmy said softly, "it so happens that I hold a degree of Doctor of Medicine myself. I studied under Prague and Liegnitz. If you will permit me--" he bowed to the assembled physicians--"to cut the red tape with which you have surrounded your profession!"

He stepped toward the connecting door which led to Powers' room. One of the other physicians, a Doctor Cabello, to whom Jimmy had been introduced among others, hurried toward him, gripped his arm: "You musn't go in there, young man! We are leaving the patient in strict solitude for three hours, after which we shall conduct further tests. If you disturb his rest now, you will ruin the tests!" Doctor Cabello was tall, thin, with piercing black eyes that commanded attention.

His fingers on Jimmy's arm felt strong as iron.

Jimmy Christopher said quietly: "I am sorry, Doctor Cabello, but Mr. Power's rest must be disturbed. This is an emergency."

Cabello shrugged. "Then I wash my hands of the whole affair. I will have nothing further to do with it." He turned to the other physicians. "Good day, gentlemen!" He bowed, stalked from the room.

Jimmy frowned, turned the knob, and entered the bedchamber of George Powers. Inside, he stopped stock-still, gazing at the motionless form on the white, clean bed. George Powers was dead. The needle of a hypodermic syringe had been thrust through his eye and had pierced his brain. He had died, bloodlessly, while asleep. Even in death his countenance was vacuous, peaceful. But he would never reveal the secret of Montezuma's mysterious force to anyone....

Jimmy Christopher swung about, thrust back into the consultation room again. He snapped at the astounded physicians: "Powers is dead---murdered! Who was with him last?"

Dr. Maynard stammered: "Why--why---we all were there. Dr. Cabello suggested that Powers be given an opiate so that he could rest. I filled the hypodermic, and Dr. Cabello administered it. I--"

Jimmy did not wait for him to finish. He lunged past Dr. Maynard, tore through the door into the corridor, with Tim Donovan and Z-7 following him. The white-tiled corridor was empty except for a neatly uniformed nurse who gazed in wonder at the two men and the boy who had barged out of the consultation room. Jimmy Christopher seized her arm, demanded: "Did you see a tall, thin man come out of here just now?"

The nurse nodded, bewildered. "Yes. A tall thin man just went down in the elevator."

Jimmy turned from her, to face Z-7 and Doctor Maynard, who had come out after them. "How long have you known Doctor Cabello?"

"I had never met him before," Doctor Maynard confessed. "In fact, I never heard of him as a specialist. But he came here with a letter signed by someone in the office of the Secretary of State. I thought he was a government doctor."

Operator 5's eyes met those of Z-7, and his lips formed one word: "Forgery!" He said aloud to Doctor Maynard: "Thank you, sir. I think there's no further use in our staying here." He glanced at Z-7 who nodded, and led the way to the elevator.

Downstairs, in the roadster, Tim Donovan rubbed his freckled nose in puzzlement. "Who was that Cabello guy, Jimmy?"

Jimmy Christopher explained dully: "He must be an agent of Montezuma. He came here with a forged letter from the office of the Secretary of State. Montezuma is making sure that we don't learn the secret of his mysterious power!"

"Which means," said Z-7 bitterly, "that we are back just where we started."

THE old Beacon Hotel on Fifty-ninth Street, was a superannuated structure that would long since have been torn down had it not been for the financial support accorded it by the United States Intelligence Service.

The rental paid by the Intelligence Bureau for the fifteenth floor alone, was enough to defray the operating costs of the entire undertaking. The proprietor of the Beacon Hotel was a retired Intelligence Agent, and he knew how to render exactly the service required.

Here, on the fifteenth floor, many strange things had taken place that had never seen the light of day, never been reported in any newspaper. Here men from all over the world had sold secrets vital to the safety of the United States. To this hotel had come, from time to time, free lance spies with information to sell, inventors with ideas for destroying whole armies of the enemy in case of war. Intelligence agents were always on hand to interview them, to make deals, to investigate the worth of the things that were offered for sale.

Now the fifteenth floor of the Beacon Hotel played host to two women, fugitive from a ruthless invader. And it was to the Beacon Hotel that a young, keen-eyed man, accompanied by a freckled boy, came. At the desk the young man said to the desk clerk: "May I see Mr. Zilder, please?"

"Mr. Zilder?" the clerk asked. "What room is he in, sir?"

"1501," said the young man. "You might tell him that I come from Mr. Frost."

"Ah, yes; Mr. Frost. You mean Mr. Frost the architect?"

"No. Mr. Frost, the linguist."

The clerk was satisfied. "You wish to give Mr. Zilder a number, sir?"

"Yes," said the keen-eyed young man. "Tell him that Operator 5 is here."

"Yes, sir," said the clerk, suddenly deferential. "You may go right up, sir. Mr. Zilder is expecting you. It will not even be necessary to announce you."

Jimmy Christopher thanked the clerk, winked at Tim Donovan, and led the way to the elevator. At the fifteenth floor, Jimmy Christopher and Tim made their way down the corridor to 1501, and knocked at the door. It was opened in a moment by a man in a green eye shade, who nodded a greeting, let them through. The room was equipped with a battery of telephones, and two teletype machines. A dozen agents were at work here, taking messages as fast as they came in.

The man in the green eye shade said: "This way, Operator 5," and led the way through a connecting door into another room. Here there were filing cabinets reaching up to the ceiling, and more agents were busy cataloging information. They passed through this room into another, and here the man in the green eye shade left them alone with the man who was sitting before the big battered desk. The man was Z-7....

He arose, shook hands with Jimmy Christopher, then with Tim Donovan.

Jimmy Christopher asked crisply: "Have you checked on all those locations I gave you, Chief?"

Z-7 nodded. "We've gone through every one of those buildings with a fine tooth comb, and I would be willing to stake my life that not a spot in any of them has been used as a headquarters by any agents of Montezuma!"

Jimmy frowned. "Then there must be some spot that I overlooked. Well, what about those two men you phoned me about who registered on this floor?"

Z-7 returned to his desk, picked up a folder. "They're in 1531, which is right next door to the suite in which Helen Powers and her daughter are confined. They seem to be Latin-Americans, and they have registered under the names of Gonzales and Hernando. Their story is that the rooming house where they have been staying was visited by the explosive death this morning, and everybody in it annihilated, while they were out. Naturally, they say that they do not wish to return there. They told all this to one of our men who managed to get friendly with them in the barroom."

Jimmy Christopher tapped the edge of the chief's desk thoughtfully, while Tim Donovan watched him. "Have you checked on their story, Chief?"

Z--7 NODDED. "The lists of casualties for today mentions eight deaths at the boarding house they named. There is no flaw in their story--except for the fact that they wanted the fifteenth floor. They had a good reason for that, too. As you know, this is the top, and they feel they will have a little better chance of escaping alive in case of another visitation of the exploding death. They think that it may not reach so high up."

Jimmy Christopher laughed bitterly. "It reached me in an aeroplane. It reached hundreds of our aviators before the War Department could be induced to ground all flying units!"

Z-7 gazed into Jimmy Christopher's eyes for a long minute. Then he sighed, said: "I guess you're right, Operator 5. I--"

He stopped as a knock sounded at the door. A shirt-sleeved agent entered, reported tensely: "There's a report in from Gramercy Park, Chief! S-3 and P-12 are dead--blasted to pieces by the exploding death!"

Z-7 glanced at Jimmy Christopher with concern. "Two of our best men, Operator 5. You--know why they were posted there?"

Jimmy Christopher suddenly paled. "Chief! They were posted to guard Diane Elliot's house!" Jimmy gulped, addressed the shirt-sleeved agent. "You--you got a report on Miss Elliot? She's---safe?"

The agent shook his head. With reluctance he said slowly: "I'm sorry, Operator 5, Miss Elliot's apartment is empty. I sent two men down there at once. Neither Miss Elliot nor the Aztec princess whom she had in charge was in the apartment. They must have been kidnapped by Montezuma's men."

Jimmy Christopher whirled to Z-7. "You'll have to excuse me, Chief. I'm going down to Gramercy Park. Come on, Tim."

Z-7 made no move to restrain him. Jimmy Christopher and Tim were on their way out, when one of the phones one the chief's desk rang. "Wait!" said Z-7. "This may be--" He picked up the receiver, listened a moment, then said: "I'll have Operator 5 handle it. He's already been up against that set-up."

Jimmy looked inquiringly at the chief. Z-7 said: "Operator 5, I hate to ask you to do this--but you've got to pass up going to Gramercy Park. That was the agent posted in Room 1529, right next door to those two men who are registered here as Gonzales and Hernando. We've got a dictagraph planted in their room, and it seems that one of them is talking. If he's reporting to Aztec headquarters, it's our chance to check on locations. You're the logical one to take charge."

JIMMY CHRISTOPHER lowered his eyes to hide the intensity of feeling in them. For a moment he was silent, fighting a quiet battle to master his emotion. Then he said in a voice rendered thin by the effort he made to control it: "Okay, Tim. Take the car and go over there. Be careful, old-timer. And for God's sake, see if you can pick up Diane's trail."

He followed Z-7 and H-9 out into the corridor, and down past 1533, where Helen Powers and her mother were resting. Next door, in 1531, were the two men, Gonzales and Hernando; and beyond them, in 1529, was posted the agent with the dictagraph.

The agent looked up as they entered, removed the earphones from his head. "They've just finished talking," he reported, "most of it was inaudible, but I got a few words. Here they are." He handed to Jimmy Christopher a sheet of paper upon which he had taken a stenographic record of the conversation.

Jimmy read it without difficulty, translating: from Spanish into English as he went along:

"We should make our report, Hernando...It is the hour at which our master will be waiting...." (second voice) "Master, we are ready...the girl and her mother are in the next..."

Jimmy glanced up from the sheet. "Chief! Those men in the next room are preparing to kidnap Helen Powers, right under our noses! They must have a carefully laid plan. They're probably getting instructions over the radio."

He stepped to the window, gazed out over the roofs of the city. "Their portable transmitter can't be very powerful. The Aztec headquarters is undoubtedly within the metropolitan area. Use direction finders--"

The chief dispatched an agent with terse instructions.

The agent at the dictagraph suddenly raised his hand for silence. His lips formed the words: "They're talking again next door!"

Jimmy hastened to his side, watched the words take shape under the agent's pencil as he transcribed the Spanish conversation. Jimmy Christopher translated for the others as he read:

Come, Hernando, in ten minutes it will be time to strike. You will shoot out the lock of the connecting door, and we will break into the girl's room. The mother we may kill--but the girl must be brought unharmed to our Master....

The words droned off into silence, and Jimmy Christopher sprang into action. "Come on, Chief! They're going to break into 1533!"

H-8 produced a key from his pocket. "This'll open their door. I made sure to get it ready."

Jimmy Christopher took the key, hurried out into the corridor. He inserted the key in the lock of 1531, gave it a quick twist, and flung the door open. An automatic appeared in his hand as if by magic.

From within the room, at the instant that Jimmy had flung the door open, came the sharp report of a gun. Two men, dark complexioned, sharp-featured, were standing close to the side door connecting with Room 1531, where Helen Powers was.

The shot had been fired by one of them into the lock, and the connecting door was now yawning open. Beyond it, Jimmy Christopher could see the startled faces of Helen Powers and her mother. But he had no time to call out to them. For the two dark-complexioned men turned on him, snarling, and raised their automatics....

JIMMY'S gun barked twice, swiftly. The nearer of the two men pitched forward with a slug in his heart, while the second, who had just been about to step through the connecting door, was whirled around violently by the impact of Jimmy's bullet, and fell across the doorway into Room 1531. He groaned. Blood spurted from his side. He had been partly behind his companion, and Jimmy Christopher had to shoot him in the right side.

Operator 5 strode into the room, called through the connecting doorway: "It's all right, Mrs. Powers; you're safe!" He knelt beside the wounded man, demanded: "Talk quick! Where are your headquarters?"

The man groaned, glared up at Jimmy, twisted with pain, but made no answer. Jimmy tried again. "Your master will kill you for failing. Why not speak?"

The man's lips quivered, his lips clamped shut determinedly.

Z-7 had gone through the connecting door, and was quieting the two women. Jimmy Christopher pushed past H-9, stared about the room. On the bed was a suitcase, all packed and closed. Another suitcase lay on the floor. Jimmy stooped beside them, used his master keys, and in a moment had both suitcases open. One of them contained a complete radio set.

Operator 5 sprang to his feet, sped to the side of the wounded man. His eyes burned into the eyes of the other as he demanded: "Where is the message you just received over that radio?"

The other whispered feebly: "I--don't--know!"

Jimmy pursed his lips, thrust his hand into the man's pockets, one after the other. He found a notebook with the man's name in it, showing that he was Gonzalez. He found other odd trinkets, but no message.

He looked up to see that Z-7 was watching him from the doorway. Saying nothing, he turned to the body of the dead man, went through his pockets. This time he found what he had been looking for--a crumpled sheet of paper.

Jimmy hastily straightened out the paper. He motioned to H-9: "Take this down as I translate it!" And proceeded to read and translate:

All is ready. At six-fifteen promptly you will break through the connecting door and seize the girl, Helen Powers. Her mother you may kill if she resists; but the girl--at the peril of your lives, no harm must come to her!

At six-twenty-five exactly you will start to leave the hotel with the girl. Do not start a minute sooner, for at six-twenty-five exactly the explosive death will be sent into the street outside the hotel. This will distract the attention of the agents, and you will be able to leave by the back way. A car will await you, to conduct you and the girl to headquarters. Do not fail. Do not harm the girl!

Slowly Operator 5 looked up from the perusal of that message. There was a calculating gleam in his eye. He was gazing speculatively through the open connecting doorway at Helen Powers....

Z-7 SAID urgently: "H-9! Have the street outside cleared of all people! It's six-twentythree---you have two minutes to save anybody who may be out there. At six-twenty-five the explosive death will strike!"

H-9 hurried from the room to obey.

Operator 5 exclaimed: "Chief! This is our chance to discover where the Aztec headquarters are located!"

"How?" Z-7 asked, puzzled.

"Don't you see? There is to be a car waiting at the back entrance--to take Gonzalez and Hernando to their headquarters--with Miss Powers!"

"I still don't see--I'll have a radio report--"

"Wait, Chief!" Jimmy Christopher strode across the writhing body of the dying Gonzalez, into the next room. He seized both hands of Helen Powers.

"Miss Powers!" he said urgently. "You know that your father was killed by the agents of Montezuma; you know that the United States is threatened with slavery or complete annihilation!"

She stared at him wide-eyed. "Of course I do. Why?"

"Would you be willing to take a great risk---with me--to try to strike a blow to rid us of this menace--perhaps to avenge the death of your father?"

"I would!" she breathed. Her eyes shone, gray and determined. "Even if it means my death! Whatever you say, I will do!" Her pretty, child-like face was suddenly transfigured with a shining zeal.

"Good!" he exclaimed. He left her, stepped across the threshold, and knelt beside the body of the dead Hernando. His swift, long fingers extracted from an inner pocket his flat make-up case. He set up the adjustable mirror on the floor, beside Hernando's body, laid out his tubes of pigment and plastic material.

Under the wondering gaze of Z-7, of Mrs. Powers, and of Helen Powers, his dexterous fingers began to stray swiftly over his own face, applying pigment here, molding plastic material there. From time to time he glanced at the dead Hernando. Soon his own keen, intelligent features had disappeared, to give place to those of the other.

So swiftly did he work, that at the end of four minutes he arose, after packing away his makeup case and mirror. Z-7 uttered a gasp of astonishment. "God!" he exclaimed. "Every time you do that I'm astounded. I'd swear you were a twin brother of that dead man!"

Helen Powers' eyes were shining. "You--you are going to take me with you to that car--instead of Hernando!"

Operator 5 nodded. "Exactly. As far as the Aztecs know, the plan to kidnap you has gone through. I will tie your hands, gag you, and take you out the back way. We will enter that car, and let them take us to their headquarters. I will say to them that my partner, Gonzalez, was killed in the escape."

Helen Powers said eagerly: "Let's do it. And may God grant us success!"

Operator 5 led her into the corridor. "We'll go down in the service elevator," he told Z-7. "Have a couple of your men appear to chase us, and fire at us--but be sure they shoot high! And don't forget, Chief, to have a couple of cars trail us!"

He shook hands quickly with his chief, and they left, the girl stumbling along with a gag in her mouth, her arms tied behind her, while Jimmy Christopher followed her, the living image of the dead Hernando....

 

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