Pulp Heroes: OPERATOR #5 - RAIDERS OF THE RED DEATH, Chapter 8
RAIDERS OF THE RED DEATH
CHAPTER EIGHT - Machine Gun Message
Jimmy Christopher glanced at him across the trembling form of Helen Powers. He was a gaunt man, with the hard face of a killer. Jimmy decided that he must be one of Montezuma's officers. Leon turned his bulging eyes on Helen Powers, and his glance traveled up and down her form admiringly. He switched to English:
"And you, pretty flower. You are very pretty, yes. But I do not understand why our master, the Emperor, wishes so badly to have you. For myself, I like the dark beauties of Mexico City." His eyes raised to Jimmy's. "Eh, Hernando? What say you?"
Jimmy Christopher shrugged. From where he sat, in the corner, he could not see out in back. He could still hear a few shots behind them, and knew that the Intelligence men were staging a good imitation of pursuit.
He glanced across at Leon. He must be careful now. Apparently, as Hernando, he was very well known to Leon. He could imitate the dead man's voice well enough, even though he had heard him speak only a few words. Anything he said might be the wrong thing, might arouse the suspicions of these men and destroy any chance of being taken by them to the Aztec headquarters. However, he could not remain silent all the time. He would have to talk sooner or later, and now was as good a time as any. So he shrugged at Leon's question, said carelessly in Spanish: "It is all one to me beauty or no beauty; as long as the emperor is pleased."
"Ha!" exclaimed Leon, his gaunt face twisting into a sardonic grin. "That is our Hernando--always the business! Tell me, Hernando, what has happened to Gonzalez?"
"Gonzalez," Jimmy told him, "was killed while we were escaping. The gringos fight well."
Leon clucked sympathetically. "Too bad!" He fondled the machine gun in his lap. "I think I will let off a few blasts at these fools who pursue us to avenge Gonzales. What do you think, Hernando?"
"I think you had better not," Jimmy said hastily. "It may attract soldiers."
Leon laughed. "Soldiers! What do we care for soldiers! Soon we shall rule this whole country, and step on the necks of the proud Americans!"
Jimmy asked a question that he had been wanting an answer to, badly. "Is the Emperor Montezuma in New York now, Leon?"
"Did you not know?" Leon asked, surprised. "Ah, yes! I forget that you have been away from headquarters for almost a whole day. Our emperor has but just arrived from Mexico City by plane. It is from here that he will rule America. He brought with him two or three gringo prisoners. We are going to him now, with this pretty flower. He awaits us at the old Craigland estate, across the Hudson."
Jimmy Christopher's blood raced. His question was answered--better than he had expected. The Craigland estate--a massive old pile which stood like a fortress on the New Jersey side of the Hudson. Z-7 would spot it from his radio reports...
Important as that information was, Jimmy had just received equally as important information--the news that Montezuma was in New York--with some prisoners! Would one of them be John Christopher? Operator 5's blood raced with excitement. But he maintained an outward appearance of calm, asked: "The Princess Dolores has she been rescued from the Americans?"
"Of a surety, Hernando. We followed their car from the airport, the one in which that Operator 5 took her to the home of the newspaper girl. Soldiers wished to stop us at the Holland Tunnel, but we blasted them with this--" he tapped the machine gun affectionately--"and we rode past their riddled bodies. When he spotted the house of the newspaper girl, we made our plans just as we did here. Only a little while ago, another group of our men carried off the princess and the newspaper girl. They also are being brought to the Craigland estate. The emperor--"
Suddenly the driver turned, said in Spanish to Leon: "There is a black roadster behind us. It is coming too close, Leon. It has a more powerful motor than ours."
Leon swore, looked out through the rear window. Jimmy looked too, past Helen Powers' shoulder, and his blood went cold. He hadn't paid any attention to the pursuing cars, knowing that the agents had been instructed to keep far behind. But now he saw his own roadster, guessed that Tim was driving it. Tim must have come back to the hotel, he assumed, and taken up the chase. The boy, in his usual headstrong manner, was not counting the odds, but was bent on stopping the sedan.
Leon growled: "It is that same Operator 5. I recognize the car. He will soon be up to us!"
The driver threw over his shoulder in Spanish: "Give him a drink of your lead, Leon. He must not follow us to the river!"
Leon's thin lips twisted in a cold smile. "Now," he said softly, "I shall show you, Hernando, that I can use this plaything as well as you!"
He raised the sub-machine gun, and with the muzzle broke the rear window. Then he stuck it out, aimed at the tires of the pursuing roadster. He chuckled. "Watch him turn over when I puncture the tires!"
JIMMY CHRISTOPHER met the frightened gaze of Helen Powers over her gag. And he acted.... He raised his left arm, with his hand opened stiffly; brought it around in a wide circle so that the edge of his hand caught Leon in a sharp blow at the base of the skull. It was a blow that seemed weak, ineffective to an observer not initiated in the art of jiu-jitsu. In reality, that particular spot at the base of the skull was one of the eighty nerve centers in the human body which, when struck at the proper angle, will paralyze the entire system. Jimmy Christopher knew all eighty of those nerve centers, as well as the proper way to strike at them. He had studied the "soft art" (which is a literal translation of the word, jiu-jitsu) under one of the most exacting teachers in the world--Kashawatska Hoia, the Imperial Instructor in Tokyo.
Leon, who had been facing toward the rear, suddenly let out his breath in a deep sigh as Jimmy's blow went home. Soundlessly he clumped, and his head lolled to one side. His body slipped from the seat to the floor at the feet of Helen Powers, and the machine gun dropped from his nerveless fingers.
So swift had been the flash of Jimmy Christopher's arm, that the two men in the front seat had not noticed it; neither had been looking back at the moment.
But now, the man next to the driver turned his head, exclaimed in Spanish: "Hold! Leon!"
Jimmy interrupted: "He's been shot!" and snatched up the machine gun. He gave a good imitation of ferocity, saving: "The dog shot Leon through the broken window. I will make him pay!"
He swung the muzzle once more out of the window at the swiftly nearing roadster, and pressed the trip. His slugs, aimed with precision, struck against the steel fender of the roadster in a peculiar rhythm.
As the two cars raced westward across the deserted city streets, the hail of lead from the sub-machine gun beat a strange tattoo on that fender--dash; dash, dot, tot--T. D.! T. D.I
THE clever Irish lad in the roadster at once grasped the significance of the situation. Though he did not understand how Jimmy Christopher came to be in that sedan, he knew that only he could have sent that rapid-fire message drumming through the air against the steel fender, using the trip hammer of a machine gun for a sending key.
Jimmy Christopher held his breath while he watched the boy do marvelous tricks with the roadster, causing it to swerve from curb to curb without perceptibly diminishing its speed. Finally, at the Intersection of Eleventh Avenue, Tim jammed on the brakes, sent the roadster skidding in a wide, screeching curve, while the sedan roared west toward the river, free of pursuit. The Intelligence men in their cars had long since been outdistanced.
Jimmy turned from the rear window to hear the driver say: "That must be the finish of this Operator 5!"
Jimmy Christopher said nothing while the car slowed up at the river front. He could easily, now, have finished off the driver and the man beside him; but that was not his objective. He had to get into that house on the far side of the Hudson.
So, when the car pulled up along a wooden jetty, he got out, allowed himself and the girl, who was still bound and gagged, to be led toward a small power-boat moored alongside. Half a dozen men were waiting there, and each one of them seemed to have had his duties planned to the last detail for everything proceeded smoothly, and within two minutes, the boat was speeding with muffled motor across the Hudson.
The girl, cold and frightened now, huddled on a bench in the stern, with the sharp spray whipping into her face. Operator 5 stood beside her, and took advantage of the darkness to whisper a word of encouragement in her ear. "It's going off nicely, Miss Powers," he said. "We'll be inside that place in a few minutes. Intelligence knows where we're headed for, and we'll be able to count on some outside help." He reached and took off the gag from her mouth.
He stooped under cover of the darkness, and his swift fingers moved with uncanny certainty as he unfastened the cord that bound her wrists. He did not untie it entirely, but left it loose, so that she could drop it off if she had to. Then he took out his automatic, and pressed it into her cold hands.
"If you should need it later," he murmured.
He straightened just as a dark figure approached, walking spread-legged to balance himself against the rolling of the boat. Jimmy Christopher's eyes narrowed upon that figure---familiar even in the night: the heavy, brutish body, the coarse features as the man came nearer. It was Major Horgavo--....!
His thick lips twisted in a smile, and he said to Jimmy: "You are the man named Hernando, are you not?"
Jimmy bowed, watching the other tensely. "I answer to that name, major," he said quietly.
Horgavo smiled his gross approval. "They tell me that you wrecked the car of Operator 5 with your machine gun fire."
Jimmy bowed again, murmured: "I am honored that my small action has been brought to your attention, major."
"Small action? Why, man, don't you realize that you destroyed the foremost Secret Service operator in our enemies ranks? There is a reward on that man's head--and you shall have it!"
"Thank you, sir."
"They tell me that you are an expert with the machine gun."
"I am quite familiar with it, sir."
"Then come. Follow me!" The major turned, gestured toward one of the men who were standing close by. "Watch the girl. Hernando is coming with me." Then he strode away along the tilting deck.
Jimmy followed him into the single low ceilinged cabin. There was no light here, for the boat was apparently riding without lights. The major stopped only a moment here, to pick up a sub-machine gun lying on the floor, and to hand it to Jimmy. He led the way out at once, took Jimmy's arm and guided him to the rail.
"Do you hear anything?" he asked.
Jimmy had already heard it. It was the low, muffled chug-chug of another powerboat coming down the river. He nodded, said: "Yes, major. I hear it. It is a boat--"
Horgavo bent close to him. "It is a river patrol. They, too, are riding without lights. In a moment they will cross our path. It will be your duty to spray their deck with the machine gun. Do you understand?"
Jimmy said: "Yes, sir. I understand."
The jaw muscles of Jimmy Christopher's face bulged as he fingered the tommy-gun. He hoped that the patrol would pass them in the dark.
THE sound of the police motor grew louder, and Jimmy, glancing up and down the deck, saw that he was not the only one with a machine gun. A half dozen forms were lined up along the rail, waiting tensely. The moment they were challenged they would unleash a vicious hail of lead that would mow down every living man on the deck of the patrol.
Horgavo remained beside him, staring into the night, and Operator 5 hoped fervently that the police boat would miss them. Nothing must interfere now, with his gaining entrance to that gloomy building high on the cliffs.
And just then they were discovered. Across the water they heard a low-voiced order; a burst of brilliant light came into being, and a huge spotlight centered upon their boat. At the same time, Horgavo shouted a hoarse order: "Lights! Fire!"
From the rail on both sides of Jimmy Christopher a hail of vicious lead tore from a half dozen machine guns in the direction of the police boat, while from the roof of the cabin their own searchlight clicked on to flood the patrol with light.
Only for a moment did those two spotlights remain on, then they were shattered by the rapid--fire slugs now coming from both boats. Now, auxiliary searchlights, fore and aft of the police boat began to glower, throwing a dull beam across the water.
A storm of lead tore across the deck of the Aztec boat, and cries of agony sounded as men fell. Horgavo, standing beside Jimmy, exclaimed hoarsely: "It is the armored power-boat. We cannot fight them! I must signal the Master!" He turned, ran in the direction of the cabin, and reappeared in a moment with a Very pistol which he raised in the air and fired.
Two green balls of fire described a graceful parabola in the air from the muzzle of the gun. At the same time, the barrage from the patrol-boat ceased, and a voice called out to them: "Cut out your engine till we pull alongside, or we'll rake you again. You're under arrest!"
And then, as if in answer to the Very pistol's signal, a tremendous searchlight fingered down upon the river from the Craigland house on the cliffs. It swept across the deck of Horgavo's boat, revealing the still bodies lying in pools of blood. That volley from the police boat had done plenty of damage. The searchlight kept moving, played upon the police patrol, and remained there. From across the intervening gap between the two boats Jimmy Christopher heard a voice order: "Full speed ahead. Get out of that light!"
Too well did Jimmy know what would follow. And it did. Suddenly, as if the thing had occurred spontaneously, a terrific explosion sounded from the deck of the police boat. The screams of men echoed above the sound of the detonation, and the air was suddenly filled with cascading fragments of torn and battered bodies. Then quiet descended upon the river once more.
The police boat raced madly, aimlessly across the water, with its throttle wide open. No hand was guiding the tiller. It was a boat filled with the torn shreds of what had just been brave men. For a moment, the spotlight followed that boat in its erratic course, then it suddenly clicked off, and darkness hid the gory bits of floating jetsam that littered the surface of the river. The exploding death had come and gone....
Jimmy Christopher's thoughts were bitter as the boat nosed its way into a dark shed at the foot of the tall rock far below the Craigland house....