Pulp Heroes - Secret Agent X # 1 - THE TORTURE TRUST, Chapter 6
THE TORTURE TRUST
Chapter VI - SINISTER SUMMONS
With aggravating deliberation, he dusted his palms together, wiped a speck of dust from the front of his tuxedo and reached toward his vest pocket.
"Keep yer hands in sight," snarled the cop. "Go for a gat and I'll drill yer."
"Really!" said the Agent, poised and unruffled. "I don't think you fully grasp the situation."
With the tips of his fingers, he delicately drew his eyeglasses from his vest. He breathed upon them, wiped the gleaming lenses on his sleeve, and placed them carefully on his nose. Then he raised his head. Looking straight at the cop he spoke arrogantly.
"Now, my good man, I'd appreciate it if you'd take that light of yours out of my eyes. It's quite annoying."
The cop came closer, still tautly alert.
"What were yer doing on that roof? Who the hell are yer?"
"Name's Claude Fellingsfort," said the Agent. "Thought I saw a fellow running around up top. Went up for a bit of a look. Heard that the police were having a man hunt. Thought I'd aid them."
"Quite--and now, if you'll just step aside, I'll be on my way."
"You'll be on your way right enough. You're gonna have a talk with the inspector. He's up the block. I've got my orders and I'm gonna follow 'em."
"The devil you say! You'd better give me your number. I intend to register a complaint about this."
The cop's gun thrust against his side. "Move along where I tell yer! Keep your hands away from your pockets."
"You'll hear from me, my good man."
The Agent's voice was outraged now. His pose was that of the injured man-about-town; a citizen furious at the ingratitude of blundering officials. But he moved in the direction the cop indicated. He might learn something from a chat with the inspector.
The crowd in front of the Bellaire Club made way for the cop and his prisoner. They climbed the carpeted stairs to where Inspector Burks was standing just inside the door of the main room. The search of the fifty or more guests of the club was still in progress. The cop spoke harshly.
"I found this guy stepping off a fire escape down the block, chief. He handed me a line. I thought maybe you'd want to talk to him."
Inspector Burks focused the full glare of his black eyes on Agent X. They were face to face--the official head of the world's greatest homicide squad and the man who worked outside the law for the cause of law and order. But the Agent was protected by his masterly disguise.
The inspector's pale, aquiline face registered no recognition. He was in a dangerous mood, though, ready to grasp at any straw that came his way. The press was clamoring that the "Torture Trust" be smashed. The police were being criticized.
"Who the devil are you!" he snapped.
The Secret Agent adjusted his glasses again, stroking the black cord.
"I told this fellow here," he drawled, gesturing toward the cop. "My name's Fellingsfort, in case you want to know."
"What do you do for a living?"
"A bit of financial work. Bond selling and that sort of thing."
"What have you got to prove it?"
The Agent reached into his coat pocket, drew out a wallet and opened it. He carried a dozen or more cards with him always, different names upon them. His disguises went more than skin deep. He avoided trouble by checkmating it in advance.
From a deep inner pocket in the wallet, he drew a card bearing the name Claude Fellingsfort, with the legend "High Grade Bonds" directly after it. With an elaborate flourish he presented it to the inspector. Burks glared at it suspiciously.
"What were you doing climbing down off the fire escape, Fellingsfort?"
"One couldn't stay on it forever," said Agent X suavely. "Since I went up, I had to come down."
"Why did you go up in the first place?"
"I thought I saw a fellow sneaking around up there as it were. It turned out I was right."
The inspector's eyes narrowed into aggressive pinpoints of light.
"What the hell do you mean?"
Deftly the Secret Agent stretched out his arm, pulled up his coat, and drew back his cuff. An inflamed spot showed on his wrist where the skin had been burned.
"The bally idiot threw acid down on me, you know. Sort of an unfriendly devil. I didn't linger to pursue our acquaintance."
"Acid!" Burks's voice had the sharpness of a whiplash.
"Quite. There's the spot--burned rather painfully if I do say so."
"Where did the man who threw it go?"
"Down the block--fifth house from the end. It might pay you, inspector, to send a couple of men to search the place."
For an instant the tone of the man who called himself Claude Fellingsfort changed. Then he resumed his irritating drawl.
"And now, if you've no objections, I'll be on my way."
Burks reply was icy.
"You'll go down to the station house, Fellingsfort. I'm going to hold you for investigation--check up on your credentials."
He gestured toward two husky cops.
"Take this man down to the station--keep him there till I come."
"I say!" protested Fellingsfort. "That's what I call gratitude! I'm late for an appointment now. I really can't sanction this!"
He drew a gold watch from his pocket and looked at it with a frown.
"Take him away, boys," was the inspector's answer.
The two cops stepped forward, one on each side of the Secret Agent.
The watch was still in the Agent's hand, and suddenly a strange thing happened. His thumb moved delicately. There was a faint click inside the timepiece. Then the Agent's arm described a quick arc in the air before the two cops' faces and a thin jet of vapor spurted from the watch's stem.
With gasps the two policemen fell back, wiping their eyes, momentarily blinded by harmless tear-gas. And, quick as a fleeing wraith, the Agent leaped to the door and ran down the stairs.
Inspector Burks cried out harshly and another cop at the entrance attempted to stop "X," but a second jet of gas sent the patrolman back. An instant later and the Secret Agent, alias Claude Fellingsfort, had run into the street and disappeared, lost in the crowd.
Inspector Burks stared again at the card Fellingsfort had given him, then gave a sudden gasp of amazement.
The card had turned black in his hands, the name disappearing. In the center of the card a glaring white figure stood out. It was a mysterious letter "X," come there as though by magic.
IT WASN'T UNTIL twenty-four hours later that Agent X returned to the Bellaire Club--and this time he went alone. In the meantime he had followed reports in the papers, questioned numerous people, and done all he could to trace down the hidden members of the "Torture Trust." But in each instance he had drawn a blank.
There was one lead still open, however--the most significant of all, the one upon which Agent X depended for success--or death.
As a news item, the escape of Jason Hertz from the state penitentiary had not been important. The story had been tucked away on the second and third pages of the metropolitan papers. The police hadn't linked up his break for liberty with the sinister activities of the "Torture Trust." But Agent X knew that somewhere in the city knowing eyes had read of Hertz's escape.
He returned therefore to the Bellaire Club disguised as a young man-about-town. But into his disguise he injected a sleekness of appearance, a sharp, hungry look, that anyone acute enough would sense. He had the appearance of a man possessed with the gambling fever.
And only after he had lost two hundred dollars at cards, allaying the suspicions of Mike Panagakos and the detectives stationed around the room, did he seat himself at a table by the dance floor. He ordered a drink and sat hunched over it, smoking a cigarette morosely, like a man despondent at the loss he has suffered.
The table wasn't ten feet from the blue vase on its polished settee.
Minutes passed, and the Agent's hand moved to the cord of the table-light running below the cloth. No one noticed, but in his fingers was a pair of singularly shaped pliers. They bit down on the cord and did not sever it; but a needle point thrust itself through the outer silk covering into the two copper cables inside.
There was a small spark, a hiss, the odor of burned insulation, and every light in the room went out as the main fuses blew. X had deliberately caused a short circuit.
In the hubbub that followed he moved quickly. He crossed in the darkness to the blue vase, slipped his hand inside and withdrew it. In his fingers was a piece of paper.
He pulled the pliers from the light cord, stopping the short circuit. When the blown fuses had been replaced by someone in the kitchen, Agent X was again sitting quietly at his table. A half hour later, attracting little attention, he gathered up his coat and left.
It wasn't till he reached a secluded avenue that he opened the note in the hollow of his hand. Then his heart leaped with excitement.
"Come to Forty-four MacDonough Street, J.H., and ring the bell seven times," the note said. And Agent X knew that in those brief words lay the seeds of success--or hideous death--depending on his own wits and the cards that Fate dealt him.