Pulp Heroes - Secret Agent X # 1 - THE TORTURE TRUST, Chapter 10


Chapter X - TORTURE!
WITH NO INKLING of the menace creeping upon her, Betty Dale had settled herself for a quiet evening at home. She had slipped into a comfortable and becoming pair of lounging pajamas, propped pillows on a sofa, and drawn the bookmark from an interesting new novel.

The reading light sprayed radiance on her gleaming blonde hair, touched her long lashes, caressed the soft contours of her face and figure. She lay back relaxing after a hard day at the office.

When at midnight the call from the Herald office came, it surprised her. She was seldom called at night.

"The editor wants you," said a voice. "A big story's broke. He thinks you can help--an' wants you to come right down."

With a sigh and a philosophical shrug, Betty Dale rose and dressed. Her career had been won by a lot of hard work and self-discipline. When the paper wanted her, she made it a point to be ready.

She powdered her face, gave her hat a smart tilt, dabbed lipstick on, and descended to the street. A proportion of her success had been gained by always appearing chic and alert.

She took a cab at the corner and told the driver to make it snappy. The paper had called. The presses were waiting. There was no time to lose.

The cab rolled swiftly through the deserted streets down to the block where the Herald building rose with the lights in its many windows gleaming cheerfully. Men in the linotype and composing rooms were hard at work.

She paid the driver and stepped smartly toward the building's entrance.

Then someone moved from the shadows beside the door. He held up his hand, signaled to her. He was a small man dressed in gray. She could not see his features, for he had a cap pulled down. They appeared to be strangely gray, masklike. She had never to her knowledge seen him before. Nevertheless she stopped.

And, in that instant, the man glided up to her. His movements were so quick, so purposeful, that she thought he was going to hand her something--thought that he must be an employee of the paper.

Instead, his fingers reached out, clutching her arm. With a quick movement that unbalanced her, he drew her back into the shadows. She started to scream, but he clapped a hand over her mouth. She tried to break away and something jabbed into her arm.

It was a sharp, keen pain like the prick of a needle. It was followed by a cool sensation in the surrounding flesh.

Betty Dale gasped and struggled, and a wave of icy terror filled her. She felt a sudden roaring in her head, felt her knees giving way under her, felt as though the night were pressing in upon her from all sides. The lighted windows of the Herald building seemed to move in all directions. They seemed to explode, gyrate, whirl round and round like a galaxy of comets sweeping across an infinite sky.

Then the roaring ceased. The comets grew dim. Betty Dale slipped into unconsciousness.

WHEN SHE AWOKE, feeling faint and dizzy, she sensed a jouncing motion. She tried to see, but something was over her eyes. She tried to speak and felt something else constricting her lips. She knew then that she was on the seat of a car, and she leaned back fighting the icy terror that possessed her. Her body still felt numb, paralyzed beyond the point of movement.

She realized that the sharp pain in her arm had been a hypodermic needle, an injection of some sort of drug. But who had pressed it in? Who was the strange, gray-faced man she had seen, and where was she being taken?

Fear rose in her mind. She had heard of unspeakable things, of the white slave traffic, of dark, slimy alleys of vice. Fear lay over her mind like a leaden pall.

She lost track of time. It might have been hours and it might have ten minutes later that the car stopped. Then a door opened. She was propelled forward for a seemingly endless distance, through an infinite duration of time. She was in some building, somewhere, but she couldn't see or cry out.

She was pushed into a chair. The covering was taken from her eyes, and a gag was removed from her mouth. But she was in utter darkness and could still see nothing. She drew in great gasps of air, but she did not cry out. She wasn't the sort of girl who screams or faints easily. She waited and listened in a frozen attitude of dread.

Then a light flashed on directly in her eyes. For minutes she could see nothing and no one spoke. More seconds passed and the light was suddenly dimmed. She could see around it now, behind it, and she caught her breath fearfully.

Two black-robed figures were sitting, regarding her. She saw the glitter of their eyes through slits in the black hoods that covered their faces. Somehow she sensed that she was in the presence of beings so evil that no human appeal would register. She did not speak. She waited to see what was to come.

A voice came out of the semi-gloom, out from behind a black hood. It was measured, impersonal. The tones were cultured.

"Miss Betty Dale! You are here to answer certain questions. A few nights ago you were seen at the Bellaire Club with a man who called himself Jeffrey Carter. There was a police raid. You left the club with a man who looked like Inspector Burks of the homicide squad. You were seen crossing the street with him into the shadows of a building. Shortly afterwards the real Inspector Burks arrived from headquarters. Who was the man who led you out? Who was Jeffrey Carter?"

Betty Dale sat still, her keen brain grappling with the situation. Were these men detectives? Was this a new kind of third degree?

"I don't know," she said at last. "I don't know who Jeffrey Carter really is."

The voice spoke again.

"Are he and the man who calls himself Secret Agent X one and the same?"

Betty Dale gasped. Whoever these men were they seemed close to the truth. The facts dawned on her. Horror crept through her veins like a flow of icy water. These men were the heads of the hideous "Torture Trust." They had learned, or guessed, that the Agent was after them. But what could she tell them even if she cared to speak? She knew little about the Agent, and that little was a sedulously guarded secret. Courage and stubbornness overshadowed fear.

"I will tell you nothing," she said.

One of the hooded figures spoke again, his tone as dry and sinister as the scrape of a serpent's scales across stone.

"Others have said that. But there are things that will make any man or woman talk. There are things so terrible that human flesh crawls in the face of them. Things that make the human will crumble. Do you think that you, a mere girl, can endure such things?"

Betty Dale kept silent. She sat in her chair, frozen. They might ring the truth out of her, make her admit that Jeffrey Carter was the Secret Agent. She was not a superwoman. She might babble that if they forced her. But she knew it wouldn't satisfy them. They would want more, and she couldn't tell more. It was better to say nothing and let them think she knew all. It was better to stall for time.

She did not see either of the hooded men signal, but suddenly two men slipped into the room--two men dressed in gray, with faces as gray as their clothes. They were men with masklike expressions and reptilian cruelty in their lusterless eyes.

One of the hooded figures lifted his hands, making a series of motions in the air with his fingers--motions that the gray-faced men seemed to understand.

They drew Betty Dale from her seat and led her out of the room. The blindfold was slipped on again. She was led along corridors, down stairs, her numbed feet moving as though in a dream. She felt the damp coldness of a basement at last. She felt stone under her feet. Then she saw a light around the edges of the blindfold.

Suddenly she was tipped backwards, forced into what appeared to be a big chair. A scream of terror, her first, came from her lips as she felt cold bands of steel snapped over her wrists and ankles. The blindfold was removed and, glassy eyed, she stared about her.

The room she was in had a stone floor like a laboratory. The white shelves along the walls were loaded with bottles and tubes which heightened the effect. But the chair into which she had been thrust had no place in a laboratory. It was massive, heavy, made of steel and brass like a chair in a barber shop. The metal that encircled her arms and ankles was bolted to the sides of the chair. She was held as tightly as a prisoner in chains.

And a second look revealed that the room was not a laboratory. A laboratory would be devoted to science, research, human enlightenment. This room was dedicated to the opposite--to agony, fear, unspeakable horror. The room was a torture chamber.

One of the deaf-mutes was working at a shelf now. He had taken the stopper from a tall flask. He poured the contents into another flask, adding a few drops from still another.

Betty saw greenish, slow-moving fumes curling up like steam from a hideous witches' cauldron. They rose around the deaf-mute's face, but he didn't seem to mind. It was as though close proximity to evil had made him immune to the terrible things in which he dealt.

Betty screamed again, straining at the metal cuffs. But it was useless, hopeless, and the two men in the room could not even hear her cries. Their faces were impassive, devilish.

The man with the flask turned and came toward her. He held the flask in one hand and in the other was a stick with a swab on the end of it. He dipped the swab into the flask, brought it out, and she saw that it was wet with a green, sinister liquid.

Slow fumes wreathed up, curling lazily into the air, hideous and terrible as the quiet uncoiling of a serpent. The man moved the swab toward the fresh beauty of her face, toward her skin that was as smooth as the velvety petal of a rose. On his face for the first time was a definite expression. It was a terrible smile--a smile that seemed to take some of the lackluster from his eyes. It was a smile of fiendish pleasure, as though the thing he was about to do would give him exquisite delight.

Betty Dale screamed again. She screamed because she could not help it, because her eyes were fixed upon those lazy, terrible fumes, because terror seemed to writhe through her body like a living thing.

Then the wave of terror deepened. It engulfed her in a black flood that pressed against her heart. With a piercing, agonized scream on her lips, she fainted.

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