Pulp Heroes - Secret Agent X # 1 - THE TORTURE TRUST, Chapter 12

novelTHE TORTURE TRUST

Chapter XII - TRAPPED!
HE FOUGHT ON blindly in the darkness, expecting momentarily to have scalding drops of acid dashed into his face, to feel his eyeballs, nostrils, and lips being seared into shapeless lumps of quivering, pain-prodded flesh. But none came.

The gray-clad men seemed for the moment to have discarded the liquid horror that they dealt in. They wanted evidently to take him alive, uninjured.

He crashed a balled fist into a man's writhing face. He felt teeth snap, felt the skin of his knuckles rip. But the next instant two men were on his back and snakelike fingers were encircling his throat. He reached up, tried to break their hold, and someone butted him in the stomach, doubling him up in breathless agony. Then it seemed that a dozen vises had been clamped upon him. Hands pinioned him from all sides. The pressure on his throat increased till his breath was shut off, till he lay gasping.


With unconsciousness close at hand, he relaxed. The fingers on his throat were loosened slightly. He could breathe again feebly. A light was turned on and he saw a forest of legs around him.

The faces looking down at him were impassive, hideous as death-masks in their reptilian immobility. One of the men lay moaning, nursing his bleeding gums, but there were five others.

They yanked the Secret Agent to his feet. A gun was pressed against his back so forcefully that it bruised the flesh. He was pushed along the corridor, back the way he had come.

He wondered dully why they didn't shoot, why they didn't kill him now, or throw acid in his face. Then he realized that these men were slaves, being disciplined in evil and committed to do the will of their masters. They were taking him upstairs again, to the council chambers.

Four of them held him outside the door while the fifth slipped inside. X had no doubt the man was telling, his story in finger-language to the hooded masters of death, the story of Betty Dale's escape and his own entry.

The fifth mute came back, his face still impassive, and Agent X was thrust through the door into the presence of the black-robed men. But there were only two now. The third had not returned. That one, the Agent guessed, was Morvay.

The spotlight was turned on his face again. He trusted to his disguise, but wondered what their reaction to it would be. He was posing as H.J. Martin now, a sandy-haired, plump-faced businessman.

The two men behind the black hoods stared at him, their eyes glittering through the slits. At a gesture from one of them, the deaf-mutes withdrew to the side of the room. X stood alone like a prisoner before the bar.

The voice of one of the hooded men came slowly, tauntingly.

"So--a young Sir Galahad who has rescued a fair lady in distress!"

The other one, his voice gruffer, asked a question. "Who are you?"

The Agent answered bluntly, quickly, playing his part as always. "My name's Martin. You devils can't get away with what you tried to do to Miss Dale. I came just in time."

A low, evil laugh sounded from behind the hood.

"She escaped--but nothing can save her now. She was only being frightened to make her talk. But she will be found now--wherever she is--and the beauty of her face will become a thing that men will turn their eyes from in loathing."

The Secret Agent clenched his fist. His voice was tense, high-pitched, as he continued his pose.

"Whoever you are, you can't get away with it, I say. You'll all go to jail, or the electric chair. You're devils, murderers."

They ignored his passionate speech.

"Tell us one thing--Mr. Martin. How did you find your way here? How did you get in?" There was a sneer in the voice--a taunting note.

The Agent sensed what it meant; but he kept up his bluff.

"You're not as clever as you think. Betty's a girl friend of mine. I learned she'd gotten a phony call. I found she'd disappeared and I followed her."

"Yes?"

"Yes."

One of the hooded figures leaned forward. His hands were gripping the sides of his chair. His eyes were glittering points of light behind the eye-holes of his hood, and his voice was low, harsh and deadly.

"Don't think you can fool us--Martin. We know who you are. We know there is only one man who could have found his way to this place and come through the locked doors. We know there is only one man who could have saved Betty Dale!"

The room was still as death for an instant. Then a low, dry chuckle sounded.

"We compliment you--Secret Agent X! You have proved your cleverness. Your disguise is beyond reproach. So it was when you played the part of Jeffrey Carter--and when you impersonated Inspector Burks of the homicide squad. So, too, it was when you made us believe you were Jason Hertz. That was your master stroke, 'X.' But we had Hertz watched. When he so mysteriously disappeared from the refuge we had given him, we began to suspect we had been tricked."

Agent X's heart stood still. The voice of the hooded man droned on.

"What you did with Hertz we do not know. That is neither here nor there. We know that you helped him out of prison, impersonated him so cleverly that you fooled us for a time. But you cannot go on fooling us as you can the police. Your methods are dashing, sensational, dramatic. You have annoyed us and will continue to do so if you are not curbed. But we have agents of our own. You have been watched, spied upon from the night you went to the Bellaire Club. Your impersonation of Inspector Burks was seen by the man you chased over the roof."

The chuckle came again.

"I am being frank with you, because I expect you to be frank with us. Your history is intriguing. Just who is employing you? For what particular cause are you working?"

The voice had become almost matter-of-fact now. It was as though X's answers were foregone conclusions. But he was silent. The voice behind the hood changed again. It bad a steely, imperious note in it.

"You will give us all this information, Agent 'X.' It is necessary for us to know. There may be an effort made to replace you when..."

The voice trailed off with sinister implication.

"Yes, death for you is inevitable. You are aware of that yourself. You are aware that you cannot leave this place alive. But we can give you a choice of two deaths--one quick, painless; the other so lingering, so horrible, so pregnant with agony that you will cease to be a man and will become a blind, babbling creature, a death so unthinkable that you would choose to die a thousand ordinary deaths."

Still the Agent was silent, standing stiffly erect, staring straight before him. Momentarily his will seemed suspended. Momentarily he could only wait and listen. The voice droned on.

"You have seen the faces of men who have been dead many days. Your face will be like that while you are still alive, the flesh eaten away, the eye sockets empty, the teeth skull-like."

Sweat broke out on the Secret Agent's forehead. It was not so much fear as fury against these men--a fury so terrible that it left him white and shaking. Then he grew calm again.

"What would you ask me to do?" he said.

"A small thing. We will provide you with pen and paper and a place to write. You will give us a report of all your activities. You will name your hideouts, your methods, tell us exactly who you are and who is behind you. We know you work alone. We know that no one shares your secrets; but you are supplied with money. That is evident. There have been whispers that the government is backing you."

"Ask the police," said the Agent coldly.

"The police hunt you, too. They regard you as an enemy, a criminal--that is part of your game. But you will tell us--everything."

There was silence again, and the Agent could feel the eyes of the ravenlike pair before him boring into his own.

"What's your answer?" came a voice at last.

The Agent held himself more erect. His lips remained closed. He stared calmly, silently at his questioners.

"You will not speak! We are not surprised. You are clever in your disguises. You are confident of your ability. But there are things which will penetrate and destroy any disguise. There are acids hungry for the flesh of men. We will give you a small taste of what hell is like--then we will leave you poised on the brink of hell, and--who knows--you may be willing to talk--to avoid the last terrible plunge!"

 

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