Pulp Heroes - Secret Agent X # 1 - THE TORTURE TRUST, Chapter 13


THE HOODED MAN'S HANDS moved in the air before him. His fingers made quick motions, delivering imperious orders. Four of the gray-clad mutes stepped forward and grasped the Agent's arms. The fifth man held the gun at his back. He was marched out of the room.

He had no plan of action. He saw at the moment no way of escape. He waited for that small, brief opportunity which might checkmate the awful fate ahead of him. He couldn't do what had been asked of him--betray the secrets that he guarded so jealously. Yet to keep them guarded he would have to submit to more than human flesh could endure. Would it be better, he wondered, to make a break now and invite a bullet in his back?

But he pictured himself lying wounded, helpless, with flesh-eating acid being poured into his face. There was nothing that these men would stop at.

He walked quietly downstairs and through the corridors. They had not blindfolded him--a tribute to his cleverness, to the knowledge that no blindfolds could keep him from knowing where he was. And it was evidence of the certainty that he was to die.

They came at last to the door of the torture chamber. The four men holding him redoubled the force of their grip on his arms. The man with the gun stepped forward, unlocking the door. He pressed a switch and light came from inside.

For the moment this fifth man with the gun was dead ahead, silhouetted against the light behind him. There would never be another opportunity. Within the next minute Agent X would be in the chair with the steel cuffs snapped over his legs and ankles--cuffs that no human strength or will could break. It was now or never.

His four captors didn't notice the motion of his foot, or if they did they mistook it for a shrinking back in fear. He lifted his toe, swayed his body sideways, bringing his full weight down on the right heel, pressing the rubber and flattening it so that the metal stud inside that was the trigger of the tiny air gun was pushed home.

They did not hear the faint hiss that came from the end of the minute tube concealed in the thick sole of his shoe.

The man in the door of the torture chamber, the man with the gun, gave a throaty, inarticulate cry. His face registered intense surprise. He turned slowly, stood swaying on his feet, and, just as slowly, his face changed. The masklike look came again. The face muscles sagged, knotted, and sagged again. The man's gun fell from his inert fingers and clattered to the stone floor. The man's knees buckled under him, and he collapsed.

The four mutes holding Agent X stiffened with amazement. Their lusterless eyes showed utter incomprehension. Their grip on his arms relaxed for a fraction of a second. And, in that fraction of time, he put all the strength of his muscles into one mighty heave. He wrenched himself loose and leaped backwards.

He heard the pounding of feet behind him, saw lights flash again as a secret signal system was put into operation. The gray-clad men were swift runners, too. They sensed now that the collapse of the man with the gun had been a trick of the Agent's. Their fury was animallike. He could hear their babbling, incoherent cries--the cries of mutes trying to give expression to inhuman rage.

He passed an open passageway and saw two more figures running toward him. He flashed past; but something streaked out, burning his leg so that for a moment the pain almost paralyzed him and forced him to slow down. A splash of acid hurled by one of the men in the corridor had struck his ankle. He ran on, his face contorted.

He had the feeling now that flitting gray shapes were everywhere, that another spray of acid might come out of any dark corner. But he could not see his way. He turned on the pencil-thin beam of his flash for an instant. Directly ahead was the corridor leading through the jumble of buildings in the warehouse's rear. Beyond it was the street.

He reached the street with flying figures close behind him. He burst out the door into the cold night air. But Betty had taken his car as he had told her to. Death was close at his heels.

Wincing with pain, limping, he plunged along the street. Looking back, he saw gray shapes moving behind him like wolves in the night. The "Torture Trust's" horrible horde was close behind. The street seemed to harbor death.

He put on a burst of speed that pumped blood into the burned spot on his ankle, increasing the pain until it was as though a hot rivet had been driven into his flesh.

He turned a corner, ran on with the pursuers gaining. It was late, the streets were deserted. Even if there were a cop in sight he would be of no aid. He would only meet a hideous death, too.

Two more blocks and the Agent saw something that made him increase his efforts. There was an all-night lunch-room at the next corner. A taxi stood before it, its engine idling to keep warm. The driver was inside.

Even as he leaped into the cab's front seat, he heard the sound of another auto starting up behind, backing out of a garage. He remembered the car that had taken Betty Dale away from the Herald office, the car in which he had ridden to MacDonough Street.

He raced the taxi's engine, drew the shift lever back, released the clutch, and plunged forward. He heard the hoarse shout of a man behind him--the taxi driver running from the lunchroom. But he had to take the cab. If anything happened to it, he'd see that the taxi company was reimbursed.

The taxi was an old one. Its valves needed grinding. The motor had poor pickup. The car was already shooting down the street, gaining. He shifted frantically, and pressed the accelerator down till the engine coughed. The taxi began to gain speed. It rumbled and jounced over the rough pavement. He spun the wheel, made a skidding turn around a corner, and roared on.

At the end of the block he heard the pursuing car duplicate his maneuver. The sound of the taxi's engine was rising in pitch now. The big cab was rolling ahead at ever mounting speed. The needle on the speedometer showed forty, fifty, fifty-five. He took another corner, heading toward the river to get out of the rough cross-town streets. Then he found himself on a long, wide avenue running parallel with the water. It too, was deserted, until a cop's whistle blew frantically.

But the taxi lurched and roared past.

Agent X glanced over his shoulder through the rear window. The goggling lights of the car behind were increasing steadily in size. He pressed the accelerator down as far as it would go--and got up to fifty-five again. But the needle of the speedometer hung there, sliding forward a degree when the street slanted down, going back when there was a slight incline. The pursuing car was only a half block behind.

Then the warehouses and pier sheds to right and left echoed to the sudden staccato clatter of a sub-machine gun. Something whined by in the night. An explosive tinkle of breaking glass came from the rear window. He looked back and saw that it had disappeared. It was an old model car. Even the windshield was not shatterproof. The glass partition between the driver's seat and the passenger's compartment was the next to go. Then the windshield flew into crystal slivers before his face. Pieces of it whizzed by his head, pricked his skin.

The night wind beat against his eyes with a force that made them blink and burn. The cab was being torn to pieces, raked by bullets as the devilish chatter of the machine gun continued with a measured, precise regularity that had the finality of doom. In a matter of seconds only the law of averages would take effect; a steel-jacketed bullet would pierce him, and he would slump forward in his seat. The speeding cab would crash into a building, be demolished, burst into flame. The car behind had demonstrated its supremacy in speed.

He shot a glance to the left toward the river, his eyes bright as hot coals. Death by bullets was quick, painless. The old wound in his side had brought him near death often. He was on familiar terms with the Grim Reaper. But there was the cause for which he worked. There was the "Torture Trust" to be smashed, and there was Betty Dale! Unless he fought for her, saved her, she would be tracked down and hideously mutilated, perhaps killed.

He spun the wheel of the plunging cab viciously. It rocked to the left across the broad street. For an instant the raking stream of bullets left it. Then they found it again. The car behind had swerved, too. But Agent X pulled the wheel still farther. The fat tires squealed in protest. The cab groaned in every bolt. It skidded dangerously, then roared ahead. The yawning entrance to an open dock was directly before it; farther still the oily, chill waters of the river moved sluggishly. The cab lunged out across the clattering boards of the dock.

The machine gun ceased its chattering, but the car behind still followed. The Agent did not decrease his speed. He sat hunched low over the wheel, staring ahead through the shattered windshield.

A low protecting bulkhead rose at the end of the dock. There were capstans spaced at intervals for tugs and excursion boats to tie to. He aimed the blunt nose of the cab between them and put on a last burst of speed, holding the wheel steady.

The front tires of the cab struck the bulkhead and leaped up. The cab plunged on like a madly bucking horse, rearing its yellow shape over the end of the dock. An instant it seemed to hang in the air, then it plunged to the black river below and struck with a terrific splash. Steam hissed from the hot pipes of the engine. Yellow foam seethed and slithered sidewise. A second passed--two--and the cab filled and sank from sight.


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