Pulp Heroes - Secret Agent X # 1 - THE TORTURE TRUST, Chapter 14
THE TORTURE TRUST
Chapter XIV - THE MARK OF THE AGENT
The fast-moving hand and fingers of the deaf-mute gave a graphic account of that wild chase through the night-darkened streets.
Morvay leaned forward, his eyes glowing behind the black hood. His long fingers answered in the same language, then asked a question.
"Are you certain he is dead? Did you wait to see whether he rose to the surface?"
"Yes," came the answer. "We waited, watched--there was no chance of his survival."
Morvay registered grim satisfaction. The deaf-mute was dismissed. One of the hooded trio spoke.
"You have heard what our slave reports. Secret Agent X is dead. The girl escaped, but she knows nothing. The agent has no close confidante."
"But to make sure," he said, "you are having the girl trailed? You will have her punished as soon as she is found."
The man he had questioned nodded.
"The Herald office and her apartment are being shadowed," he said. "She will turn up at one place or the other. We will make an example of her."
Again Morvay nodded. He hadn't seen Betty Dale, but he had been told that she was beautiful, piquant. She had chosen to interfere with the activities of the "Torture Trust." She was an ally of the Secret Agent. Because of that, her beauty would be hideously destroyed. She would spend the remainder of her life looking forward to death. The secret strain of sadism that made Morvay the vicious criminal he was took delight in this prospect. He ran his tongue over thin, cruel lips.
"Let us forget the girl and the Agent now," he said. "One is dead--the other will be disposed of shortly. What of the business in hand?"
The other two men leaned forward. There was the glitter in their eyes of men whose greed for money and power amounts to fanaticism. Money--power! For these they had slaughtered, maimed, and spread terror. They had extorted thousands from fear-crazed millionaires. They began to picture themselves as czars of crime, masters of death, invincible rulers of the underworld. And, scorning the citizens of the underworld, they planned to organize its riffraff into a vast disciplined legion. That would come later, however, when they had more power. Tonight there was something concrete to go over--details of the most daring crime they had ever conceived.
"Fear of our organization is spreading," said the man on Morvay's right. "We are becoming famous. They call us the 'Torture Trust.'" A low laugh followed. "It will make our next move easier. We are known across the water."
They then began to discuss the plot they had in mind. It was stupendously daring, yet absurdly simple; but they never acted without long preliminary arguments, weighing each move with cold logic. They had the training, the discipline, of men in high positions. Each could have made a decent living in the world of honest men. But there was in each a hidden strain of criminality coupled with a ruthless thirst for power.
The plan under discussion tonight dealt with Sir Anthony Dunsmark, British financier; one of the heads of the great Bank of England; a man of international repute; a man whose opinions were taken as gospel truth and whose statements had to be issued guardedly because they had power to influence stock quotations in many countries. Dunsmark had shouldered his share of the financial burdens of the World War. He was on his way to America now to take part in a meeting of bankers, to do his bit toward helping along world recovery. Traveling on the liner Victoria, accompanied by one secretary, he would arrive in three days.
The hooded trio were like buzzards before a feast preparing for his arrival. So far their extortion racket had fallen on rich men in the city only. But here was an opportunity to extend operations.
What if Anthony Dunsmark disappeared upon arrival in America? What if his government should receive a letter demanding a vast sum which, if not paid over, would bring about the death of Dunsmark by the lingering horrors of acid?
No government would permit such a thing to happen to one of its best-known citizens. The sum asked would be paid, no matter how great it might be. To have Sir Anthony Dunsmark meet his death at the hands of American criminals would be a blot on the United States. America would contribute to his ransom if necessary. Thus the black-robed trio reasoned. But there were still details to be worked out. Dunsmark would be met at the dock by a police escort. There would be secret service operatives mingling in the crowd. To steal him away in spite of this was a big order. But the trio had confidence in their ability.
"There are many methods," said the man on Morvay's right. "Dunsmark will be lionized for days after his arrival. He will be invited everywhere. We will watch him ceaselessly and wait for an opportunity."
Morvay laughed softly.
"One of us," he said, "might even invite him to our own home. We are not without social position ourselves."
The man on his left growled an objection.
"There must be no hint of suspicion directed at us."
"We will meet again tomorrow night," Morvay answered. "I have feelers out. I will know then the names of some of the people who plan to have Dunsmark as a guest."
The others nodded assent. Discussion ceased. One by one they arose and left the council chamber, each leaving by a different route. Morvay passed through the buildings in the rear of the warehouse. He breathed easier now that the Secret Agent was gone. X was the only man so far who had given them any worry. The police were still wandering in confused circles and floundering in a bog of doubt.
It was raining as Morvay stepped into the dark street. He rolled his collar up and strode quickly along, his ulster flapping about his heels. He turned at the corner, heading toward the avenue four blocks away where it was his custom to pick up a taxi.
Then, shortly before he reached it, he was pleased to see a cruising cab coming his way. The rain had increased. This was a bit of luck, he thought.
He held up a finger, signaled the cab, and climbed in. He gave the name of a hotel, one of the points where he sometimes changed taxis, in the routine they all followed to throw shadowers off the trail. He lit a cigarette and leaned back against the seat, going over in his mind the details of the daring crime planned.
The driver, sitting slumped behind the wheel, drove the cab on through the chill winter rain. Drops of moisture splattered against the glass in the door. Morvay was glad the windows were closed. He did not see the hands of the driver creep down to a small hidden lever beside his seat. He could not, for there was a front partition cutting off his view.
But he began to feel a slow dizziness creeping over him. The air in the cab seemed to be getting stale as though the exhaust had sprung a leak and carbon monoxide were seeping into the car's interior.
Morvay leaned forward, reaching toward a window. But the dizziness increased to such an extent that he swayed in his seat.
He tried to raise his hand and it seemed to weigh many pounds. His cigarette dropped from shaking fingers. He tried to cry out to the driver, but his voice sounded faint and far away.
He slumped sidewise in the seat, struggling frantically to preserve his faculties. For a moment his face turned toward the ceiling of the cab, and a sudden shudder of amazement passed through his body. He made a desperate effort to rise, but succeeded only in flopping to the floor where he lay, still staring toward the roof with glassy, horrified eyes.
Over his head, in the center of the fabric covering the taxi's roof, something glowed with an eerie, wavering light. It was a letter, an "X," written in some kind of radiant paint. And, as Professor Morvay slipped into unconsciousness, it seemed to hover before his gaze like an accusing, all-seeing eye.