Pulp Heroes - Secret Agent X # 1 - THE TORTURE TRUST, Chapter 17
THE TORTURE TRUST
Chapter XVII - ACROSS DARK WATERS
"Yes," the Agent spoke slowly, stalling for time. "Many invitations have been sent to him. It will depend upon his own plans. We will not know till he lands."
Aggressiveness crept into the voice of the speaker at his right.
"It has been our method to strike swiftly and depend on surprise and terror. We must not delay too long. We must act while the public and press are still in a furor--while fear of us is rampant. Then Dunsmark's government will pay."
Behind the black hood the eyes of Agent X gleamed like bits of steel. He stared from one hooded figure to the other. There was silence in the room again, silence that was pregnant, filled with the greed of men who could not wait. He had learned enough. His voice was low, hoarse when he spoke, but still the voice of Morvay. There was confidence in his tone. They looked to him as the leader, and he would give them leadership undreamed of.
"You are right," he said. "We must strike soon--why not immediately, the moment he lands?"
The man on his right spoke sharply. "We discussed that last night. A police escort will be there and secret service operatives will undoubtedly be guarding him."
Agent X made an impatient, deprecatory gesture.
"There is a way. One man can sometimes accomplish what many cannot do. I will capture him myself--bring him here. I have thought of a method."
Exclamations of doubt and amazement followed his words.
"You can't accomplish the impossible. How do you propose to go about it?"
"Trust me," said the Agent quietly.
"We have always gone over our plans together. Three minds are better than one. There may be flaws."
The Agent was stubborn. "I will get Dunsmark alone. Our slaves cannot act in this for us. I will meet him, introduce myself. I will have forged papers from a bank. He will think--"
The man at his left interrupted harshly:
"It is not feasible. It is folly!"
The Agent saw he would have to fight opposition. His voice became aggressive, hard as the rasp of a file on metal.
"I will gamble my share of what we intend to make," he said.
"That is nothing. We are all gambling. We will all lose."
"Have you a better plan to offer, then?"
"Yes." The man at his left spoke now. "The original one. Our slaves will spy on Dunsmark--we will get him to come out alone on some pretext--as we have done with others. We can use the needle and the drug again."
The Agent sneered. "It may be days before that can happen. He may grow suspicious. The police may insist on guarding him night and day. There is agitation against us, my friends. The government is watchful. Have you thought of that?"
The others were silent, and X continued, driving home his point.
"Fear of us is spreading. It is good in one way. Fear is powerful and will separate men from their money. It has helped us before. But it may work against us in the case of Dunsmark. There may be no chance unless we act quickly."
There was silence again as cunning brains pondered behind black hoods. The man who had objected spoke at last.
"Very well," he said. 'But if you fail, it will end everything. It will be every man for himself." There was a sinister threat behind his words.
"I have as much to lose as any of you," said the Agent quietly.
"You mean then that you will take him as soon as the boat docks."
"Yes," said the Agent, "that is what I mean!"
"And you will bring him here."
The session was over. The Secret Agent had committed himself to a task that seemed impossible; to the task of snatching Sir Anthony Dunsmark away under the very noses of the police and the Secret Service operators who would be watching. It was a task so daring, so unbelievable, that even the members of the hooded trio were skeptical.
One by one they left the council chamber. Agent X drove uptown to the old Montgomery mansion, to his secret room, and all through the night he was awake, alert, thinking, planning.
The next day he went to the photograph department of a big metropolitan paper and purchased from their files all available photos of a certain public official--the Commissioner of Police. He followed it by going to a private photographer who specialized in such things and buying others. He now had fourteen photos of the Commissioner in all poses--speaking before a crowd, in uniform, in private life, and at public functions.
That evening he arranged these photos around the walls of his secret room and studied them carefully. Then with pen and ink, legal-looking paper, and a metal stamp with the seal of the city on it, he proceeded to draw up a document.
THREE HOURS LATER, a speedboat left a secluded dock along the waterfront and shot out across the harbor. It was a roomy boat, with padded leather seats and a powerful engine that ran as smoothly as a watch. A muffler reduced the thunderous reverberations of the motor to a subdued musical hum. The boat left a white wake behind it as it threaded its way among the tugs and gliding ferries plying between the downtown docks and the towns and cities across the harbor.
The time was eleven-thirty. At the wheel of the speedboat was a tall man in a black coat. He had a soft gray hat pulled low, a muffler around his neck. He stared straight ahead across the water, guiding the speedboat with a skilled hand.
Once wind whipped the muffler loose, and the man folded it again over immaculate evening clothes that showed beneath his coat. He was obviously a personage of dignity and importance, a handsome man, ruddy faced, gray at the temples and with a close-clipped mustache lending strength to his firm upper lip. It was the face that was known everywhere--the face of the city's police Commissioner.
Any cop would have pointed him out in a crowd. Almost any citizen would have recognized him, for his picture had appeared in the metropolitan papers often. And, in case there might be doubt as to his identity, he carried documents to show who he was and to prove that his tenure of office had the city's sanction.
Yet, miles away in the fashionable mansion of a wealthy political boss, the real Commissioner was engaged in an exciting game of poker with several of his cronies. He would have been shocked, furious, terrified if he could have seen the man at the wheel of the boat--the man who would, during the next hour, impersonate himself.
The Secret Agent was gambling again on his mastery of disguise, gambling on a scheme that was incredibly daring.
The speedboat slowed, began moving in wide easy circles across the face of the dark waters. Once a harbor patrol craft hove into sight and the Agent stilled the motor and extinguished the red-and-green running lights on the speedboat's sides. The patrol passed by like a gray shadow in the night.
Far down the narrows a blotch of radiance appeared. It came nearer, increased in size. It was the high, many-windowed superstructure of a great liner--the Victoria.
With the majesty of vast bulk and great power under leash, the greyhound of the seas came slowly on. Pygmy tugs nosed along beside it. Soon the great turbines would be stilled, the tugs would warp the huge vessel into the dock where hundreds of excited people waited, friends and relatives of the thousand or more passengers on board. But before that happened, there was official business to be gone through. The Victoria would be held at quarantine until doctors had made certain there were no contagious diseases on board. This might take one hour or several. The ship was one of the crack liners. The passenger list held many distinguished names. The routine of quarantine would be as brief as possible.
As the great ship weighed anchor in the narrows, the Secret Agent circled it and watched. He saw the quarantine boat heave to beside the towering sides of the liner, saw the official doctors board her by the stairway that was lowered.
The Agent steered his speedboat close then, gliding silently alongside the quarantine craft. He made fast a rope and stepped lightly over the quarantine boat's deck.
A sailor stuck his head out of the small hatchway and stared at him in wonder. But Agent X offered no explanation.
It wasn't until an officer at the top of the liner's companionway tried to stop him that he drew out the document showing who he was. The officer saluted and stepped back respectfully.
A minute more and he was in the presence of the Victoria's grizzled captain. One of the quarantine men and a customs official were with the captain. They recognized the Commissioner at once. His papers this time were not necessary. As he drew the captain aside, his handsome face was grave.
"Sir Anthony Dunsmark is on this ship, I believe, Captain," he said.
Agent X cleared his throat and stared at the Victoria's chief officer, frowning. The quarantine man and the customs official looked on in wonder. They could not hear what was being said, but it was evident that something of vast import had brought the Police Commissioner out across the harbor.
"There is a plot afoot," said the Agent, "a plot to kidnap Sir Anthony Dunsmark and hold him for extortion money. He may be injured, killed. The city can take no chances. It will be better to spirit him away, keep him out of sight until the police have had a chance to investigate. I will take him directly to my home, Captain."
The captain nodded instantly. It was not his business to question the wisdom of a move advocated by one of the country's greatest police heads. Agent X was led forward through the ship to the expensive suite of cabins that was occupied by Sir Anthony Dunsmark and his secretary. The captain introduced the Commissioner.
Agent X saw a tall, ruddy-faced, slightly stout Britisher. Dunsmark had on a baggy gray suit. A pair of eyeglasses hung by a cord from his vest. He was vastly flustered at the news the Commissioner delivered in a low, terse voice.
His face had paled a trifle. He was a man unaccustomed to violence. Most of his days had been spent in quiet, luxurious offices where people spoke in subdued voices and where there was an air of efficiency and stability.
"I am terribly sorry, Sir Anthony," said the Agent. "But we can take no chances. You had better come with me at once to avoid danger later when the boat docks."
Puffing with excitement, Dunsmark issued orders to his secretary.
"Your baggage can wait for the customs men," said the Agent. "Your secretary can stay and take care of that. This is all very unusual.
"Very," echoed Dunsmark.
"But it is made necessary by the pressure of circumstances. We must combat crime as best we can."
"Quite!" said Dunsmark.
He was hustled off the boat so quickly and efficiently that he hardly knew what was happening. Sailors from the Victoria held the slim speedboat while he climbed in. If they or the captain thought it strange that the Police Commissioner should come out alone, they said nothing. This was an extraordinary condition of affairs, met in an extraordinary way.
Speeding back across the harbor Dunsmark recovered some of his composure. He chatted with the man whom he thought was the Commissioner.
"You Americans," he said, "are independent fellows. Fancy an English official being able and willing to pilot his own boat like this!"
It was only after they had reached shore by means of an ill-smelling dock and climbed into a parked roadster that Dunsmark began to show signs of nervousness again. Several times he glanced uneasily at the man beside him.
His uneasiness visibly increased as the car rolled into a maze of streets that were dark, rough, and cluttered; streets that seemed to have about them a sinister atmosphere of crime. He spoke at last.
"Look here, Commissioner. I don't quite understand this. I thought--"
His words ceased in a startled, choking gasp. His eyes bulged from his head. For the Commissioner had drawn a gun. It gleamed wickedly under the glow of the instrument-board light, and it was pointed straight at his side.
"I'm sorry," said the Commissioner softly. "You will have to come with me and do what I say, Sir Anthony. Any attempt on your part to cry out or escape will have very serious consequences."