Pulp Heroes - Secret Agent X # 1 - THE TORTURE TRUST, Chapter 18


AGENT X SENSED AT ONCE that Dunsmark was not a man to cause him trouble. The Britisher was certainly no coward. His many courageous acts and decisions in the world of finance had proved that. But he wasn't used to physical action. And he was still overawed by reports read of crime conditions in America. He sat slumped in his seat, white-faced, silent, ready for the worst.

X drove the car on through the night into the shadow of the great warehouse where hideous things had been done and where others would be done again if he didn't prevent them; where the seeds of murder had been planted and nourished.

He ordered Dunsmark out of the car, and told him to stand quietly in the shadows for a moment.

"There are others about, Sir Anthony," he said. "Do as I tell you. Take no chances. Vital issues are at stake." How vital he did not try to explain. Dunsmark could think what he chose for the time being.

Agent X went to the back of the roadster, unlocked the cover of the rumble seat, and lifted it. In the spacious compartment in front of the seat was the body of a man doubled up. The man was not dead, only unconscious, for he was breathing regularly. It was the body of Professor Morvay.

The Agent reached in, grasped Morvay, and lifted him out. At sight of his limp figure Sir Anthony Dunsmark gasped with fear. Death, mystery, and horror had met him on his landing in America. He regretted that he had come at all. But the sight of a man who appeared to be dead paralyzed his will. He took pains to obey the Agent's orders.

Carrying Morvay over his shoulder, the Agent motioned Dunsmark to the side of one of the old buildings, and opened the door. He motioned Dunsmark inside, then quietly closed and locked the door, and deposited Morvay on the floor. Then, standing Dunsmark close to the wall, he turned a flash light on his face and studied him for long moments.

"Sorry," he said again. "But you must do as I tell you." His calm voice seemed at odds with his strange actions.

He took the black hood and robe from the closet by the door and adjusted them on his body without even removing the disguise of the Police Commissioner. He had to work quickly now, make every move count in the desperate game he was playing.

With the hood over his head and his eyes glittering through the slits, he looked far more terrible than he had as the well-dressed Police Commissioner. Dunsmark's face went a shade paler. He moved forward like a somnambulist as the Agent made motions with his gun.

Carrying the body of Morvay, and thrusting Dunsmark ahead, the Agent went slowly down the corridor. It was fortunate that the deaf-mutes could hear nothing. It was fortunate, too, that Van Houten and Bartholdy entered and left by different ways. He would not encounter them till he arrived at the council chamber.

Twenty feet from the door of the secret room, in a closet under a stairway that he had previously noted, he thrust the still form of Morvay. Then he flicked on his light for a moment and motioned Dunsmark on.

In silence they at last entered the chamber where so much evil had been plotted.

There was a dim light burning in the room; and two spectral black-robed figures sitting on chairs. They gave harsh exclamations at sight of the British financier. Their eyes gleamed with a fierce, avaricious light.

"I kept my word," said Agent X quietly.

For a moment there was awed silence, then the man at the Agent's left pressed his foot on a bulge in the carpet. The spotlight on the ceiling above flashed on. It bathed Dunsmark's face in brilliant radiance. The paleness of his features, the tenseness of his attitude, the combative look in his eyes, testified to the fact that he had been brought unwillingly. Agent X had relied on that. It was why he hadn't dared take Dunsmark into his confidence. The unpleasant interlude had been necessary if his plans were to succeed.

"Does he know the reason for his being here?" came a voice from behind one of the hoods.

"No," said the Agent. "I have told him nothing. I have kept my word--brought him. Inform him of what we have in mind."

The man at the Agent's right spoke in a harsh measured voice.

"You are an important man, Dunsmark--important to your country and to the world. Neither your country nor the world can afford to lose you. They will, for that reason, take pains to see that you are returned to them uninjured."

The British banker slowly nodded his head. A sudden surge of blood swept across his face. His cleft chin jutted.

"You don't understand--"

"I understand everything, Dunsmark. You realize, of course, that ransom is expected for your safe return. A child could grasp that. You can guess that the amount for such an important person as yourself will be large, staggeringly large, but not too large--not more than your country will gladly pay. But you don't understand just where you are. You don't realize what will happen if you fail to meet our demands."

Dunsmark's right fist tightened into a ball.

"By Gad, gentlemen--I don't care what your demands are. You've picked the wrong victim. You can't intimidate me!"

A harsh, grating laugh came from behind the black hood.

"Have you followed the news, Dunsmark? Have you heard of that mysterious organization called the 'Torture Trust'? Have you read reports of what happens to men who refuse to meet its demands?"

Dunsmark's face paled again, and its expression showed that news of the terrible series of crimes had reached England.

"I see you've heard of us," continued the voice. "You have heard of dead men, rich men and their sons, being found with their faces gone, eaten by acid. You are a man of imagination. You can picture to yourself no doubt what the slow claws of acid can do. You can understand why you will pay."

"Damn you!" cried the Englishman. "I still say you can't intimidate me. I won't sell my country out to ransom my own carcass."

"No!" the persuasive voice went on. "That is noble of you. That is loyal. You are a man of high ideals, of great principles. You will sacrifice yourself. But have you ever had liquid drops of torture poured on your skin, Dunsmark? Would you want to return to your country marred beyond recognition? Would you want to spend the rest of your life looking so hideous that your friends will turn away from you in horror.

"Damn you--damn you!" gasped the Englishman. "Let me out of here!"

"That will be easy," said the voice of his tormenter. "We can ask the ransom money without your consent. But everything will be better, more simple, if you will write a note yourself directing your country to pay what we ask. We will make all arrangements for the note's delivery, the delivery of the money, and your safe return. It will be conducted in a businesslike way."

Dunsmark was quivering with fury now.

"All we ask," said the hooded figure, "is a sum proportionate to your high position. A sum which your country, or you yourself perhaps, can well afford to pay. All we ask is five hundred thousand pounds!"

The Secret Agent gasped. They were demanding over two million dollars.

Dunsmark, still trembling violently, remained silent.

"What do you say," came the voice. "Will you cooperate--make things easy for yourself and us? Or must we give you a taste of what hell is like?"

"Go to the devil, all of you," the Englishman cried in a sudden burst of fury. "There are police in America! There is law and order. You'll go to prison and the gallows for this."

The Secret Agent spoke then. "He will not be convinced, my friends. We will have to take him down below. Call our slaves."

The hooded figure at his right silently pressed the button concealed under the carpet--the button that flashed lights in the deaf-mutes' quarters. A moment later four of them glided in, and the same hooded man flashed orders with his fingers.

The Agent spoke then.

"I am going with him," he said. "Let us all go. Let us see that our slaves make no blunder in this."

Silently they rose and wound through the chill corridors to the cellar below. The door of the torture chamber was unlocked. Struggling and protesting fiercely, Dunsmark was thrust into the metal chair. In a moment the metal cuffs had been clamped over his hands and ankles.

"We have come," said the Agent, "to give you a chance to change your mind--before it is too late."

One of the mutes, precise as an automaton, had gone to a shelf and taken the stopper from a bottle of acid.

"You see it," said the hooded figure standing by the Agent's side. "You see the liquid that no human will can endure."

"God!" cried Dunsmark. "There are decent laws and police in America, I say. You'll go to prison. They won't let this happen."

As though in answer to his words, a sudden sound reverberated through the building. It was a clanging metallic note. Then somewhere far above, faint and shrill, a whistle sounded. The noise of a blow came again, repeated, taken up and echoed, till the whole warehouse shook and trembled, as though a hundred axes were crashing through the doors.

"The police," hissed the Agent, fiercely. "A raid. Every man for himself!"

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