CHAPTER 11: Doc to the Rescue!

"Got him!" a guttural voice laughed in the darkness.  "See, he wasn't so hard to trap!"

"He got past the others!" a second voice whispered.  "I still don't like it.  I won't be happy till my knife parts his head from his body!"

The two forms advanced on the recumbent form of the giant bronze man.  They bent over him with evil intent shining in their eyes.  A knife slashed downward in the moonlight towards the unprotected bronze throat beneath their hands.

Suddenly, they couldn't breathe!  They tried to scream and couldn't.  A great bronze hand had each one of them by the neck.  With a quick movement, Doc Savage brought the malefactor's heads together.  Quick oblivion claimed the two.

Doc examined them, noting that their unconsciousness was of the non-lethal variety. The two men would be out for the rest of the night.  He picked up the knife one of them had dropped and flicked it away into the brush.  A pistol from one of his attackers he tucked into his belt.  It joined one had had taken off an earlier ambusher.  Doc did not usually carry firearms, for he was of the opinion that men who carried such weapons came to depend on them too much, thus inhibiting their own inventiveness for alternate methods of dealing with a situation.  These, however, might come in handy later.  If he found Renny and Long Tom, the weapons would help to arm them.

Doc, of course, had not at any time been unconscious.  As soon as his ultra-fine hearing detected the tinkle of glass, he had stopped breathing.  He had had a split second warning by the breaking glass before the liquid in the balls had vaporized to form the anesthetic gas.

Do moved carefully to the trail.  He retrieved half a dozen of the glass balls that had not been broken.  He tucked them  in a padded inner pocket of his utility jacket, then drifted into the night.

Doc surveyed the trail ahead of him.  It was obvious that he was expected.  There would probably be several more traps ahead.  These men seemed to have a certain amount of proficiency and a great deal of tenacity.  Sooner or later, if he continued in this way, Doc might miss something and fall victim to a clever trick.

Doc considered.  The deadly nature of the previous traps -- as well as the murderous attitude of the knife wielder -- told him that these men were not out to capture him.  They wanted him dead!  Allowing himself to be caught would be a very fatal mistake!

His mind's eye flicked to the map he had given Monk.  Mentally he traced the backtrail of the horses on it.  They had come straight off the mountain, using a large deer-run.  According to the map etched in his amazing memory, the run would bring him out on the ridge of the intersecting radio lines.

There was an easier and safer way of getting there now that Doc was sure of his destination.

Doc removed his boots, tied them together with a piece of cord from his utility vest, and slung them over his shoulders.  Then he took to the treetops, his agile feet clinging, ape-like, to the rough bark of the branches.

Traveling quickly and silently through the upper foliage, he noted several other groups of men lingering on the trail.  In the case of solitary lurkers, he simply used the anesthetic fingertip injectors...until his supply was exhausted.  After that, he had to resort to the compression of certain nerve centers that left his victims paralyzed for several hours.  In the case of multiple lurkers, he would work his way to a spot directly above the men and drop the tiny gas balls among them.  When the gas had rendered the ambushers unconscious, he would descend, disarm the traps and administer a potent injection that would knock the men out for at least twelve hours.  He would then continue on his way.

As he moved through the treetops, he mused on the odd nature of the whole set-up.  Why had not these men banded together and attacked him 'en masse'?  It would have given them a much better chance to overwhelm him.  There had been times when even his Herculean strength had been overcome by sheer numbers of assailants.

He could not know of the small fortune that had been place don his head.  Greed -- the desire to split the fortune between only a few -- had fragmented the group.  Several parties of two or three had broken off and had sought to capture or kill Doc on their own.  Greed had ultimately done Doc a favor.  had not these first few traps shown him the folly of allowing himself to be captured, he might have tried just that...to get a line on the whereabouts of his men.

Now he sat crouched in the fork of a tree, his keen, gold-flecked eyes surveying the ridge before him.  A large and well-deployed body of men surrounded a small clearing ahead of him.  Had he progressed on the ground, he would have undoubtedly fallen afoul of this trap, and been overwhelmed.  There were a good twenty men waiting for whoever attempted to backtrack the two horses.  It was just possible that they did not know of the smaller traps set by greedy individuals nearer the castle.

Doc's eyes swirled and danced in the moonlight.  He was seeing things no ordinary human could have seen.  His amazing orbs had detected the signs of the fight that Renny had put up in the clearing.  He needed to get closer -- to inspect that clearing at close range.

He moved silently, like a bronze ghost, to the upwind side of the group.  The anesthetic gas balls that he had used on the other groups had been expended.  He reached into his vest and extracted three small objects that looked like grenades.  These, too, contained an anesthetic gas, but it was a lot more potent than that in the glass balls.  It also did not require that its victims inhale it, since it acted on contact with any exposed flesh.

Doc made sure he was well upwind -- out of range of the gas he would release.  Since he was not wearing a protective over-all covering, he might easily become a victim of his own trap if the wind shifted.

With uncanny accuracy he placed the grenades where he wanted them.  He smiled grimly as the night breeze swept across the ridge, bearing a somnambulistic blanket that put all in it s path to sleep.  Men toppled, snoring, out of the bushes.  They would be unconscious for the rest of the night.

When he was sure that no gas lingered in the clearing, he descended and began a quick but thorough survey of the area.  From minute details that would have escaped even a trained woodsman's eyes, he pieced together what happened earlier.  His eyes grew grim as he examined the spot where Long Tom had fallen from his horse.  Displacement of the earth and the location of the bloodstains that had soaked into the ground told him the wound was in the head area.  It was a good possibility that the electrical wizard had met his end here!

Doc's eyes crackled vengeance!  If any of his men had been harmed, the mastermind of this political turmoil would pay -- dearly!

The signs told him that Renny had been captured and forced to carry Long Tom's body towards a stand of scrub-oak.  Doc moved silently, like a great bronze wraith, on the trail that was now flecked with blood.

A short distance down the trail were two more sleeping men.  They were close enough to the group of ambushers to oversee them and yell orders -- but far enough away to escape readily if things went against the hidden group.

Doc turned the bodies over and gazed on the faces of his captives.  An exultant, victorious trilling filled the woodland.  Doc's gas trap had felled the leader of the spy ring and one who was obviously one of his top lieutenants!  He searched the garments of the two men, extracting several small note books and papers.

After a quick perusal of the documents, he secreted them on his own person.  he now had proof of the identity and intentions of the group.  Since they would be unconscious for the remainder of the evening, he let them remain where they had fallen and he proceeded on the bloodstained trail.  The whereabouts of Renny and Long Tom were his primary concern now!

The trail led through the scrub-oak to a cavern that disappeared blackly into the side of the hill.  Doc examined the ground in front of the cavern.  Renny's footprints were there.  They were sunk into the ground more than they should have been for his weight, so Doc assumed Renny was still carrying Long Tom's body.

Doc listened intently to the sounds emanating from the cavern.  They were so faint that only Doc's auditory acuteness could have perceived them.  The sounds brought a smile to his bronze features.  It was the sounds of two men struggling to free themselves of their bonds.  Two!

He thumbed on his small flashlight and entered the cave.  he was immediately glad he had taken the chance of showing a light, for stretched across the cavern at knee-height was a fine wire.  It was connected to a large charge of explosives.

Doc quickly disarmed the trap and continued into the cave.  The labyrinthine structure of the cavern walls twisted and turned, branching alcoves here and side tunnels there.  Some were storage areas that held supplies and equipment.  Doc examined such equipment as he found.  The revolutionaries had made good use of these caverns.

Doc followed the sound of the two struggling men.  he entered a branch off the main tunnel.

The flash beam spotted two bound and gagged forms in the back of the alcove.  Doc also picked out the fine layer of dirt that had collected in a crack across the floor.  Cracks in the tunnel floor had not been unusual.  There were many of them.  But this one had collected a goodly amount of dirt...and the dirt was oddly displaced.  Doc once again inspected either side of the cavern and disconnected a cleverly hidden trip wire.

The tow men had ceased to struggle when the flash light had spotted them.  With their eyes unused to light, they were blinded for a few moments.

By the time their eyes had adjusted to the light, they found their bonds were disintegrating beneath two bronze hands.

"Holy cow!  Doc!" Renny rumbled as he spit the gag from his mouth.  "How'd you find us?"

"Backtracked the horses.  How's the head, Long Tom?"  Typically, Doc did not elaborate on the perils he had encountered on the backtrail.

"I'll live.  It's only a scalp wound, but it knocked me out for a while...and Renny told me it bled like a 'stuck pig'."  Long Tom's voice conveyed only part of the rage he felt.  "We were really suckered!  They set us up!  Lured us here with a radio beam and ambushed us!"

"Yeah," interjected Renny.  "They were going to use us as bait to get you!  Someone's put a small fortune on your head...DEAD, not alive!"

Things fell rapidly into place.  "I think I know why!" mused Doc.

"What about the guys that captured us?" rumbled Renny.

"Twenty of them are out front taking a nap...and there's a few more along the trail that won't wake up till morning either."  Doc smiled.

"Doc, there's more than that," Long Tom said.  "A large group went east through the tunnels earlier this evening.  They're due back sometime soon."

"We'd better move out, then," the bronze man rejoined.  "Take these in case we meet any opposition on the way out."  He handed each man one of the guns he had appropriated earlier.

They proceeded cautiously through the tunnel, searching for traps or returning men as they worked their way to the opening.

A large pile of equipment near the entrance that he had not had time to examine earlier diverted Doc's attention for a moment.  He stopped to examine it just as Long Tom cried out "Hey!  There's our super-firers!"

Lying on the floor near the entrance were the special pistol used by Doc's men.  They carried a clip of sixty shots each and were far superior as weapons to the guns Doc had managed to acquire.

Renny and Long Tom raced to retrieve them.

Doc's eyes snapped in the direction of the find.  Those guns had not been there when he entered the cavern!  "WAIT!" he yelled!

Too late!  The cavern mouth exploded into tons of cascading rock!

TAKE ME TO THE NEXT CHAPTER, PLEASE! 

The Doc Savage characters are the property of Conde Nast.  All text and images are  1999 by Paty Cockrum and may not be copied without her express written permission.