CHAPTER 14: Horror in the Morning!

"Doc's dead!"

How many times had they heard that phrase?  How many times had it not been true?  They couldn't remember.  Doc's body had always been faked, missing or destroyed -- and he's always turned up later to save the day!

There was no refuting the evidence of their eyes this time, though.  Doc's body was here beside them and one of their own group had pronounced him dead! 

There was no doubting it!  They had all seen dead men before.  As soon as the heart stops, there is a draining of blood from the extremities of the body.  This draining produces a deathly pallor and drawn look peculiar to corpses.  They looked at their leader.  He was pale and drawn -- as if he had no blood left in him.  Death had surely reached out and touched him!

They couldn't reverse the process either.  They weren't Doc!  Several times his men had been near death or technically dead and Doc had, with his wonderful surgeon's skill, revived them!  They had not his skill!  They could never do for him what he had done for them.  They could only mourn their fallen leader.

"Doc..."

Monk knelt beside his friend, tenderly reached down and gathered the still-warm body in his arms.  Great sobs wracked his frame as he cradled Doc's head on his shoulder and lifted him effortlessly.  Monk's massive strength carried the quiescent bronze form through the main hall and up the stairs.  The others followed, stunned.

Monk was about to lay Doc's body on the bed when a tiny breath stirred the hairs of his neck.  "Johnny!" Monk whispered, his eyes growing big, "Doc's alive!  I just felt him breathe!"

Johnny jumped to Monk's side, grabbing for Doc's wrist.  "Yes...there's a pulse now!  The movement as you carried him must have nudged his autonomic responses back into working...but the pulse is so weak..."

"That ain't it, Johnny.  I didn't do nuthin'!  Doc just wouldn't die...that's all!" blubbered Monk as he laid his leader on the bronze sheets.  Doc was so pale that the bronze hue of the sheets looked dark beside his skin.

A strange light came into Johnny's eyes.  "Dammit!  Of course!  He needs blood...a lot of it!"

All eyes swung to Monk.  It was well known among them that only Monk had a blood type that was compatible with Doc's!  It was, in fact, exactly the same -- which was odd considering the semi-rareness of Doc's blood type!

"You got it!" Monk affirmed.  "Every drop -- if that's what it takes to keep him alive!"

Johnny smiled and surveyed the room.  "I doubt if Doc would approve of that!" he said.  "Ham, get Doc's medical kit from the equipment cases.  Renny, Long Tom push that bureau over here.  It's higher than the bed and Monk can lie on it so the transfusion can be made by gravity.  We don't have time or equipment for anything fancier."

Johnny's instructions were complied with immediately.  Monk climbed aboard the bureau and lay down.  Ham shoved a pillow under his head.

"Awww, shyster, I didn't know you cared!"

"I don't...about you!  But you're our only chance for keeping Doc alive -- so, until he's out of danger, you're solid gold!"  Ham sniffed back.

It was a good sign that the friendly quarrel was resuming.  The only time these two didn't verbally snipe at each other was when things were hopeless!

Monk settled back and let Johnny rig the hook-up that would drain his blood into the veins of his friend and leader.  The rest of the group stood and watched both men with anxious eyes.

A faint flush suffused Doc's features as Monk's blood flooded his veins.  His breathing, which had been shallow and almost non-existent, became stronger, deeper.

Finally Johnny spoke to Monk.  "O.K., buddy, that's it!  I don't think we can take any more from you without harming you."

The gorilloid chemist looked at Doc.  He was still awfully pale as far as Monk was concerned.  "No...give him some more," he said.

"Monk...we don't want to lose both of you!"

"Dammit, Johnny, if Doc doesn't pull through -- I don't want to either!  If it takes every drop of my blood to save him -- by God, I'll give it to him -- and you'll see that he gets it!  Understand?!"

Johnny nodded.  Of course he understood.  Every single one of them would gladly have given his life to save their big, bronze leader.  It was a monumental misfortune that only Monk had the necessary blood type!

When Doc's condition finally stabilized, Johnny reached out and disconnected the transfusion apparatus.  "Ham, go get something for Monk to eat or drink...something with a high sugar content to help build his blood sugar back up."  Ham rushed out and was soon back with refreshments for his erstwhile 'enemy'.

Monk was transferred to a couch and the bureau was returned to its original spot.

Johnny bent over Doc's unconscious figure, checking his vital signs and examining him for any major damage.

"What happened to him?" queried Renny.  "Was it the cave-in?"

"No..." returned Johnny.  "I'm no doctor, but I have enough medical first-aid training to know there's nothing broken...and what appears to be no major internal injuries.  Long Tom, would you get me Monk's portable lab..."

The pallid electrical wizard quickly brought the highly compact lab from Monk's room, and all watched as Johnny took out two specimen slides.  Scraping some dark crystals from the corner of Doc's mouth onto each of the slides, Johnny left one as crystals...and added a drop of distilled water to the other.  It pooled blood red on the glass.

"Damn!" Johnny's oath was a whisper...but the room was so quiet that it sounded like a thunderclap.  He walked grimly over to Monk, a slide held securely in each hand.

"How do you feel, Monk?"

"O.K., I guess.  What's up?  Is Doc..."

"Holding his own for the present.  Listen, can you do an analysis lying down?  I don't want you overtaxing yourself, but there's some information I've got to have."

"Sure...if it's not too complicated.  Whatcha want to know?"

Johnny proffered the two slides.  "Is this Doc's blood type?" he asked.

Monk looked puzzled.  "Didn't you just take that off him?"

Johnny nodded.  "Yeah -- but it was in the corner of his mouth, and there are no cuts to explain it.  If it's his, he could have internal injuries.  If it's not his..."  Johnny's voice tailed off as his worried gaze returned to the great bed and its occupant.

"Then we hope it's not his -- 'cuz internal injuries could really do him in in this hospital-forsaken backwoods!" Monk muttered.

"On the contrary -- we pray that it IS his!  If it isn't...God!...I don't want to think about THAT!"  Johnny was shaken.  Ham helped the gaunt geologist to a chair.

"What we discussed earlier?" he asked.

Johnny nodded.  "Get me that stuff we picked up this afternoon," he told the dispirited lawyer.  Ham quitted the room on a run.

Renny and Long Tom converged on the shaking geologist.  "What is it?" they queried, almost in unison.

"I'd rather not say until I'm sure," Johnny murmured.

"Oh...terrific!  He's 'pulling a Doc'!" rumbled Renny, as he threw up his hands in disgust.

Doc had a nasty habit of 'clamming up' whenever he had a hunch about something but no real proof.  His men had gotten used to this.  Now, it seemed, Johnny was afflicted with the same 'mollusk-mouth' tendencies.

"Monk...?"

"Gimme half a minute more...there!  Got it!"  Monk looked up with wide eyes.   "Johnny...it's...NOT...Doc's blood!  I don't know whose it is...but it's definitely not his!"

Johnny closed his eyes and nodded his head.  It was the verdict he'd expected.

Ham had entered in time to hear Monk's diagnosis.  His eyes had a dull and lifeless look as he handed Johnny and ornate inlaid box.  "There's still a chance...isn't there?" he asked.

"We'll see," said the gaunt geologist, as he carried the box to the bed.  He set it on a night-stand and opened the top.  All the men -- except Monk, who was still lying on the couch -- could see what was in the ornate receptacle.  There was a vial of water, several white wafers in a silver and crystal case and half a dozen silver crosses on delicate chains.

Monk drifted to the bed.  Dizzy-headed or not, he wasn't about to be left out of any information pertaining to Doc's strange condition.

Johnny handed each of the men a cross.  "Put these on -- and don't take them off again till I tell you!" he said grimly.

"C'mon Johnny, the 'vampire' stuff again?" Renny smiled.

Johnny expression sobered Renny instantly.  "Why do you think Doc needed so much blood?  Those minor scrapes?  You think they bled him dry?!"  He spun to Doc's body and spread his collar.  "LOOK!"

Two angry red welts flamed at the base of Doc's neck.  They might have been mistaken for very nasty insect bites.  They were right over the path the Jugular vein took from the head to the heart.

Long Tom eyed the box beside the bed as he slipped the silver chain over his head.  "And those?" he indicated the box's other contents.

"These will tell us how bad it is...and...perhaps protect him if it's not too late."

"Too late?!  Whatta you mean...TOO LATE?!"  Monk was frantic!

Johnny steeled himself.  They had to know...

"All right.  Part of this I...knew...part I found in an ancient volume today.  Doc's been attacked by a vampire!  That much is evident.  What we need to ascertain now is how many times this has happened!  If he's been bitten three or more times, there's no hope!   No matter what we do, he'll dies and become one of ...them.   If it's only two...I think we can rule out one, since Ham and I saw the same marks there yesterday afternoon and they didn't look half as bad then...there's a chance we can save him.  His body's reaction to any sanctified object will tell us if he's still...human."

"And if he's...NOT...?" Renny's usually booming voice was a small whimper. 

"We'll have to...kill him...cleanly...with a stake through the heart!"  Johnny's voice was a sob of anguish.

"NO!"  Monk was shaking.  He was barely able to stand.  Ham moved to the apish chemist and helped to support him.

"Do you think Doc would want to exist like that?  Drinking the blood of living human beings!  Killing to keep himself...not even alive...and not being able to stop himself?!  Would he want that?  Dammit...you know he'd rather be dead!"  Johnny's cheeks glistened with wetness.  He turned to the bed, wiping the tears from his eyes.

Johnny took the cross and placed it on Doc's chest, just over the heart.  Doc's breathing quickened and his body shuddered in a tiny convulsion.  Johnny lifted the cross off to expose the skin beneath where it had rested.  There was only the tiniest of red outlines where the cross had lain.  The mark soon faded.

"Johnny...?"

"It's a good sign," he said.  "If Doc were a true vampire by now, that would have burned his flesh raw!"

The Holy Water and Wafer left pale red marks also, but neither had a truly searing effect on Doc's skin.  Johnny's relief was evident.  "Thank God!  We're in time!" he murmured.

Nervous smiles of relief flickered on the surrounding faces.  Renny's face became graver, more puritanical -- as it always did when things were looking up.

"Johnny," Long Tom interposed, "What about the blood on his lips?"

"Yes...that is a complication.  At this point, I'm not sure what it means!" Johnny mused.

Doc stirred uneasily on the great bed.  All eyes swung to the bronze man.  It was evident that he was fighting to regain consciousness.  His eyes flicked open briefly...then closed as he lost the battle and drifted back into unconsciousness.

"Cheeze!  Didja see that?"  Monk whispered.   "His eyes were like new copper pennies!  They weren't gold...they were RED!"

Johnny nodded.  "A mark of the vampirism.  You'll probably find that his canine teeth are sharper and longer than usual too."

"Isn't there anything we can do?" Renny rumbled.

"Make him comfortable...and keep him away from the...thing...that did this!  The longer it takes for the vampire to return and finish him off -- the less power it'll have over him."

Johnny went to the connecting bathroom and returned with a basin of warm water.  He began to bathe and dress the many small wounds that covered his chief's body.

"We'll have to take turns guarding him -- both to prevent the vampire from coming to him...and to prevent him from going to the vampire."

Ham and Renny moved to help Johnny.  They soon had Doc divested of his tattered clothing, bathed and re-clothed in clean garments.

"What do you mean..." muttered Long Tom, "Doc will go to the vampire...?"

Johnny's eyes were tired as he surveyed the darkened room.  "Yes.  Once the vampire had tasted even so much as a drop of his blood...from that moment on, Doc was totally under its power!  It can 'call' Doc and he'll have to go -- if he can!  That's why we have to be here...to protect him and restrain him if necessary!   We can't let him out of our sight!"

"I think I know who the vampire is, Johnny. "  Monk said.  He related his experiences of the previous day.  "It's Tepesh!  He's out to destroy Doc so's he can have the Countess!"

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.