|CHAPTER 2: Death on the 86th
The night was dark and wild with the fury of the thunderstorm that flooded the streets of the city. Jagged bolts of lightning lit up the imposing spike of steel, glass and brick that jutted nearly a hundred stories into the turbulent Manhattan air. It was the middle of the night and most offices in the great edifice were dark, but to anyone high enough to notice, light streamed from a large window on the eighty-sixth floor. Draperies covered all but a four foot wide section of the window, and this section framed the perfectly proportioned figure of a man!
The man at the window was huge, massive! Great cables of sinew roped his hands and arms. Other muscles, equally developed, covered his giant frame. They were graceful, fluid, not the knotty, grotesque over development of the professional weight-lifter or muscle-man. They spoke of controlled, quiet, unequalled power! They looked as if they had been sculpted in molten bronze, so deeply had tropic suns tanned the giant's skin. His hair was a skull-cap of slightly darker bronze. The most remarkable thing about the man, however, was his eyes. They were twin pools of flake gold that looked as if they were being constantly stirred by restless winds. They danced and swirled as they watched the pyrotechnic display of the elements.
"A magnificent evening, Doc."
The response was barely more than a whisper, yet so vibrant with controlled power that Johnny smiled. "What an orator or a politician could do with a voice like that!" he mused.
William Harper Littlejohn, 'Johnny' to his friends, had known the imposing figure at the window for many full, adventurous years, and yet -- as he watched 'Doc' -- he wondered if he or any of his friends really knew Clark Savage Jr. Funded by a hidden cache of ancient Mayan gold, Doc Savage was the supreme adventurer -- going round the world in a tireless quest to right wrongs, help the oppressed and punish evildoers! In so doing, he involved himself and his five aides -- Johnny, Brigadier General Theodore Marley Brooks, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Blodgett Mayfair, Colonel John Renwick, and Major Thomas J. Roberts -- in various world-shattering plots that would someday, Johnny was sure, get them all killed! But would any of them give up following Doc into danger? Not on your life!! Their professions were but part-time jobs they pursued while awaiting Doc's call to adventure!
As for their professions, Johnny was an eminent professor of archaeology and geology. he had taught at a major New England college and had led several successful 'digs' in obscure corners of the world. He was one of the foremost authorities in his field, and acknowledged only a few masters...one of which was the bronze marvel at the window! If anyone knew more about archaeology and geology than Johnny, it was Doc Savage!
Theodore Marley (Ham) Brooks was one of the most astute lawyers Harvard had ever produced. His one consuming passion was his wardrobe. He was the snappiest dresser New York City had ever seen! Tailors followed him down the street to see clothes worn as they should be worn. Lithe and waspish, his jaunty frame was just the thing to show off the latest styles. He was also a terror in a fight. Besides being an accomplished fighter, he carried a black sword cane that was daubed with a potent anesthetic. One prick of the skin with this implement of death would result not in death, but in a prolonged repose. He, too, acknowledged but one master in his profession -- Doc Savage!
Andrew Blodgett (Monk) Mayfair lived up to his nickname. He was two hundred and fifty pound of gorilla-shaped human! As wide as he was high, Monk's muscular development was the only one of the five aides that came close to equaling Doc's. His face was something to scare children with...until he smiled, which he did often. His forehead was so tiny one would think there wasn't room for a thimbleful of brains behind it. This hid the fact that Monk was one of the foremost chemical geniuses of his day. His major passions in life were adventuring with Doc, making life miserable for Ham, and chasing girls (not necessarily in that order all the time). Monk, the girl-chaser bowed to no man as his superior; Monk, the industrial chemist and adventurer, bowed to one -- Doc Savage!
John (Renny) Renwick was the team's engineering marvel. His talents as an engineer were in demand around the world. He often grumbled that his profession left him precious little time to go adventuring with Doc. His grumbling was always done in a great gobbling voice that rumbled like thunder. His other major attributes were his hands. These were huge! It was Renny's greatest joys to use them to knock out the panels of wooden doors. he claimed there wasn't a door made that could withstand him! He would prove this any time he got a chance, so Doc had finally cut his expenses by installing steel doors in his 86th floor offices! Renny also acknowledged but one master in his engineering profession and in his fighting abilities...Doc Savage!
The physical weakling of the group was Thomas (Long Tom) Roberts. Long Tom looked like a funeral about to happen. Pale and sickly appearing, Long Tom could lick his weight in wildcats! When he was mad, even the other members of the group stayed out of his way! He was one of the world's greatest electrical wizards, commanding outrageous fees for his services. Possibly the only person on Earth who knew more about electricity than Long Tom was his leader...Doc Savage!
Johnny's thought swung back to the man at the bullet-proof window. Doc was what Johnny would have called 'away'...his body here in the 86th floor office, his intellect -- mind -- soul -- call it what you will -- out there, riding the winds of the storm...being one with the elemental power that sprayed the heavens with crackling energy and that rumbled like massive chariot wheels through the deserted streets. Doc would have denied this -- he was a scientific person, and 'astral projection' wasn't exactly a scientific area. Doc didn't believe in the 'mystic sciences'.
Johnny wasn't really sure whether he, himself, did or did not believe. His delving into ancient civilizations and cultures had shown him enough to convince him that there was often something of truth in the belief that weird things -- unexplainable things -- could affect one's life. Mysticism and women -- Doc didn't understand either. They were the only real 'blind spots' in an otherwise walking encyclopedia!
Through intensive study, Doc had become a master of virtually every known scientific field. He often had simultaneous experiments going in such widely divergent fields as chemistry and electronics. He was as knowledgeable in engineering as he was in geology and archaeology. He spoke hundreds of dialects in scores of languages fluently. His amazing memory contained maps of every major city on the globe -- and hundreds of minor ones. He had an unfailing sense of time and direction. His senses, through daily training and exercise, were attuned to the fineness and sensitivity of an animal's. He was a mental -- as well as a physical -- marvel!
Doc's real field, of course, was medicine. He was the topmost physician-surgeon of his day. He had trained hundreds of skilled surgeons and fine doctors. He had pioneered many life-saving surgical techniques. His experiments in preventive medicine rivaled those in curative medicine. He had, on occasion, literally brought people back from the very portals of death!
He had a hidden laboratory in the Arctic fastnesses to which he periodically disappeared to do research. Once in this 'Fortress of Solitude', he could not be reached or disturbed by anyone. From it, weeks or months later, he would emerge with a cure for a deadly disease...or a new surgical technique that would save thousands of lives...or a new invention that would revolutionize engineering designs...or a new theorem that would upset previously held scientific principles...or...
The bronze subject of Johnny's mental perambulations turned from the window.
"We have visitors." Doc indicated the blinking warning light on the wall. A moment later, a raucous argument from the hallway informed them who the 'visitors' were.
"Dang it, shyster! What are you doing here at this hour?"
"None of your business, you misbegotten ape! I suppose you have a good reason for being here too!"
"Yeah, I need a couple chemicals for an experiment and I know Doc has some in his lab. I can't get 'em anywhere else this time of night!"
"Hruumph!" snorted the second voice, "Just like you...to run out of things and have to sponge off Doc!"
The door opened to admit two of the most mis-matched individuals in the world. One was a sartorially resplendent wasp of a man -- the other, a burly red-haired being who resembled, more than anything else, a gorilla!
"Ahh, Doc...might I borrow a certain legal tome that my library seems to be lacking...?"
"Sponging, huh? Doc...uhh...could I..."
"You both know where the lab and the library are." Doc smiled absently to himself as he turned to the window. Doc's lab and library were known to be one of the most complete in the world.
"Right!" Monk shook himself like a giant dog and water cascaded in every direction. "Outta my way, shyster, I got something important cookin'..."
"Watch it you refugee from a Salvation Army reject pile!" Ham gathered his immaculate suit about him and made a beeline for the library/laboratory door. Monk sloshed after him and the unending argument moved into the next room.
"If you didn't know they were best friends, you'd think they were ready to kill each other, " Johnny murmured. "Uh oh...more visitors! This seems to be Grand Central Station tonight!"
The warning light was once again flashing!
Doc flicked a switch and amplified sounds from the corridor were broadcast from a box on his desk.
"Ahh, come Madame, dis vey I belief..." Two sets of footfalls advenced on the office door. One obviously a man; the other, the rustling, silken sounds of a woman's passage.
There was a rap on the door, and at a nodded indication from Doc, Johnny got up and crossed the room to open the door...pondering as he went.
"Nebulous...that's what Doc's been all evening...ever since that phone call earlier! Hruumph! That's really uncharacteristic!" He glanced at the bronze figure at the window. "I wonder," he thought, "if this means another stint at the 'Fortress'..."
He opened the door and was instantly transfixed by the eyes of the most unbelievably beautiful woman he'd ever seen. They were pools of blackness that Johnny felt he could drown in! Only Doc's eyes were more hypnotic than these...
"Sir...Sir...Ve vish to speak, perhaps, mit der Herr Savage. You are not he...yes? No?" The man's voice broke the spell of her eyes and Johnny was jerked back to reality. A slight chill ran down his spine. "Oh, God!" he thought, "What she's going to do to Ham and Monk!"
Typically, Johnny had not given any thought to the woman's effect on Doc. Doc was female-proof! Many adventures with a score of beauties had proved this. Doc considered females a liability in his profession. They were always getting themselves captured and had to be rescued! The exception, of course, was Pat, Doc's look-alike cousin. Pat was an adventuress extraordinaire who often intruded in Doc's adventures...much to his chagrin! She had even, occasionally, proved to be valuable! She had saved Doc's skin and the skins of his men on more than one occasion! Doc still wouldn't let her join the group!
The short, balding, bewhiskered man had pushed through the door. He obviously considered himself something of an important person, for he took one look around the sumptuous office and marched straight over to Doc.
"Herr Savage...I presume?"
"Good evening, Premier Von Thuroczy." Doc's powerfully modulated tones brought the little man up short. "How may we help you?"
"Ahhh...you know me! Goot! You perhaps guess vhy ve haf come...yes, no? My country has need uf you! Dere is trouble in our land! Strange people...no one knows dem or from where dey come, are found killed in our hills! Der deaths are horrible und very mysterious! Dere is political unrest...der peasants are uneasy about der deaths...und udder tings! You must come! Moldania is small country, but strategically important to Europe just now. Ve must maintain our neutrality or var in Europe is possible!"
Doc's face was impassive as he listened to the balkan dignitary. His gaze travelled the length of the room to the woman standing just outside his office. The Premier's voice suddenly seemed to come from very far away...
"Der center uf dis activity is in an area near our borders that is the ancestral fief of der Countess Aldea...und she had graciously consented for you und your men to use her home as your headquarters if you vill come und help us!" As he spoke this last, he gestured to the woman who stood still framed by the door Johnny was holding open.
Doc crossed to the door. He reached out, bowing slightly, to take the woman's cool, pale hand. As Johnny looked on with widening eyes, Doc raised her hand to his lips. Then he spoke in her native dialect. "Do not be afraid, Madame...come in...we will not harm you."
Johnny's eyes formed saucers! Doc wasn't one to stand on formalities, and this was high court formality of a bygone era!
"Doctor Savage, you are kind and far too honorable to harm any who have come to you for help. Please speak your native tongue...I perceive that possibly your men might not understand our language." She allowed Doc to lead her to the great leather chair Johnny has vacated.
If Doc was surprised that the woman spoke excellent English without a trace of an accent, it did not show in his face. He took her slightly steamy hooded cape which had enveloped her from neck to ankles.
Monk and Ham, drawn by the sound of a female voice, stood at the library door, their eyes popping a the raven beauty of the regal woman in black silk and lace. They were both connoisseurs of female beauty, and this one topped anything they had yet seen!
The Countess affected the dress of a much earlier epoch. Raven curls piled high on her head. Rich black lace framed an ivory neck and dropped to a daring décolletage. Her dress was of black silk and fell completely to the floor, while the lace at her cuffs almost covered her pale, delicate hands. Her skin was pure ivory and her lips were full and naturally flushed. A single ruby lay in the hollow of her neck and cast red reflections in the dark, aureate pools of her eyes.
"Madame...Premier...my associates...Professor Littlejohn, Mr. Mayfair and Mr. Brooks." Doc made introductions.
"I think I'm in love!" squeaked a small voice that no one would have believed could have come from the massive hulk that was Monk.
"But what will your wife and thirteen idiot children say?" drawled the immaculate being beside him.
"Don't you start those lies again you overdressed shyster..."
"Enough, you two!" Doc's voice held a note of irritation that sobered the two friends immediately. Doc rarely reprimanded them for their bickering...so, something was definitely up!
Johnny's eyebrows shot up as he closed the door. For Doc to snap at Monk and Ham like that only reinforced his former observation that Doc was uncharacteristically moody this evening. Perhaps it was the thunderstorm...the barometric fluctuations that accompany such phenomenon were known to affect some people's moods. Doc usually kept himself under tighter control, though. Johnny glanced out the window. The thunderstorm was still raging, electricity playing about the natural lightning rod that the building formed. For a moment, the better part of the room was reflected in the inch-thick glass...then, suddenly, the glass crazed as the window was pelted with high caliber bullets!
Hidden by the storm, a war plane was strafing the 86th floor!
Doc's bronze-cabled hand hit a switch and the office was plunged into darkness! Another switch closed the draperies completely -- thus blocking any exterior view of the room or its occupants.
"Monk...Ham...get the Premier and the Countess into the library where they'll be safe!" thundered Doc's voice as the hallway warning light flashed again!
There was a sudden noise of running feet from the hall...then blasts of tommygun fire and bloodcurdling shrieks!
Doc whipped through the library and lab to a specially constructed panel that opened on the elevator corridor. He silently eased it open...and was numbed by what he saw!
In the corridor lay fully half-a-dozen large, swarthy gunmen...with their throats torn out!
|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.|