CHAPTER 3: The Remarkable Countess

Six dead men in the hallway...their throats torn out...with no apparent aggressor!

Doc surveyed the corridor.  Strategically placed mirrors allowed him to ascertain that no one else lurked in the hall.  He quickly moved to the elevator banks.  A manual control hidden behind an ornamental plate allowed him to seal the elevator car and hold it at his floor.  That car was going nowhere until Doc released it!

Next, he checked the nearest stairwell.  Chemicals scattered over the floor of the landing fluoresced from having been recently disturbed.  Doc checked the direction of the disturbance and decided that this was how the six gunmen had entered the 86th floor.  There was no sign of anyone having used this as an exit route.  A second stairwell showed no signs of disturbance at all!  Whoever...or whatever...had torn the throats out of six burly gunmen was trapped in the elevator!

Doc turned to the hidden control panel.  A quarter-turn of one dial dropped the elevator cage one length.  Now the ceiling of the cage was level with the floor.  A flick of a certain switch opened the corridor doors -- allowing Doc to look into the elevator cage from a cleverly concealed one-way panel in its roof.

Suddenly, a weird trilling noise permeated the 86th floor.  It rose and fell like the haunting song of some exotic bird.  It seemed to come from nowhere in particular...and everywhere in general.  It shimmered in the hall like a vibrating question mark!  It was the small unconscious thing Doc did when he was thinking.  Often in tight spots it would bring hope to his beleaguered associates.  Doc was near!  Victory or rescue was at hand!  Occasionally it would mark Doc's assimilation of an important piece of information.  Only rarely did it lift as a note of complete puzzlement.  Tonight was one of those rare occasions!

The elevator car was empty!

Doc re-inspected the hall and stairwells.  There was no way the murderer could have gotten away undetected...yet apparently that was exactly what had happened!  Unless...of course...one believed in ghosts!  Doc didn't.  He was a scientist of the first water!

He turned to the bodies of the gunmen.  A more gruesome sight he had rarely seen.  Searching their pockets, he found papers to indicate these men were all citizens of  a country bordering Moldania.  The attack plotted by these men and abetted by the plane was obviously to silence the Premier and the Countess!

Having assimilated all the information the corpses could offer, Doc returned to his lab.

In the library, he stopped at a desk containing a battery of phones...picked one up and was soon talking with police headquarters.  He informed them of the attack on his offices and requested morgue attendants be sent over to claim the bodies.  Since Doc held a high honorary appointment in the police force, this was accomplished with a minimum of red tape.

He turned to his aides and their visitors.  "Wait here while I check the reception room."

The Countess stepped over and laid a cool hand on his arm.  "Dr. Savage...I believe you will find the plane has departed...in a northeasterly direction...if I am not mistaken."

Doc's eyebrows arched a question at her.

"I have very keen hearing...a genetic gift from my forebears, no doubt."  She answered his unvoiced query.   "It makes up for my being practically blind in brightly lit areas."

Doc swung around, lifted her chin and examined her eyes.  She apparently had no irises...the dark pools that had so hypnotized Johnny were wide open pupils!

"You can see perfectly in the darkness, can't you?"

"Yes...a genetic affliction I have lived with all my life.  It is the reason we requested an evening appointment when we called earlier.  Any exposure to the sun would instantly blind me...so my days are spent in shrouded rooms and my evenings are as your daylight hours."

"Wow!" interjected Monk.  "No wonder we lost you in the reception room!  Y'know, Doc, by the time we found the Premier in the darkness, the Countess was already in the library doorway!  We couldn't figure how she moved through that blackness so quickly!  She sees just like a cat!"

They returned to the reception room where Doc turned on a few muted lights.  A touch on a hidden switch dimmed the lights to a twilight intensity.  The Countess smiled her gratitude.

"Vhat vas der disturbance in der hall, iff I may ask?"  The Premier was obviously shaken by the rapid pace of events.  His somewhat chubby fingers fluttered to a handkerchief which he used to mop his perspiring forehead.

Doc told him.

The Premier sat down with a nervous thump.  "You vill come now?  Please?  Our very lives are not safe now!"

The Countess soothed him.  "Oh, you'll be safe enough when you're back at the capitol, Wilhelm.  The subversive activity hasn't penetrated that far yet.  It is my fiefdom that's over-run with spies and dead men!"  She turned to Doc.  "You will help us...won't you, sir?"

"Yes...we will take this case.  There are already several aspects of it that have piqued my curiosity," Doc murmured.

"Ahh, good!  Then perhaps this will help."  The Countess reached into her bosom and extracted a neatly folded piece of paper.  It was a small, concise map of a part of Eastern Europe.  "you will note the longitudinal and latitudinal co-ordinates I have marked on the edge.  This," she pointed to a small body of water, "is a lake situated next to my home.  At the southeastern end is a dock and facilities for quartering a sea-plane or float plane, if you choose that method of entering our country."

Doc nodded.

"Very well!  Whenever you arrive, you will find an automobile waiting, for which here are the keys."  She laid a set of keys on the desk.  "As long as you are in our land, it is yours...to use as you wish.  I am sure Wilhelm can get you full police and military co-operation in any of your endeavors."

The Premier's head bobbed an affirmative.  He seemed to be glad to let the Countess handle the details.  It was obvious that she was much more organized than he was.

"We do not have many passable roads, so you may wish to make use of my stables.  They and the rest of my house are at your disposal.  Wilhelm and I are flying back to Mondania tomorrow night in my private plane.  When may we expect you...and can we do anything to expedite your arrival?"  The Countess turned her dark, magnetic eyes on the four adventurers who surrounded her.

Doc broke the silence.  "We have a few things to clear up here first..."  Monk and Ham nodded quick assent.   "...however, I think we'll be able to leave in about two days.  I may or may not have two more associates with me...depending on what they're doing right now."

The Countess smiled.  "You may bring a small army if you wish.  I have but one request to make of you.  Could you please..." she pointed a regal finger at the still dripping, sodden hulk that was Monk, "...clean this one up a bit before you bring him?"

Monk's face fell five floors!

Johnny doubled over with mirth.  His laughter boomed around the room.  Ham's face beamed!  He marched over to the Countess and, in his most courtly manner, began raining kisses on her hands.  "Madame, your taste is impeccable!"  He was beside himself with joy!  Monk always seemed to have a jump on Ham with regards to women...but this time was different!  Ham's thoughts raced to courtly romantic interludes.

He might not have seemed so sure of himself had he seen the swirling gold flakes of Doc's eyes melting to liquid amber as the corners of his mouth tugged in a barely restrained grin.

Monk noticed...and consoled himself with the thought that it was going to be a very interesting adventure!

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.