CHAPTER 4: The Perilous Sky

"You fools -- you've bungled everything so far!" the oily voice sneered.  "You have only one more chance!"  The telephone line crackled ominously.

"It is a certainty that he and his five aides will never reach Mondania!" a gravelly voice replied.  "We have taken great pains to ascertain which of his craft is to be used for the flight.  We have cleverly hidden a bomb aboard which will be detonated by a special radio signal when they are over the ocean.  They will simply disappear -- and no one will know where!"

"Excellent!"  The voice on the Trans-Atlantic connection modulated to a refined purr.  "I will proceed with my plans here.  Soon we shall have all the finances we will need for our activities!  You are sure that they will not find the bomb?"

"No, they will not!  We gained access to the plane under guise of being hangar repairmen.  Some crates of equipment were being loaded, and during a lunch break we secreted the bomb in a crate that had already been inspected.  We watched -- it was stowed under several other boxes.  It is not likely that it will be disturbed until..." the voice gave an evil chuckle.

"We must be certain!  I have heard of this man, Savage!  He is a Demon!  He has escaped many who have sought his death!"  The first speaker thought for a moment.  "You must use your plane to follow his and observe the explosion.  Do not let him see you, for he would become suspicious!  Make sure there are no survivors!"

"Very good, Sir...we shall report when our mission has been accomplished!"  The line went dead as the connection was broken.

Gravel-voice turned to his companions.  "Quickly," he said, "we must ready the plane, since we are to observe first-hand the death of this Master of Escapes!"  He singled out one of his accomplices.  "You, Svorza, must watch and make certain all five aides and Doc Savage himself enter the plane.  Report to me any deviation from this...any deviation...you understand?"

"Yes Sir!"  The man picked up powerful binoculars and a compact two-way radio and headed for his post.  He was obviously a professional at this sort of thing, and nothing would escape his notice!

It was a gray, nasty dawn...promising to get nastier.  Wisps of fog blew across the runway of the small Long Island airport.  A sedate, bronze-colored automobile rolled to a hangar constructed apart from the two or three main hangars.

In front of the building, a large amphibious plane was being warmed up.  It was an older plane, with no special markings; a sturdy, sensible plane for long air trips, with the ability to land on water as well as land.  It was well suited for landing on a mountain lake.

The well-camouflaged man shifted in the bushes that bordered the airport land.  He had, with the aid of his high-powered binoculars, a perfect view of the plane and the path it would use to taxi and take to the air.  The fog was getting worse...at times partially obscuring the field.

"Only a madman would pick a morning like this to start a long trans-Atlantic flight."  The skulker was glad he was on the ground and his comrades were aloft!

His field glasses swept the area.  A mass of men boiled from the car.  "Ahh, yes...Renwick, Roberts, the ugly one if Mayfair...there's the archaeologist, Littlejohn...Brooks..."  He checked small photos taped to a card before him.  His gaze returned to the auto.  From the driver's side came a magnificent man.  The gray light gleamed dully off his bronze skin.  While the others wore heavy jackets and caps, this man wore less.  He was unencumbered -- ready for action!  He approached the group and it was only then -- when he could be compared with the others -- that one could truly gauge the Herculean dimensions of his body.

"Doc Savage!"  The spy's voice was a hiss of hate...and awe.  "I am glad you will soon be unable to move against us!"  He squirmed uneasily at the thought of what this bronze juggernaut could do.

The men made for the plane and clambered aboard, Doc pausing to direct one of the attendants in the obvious disposal of the car.  There seemed to be a problem and Doc and the attendant disappeared into an adjoining office shack.  Ignoring the plane, the spy kept sharp watch on the building.  After a while, the two men returned.  Savage climbed into the cockpit and taxied through the thickening fog to the runway.

The airport was a small, but busy, one and Doc's plane waited until several small craft ahead of him had cleared the field.  Then, with a roar of its three powerful engines, it took smoothly to the sky...disappearing into the fog.

"They are all on the plane, and it has just departed."  The spy smirked evilly at the radio set.

"We are picking them up...ahh, we have them, now!" crackled back out of the ether.  "meet us at Headquarters."  The set went dead.

The two planes headed East.

Later, somewhere between Long Island and Greenland, a great ball of fire blossomed in the sky, and what was left of a large amphibian plane plunged to the cold Atlantic waves.  A smaller plane circled the sinking wreckage for some time...then headed East.

Another plane, one of several that had quit the field previous to the amphibian, hovered just out of sight...and promptly turned West the first plane went East.

A booming voice thundered through the air waves, and few listening in could have understood a word of its message...for the message was spoken in ancient Mayan!  It was the language Doc Savage's men used when they wanted their information confidential!

"You were right, Doc...the plane was picked up and followed.  It was blown to bits a short while ago.  Those guys are thorough if nothing else...they circled for an hour looking for survivors. As far as they're concerned, we're dead as doornails!"

"All right, Renny.  Come on home and we'll leave safely this time."
"Ha!" snorted Monk, "I'll bet those clowns would never have believed that the plane was being flown from an auxiliary control in another plane!"  Under cover of the fog, Doc's men had dropped into the high grass beneath the plane as soon as Doc had engaged the attendant in a discussion.  Renny and Ham had crept through the high grass to another plane waiting nearby and had been ready to precede the big amphibian off the field.  Monk, Johnny and Long Tom had melted into the shadows of the nearby hangar and had circled around to ready an unobtrusive black sedan that waited at the back of the hangar.  It was child's play for Doc to taxi the plane to the end of the runway and drop out of the plane as it made its turn to get into take-off position.  Monk smiled.  "A nice piece of surrogate pilotin' on Ham's and Renny's part!" he said.

Doc cast a sideways glance at the gorilloid specimen beside him.  Monk jumped, realizing his tactical blunder.

"I didn't say that...and I'll deny it if you tell Ham I did!"

Doc chuckled and proceeded to load another crate into the new, four motored amphibious giant that reposed in this Manhattan waterfront hangar.  The other plane had been old and ready to be replaced anyway.  It had more than served its purpose in its capacity of 'decoy'.  Now the Savage team could reach Mondania without further interference.  It wasn't mere luck that had made him personally check the plane the night before.  Nor was it mere luck that he had found the bomb and decided that those planting it would probably be watching.  It was good sense to let them think that their plan had succeeded.  The natural fog had been a bonus of the morning, eliminating a more elaborate plan Doc had had of r getting both him and his aides out of the former craft without anyone being the wiser.

Long hours and several refueling stops later found them over the mountain fastnesses of Mondania.  Doc had taken his two-hour stint of exercises while others of the group flew the plane.  These exercises, pitting muscle against muscle until a fine sheen of perspiration covered his body, juggling difficult equations in his head, identifying unlabeled odors, reading Braille to sharpen his tactile senses, and other intricate maneuvers, were a daily routine with Doc.  Started when he was but a child, these exercises were one of the reasons Doc's physical condition exceeded any known athlete's perfection...why his endurance was so great...why his concentration in times of stress was so pure! It made Monk sweat profusely just to watch Doc at these exercises!

Doc was at the controls when the treacherous air currents of the Moldanian mountains buffeted the plane.  He guided it in a swinging arc to land on a crystal lake whose beauty took one's breath away! Mist-shrouded mountains rose in convoluted splendor from the timbered edges of the water.  Twilight lit the whole scene with an eerie glow, haloing a large, medieval castle that hovered, vulture-like, on a sheer cliff above the lake.

At the southeastern corner of the lake was a modern hangar-dock...well equipped to handle a plane as large as Doc's.  The caretaker and his young assistant who met the plane were genuinely pleased that the plane had arrived.  They showed no indication, to Doc's keen, observing eye, that they were surprised at the arrival of the American plane.  Obviously they were not a part of the plan to kill Savage and his men!  Doc left the plane in their care with a lighter mind, after arranging for the transfer of the equipment to the castle.

The car the Countess had left for them was sleek and elegant.  The interior was posh, leather upholstery and wood paneling, while an immensely powerful motor throbbed beneath the hood.  Doc put it through its paces on the drive to the castle.  He knew the performance potential of every vehicle he owned...and if his life, or the lives of his friends, depended on a car's performance (as it often did) he wanted to know what that machine could do!  This one did everything he asked -- with power to spare!  The Countess had given them the very best.  Doc smiled.  His assessment of her personality was confirmed.

The castle was old...a soaring fortress of stone.  Its windows were mere slits, high in the walls.  Easily defend in in medieval times, they would make a gloomy interior in a less warlike era.

Monk shuddered.  "I'm not sure I'm gonna like all that stone around me...it's probably cold, dark and dank in there!" he mumbled.  Claustrophobia loomed as they pulled up to the main entrance!

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.