CHAPTER 6: Discoveries!

Doc was disgusted!  How had this happened?  When had it happened?  He'd always been careful about women...excruciatingly careful!  He'd kept many of them successfully at arms length.  Several had been more than passively interested...some had actually almost thrown themselves at him!

The Countess was different.  Cool, supremely competent, she had often seen a situation coming that any other woman would have taken advantage of...and walked away from it!  Was that it?  No...it had to be more than that.  One could respect coolness and competence...it wasn't necessary to fall in love with it!

Doc lay back in the bed. Closing his eyes, he tried to compose his thoughts as he had been taught to do when he studied in Tibet, early in his life.  His heart was pounding like a triphammer!  This was terrible!  His body had never before betrayed him like this!  How did Monk and Ham stand it?!  They were always falling in love!  He tried to concentrate...and her face got in the way.

This was simply no good!! If every time he closed his eyes, he was going to see her eyes...WAIT!  Her eyes!  Had she somehow, unbeknownst to Doc, hypnotized him?

He remembered his first sight of her, standing in the doorway of his Manhattan office.  Midnight eyes had met golden ones a room's length away as the Premier had babbled away about his 'spy' problem.  Now that he thought about it, those eyes had shown no timidity...they had commanded!  "You will come to me!"...and he had!

Had he actually kissed her hand...like a star-struck adolescent?  He had!  No wonder Johnny's eyes had formed dinner plates.  He'd better watch Johnny...the man was too observant!  Damn!  Any other time that would be an asset...now it was a distraction!

He'd felt slightly light-headed when he had examined her eyes later, and at dinner last evening he'd seen her practically mesmerize everyone else with them.

She was, however, no master of the art of hypnotism.  Doc knew every trick in that book.  He often used his own weirdly shifting eyes to make malefactors divulge information.

It was true that the candle light at dinner had helped.  IT had formed small, red, flickering flames in those midnight orbs...an eerie effect...augmenting their natural hypnotic qualities.

Still, Doc was a Master of the Art!  He knew how to observe a hypnotist without being affected himself.  She had not mesmerized him!

He sighed...he obviously wasn't going to resolve this thing that easily!

Sounds from the adjoining rooms told him his friends were preparing for the day ahead.  Doc hoped they weren't -- for once in their lives -- as observant as they sometimes were.  Doc could always tell at a single glance when any of his men had been affected by a woman.  Would they be able to tell...?  An embarrassed flush spread slowly over his bronze features.

There was only one thing to be done!  His mind firmed to a single purpose as he dressed.  This case had to be cleared up quickly so they could get out of here...before he did something STUPID!!!

He paused at the door and looked back at the satin sheets.  "You're running away!" a small voice sniggered at the back of his mind.  He considered a moment.  "You bet I am!" he muttered to himself as he stepped into the hall.

* * * * *

As the Countess had predicted, the back roads of her land seemed to be little more than farm roads, so Renny and Long Tom took advantage of her offer to mounts to reconnoiter the mountains.  There were obviously backwoods trails that the infiltrators used and it would be an asset to have these thoroughly mapped out.  Johnny had taken one long look at the convoluted terrain and had asked Monk to help him with some geological analyses.

"If the sub-stratum proves to be as I surmise, it will be a propitious eventuality indicative of..."

"Hold it!" Monk snapped.  "If I have to listen to that all day, I'll go nuts!  You talk right or I'll go with them!"  Monk case a wary eye at the spirited mounts prancing under Renny's and Long Tom's restraining hands.

Johnny acquiesced, muttering about the arrested mentality of certain incorrigible anthropoids.

Doc had elected to visit the only large town nearby to examine, if possible, the remains of the spies found dead in the hills.  The Premier had indicated that there was a startling aspect to these bodies, and Doc had determined to see if this could be a help in their investigation.  He had asked Ham to accompany him.

"You can check out what we can expect in the way of local police and military assistance...if we need it."  Doc said.  "Also, keep your ears open for anything the townspeople consider unusual."

"Righto, Doc!"  Ham smiled as he handled the powerful machine.  "Any idea what we've gotten ourselves into this time?"

"Lets' see what we find out in town."  It was generally Doc's policy to be reticent about his surmises.  When the time came for them to need his knowledge, he would let his aides know what they needed to know.  If they didn't know all of his thoughts, they couldn't be forced to divulge information if they were captured.

Ham began humming a tune...a popular Broadway ditty about moonlight and sweet sentiments.  "Boy!" he chuckled between choruses, "Am I glad the Countess put the ol' Ape in his place!  He hasn't made a serious play for her yet!  Not that it would get him anywhere with a woman like that!  She's 'class' all the way!   If I can persuade her to look favorably on me...well, one could do worse than settling down here."

Doc cast a look at the dapper lawyer beside him.  Here was salvation!  Ham could keep the Countess busy if anyone could!  He had few fears that he would lose one of his group...Ham wasn't the 'settling down' type any more than Monk was.  This was perfect!  He glanced out the window and sighed as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders!

* * * * *

"C'mon over here, Johnny, I think I've found something!"  Monk's normally tiny voice was booming with excitement!  Monk's voice always became a whooping, thundering bellow when he became excited...or when he was fighting!  "Look!  You were right about the land type and the natural caves it should form,  'cause here's one...or I'm a monkey's uncle!"

"The latter is an indisputable certainty...the former, GAAAK!  What have you uncovered?  The gateway to Hell?"  A charnel fetor hung about the small cave opening.

"Yeah, the stink is pretty strong!  I wonder what's dead in there."  Monk took a few gulps of fresh air, held his breath and stuck his head and one of Doc's spring-run flashlight into the opening.  "Cripes!"  The exclamation exploded from him, forcing air out of his lungs.  His next breath nearly made him gag.  "There's a million stiffs in there!" he gasped, popping back out into the sunlight.

Johnny dug into a knapsack and produced compact self-contained breathing devices.  Usually these were used underwater...but they would be just as effective here.  Slapping one on and handing one to Monk, he climbed into the cavern.

Monk had exaggerated by several hundred thousand.  This was, however, on of the largest mass graves Johnny had ever seen.  He looked around carefully.  There were freshly dead bodies, all with their throats torn out!  There were older, moldering mummies with what appeared to be similar wounds.  There were piles of ancient bones in the dress of bygone years with gouges in the throat bones!

There were at least four or five hundred years worth of corpses here!  Centuries of fashions rotten on the cavern floor!   They were all the genuine swords, laces, leathers and fabrics of earlier eras!

A weird light came into Johnny's eyes.  He returned to the most intact of the bodies.  Examining the bodies thoroughly, he obviously found what he was looking for.  He motioned Monk to follow him outside.

"We've got to get back to the castle!  Doc's got to know about this!" Johnny gasped.

"Well, I admit it is spooky...but..."

"No!" Johnny was clearly agitated.  He was even foregoing the large words he had been torturing Monk with all afternoon.  "You don't understand!  If this is what I think it is...we're all in deadly danger here!"

"These guys didn't die of the PLAGUE, did they?" Monk gulped.

"The Plague?  Oh, Hell, no!  I wish it were that simple!"  Johnny was grim.  "I want to get back and take a look at the Countess's library, too.  She may have some books I need to shed some light on this..."

They gathered up their gear and started for the castle.

* * * * *

"Hey, shyster, where's Doc?"  Monk hailed Ham as he ambled into the library.  Monk was munching on an apple he'd appropriated in the kitchen.

"He'll be here in a minute...you know how he is..."  Doc would arrive in his own time...they all knew this.  "Actually, I'm glad for a bit of a break!"  The dapper lawyer dropped wearily into a chair.

The four friends gathered round Ham.  "What's up?" they queried.  There had been an odd note to Ham's statement.

"It's Doc...he's been like a bear with a sore behind all day!  I swear, I've never seen him like this!  Have you ever known Doc to be jumpy or irritable?"  They all shook their heads.  Doc never allowed his emotions to show.  He was always cool...always in control!

"Elucidate on the eventualities that precipitated this deviation from normalcy," Johnny said.

"Yeah," chimed in Monk, "What happened?"

"I don't know!" wailed Ham.  "Everything was fine when we started out from the castle...but by the time we got to town, whew!"

Monk scratched his nubbin of a head.  "What'd you talk about goin' in?"

"Nothing important...what we wanted to do in town...the countryside...aspects of the case we're on...the Countess..."

Monk smiled.  "Was it after you talked about the Countess that he got persnickety?"

"Come to think of it...it was!  By Jove!  I'll be he's upset about me leaving the group to settle down here with the Countess!"

"What?!"  Long Tom almost pounced on Ham.  "You know you'd never quit our group!"

Monk gave one bellow and sat down laughing uproariously.  He held his sides.  Tears streamed down his face.  He rolled around on the floor, whooping.  He couldn't stop laughing!

"No...no..." Monk chortled, "Oh...cripes...you...stupid, bumbling, conceited shyster...oh, my aching sides..."  He quieted a bit.  I bet you told Doc you were going to try to get the Countess to marry you...right?"

"Well, yes, but I don't see what that has to do..."

"Ha!  You're blind as a bat!  You'll need that cane to find your way across the street pretty soon!  Hoo, hoo, ha...Oh...Heehee...I saw this coming!  Hoo ha...I never thought it would actually happen...!"

"Will someone please tell me what he's babbling about?"  Ham was beginning to be concerned about Monk's sanity.  The others looked at each other and shrugged.

Monk wiped the tears from his eyes.  His chuckles finally subsided.  "Awright, you stupid fashion plate, I'll spell it out for you!  If you hadn't been so busy courtin' you'da seen what I saw.  Every time Doc's even looked at her, his eyes have gotten funny...kinda soft...and melty!"

"You don't mean..."

"Oh yes, I do!  He's in love with her!  He couldn't take his eyes off her last night at dinner!   And I heard him talking to himself in the hallway this morning.  Doc never talks to himself...OUT LOUD!  It's finally happened!  Ha!  Doc's in love!"

"Well..." murmured Johnny, "It's true that whenever she's present he get a bit nebulous..."

"Holy cow!" boomed Renny.  "What's gonna happen now?  I mean...how does this affect us?"

They sobered instantly.  Doc was the mainspring of their adventuring team.  Assuming what Monk said was true...would Doc give up adventuring for anonymity and safety for his family?   Well they knew that if Doc was really in love, that it would be no casual affair such as the one in which Monk and Ham occasionally embroiled themselves.

A dinner bell tinkled from the dining room.

"Anyone hungry?"  They all sat stunned, looking forlornly at each other.  No one moved towards the waiting dinner until Marda, the buxom housekeeper, bustled in and herded them before her.

General Tepesh was in his usual place, but when all were seated and being served, there were two conspicuous absentees.

The Countess Orlonda Aldea...and Doc Savage!

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.