CHAPTER 7: The Deadly Trap

The day had been a difficult one.  True, Doc had learned some interesting things at the town morgue...but the undisguised tension between him and Ham was something he had to resolve!

His small group functioned well because they were all compatible and understanding personalities; Monk's and Ham's interminable quarrel notwithstanding.  There was rarely any disagreements between the men...and never any between them and Doc!

Doc had quietly slipped away for some soul-searching as soon as he and Ham had returned to the castle.  Since Doc often went off on his own, his men would think nothing of this.

Doc had sought the loneliest and most secluded part of the castle compound...a small flower garden near the sheer cliffs at the rear of the edifice.  Dinner time was at hand and he naturally assumed he'd have the place to himself.  His men, he knew, would make excuses to the Countess for his absence.

He sat on a shrub-enclosed marble garden seat and watched the cool evening air condense a light, wispy ground-fog.  He was thinking about the day.  Boy!  Had he messed up!  Why had he snapped at Ham today?  Ham was going to save Doc's skin...wasn't he?

A slight movement in the lower garden caught his eye.  A figure was moving through the mist.  It dipped and wove like some exotic butterfly...moving from one bush to another.  There was something familiar about it.  The figure spun nearer to Doc's place of concealment.

It was the Countess!  Thinking herself unobserved, she had cast away the dignities of her title and had become instead a light-hearted young girl...out gathering flowers.

Doc watched, enchanted!  Here was a whole side to the Countess that, he was sure, few people knew about!  She spun, her skirts forming a dark cloud about her, and hugged the long-stemmed roses to her.  She wooed the night, obviously reveling in the way the rising moon transformed dew-covered shrubs into diamond-spangled shadows.  A lone wolf howled on a far hillside.  She smiled and did a fairly credible job of returning the howl.  She was one with her land and all of its inhabitants.

Doc lowered his head to his hands.  Best not to allow himself to be tempted into an indiscretion by this stolen glance into her private faerie world.

"Get out of here!" his guardian conscience commanded.  "It's just possible she will come this way...and find you here!"

Still, he didn't move.  Was part of him hoping against hope that she would find him?  Did he, in truth, want a confrontation?  Did he really want to find out why she kept...walking away from him?!

"Run!  Go!  Get out!"

"Shut up!"

His heart was racing!  He couldn't think straight!  He looked over the encircling hedges.  She was gone!  Returned to the house for dinner, he guessed.  His heart slowed, his body relaxed.  He was aware of a feeling of disappointment.  He HAD wanted to speak with her.  He was also aware of a feeling of relief. 

"Not yet..." his mind said, "You're not ready for this!"

"Will I ever be ready?  Is anyone ever READY for this kind of thing?"

He was still sitting there, deep in thought, when a voice startled him out of his reverie.

"Dr. Savage, are you quite all right?"

He jumped!  He hadn't even heard her approaching!  That was impossible!  The night was so silent he could hear dew dropping off the leaves of the bushes!  

"Madame..." He started to rise.

She waved him back to his seat and proceeded to sedately gather roses from the nearby bushes.  "How is your investigation proceeding, sir?"

"To tell the truth," he admitted, "I really came out here to think over some of the aspects of it."

"And I have interrupted that thought process!"  She was genuinely disturbed...as far as Doc could ascertain.  "I had thought when first I noticed you here that you had come out, as I often do, to enjoy the evening beauty of the garden.  On closer inspection, you appeared to be either troubled or ill...I am glad I was wrong.  I shall leave you to your meditations on my people's behalf.  Good evening Herr Docktor."

She turned and began walking towards the castle.  He watched her moving away...and had not the courage to tell her to stop.

"Ahhh," he whispered to himself in Mayan, "Would that I were not who and what I am!  Then I could say...Stop!  Don't go..."

She halted, turned and retraced her steps until she stood once again before him.

"And, if you could say...stop, don't go...WOULD you say it?"  The Mayan speech had never sounded so sweet.  She spoke a much purer dialect than the one he had learned.

"Yes..."  He rose to meet her this time.  "Where did you learn the ancient Mayan language?"

"I have traveled to many places, and know many languages.  Some of them are old and no longer in use, Dr. Savage."

"Please call me 'Doc'," he smiled.  "Everyone does..."

"I am not...everyone!  I would prefer to call you...Clark...if I may."

He closed his eyes and breathed deeply.  Inadvertently, she had touched a heartstring.  Only his beloved father and the equally beloved and revered tutors of his childhood had ever addressed him by this name.  To the rest of the world...even his five associates...he was 'Doc'.  Remembrance of the loss of the elder Savage to Central American assassins would always be painful to him.  "If you wish..."  He looked up to see her watching him with softly concerned eyes.

She glanced down at the roses in her arms, selected one and held it out to him.  "There are many things that I wish...and some of them can never be...can they?"

He took the rose and twirled it gently.  "In my country," he murmured, "A single red rose has much meaning..."

"Yes, I know...most of your customs originated here, in Europe."

His hand tightened on the stem of the flower.  He was completely unaware of the tiny trickle of blood that seeped from his closed fist.

Not so, the Countess!  Her eyes widened.  She cast down the armful of roses and reached out to take his hand.  She gently pried open his fingers to reveal a nasty gouge opened by one of the thorns.  Her voice was stricken!  "Ahh...my country has wounded you already!"

Before Doc could move, she bent her head...and kissed the blood from his palm!

At the touch of her lips and the tiny caress of her tongue across the would, Doc's head reeled!  He fought for equilibrium for a moment...and realized he had already lost the battle.   His mental defenses...the lifelong protectors of his heart...had crumbled!  All his vows of celibacy vanished!  His promises to himself and his men were voided by one gentle touch!   His capitulation was complete!   Some mystic bond between them had formed...and she owned him now, body and soul!  He did not understand it...but he knew it was so!

Reality blurred around him as a tiny voice far away whispered "Danger..."

"Countess..."

"Orlonda."

"Orlonda...I...have many enemies who would strike at me through any woman I...loved..."  He knew he was making a royal mess of this!  "I cannot subject anyone to that kind of life, especially not y..."

Cool lips halted his protestations in mid-sentence.  Doc had been kissed before, but not like this -- never like this!!

He pulled her to him, burying his face in the fragrant masses of raven hair.  "I never had a chance, did I?" he murmured.

"No..." she whispered, snuggling into the warmth of his arms, "Nor did I.  What are you -- a great sorcerer -- that you can enslave me like this?  Never did I think to meet a man who could do this to me!  I have not been mistress of my own heart since first I heard your voice!"

"The phone call..." Doc said.  "Yes, that's when it must have started!  But...you were always so cool...aloof..."

She smiled a small, secret smile.   "As were you..."

He tilted her head back and was once again lost in the midnight pools of her eyes.  "Not fair...using my own tricks on me..." he murmured as his lips sought hers.

* * * * *

"I wonder where Doc is."  It had been Monk's constant worry through dinner. 

"I wonder where the Countess is," were General Tepesh's rather disturbed sentiments.  Rarely, he had said, did the Countess miss presiding over her table.  She always had guests of some sort at evening meal.  Sometimes they were dignitaries...sometimes merely villagers.  He ventured to point out that every single person in her fiefdom had, at one time or another, been a guest at the Countessa's table.  Her people loved her for these common touches as well as for her leadership.

"She seems rarely to eat anything herself, but she never misses presiding at dinner," the General observed.  "I do not understand where she could be!"

Marda, the housekeeper, could offer no enlightenment, nor could any of the maids.

"Gosh, I hope she ain't been kidnapped or anything by those spies!"  Monk's thoughts swung away from Doc's absence.  Doc -- wherever he was -- could take care of himself, Monk was sure!  Monk would never have imagined how wrong he was!

"They wouldn't dare!"  Conviction roared in Tepesh's voice.  "She must be somewhere about the castle...she rarely leaves it."

"O.K." said Monk, "You guys enjoy dessert while I reconnoiter.  I aint' hungry any more."

"Hmmmmm, I perceive that it is an opportune moment to return to my perusal of the enigmatic and enlightening tomes," Johnny said.  He left the dining room with Monk.

They ambled toward the library.  "Say, Monk, do you think it's significant that both Doc and the Countess were missing from dinner?"

"Dunno, Johnny."  Monk screwed up his eyebrows in thought.  "I always been of the opinion that if Doc ever found himself in trouble -- uhh, heart-wise, if you get my drift -- that he'd run like Hell!"

"Could she have cornered him?"

"Well, she aint' showed any interest in him, so far...which is pretty unusual in itself, I guess!  She's an awful lot like Doc...maybe she's no more interested in men than Doc has been in women!  Did you find anything in those books you were reading earlier?"

"Some...I hope to find more...wait...what's this?"

A low murmur of voices from the library stopped them in their tracks.  They peered through the crack made by the slightly open door.

It was Doc and the Countess.  They were standing by the fireplace, talking...just low enough and far enough away that Johnny and Monk could not make out the words.  As they watched, Doc reached out and gathered her into his arms.  The look of unrestrained love and joy on his face brought tears to his aide's eyes.  They backed slowly and silently away from the door.

"Ohboyohboyohboy!" Monk chortled.  "I don't care what happens now...!  IF she can make him that happy...WOW!"  He turned and sprinted for the dining room.

"Ha!  You overdressed shyster!  I was right!  You might just as well pack it in...'cause Doc's in love with the lady...and it sure looks like she's in love with him!"  He told them what he and Johnny had just seen.  The information precipitated a stampede down the hall.

Johnny stood athwart the hall.  He hadn't been quick enough to stop Monk, but they would go no further than this!

"That's it!"  He stopped the stampede in mid-hallway.  "Leave 'em alone...they deserve some privacy!"  He eyed Monk with a withering glare.  "Blabbermouth!" he hissed.

A door swung open behind Johnny.  They all stood staring, open-mouthed with amazement at what happened next!

Doc emerged from the library with the Countess in his arms.  It was doubtful if he even noticed them standing there!  His eyes were for her alone, as were hers for him.  He swept across the foyer and up the stairs, disappearing into he darkness.

His men stared at each other and grinned.  Ham turned to the General, bowed and smiled.  "Sorry, old chap, looks like we both lose!" he said.

"We shall see about that!"  The General's voice was ice and the look he sent up the stairs was pure death!  He stomped out the front door.

"There goes one unhappy fellow," observed Long Tom.

"Yeah," snickered Monk.  "And there," he jerked a thumb towards the stair, "went one HAPPY fella!"

They all smiled and retired to the library for the remainder of the evening to discuss the situation.

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.