The Avenger 23 - The Wilder Curse (7 page)

BOOK: The Avenger 23 - The Wilder Curse
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Smitty’s car shrieked to a stop in front of the Foley residence just a minute after The Avenger got there. The first thing the two noticed, of course, was the car in which Mac and Cole had come here earlier.

It was sitting at the curb in front of the Foley place just as the two had left it. Just on a wild chance, Smitty went over the interior swiftly to see if a note had been somehow left before Cole and Mac were spirited away.

There was no note.

“Looks bad,” said Smitty.

Dick nodded. Then he went rapidly to the Foley door and pressed the bell. The door was opened by a very good-looking young fellow with hair almost as blond as Nellie’s.

“Were a Mr. MacMurdie and a Mr. Wilson here awhile ago?” The Avenger asked.

“Yes,” said the young fellow, looking annoyed. “They were. About my uncle’s death. They were going to take me with them while they investigated it, but they went off and left me while I was making a phone call—”

He stopped and looked intently at The Avenger, taking in his close-cropped, virile black hair, his masklike face and pale, deadly eyes.

“You’re Dick Benson!” the young fellow said breathlessly. “Say, this
is
an honor! I’ll ask you what I asked your two aides: Can I help nail my uncle’s murderer? I’m Clarence Beck, Foley’s nephew,” he added, all in a lump.

“When did MacMurdie and Wilson leave here?” asked Benson.

“Ten-twenty,” said Beck.

“You mean—about ten-twenty?”

“No. I mean ten-twenty. On the nose. I remember, because the first time I tried to call my number it was busy and I looked at the clock to try again in just two minutes. It was ten-twenty.”

“Then they managed to tap the SOS twelve minutes after they left here,” remarked Smitty.

“What’s this?” Beck picked it up sharply. He might seem too young for his years, rather impulsive, but he had a head on him. “SOS? Managed? That sounds like they’re in some sort of trouble—”

At just this moment, there was a commotion next door.

Smitty and Beck and Benson had been standing on the Foley doorstep. The door of the next house swung open and a woman came out. She had on a coat, unbuttoned, and had her hat in her hand. She had, evidently, just entered her house and was now flying out again.

“Help! Police!” she began shrilling. “Thieves!”

Hardly seeming to move, The Avenger was beside her.

“What is wrong?”

“Robbers!” yelled the woman. “I went out to the corner for a headache remedy. While I was gone, robbers came. In a moving van, my maid says. And my maid let them walk out with half a dozen chairs and my piano. A piano—in broad daylight! Help! Thieves!”

Smitty looked at Benson.

“There we go,” the big fellow said. “They took them away in that van. Drove up here just to do it, and had the crust actually to cart off some furniture to make the act look right.”

“Sure!” chirped Beck. “All we have to do is locate that van.”

He was moving as he spoke, moving with The Avenger and Smitty. When they got into their car, Beck climbed in, too. Smitty looked at Benson with one eyebrow up, but The Avenger didn’t say anything. He seemed willing to have Clarence Beck along.

“My gosh, you’re big!” Beck said to Smitty.

“Oh, quite!” growled the giant, wondering unhappily what was happening to Mac and Cole. And, above all,
why
it was happening. How had the snatchers known that the two were at Foley’s place, and who was behind them? Who was so anxious to keep Justice, Inc. out of this murder investigation that an attempt had been made on Dick’s life last night and that two of its members had been kidnaped this morning?

Following the cold trail of that van in which Mac and Cole were prisoners presented no problem at all for a few blocks for the simple reason that this was a one-way street. Anyone driving a thing as conspicuous as a moving van, with a couple of kidnaped victims in it, would be careful to live up to the rules so as not to draw police attention.

The Avenger went down the street. It ended in a big north-and-south avenue, in the heart of Thornton Heights. The name of this central avenue of the subdivision was Wilder Avenue.

Here, you could go two ways, and Dick Benson paused. He stopped beside a newsstand. The boy there, a sharp-eyed youngster of about fourteen, came promptly to the car, scenting a customer. Then he saw who was at the wheel, and his eyes got big.

He knew The Avenger, all right. Every newsie for miles around the big city knew him. In fact, they were all banded into a sort of informal young army, taking orders from The Avenger; and, many times, their sharp eyes and habits of observance had helped Justice, Inc.

The boy snapped to attention.

“Orders?” he said eagerly.

Benson’s masklike face almost relaxed in a smile. He had a tremendous sympathy for these kids, and a respect for them, too.

“No orders,” he said, voice more human than usual. “Did you see a moving van turn this corner within the past hour?”

“Yes, sir,” said the boy.

“Can you give a description?”

“Yes, sir. It was pretty big, but not as big as some of the new, special jobs. Dull-red, as if it was about five years old and hadn’t been painted. It was going kind of fast for a van. When the driver went around the corner he rode up over the curb as if he wasn’t used to wheeling such big jobs. That’s how I happened to notice it.”

“Good work,” said Benson. “Which way did it go?”

“North,” said the boy.

The Avenger put his hand out to shake the boy’s, which was far more reward for the kid than the folded bill that was left in his fingers.

“Swell work,” bubbled Clarence Beck enthusiastically. “I didn’t think you could get to first base following a van after so much time had elapsed. Of course, you won’t get any farther on its trail than this, but it’s wonderful you’ve tracked it even this far. You’d be a swell guy to have on the home team’s side—and a bad one to have for an enemy.”

Smitty glared at him. The big fellow was chewing his lips. He rather agreed with Beck about its being impossible to follow such a cold scent much farther. But he didn’t want to put it into words.

Then the trail extended itself a few more steps, due to the ingenuity of the two men somewhere ahead in that van.

There was a corner drugstore. Around the front of this a dozen people were standing, trying to look in the window. There was a cop at the door.

The Avenger stopped and got out. The patrolman was as quick as the newsboy to recognize the masklike face and the pale, cold eyes. He said, “Mr. Benson! You wanta go in the store?”

“What’s in there?” said Benson evenly. “What’s the excitement about?”

“Fella fainted,” said the patrolman. “Anyhow, I thought he’d fainted when I carried him in here, a while ago. He keeled over on the street, half a block ahead of me, and I ran and got him. But the druggist says it ain’t a regular fainting spell. He says it looks to him as if the man was drugged. Or maybe gassed.”

The cop scratched his jaw reflectively.

“I think maybe the druggist is right,” he added. “When I picked the guy up and started away with him, I felt a little wobbly for a minute, as if I’d whiffed something. But when I went back, I didn’t. Guess the stuff floated away.”

“Thanks,” said Benson.

He got back in the car and resumed the northward trip.

Smitty had heard the talk, and knew as well as Benson why that man had “fainted.”

“Mac!” he said.

The Avenger nodded and put on speed. The trail was not so cold now. Beck stared at both, mystified.

CHAPTER VII
Trail of Slumber

There was no mystery to it. Fergus MacMurdie, one of the world’s top-ranking chemists, had devised many concoctions for crime fighting. The chemical to nullify effects of gas, used by The Avenger’s aides to saturate their coat lapels and handkerchiefs, was one of them.

A special anesthetic gas was another.

Mac turned out little, fragile pellets, filled with a volatile liquid which would put a man to sleep in a few seconds when it was exploded near him. He always carried some, and he was surreptitiously dropping one out of a crack in the van every now and then to try to leave a trail.

A trail of sleeping people.

It was a rather bizarre sort of trail to leave behind, but it worked.

Twelve blocks farther on, Benson and Smitty and Beck saw another little crowd. This one was on the sidewalk, and a man with a small black bag was kneeling beside a prone figure. The crowd looked alarmed. They had no way of knowing, of course, that the gas was harmless. They didn’t even know it was a gas that was responsible.

About a mile along, there was a third knot of people, at a corner, and a commotion to the left, down that street.

The big car followed the eerie trail left and then right, up a big boulevard. Mac was sure smart, Smitty thought admiringly. But then, suddenly, the big fellow saw a hole in the beautiful theory. A great big hole.

“Hey!” he exclaimed. “I don’t think it’s Mac that’s leaving this trail for us!”

The Avenger said nothing. Under his deft hands the big car was streaking through red lights and around traffic jams, inexorably lessening the lead between it and the still unseen moving van.

“If Mac could get at his gas pills,” Smitty argued, “he could just drop a couple in the truck and knock out whoever’s holding him and Cole prisoners. Then he could cut a way out of the van. He wouldn’t just drop them out a crack in the van. Anyhow, there aren’t usually cracks in moving vans big enough for those pellets. They’re as big as small marbles.”

The giant began chewing his lips again.

“Looks to me as if the guys that got Mac and Cole found those pills and guessed what they were. Looks to me as if
they
are dropping them out, every so often. In fact, it looks as if we’re going straight into a trap!”

“So it does,” said The Avenger calmly.

Young Beck suddenly chattered in excitement.

“You mean to say you think we’re heading into danger? And you just keep right on? You don’t stop to take any precautions about it?”

Benson didn’t say anything. He didn’t bother to explain his fundamental rule about such things: If someone sets a trap for you, walk right into it. You usually learn things in traps.

The big car fled through a park. Two blocks past that, Beck said suddenly, “There’s a van! Would that be ours?”

The Avenger’s pale eyes flicked sideways down the small street indicated. Smitty stared tensely.

There was a huge, dull-red bulk waddling slowly down that street like a fat lady in a narrow movie aisle.

“We’ll see,” said Benson calmly.

He rounded the next corner, made a second right turn, and stopped the car just short of the end of this parallel block. The three got out, with Clarence Beck fairly simmering with excitement.

“Calm down!” snapped Smitty. “If there is trouble, and if you pull some dumb play, I’ll slap you one.”

He still wondered why The Avenger had allowed this feather-headed blond guy to come with them. He seemed to Smitty to be a first-class liability.

At the corner, they just caught a glimpse of the huge van trundling into a garage entrance that seemed to have to swell to swallow the thing. Then they saw a corrugated-sheet-steel door lowered over it, cutting off the garage from the sidewalk.

“End of the line,” said Beck eagerly. “Oh, boy, give me a smack at some of these guys! I’ll bet they’re part of the gang that killed Uncle Carl.”

“How do you know it was a ‘gang’?” The Avenger said. “It might have been one man who killed him. Or even an animal, from the description of the body.”

Beck didn’t turn a hair. “It’s always a gang that kills,” he said. “Give me a gun!”

“You’re not going in there,” was Dick’s even reply. “You will stay outside. If Smitty and I aren’t out with our two friends inside of ten minutes, you will get in touch with the police.”

“Aw—”

The colorless, glacial eyes rested on Beck’s face for just an instant.

The young fellow said no more.

Smitty and The Avenger looked over the roof line of the half block of buildings between the corner and the garage. The roofs were on a level, three stories above the ground, till the garage was reached. There, they dropped to a story and a half, where the garage’s humped low roof occurred.

The two went up to the roof of the corner building, leaving Clarence Beck standing disconsolately in a corner doorway. Then they went across roofs and dropped to the roof of the garage, by lowering themselves on a thin silk line The Avenger unwound from around his waist.

There was a trapdoor in the rear corner of the roof, near where they softly landed. The Avenger went to this, and listened a moment. He silently lifted it, revealing a steel ladder.

He started down that.

Smitty followed. But the giant was about as disturbed as he ever got. He didn’t like this at all. In the first place, he was sure this was a trap. And, if so, announcement of their coming would be as plain as if announced by bugle calls.

It was a bright day, and the opening of that trapdoor would throw a square of light down onto the darker floor that could be seen by anyone in the place.

BOOK: The Avenger 23 - The Wilder Curse
7.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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