The Avenger 33 - The Blood Countess (9 page)

BOOK: The Avenger 33 - The Blood Countess
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“I didn’t realize that. Means she didn’t tell Richard much.”

“Not yet, no.”

“Still, wouldn’t it be simpler for the Nazi blokes to change their plan, since they seem to know that she knows?”

“From what I can tell, they’ve spent considerable time and a great amount of money to establish this particular escape corridor. To them, killing one girl is much easier and much cheaper than an entire new plan.”

“Even so— Hey!”

The flashlight had gone out.

Cole was in total darkness, still a hundred feet above the ground. “Miss Mowler?”

No answer.

Cole was searching his pockets for matches when two strong hands pushed him hard in the chest.

CHAPTER XVIII
Dropping In

The wind shook rain from the tree branches and tossed it directly down Smitty’s collar. “I’m thinking about all them posters I used to see in travel-agency windows before the war,” he said. “They always showed Panazuela as being full of sunshine and dames with bananas in their hats.”

MacMurdie, oblivious to the weather, was watching the small black box he clutched in his hand. “This Bulcão lad is leading us a merry chase. I feel like a fox-hunting laird.”

“I feel like a shower-room floor.”

They were working their way, afoot, through the night forest. When Mac had got hold of the fleeing Bulcão back at the warehouse, he’d attached a tiny tracking bug to the man’s clothes. The box he held in his hand, an invention of Smitty’s, was picking up the bug’s signal and leading them straight to Bulcão.

“What could that skurlie be bound for?”

“Ain’t there supposed to be some kind of junked temple out in these parts?”

“Aye, I’d forgotten that.”

“Maybe the local Nazis hang out there.”

MacMurdie consulted the box again. “We’re getting closer, which means Bulcão has stopped.”

Lightning crackled up ahead, and thunder boomed.

“Look at that!” said the giant. “Must be the temple ruins.”

“Could nae be anything else,” said MacMurdie after his brief glimpse of the standing remains of the once vast stone building. “ ’Tis a safe bet our lad is within.”

“Kind of spooky, ain’t it?” said the giant, rubbing at the back of his damp neck. “I get a funny feeling when I’m around some real old joint like this temple. I mean, these guys built it, and they strutted around inside. They must have figured they were hot stuff. And now it’s all gone, it’s just a pile of rock with the weeds growing all around.”

“Hout, ye’ve the soul of a poet, Smitty,” said the Scot. “ ‘They say the lion and the lizard keep the courts where Jamshyd gloried and drank deep: And Bahram, that great hunter—the wild ass stamps o’er his head, but cannot break his sleep.’ ”

“Huh? What the heck is that?”

“ ’Tis poetry,” replied MacMurdie. “Penned by an English lad who was no a bad poet, though nae as good as Bobby Burns.”

Shaking his head, Smitty said, “This place is spookier than I figured, if it’s got you spouting poetry.”

After a further consultation of the black box, Mac said, “ ’Twould seem certain he’s in the temple, though I’ve a feeling he didn’t go in by them steps we saw out front.”

The giant bent to squint at the box’s dials. “Naw, he used an entrance on the south side of the joint.”

They altered their course so they would approach the ruined temple from the south.

Lightning came sizzling down through the sky. The stones of the temple were lit up once more. The rain fell more heavily, smashing at the crumbled walls.

Smitty mopped his neck with a paw. “I bet Cole’s sitting around in front of a fireplace drinking highballs with some terrific-looking dame right this minute. That guy’s got luck like—”

“Quiet a moment,” warned Mac, stopping beside a tree.

“What is it?” whispered Smitty.

More lightning flashed.

“Aye, I thought so. There’s a narrow doorway in the side of the wall we’re approaching. I thought I saw some kind of movement there when the lightning struck before.”

“I saw the door, but nobody moving around.”

“Nay, I dinna see anything myself this time,” said Mac in a low voice. “Which mot mean Bulcão just went in by way of that door.”

“Shall we follow suit?”

“Best to wait a bit.”

Smitty stood silent for a moment, pelted by the rain. Finally he asked, “Where’d you learn all that poetry stuff, Mac?”

“Mon, I went to a university, did I not? And in those days a liberal education was just that.”

“I always figured poems was more in Cole’s line.”

“Whoosh.”

Smitty shifted from foot to foot. “Wonder if Nellie goes for that stuff. I guess dames kind of like hearts and flowers and—”

“ ’Tis safe to go a mite closer.”

They moved through the rainswept jungle to its very edge, which put them about a hundred feet from the doorway that Bulcão might have used.

An obliging flash of lightning lit up the doorway and part of the stone corridor within. There was no sign of anyone standing there.

MacMurdie tapped Smitty’s arm and nodded at the temple. He went jogging across the brush-covered ground toward it.

Smitty went trotting after.

MacMurdie, alert, was crouched on the threshold. He took one step inside, listening. Then he beckoned Smitty to follow.

The two men started down the stone corridor.

After a dozen steps, Smitty said, “Think we can risk a light?”

“Not yet,” said Mac. “We’ll feel our way along a bit further.”

Another dozen steps, and the floor suddenly opened beneath them. They both went plummeting down into deeper darkness.

CHAPTER XIX
Awakening

He was awake.

That was something he had not been for a long time. He had no idea how long he’d slept.

Moving his right hand, an initially painful thing to do, he touched his face. The beginnings of a beard.

That meant several days. Several days he’d been here. Wherever here was.

“Not as bad as Rip Van Winkle’s nap, anyway,” the Avenger said to himself.

He was lying on his back on the floor, a scattering of straw under him, in a completely dark room.

“Let’s see if we can sit up.”

Pushing hard off the floor with both hands, he managed to get up into a sitting position.

“Oh, boy,” he said. His head was spinning; flecks of light seemed to dot the blackness that surrounded him.

His arms, now that he was more aware of himself, ached. Needles had been used on him; he’d been given a good many injections.

“Must have been feeding me intravenously, too.”

What Dick Benson didn’t know at that moment was that the unexpected arrival of Cole Wilson at the castle had forced Erika Mowler to postpone her usual evening visit to him. The delay of that visit and the shot she had meant to give him resulted in the Avenger’s awakening.

“This must be somewhere in the temple,” he told himself.

That was his last clear memory. He’d entered the temple in pursuit of the cloaked figure. Then he’d fallen through a trapdoor in the corridor.

He been knocked unconscious when he hit.

Nothing else from then to now.

“Well, do you feel like making a try at standing up?” he asked himself.

He was sore and stiff in all his joints, and his legs felt numb.

But he got to his feet. He swayed for a moment, seeing again those dots of light that were like hundreds of ghostly butterflies flickering in the air.

The Avenger had exceptional resiliency. He began to snap back from all that had been done to him. He was not quite himself, but he was getting there.

With careful steps he began to walk, to explore the darkness. “Let’s not fall into another hole.”

Ten paces brought him to a wall. Rough stone. With his hand against it he began to pace around his dark prison.

The stone room was nearly square. It took ten paces to cover the length of each wall. That meant about thirty feet for the dimension of each one.

He had not felt, as his fingers brushed along the stone blocks, any indication of a door or an opening.

“Has to be a way out,” he said, “since there’s a way in.”

Hands on hips, he craned his neck to look up toward the ceiling. He could see nothing, but he got the feeling the top of his cell was quite a way up.

“This could be,” the Avenger reflected, “the same room I fell into originally. In which case we know there’s an opening up above someplace.”

He pressed his palm against the rock wall once more and began a slower circuit of the room.

“Got to be another door, though. My medical attendant can’t be coming down through the roof every time he gives me a shot.”

There was a little wider crack than usual between two blocks of stone. Benson traced it with his finger, then tried to wedge the finger in deeper. The stones did not budge.

He bent, getting momentarily dizzy again, and felt at his lower leg. At the place where he kept his knife strapped. It was gone, as was his .22 pistol.

Bending further, the Avenger took hold of the heel of his right shoe and twisted. With a faint click the heel swung aside. The hollow heel held, among other things, a lockpick. He removed it, and a few other items, and snapped the heel back into place.

Inserting the pick into the crack, he twisted it back and forth. One of the stone blocks seemed to move a fraction. Benson ran the pick down the crack. It was present between several of the blocks, all the way to the floor.

“This must be their door,” he decided. “The thing is, how to get it open from this side.”

He felt the stones, probed with the lockpick, and found another wider crack about three feet from the first one. This was definitely the door, then. But there seemed to be no way to open it from this side at all.

Benson felt the things he’d removed from his heel compartment. He located a pellet that contained an extremely powerful explosive charge.

“But is it going to be strong enough to knock down a stone wall?”

He was still thinking about that when the trap in the ceiling snapped open and Smitty and Mac came tumbling down.

CHAPTER XX
Walking Through Walls

In the darkness Cole jumped. The candle bracket was where he thought it was on the stone wall. Catching hold of it, he swung up and out of the way before Erika could try another shove.

The girl stumbled and gasped, feet sliding on the steps. “I . . . I’m going to fall!”

Cole stayed where he was, hanging from the bracket. His chivalrous instincts prompted him to come to the girl’s aid, but since he no longer trusted Erika, he stayed where he was.

The flashlight, suddenly blazing back on, caught him at the end of its beam.

There was a gun in the blond girl’s hand, pointed at Cole.

He had drawn his pistol while dangling by one hand in the dark. “Sorry you find me in this awkward position, Miss Mowler,” he said. “However, you’ll note I have you covered in much the same way you have me covered. Which results in what is commonly known as a standoff.”

“You clown!” She threw the flashlight at him.

It smashed against the stone wall above his head, and the light died.

Erika ran upstairs for the door. She yanked it open, dived into the hall, and slammed the door.

Cole, having to be cautious in the dark, went up the stairs somewhat more slowly than the girl had. “You should have been suspicious once you saw these stairs, Wilson,” he told himself as he felt his way upward. “Don’t you remember they tried to do the same thing to Freddie Bartholomew in a movie once?”

He found the doorknob, turned it, and pushed the door open. Nobody shot in at him. He waited a few seconds longer and then stepped into the hallway.

There was a girl standing ten feet away, but it wasn’t Erika.

Cole holstered his pistol. “Miss Bentin?”

Elizabeth nodded, puzzled. “Yes, but I don’t—”

“I’m Cole Wilson, friend of Dick Benson,” he said. “Have you seen Miss Mowler?”

“Yes . . . but I don’t understand what’s going on. She ran along the hall . . . and then she stepped through the wall.”

Cole approached the pretty, dark-haired girl. “Walked through it? Like a spook, or through a secret door?”

“Oh, there was nothing magical about it, Mr. Wilson,” said Elizabeth, gesturing at the wall. “A section of the wall right here swung open. There are a good many hidden passages in this old castle. But what was Erika—”

“She was running away from me,” explained Cole. “After an unsuccessful attempt to kill me.”

“My God . . . Erika wouldn’t . . .” She stopped talking for a moment and shook her head. “Yes, I guess she would, the way she looked when I happened down here. And she was carrying a gun.”

“Did you notice how she opened the wall?”

“No, it was already opening as I came downstairs.”

This wall was papered with an autumnal-patterned paper. Looking closely at the paper, Cole spotted the thin lines that outlined the concealed door. There was a lamp mounted on the wall and a framed oil painting of a whiskered man riding a white horse.

“Well, I’ll have to put the full thrust of my deductive powers to work. Or is it inductive powers I have?” He rapped on the wall with his knuckles. “Yep, hollow.”

“But . . . what reason . . . why did she try to kill you?”

He took hold of the glass pendant dangling from the wall lamp and tugged it. Nothing happened. “It’s been my experience, Miss Bentin, that most people who try to do me in—except for an occasional fanatic who doesn’t appreciate my puckish sense of humor—most of them want to do it because I’m a member of Justice, Inc.”

“Erika’s been taking care of me, she helped me get out of Europe.”

“Made a good cover for her, didn’t it?” He tried twisting the base of the lamp. Which brought no results.

“You mean . . . Yes, I guess that would make sense. Erika’s one of them.”

“The world isn’t in very good shape right now. Unfortunately, people who aren’t one of
us
often turn out to be one of
them.”
He lifted the painting off its hook to feel the wall beneath it. He pulled at the the hook. The wall stayed closed.

“If Erika is a German agent,” said the girl, “she must have done something to Dick.”

BOOK: The Avenger 33 - The Blood Countess
3.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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