There seemed to be a large room inside the lumber pile. The walls were built like those of a refrigerator—with an air space between inner and outer planking. No doubt the secret chamber was virtually soundproof.
A blood-curdling shriek rang inside the room. A body threshed. A gun exploded. Silence followed.
The man with the flashlight had felt the mighty hand of Doc Savage! He was now senseless on the floor.
The interior of the lumber pile held the quiet of a tomb of ancient Egypt. But a watch ticked somewhere in the black abyss. It ran rapidly. It sounded like a woman's watch.
"Doc!" called Ham's voice softly. "There was only four of them here."
"Then the roost is cleaned!" chuckled Doc. He lit a match.
Big Eric, Edna, Ham—all three were safe on the floor. Their arms were a bit purple because of the tight ropes that bound them. But such trifles could be soon forgotten.
"I thought we were as good as dead!" Big Eric muttered. "They were going to send us to their chief hide-out, the place they called the Castle of the Moccasin. There, the Gray Spider would have tried to force us to sign papers declaring we had suddenly decided to take a long vacation. Then we would have been killed, I suspect."
"The Castle of the Moccasin!" Doc said dryly. "The thing for us to do is to persuade our prisoners to tell us where the place is! We may be able to get the Gray Spider there!"
"I hate to hang crepe, Doc," Ham offered, "but you're out of luck!"
"None of these fellows know where the Castle of the Moccasin is, unless I'm mistaken. From their talk, I gathered that it is sort of sacred high temple of their voodoo cult. Only the high-muck-amucks are permitted to visit it. Regular barbarian taboo stuff."
"Why are you so sure, Ham?" Doc asked.
"Because I overheard a talk they were having. They didn't think we'd ever escape. There was no reason for them to deceive us."
"Then we'll have to fall back on my original plan," Doc said steadily.
He departed to turn the deadly high-voltage current off the barbed-wire fence, and to get his roadster.
He walked swiftly, for he was in a hurry to get back to New Orleans and place his four additional prisoners with the two in a drugged sleep in the hotel room. There would be six of them to go to his amazing criminal-reforming institution in up-State New York.
No doubt more than six would be resting in the room before this affair was settled. For Doc Savage had as yet hardly started to fight the Gray Spider!
Chapter VI. DEATH-END TRAIL
A GLORIUS dawn had seized upon New Orleans. Crowds hurried to work. In Canal Street, traffic boiled. The Walnut Street, Jackson Avenue, and Canal Street ferries carried a full load every time they crossed the Mississippi.
The business day was starting.
Doc had brought his friends and prisoners to town. Leaving the prisoners in the hotel room with the previously-captured men, Doc was back again in his roadster.
Wheeling the car along St. Charles Avenue, then turning right shortly after Julia Street, Doc stopped before the Danielsen & Haas building, and all got out.
The Danielsen & Haas building was one of great beauty. The masonry was gleaming white, with a modernistic scheme of ornamentation carried out in black stone. It looked like the conception some artist had formed of how buildings of the future would appear. It was not a skyscraper, reaching upward only ten stories.
A large number of people hurried in arid out.
"You seem to work quite a force," Ham suggested.
"More on the pay roll than we ever had," Big Eric replied proudly. "And I'm one lumberman who has not taken advantage of conditions to cut salaries."
They entered the lumber concern's offices.
"A note for Doc Savage," said the reception clerk. "The watchman claimed it was shoved under the front door some time during the night."
Doc took the note and opened it. Inside was a sheet of plain white paper.
The paper was perfectly blank—except for a thumb print. The thumb print was enormous. It looked big as a baby track.
Doc smiled slightly. He recognized the print easily. Its very size was enough. Doc doubted another man on earth had a hand as big as the one which had made the print.
It belonged to Colonel John Renwick, the one of his five friends and aids who was called Renny. A man noted all over the world for his feats of engineering—that was Renny. He was also famed as the man who had a playful habit of knocking panels out of the heaviest doors with his vast fists.
The strange message told Doc his four men—Renny, Monk, Long Tom, and Johnny—had arrived in New Orleans during the night. No doubt, they had flown by a slightly slower plane.
Big Eric now led the way to his private office. In striking contrast to the palatial air of the rest of the building, Big Eric's sanctum was no more ornate than that of a sawmill foreman. The rug was full of holes, so that one had to step high to keep from tripping. The desk was old, with the edges pitted where cigars had carelessly burned.
"I can't work in a joint where they put on a lot of dog," Big Eric apologized. "This is the equipment I started out with thirty years ago."
Adjoining, was an office the exact opposite of Big Eric's in fittings. It had the finest Oriental rugs on the floor. The desk must have cost more than a sawmill jacket-feeder would make in a year. A complete bar with refrigerating and mixing machines occupied a corner. Pictures of young women—obviously chorus cuties—were about.
"The office of Horace Haas, my junior partner," explained Big Eric. Then, realizing the place hardly looked like a business office, he added defensively, "Horace Haas may not be a crack business man, but he furnished the capital for my start in life!"
At this point, a shrill, whanging voice said, "Could I have a word with you, Mr. Danielsen?"
Big Eric turned. "Oh, it's Silas Bunnywell, one of the bookkeepers."
SILAS BUNNEYWELL was a typical movie bookkeeper. He was tall, but his upper body was hunched as though he had sat on a stool all his life. His face was shrunken. He had a little pot belly, but the rest of him was too thin. His hair was white as a cottontail rabbit's tail.
He wore a shiny blue suit. His glasses were the sort Edna Danielsen had expected Doc Savage to be wearing. The lenses were like bottle bottoms.
"What is it, Bunnywell?" inquired Big Eric.
Old Bunnywell kneaded his hands together nervously. He seemed reluctant to talk.
"It is rather private," he muttered. "If I could see you alone—"
"Shoot!" Big Eric commanded. He waved an arm at Doc, Ham and Edna. "Ain't nothin' too private for these folks to hear."
"I'd rather only you—"
"C'mon, c'mon, Bunnywell!" rumbled the massive lumberman. "Talk up!"
"It's about Horace Haas," Bunnywell whined. "I loaned him five hundred dollars some time ago. He promised to pay it back within ten days. But when I ask him for it, he just laughs me off. I wonder—I wonder if you would speak to him. Five hundred dollars may not seem to you like much, but it is a large sum to me. I worked very hard to save it"
Big Eric cleared his throat noisily. He scowled. It was plain that he was disgusted with his business partner. He drew a large wallet from his pocket and extracted several bills.
"Here's your five hundred!" he boomed. "I'll collect it from Horace Haas!"