Long Tom nodded. "I presume it would be best to first tap the lines to the companies we know are in the power of the Gray Spider. Worldwide Sawmills, Bayou Sash & Door, and so on."
"That's the idea."
It was to Johnny that Doc's gaze now came. The gaunt, half-starved geologist and archaeologist grinned boyishly.
"What is my part in this quest of the Gray Spider?" he asked.
"It's the toughest job of all, Johnny," Doc told him seriously. "I'd tackle it myself, except that the Gray Spider has my description. You are the only other man fitted for the job, thanks to your knowledge of savage peoples and their religious beliefs and superstitions."
"Meaning?" Johnny inquired.
"That you are to enter the swamps as a high priest of voodoo!" Doc replied.
JOHNNY nodded eagerly. "That is right up my alley! I made an extensive study of voodooism in the southern United States, Haiti and Africa."
"This is highly dangerous!" Doc warned.
Johnny sobered instantly. "I know it! But I can handle the job!"
"How is your command of the gibberish these swamp men speak?"
"Only fair," Johnny admitted. "But it will get by. I speak the French patois of Haiti fluently. I will pretend to be a high priest of voodoo from another country."
"O.K." Doc got to his feet. He stepped swiftly to the door. He opened the panel.
A man lay outside in the hall. He was curled up and breathing regularly, as though asleep.
"Well, for cryin' out loud!" Monk gulped. "Who's he?"
"He is called Bugs," Doc replied. "He's one of that pair of crooked lumber detectives."
"But what's happened to 'im?"
"He crept up to the keyhole to listen," Doc said dryly. "And he went to sleep on the job."
Monk snorted. "Quit running around the bush, Doc! What put him to sleep like that?"
Doc Savage indicated several small glass bulbs on the floor. These were thin-walled, about the size of grapes, and held a colorless fluid.
"A very powerful anaesthetic," he explained. "I spread them here as a matter of precaution before we started talking. Bugs simply had the misfortune to step on one."
It was this which Bugs had mistaken for a bit of cracker or a crumb of dry bread crushing underfoot—although he never did discover that fact.
Chapter IX. THE SWAMP ENCOUNTER
MONK departed to become an outlaw chemist fleeing from spies of a foreign country. Renny left to get his commission as special forest ranger. Long Tom ambled out full of his plans for a phone-tapping campaign, such as had probably never been equaled for wide-spread scope.
Doc and Johnny added Bugs to the growing collection of sleepers in the hotel room. In fact, so extensive was his conquest becoming, Doc engaged an additional room. He made sure each of the villains was properly under the influence of the drug which kept them slumbering and out of mischief.
"Twelve, thirteen, fourteen," Johnny counted them. "If this keeps up, you'll have to hire a special train to up-state New York. They'll be a lot of bother and expense."
"But they'll be fourteen upright citizens when they're turned loose from that institution," Doc replied.
"I don't understand how it's done!" Johnny chuckled. "I mean—how one of these rats can be taken and made into an honest man. And that whether he wants to be made an honest man or not!"
"It's too complex to go into now," Doc told him. "It is done by many methods. Most undergo intricate brain operations that wipe out all memory of their past. Then they are taught a trade by which to make a living, as well as upright citizenship.
"In other words, we merely reduce their minds to a blank and give them the sort of training they should have had. When they're released, crime does not occur to them—simply because they don't know they've ever been criminals."
They left the hotel where the prisoners slept. Going to his plane at the airport Doc secured a metal case about the size of an old-fashioned telescope bag such as granddad used to carry. They retired to a room they engaged at a private residence.
"Strip!" Doc commanded.
Johnny obeyed. Doc opened the case. It proved to be a most complete make-up box.
With ingredients from the box, Doc proceeded to dye Johnny's hide a muddy yellow from head to foot. He clipped Johnny's somewhat thin hair, dyed it an intense black, and gave it a permanent curl.
"None of this stuff will wash off," Doc reminded.
"Holy smoke!" Johnny ejaculated. "You mean I gotta go around lookin' like this until my coloring wears off?"
"Sure," Doc chuckled. "That'll only be six months or so."
DOC SAVAGE continued to work over Johnny. He stood back at last.
"From now on, you're in blackface!" he smiled.
Where Johnny had sat, there now sprawled a lanky, scrawny-looking yellowish-brown man. He had thick lips. His nose looked as if it had been stepped on during his youth. Several realistic scars gave his eyes a mean cast.
ejaculated Johnny, imitating the conglomerate dialect of the swamp men. "Yo' haf feenished, non?"
"And how!" Doc declared. "You'll do. What's your name, swamp boy?"
"Name ees plain Pete. Mees swell name, Pete ees. Oui?"
"The name will do," Doc replied, judiciously. "But you're about a foot and a half taller than the rest of the swamp dwellers. Maybe they'll overlook that."
The two men now separated.
Doc Savage returned to the Danielsen & Haas building to keep watch over Big Eric and his daughter, and to await reports from his men.
Johnny swaggered down into the foreign quarter. Doc had supplied him with a number of voodoo charms. These Johnny exhibited quite often, toying with them when he saw he was under the scrutiny of any one who looked as if he might belong to the voodoo Cult of the Moccasin.
The net result was that he wasted an afternoon. From the look of things, New Orleans might never have heard of any kind of a voodoo cult, much less the Cult of the Moccasin with the fiendish master mind, the Gray Spider, at its head.
"I'll have to tackle the swamp," Johnny muttered. Then, realizing he had slipped out of his dialect, added: "Me—I do not t'ink much of de swamp! Whew! I gotta even do my thinkin' in this crazy lingo, to play safe!"
Johnny now stuck himself in a telephone booth and called Doc Savage.
"My results so far are what the little boy shot at," he reported. "Thought I'd tell you I probably won't communicate with you again for a while."
"Go to the Lake Ponchartrain water front, near the old Spanish fort," Doc directed.
"Huh?" grunted Johnny, much surprised.
"Be there shortly after dark," Doc added.
"O.K." Johnny grinned. "I'll be there."
DUSK had dropped a steamy, clammy grasp upon New Orleans and environs. A faint, hot fog lent the moonlight pallor. The Gulf breeze, stirring the fog, made it seem as though the air were full of fine ashes. On the horizon in all directions, heat lightning flickered luridly.
Johnny—a scrawny and sinister-looking gentleman of a pale-brown color—lurked in City Park near the old Spanish fort. Long, narrow Bayou St. John emptied into placid Lake Ponchartrain near by.