Investigating, Johnny discovered Buck Boontown was married. The swamp man's wife was slightly better looking than the other females of the settlement, although that was not saying much.
The couple had one child—a son about eighteen, named Sill. He was mentally unbalanced—crazy. He had been that way, Johnny learned, since a blow on the head suffered from a falling tree two years ago.
It was a hideous, squalid colony here in the swamp. The people were an admixture of many races. They retained the bad qualities of them all, and the good points of none.
The moment he judged the time propitious, Johnny began to exhibit his voodoo hocus-pocus. To the usual repellant rites and incantations of a voodoo man, Johnny added a few masterly touches of his own.
First, he "hypnotized" the pet alligator. He did this by secretly breaking one of Doc's glass balls of anaesthetic under the reptile's snout. The trick created quite a furor. Johnny's stock as a man of magic went soaring.
Using simple acids, Johnny made a bucket of water change color at his command.
His crowning feat was to drive a long, thin rod of steel through his own brain. This he accomplished by having a tubing in his hat. The steel rod was flexible. It was guided around his head by the tubing—although the impression was that it passed directly through his skull.
This made the eyes of his audience stand out until they could almost have been knocked off with a stick.
THE next day, Johnny's performance paid dividends. Buck Boontown had disappeared. Now he returned.
"Man here who want talk wit' you'!" he muttered to Johnny.
"Ees he from de Gray Spider?" Johnny demanded.
Buck Boontown replied sharply: "Me—I don' know nothin' about nobody by name of Gray Spider!"
Obviously, some one had put the bee in Buck's bonnet—warned him not to talk. Johnny silently berated himself for a lummox. Why hadn't he trailed Buck Boontown when he disappeared? The swamp man had apparently gotten in touch with the Gray Spider.
said Johnny. "Vare ees de man who want to talk wit' me?"
"Here I am, buddy!" said a harsh voice.
Whirling, Johnny eyed the speaker.
The man was wide and thick of limb. He wore muck-caked overalls. Underneath these, he was attired in something the true swamp man never saw—a collar and necktie.
A brilliant silk mask obscured his face. It was even tied at the back of his head so as to hide the color of his hair. And he wore all-concealing cheap cotton gloves. It was impossible to as much as glimpse the hue of his skin.
Johnny, however, knew by the sound of his words that he was a white man.
"Buck Boontown tells me you're quite a voodoo guy," growled the man.
said Johnny. "That ees right."
"And he says you want to join the Gray Spider's outfit?"
"Eet pay good?"
"I'll say it'll pay you good!"
Then I join."
The other man laughed shortly. "I'm not so sure that I’ll let you join. I must know more about you before we start talking that over."
In his best dialect, Johnny repeated substantially the same story he had told Buck Boontown. He told it as earnestly as he could. A great deal might come from this, for Johnny thought he was under the scrutiny of the Gray Spider himself!
"Ees yo' de Gray Spider?" he asked boldly.
The masked man tensed visibly. He put a hand in a pocket that bulged as if it might hold a gun.
"Listen—don't go asking silly questions!" he snarled.
said Johnny, shrugging.
The other man did not renew the talk immediately. Finally he said, "I'm gonna do some thinkin' about you. Hang around here for a few days. A man who knows voodoo like you would come in handy. But there can't be no chances taken, see!"
Johnny saw. He also thought he saw that this man was the Gray Spider! If he could just get a look at the fellow's face! But that was too dangerous.
Johnny was suddenly seized with an idea.
"BE yo' goin' to New O'leans?" he questioned
"What's it to you?" snarled the masked man.
Johnny replied with the declaration that he had left New Orleans in a hurry. As a consequence, a considerable sum of his money had remained behind. He was careful to lend the impression difficulties with the police had led to his sudden departure.
He gave the masked man the address of the room where Doc Savage's bronzed, skilled fingers had applied the makeup. This room was in a private residence in New Orleans.
"Could yo' bring me my money?" Johnny finished. "Yo' bein' de Gray Spider, yo' ees to be trusted."
"Who said anything about me being the Gray Spider?" rapped the other.
nobody!" Johnny said hastily. "Weel yo' bring my money?"
"I'll bring it," replied the man.
A subtle something in his tone told Johnny that the man intended to do nothing of the sort. This didn't bother Johnny greatly—because there was no money. The important thing was to get the man to go to the private residence in New Orleans.
Johnny thought the fellow would do that—for the dishonest purpose of seizing the money and keeping it himself. Johnny had purposefully named the sum as amounting to nearly twenty thousand dollars. Even the Gray Spider would hardly pass up as juicy a steal as that.
The masked man now departed.
Evading the attention of Buck Boontown and the other inhabitants of the scrawny settlement, Johnny trailed the masked man. He could hear the fellow crashing along ahead, but did not catch sight of him.
Johnny soon turned to the left. He found his hidden plane in the morass. Pawing the draping moss aside, he entered the cabin. In a minute, he was in radio-telephone communication with Doc Savage.
"I sent this guy to that room where you put on my makeup," he told Doc, after explaining the situation. "You can grab him there."
"Do you think he is the Gray Spider?" Doc's voice came back clear as a fine bell. They spoke in the language of ancient Maya, of course.
"I cannot tell for sure," Johnny replied. "My guess would be that he is."
"I'll hold a reception for him," Doc said grimly. "Good work, Johnny! Go back and continue as you were."
"O.K.," said Johnny. He clicked off the radio-telephone apparatus and left the plane.
Climbing a near-by tree, he glanced about over the steaming, festering swamp. It seemed to extend to the horizon in all directions.
For an instant, Johnny caught sight of the masked man—discovered that the fellow had now removed his mask. He was too far away for Johnny to discern details about his face.
The fellow flushed up a cloud of blackbirds, then trudged out of sight in the morass.
Johnny slid back down his tree and moved toward Buck Boontown's settlement. His work for Doc Savage here in the voodoo swamps was progressing nicely.
Chapter XI. THE WELL-KNOWN EGG
THE man who had worn the mask, swore at the cloud of blackbirds Johnny had seen him flush up. His profanity had a happy note. He seemed highly satisfied with the world.
"That voodoo man is a dumb one!" he chuckled. "Thinks I will bring him his money! Nearly twenty thousand bucks! Imagine that!"
He shied a clod at the little lizards racing up a palmetto.
"That money goes in my own pocket and stays there!" he declared aloud. "It's so much gravy!"