Johnny replied nothing.
"You are one of the bronze devil's helpers!" snarled the Gray Spider. "The bronze man is dead. You three men shall die also. I will watch my swamp friends offer you in a voodoo sacrifice. In a few hours, they will be worked up to the proper pitch for the human offering!"
He fell silent. Into the ramshackle hut throbbed and boomed the disquieting note of the tom-toms. It seemed to set the very brain cells of the listeners vibrating in sympathy to its barbaric cadence.
"In a few hours—they will be ready!" repeated the Gray Spider.
He wheeled away.
Chapter XIII. A KIDNAPING GONE WRONG
THE Gray Spider shuffled back up the hill, the hollowed-out top of which was the scene of the voodoo ritual. He stepped along swiftly, as though he had important work to do. He seated himself in the middle of his sinister inner circle.
Machine gunners were much in evidence.
"Bring in the two new recruits," he ordered.
There was a commotion in the jungle near by. Two men came out.
One was built like a gorilla. He looked big enough and tough enough to even whip one in a fight. His face was scarred and unbelievably homely. His hide was covered with coarse red bristles.
The second man was so huge as to seem like a small hill in motion. His face was long, somber. His lips were pinched together as though he had just finished a disapproving, "tsk, tsk!" The outstanding thing about the giant, though, was his hands—for each was composed of about a gallon of knuckles that looked like rusted iron.
Monk and Renny in person!
Without seeming to, Monk and Renny noted the number of machine guns in evidence.
"The first time we've seen the Gray Spider!" Renny growled. "And we don't dare make a funny move because of those machine guns!"
"I got a notion to tackle 'im, anyway!" rasped Monk.
Monk was nothing if not reckless. The bigger the odds, the bigger the fight, Monk seemed to reason. And he did love a fight. Several times during the World War, he had started out single-handed to mop up on the enemy army. From the results, a suspicion was harbored that he might have succeeded had the opposition not been scattered from the Channel to Switzerland. They had too much room to dodge in.
"Lay off, you missing link!" Renny grunted. "You ain't got no brains! Lemme do the thinkin'!"
This was not strictly the truth. Monk was rated one of the half dozen greatest chemists ever to live.
They confronted the Gray Spider. Naturally, both tried to penetrate the puzzle of the serpent-embroidered gown and the brightly colored silk mask. They had no success.
Again they cocked an eye on the array of machine guns near by, and saw a hostile move would be unwise. Indeed, it would be suicide.
"I have been told of you men," said the Gray Spider.
Monk and Renny were disappointed when they failed to recognize the voice. It was thoroughly disguised. It had an unreal note. They made no answer because none seemed needed.
"One of you is a chemist experienced in poison gas," continued the cavernous tones of the Gray Spider. "That man fled to this swamp to evade agents of the country he turned traitor to. The other man is not averse to making a dollar or two on the side."
An impressive pause now followed. "Neither of you men had met before you were introduced by my aids."
"Nope. We never saw each other before." Monk chuckled and opened and closed his furry paws. "But we're what you'd call a natural! He knocks 'em down, an' I tear 'em apart!"
Monk was not bad as an actor. His attitude was fierce and bloodthirsty—to say nothing of his looks.
"You wish to join my organization, I understand," said the Gray Spider.
Renny watched the hideous gray tarantula crawl around on the master fiend's hand, and stifled an impulse to lean over and swat the repulsive thing with one huge paw.
"You got it right," he rumbled.
IN the wait which followed, Monk and Renny noted a minor incident up on the side of the saucerlike depression.
An enormous alligator appeared. It crawled around the edge of the hollow.
"Shoot dat 'gator!" somebody called over the monotonous throbbing of the tom-toms.
"Eet ees Sill Boontown's pet!" some one else objected. "No wild 'gator would go crawlin' around dis crowd!"
"T'row a stick at heem!" directed the first speaker. "Eef hees don' go away, shoot heem! Sacrй!We no want to be bothered weeth durn 'gator!"
A stick whacked the crawling alligator soundly. The reptile straightaway slithered out of sight into the night-blackened jungle. It displayed an intelligence that seemed human.
The Gray Spider resumed—his words coming as from a tomb, the repulsive tarantula never still on his hand.
"I have decided to take you into my organization," he told Monk and Renny. "Your first job will be assigned you immediately. It is to be done tonight. It will pay ten thousand dollars—five thousand for each of you."
"That's a lot of jack," Renny growled. "What's the job?"
"You are a forest ranger—you should know by sight the famous lumberman, Big Eric Danielsen. Perhaps you even know his daughter?"
Renny made the only answer he could. "Yeah. I know 'em."
"Good!" hissed the Gray Spider. "Tonight, you are to kidnap them!"
Renny covered his surprise with a loud snort. "You don't want much, do you?"
"What do you expect to do for ten thousand dollars?"
"Yeah—that's the other way of lookin' at it," Renny admitted. "You got it planned how we're to get them?"
"Again—what do you expect for ten thousand!" intoned the Gray Spider. "You are to make your own plans. You will find Big Eric Danielsen and his daughter at their home. They are heavily armed and equipped with gas masks. The grounds are brilliantly lighted. You will get them—"
"It oughta be simple!" Monk said sarcastically.
"—you will get them," continued the Gray Spider, as though there had been no interruption. "You will bring them to me."
He now gave an address on Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans.
"I will meet you personally at that spot. I will be there all night, or at least, from the moment I arrive in town. And I shall leave soon after you do. You, of course, will depart immediately. That is—if you want to try the job."
Monk and Renny swapped glances. They saw their chance to trap the Gray Spider away from his guard of machine gunners. They could get hold of Doc, tell him where the Gray Spider would be waiting and it would be all over but the shooting.
Or so they reasoned. For they had no way of knowing of the awful incident at the bayou levee, when Long Tom and Ham had seen the alligator floundering in the water with a bronze arm between its jaws.
Nor did they dream Long Tom, Ham, and Johnny were prisoners in Buck Boontown's settlement not a quarter of a mile away.
"We'll do it," said Renny.
"You mean—we'll try it!" chuckled Monk, playing his part.
A heavily armed escort immediately conveyed Monk and Renny through the swamp to a bayou where a speed boat lay. This rushed them to a paved highway. There they found a powerful touring car waiting.
The point where they reached the car was beyond the blasted levee. Monk and Renny were given no inkling that Doc Savage was not in New Orleans.