Lunging, Monk reached Renny's side. He tore the assailants away. In a moment both giants were on their feet, fighting side by side.
A gun or two cracked. But in the gloom it was as easy to hit friend as foe.
Somewhere in the distance, a police siren started wailing. The shots had been heard. Somebody had put in a riot call.
"We got—'em goin'!" Monk puffed. He tore the car jack out of the hands of the wielder, and with one pull all but ripped the man's arm from his body.
Pretty Edna Danielsen screamed piercingly.
Monk and Renny looked in her direction.
A vicious-faced swamp man was holding a revolver to her head.
"Geeve up, damn yo'!" he screeched at Renny and Monk. "Yo' want me to keel gal?"
The attackers had picked their one chance of stopping Renny and Monk. The two giants hesitated—and were suddenly down and secured. Stout ropes were lashed about their ankles and wrists.
A large bakery delivery truck now ran up. Monk remembered that Doc had mentioned the fact the Gray Spider used such trucks to transport his men in New Orleans. At least, such a truck had been waiting outside the Antelope Hotel, with Lefty at the wheel, when the swamp men had turned the shrapnel burst loose in the room they thought was occupied by Doc's men.
Such a truck would not attract attention at this hour. Bakeries often made early-morning deliveries.
Every one—prisoners and attackers alike—jammed into the truck. The vehicle rumbled away, spurred by the nearing wail of the police siren.
THE spokesman of the swamp men sneered into Monk's face.
"Yo' ain't so smart!" he grated.
"You're tellin' me?" Monk snarled. He was smarting under the defeat.
"Gray Spider ees send yo' to keednap Beeg Eric as test!" growled the swamp man. "Hees want to see if yo' talk to Beeg Eric as friend. Yo' did. Bien!Dat prove yo' work fo' bronze man!"
Monk blinked slowly a few times. Then, just as slowly, he lifted what was left of his coat tails.
"Kick me!" he invited. "Hard!"
He saw now that he and Renny had been tricked into revealing their true colors. But how had the Gray Spider gotten word into town so quickly? No one could have equaled that terrific drive of Renny's.
"The Gray Spider tipped you by radio to set a trap for us at Big Eric's place—that right?" he asked.
Yo' guess eet!"
Monk gave Renny a downcast look. These swamp men were part of the force the Gray Spider kept in New Orleans to do his bidding, no doubt Monk could understand how it would have been simple for the master villain to set his trap.
"What a pair of busts we turned out to be!" he growled.
The worst fact was—they had caused Big Eric and Edna to fall into the Gray Spider's clutches. And a moment later, the already gloomy outlook was enormously blackened.
For, with great glee, the spokesman of the swamp men told of the capture of Long Tom, Ham, and Johnny. He recited in detail about his fellows glimpsing an alligator in the act of devouring the giant bronze form of Doc Savage. He had evidently received this news by radio from his comrades in the swamp.
The word of Doc Savage's demise had a terrible effect on pretty Edna Danielsen. She had been holding up splendidly under the difficulties, betraying little nervousness. But now she gave a single low, wretched cry, and fainted.
She was still unconscious when her form was lifted from the delivery truck a short distance outside New Orleans. Big Eric was also forced out.
As the truck drove on, Monk caught a glimpse of a plane in a field near where Big Eric and Edna had been unloaded. It was apparent they were to be taken somewhere by air.
"To the Castle of the Moccasin!" Monk guessed.
He fell to wondering about that mysterious rendezvous. The Castle of the Moccasin! They had so far learned nothing of its whereabouts. They did not have even a wisp of information concerning the nature of the place.
The delivery truck, it soon developed, had a high-powered engine. And on the straightaway, Monk would have been willing to bet it was making eighty miles an hour.
The very speed of their going made time drag.
Chapter XIV. THE BIG SURPRISE
DAWN had not yet arrived when Renny and Monk were hauled into the presence of Long Tom, Ham, and Johnny, who lay bound hand and foot in the shack in the depths of the great swamp.
Long Tom moaned aloud. "Good night! And you fellows were our last hope!"
Monk caught sight of Ham. The faintest of amused gleams came into Monk's little eyes. If it had not been for his grief over learning of Doc Savage's demise, Monk would have burst into roars of laughter.
Any sort of misfortune Ham met with tickled Monk—although the next instant Monk might risk his very life to rescue Ham. These two had been good-natured enemies since the War.
It was Monk who had framed the ham-stealing charge which had been the cause of Ham getting his nickname. Ham had never been able to prove it, a point that still rankled his lawyer soul.
Too, Monk was one man who could hold his own against Ham's sharp tongue. He had an infallible system of getting Ham's goat. He would merely make some reference to Ham's stealing anything connected with a porker, from pig's knuckles to the pig's way of squealing. This burned Ham up.
There was no laughter or razzing now, though.
It was not their own danger that stilled their tongues. It was the overpowering grief brought by the knowledge that they had lost their friend and benefactor—Doc Savage.
The sinister throbbing of the tom-toms still flung its disquieting influence over the huge morass. The cadence was faster. It tore at their nerves. It seemed to destroy the very regularity of their heartbeats. It beat like invisible waves against their brains.
"That infernal racket is driving us nuts!" Johnny muttered.
"And a big alligator keeps crawling up in front of the door," Long Tom groaned. "The guards chased it away a time or two. But lately, they've been letting it hang around, just because it makes us sweat. Seeing the infernal thing reminds us of— of—"
The electrical wizard shuddered violently, and could not finish. Thought of Doc's fate choked him.
Once more, they sat and listened to the thump din of the voodoo ceremony in the hollow at the top of the hill. The caterwauling yells still came. If anything, they were louder, even more fanatic.
"They're working up to the point where the human sacrifice will be offered!" Johnny said in a thick voice. "I studied their infernal rites enough to be able to tell."
"Use your brain on somethin' useful!" Monk groaned. "Gettin' us out of here, for instance!"
Long Tom suddenly gave voice to a horror-stricken gasp. He shut his eyes tightly. The others looked to see what had affected him.
The giant alligator had returned. It crawled slowly through the steaming moonlight for the door. It was like some hideous thing from Hades.
CHUCKLING loudly, the guards looked inside. The horror the presence of the reptile inflicted upon the prisoners seemed to give them great glee. They clucked at the 'gator, calling "Sic 'em!" and other pleasantries.
One guard departed. A chicken's frightened squawl arose. The man came back with the fowl. Using the live bait, he proceeded to decoy the giant alligator through the door.
The reptile entered like a pet dog.
Playfully, the guard tried to persuade it to take a bite out of Monk's leg. He had no success. Disgusted, he kicked the 'gator in the side.