Doc indicated the second hypo needle. "This contains a drug which neutralizes the first. In other words, this man will remain in his present condition for days, unless he receives the second drug."
Big Eric and Edna had listened to this in a sort of frozen wonder. Ham, however, did not seem surprised. He was accustomed to the remarkable things Doc Savage did.
Ham delivered belated introductions.
Attractive Edna Danielsen was mildly vexed when Doc Savage showed no signs of being moved by her beauty. This was something new for Edna. Most young men would have all but toppled over after an enthralling smile such as the one that seemed wasted on Doc. Strangely, she felt a desire to impress this remarkable bronze man, a desire that was unusual to Edna, in whose life young men meant nothing.
Doc Savage killed no time in getting down to business.
"I am sorry I was not here to receive you," he said. He let it go at that—not troubling to explain that he had been for the past weeks at his "Fortress of Solitude," whence he always retired for his experiments and study. This retreat was on a rocky island within the bleak fastness of the arctic. No one knew where it was, other than Doc.
"Tell your story," Doc commanded.
"I am president of Danielsen & Haas, the largest lumber concern in the South," explained Big Eric. "For some months past, I have noticed strange happenings in the Southern lumber industry. The first of these revolved around Worldwide Sawmills, a rather large concern.
"The president and vice president of Worldwide Sawmills were the principal owners of the company. They dropped suddenly from sight. The word went out that they were taking an extended world cruise. But I had private detective investigate, and no trace of their sailing on such a cruise could be found.
"Simultaneous with their disappearance, two strangers took charge of Worldwide Sawmills. Everything was legal. The vanished vice president and president of Worldwide had signed over absolute control of the company to these men. There was no doubt of that."
Big Eric paused to make an angry growling noise in his big throat.
"The two strangers are looting Worldwide Sawmills! I'm sure of it! They're liquidating the company, which is worth many millions! They're selling out slowly, and pocketing the proceeds.
"A few weeks later, almost the identical thing happened to Bayou Sash & Door, another large concern. The next was the Little Giant Lumber Corporation. And others followed. In each case, the owners dropped from sight, and strangers took charge."
Big Eric struck the inlaid table for emphasis.
"I tell you, a highly organized gang is stealing millions!" he exclaimed.
"I BECAME suspicious," Big Eric continued. "As I mentioned, I put private detectives to work. They found little of value. But they did unearth strange rumors of a sinister being known as the Gray Spider, who is moving slowly but surely upon a gigantic plan to loot the lumber industry of the South."
"That all you know of the Gray Spider?" Doc inquired.
"Yes, except that queer, uncanny things are told of this Gray Spider. One tale has it that his organization is a fanatic group known as the Cult of the Moccasin, and that they give human sacrifices. Those rumors are strange things to be connected with high finance and thievery."
"Sounds like voodoo," said Doc Savage. "Cults of voodooism are known to flourish right here in New York. Indeed, cases of human sacrifices have been proven. But you have not told what brings you here. Has the Gray Spider made attempts to throw his web about you?"
"Exactly!" rumbled Big Eric. "First, an attempt was made to kidnap myself and my daughter. Evil-looking little brown men attacked our car, but I beat them off. Twice after that, we were shot at. I became worried, and started for New York. The man you just seized tried to murder us by disabling the plane, and fixing our parachutes so they were worthless."
"Who takes charge of your company in case you are put out of the way?"
"My daughter," said Big Eric proudly.
"In case you both are eliminated?"
"Why, Horace Haas," Big Eric replied hesitatingly. "He owns a portion of the concern, and is the junior partner. He's a harmless cuss. Not even a good business man. But he furnished the capital for my first business venture, and for that reason, I guarantee you he will share in my fortune as long as there is such a thing."
Doc's strange golden eyes flickered appreciatively. Big Eric evidently was not a man who forgot his friends.
"Wait here," Doc directed. "I am going to search the prisoner." To the drugged captive he said sharply: "Follow me!"
The man got up meekly and followed. He bumped into the inlaid table and stood pushing foolishly against it until Doc pulled him aside. The man was so under the influence of Doc's weird drug that he was not able to reason that he could get past the table by going around it. He was like a mechanical man somebody had wound up and turned loose.
Out of sight of Edna Danielsen, Doc stripped the prisoner. He examined the fellow thoroughly. Inside the man's mouth, he found the only thing of interest.
It was a likeness of a poisonous water moccasin tattooed on the roof of the fellow's mouth!
Chapter III. DEATH IN THE AIR
"THIS man is one of the Cult of the Moccasin," explained Doc Savage, when he had dressed the prisoner and taken him back into the outer office.
"If that drug of yours has fixed the fellow so he can't reason things out, maybe he'll answer our questions truthfully," suggested Big Eric. "He can't think up lies to tell us."
Doc's bronze head shook. "The trouble is, he can't think up the answers, either. The drug is nothing in the nature of a truth serum."
Big Eric smiled widely. "I'm dang glad you're going to help me fight this Gray Spider! I like your style!"
Doc Savage did not reply immediately.
"I haven't said I would," he pointed out.
Big Eric blanched. He stuttered: "Why—won't you?"
"I will," Doc told him quietly. "Providing we can agree on the matter of the fee you will pay."
"Uh—um!" Big Eric swallowed. "Just what fee would you consider?"
"You have more money than you know what to do with, haven't you?"
"Well, I'd hardly say that," Big Eric muttered with the caution of a rich man.
"The fee is one million dollars," Doc said as calmly as though he were a laborer asking three dollars a day for his services.
"Huh!" Big Eric purpled. He all but choked. He howled: "One million! And you're the guy who goes around benefiting humanity! It looks to me like you're trying to hold me up—"
Big Eric caught Ham's eye and hastily swallowed the rest of his outburst. He looked at Doc. The remarkable bronze face was as inscrutable as the metal it resembled.
Big Eric suddenly got the idea it would be useless to squawk about being overcharged. At the same time, he was too canny to put out such an outrageous fee without knowing he would get his money's worth in results.
"You will turn this million over to a committee you and I will select," Doc continued. "It will be used to supply food and clothing and education to the poor and destitute in Louisiana."
"Oh," said Big Eric, suddenly ashamed of his outburst. He offered a hand. "I'll do it, of course."