Death In Black
by Clifford Goodrich
Most any job would have suited Tommy Riker. That is, any job which didn't
He hadn't been thinking of murder when Hilding Kent the scientist and
medical man, had hired him. Tommy had only wanted a job as a laboratory
assistant. He hadn't known there was death in that.
The young chemical engineer stood before a mirror in his bungalow. He
noticed the queer dilation of his eyes. Dazedly, he realized that he was acting like
a drunken man.
"I'll tell what I know," he muttered thickly. "Just wait until he gets here. I'll
unload a lot!"
The young man looked out of a window into the rain-swept night. His
movements were slower. Sweat poured down his face. There was nervousness,
fear in his movements.
"He'll be here soon," he reassured himself. "He said in half an hour."
Tommy's words may have reassured himself. But they may have given a
timing to the scene to someone listening from outside. There was a sharp ping
and a crash of glass.
Tommy Riker fell to the floor. A little round hole appeared on his forehead.
The door opened then and a hand stole to the light switch. The room was plunged
The pale beam of a flashlight fell on Tommy's body. A dim figure leaned
over him, reached a hand into Tommy's inside coat pocket. The hand came out
with a folded letter.
"You wouldn't have lived long, anyway," a voice growled. "But it might have
been too long, at that. I don't stand for a double cross."
The door closed softly then and the room was silent.
The killer leaped into a high-powered sedan, turned on his headlights, put the
car in motion. At the foot of the driveway, a drab gray coupe swung suddenly
across the road. An eerie, whispering challenge drifted through the night.
A dim, gray figure leaped from the coupe. Wispy gray hair showed beneath a
quaint, round-brimmed hat. The face was white, the chin oddly pointed.
"The Whisperer!" the killer growled. This was an encounter he did not relish.
Queer, oversized pistols appeared in the gray man's hands. Lurid blue flame
leaped from them. But there was no noise. The windshield of the sedan crashed
into fragments. Then the driver turned off his lights.
He twisted the wheel sharply, took a chance on the ancient fence that
bordered the bungalow grounds. The sedan crashed through, cleared a shallow
Lightless, it roared down the highway.
The Whisperer hesitated. The little man of mystery, the "supercrook" who
preyed on crooks themselves, could have followed the speeding sedan. But there
was a possibility that Tommy Riker still lived, needed assistance that only The
Whisperer could give him.
The gray man stole softly into the bungalow, thinking there were many things
here in Thunder Hills that he wished to investigate. His low, eerie whisper
sounded as hee bent over the murdered youth. Swift fingers went through the
young man's pockets. He found one thing the killer had apparently overlooked.
It was a card bearing the name of Jules Gruzman. Gruzman, an important
patent attorney and lawyer for business men. The Whisperer wondered what
Gruzman could tell him about Tommy Riker.
The gray man's pencil flash darted about the room. By the telephone, from
which Tommy had apparently called him, he found a pad. It was covered with the
random scrawlings of a man who waits for a number or for death! There were
squares and circles, disconnected words.
"Death . . ." The Whisperer made out . . . "Certain death that can't be Traced .
. . incredible . . . double-cross means death . . ."
The gray man whispered softly, moved out into the rainy night.
The Whisperer quickened his pace. He left the coupe where it was. His other
business in Thunder Hills could be done on foot. Death that couldn't be traced,
that was one thing he wanted to learn more about. There had been several
instances he had heard about men who died quite naturally, to the financial
advantage of others.
Far to his left, lightning starkly revealed a rambling house that was in the
mind of The Whisperer.
Dr. Hilding Kent lived there. Kent, the employer of Tommy Riker. Kent, the
genius of science and medicine. The scientist was working on a sensational
discovery, it was said. It was a discovery in which men of brains and caution had
already invested more than a million dollars.
It was known as hydroblast, a liquid hydrogen-oxygen explosive that was
believed destined to revolutionize the use of all explosives. It could be useful as
fuel, for commercial blasting, or as death weapon in wartime. Secrecy shrouded
the development of hydroblast.
It was also known by some few persons that Kent had exhausted all his funds;
that he had desperately tried to obtain further financing to perform the final
experiments that would spell ultimate success or failure.
His other laboratory assistant, Conway Gerald, was about ready to make the
final tests to date. If--The Whisperer suddenly thought--if he lived. But it was not
hydroblast that sent The Whisperer racing through the wet of Thunder Hills. He
was on a trail of death; death that left no trace.
The gray man ran in a direction away from the rambling mansion of Hilding
Kent. He had business first at another home in Thunder Hills, one where he
expected to find fear the reigning impulse.
Another man of science had sent word that he was afraid. Peculiarly, he was a
man who had served in India with Hilding Kent. The second doctor's name was
Jared Meldner. He was a queer, hermitlike man of letters. He was well-to-do,
shunned contact with the world of business.
The Whisperer ran on cautious feet toward the modest house in which
Meldner dwelt. Apparently, his caution was not great enough.
Another bolt of lightning sent a jagged finger of brilliance through the night.
It made The Whisperer plainly visible to a squad of blue-coated policemen
huddled near Jared Meldner's driveway. A hoarse cry welled quickly into the
darkness that followed.
"The Whisperer, boys! It's a promotion if we get him!"
The Whisperer, indeed, was the one black mark on the escutcheon of
Commissioner James "Wildcat" Gordon. The "supercrook" who preyed on crooks
themselves was always able to escape the snares that Wildcat laid to catch him.
It appeared that there were more cops present this time than the gray man had
anticipated. A nasal, whining voice began to scream frantic orders for the
capture of The Whisperer.
The lightning flickered, revealed the features of the nasal-voiced commander.
His appearance made one understand the whining voice. Deputy Henry Bolton
had a long nose like a pointed finger. His eyes were small and he had a fish-like
mouth. The mouth gulped.
Bolton screamed more orders and tore through the underbrush. His
mainspring in life was a desire to have The Whisperer captured, so he could
thereby unseat Wildcat Gordan as police commissioner.
Another flash of lightning showed Bolton and The Whisperer together.
Suddenly, the two seemed to merge in a flurry. It was impossible to tell where
Bolton ended and where the gray man began.
At that moment, the cops caught up. They had quite a handful. For a moment,
it seemed that all they would get out of the encounter was the exercise. Then they
used football tactics. They fell on the figure with which they were struggling.
One cop got out a flashlight, began to drag the gray figure to its feet. At that
moment, an angry, staccato voice harked orders in the vocabulary of an enraged
"Where's that fool Bolton?" the crisp tones of Wildcat Gordon demanded. "He
was told to interview Meldner, not to play hare and hounds around the
Wildcat flicked on his own flashlight. The big cop holding the gray figure
looked uncertain. Hopefully, he pointed to the man he held. The head hung
forward, showed only the round-brimmed hat jammed down over the ears.
The cop rasped an oath, snapped the head up with one hand. Then he gasped.
Under the gray hat he saw the long, pointed nose of Henry Bolton!
Wildcat Gordon strode forward, complaining about the low mental
attainments of some of his subordinates in general and Henry Bolton in
particular. Even the dim gleam of the flashlight showed the loud checkerboard
suit that Wildcat wore. His yellow shoes gleamed brightly in the rain. The
flaming carnation in his coat lapel seemed defiant of the dampness.
The cops did not know that their chief had just doffed the disguise that had
made him more famous than the office of police commissioner. There was only
one man alive who knew that Wildcat Gordon and The Whisperer were the same
person! And that man was not present.
Wildcat had simply squirmed out of his concealing gray clothing, thrown it
over Bolton, jammed the hat over Bolton's ears and wriggled free. The queer
dental plates that gave him the oddly pointed chin and the chilling whisper of
The Whisperer had vanished into his pocket.
Bolton's month gaped more foolishly than was normal. He started to
stammer explanations. Wildcat cut him off with the suggestion that it was about
time they investigated why Meldner wanted police protection.
Dr. Jared Meldner was a short, squat man. A scraggly beard decorated his
wrinkled cheeks. He was a man considerably along in years. His voice was low,
well-modulated as he asked the policemen to enter the spacious living room.
"I am sorry to have caused so much trouble," Meldner said softly. "But I
believe I may need protection."
Meldner spread out three typewritten notes. Each carried the same import:
There was no specific reference to money, but the threat of exposure was in each
"Rangoon, 1926," each missive began. "You have a reputation that should be
worth preserving. Even if the cost is high. I cannot delay much longer."
Bolton spluttered excitedly, demanded to know what happened in Rangoon
in 1926. Meldner's voice did not change its even tone.
"I killed a man," he said simply. "I was justified, could not help it. But the fact
remains. My family is a proud one and the scandal is something I would prefer to
Wildcat Gordon, while listening to his aids questioning of the doctor, was idly
gazing at two black cats at Meldner's feet.
Bolton questioned Meldner about the extortion notes. "Who sent them?" he
asked. Meldner shrugged. "Only one man now in the city was in India with me,"
he said. "He is Hilding Kent, my neighbor."
Bolton began to get excited. He stammered, "D-did Kent ever ask you for
"A month ago," he said. "He wanted a hundred thousand dollars to complete
his experiments. Said the whole thing might crash if he didn't get it. I refused him.
"Right now, Kent's stock is riding high. But if he doesn't succeed in his final
experiments, he will be desperate for immediate cash.
"I wish to make no complaint now," he concluded. "But if anything should
happen to me, I want the police to know. They can consult the attorney to whom I
have turned over copies to Jules Gruzman."
Wildcat was thinking that Gruzman's name was the one on the card he had
found in the murdered Tommy Riker's pocket when the doorbell rang. Wildcat
noticed that the servant who answered the ring was a rough-looking man;
probably a combination gardener-and-houseman. Meldner called him Jake.
The caller who came into the room was gaunt and almost totally bald. His
only hirsute adornments consisted of twin gray tufts over ears that looked like
horns. Richard Traeger, better known as Quirk Trigger, although a retired police
deputy, always managed to make his appearance on most cases. He was old, but
Wildcat greeted Quick Trigger, said: "Glad to see you, Quick. Come along.
We've got to call on a guy." Then, to Bolton: "We're going to see Kent. You go
back to headquarters." With a few words to Meldner, Wildcat and Quick Trigger
took their departure.
"That Jake guy," Quick Trigger muttered, as he and Wildcat climbed into his
car. "I think I seen him workin' on Kent's estate a while back."
Wildcat did not answer. He was busy. In a secret compartment under the dash
of Quick Trigger's car, he kept a spare gray disguise of The Whisperer. He donned
it quickly, rapping sharp orders as he did.
The dental plates, which Quick Trigger had manufactured in a moment of
enthusiasm, went back into Wildcat's mouth. Once more, Wildcat became The
Quick Trigger shook his head as Wildcat spoke.
"I don't like it, Wildcat," he complained. "You're sure as hell goin' to get in
trouble. I wish I hadn't ever made those danged dental plates! It'll be the end of
you, this time!"
Wildcat laughed. The laugh now had the whistling whisper that chilled the
blood of crooks.
"It's a gamble, Quick," he said. "But it has to be this way."
In the heart of the business district, The Whisperer darted from the car. The
fire escape up which the gray man climbed was on one of the largest buildings in
the city. The palatial legal suite of Jules Gruzman occupied the entire top floor.
The Whisperer did not make the error of trying the windows. Gruzman had
once been robbed. His windows were now guarded by the latest in
photoelectric-cell burglar appliances. The gray man did not know where
Gruzman fitted in this picture. But he was going to find out soon.
The Whisperer made for a skylight on the roof over the elevator shaft. The
shaft was not part of Jules Gruzman's office. It might not be wired.
Softly, the gray man padded toward the skylight. His feet made little noise. He
stooped cautiously over the frosted glass.
Suddenly, the roof under his feet gave way. A section alongside the shaft
collapsed. The Whisperer shot, feet foremost, down an inclined chute. The trap
was a clever one. A careful prowler would have done just as The Whisperer had.
The trap was placed to catch just such a prowler.
The gray man's supersilenced automatics leaped into his hands as he fell. But
he had no target to use them on. The chute ended in a soft entanglement that
puzzled him for just a moment. That moment proved to be enough.
An intricate net of stout cords enmeshed his body. The net tightened with a
whipping motion, bound the gray man as tightly as an animal snared in a jungle
pit. Strong hands seized his guns, ripped them from his fingers.
The Whisperer was helpless. Then a blackjack whizzed, bludgeoned him into
When The Whisperer opened his eyes, tight cords bound his wrists and
ankles. His head felt as if a thousand sledge hammers were using it for an anvil.
The heavy face of Jules Gruzman swam vaguely before him. Then the gray
man's mind cleared. He distinguished Gruzman's small eyes leering from the
puffy cheeks in which they were set.
"I just dropped in, Gruzman," The Whisperer said sibilantly, "to find out your
connection with Jared Meldner and with several deaths that appeared to be
natural. And with the murder of Tommy Riker."
Gruzman removed a seventy-five cent cigar from his cruel lips and spat.
"It is unfortunate that this had to be you, my friend," he purred. "The
information you seek I would like to give to someone. We had hoped you might
be that fool Wildcat Gordon. We would have given him the information and
turned him loose."
Two huge killers hulking beside Gruzman snickered at their boss' sally.
Gruzman smiled thickly at his own wit, picked up a phone.
"Just so you may learn the uselessness of your visit, my formerly dangerous
foe." Gruzman purred, "we shall let you listen."
He phoned police headquarters, asked for Commissioner Gordon. When he
was advised the commissioner was not there, he compromised on old Quick
"Meldner has phoned me," Gruzman stated. "So I am informing the police of
what I told him. He was ill-advised to come to me with his case. I have refused to
handle it. It appears to me that if Kent was blackmailing Meldner, he was doing
it in such a manner that it could not be proved. Tommy Riker also came to me
with a case I could not handle."
Quick Trigger apparently interrupted, told Gruzman how much of a crook he
"Tut, tut, you old fossil," Gruzman jeered. "All Kent did was to suggest a
month ago that Meldner might want to invest cash in his hydroblast. Of course,
Kent might be guilty. But-"
Suddenly, Gruzman's voice barked indignantly. There was a sneering
ruthlessness in it.
"I'm going to do you fools a favor!" he yelled. "I've got some other extortion
notes, some that were sent to men who died naturally. Maybe you can trace these
to Kent. I don't know. They were mailed to me anonymously."
Gruzman's glance turned to The Whisperer. A cruel smile lighted his face.
"And, my dear Traeger," he concluded, "I wish I could tell you of something
else I am going to do right now to halt crime in our fair city. You would love it!
But I'm sorry; it'll have to be a secret."
Gruzman slapped down the phone, leaped to his feet. He lost his smiling
demeanor, as he faced The Whisperer.
"That means you, punk!" he rasped. "You're going out now on a one-way
ticket! You've been making yourself a nuisance."
He turned, grinned, as if a new thought had suddenly struck him.
"Why, if Conway Gerald's tests tonight are a success, Kent might not need
any more money." He turned to his two thugs. "Grab him, boys! Get it over with!"
Conway Gerald was the second laboratory assistant of Hilding Kent.
The Whisperer threshed wildly on the floor. He about stood on his head. A
new-fangled glass-barreled fountain pen fell from his vest pocket, broke as it
struck the hardwood floor.
The thugs leaped upon the gray man. They discovered how tough a man can
be with hands and feet bound. The Whisperer's feet came up, struck one killer on
the temple. The man went down, out.
Jules Gruzman cursed, kicked the gray man in the ribs. The Whisperer lay on
his back, howled in pain.
But that was a stall for time. The acid from the glass fountain pen was doing
its painful work. Flesh on the gray man's wrists was seared. But so was the rope
that bound him. Suddenly, The Whisperer leaped to his feet. His hands were free.
He plunged to Gruzman's desk, picked up a paper weight and hurled it through a
plate-glass window. Gruzman's burglar alarm siren wailed out into the night.
Startled, the racket lawyer and his remaining husky rushed to the wall to turn the
That was the instant The Whisperer needed. Quickly, he tore the tight ropes
from his ankles. Before Gruzman and his henchman had reached the switch, The
Whisperer was upon them. One fist smashed with a force unbelievable. It landed
flush on the puffy jowl of the racket lawyer. Gruzman sighed, sank to the floor.
The thug showed fight at first. Then, suddenly, he seemed to realize he was
alone with The Whisperer. He squealed in terror, dived toward the window. The
gray man plunged in his path. He saved the thug from a fall to the ground. There
was no fire escape below that window.
The Whisperer was not motivated by any regard for the life of the killer. But
he did not want a body splashed on the street to attract attention. It was vital that
Jules Gruzman remain unconscious and unnoticed in his office.
Another haymaker, and the second thug was out.
From his vest the gray man took another heavy fountain pen. Quickly he
unscrewed the top, saturated a handkerchief with a pungent liquid. He applied
the dripping cloth to the nostrils of each of the three men in the office. Then he
bound them securely. That should hold them for a while.
In Gruzman's desk he found the extortion notes Gruzman had mentioned to
Quick Trigger. He remembered the names of the men involved. All had been
wealthy. And each had made unexplained withdrawals from his bank account
before he died.
Two had died of bronchial pneumonia, another of malaria, a fourth of
The gray man examined the typewriting. All had been written on the same
machine. And he was suddenly sure he would find that the machine was owned
by Hilding Kent!
Spurring himself to sudden action, The Whisperer whipped out the dental
plates, seized the phone on Gruzman's desk. He knew Quick Trigger would have
guessed what Gruzman meant by his threatened step to halt crime. Quick knew
The Whisperer had gone to Gruzman's office.
Wildcat Gordon moved fast now. He had to keep the cops from finding these
three unconscious men. He got headquarters on the wire.
"Recall Traeger and his squad by radio," he snapped in the crisp tones of
Wildcat Gordon. "It is imperative that they return immediately. Instruct Traeger
to await a call from me."
Then Wildcat replaced the dental plates. The dim gray shape glided once
more down the fire escape. A soft chuckle drifted through the air.
The Whisperer wasted no time. He knew every moment was precious; that
more lives were at stake. He knew there was a dirtier plot afoot than any he had
But there was information The Whisperer had to learn before the picture was
complete. He made three phone calls before he was satisfied. The first was to a
man in Washington for whom The Whisperer had once done a great favor. In fact,
he had saved the life of that individual.
The man was attached to the state department. While The Whisperer talked
to him, the man used another phone to get the files that he needed. Both Meldner
and Kent had been in government service in India. The information was
contained in the files. Meldner had killed a man. And his plea that he had been
justified was born out by the records. A military court had completely exonerated
The Whisperer's second call was to a physician in the city, who had reason to
believe the gray man was not a crook. A man of more than normal astuteness, he
realized that justice must sometimes be reached through paths that organized law
cannot traverse. The physician was an expert on diseases of India and the Orient.
His information completed the book for The Whisperer. The third call was to
Quick Trigger. The retired deputy gasped at the instructions he was given.
"It's dangerous, Wildcat," he protested. "This'll be the end of you sure! You'll
probably go the way the others did."
The gray man hung up. He knew that Quick would carry out the orders, even
though he feared the plan.
The Whisperer raced to a nearby street. It was a dingy section where squalor
and crime found root. This was the neighborhood where as D. Smith, The
Whisperer hung out when he sought grapevine information.
A small gray coupe was parked conveniently at the curb. It belonged to The
The coupe roared out through the suburbs. The gray man knew now that this
was the night Hilding Kent's assistant, Conway Gerald, was scheduled to make
the final tests on hydroblast for Kent. Gruzman had known all about it.
This was the night when Hilding Kent might find out if he did need more
money-or if he was fixed for life with a million-dollar discovery.
And The Whisperer knew now that it was a night with much more than that in
crime's plan of progress.
The coupe took corners on two wheels. It roared past the big mansion of
Hilding Kent, took a narrow side road. Half a mile down this road was Kent's
laboratory, a low squat building that held a secret. The Whisperer's coupe rushed
through the gate, screamed to a stop. The gray man leaped to the ground, raced
toward the door of the laboratory.
The surprise was mutual. The four hulking figures leaving the laboratory did
not see The Whisperer until he was upon them. The gray man was moving too
rapidly to set himself for the battle. The collision was sudden and complete.
An inventor of explosives could well have afforded to watch the gray man
work. He practically exploded. One big thug was knocked out by The Whisperer
butting him on the jaw with his skull.
The Whisperer whipped out his silenced automatics. Two of the three other
thugs were busy with a brace of ugly automatics each. The odds were four
flaming, roaring automatics against the two guns of the gray man. The Whisperer
took a slug through his shoulder, gave two silenced bullets in return. Two killers
slumped to the ground, through permanently with crime.
There was one peculiar item. The fourth thug did not get in the fight at all. He
ran. With him he carried an unusual burden. He had a huge black cat. The
animal's feet were tied, and it was incased in a sack of Cellophane.
The fleeing thug had a good start. But he tripped on a protruding root. The
Whisperer leaped upon him. He slashed a gun barrel against his skull, stepped
wide of the bag holding the cat.
Then the gray man raced into the laboratory. His eerie whisper drifted through
the air. There was regret in that whisper. He knew he had filled his picture in too
late. Death had beaten him to this laboratory, would collect within a few hours.
Inside, he found Conway Gerald, Hilding Kent's second young assistant.
Gerald's face was drawn. His eyes were raw, inflamed. He raved in a fever of
"Success," Conway Gerald pronounced thickly. "Success, and Dr. Kent
was not here to see it!"
A shudder convulsed the young man. Then all consciousness seemed to leave
him. The Whisperer straightened. He knew the man would be dead within half a
dozen hours. There was little hope-practically no hope, in the opinion of a man
who knew the disease from which he suffered.
The gray man whirled. He knew that whatever help could be given was
already on the way. But he knew also that another life was scheduled to be taken.
Probably two more lives tonight-and many others later-if The Whisperer did not
expose the evil genius grasping for wealth and power.
Not returning to his coupe, The Whisperer raced through the trees toward the
mansion of Hilding Kent. The front door opened as The Whisperer crossed the
yard. Quickly, he hid behind a tree.
The man who emerged from the door was familiar. It was Jake, the servant he
had seen in Jared Meldner's house; the one Quick Trigger had seen before as a
man working for Kent!
Jake's movements were furtive. He looked cautiously around, then retired
again into the house.
The Whisperer saw a dim light burning in one window. It was where the
master bedroom should be located. A trellis led to the window. The gray man
climbed it cautiously. He thought he knew why Hilding Kent had not been on
hand to see the final triumph of his invention.
As he climbed over the sill of the window, The Whisperer heard a voice. The
voice belonged to Jake; he was speaking into a telephone. "He got the sleeping
powder, boss." Jake growled. "That'll keep him out until you get here."
The Whisperer saw Hilding Kent on the bed. His breathing was slow,
regular, but he was unconscious. The gray man moved quickly. He lifted the
body from the bed, carried it through a deserted hall. There he found a large
closet. It was large enough to provide air for several hours.
Closing the door of the closet, The Whisperer went back to the bedroom.
He eased himself under the bed covers. The Whisperer replaced a man
scheduled to meet a sudden, fever ridden death delirium.
The gamble was a desperate one. The Whisperer hoped Quick Trigger would
arrive on schedule with reinforcements. He heard the footsteps draw closer to
the bedroom. Two men were approaching. He pulled the covers up to his head.
Hilding Kent fortunately, also had gray hair.
The voice of Jared Meldner came to The Whisperer. There was triumph in his
"It's all over, Jake," he shrilled. "We'll be millionaires in the morning!"
Then Meldner changed his voice. He imitated Hilding Kent. He had known
Kent many years, He picked up the phone extension in the hall, called a number.
The man he spoke to was Kent's main backer in hydroblast, a man who had
gambled half a million of his own money. Meldner's voice shook as he imitated
"It's a failure," he moaned. "The formula doesn't do what it should at all.
Finally, Meldner put down the phone, resumed his normal voice.
"Million, hell!" he gloated. "That stock is worth four times that amount! And
tomorrow we can buy it for a pocketful of change! No one else will touch it.
They'll all sell out."
Meldner came into the bedroom, paused for a moment over the figure
underneath the covers. The light was dim, and Meldner had no reason to doubt
that his victim lay before him.
"Plague for you, my friend," he muttered. "The black death! You shall die
unpleasantly. A penalty for being smart!"
The Whisperer tensed as Meldner chuckled. This was the moment to strike.
The gray man knew that deadly plague germs were used to kill. He had concluded
that common house cats had been used to transmit the deadly barillus pestis-laden
fleas to the victim. Those fleas will not stay with cats, but will leave their
temporary host to land on the person scheduled to die.
The cats then do not become a permanent carrier; no epidemic is spread to
tell the tale.
Suddenly, the gray man sat erect, silenced guns in his hands. But other things
happened suddenly, things he had not counted on. There was a roar from the
window above the trellis. One gun dropped from the bleeding fingers of The
Jules Gruzman's voice bellowed a warning to Jared Meldner.
"Grab his other gun, Meldner!" Gruzman shrieked.
Meldner needed no second order. He took the situation at a glance.
Gruzman fired again as he spoke. Blood spurted from The Whisperer's other
shoulder, numbed the muscles of his arm. He was in an awkward position, seated
in a feather bed that did not give him purchase. Both hands were useless.
Gruzman stood beside the window, automatic leveled at The Whisperer. A
brutal sneer spread across his lips.
Also, if you're expecting help from the cops, you won't get it. I went by a carload
of 'em on my way out. I ran 'em over a fifty-foot embankment as I passed!"
The Whisperer's eyes showed no emotion. It seemed that he had failed
completely. There was only one slim chance left-if these two would cooperate.
He had to stall for time. It was a chance that would take him with the other
two-if he was lucky enough to get them at all.
"O. K," he said. "Bring on your cats."
Meldner cackled, moved over beside Gruzman near the window.
"There are other ways than cats, my friend" he snarled. "In your case, I simply
shook the nice little fleas from a box. It was even more simple. You are by now
alive with bacillus pestis! Delirium will strike within an hour. In another you will
be comatose. In less than a dozen-dead!"
The gray man squirmed. He shuddered, felt his flesh crawl on his bones. It
was true. He could feel the sharp bites of the pestilence-laden insects. Meldner
"It will probably come to light now that plague had been the cause of many
deaths," he sneered. "Kent will die, and it will all be blamed on him, what with
the extortion notes so easily identifiable. It will seem his own monster turned
Meldner glanced at the typewriter in one corner of the room. The Whisperer
knew all the phony notes had been written on that by Jake, the servant. Meldner
watched The Whisperer, the light of a madman in his ryes. He must be truly mad,
the way he gloated at certain death before him.
Suddenly, the gray man laughed as madly as had Meldner. His eerie
whispering chuckle brought a sudden alarm to the eyes of Jules Gruzman. As The
Whisperer spoke, the crooked lawyer stood entranced, unbelieving, yet compelled
"You are right "' the gray man challenged. "A monster is going to turn against
the crooks who would use it. Watch! It devours!"
Muscular control had returned to one of The Whisperer's arms. That arm shot
out suddenly from the covers. A small vial hurtled through the air, crashed at the
feet of the two criminals.
The explosion let loose with a detonation that shook the earth. Neighbors later
said it was heard three miles away. It buried the entire outer wall into the yard.
Hydroblast was indeed successful! The two arch crooks were blown to bits.
The Whisperer had taken the vial from the dying hand of Conway Gerald,
"You got the last of me one time, punk," he rasped, "But this is the Kent's
young assistant! The thing the crooks sought most had killed them."
Jake was reduced to a state of babbling flesh when Quick Trigger arrived
with the squad of cops. His men had survived the plunge over the embankment,
had commandeered another car.
Jake was more than a bit alarmed at his own predicament. But Quick assured
him he would have lots of time to think it over-behind nice iron bars.
The room of the explosion was a shambles. Quick Trigger made no comment
on the fact that no parts of The Whisperers body were apparent. He tried to look
calm when Wildcat Gordon stormed in from outside.
Wildcat looked considerably the worse for wear. He was smudged and
burned; one hand was in a bandage and blood dripped from an arm. He smelled of
It was Wildcat who rescued Hilding Kent from the hall closet. And it was
Wildcat who pulled out a note he said he found on a mantel in the living room. "It
was obvious that Gruzman had a partner," the note explained. "Much medical
knowledge was necessary. If he had been working with Kent, the fake extortion
notes would not have pointed to him. Meldner's blackmail charge was too
transparent; it was merely brought to throw a smoke screen after they learned The
Whisperer was on the trail of the natural deaths that were murder.
"The rest you can get from any medical authority. There are two types of
plague more deadly than bubonic; pneumonic plague and septicemic plague. In
each of them, recovery is practically impossible. When not epidemic, early cases
are seldom suspected, as diagnosis is impossible without bacteriological tests.
"Such tests are seldom used in what appear to be ordinary cases of bronchial
pneumonia, malaria or typhoid. Early symptoms frequently appear to be merely
acute intoxication. Even in epidemics, the first cases have almost never been
"I fortified myself with antiplague vaccine, which is sometimes effective.
"Sincerely, THE WHISPERER." It was then that Jake remembered the
flaming mattress that had walked after the explosion. It had gone down the hall
and out the door, a huge ball of flame. Jake got scared all over again when he
"H-he might have gotten under a mattress, saved himself-" he began. Then he
looked again at the shambles that had been a room.
"No," he decided. "It isn't possible!"
Quick Trigger grunted.
"It'd be a break for me, if I didn't have to put up with him any more," he