Whispering Death - Aidan de Brune - ebook

Whispering Death ebook

Aidan de Brune

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Opis

Whispering Death” (1931) is the third adventure in the „Dr. Night” trilogy by Aidan de Brune, (1874-1946). This third story is gaudy crime yarns, which steadily veers into fantasy by the end and features a very unlikely Asian villain who is as different from Fu Manchu as you can imagine: a small, colorless man of uncertain central Asian origin whose principal obsession is raising money by any means possible to recreate a long-dead central Asian kingdom of which his distant ancestors were kings. Most of the stories in the „Dr. Night” trilogy take place in and around Sydney, although the earliest known is set in Perth Western Australia and one of the novelettes in north Queenslan. Aidan de Brune was a big name in Australian literature but is forgotten today. He was a prolific author who wrote in a variety of genres.

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Liczba stron: 300

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER XXX

CHAPTER XXXI

CHAPTER XXXII

CHAPTER XXXIII

CHAPTER XXXIV

CHAPTER XXXV

CHAPTER I

“WHAT’S this?”

Roy Iston halted at the door of the big reporters’ room in the Mirror offices, gazing around him with an expression of comical dismay on his homely, cheerful features. For a bare moment he hesitated, then strode across the long room to the large horseshoe table at which three men sat. He looked down at them with wonder growing in his eyes.

The three men were bending forward over the table, their foreheads resting on a confused litter of papers. Almost fearfully, Roy went round the desk and laid his hand on the shoulder of Robert Hardy, the chief sub-editor, shaking him gently. The man’s head rolled grotesquely on the papers and he gave no signs of consciousness. Roy bent lower. Hardy’s face was deathly pale; his lips were slightly parted and on his clenched teeth was a film of dead white foam.

Roy straightened himself with a jerk, withdrawing his hand from the man’s shoulder as if the contact had stung him. He glanced down the big room, a frown of perplexity on his ruddy face. At many of the desks men were seated, each of them bending forward over his work. From where he stood, Roy could see that they were unconscious.

“The cuckoos!” A soundless whistle formed on his lips. “What the hell? The whole staff of the Mirror doped, or–” He shook his head, as if in negation, of the thought in his mind! No, neither Hardy nor his companions were dead!

Again he bent over the chief sub-editor, forcing him round so that he could peer into the bloodless, pallid features. Hardy was unconscious! But, what had caused it? A couple of paces brought the journalist to Jim O’Sullivan’s side. A short examination, and Roy was satisfied. O’Sullivan, like Hardy, was fast asleep.

What had happened during the past three hours–the time since he had left that room on the ‘rush’ assignment Bob Hardy had thrust on him? Roy’s eyes glanced, inquisitively across the room, towards the glass panelled door bearing the words Managing Editor. Behind that door was Alphonse Thomas. Was he, too, unconscious, perhaps dying?

A few strides brought him to the threshold of the room. For a moment he hesitated, then rapped sharply on the glass. There was no answer. He waited a few seconds before turning the handle and entering. The managing editor was seated at his desk, his head resting on his arms folded on his blotting-pad. A quick examination and Roy decided that he, too, was fast asleep. Almost on tiptoe, the journalist stole into the big, room, closing the door behind him.

What had happened? The frown deepened on Roy’s face. The affair was almost unbelievable. He threw a quick glance at the many doors opening from the reporters’ room. He knew that if he opened any of them he would find the occupants asleep. For the first time a sense of loneliness overtook the journalist. He shuddered, thinking of himself as the one sentient being in that building of sleepers.

Almost involuntarily, he turned to the doorway through which he had entered, then hesitated again. There was something in the atmosphere of the place that puzzled, nay more, perplexed him. Something more than the muted men seated around that room.

For a time he debated what he should do. He listened; there was not a sound. In that building at that time of night the Mirror offices should be vibrating with the shrill clatter and dull thuds of the speeding linotype machines. From deep down in the bowels of the building he should hear the reverberation of the mighty presses getting ready, to print the far-country editions! It wanted but a few minutes to eleven and at twelve-fifteen the first edition should be on the machine!

Mechanically, Roy strode up the long room to the sub-editor’s table and drew to him one of the telephones. For some minutes he listened with growing impatience for the answer from the switch-board operator, then suddenly laughed.

“Of course!” Again he laughed. “The girl at the switch is also doped. Well, I’ll have to attend to myself.”

A few strides took him to the door. In the little room stood a! large switchboard. Before it was seated a girl, the earphone on her head her fingers holding a connecting cord. But she lay back in her arm-chair, sound asleep. Across her knees stretched the office-cat, snoring loudly.

“Oh, Maisie, Maisie!” Roy shook his head, comically. “And all those connections chattering like a lot of old maids at a tea-party!”

Ignoring the ‘buzz buzz’ that sounded from nearly all the lines coming into the office, Roy found an unoccupied line and plugged in. Then he dialled Police Headquarters.

“Police Headquarters? Good!” Roy spoke after a short pause. “Put me on to Inspector Frost. Yes. Roy Iston, of the Mirror speaking. No; none of that thanks. I was talking to him ten minutes ago and he told me that he had a couple of hours’ work on hand before he could go home. Yes, I’ll hang on. Bet your sweet life! Speed-o, boy!”

A short pause, and then Roy spoke again.

“That you, Jim! Good! Roy Iston speaking. Say, can you come over to the Mirror? Important? I should say it was. Battle, murder, sudden-death–or slow, perhaps! Take your choice! No, I’m not rotting, Jim, it’s real important. Best case you’ll have in your young life. Coming? Good-o!”

Thoughtfully, Roy replaced the receiver and went back to the reporter’s room. For a minute he waited; then turned to the door leading to the elevators. It seemed inhuman to leave his friends, unaided; but he; did not want to touch them, yet. He wanted the room to remain as it was until after the Inspector’s arrival. He wanted definite logical answers to the many questions that crowded his brain.

Again at the big, swing doors, he hesitated, then pushed through and went on to the pavement. The hands pointed to eleven-fifteen. He stared, doubtfully, up at the clock. Had only twenty minutes passed since he had pushed through the swing doors behind him, intent only on getting to his desk and scribbling the few lines of copy required–and then leave for home? In those few minutes he had lived hours. He had passed from the streets of the living to the habitations of the dead–

The dead! Had he been mistaken in his diagnosis and were the men in the building dead–not sleeping?

Dead! Dead! The words echoed again and again through his brain. He shook himself angrily. Why should he continually harp on death? He knew that Bob Hardy was not dead–merely sleeping. But, why? How? What–no, who–had caused the sudden sleep of nearly a hundred humans in the heart of one of the most important cities of the Empire?

“What’s up Roy?” A heavy hand on the journalist’s shoulder startled him from reverie.

“Up?” A slow grin came on Roy’s face. “Come up, and I’ll show you. Ever been in a city of dead men, Jim?”

“Dead men?” The Inspector, a short, keen-faced, dark man, looked suspiciously at the journalist. He spoke sharply. “This isn’t one of your jokes, Roy, is it? If it is, the Lord help you! I’m as busy as an ant’s great-grandmother.”

“Joke?” Roy shook his head, gravely. “Wish it was, old man. I’d give a weeks’ pay to–oh well, you know left you half-an-hour ago.” He glanced up at the clock. “In front of headquarters, y’know. You turned in, there to–to do what all good policemen do before they go home I suppose.”

“Well?” the Inspector interjected, as the newspaper-man paused.

“Well, I came on here.” Again Roy smiled, involuntarily. “Pushed through these doors. Went up in the automatic lift to the third floor. Went to go to my desk to write up–well, that doesn’t matter–and found the whole house asleep.”

“Asleep! Rot!”

“You’ve said it!” The newspaperman nodded his head. “I’d have said the same thing, if you’d told the tale! As it is, come and see!”

He pushed at the swing-doors as he spoke.

Frost caught him by the shoulder.

“Look here, Roy Iston, if this is a joke, I’ll–”

“Joke?” The journalist’s face suddenly showed the strain of thy past few minutes. “If I’m joking, Frost, put me in an asylum–put me in the condemned cell, or–or kick me back to front. You’ve my leave, but come on, man! Come on!”

He wrenched himself from under the Inspector’s hand and darted into the building. Frost, a look of doubt on his hawk-like face, followed slowly. In silence, they went up to the editorial offices.

Flinging open the door of the reporters’ room, Roy stood aside for the police officer to precede him.

“God!” Frost paused on the threshold, taking in the sprawling forms of the men at the various desks. A quick glance around and he sprang to action, half-running to the sub-editor’s dock, at the head of the room.

“He’s alive!” The inspector bent over Hardy’s unconscious form. “Here–I want a doctor. Quick!” He caught up the telephone, agitating the hook angrily. “No good!”

Roy laughed nervously. “Wait!’ I’ll switch through from the board. Get a doctor’s number and stand by.”

In a few minutes the newspaperman re-entered the big room. The Inspector was speaking into the instrument. He replaced it on the table and turned to the unconscious man.

“Give me a hand, Roy. I want to lay him on the floor. No,” he exclaimed, noticing the journalist’s hesitation. “He’s not dead–but he’s in my way!”

In silence, they lifted Hardy from his chair and laid him on the floor, Roy slipping a seat-cushion under the man’s head. Frost slipped into the sub-editor’s chair and drew the papers on the desk towards him. Immediately, he gave a short exclamation.

“Here, Roy! Seen this before?” The journalist bent over the sheets of copy paper, reading quickly:

MYSTERY AIRSHIP HOVERS OVER SYDNEY WHO OWNS IT

Shortly after ten o’clock last night the lighthouse keeper at South Head reported a strange aeroplane coming to land from due east.

The plane bore no letter or distinguishing, marks and was only about five hundred feet above the lighthouse.

Mr. Seeman, the head-keeper, reports that the plane was travelling at a tremendous speed and headed directly for the centre of the city. He is certain that it does not belong to the military or naval authorities of the Commonwealth, nor it is the property of any of the numerous aero clubs.

The most remarkable thing about the mystery plane is that the engines, which evidently develop enormous power, are absolutely silent.

Whence came this mystery ship and who owns it? It is certainly a distinct improvement on any other aeroplane in the Commonwealth and a most potential weapon of destruction.

LATER

The mystery airship hovered over Sydney for some ten minutes, plainly visible to many observers. It then headed seawards, travelling at a...

There the message ended abruptly. The journalist and the policeman stared at each other in blank amazement.

CHAPTER II

ROBERT HARDY opened the door of the managing editor’s office, in the Mirror building and glanced round the reporters’ room. He caught Roy’s eyes and beckoned; then returned into the room, leaving the door ajar. Roy shuffled his papers together and sauntered across the room. He tapped on the glass of the managing editor’s door and immediately entered. Bob Hardy was standing beside Alphonse Thomas. Both men nodded shortly to the young man.

“Heard anything more of last night’s affair?” Thomas questioned, after a pause.

“No, sir.”

“Like to?”

“It was certainly intriguing.” Roy smiled tightly, and continued. “I may say that was the first time I’ve caught my chief sub. asleep.”

“I’ve asked Mr. Hardy if he would take the assignment.” The managing editor spoke testily. “Unfortunately, he cannot. He’s recommended you. Take it?”

“To discover who played the trick on the Mirror?” Roy spoke eagerly. “Why, sir–”

“We know who played the trick,” Hardy interrupted. “The gentleman was good enough to leave his card last night. Found it in my pocket, this morning.”

“That’s why I wanted Mr. Hardy to follow this up.” Thomas spoke impatiently. “He came across this scoundrel, once before, and–’

“You mean Dr. Night?” Roy knew the story of the battle of wits between the mysterious Asian, Dr. Night and Robert Hardy in the days when the latter had been a reporter on the Mirror‘s staff–a story that contained the love romance of Hardy and his wife.

“Jove, Mr. Thomas, if you trust me–”

“We trust you, Roy.” Hardy spoke gravely. “We are in doubt, however, whether we should allow you to run this risk. Dr. Night is a killer; one of the greatest–perhaps the greatest–criminals in the world. You stake your life?”

“Yet you escaped?”

“I was lucky.” Hardy drew a card from his pocket and passed it to Roy. The journalist examined it, curiously. It bore only the words “I have returned–Dr. Night.”

“For what purpose?” Roy asked the question, wonderingly.

“That we can only guess at.” Hardy motioned the journalist to a chair. “Dr. Night, years ago, told me that he was at war with the white races. I believe–I have reason to believe that he is the last survivor of some royal race who held empire in the heart of Asia. That is surmise only. We know so little of him.”

“There was the pursuit of the Green Pearl,” reminded Thomas.

“Yes.” Hardy passed his hands over his eyes, wearily. Then he spoke suddenly ‘God! I’d give ten years of my life to go after that scoundrel, again!’

“But, why–”

“He’s a married man, youngster.” Thomas spoke ironically. “Can’t say I blame Mrs. Hardy. She had a bitter experience of this Dr. Night. Anyhow, she’s put her foot down. Hardy has to remain in the safety zone. You take his place. Willing?”

“And eager sir.” Roy spoke impulsively.

“Then listen.” Thomas paused a moment. “You came up here last night and found us all asleep. We took some waking, I believe. Now, here’s the story: About half-past ten last night, Mr. Seeman, of the South Head lighthouse, telephoned Hardy about a mystery ‘plane he had seen coming over the heads; from the sea. Hardy was taking the message when he chanced to look up and fancied he saw–”

“I saw him,” the chief sub. interrupted, emphatically.

“Well–looked up and saw Dr. Night standing in the doorway. The Asian was smiling mockingly. He lifted his hand and disappeared. Hardy found that the atmosphere had become thick; he could hardly breath. He fought for consciousness and–and watched his comrades, one after the other, come under the influence of the gas–”

“Gas?” queried Roy, curiously. “I did not smell anything when I came into the room.”

“Not likely to,” Thomas laughed. “Dr. Night–”

“The man’s a devil!” exclaimed Hardy.

“Then Roy’s got to prove himself a devil-tamer. Like the job, youngster?”

“Nothing better!” the journalist chuckled. “When do I start, sir?”

“Here and now.” Thomas nodded, appreciatively. “You’ve got the tale, so far as we can tell you. Hardy will put you wise to anything you want to know regarding Dr. Night’s previous visitations. You can work, so far as the police will allow, with Inspector Frost–”

“Jim Frost on this?” Roy’s face showed his pleasure. “That’s good.”

“I’ve had a word with the Commissioner,” Thomas nodded. “Frost knows Dr. Night and his methods. Perhaps he’ll be able to keep you out of mischief.”

“Am I to take orders from the police?” Roy showed disappointment.

“If you do you’ll wear the sack,” thundered the managing editor, grimly. “No, Hardy spun along ahead of the police when he went after Dr. Night. We expect you to do the same. Still, boy, don’t neglect Frost. He’s a clever, keen man, and he knows what he’s up against–and you don’t.”

“Act as you deem wise, Roy.” Hardy spoke kindly–“You’ve got more than I had, when I took up Dr. Night’s trail, years ago. We know the man and his methods, and with Inspector’s Frost help can guard against this uncanny powers. I know how far he will go before he acknowledges himself beaten.”

“Do you connect this mystery ‘plane with Dr. Night?” asked the journalist.

“No!” exclaimed Thomas.

“Yes.” Hardy spoke quickly. Roy looked from one man to the other, in perplexity, then laughed. A moment, and the three of them were laughing, together.

“We shan’t get far with divided opinions,” said Hardy doubtfully.

“What do you think, youngster?” asked the managing editor.

“For the time being I’m going to link up everything I can with the mystery.” Roy spoke after consideration. “There’s the ‘plane, the gassing and this card. That’s all.” He hesitated. “Unless you can supply the remainder of the missing report.”

“You mean?’

“The papers on Mr. Hardy’s desk concluded with a ‘late’ message he was taking over the ‘phone.” The journalist addressed himself to his managing editor. “The words were-” He pulled a sheet of paper out of his pocket and read:

“The mystery ‘plane hovered over Sydney for some ten minutes, plainly visible to many observers. It then headed seawards, travelling at a-” Roy paused and looked expectantly at the chief sub.

“‘Terrific speed’ appears to be indicated,” suggested Thomas.

Hardy nodded.

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