Horror in Gold
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It began with an uncanny encounter on busy Seventh Avenue. Two men pass each other in the street, walking along calmly one minute—struck down the next by a horrific fate.
All over Manhattan, soundless detonations cut down prince and pauper alike. No one is safe. Great buildings are reduced to ruin. Banks are demolished. The authorities stand helpless.
Only one man, Doc Savage—scientist, adventurer and superman—can penetrate the eerie enigma that threatens to bring the mightiest city on earth to its knees. But when The Alchemist decrees that the Man of Bronze must surrender unconditionally to save New York, will Doc be snuffed out next?
From the besieged canyons of New York to the rugged coast of Alaska, Doc Savage and his men race to resolve the riddle that brings grisly doom to ordinary citizens—and threatens the economic recovery of a Depression-besieged world.
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Praise for Horror in Gold
Horror in Gold is a splendid example of just why I have been reading the adventures of Doc Savage for almost 50 years! It is everything we have come to expect from a Doc Savage adventure and MORE! While the characters and writing style are all familiar, these new Doc adventures are truly “WILD”—a whole new level of excitement. Quite simply, Horror in Gold is a Doc Savage masterpiece!
Chapter I: Passing Strange
COINCIDENCE IS AN intangible thing. Many strange and inexplicable events for which science cannot account are often dismissed as such. If a phenomenon cannot be reproduced in a laboratory, insist some learned men of science, pending a better explanation it must be charged to common coincidence.
The horror that visited Seventh Avenue on a brutally hot August day was no coincidence. It smacked of the uncanny, the unexplainable, the coincidental. But it was not. It was merely the start of a grisly chain of events that would shake a city to its foundations.
It began this way:
The panhandler was going fishing.
He carried a flat length of iron attached to a stout string of twine. The iron slat was smeared with axle grease, surreptitiously purloined from a dead-storage garage, where vehicles are housed for extended periods of time.
The simple contraption was a fishing rod and line of sorts. The axle grease was what passed for a fish hook in the tramp’s determined undertaking.
He walked briskly down Seventh Avenue, oblivious to hurried passersby. Passing humanity ignored the tramp in turn, relieved not to be accosted for a handout. Hoboes of this specimen’s class freely ranged the island of Manhattan, prowling for nickels.
No one—least of all the indigent one—suspected that he was destined to be at the center of the horror to come.
This panhandler—he surely possessed a name but it was never discovered—went off not in search of nickels, but something more valuable.
Coming to a storm drain, the nameless one squatted down, planting the much-patched seat of his pants on the concrete curbstone and his cracked shoes on either side of the sewer grate.
He peered down between the dull steel bars.
There had been a rain the day before, and gutter runoff had poured into the drain. Some leftover rain water stood down below. It glimmered. Other glints shone, as well. One in particular caught the tramp’s narrowing eye. Had anyone been paying close attention, they might have deduced that the tramp had earlier in the day spied the interesting glint, was only now returning with suitable equipment for fishing it out of the storm drain.
Into a space between the bars, he lowered the axle-grease-smeared length of iron strapping. It dropped all the way into the standing water below, splashing.
Unshaven face working in lines of comical concentration, the tramp jiggered his rather unwieldy contraption. One eye shut often, as he squint-sighted with the other.
It was evident that the panhandler was attempting to make contact with the interesting glint in hopes that the object that shone so intriguingly would adhere to the sticky slat.
Many times he muttered imprecations of disgust and frustration. Once the tramp hauled up his makeshift arrangement of metal and twine, threw it off to one side, and stamped around in agitated frustration.
“Blankety-blank!” he growled. Or words to that effect.
This caught the notice of pedestrians. One summoned a traffic cop. The cop bustled up, took hold of the nameless individual by the scruff of his greasy collar and demanded, “State your business, bum.”
The tramp had had dealings with New York’s Finest in the past. He knew how to behave when confronted by authority. He immediately assumed a docile demeanor.
“I’m only fishing,” he bleated.
The cop lost his belligerent tone.
“What’s that again?”
“Said I was fishing. Haven’t got a nibble so far,” explained the homeless one.
The cop noticed the storm drain then. His angular Irish face softened.
“Pal, I know times are tough, but even if you do get a bite off something down there, it won’t be fit for eating. You’d get ptomaine poisoning, or worse.”
“I’m not trolling for fish,” snapped the tramp. “And I’m not touched, either. People sometimes lose coins. They roll into the grate. Fair game, see?”
The cop was young. A probationary patrolman, he had not been on the beat very long, for his heart still retained some soft spots. He relented.
“Scrounging for pennies, huh?” he said, releasing the freeloader. “As long as you don’t disturb the peace, I’ll let you go about your business.”
“Thank you,” said the other with injured dignity.
And as the patrolman took a step backward, the tramp applied the seat of his pants once more to the curb and lowered his greasy contrivance into the storm drain anew.
There ensued the same prolonged and frustrating ritual of dropping and maneuvering the axle-grease-smeared bit of iron. From time to time, the strapping clinked against dim objects below, some of which might have been lost pennies. The clink that excited the industrious panhandler sounded too weighty to be a penny, however.
After a while, the cop grew bored and returned to his rounds. He missed what happened next, although he had a ringside seat to the horror which followed.
AFTER fully an hour of stubborn diligence, the tramp grew excited. With extreme care, he raised his device gingerly, taking greater caution when the narrow slat of iron started coming up through the grate.
When it cleared without mischance, the industrious panhandler peeled off an object that clung to the axle grease. It was clotted with a leafy muck. The tramp seized upon it eagerly, wiping it on a sweat-soiled trouser leg.
Late afternoon sunlight made the spaces between his grimy, grasping fingers gleam. It was not the reddish gleam of a penny, however. Nor the silver of a coin of higher denomination. The gleam was warm, yellowish.
He grew very furtive in his actions now. He kept his back to passing pedestrians, his shoulders hunched protectively.
This had the opposite effect than intended.
Spying this, a passing vagrant scuttled up and inquired, “Whatcha got there, pal o’ mine?”
“Go away,” the nameless one growled.
This only further excited the vagrant’s curiosity bump. He reached around to snatch at the unrecognizable object in the other’s hand.
The tramp, who had been in the act of cleaning off his prize, now did something only a desperately hungry man would do. He took the unsavory object into his mouth.
Mouth shut, the tramp started off. The other followed for a block or two, hectoring and cajoling.
“Don’t you wanna share with a pal?” the vagrant repeated. “I’d share with you, buddy. You know I would.”
The panhandler kept his mouth locked up tight and his eyes fixed on the way ahead. He gave his persistent tormentor no acknowledgement whatsoever.
Seeing that he would get no satisfaction, the buttinski vagrant shoved his gesticulating hands into his pockets and went off in search of less troublesome opportunities.
By doing so, he missed the real excitement. He also missed the horror. Perhaps that was a good thing. Horror is no antidote to curiosity.
Bowling down Seventh Avenue and its fashionable shops, the closed-mouthed panhandler happened to pass his social opposite.
It was a youth of perhaps college age, attired for a night on the town. His lean, well-knit form was encased in a tuxedo of the soup-and-fish variety. It was early in the afternoon for such attire, but the young man’s jaunty manner suggested he might be a bit of a show-off.
The well-dressed swell’s sartorial ensemble was crowned by an elegant topper. This drew a rather envious glance from the tramp. The one with the topper deigned not to return that glance. And so missed out on the last sight of his brief but privileged existence.
At the exact moment the two men passed, the horror struck.
There was no sound, no feeling in the air that presaged the event that would rule the scareheads of the evening newspapers. Nothing to foreshadow the headlines the newsboys would within the hour be bawling at the tops of their voices.
At the precise moment the two came to pass one another, their heads exploded.
AS phenomena went, this was a simultaneous event. No noticeable interval separated the cranial detonations. The ugly sound registered upon the ear as one sound, not two. This would later prove to be significant.
The panhandler’s head simply exploded outward like a watermelon which had harbored a hand grenade.
The other’s demise was only slightly less violent.
His face seemed to erupt into a red ruin, after which the fashionable young swell pitched forward in death, his body attempting to continue along in its automatic stride for another two steps. By that time, what remained of his head hinged backward like a puppet whose top string had broken.
Force of the explosion sent his topper sailing into the sky. When it tumbled down again, punctuated with what resembled ragged moth holes, the two chance passersby were heaped on the hot concrete sidewalk, minus their heads. Around them was a profusion of scarlet matter suggestive of the floor of a butcher’s shop. It steamed.
In a macabre irony, the topper happened to settle back to earth on the raw stump of the headless tramp, shielding it from the shocked eyes of a gathering crowd.
The suddenness of the event stunned those who witnessed it. For the length of the block, people froze. Shock gave way to horror, and horror turned inward.
Witnesses began running in fear of their lives. An unknown calamity had visited two persons engaged in nothing more unusual than a stroll down Seventh Avenue. They were naturally afraid they were to be the next victims. No one wanted to be next. So they ran.
The pell-mell confusion brought the soft-hearted probationary patrolman running from traffic watch. He skidded to a stop, took one look at the fashionable young man-about-town and the topper-hatted tramp and jumped to an instantaneous if erroneous conclusion.
There had been an altercation between the two. A fight had ensued over the topper. The pair had murdered one another.
When he lifted the high hat and saw the stump, the cop was compelled to revise that opinion drastically.
By that time he was up on his feet, blowing shrilly on his police whistle and going red in the face as a result—and fervently wishing that he had rousted the now-deceased tramp from his beat. He did not understand what had happened, but he fell victim to a common pang, guilt.
“If I’d’ve only done my job,” he moaned between whistle blasts, “none of this might have happened.”
He did not know that nothing could have been further from the truth.
Nor did he suspect that this was only the beginning of something that was destined to rock Manhattan and, quite possibly, shake the world.
And it would bring the most remarkable man who ever lived in conflict with one of the most terrible menaces ever to confront humanity.