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Chapter Six
Under The River

THE BLACK WATERS OF THE EAST RIVER heaved sullenly, dimpled by the slash of sleet. The thunderous tread of the robots was very close and, in the ruins of what had been his home, Wentworth crouched against the wall and drew Nita close to protect her. Ram Singh growled in his throat, his big hand close to his dagger.

Past the concealing shadows went the robots, whose marching feet had become an intolerable weight upon the brain, upon the heart. Only when they were past did Wentworth release Nita.

"Keep watch, if you like," Wentworth told her gently. "I'll be back within the hour. I won't follow too closely, but if I can track those robots to their hideout, I'll contrive a way to smash this whole damnable murder conspiracy!"

He pivoted then and moved heavily in the wake of the robots. They were already entering the water, one by one. The black waters lapped against their steel flanks, then closed quietly above those rounded helmets. Wentworth moved as heavily as a robot. There were leaden weights fastened to the belt that held the knife, and in his hands he had other leaden weights which could be fastened to his feet. He would need them beneath the surface of the river, but on land they made walking too difficult. When the last robot had disappeared, Wentworth broke into a lumbering run. At the water's edge, he paused to tighten the window in the front of his helmet, to slip his feet into the straps of the shoe weights. He touched the hilt of the knife at his belt, and his lips locked grimly. He floundered into the water.

The shore was slippery with mud and the river closed about his ankles. The water deepened instantly and within four strides, he was up to his neck. The weights were less hampering now. He was beginning to feel the buoyancy of his suit—and the cold of the water struck through the rubberized material. There had been no time to don heavy garments beneath it. No matter. . . . He would not be below the surface long. Within a few minutes, he should know the lair of these monsters of steel, or be defeated. His grey-blue eyes narrowed, he rapidly checked the valves of his helmet—and took a final step.

The water lapped against the window in the helmet. For a moment the slap of the waves against the metal casque was thunderous . . . and then it stopped and he knew he was wholly beneath the water. The blackness was impenetrable. He groped across the chest of the suit, touched a hard spot in the rubber, and a powerful beam reached out from a glass port. Its range was only a few feet, but it lighted the ground at his feet. He was already ankle-deep in the sludge of the bottom. Perhaps he carried too much weight. He could tell better when he was deeper in the river. But now his eyes focused on the mud, and a thin smile twisted his lips. As he had expected, the huge steel feet of the robots had left their trail! It looked as if a herd of elephants had waded through soft mud. But those footmarks were even larger!

Wentworth bent against the thrust of the tide and dragged his weighted feet steadily forward. He had forgotten the bitter cold that was seeping into his tight suit; forgotten everything save the chase. It was the first moment in all this mad night of battle that he had been able to put his mind entirely upon the problem of the robots. Mechanized monsters they undoubtedly were, but he was equally certain that they carried men inside them—and men as ruthless as if they were soulless robots! In heaven's name, who could be the leader, the director of this mad jehad of slaughter? But he had a clue to that, even though it was a lead he could not understand.

 

Three rich houses had been looted, smashed by the robots—and a fourth house just beside them, richer than the others, had not been looted. That fourth home had been guarded by a man of the Drexler agency, and on his chest was tattooed the sign of the murder monsters! Wentworth had always had the highest regard for Frank Drexler, and he was loath even now to believe the man capable of such infamies. And yet . . . there was the evidence of the Drexler guard, and the trail of the robots led upstream toward Drexler's riverside home!

Now that he was farther from the shore, the force of the current was extremely powerful. It was labor to set each foot before the other; labor too to drag his weighted legs free of the sucking mud upon the river bottom. Swirls of it lifted like torpid dust to cloud against the shortened ray of his lamp. There was a numbness in his limbs that was the creeping paralysis of cold. Wentworth was like that, canted forward at a forty-five-degree angle against the current, fighting for each step, when the light reached out and wrapped itself about him.

For an instant, Wentworth thought that it was the blinding reflection of his own lamp, hurled back by the higher swirl of the mud. Then he realized that the light was far more powerful than his own. A muffled oath burst from his lips and crashed deafeningly within the helmet. He twisted his head about, peered out of the small sideport in the helmet—and then his hand flicked to the knife at his waist! Peering at him from the black wall of the water were two great balls of light and he realized as he stared at them, that the light poured from the eyes of one of the robots! God, he had been a fool! He should have guessed that they would post a rear guard!

Wentworth ripped the knife from its sheath, but he had no intention of battling the robot in these depths if he could avoid it. His purpose was to find their lair, and then to arrange for its destruction. He wrenched his feet free of the mud, tried to thrust himself swiftly upstream. He moved with incredible speed for a diver, but it was slow, terribly slow. The robot moved with the same implacable pace that it used upon land, neither faster nor slower. It was too powerful to heed either mud or water pressure. The glare of the lights glittered from the steel. The knees lifted steadily, the feet swung forward six feet at a stride!

After that single instant of struggle, Wentworth realized that flight was useless. If he was to go on with his pursuit—and it was characteristic of the Spider's indomitable purpose that he did not even consider abandoning his task!—there was only one possible course. He must destroy this robot!

On the face of it, the thought was madness. Bullets and the headlong charge of trucks had not stopped these monsters, nor had the impact of a wall of brick done more than delay them for a space of moments! Yet, with only that slim-bladed knife which he gripped in a cold-numbed hand, Wentworth turned to face the enemy! His mouth was a lipless gash across his face, and his eyes were narrowed and intent. He shifted his feet in the silt of the bottom, kicked free of their weights. His left hand moved rapidly upon the weights that were attached to his belt. There were five of them, weighing ten pounds each.

The robot was only two strides away now and Wentworth swiftly unfastened three of the five weights from his belt. The buoyancy of his suit immediately made itself felt. His feet felt light. Wentworth poised the knife before him like a sword and, with a tensing of his leg muscles, he dived straight at the robot! The current plucked him up and hurled him forward. The light from the robot's eyes was suddenly dazzling, but in its reflection Wentworth could make out the great steel body. He saw then that the two massive beams of the arms were swinging forward, and that the steel talons were clenched to seize him! Once let those points rake his rubber suit, and they would tear it to shreds!

 

But Wentworth had no intention of being caught. With less weight he had gained considerable swiftness of movement. As the right arm of the steel monster swung toward him, Wentworth jackknifed and swept in under it. It was the moment for which he had waited. His knife point rasped across the steel armor until it found the armpit. As he had discovered when he hurled bullets at the monster, the joints of the armor were covered by overhangs of steel . . . but there were joints, and in order to keep out the water, they must be covered by rubber!

It was this deduction on which Wentworth had gambled his life. Now, probing deeply into the socket of the armor, he felt the knife catch on some soft, half-yielding substance and exultation coursed hotly through his veins. It did not matter whether this was a mechanical monster, or whether a human being was within it, if water trickled inside, it spelled the robot's doom!

Wentworth seized the shoulder of the robot with his left hand, and thrust more deeply with his probing steel. He knew that the robot was in violent motion, for the water swirled fiercely about him, but he clung tightly, fought to widen the slit he had made in the rubber. He thought that, already, the motions of the robot had become slower. A few more moments of clinging to this creature's back, where it could not reach him, and he would have the robot disabled. Afterward, he could press on with his pursuit, and then. . . .

A cry surged to Wentworth's lips. He had thought the robot could not reach him, but he had been wrong! Even in his moment of triumph, he felt a steel hand close like a vise about his ankle! It pulled at him resistlessly, and Wentworth's hold was instantly torn loose. He had just time to wrench his knife free when he was whirled in a frenzied circle through the waters! His arms flung wide, and centrifugal force drove the blood to his brain so that his senses faded. Presently, he realized that the motion had ceased; that he was being held aloft before the dazzling lights that were the eyes of the robot. But it was only for an instant, and then there was a tremendous pressure upon his helmet; blood started from his nostrils. He heard the thin creaking of strained metal and horror shot through him like the punch of a bullet. God in heaven, the robot was crushing Wentworth's helmet!

Even as the thought slashed through Wentworth's brain, the first jet of water struck Wentworth's cheek with the shock of a blow. It was fiercely cold, and the weight of the river drove it inward with terrific force. Then another jet. . . . The robot was deliberately delaying the moment when he would drown Wentworth, torturing him! Fury swirled through Wentworth's brain: Once more he struck out with the knife, and this time it found a joint near the throat of the steel monster. Savagely, Wentworth thrust the knife home, dragged its keen edge through the rubber inner shield.

There was a single convulsive drag at Wentworth's leg, and then his helmet was ripped from his head. The river crowded into his nostrils, beat in upon his eardrums, hammered its intolerable pressure upon every exposed inch of his body. His lungs were bursting; he was being squeezed to death, and still the steel talons of the robot gripped his ankle.

Then suddenly, Wentworth was in darkness. For a dizzy moment, he thought that his senses were blotted out and then, dimly, exultation crept through him. He knew then that the robot's lights were out, and he knew the reason . . . water had reached the mechanism of the robot! Dear God, suppose he had jammed the mechanism so that his foot could not be released? He—there was a swirl of water about him, and Wentworth felt himself dragged more deeply toward the river's bottom. The robot had fallen!

 

How many seconds had passed? How many more moments of consciousness remained? Wentworth could not estimate. He only knew that death was close. The coldness was already having its paralyzing way with him. He thought of his knife, and an idea drove itself into his fading mind. He began to hack at the rubber suit, to slit the leg of the diving outfit which was gripped in the robot's hand.

How he accomplished that thing, Wentworth could not guess. He only knew that he was shooting upward toward the surface, toward open air. His lungs were aching, and there was a heavy pounding in his temples, in his ears. He must breathe now. He must! His head broke the surface of the river!

Somehow, Wentworth managed to keep himself afloat, but when a hand clamped upon his arm, there was in him no will to fight. The cold had eaten into his bones. Presently, he knew that it was his powerful Sikh bodyguard, Ram Singh, who had plunged into the flood to save him. . . . There were moments when the whole universe whirled dizzily about his head, yet an urgency goaded him. There was a task he must perform, a task . . . if he could remember. . . .

At last he knew that Nita and Ram Singh were beside him, that they were hurrying him toward the car. The warmth of the heated interior swirled against his skin, yet did not seem to penetrate. He began to shiver, and he found that he could think . . . and remember.

"Northward," he ordered Ram Singh sharply. "Go to the Drexler home."

"No, Dick!" Nita cried. "Even you can't stand exposure like that!"

Wentworth shook his head and crouched toward the heater. There was a gauntness about his drawn face, and fierce fires in his eyes. "There is no time," he said hoarsely. "The robots are marching upriver. If I am right, and they are going to the Drexler home, my only chance is to be there when they arrive. No, Nita, I can't stop to get on dry clothing."

Nita said no more, but her lips tightened. She handed him a flash of brandy, and Wentworth tipped it to his lips. Its warmth was grateful, but it did not send the familiar tingle through his veins. Exposure, after the exhaustion of the night, had been severe. Nita was right of course. . . . He shook his head. There was no time. His eyes stared piercingly ahead through the half-moons the windshield wipers cut in the sleet. It was in the cellar of the Drexler home that he must look for the entrance of the robots. . . .

"As soon as I leave you," Wentworth said slowly, "you will find a taxi and go home, Nita. I must wear the robes of the Spider. Ram Singh will wait and rush me home afterward. And I'll get on something dry then."

Nita leaned close to him, "Dick, you mean that you will not be through then? There is still more to be done?"

Wentworth's blue lips smiled. Was it any new thing that the Spider's work was never done?

"There is one more job tonight," he said slowly, "if I fail at Drexler's. . . . I killed a robot on the bottom of the river. I must get another diving suit and arrange to recover that robot. Once we have learned the secret of the Iron Man, we can beat him!"

Nita caught hold of Wentworth's shoulder, forced him to look at her. "Dick, you can't do it," she said. "Let Ram Singh dive for you."

Wentworth laughed, but it was tenderly . . . and a sharp, painful cough broke his laughter. His jaw set stubbornly. "When I have finished, I will rest," he said. "Ram Singh, turn right at the next corner. Pull into a doorway of that warehouse and stop! Nita, there is a taxi stand around the corner."

 

Without a word, Nita climbed from the car. She reached up to clasp his face between her hands and kiss him, and then she half-ran, half-stumbled toward the corner. Her head was down . . . Wentworth watched her for a moment, and shivered. There was a weakness in his chest and the cold refused to leave his limbs. He swore at his own softness, donned the robes of the Spider.

Beside him, Ram Singh said eagerly, "Orders, sahib?"

Wentworth shook his head. "Stay in the car, Ram Singh," he said, "and watch. If I signal you. . . ."

Disappointment clouded the Sikh's eyes, but he salaamed his acknowledgment. Wentworth slipped away into the shadows. The wind prodded beneath the cape, but Wentworth forgot the cold as he peered toward the Drexler house. It was a survival of Manhattan's early days. Once a farmhouse on a point that jutted out into the river, it was walled in now by factories and warehouses, dwarfed by a modern apartment building. But, due to its location, it still maintained isolation. And it was very close to the river banks! That fact was important!

Only dim lights were burning behind the small old-fashioned windows of the house. Wentworth was a shadow that drifted across the street, sliding over the wall. A window on the second floor was open and, in brief moments, Wentworth had climbed to it.

Presently the Spider mingled with the darkness in the room. There was a bed against the wall in which a man slept. Doubtfully, Wentworth drifted toward it. If Drexler were at home, in bed. . . . A faint radiance was all that showed when Wentworth squeezed a masked flashlight. Its pallid light crept across the bed, fell on a frail, wrinkled hand that was almost transparent with age; stole up until it illumined the head upon the pillow. Straggling white hair, a ruff of whiskers, a lined and sunken face. This must be old Angus Drexler, Wentworth decided. He would have to be careful. The aged slept so lightly. . . .

Rapidly then, Wentworth canvassed the upper floor of the house, found the servant's room where a maid slept, but no trace of Frank Drexler! Wentworth's lips clamped together thinly then as he stole down the narrow, winding steps. It might mean nothing at all that Drexler was out on this bitter night when the robots marched. Still, Drexler's home was an ideal base for the robots. There were two possibilities of a hideout: One beneath the garage, the other under the house itself. An underwater entrance, perhaps. . . .

The warmth of the basement flooded up to meet Wentworth. He heard the whirring of an oil burner and his light reached out to quest over the stone walls, centered abruptly on a steel door that opened on the side toward the river! In a half dozen quick strides, Wentworth was before the door.

 

The lock yielded under Wentworth's skillful fingers and he listened a moment before he eased it open. Darkness beyond, and the musty rich odors of . . . wine! Once more, Wentworth's flashlight licked out. Stairs led downward into a wine cellar. Its stone walls were lined with bottle bins and hogsheads. Across the ceiling ran asbestos-wrapped steam pipes, and Wentworth's eyes followed them intently. They turned into an alcove on the left-hand wall!

Wentworth flicked on the lights and with long bounds crossed the cellar. The pipes burrowed through the stone wall into the solid earth beyond! Narrow-eyed, he studied those pipes. They ran in the direction of the garage. Was that their sole purpose?

Instantly, Wentworth was at work on the stone wall, seeking some hidden doorway. He frowned as he tried to make swift calculations of time. Could the robots yet have reached a secret hiding place here? Impossible to estimate the time spent beneath the surface of the river, but it could not have been very long. Probably the robots would be just arriving, if this were their destination. Wentworth swore softly. He could detect no signs of an opening in the walls, no trace of footsteps upon the earthen floor. The hogsheads . . . Wentworth approached them. They were backed against the stone wall through which the pipes pierced. In an instant, he was at the spigots. If any of these proved . . . empty!

But wine flowed briefly from each spigot. Aroma was sharp in his nostrils. Nothing here. Nothing that he could detect. There remained the garage, but he must be swift, swift. At any moment, Drexler might appear—or the robots.

"Up with your hands, Spider!" a voice commanded harshly. "What the hell are you doing here?"

Wentworth swore softly. He recognized the voice at once—Frank Drexler! Even in the face of that discovery, had he been sure of the man's guilt, he could have drawn his gun and fired, with a fair chance of escaping. But the Spider did not war against innocent men, not even suspected men. He had to be very sure! So the Spider's hands went up slowly, and he turned to peer up into the face of Frank Drexler!

The detective was fully twenty feet away, crouched at the head of the wooden steps that descended into the wine cellar. Pale fire glowed suddenly in the Spider's grey-blue eyes. For Drexler's clothing was dripping wet!

"Speak up!" Drexler ordered sharply. "What are you doing here?"

The Spider's disguised face moved in a smile that was full of mocking menace. "I had heard," he said softly, "that you possessed a very fine cellar. But I had expected to find your wines in steel casks."

Anger flushed Drexler's cheek, and Wentworth was aware of movement behind the man; saw the old, peering face of Drexler's father.

"The Spider, hey?" old Drexler's voice was thin, rasping. "What are you waiting for, son? Burn the man down!"

Drexler jerked his head. "Go call the police, father," he said. "He won't get away from me."

 

The wrinkled face blinked down at Wentworth. Aged hands trembled on the head of the cane on which he leaned. Old Drexler's eyes were as excited as a boy's.

"Are you sure," Wentworth asked softly, "that you want the police here, Drexler? You will gain considerable publicity by capturing the Spider, but you're already a rather prosperous man, Drexler. You are rapidly becoming more so, aren't you?"

Drexler said savagely, "I want an answer to my question, and a direct one. What the hell are you doing here?"

"I was beginning to tell you, Drexler," Wentworth said sharply. "Keep your mouth shut, and listen!"

The old man lifted the knotted cane and shook it. "Don't you talk to Frank like that!" he cried. "Burn him down, Frank!"

Neither of the two men paid any heed to him. Wentworth was close to the wine bins. It would take only a flick of the wrist to seize a bottle and smack out the single overhead light . . . but Drexler's gun rested on him unwaveringly. Yet Wentworth thought that he saw a way. The father seemed senile, and child-like in his adoration of Frank Drexler. If he could infuriate the old man to the point where he attempted to interfere. . . .

Wentworth said, "Three houses were robbed on Sutton Place tonight, just beside one guarded by your agency. But the house your man watched was untouched! That man had on his chest the symbol

of a criminal who has killed dozens of human beings this night!"

The old man said, quaveringly, "He's calling you a crook, Frank!"

Wentworth nodded. "That's right! I'm calling you a thief who betrays his own clients, Drexler! I'm calling you a murderer!"

Drexler was unmoved, but the old man lifted the gnarled stick in his hand and shook it violently. "Why, damn you!" he cried shrilly. "You can't talk to Frank like that! Give me that gun, Frank! Give me—"

Drexler's face twitched with concern. "Be quiet, father!" he said sharply. "Remember your heart! Look out—"

As Drexler spoke, the old man pushed past him indignantly. Drexler's head whipped toward him . . . and Wentworth struck! He seized a wine bottle, flung it, and there was the sharp explosion as the light went out. Drexler's gun thundered, but the Spider already was in motion!

He vaulted atop the hogsheads and he ran lightly across them while Drexler's gun thundered again. Through the explosions, Wentworth caught another menacing sound. Somewhere above, a bell was pealing violently—a burglar alarm! Then there was the tramp of rushing feet! It was either the police, or more men of the Drexler agency, and either way it meant deadly peril to the Spider!

The thought lent fury to Wentworth's speed. Two more leaps put him beside the open-work of the stairs. He could hear Drexler's hoarse whisper as he urged his father to retreat. Wentworth waited for no more. His hand flashed out and closed on Drexler's ankle! A wrench sent the man stumbling wildly down the steps, and the Spider was racing across the windowless basement toward its only exit. The tramp of feet overhead was thunderous now. Long bounds took Wentworth up the steps . . . too late. As he reached them, the door at their head was wrenched open. An instant later, brilliant lights poured downward . . . and found only empty cellar, the steel door across its width swinging open, and an old man there who waved a knotted cane violently!

 

Sergeant Reams clattered fiercely down the steps, followed an instant later by Kirkpatrick. The commissioner's voice rang out crisply, "Kelly, take the head of the steps. Let no one out!"

Then Kirkpatrick, followed by two more uniformed men, was striding across the basement. Drexler's flushed angry face showed in the entrance of the wine room.

"There was shooting here!" Kirkpatrick snapped. "What was it?"

Drexler was tight-lipped. "Maybe I was having some target-practice," he snapped. "Who gave you permission to enter here?"

"Gun-fire gives any police officer the right to enter," Kirkpatrick said grimly. "Otherwise, we would have waited for you to answer the door. And you haven't answered my question yet, Drexler. I have a number to ask you about tonight's happenings!"

The two men glared at each other, and suddenly a voice rang through the basement. It seemed to be the voice of Kirkpatrick, and it was imperative.

"Kelly!" it ordered, "Down here! Quick!"

The guard at the head of the steps came down instantly. Kirkpatrick swore and whirled toward him.

Drexler's voice lifted, clearly. "It's the Spider! I thought he'd got clear!"

In that moment of confusion, a black figure darted from beneath the stairs. Before Kelly sensed a mistake, strong arms clasped him from behind. He was lifted off his feet, dragged backwards up the stairs. Sergeant Reams' gun was in his fist. Kirkpatrick whipped out his long-barreled revolver and raced across the cellar so that he could command a side shot at the steps . . . and they were all too late. Despite the struggles of the surprised Kelly, Wentworth had reached the head of the stairs!

For an instant, he paused there. Then Kelly reeled down the steps, the door clapped shut, and from behind it the mocking laughter of the Spider sounded. It died in a burst of savage gunfire as the police sent their lead screaming toward that flimsy door.

But Wentworth already had reached a side window of the house. He peered out long enough to spot the guards at the gate and, once more, he called out in the urgent tones of Kirkpatrick.

"In here, fast!" he called. "We've got the Spider trapped!"

There were sharp shouts and the men dashed for the front door of the house. In an instant, Wentworth was out the window and racing toward the wall. He staggered as he dropped to the street beyond, raced for the side street in which he had left the car. Even as he ran, he heard the shouts of his pursuers burst out more loudly, and knew that his subterfuge had been discovered. He reeled a little as he ran, and there was a sharp pain in his side. God, he could not afford illness now! He could not even afford rest. . . .

The robots must have landed, already; or the gunfire had kept them in hiding—or they had never headed for the Drexler place at all! The Spider must return to the river with a fresh diving suit and reclaim that fallen robot.

 

A shudder raced through him at the thought of those frigid depths. He staggered more violently, and then the coupe spurted from the mouth of the dark street, skidded to a momentary halt beside him and raced on as he sprang to the running board. He opened the door, dropped inside. Ram Singh was bent grimly over the wheel, and Nita was smiling up at him. She was holding a steaming thermos of coffee in her hand. "It's been laced with brandy, Dick," she said quietly. "Drink it!"

Wentworth looked backward. Already, Kirkpatrick's limousine was lunging forward. Its siren began to wail. Wentworth's lips drew thinly.

"You've put yourself in deadly danger, Nita," he said quietly, "just to make me drink a little coffee!"

Nita smiled faintly. "It's my right, isn't it, Dick?" she asked quietly. "I have so few. . . . Drink up, Dick!"

Wentworth's lips clamped grimly together, but he made no other answer as he reached for the coffee. Nita needed no other. She closed her eyes as Wentworth lifted the thermos bottle to his lips. Her hands clenched whitely in her lap. Wentworth shuddered and gasped at the drink.

"I know," Nita said hurriedly. "It's awful stuff, but the best I could find in the neighborhood. You should choose your parking places more carefully, Dick!"

Wentworth tilted the bottle again. There was a pain in his chest. It wouldn't help the battle any if he came down with pleurisy! Nonsense. Another hour now, and he could rest. A brief expedition beneath the river to fasten cables to that robot, and then. . . . He lifted a hand uncertainly to his forehead.

"This heat is making me a little sleepy," he said slowly.

Nita whispered, "If you would only rest a little while, Dick! Ram Singh and I can handle this robot."

Wentworth shook his head. "Has there been any word of Jackson?" he asked heavily.

Nita said, "None!"

Ram Singh looked toward her swiftly, but she shook her head and he did not speak. She was watching Wentworth closely. His whole body was relaxing. Her hand trembled as she slid her arm about his shoulders.

Wentworth shook himself, "Nita!" he said clearly. "Nita, you've drugged me!"

Nita's lips twisted with her smile. "Yes, lover," she whispered. "I promise your work will go on, but you must sleep! You must, Dick! I only hope it isn't too late to save you from pneumonia!"

Wentworth tried to fight off the heaviness that was in his brain and he could not. His head sank toward Nita's shoulder. Behind them, the sirens yelped with the vicious insistence of the chase. The powerful motor under the coupe's battered hood made the whole car tremble. But Nita heeded none of these things. Her face was very grave as she stared straight before her. She had taken a fearful responsibility upon herself; none knew that better than she. They were still in genuine danger from the police, and Dick was unconscious from the drugs. She depended on Ram Singh to take them to safety, but that was only the beginning. There was a task for the Spider still to be performed.

 

Swiftly, Nita began to remove the garb of the Spider in which Wentworth still was wrapped. With tender hands, she stripped off the disguise which turned his rugged, kindly face into the ominous mask of the Spider.

"This had to be done, Ram Singh," she said heavily, and she knew that she spoke more to reassure herself than to explain to the Sikh. "Otherwise, there wasn't a chance that he would escape pneumonia. And it would not help for him to know now about Jackson. It should be simple enough to clear Jackson now that everyone knows about the robots. It was a brave thing he did in trying to get rid of that policeman's body, even though it did end in arrest and a charge of murder!"

Ram Singh murmured, "Han, missie sahib!" His tone held no conviction.

Nita's jaw set solidly. There were doubts in Ram Singh's mind, too, but she would prove she was right!

"Shake off these police!" she ordered, and a sharpness of command crept into her voice that made it strangely resemble Wentworth's. "And hurry! We have so little time until dawn!"

Ram Singh said nothing, but his head lifted more alertly. He had never taken orders from any other woman. It would have been beneath his dignity as a lion, a Singh among Sikhs. But when that tone crept into the voice of the missie sahib, he knew that it was the mate of the sahib who spoke! Wah, no evil could come to the master through her! Was not her karma one with his?

Nita, watching him, nodded her head slowly as she saw the change. "There will be fighting ahead, warrior of the Sikhs!" she said softly, in the Punjabi Wentworth had taught her. "There will be a vengeance for thy knife!"

Ram Singh's laughter rumbled. "Wah, thy warrior is ready, missie sahib!" he cried. "Already, the jackals of the police lose our trail!"

Ram Singh was right. Fifteen minutes later the coupe slid to a halt on the street beside Wentworth's apartment house. Ram Singh carried Wentworth's body, tenderly as a child's, in his arms and they sped upward in the private elevator. Swiftly then, Nita aroused the aged butler, old Jenkyns who had served Wentworth's father before him. Into his hands, gentle as a woman, she gave the man she loved . . . and then swung to face Ram Singh.

"Another diving suit, Ram Singh," she said quietly. "We will need the sahib's diesel-powered cruiser."

The Sikh bowed in a low salaam. Wah, here was a woman a brave man could follow! She would do the master's work while he slept; Ram Singh hummed through his nose, a war song of his native hills, as he hurried about the tasks Nita had set him. Nita smiled faintly at the change in the Sikh, and then she bent gently over the sleeping Wentworth.

"Have the doctor in at once, Jenkyns," she said. "Tell him, I gave Master Richie codeine. When he wakes, I should be here. If I am not. . . ." Nita straightened and her eyes lifted to the wrinkled, kindly eyes of Jenkyns. Her voice grew crisper. "If I am not, you will tell him that I went after the robot at the bottom of the river."

Jenkyns' eyes were worried. "You shouldn't," Miss Nita," he said gently. "The master will worry—"

Nita smiled, "Please, Jenkyns. Give him my message."

 

She strode from the room and Ram Singh hurried down the hall with the equipment she had ordered. It was a heavy burden even for his stalwart shoulders, and Nita's own back straightened in anticipation of the load she must carry, both physical and mental. Her head was up as she followed Ram Singh down the corridor and into the elevator. At least Dick was taken care of. . . .

Nita sat quietly in the cabin of the Diesel cruiser as Ram Singh drove it slowly up the East River. The tide was slack at extreme ebb, and that would help a little. But she would have to do her work before it turned. She looked down at herself, encased in the thick rubber diving suit with the leaden weights at her slim waist. The helmet rested beside her on the seat. She was ready. Her lips moved in a slight smile. Ram Singh would be her only help. He had been ferociously eager to make the descent, but she could not allow it. She had taken the responsibility for placing Dick out of the battle. She could not permit anyone else to carry on in his stead.

Overhead, the storm whined and blustered. The cold was intense, but at least the overcast sky would delay the light of dawn. She would need the time. . . . Ram Singh's heel thudded twice on the deck. It was the signal!

Nita pushed herself to her feet, picked up the helmet and bore it before her in both arms. The weights were on deck. Ram Singh would attach them at the last moment before lowering her over the side. Nita thrust out into the night, heard the motors check and the rush of the anchor rope. Then she was clear of the cabin's protection and the storm was upon her. The sleet laid jewels upon her clustering curls, and Ram Singh moved with swift efficiency. He lifted the helmet over her head, spun the anchoring bolts fast.

"Any orders, missie sahib?" Ram Singh asked.

Nita shook her head. "Haul up if I yank the line three times," she said quietly. "Use the winch if I pull twice. That's all!"

Nita's hand rested on the knife hilt at her waist, but she knew it would be feeble in her hands. She had a gun beneath the rubber suit, and she did not even tell herself why she carried it there. She smiled into Ram Singh's anxious eyes.

"Don't worry, Ram Singh," she said quietly. "You know I've made these dives before. Help me over the side!"

The black waters seemed eager for her. She made an adjustment of the oxygen inlet, of the exhaust valve, took a few steps down the ladder. Then she swung off into the water.

Nita felt the vibration of the rope, slipping out slowly through Ram Singh's hands, felt the pull of the current. No light at all reached her here, but she needed none as yet. Ram Singh knew the spot at which he had rescued Dick, and the robot could not be far from there. If there were other robots here, she would not see them until they had come too close for her to escape!

Nita closed her eyes and tried to hold the smile on her lips. Dick, at least, was safe. She clung to that thought, alone beneath the black waters.

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Framed