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Chapter Eight
Last Warning!

NITA SCARCELY HEARD Kirkpatrick's orders as he sent men along the shore line to keep watch on the black waters. She was only vaguely aware that a cloak had been thrown about her shoulders. This disaster, after her rescue had raised her hopes so high, sapped the last of her vitality. It was only much later, when the ferry house had at last caved in upon itself, that she remembered Dick Wentworth had warned her not to mention the connection of the barge off-shore with the ferry house.

At the memory, she glanced toward the barge—and it was gone! Frantic thoughts darted through her mind, but she dared not ask a question lest it draw attention to the fact that the barge had been there. If Dick had mentioned the barge, then he had had some plan! Slight as were her reasons for hope, Nita clung to them. She could even smile a little when Kirkpatrick came striding toward her, crisp and grave as always.

"Two of those robots in the ruins," he said curtly. "Can't find anything else."

"Two robots," Nita repeated after him, "but—" She bit her words off. There had been three. Perhaps that, too, she was not to tell Kirkpatrick.

"But what?" Kirkpatrick demanded harshly.

Nita shook her head. "I didn't know that they had been killed," she said slowly. "The Spider attacked them with some bottles, filled with gasoline I think, and wrapped in flaming cloths. But I didn't know they were enough to kill the robots!"

Kirkpatrick uttered a sharp exclamation. "By the heavens, I believe the Spider has shown us the way!" he cried. "They used bombs like that in the Spanish Civil War . . . against tanks, you know. They might work! Heaven knows, we'll have to find something and find it fast!"

A despair in Kirkpatrick's voice pulled Nita's attention wholly to him, and she placed a hand upon his arm. "Is it . . . very bad, Stanley?" she asked.

Kirkpatrick's lips stretched into a thin straight line. "That hardly describes it," he said slowly. "Before we got this tip-off from a newspaper man, I had a call from the Iron Man. He said he would 'give us a lesson tonight.' Tomorrow, if the police did not voluntarily surrender their jobs to the Drexler agency, headquarters and all major officials would be destroyed!"

"Then you've arrested Drexler at last!" Nita cried.

Kirkpatrick shook his head heavily. He was leading her now toward the stone archway and his parked car. "There is no evidence against him," he said curtly. "My men have been following him day and night; his books and office have been thrown open to us. There is no proof!"

Nita's laughter was sharp and taunting. "And you say there is no place for such men as the Spider!" she said ironically. "You know the man is guilty, and you cannot arrest him even to prevent wholesale murder!"

Kirkpatrick shook his head and stubbornness squared his jaw. "In the end, the law always wins," he said curtly. "It may muddle along, but the law always wins."

"Thanks to the Spider," Nita said quietly. "Where is Dick, do you know?"

Kirkpatrick glanced at her as he handed her into the rear of his police limousine. The police driver saluted respectfully, and Nita repeated her question.

"He'll be worried about me," she insisted. "I want to communicate with him at the first possible moment."

* * *

Kirkpatrick's voice was impatient. "Dick left me at headquarters," he said shortly. "I don't know his whereabouts any more than I know those of the Spider. I'll drop you at your home, Nita. Meanwhile, will you kindly tell me just what happened? I might learn something that will help to trap the Iron Man and these steel monsters of his!"

"What, without legal evidence, Kirk?" Nita asked, her voice low with mockery, while her mind raced over the events of her captivity. Dick had told her to relate everything except his suspicions regarding the barge. She began to talk rapidly, but her thoughts were not on what she said. She had not lied when she said she wished to get in touch with Wentworth at once. He must be told that the Iron Man planned to inflict a "lesson" upon the city tonight. At the thought of that, Nita felt tension crawl through her body. There was so little she, or anyone else, could do—except the Spider!

Nita knew a new humbleness of spirit at thought of the man she loved. At such moments, he seemed more than human. His keen brain flashed always ahead to the true hidden meaning of criminal problems, and found the way to defeat them. He had needed only to glance at the high-riding barge to guess the secret of its use. Her despair of a short while before seemed a disloyalty now. Dick would not have dashed back into the building had he not a plan . . . and not a mere plan for escape. Wentworth had gone once more to battle giants!

Nita fell silent, dropped her head gravely. Her hands were clasped hard in her lap, as if in prayer.

"What you say doesn't help much, Nita," Kirkpatrick said. His voice sounded angry and puzzled. "If only I knew how they move under the water. Always, they seem to return to the water on the East River, yet their headquarters apparently was here! Well, we have to thank the Spider for destroying this stronghold!"

"Instead of thanking him," Nita said, scornfully, "you will chalk up two more murders to his name. Torch murders, would you call them? And the destruction of the ferry house! Tell me, Stanley, will your legal conscience permit you to use the gasoline bombs? Or must more people die under their attacks?"

"They are outside the law," Kirkpatrick said sternly.

Nita sighed and turned her gaze to the road ahead. The car had left the West Side highway and was tooling along Riverside Drive.

The high viaduct that spanned the valley at 125th Street was just ahead. She would be home soon, but how could she communicate with Dick?

"Has it occurred to you," she asked Kirkpatrick slowly, "that perhaps this 'lesson' may be an attack on yourself? The promise of an attack later, might merely have been meant to disarm you for the present."

Kirkpatrick nodded stiffly. "I am taking all possible precautions now," he said. "As soon as I can reach headquarters, I'll have some of those gasoline bombs prepared. . . . You must be careful, Nita. It's quite obvious that the Iron Man is intent on destroying you and . . . Dick."

 

Nita smiled, and there was tenderness in the curve of her lips, and pride, too. So many monsters had tried to destroy Dick. One and all, they had been vanquished, though she admitted with a thrill of fear, that he had never fought such impregnable creatures as these men of steel. Her eyes quested longingly ahead as the limousine swung out on the viaduct. If only she could be sure that Dick was safe now. . . . Suddenly her hand gripped Kirkpatrick's arm.

"In heaven's name, Stanley," she gasped. "Look! Look at that Fifth Avenue bus!"

A startled oath sprang to Kirkpatrick's lips, and he leaned forward to snap an order at the driver, but it was already too late! Nita saw the things that happened as a wildly fantastic dream. The huge double-decked bus was careening wildly across the viaduct, and stretched out upon its upper deck, crushing the steel framework beneath their colossal weight, were two of the robots! Nita saw that the powerful arm of one of the monsters was stretched down into the cabin, and that a steel forefinger was pointed at the head of the frantic driver. There was no other living being aboard the bus!

As Kirkpatrick shouted to the driver to whirl the limousine about and retreat, the bus shrieked in a furious turn and came to a halt just in front of the police car! The robots stepped to the pavement and heaved the bus over so that it blocked the viaduct. Then they turned and came toward the police commissioner's car!

The driver barely succeeded in stopping the car before it collided with the wreckage of the bus. He was fighting now to back out of range of those two oncoming terrors. Kirkpatrick had his revolver in his fist. He opened a compartment and seized a hand grenade, but Nita knew grenades were futile.

"Get out and run," Kirkpatrick said sharply. "I'm the one they want, Nita. I can hold them for a while!"

"Come with me," Nita cried. "They can't move very fast, and if we can dodge their bullets, we can still get away!"

She batted open the door on her side, but in the same instant the robot reached the car. Its steel hand smashed against the door, wedged it fast. The other robot reached through the front window as Kirkpatrick's gun blasted furiously. His futile bullets screamed off the metal of the steel talons. The driver screamed terribly through a single tearing instant. The hand clamped on his shoulder—and pulled!

The driver's scream soared to an incredible thinness. His head had caught against the top of the door as the hand dragged him through the open window, but the hand was inexorable. The scream broke off and there was a dull snapping sound. Afterward, Nita saw a blue clad body hurtle through the air toward the railing of the viaduct and disappear into the darkness beyond.

"Down on the floor," Kirkpatrick snapped.

She saw his hands wrench the pin from the grenade, toss it outside. The explosion made the heavy limousine jump. It seemed to drive in her ear-drums, and immediately thereafter she heard a scream such as had pierced her brain once before—when Wentworth had smashed his flame-bomb against one of the robots.

 

Cautiously, Nita lifted her head, and she saw an incredible thing! One of the robots had turned on the other, had moved up behind the steel monster while he was torturing the driver! Nita's gasp brought Kirkpatrick up from the floor. He was clutching another grenade, but his grip remained frozen. He, too, stared at the bizarre spectacle. The robot who had killed the driver was pitching forward on its face, still screaming. The second robot had stepped up behind it and seized its ankles in mighty fists . . . and lifted it clear off the pavement!

Even as Nita watched, the viaduct quivered under the impact of the thing's fall. She saw the flooring of the viaduct crack and give way. Paving blocks disappeared through a gaping hole in the pavement . . . and the scream stopped! But the second robot was not through. It stooped above its fallen comrade, and got a new grip. She heard a slow creaking sound, as when terrific strain is put upon a hoist, and then . . . and then the robot lifted the fallen monster high over its head. A stride, another . . . and the robot went sailing through the air toward the railing! In exactly the arc that the already dead police driver had described, the steel monster hurtled through space. The crash of its fall was like the explosion of a great bomb. And the second robot turned back toward the police car.

"I could not destroy him sooner," it said in a booming voice. "There was no time for a battle and I had to take him unawares. I am sorry for the driver's death!"

Kirkpatrick pushed to his feet, flung wide the door of the car and stepped courageously to the pavement. His fist was wrapped about the grenade, clenched to throw. Nita gasped, and flung herself forward to seize that wrist!

"Don't throw!" she cried. "Don't you recognize that voice? It's . . . it's the Spider!"

Kirkpatrick's wrist stiffened in her grasp, and the two stood staring up into the blankly unfeeling face of the steel monster. The yelp of sirens was thin in the air behind them and Nita's head whipped that way. Two Fifth Avenue buses were roaring toward them, while motorcycle police cleared a path with their sirens. A machine gun stammered from its motorcycle mount, but the bullets screamed overhead.

"Back in the car, Commissioner!" a voice trumpeted from the police. "Give us a clear target!"

The robot did not glance toward the attack. Incongruous in a great steel fist, Nita saw a slim platinum cigarette lighter which she recognized with a throb. Even as she gasped, the robot bent and pressed the base of that lighter to the break in the pavement of the viaduct, and when he had straightened, the gleaming red seal of the Spider shone there! But the robot was talking. . . . "The 'lesson' which the Iron Man intends to inflict tonight," the Spider's amplified voice boomed, "will be inflicted on the subway at Forty-second and Fifth Avenue. I will do what I can to prevent it, Kirkpatrick. Have your men armed with flame bombs, but if you value the salvation of your city, do not let them throw at me until after the battle! I will mark myself!"

As he spoke, the steel hand lifted again and, on the forehead of the helmet, he imprinted the seal of the Spider!

"Hurry, Kirkpatrick," he said once more. "I do not know how much time is left to us!"

 

With the words, the robot turned away toward the railing of the viaduct. There was a shout, and a roar of motors behind and the Fifth Avenue buses, police at their wheels, charged toward the retreating form of steel. Nita cried out, and flung herself at Kirkpatrick.

"Stop them!" she cried. "Don't you realize he is your only hope!"

Kirkpatrick wrenched himself free, sprang toward the car, but Nita flung herself straight forward—into the path of the onrushing buses! It was only when she heard Kirkpatrick's voice boom out over the loudspeaker of his car that she realized he had taken the more effective way to stop that charge.

"Stop!" he bellowed above the roar of the charging motors. "Stop those buses! Kirkpatrick's orders!"

Nevertheless, Nita stood firm, straight and slender in the path of those juggernauts. Through long seconds, it did not seem possible that they could stop in time, but finally they grumbled to a halt within feet of where she stood. Angry police poured from them. Men sprang from the motorcycles and charged toward her, shouting, but Nita looked toward the railing of the viaduct.

There was a great gaping tear in the steel balustrade, but of the robot, there was no sign at all. One of the men darted to the verge, and began blasting bullets down into the darkness.

"It's climbing down the pillar!" he shouted. "Circle around! We can still catch it on the streets below!"

 

Inside the steel shell he had captured in the burning wreckage of the ferry house, Wentworth made no effort to avoid the bullets rained upon him from above. Their hammering was like a trip-hammer in the curved top of the helmet, but all his attention was concentrated on the stupendous task of managing the robot in a climb down the steel pillar of the viaduct. He was crouched in the body of the monster, on an upholstered saddle to which he was strapped like an airplane pilot. His feet rode in stirrups which controlled the movements of the legs, and there were two hand grips before him by which he could direct the arms. Other specialized movements were controlled by a series of push-buttons set like a miniature typewriter keyboard before him.

Below and around him, there was the whirr of machinery which he had not stopped to examine and the oily stench of it was strong in his nostrils. The noise was terrific, deafening. And he needed the crash helmet which he had stripped from the man slain inside the ferry house. The lurching of the robot was impossible to control, and his head banged again and again on the steel sides of the monster.

His plans were carefully made. He would find a truck here in the heavy traffic that filed toward the ferry and, in it, would make his dash to Fifth and Forty-second.

How many robots would be sent to destroy the subway he could not guess. He only knew that, by means of the small radio receiver within the robot, he had received orders with another of the monsters to destroy Kirkpatrick and, afterward, to go to the appointed place of the subway attack. If there were many others there, and this double duty seemed to indicate that the whole force was involved— it was a question how much he could accomplish against them, even in this powerful robot!

Wentworth heard the thin wailing of sirens as he reached the earth beneath the viaduct and looked slowly about him through the great blank eyes of the robot. Men were running from him in screaming terror, abandoning their automobiles in panic. He saw a driver leap from an oil truck and, in the sheer blindness of his terror, dart almost straight toward him!

 

As gently as possible, Wentworth picked up the man, and spoke to him through the microphone which dangled before his lips. "I won't hurt you," he said, and tried to make his voice soft. "I need transportation. We are going back to your truck. I will sit astride it, and you will drive me to Fifth Avenue and Forty-second Street. Understand?"

He was holding the man high before the blank eyes of the robot, and he could see the writhing terror of the man's face, but the driver managed some sort of affirmative. Wentworth had never ceased to advance, and now he eased the man into the cab of his truck, swung astride of it.

Wentworth's gaze ranged ahead down Fifth Avenue, seeking some trace of the steel monsters he must destroy. His earphones were silent save for the ceaseless rasping of police orders. Twice, he heard Kirkpatrick's clear voice and heard the command to manufacture flame bombs!

Abruptly, he snapped to attention. Far down the length of Fifth Avenue, he caught the glint of street lights on steel. At first it was no more than that, and then his straining eyes made out the regular ranks of the robots, marching up Fifth Avenue. There were only six of them now, behind the taller figure of the Iron Man, but they were enough!

"Faster!" he shouted at the driver. "Faster, man!"

The bellow of his voice beat back into his ears, and he saw windows shiver and crash inward at the concussion of the sound! And then, dead ahead of him, two trucks swung out of a side street! For an instant, they clashed together and then they straightened out, completely closing Fifth Avenue. Wentworth surged forward as the power brakes of the oil truck took hold. Then, with a titanic collision, the three trucks slammed together and Wentworth felt himself falling!

Twice, he had seen robots fall from slighter distance than this and each time the men inside them had been knocked out! Even as the thought flashed across his mind, he saw oil gush from the torn side of the truck, saw flame flick upward. The robot, carrying Wentworth with it, plunged toward a lake of flaming oil!

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