The long table which ran down the strange room's center was covered with retorts, test tubes, Bunsen burners--all of the stock-in-trade of the scientist who spends most of his time at research work. The man who bent over the table was well past middle age. His hair was snow-white, but his cheeks were like rosy red apples. He literally seemed to glow with health. He was like a strange flame. His hands were slender, the fingers long and extraordinarily supple. His lips were redder even than his cheeks, and made one, strangely enough, think of vampires. His eyes were coal-black, fathomless, piercing.
On the bronze wall directly across the table from the swiftly laboring man was a porcelain tablet set into the bronze, and in the midst of the table were a score of little push-buttons. Above each was a red light; and below, a green one.
Several inches below each green light was a little slot which resembled a tiny keyhole, something like the keyhole in the average handbag. There was a key in each hole, and from each key hung a length of gleaming chain which shone like gold and might have been gold, or at least, some gold-plated metal. On the dangling end of each chain was another key which might have been the twin of the key in the hole above.
In the space between the keyholes and the green lights there were the letters and figures: A-1, B-2, C-3, D-4 ... and so on up to T-20.
Plainly it was the beginning of a complicated classification system with any number of combinations possible.
Behind the working man the row of cages partially hid the brooding horror of the place. There were twenty cages--and in each one was a sulking, red-eyed anthropoid ape. Plainly the fact that the number of apes coincided with the number of push-buttons, and with the number of keys, to say nothing of the red lights and the green lights, was no accident. The apes were sullenly silent, proof that they feared the man at the table so much that they were afraid to move.
At last the white-haired man stopped and breathed a sigh of satisfaction. Carefully he placed in the middle of the table the instrument which he had been examining. It looked like a slightly concave aluminum plate or tympanum, save that on the apex appeared a tiny ball of the same metal. Except for the color and the fact that the thing was almost flat, it looked like a small Manchu hat.
"Naka Machi!" said the man suddenly in a conversational tone of voice.
The chrome steel door swung open swiftly and silently and another man entered. He was about the same height as the first man, but he was younger and his eyes were blacker. His hair was as black as the wings of a crow. He was a Japanese dressed in Occidental garb.
"Naka Machi," said the white-haired one again, "I have examined every bit of the infinitesimal mechanism in the ball on this tympanum. It is perfect. You are a genius, Naka Machi. There is only one genius greater--Professor Caleb Barter!"
Naka Machi bowed low, and as he spoke his breath hissed inwardly through his teeth after the Japanese manner of admitting humility--"that my humble breath may not blow upon you"--which never needed really to be sincere.
"I am merely a genius with my fingers, Professor Barter," said Naka Machi in a musical voice. "The smaller the medium in which I work the happier I am, Professor; and in that I am a genius. But the plan for this so marvelous little radio-control, as you call it, came entirely from your head, my master. I did exactly as the plans bade me. Will it work?"
Caleb Barter's red face went redder still. His eyes shot flames of anger. His lips pouched. Almost he seemed on the point of striking down his Japanese assistant.
"Will it work?" he repeated. "Have you not just told me that you followed my plans exactly? Have I not just now checked your every bit of work and pronounced it perfect? Then how can it fail to work? Have you another one ready?"
"Yes, my master. Now that I have perfected two, the work will become monotonous. If the master wishes, I can create still another radio-control, inside the head of a pin, which I should first render hollow with that skill which only Naka Machi possesses?"
Caleb Barter almost smiled.
"It will not be necessary. But it will be necessary for you to make eighteen additional radio-controls of the same size as this one, or say make twenty-four so that we shall have some extra ones in case of accident. These two will be put into action at once. Naka Machi, bring me Lecky, completely uniformed as a smart chauffeur! Have you laid in a store of clothing, as I bade you, to fit every conceivable need of Lecky, Stanley, Morton and Cleve?"
"Yes, my master."
"Then bring in Lecky accoutered as a chauffeur."
Ten minutes later a young man entered behind Naka Machi. He was slender and his chauffeur's uniform fitted him like a glove. He looked like a soldier in it. Indeed his bearing, his whole stance, spoke of many years as a soldier--and a proud one. The fellow was brimful of health. His cheeks were rosy with vitality. He looked like a man with health so abundant he never found means to tire himself to the point where he could sleep dreamlessly.
But, nevertheless his arms hung listlessly at his sides. His eyes seemed empty of hope, dull and lifeless, and one looked into those eyes and shuddered. One tried to gaze deeply into them and found oneself baffled. There was no soul behind them.
"Come here, Lecky," said Barter coldly.
Lecky glided effortlessly forward to stand before Barter.
"You've no brains, Lecky," said Barter emotionlessly; "no brains of your own. You have a splendid body which moves only at the will of Caleb Barter. I need that body for my purposes. But a man with brains is dangerous. That's why you haven't any."
Barter now took the silvery tympanum with the ball atop it and set it on the head of Lecky. On top of it he placed the chauffeur's cap, bringing it down tightly to keep the tympanum in place.
"If I had it to do again I'd insert the tympanum under the skull as part of the operation, Naka Machi," said Barter as he worked. "We'll do that hereafter. And we begin work immediately. I'm going to send Lecky out now to get the first subject."
"The first subject, sir?"
"Yes. Manhattan's richest man. A man must have brains to become Manhattan's richest man, and I need men with brains. His name is Harold Hervey. He will be leaving his office in the Empire State Building in about half an hour. I want Lecky to be on hand to meet him."
On his own head Barter placed a second tympanum which Naka Machi had brought him. Over it he pulled a rubber cap, like a bathing cap with a hole cut in the top.
"Now, we'll try it out, Naka Machi," said Barter. "Which one of these lights is Lecky's?"
"B-2, my master."
Barter sat down under the light marked "B-2" and lifted the key which dangled from the end of the golden chain. This key he inserted in a tiny orifice in the ball atop his head. Then he turned in his chair to look at Lecky. Barter's face was a mask of concentration as he gazed intently at the young man.
Lecky stiffened to attention. His right hand shot to his cap visor in salute. His lips twisted into a travesty of a smile. For a few seconds he went through a strange series of posturings. He stood in the attitude of a boxer preparing to attack. He danced smartly on his toes. He bent double and touched the floor with the palms of his hands. He jumped up and down with his legs stiff. He stopped suddenly with his right hand at rigid salute. But his eyes were still vacant through every posture.
Barter's face showed a glow of satisfaction.
"He did exactly what I willed him to do! I am his master. He is my slave--even more abjectly than you are my slave, Naka Machi!"
"But that would be impossible, my master," said Naka Machi, hissing again through his teeth as he sucked in his breath. "None could be more abjectly your slave than I."
"Do not say anything is impossible," said Barter peevishly, "when I say otherwise. Anything is possible to me! Now, we'll send Lecky forth. I'll watch him through the heliotubes and control his every move. While I am directing Lecky you will prepare the table behind me for the first of our world-revolutionizing operations."
"Yes, my master," said the Japanese humbly.
"But first, it's just as well that Lecky is in a good humor, even though he is my slave. Where are the walnuts, Naka Machi?"
The Japanese tendered a large walnut to Barter. Barter rose and approached Lecky who still stood at salute. He stopped a couple of paces in front of the soldierly man and held up the walnut as a man sometimes holds up food to a dog, bidding him "speak" before he may be fed.
Then Lecky did a strange thing.
He began to jump up and down like a pleased child. His jumping caused him to lose his balance, but he recaptured it by pressing the backs of his hands against the floor. His hitherto expressionless eyes lost their dullness. Saliva dribbled at the corners of his mouth. Barter tossed him the walnut. Lecky held it under his right forefinger, against the heel of his thumb, instead of between thumb and forefinger, as he lifted it to his mouth.
"Even the human casement cannot wholly hide the ape, eh, Naka Machi?" said Barter.
Naka Machi hissed.
Barter returned to the porcelain slab banked with the lights and the keys. He readjusted the keys and his face became thoughtful again.
Lecky turned smartly, still nibbling at his walnut, strode to the bronze door and let himself out.
Through the heliotube directly above the key marked "B-2," Caleb Barter watched him go, and kept watching him as he made his way to the street. Barter looked ahead of his puppet, noting the cars which were parked at the curb. He saw a stately limousine. He grinned. The chauffeur was not in sight. Barter looked for him and found him at a table in a nearby restaurant, his back to the window.
Barter looked back at his puppet and his face became serious with concentration.
Lecky walked blithely along the street and turned right when he was opposite the limousine. Without a moment's hesitation, he stepped into the limousine, pressed the starter, shifted gears, turned in the middle of the block and started swiftly uptown.
After Lecky had shifted gears he drove with his left hand alone. His right was still busy with the walnut.
Barter now looked like a man in a trance, so deeply did he concentrate on his task of guiding his soulless, ape-brained puppet, Lecky, through the heavy traffic of Manhattan.
The Opening Gun "That list, Tyler," said Bentley, after he had somewhat calmed the fears of Ellen Estabrook and had returned to the task of tracing Barter, "is headed by Harold Hervey, the multi-millionaire. I know Barter well enough to know that he'll go down the list methodically, taking each person in turn. We'd best take immediate precautions to guard the old man's home. For Barter, if not entirely ready to take drastic steps, must be almost ready, else he couldn't issue his manifestoes and take a chance of some slip-up before he could get really started."
"Why do you suppose he named Hervey on the list?" asked Tyler.
"Because Hervey is a financial genius. Barter wishes not only to carry out his plan of creating a race of supermen, but wishes at the same time to maintain personal control of them. And to control Manhattan, from which he logically hopes to extend his control to the whole United States, then to the whole world, Barter must also control the money marts. Hervey is the shrewdest financier in the world."
"But won't we frighten Hervey's family if we take steps now?"
"Better to frighten them now than to be too late entirely. However, we can place his house under surveillance without the knowledge of the family for the time being. And you'd better send a couple of men to his office in the Empire State Building to see that nothing happens to him on the way home this evening. I talked to him by telephone and he pooh-poohed the whole thing. Hard-headed business executives have no imagination."
Bentley and Tyler rode uptown in the back seat of a speeding police car driven by one of the best chauffeurs Bentley had ever ridden behind. He edged through holes in the traffic where Bentley could scarcely see any holes at all. He estimated the speed of cars which might have collided with the police vehicle and slipped through with inches to spare. In his way the man was a genius. But Bentley was yet to see the driving of a master genius....
Far out in the residential district the police car came to a stop. Other police cars arrived at intervals to disgorge men in plain clothes who immediately entered upon their guard duties as unobtrusively as possible. If Hervey's family noticed at all they would scarcely attach any importance to the arrival of cars and the discharging of passengers who seemed to have nothing to do except dawdle on the sidewalks.
But all the way uptown a hunch had ridden Bentley. He had the feeling that no matter how fast the police car traveled, no matter how skilfully the chauffeur inched his way through the press, they would be too late to save Hervey. The feeling became an obsession. Many times he called through the speaking tube.
"Faster, driver, for God's sake, faster!"
Now near the home of Harold Hervey, Bentley found himself unable to walk slowly, with the air of nonchalance, which the other police officers wore like a cloak.
"Something's happened," said Bentley, "I'm sure of it. I feel that Barter is so close to me that I could touch him if I knew in which direction to extend my fingers."
Suddenly a speeding car, with horn bellowing, came crashing up the street toward the Hervey residence. It was traveling at great speed, careening from side to side like a ship in a storm at sea.
"There comes Hervey's car," said Tyler. "And something has happened to make him travel like that. Old man Hervey doesn't allow his chauffeur to go faster than twenty miles an hour."
Tyler and Bentley were near by when the car squealed to a stop before the Hervey residence and a hatless, disheveled man leaped out almost before the car stopped rolling.
"That's not Hervey," said Tyler. "That's his private secretary. Something's up. It's time we took a hand in things."
Tyler and Bentley grasped the young man by the elbow.
"What's up?" demanded Tyler.
"It's Mr. Hervey, sir," panted the secretary. "It just happened. He's been kidnaped!"
The secretary was a slight man, but fear had given him strength. He almost dragged Tyler and Bentley off their feet as he strode on up the walk leading to the home of Hervey.
"You'll scare his family half to death!" said Tyler.
"It'll have to come sometime, Tyler," said Bentley. "It might as well be now. They'll have to know. We'll have to sit inactively from this moment on. Tyler, there's nothing that can be done for Hervey. Barter has scored. We couldn't catch him now to save ourselves from perdition. But his next step will involve the Hervey menage. We'll have to wait there for his next move."
Tyler and Bentley entered the vast gloomy structure of the old-fashioned Hervey domicile on the heels of the frightened secretary. Mrs. Hervey, a faded woman of sixty or so, met them at the door. Her head was held high, her lips grimly drawn into a straight line.
"So," she said evenly, "they've got Mr. Hervey. I begged him to take those threats seriously. He's been either killed or kidnaped."
"Kidnaped," said Bentley, continuing brutally because of the courage he saw in the old woman's face. "And that means he'll be dead within the hour, if he isn't dead already. We've got to stay here for a few hours, to await the next move of the madman calling himself the Mind Master, in the hope that we can trace him when he makes his next move."
Mrs. Hervey lifted her head still higher.
"We'll place no obstacles in your path, gentlemen," she said, "if you are from the police. The family will confine itself to the upper floors of the house."
Tyler and Bentley took possession of the living room. Outside a dozen plain-clothes men were to patrol the grounds during the hours of darkness.
Other men were at every adjacent street corner. A rat could not have got through unobserved.
Tyler and Bentley took seats at a table facing the door. The police car in which they had arrived stood at the curb, with the chauffeur at the wheel, the motor humming softly.
"Timkins," said Bentley, addressing the private secretary who stood in the most distant corner of the room, his eyes fearfully fixed on the street door, "how was Mr. Hervey captured?"
"I was accompanying him to his car, sir," replied the young man, "when a dapper fellow in a chauffeur's uniform confronted us on the sidewalk. He stood as stiff and straight as a soldier. He didn't say a word. He just looked at Mr. Hervey. Mr. Hervey stopped because the man was blocking the sidewalk. I looked into the chauffeur's eyes. They seemed utterly dead. I shivered. I'd have sworn the man had no soul, now that I look back at it. Suddenly he lashed out with his fist, striking Mr. Hervey on the jaw. Mr. Hervey started to fall. The man caught him under the arms and tossed him into the tonneau of a limousine at the curb. The car was away before I could summon the police."
"Which way did the car go?" he demanded.
"Downtown, at top speed," replied Timkins.
Bentley turned to Tyler.
"The Stuyvesant exchange is downtown," he said. "Now Timkins says that the kidnaper's car went downtown. And the naked man was killed in the Flatiron Building, which is well downtown in its turn. Tyler, fill all the area covered by the Stuyvesant exchange with plain-clothes men. Telephone Headquarters to see whether a stolen limousine has been reported from somewhere in the area. Barter wouldn't have cars of his own for fear they could be traced. He'll use stolen cars when he uses cars at all. And he had his puppet pick up the limousine close to his hideout."