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The Spider Strain/Chapter 6

THAT particular brand of nausea which follows a dose of chloroform had been experienced by John Warwick before; and when he regained consciousness now, and experienced it again, he kept his eyes closed, pretending to be under the influence of the drug and waiting for his brain to clear, Warwick realized that he was stretched on a couch of some sort; and he heard the voices of two men in conversation. His wrists were lashed together in front of him, but his ankles were not bound and there was no gag in his mouth. After a time, he opened one eye and glanced around the room.

It was a medium-sized room furnished in quite an ordinary manner. There were half a dozen chairs, a table, and a buffet. Warwick could see a closed door and two windows at which the shades had been drawn. Two incandescent lights burned in a chandelier.

The men were still conversing. Warwick could not see them, for they were beyond his feet, and he did not want to turn his body yet and let them know that he was conscious.

“Ain’t nothin’ much to it,” one of the men was saying. “We keep this bird here until Marlowe telephones that he’s turned the trick, and then we give him another dose of chloroform, take him in the car out to the edge of the park, and drop him there. When he comes back to Earth, he can go home—and he won’t know where we kept him. That’s all.”

“I thought he was one of these clever ones.”

“He is—but he ain’t as clever as Marlowe, I reckon. We haven’t anything to worry about, anyway—we do as we’re told and cash in on the coin.”

“What’s all this about a locket, anyway?” the other asked.

“You can search me! All I know is that Marlowe is crazy to get his hands on it—some secret, I suppose. None of our business! The big idea is to keep this man Warwick from getting it for The Spider—understand?”

“I don’t believe there is any Spider!”

“Don’t fool yourself! I guess Marlowe used to know all about him over in the old country. There’s a Spider, all right, and he’s a tough bird to go up against! I don’t want him and his gang after me any—not any!”

Warwick groaned and turned his head, and then sat up weakly and held his lashed hands to his face. He heard the two men get out of their chairs and start toward him. So they were as much in the dark regarding the locket as he was, were they? They were merely engaged to detain him until Marlowe had obtained possession of the thing, and then were to release him.

“Alive again, are yuh?” one of the men asked.

“What—what is the meaning of this?” Warwick gasped. “Oh, yes—there was a fight—”

“It wasn’t much of a fight, I guess—you didn’t have a chance!” said the other, laughing.

“Where am I?”

“That’s somethin’ you ain’t supposed to know, Mr. Warwick. Here you are, and here you stay for the time bein’—and if you try any funny tricks, you’ll wish that you hadn’t.”

“But—what is the idea?” Warwick demanded.

“I guess you know all about that. Anyway, we ain’t prepared to answer any questions,” one of the men told him. “We’re just here to see that you remain for a time.”

“How long?”

“Until we get orders to let you go—and let that be an end of your questions,” the other growled.

Warwick looked at them more carefully—and two precious thugs they were. He glanced rapidly around the room. He had been in corners as close as this before, and had escaped. He realized that these men meant him no real harm physically—but they were interfering with his work. The Spider had told him to get that locket from Mrs. Burton Barker, and had warned him to be on guard against foes—and the supercriminal expected nothing except success.

“Better just take it easy, Mr. Warwick,” one of the men told him. “We don’t want to muss up a gent like you, as has done some nervy things in his time, but we’ll have to do it, if you try any tricks. We got our orders.”

“I don’t fancy this at all, my men,” Warwick said. “Confound it, I escorted a young lady to an affair this evening, and I should be there dancing with her now. What’ll she think of me if I desert her in this manner?”

“It’s hard luck, but it can’t be helped.”

“If you men aid me to get back there, I’ll make it worth your while—and forget all about this.”

“Well, we need the money, but it wouldn’t be healthy for us to let you you go,” one of his captors replied. “We’d get ours, if we did! So we can’t talk along them lines, Mr. Warwick.”

“I’ll pay your own figure,” Warwick said.

“Nothin’ doin’, sir!”

Warwick knew that the decision was final. He got slowly to his feet and paced around the room. But when he tried to get near the door or one of the windows, one of his captors always got in front of him. He tried the cords that lashed his wrists, and realized that they had been tied well. There seemed to be no present way of escape.

“Might as well take it easy,” one of the men assured him. “A little wait won’t hurt you any—and maybe you can get back there in time to take your young lady home. You can make up some whale of a story and be a hero.” The man laughed raucously, and the other joined in.

“I suppose you realize,” said Warwick, “that you could be sent to prison for doing such a thing as this.”

“Oh, we ain’t worryin’ any about that, sir. This scrap is strictly between ourselves, and neither side is goin’ to call in the police. If we go to prison, a certain gent of The Spider’s gang will go right along with us!”

“What do you mean by speaking of The Spider’s gang?” Warwick asked.

“I suppose you don’t know—oh, no! You never heard of The Spider and his gang, you didn’t. You ain’t been workin’ for him for more than a year—oh, no!”

“My word! Never heard such nonsense in my life!” Warwick gasped. “Can it be that you have made a mistake, got the wrong man, and all that sort of thing?”

“Not any, we ain’t—and you might as well cut out the bluff!” came the reply.

Warwick continued walking around the room, and after a while he sat down on the couch again.

“What time is it?” he asked.

“A few minutes to eleven,” one of his captors told him. “I guess you’ll be turned loose about midnight—so you ain’t got long to wait. Better just take it easy!”

Warwick engaged in no further conversation. He felt his bonds whenever he had a chance, and convinced himself that they could not be removed easily. He thought of dashing to a window, but he knew that the two men would be upon him before he could accomplish his purpose And the window might be in the second or third floor—he could not tell. This might be a cottage, or a cheap lodging house. Warwick did not even know in what part of the city it was located.

To all appearances, he had resigned himself to his fate. He yawned once or twice, and asked for a drink of water. One of the men went out of the room, and returned with the drink within a short time While he was gone the other watched Warwick closely, a revolver held ready in his hand.

Though he did not show it in his countenance, John Warwick was beginning to get frantic. He would fail—and from The Spider there would be no forgiveness. The supercriminal had warned him that he did not want failure this time. Warwick could not imagine why he had not been more careful. Here he was, a prisoner, and Marlowe and the others having every opportunity to achieve their desire.

He thought of Silvia Rodney, too, and knew that she was worrying because of his absence. Was he to lose Silvia because of failure to get the locket from Mrs. Burton Barker? Would The Spider, angry at his failure, keep him as a member of the band instead of granting him his release?

But there seemed to be no way of escape. The two men watched him closely, and if he got up to walk around the room, they left their chairs and remained close to him. A wrong move, a shriek for help, would cause them to spring upon him. They might even render him unconscious again—and then he would, indeed, be helpless and unable to carry out the orders of The Spider.

He wondered whether Marlowe had the locket already. For the hundredth time, he asked himself what that locket could be, and what secret it held.

“Well, are you going to keep me here all night?” he growled.

“Until we get orders to turn you loose.”

“My word! This is disgusting—what? Liable to make you chaps pay for it in the end!”

“We ain’t scared much!”

“Fancy I’ll square accounts with you before we’re done!” Warwick said.

He began pacing the floor again, walking from one corner of the room to the other, while they drew nearer and watched him carefully. He glanced toward the door—and saw that the knob was turning slowly!

Warwick’s heart almost stood still. He guessed that the man on the other side of the door was a friend instead of a new foe, else he would not be so furtive about his entrance. He glanced at the door now and then, maintaining a conversation with the two men, at the same time edging toward the window, and acting as if he were about to make a break for liberty, thus causing them to watch him closely. Their attention was attracted from the door.

Warwick glanced that way again—and saw that the door had been opened a crack. Suddenly it was hurled wide open, and a form darted into the room. The door slammed shut.

“Hands up!” a stern voice commanded.

Warwick’s captors whirled around. They found themselves menaced by an automatic. And they beheld the malevolent, glittering eyes of one Togo, John Warwick’s Japanese valet.