We return to a gentler, more innocent world again with Doc Savage number 16: The Spook Legion. In the intervening time since Quest of Qui, they’ve undergone adventures The Fantastic Island, Land of Always-Night, and Murder Melody. For people interested in undertaking their own reads, here’s an excellent post about which Doc Savage books to start with.
On the red-toned cover, Doc confronts a machine with what seems to be a cabalistic gesture of some sort. Maybe just jazz hands; the cover artist was fond of a particular kind of pose. A closer look shows Doc is in the process of turning invisible; the bricks behind him are starting to show through.
Author Lester Dent tries to pull off some tricky stuff in this book and it sometimes trips him up, unfortunately. How much that actually affects the book is something I’ll leave to you to judge. It’s also a fairly convoluted book, presenting the information as though sliding things into place to give us the final picture. You have to respect Dent’s ability to plot and willingness to just go all the way with the weirdness at times.
Much like Quest of Qui we begin with a certain number of negative assertions, this time about an individual:
Leo Bell was a counter clerk in a Boston telegraph office. Leo was level-headed. He certainly did not believe in spooks. At least, he did not believe in spooks at precisely 10 o’clock at night, as he moved behind the counter straightening the books of message blanks.
At 10:05 Leo’s disbelief and spooks received a rude jarring.
Though he’s alone in the office, he investigates a wastebasket that overturns by itself, and then finds a mysterious message: a telegraph blank filled out as follow:
NEW YORK CITY
MATTER OF VITAL DANGER TO THOUSANDS MERITS YOUR ATTENTION STOP PLEASE BOARD BOSTON TO NEW YORK PASSENGER PLANE OF EXCELSIOR AIRWAYS AT NOON TO-MORROW STOP GET ABOARD IN BOSTON STOP SUGGEST YOU USE DISGUISE AND BE PREPARED HIDEOUS AND AMAZING EXPERIENCE.
A N ONYMOUS
(1440 Powder Road)
Hideous and amazing! Let us begin. Leo does, of course, send off the telegraph and soon after Doc Savage calls on the phone. He points out certain subtleties we might have missed earlier:
The mysterious circumstances surrounding the appearance of the message then came out. Dr. Savage heard it through without comment then advised, “There is probably no A. N. Onymous listed in your directory.”
Leo Bell looked in the directory.
“No,” he said. “There is not.”
“The name was the result of a trick writing of the word ‘anonymous,'” Doc pointed out. “The dictionary defines an anonymous work as one of unknown authorship, which seems to fit in this case.”
Lemony Snickett has nothing on Lester Dent. Leo and the night manager discuss the mysterious telegram and then vanish from the book, never to be seen again.
Excelsior! Excelsior Airways, that is, which turns out to be:
… among the most modern lines serving the East Coast of the United States. Their planes were huge tri-motored jobs that carried a pilot, copilot and a stewardess in the crew.
The seats were comfortable, and each bore a number, for it was customary for passengers to make the reservations in advance. The passengers who got aboard were prosperous looking ones, business persons obviously – with one exception.
Dent being Dent, the next person described is not the one exception but rather a fat man wearing a black felt hat and spectacles. He turns out to have purchased two seats directly behind each other, and sits in the rearmost. Once that’s accomplished, we can move back to that exception:
And if there was nothing exceptional about the appearance of the fat man, there was a great deal out of the ordinary about the last passenger to enter the ship. The size of this man was tremendous. He had to bend over much more than anyone else as he came down the plane aisle.
Nor was his great size the least of the man’s marked qualities. His face was something with which to frighten infants. It was scarred in fearsome fashion. The ears were thickened, tufted with welts. One of the eyes drooped almost shut. Over the brows, there were rolls of gristle which might have been put there by much pounding. When the man opened his mouth, he showed numerous gold teeth.
The pugilist tries to sit in the vacant seat in front of the fat man and is immediately repelled by the fat man’s lusty shove. Words are exchanged, but the stewardess comes and shows him to the appropriate seat.
At some point someone opens a window on the plane, which apparently in those days didn’t get you arrested by air marshalls. An errant piece of paper is blown back into the face of the fat man. He reads it and reacts by taking out a gun and firing into the empty seat. Again the difference from the present day mentality is underscored by passenger reaction:
The average American lives in a high-pressure world where things happen with rapidity. He is not inclined to become wildly excited about an occurrence which does not menace him directly.
These plane passengers were no exceptions. They merely looked around. Those farthest away stood up. Nobody screamed. Nobody yelled.
The stewardess went forward and said something to the two men in the control compartment. The assistant pilot left his seat, came back and confronted the fat man with the revolver.
The gun-shooting fat man at first claims that he is an actor who was rehearsing a scene from his new show and that the gun was shooting blanks. Challenged on this, he asserts that he is good friends with William Shakespeare, leading the rest of the plane to believe him a harmless madman.
All seems well, but the pugilist does happen to wander up to the empty seat that was shot at, where he finds no bulletholes. When he returns to his seat, having casually stolen the gun from the fat man, he examines it and determines that it has in fact been fired.
The plane lands in New York, but when the fat man tries to leave, he is detained while
the emails and social media on his cellphone are checked the pilots decide to take him to the police station. He and the pugilist are the only folks remaining, the latter “ostensibly fumbling over his luggage.”
The fat man surprises them all by hiding in an office. Looking out the window, he sees a group of nearby men. He waves to catch their attention.
The fat man now made a remarkable series of gestures with his hands. These gestures were small – such casual movements as might be made unthinkingly by a man who was merely idling time away. He rubbed thumb and forefinger together. He made various kinds of fists. He drummed soundlessly with his fingers.
All of these small gestures were made with lightning speed, and a group of men whom the fact fellow had cited saw them, and when they were finished, one went through with the motion of adjusting his right coat sleeve slightly.
The fat man’s manner showed that the sleeve adjusting was a signal that his other pantomime in had been understood.
I’d comment on showing versus telling here, but I’m too busy trying to think exactly how many various kinds of fists one can make. The group goes into the airplane hangar. Dent presents them as a somewhat anomalous group.
There were six men in the group. They range from a young fellow who looked as if he might be a high school student to a white-haired individual who looked as if he were past 60. None of them wore flashy clothing, but always meet. Neither would any of them attract attention because of their garb. They might have been a party of conservatively dressed businesspeople. It was certain that all of their faces were above the average in intelligence.
Despite Dent’s insistence that they’re “nice-looking”, they draw guns and begin searching the plane. Whatever it is that they’re looking for, it’s not there. An attendant, seeing that their attention is distracted, dives behind some oil drums. Although he is shot at, he escapes. Various alarums and excursions, and the gang of men escape. The fat man is still imprisoned in an office, the pugilist is still acting like he’s fiddling with his bags, and there’s another two mysterious men sitting in a car. Not too mysterious, though: it’s Ham and Monk.
Dent really goes to town in describing Monk; Ham’s description focuses on his clothes:
The first to appear had an astounding physique. His height was little greater than that of a boy in his early ‘teens, but he had shoulders, arms, a bull neck that a professional wrestler would have envied. His head was a nubbin with an enormous slash for a mouth and eyes like small, bright beads sunken in deep pits of gristle. Reddish hair, only slightly less coarse than rusty shingle nails, covered his frame. A stranger would not have to encounter the man in a very dark alley to think he had met a bull ape.
The second man was slender, with lean hips and an hourglass waist. His not unhandsome face was notable for its large orator’s mouth. The man was attired to sartorial perfection; his frock coat, afternoon trousers, gray vest and silk topper left nothing to be desired. The costume was set off perfectly by the slender black cane which he carried.
I would like to note this is the first time I’ve seen a male referenced as having an hourglass waist. The two start to follow directions that Doc has left them in that old standby, invisible chalk. Then they hear shots. “Shots!” Monk squeaks, and off they go to investigate.
They moved to get in the car and Ham disturbs Habeas Corpus. Monk’s reaction seems somewhat extreme.
Monk, rumbling angrily, sent out one huge hand and closed it about the dapper Ham’s throat.
“You kicked Habeus Corpus!” he gritted. “I gotta notion to see how easy your head comes off!”
Ham made croakings past the fingers constricting his throat. He tried to slug the apish Monk in the pit of the stomach, and the sound was much as if his knuckles had rapped a hard wall. He grimaced in agony, and fumbled at his black cane. The cane came apart near the handle, revealing the fact that it housed a sword with a long, razor-sharp blade. This blade was tipped for three or four inches with a sticky looking substance.
Monk released his throat grip before the menace of the sword cane tip and dodged back. His movements were so fast that they barely could be followed with the eye.
Ham swallowed twice, then snarled, “I didn’t kick that hog, but some time I’m gonna bob his tail off right next to his ears!”
The two looked at each other with what seemed genuine, utter hate.
Rather than breaking into the sort of clinch this moment drives, they drive off and catch up with the touring car driven by the “nice men.” More shooting ensues. Everything is getting sorted out when mysterious circumstances intervene:
… He yelled out in surprised pain and the gun left his fingers. The weapon remained suspended a few inches from his hand. He grabbed at it. The gun, with absolutely nothing visible sustaining it, evaded his clutch.
“For the love of God!” he gulped. “Spooks!”
Everyone’s surprised and Ham and Monk are captured, while Habeas Corpus scampers off into the bushes. Suddenly the pugilist appears out of the brush, holding a revolver. He seems to be on the side of the fat man and his gang. They try to drive off in the car Ham and Monk appeared in, but are stymied. No one sees the pugilist palm the key before he declares there’s no way to start the car.
The gang heads off on foot and introductions are made between the gang and the pugilist, one Bull Retz. He wants to join the gang and is a talkative fellow who says he’s looking for work. The fat man, waiting for his chance, blackjacks him, noting that, “we are not in a position to take chances with gentlemen whom we do not know.” We find out at this moment that the fat man’s name is “Telegraph” so we can finally stop calling him the fat man. Instead, Dent now calls him “the fat ‘Telegraph.'” Sometimes you just can’t get a break when you’re a villain in a pulp novel.
Telegraph tells his nice friends about the events on the plane. One asks, “Was it Easeman that yelled?” and Telegraph says he doesn’t know. He confides that what really worries him are the words that were yelled out from nowhere, the mysterious exclamation, “Doc Savage — be careful!”
As evildoers are wont to do, most of them react to the name and the few who don’t allow their fellows to provide a moment of exposition. Maybe more than a moment. Actually, it’s an entire section developed to giving you various details that you might want to know about Doc Savage and his men, including the pig, at which point one of them connects the dots and realizes the men that have been chasing them are in fact Monk and Ham.
They’re trying to figure out what to do when an invisible force attacks them. They tried to shoot it but seem to be unsuccessful. Pursuing a piece of paper dropped by Telegraph, they find out that the pugilist was in the underbrush watching them. They start to give chase, when they’re interrupted by the sound of approaching sirens and then “the three musical notes of an automobile airhorn,” signaling that their ride has arrived.
The car turns out to be “a big sedan, neither too old nor too new,” yet another one of Dent’s by now charming fuzzily complicated nondescriptions. Exit the gang stage right, declaring their intent to call on “Easemen’s daughter” in Central Park West.
As they exit, Ham and Monk enter, trailed by Habeas. Soon after, Bull Retz enters as well. He is, of course, Doc in disguise. He strips off the elements of his disguise as they walk, changing voice and posture as well. Bit by bit:
His countenance became one of remarkable handsomeness. The skin was the same amazing bronze hue as his hands. His hair, rid of its dye by the liquid in the flask, was of a bronze hue only slightly darker than his skin.
They head off to Central Park West and the apartment of P. Treve Easemen, where they find they’ve caught up with Telegraph and his gang, now “very dignified, very respectable in their immaculate full dress, complete even to white gloves, silk hats and shiny black evening sticks.”
A newsboy delivers another lump of exposition as we find out a jeweler has been committed for delusions after claiming a tray of a million dollar’s worth* of diamonds floated away.
The men don’t react until they’re by themselves, but then they chuckle and gloat. One of them asks how much the jewels were actually worth and it becomes clear they were behind the robbery. We’ll have the world at our feet, Telegraph declares, adding, “As soon as we dispose of the matter of Easemen and Old Bonepicker, we shall have money to operate on a full scale.”
Striding down a corridor of “tremendously rich furnishings” they enter Easemen’s apartment, only to be confronted by a young woman holding a shotgun in a way that shows she has handled shotguns before. She disables them in an unusual fashion:
“You will each seize the brim of your hat and yank it down over your eyes,” she directed. “If you think I am bluffing merely don’t take orders and see what happens!”
She had a throaty, educated voice which, holding no tremors, carried emphatic conviction.
“Quick!” she snapped. “Get those hats down over your eyes and blindfold yourselves!”
For some reason this stratagem actually works and she disarms them. As she does so, we learn several things about her: 1) her fingernails are emerald green to match her evening dress, 2) said evening dress is low backed and “more than snug” and she is “no ordinary bit of femininity. There was feline smoothness in her movements, along with the rippling play of more than ordinary muscular development in her arms and shoulders.”
We also find out Telegraph got his name from the hand signals he and his men employ, which they do now despite her orders not to. She shoots into the ceiling to let them know she’s serious, but apparently misses. Telegraph falls to the ground, wounded. But it’s just a ruse and his men take advantage of the deception to overpower the young woman. Telegraph asks Ada Easeman what she knows of what has happened to her father.
“My father disappeared,” she said grimly. “Since then, some strange things have happened. A large sum in cash disappeared from the safe here in the apartment, a safe to which only my father and myself know the combination. My father’s broker has advised me that father telephoned him to sell certain bonds and stocks for cash. The broker did so, bringing the money to his office. The money disappeared mysteriously.”
Telegraph notes that it seems her father has been raising cash. Dent doesn’t describe the no-shit-Sherlock look Ada probably gives him at this point but she rightly observes that he probably knows why. Further conversational proceedings are interrupted by an interjection:
The speaker stood squarely in the door. He was a lean man of more than average height and muscular build. Extremely black curly hair made him look even younger than he was; his pleasant features were tanned, and he had a waxed mustache which, in contrast with the darkness of his hair, was almost white. He looked efficient, worldly.
This fellow, who is carrying a revolver, turns out to be Russel Wray, “Sawyer Linnett Bonefelt’s bodyguard.” Telegraph and the reader both ask Sawyer Linnett who? at this point and lo, we are answered, finding out that he and the earlier mentioned “Bonepicker” are one and the same. A door begins to open, Telegraph screams warning, and we fade to a new scene.
It would be patently impossible for someone to have scaled the walls of the building and be listening from the outside, we are told, so of course Doc’s out there listening not in person but via a headset tuned to a device suction-cupped to the outside of the window. How the suction cups got attached to the window are swiftly elided over. Nothing to see here, folks, move along.
Doc, Ham, and Monk are listening to the screams of Telegraph and his men. Deciding to join in the fray, they begin to exit:
Monk and Ham promptly charged for the hatch by which they had gained access to the roof, Monk pausing only long enough to grab up his pig, Habeas Corpus, by one oversized ear. Habeas seemed accustomed to this method of transportation.
At this point, having once come by by the unlikely knowledge that is apparently very easy to tear a human ear off**, I tried to Google around and discover how plausible this actually was. The jury is still out and I am unwilling to perform any actual experiments.
When they get there, the nice men are gone, but Ada Easemen and Russel Wray remain, the former looking as though she hasn’t been through anything more strenuous than “a debutante dance.” Wray is less presentable and his waxed mustache has not come through the fray very well. Doc asks what happened and they say “those guys were crazy,” then describe what was clearly a battle with invisible forces.
Out on the street, they confirm that their foes have escaped. Hamm flourishes his sword cane “irately.” They ask Doc what he makes of it all, they get yet another one of those passive-aggressive moments where it’s clear that he knows what’s going on and has no intention of telling anyone. Doc is just not a team player.
Ada and Russel slip away, perhaps in search of Russel’s missing letter L, and up on the roof Monk and Ham find Doc’s already placed a recorder on the listening device. They hear this missed conversation, which apparently happened while they were out on the street.
“Who was that big bronze man?” asked a voice.
The speaker was not Wray. It was a male voice, however, but one which neither Doc Savage nor his men had heard previously. There was a strange, unnatural quality about the voice, a tang of unreality, and it was very coarse, an aged voice, querulous.
It turns out the voice is Bonepicker himself, saying Ada’s father shouldn’t have drawn in Doc Savage:
“…It will only excite these devils. They will start operations on a large scale. Left alone, your father and myself might have accomplished something. If they get stirred up and really cut loose, we’ll be helpless. The world will be in a terrible shape, because all of the policemen and all of the armies and navies won’t be able to help a bit!”
“I was afraid of the same thing,” said the girl.
At the news that something has happened to her father, she makes “a loud gasping sound of horror,” marking the point in each book where Dent reminds us he gets paid by the word.
Outside, Ham tilts his sword cane and ask, “Are we off to the jolly airport?” Off they go, Monk again carrying Habeas by the ear and prompting a fresh round of fruitless Google inquiries*** on my part, particularly when, a page later, Monk opens the plane door and swings inside, “still carrying his pig by an ear.”
There he makes an alarming discovery: “There’s a danged spook in this sky chariot!” Doc and Ham run towards the plane; so do the suddenly entering Telegraph and gang, wielding “powerful hand searchlights and an assortment of submachine guns and ordinary pistols.” When Monk tries to shoot them, he discovers they’re wearing bulletproof vests as well. Monk and Ham, pinned down by bullet fire, turn to Doc, only to discover he’s gone.
Doc’s off doing something useful, sneaking up behind Telegraph and his men. Nonetheless, the gang escapes, some of them in a commandeered monoplane, others on foot. What is clearly an invisible individual parachutes from the plane, still mystifying almost everyone. Ham tries to advance this theory and is scoffed at by Monk, who by the way is carrying his pig by the ear again while doing so.
Doc gathers up his men and says let’s head out. This seems like a reasonable decision but Dent warns us that it’s not:
That decision was a mistake, one of the few in judgment errors [sic] which the bronze man had made. But, remarkable as was his trained mind, it had no powers of clairvoyance, and he could not see into the future.
They do see Russel and Ada helping an invisible man to a car and speeding off. They give chase but their car mysteriously dies. Another invisible man exits their car, leaving behind only a message scratched on the seat’s leather, “Savage: Go to opera to-night.”
Off they go. Understandably they have some difficulty getting in, given that none of them are wearing full dress, they look disheveled, and most importantly do not have tickets, until Doc reveals that he actually has a box.
Monk digested that, and wonder just how much the bronze man contributed for use of the box. Plenty, no doubt. Monk remembered there had been talk of an unnamed contributor who had lifted the operatic enterprise from its financial dilemma. The bronze man had a habit of doing things like that.
An usher tries to take the pig away and is prevented. Habeas actually seems to enjoy the performance more than anything, Dent included:
The performance had reached a point where the fat basso was whooping and moaning in the throes of indecision about whether to surrender an equally plump prima donna to the arms of the rival singing tenor.
Everyone’s jewelry begins to float off of them; it’s almost as though invisible criminals were seizing it all. Doc is knocked out and while he’s unconscious:
The nap of the carpet beside Doc Savage crushed down as if an unseen weight were bearing upon it. One of his hands lifted, but in a strangely lifeless manner, and the bronze skin over one wrist acquired a depression that might have meant his pulse was being tested.
There was a short peculiar whistling sound, the kind of a whistle by which a man might summon a dog.
From the darker recess down the fire escape corridor a metal tray floated, an ordinary tray of the type used by housewives to bake muffins, divided off into ten cups. In each of these cups reposed reddish, soft-looking wax. The tray came to a rest on the floor beside Doc Savage’s right hand.
One by one, the bronze man’s fingers were lifted and pressed into the soft wax, making an impression in which the whorls and lines of the fingertips were distinct. The tray shifted to the other side and the same thing happened to his left hand.
Fade to black and then we are in Doc’s lab with Monk and Ham poring through the news accounts in the papers, where apaparently over 400 police officers were called to quell the fray. Doc is “engaged in making a complete examination of his own person.” He finds reddish wax under his fingernails.**** They go off to investigate old Bonepicker, aka: Sawyer Linnett Bonefelt.
Bonefelt’s address is not in the best of areas:
This was a doorway, a very decrepit doorway, in a grimy and uninviting street in that section of the city which welfare workers liked to call the worst slum. One peculiar thing they noticed at once. The entire block of buildings seem to be unoccupied. The windows for the grime deposit of months; some were boarded up.
But behind a façade of decay and poverty, there is a steel plated door, leading to vastly different surroundings in a description idiosyncratic enough to lead me to suspect it was modeled on some real life situation.
Carpet on the floor seemed an inch deep, and was of an expensive grade. The walls were paneled in walnut and some other wood which was brilliant yellow hue. The lighting was indirect, with no bulbs visible.
A man in a “resplendent butler’s uniform” demands to know what they’re doing there. He adds that he is Mr. Bonefelt’s butler. Through clever use of ventriloquism, Doc tricks him into admitting he is actually one of Telegraph’s gang members and he is taken prisoner.
What follows is a torture scene:
“Take his right ear first, Ham,” Monk suggested. “I think it’s a little bigger than the left.”
Ham said, “An ear does not hurt. We will take an eye, because when you pull an eyeball out and begin to cut through the muscles behind it, it feels as if the whole brain was being hauled out.”
“Aw, nuts!” said the prisoner. “I’ve been through this third-degree stuff before!”
Doc Savage studied the man, then knelt and kneaded some of the fellow’s joints in a manner which produced great pain. Doc noted the results carefully. He shook his head.
He produces truth serum, as well as a certain mental question in the reader as to why that wasn’t the first resort. The serum is administered, and a hidden gun quickly silences the man, whose last words direct them to a place called “the Spook’s Nest,” identifying it as “Marikan’s place.” Doc goes after the hidden gunman. He encounters Ada and Russel, who have just entered the house and heard the shooting. At this point, the initial plan is clarified. Ada’s father and old Bonepicker have been rendered invisible by Telegraph and his men, who are demanding $1 million in cash apiece to make them visible again. Ada’s father had escaped the men and was onboard the plane, trying to write a note to Doc Savage, when the wind had seized the note and given it to Telegraph. Now he and the invisible Bonepicker are waiting outside.
They’re still searching the house when Doc hears shouting and finds Ada threatening a man who identifies himself as Marikan: “A swarthy man, he had big ears, a tremendous nose, a small mouth, and the rest of him was plump. His neat blue suit bulged a little with fat.”
There is a great many questions about whose side anyone is on. Marikan proclaims his allegiance:
“Me?” Marikan tried to spread his hands, but was hampered by the handcuffs. “Me? I am the chiropractor.”
“The what?” Monk’s scowl darkened.
“I heal the chiropractor way,” explained the other, and tried to wave his arms. He almost lost his balance on his linked ankles, and barely missed upsetting. “When somebody, he feel the pain, I push and pull the spine, and he get well.” He snapped fingers. “Just like that!”
He also owns the Spook’s Nest:
“It is my skunk farm you talk about, maybe?” he grunted.
“Your what?” Monk gulped
“My place where the skunk, she is raise,” Marikan replied. “You know him, the fur farm. I raise skunks. Nobody is ever come around because the place, she smell bad. So I called her my Spook’s Nest.”
It is not explained whether Marikan is a chiropractor who happens to own a skunk farm or a skunk farm owner who happens to do a little spine pushing and pulling on the side. Bonefelt has previously been noted as a business who is a bit of a vulture, but since the name is of Swedish origin, I hadn’t thought much else of it. In this section, however, Marikan, in explaining that Bonefelt owns a partial share of skunk farm, calls him an “old Shylock,” an ethnic slur usually reserved for Jews. They all headed off to the Federated Payroll offices where, Doc says, having intercepted a phone call, “something seems to be set for eight o’clock.”
Federated Payroll distributes payroll envelopes full of cash, which means it’s a tasty target for the invisible gang. Doc fails to stop them, so they head off to the skunk farm. Listening to the car radio as they drive, they discover that Doc’s fingerprints have been discovered all over the crime scene. Doc is unsurprised; he’s clearly been expecting something like this ever since discovering the wax on his fingers.
The skunk farm is on the New Jersey coast. Upon arrival, they’re surprised to find four seaplanes already there. Ham and Marikan stay back while Doc and Monk investigate, trailed by Habeas. There is plenty of activity going on; the skunk farm appears to be the headquarters of the invisible men. Ham and Marikan are ambushed; Doc and Monk have Habeas, though, to point out the invisible man trailing them, “pointing, after the fashion of a hunting dog.”
Through careful deployment of smoke grenades and ventriloquism, Doc and Monk manage to get inside the skunk farm’s main house and discover a tunnel down to a subterranean lair. Taking advantage of darkness and confusion, they join a group of men, pretending to be gang members, only to find they may have gotten themselves into an odd situation:
“Be sure to remove every stitch of clothing,” said a voice. “That includes wrist watches, rings – and false teeth, if any. Remember that the presence of the slightest bit of metal on the body is liable to have fatal consequences.”
Monk found Doc’s ear – he could tell the finer texture of the bronze man’s skin by touch – and whispered, “What do we do?”
“Do as they do,” Doc decided. “Shed your clothing.”
“I don’t like this a lot,” Monk advised, but complied with the suggestion.
Within a few moments, a peculiar prickling sensation became noticeable. It made itself apparent, first, about the eyes and nostrils and other tender parts of the body, then spread all over.
Other parts of the process include being dipped in some liquid then sprayed with a chemical. All of this takes place in darkness, and a voice explains it’s in order to preserve their optic nerve. More chemical baths, conveyer belts, and then a tube full of “blue haze, and frightful pain.” In the end it’s all too much for Monk. As he falls unconscious, he hears Telegraph telling someone to go get Ham and Marikan.
Ham and Marikan are dragged in to face by Telegraph and a crowd of invisible men, who propose to shoot them, then make their bodies invisible so they will never be found. They are unswayed by Marikan’s offer of free chiropractic services, and drag him away to be killed.
The sound of the shot presumably ending Marikan wakes Monk, who is invisible (and naked). He sees Ham and Telegraph. He makes his way over to Ham only to be intercepted by Doc, who is also invisible (and naked). They free Ham and flee. Ham asks what happened to them and Doc reels off a lovely bit of handwavium:
“I secured only a hazy idea of the process,” Doc Savage explained. “It has something to do with altering the electronic composition of the body, securing an atomic motific status which results in complete diaphaneity.”
“That,” said Ham, “does not mean a lot to me.”
Ham heads off to New York City. New Jersey state troopers show up and an explosion takes out the skunk farm. Habeas shows up and is spooked by his invisible owner, who confirms his worst nightmares: “Monk grasped his porker by one flapping ear and carried him, a grunting, suspicious and disgusted shote, toward the road.”
The two invisible (naked) men and their visible (also naked) pig manage to hitchhike to New York through various contrivances, where they wander about until they get news that Ham has been arrested. They free him and proceed to Ham’s apartment. The invisible Bonepicker is there waiting for him. He wants to take Ham to Easemen, who is at his offices, still recovering from the wound sustained on the plane. Ham pretends that Doc and Monk aren’t anywhere around and says okay.
This turns out to be a trap. Ada and Ruseel are there as well as Easemen, who draws a gun on Ham. When they realize Doc Savage and Monk are there too, they manage to overcome Monk and pour ink on him in order to make him visible. Doc escapes in the scuffle.
Ada is still there, though not quite so debutante-like anymore:
The girl came over and stood beside Wray. She was still garbed in her emerald evening gown, but it was showing the effects of strenuous action. The wrinkled state of the frock seemed to detract no whit from her unquestionable beauty.
There is a lot of conversation, and Ham is gradually convinced that Ada, Bonepicker, Easemen, and Wray are unconnected with Telegraph and his gang. He shouts for Doc Savage. Doc, as it turns out is doing the Human Fly thing just outside the window. Rather than come back in, he tricks someone in a stenographer’s office into opening their window and makes his way down to the street. He gets to the skyscraper that houses his headquarters and gets to the laboratory. While there, he discovers that an electroscope is sensitive to the presence of an invisible man. He lets the police know, and then calls Bonepicker to ask how his men are. Incensed by the bronze man’s nerve, Bonepicker calls the police to turn Ham and Monk in.
Alerted, the police start to rush off, but are knocked out by Telegraph and his men, who have been waiting there to catch word of Doc Savage’s whereabouts. They take Ada, Bonepicker, Easemen, Wray, Ham, and Monk all prisoner. Doc rides along invisibly.
A very important invisible man joins the others, introduced by Telegraph as “the big chief, the man with brains enough to work this all out.” They begin to discuss how profitable their business has been so far. Meanwhile, outside:
Doc Savage worked swiftly. He located an electric power line and hooked onto it with his cables, which were in turn connected to high-frequency spark coils. The latter, the bronze man had carried from an electrical supply house on lower Broadway.
From the coils, the copper cables were conducted to doors and windows of the house. There, the bronze man operated more painstakingly, employing a material which was as invisible as he himself, for he had removed clothing and greasepaint.
When he finished, he had strung over the doors and windows strands of the invisible metal fabric from which the loot bags had been woven. He went over all connections, making sure the invisible cables were connected to the invisible metal strands in the proper manner.
Having prepared this trap, he calls the cops:
“All of the invisible men are there,” he advised. “Do not try to raid the place. Block the adjacent streets and rooftops with woven wire fencing. Allow no loopholes what ever. Station men with spray guns, filled with ink or paint. Assemble your dogs. Have teargas and laughing gas*****. In short, take every possible precaution.”
The police official was silent for a time.
“This is not a gag?” he asked. “You know, your fingerprints have been found on the scene of crime after crime which these invisible men have committed.”
Doc Savage hurriedly explained about the fingertip impressions taken while he was unconscious.
“All right,” said the officer.
“How many men can you assemble?” Doc asked.
“Five thousand,” said the other.
“Not enough,” Doc told him. “Call on the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the local army post for reinforcements. If this attempt to corner the invisible men fails, there will probably never be another chance.”
Everyone is captured, and the invisible men try to escape in a train car on the subway line. They are killed in an underwater crash that Doc is unable to prevent. Their corpses provide a somewhat macabre passage:
It was even doubted in some quarters that the invisible men perished; but that doubt subsided in the course of two or three weeks, when the tunnel was finally pumped dry. The bodies, after being in the water that long, were not exactly invisible, but rather, somewhat like large oceany jellyfish.
That flashforward lasts only seconds, and then we are back with Monk, who is rendering the chief of the invisible man visible again. It turns out to be Marikan, who in his newly revived daze, crashes into high frequency current conductors and dies. With him perishes the secret of invisibility, though Dent lets us know that Doc could pursue the secret he wanted to.
All right. Overall, this book seems overly complicated. So much attention is given to creating the logistics of things that some of the banter and byplay is lacking. Enjoyable? Sure. Not my favorite so far, though. My main takeaway would be that complicated plots need some word length to back them up.
Next up: The Sargasso Ogre.
* In 2017, worth approximately 18 and a half million.
** 8-10 pounds of force will do it. Like me, you may have covered your ears on discovering that.
*** You will be interested to discover that the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals did exist at this time, having been founded in 1866.
**** In an alternate universe, readers were then treated to an early version of Heinlein’s “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag.”
*****Because hordes of invisible men are much better if they’re laughing uncontrollably.