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THIS WEEK ON MOONSTONE CLIFFHANGER FICTION-
CITY OF THE MELTING DEAD
A STORY OF THE SPIDER
BY MARTIN POWELL
featured in THE SPIDER: CHRONICLES
from Moonstone Books
“Dick…are you all right?” Nita lightly touched his arm, startled by the coiling sinews tensing beneath his coat.
Wentworth paled a moment, then gave her a quiet reassuring smile. “We’ve just become privy to an essential clue that the official police have missed,” his voice was pitched with excitement. “I knew…or, rather, the Spider was very well acquainted with the late Bill Henry. The enemy has finally committed a fatal error.”
The Spider tightened his web around the throat of underworld. The darkened tenement hideouts were made blacker still by the invasion of his long, twisted shadow. None could escape him. No one could deny him. Small-time hoods and back alley predators literally wept in terror before the merciless onslaught of the Master of Men.
Nita, Jackson, and Ram Singh would remain vigilant, prepared for future catastrophes should Wentworth fail to return. This time the threat was different, far-reaching and devastating in its aimless goal of terror. He couldn’t put them at risk. Not until the Spider gave his all, alone.
The trail itself had been elementary.
The deceased William Patrick Henry provided the light to show the way. Before falling upon such wicked days, “Bourbon Bill”, was a first class crime reporter and an excellent covert contact to the underworld. The Spider had often gleaned invaluable information from the hard-drinking journalist that had ended the career of many a criminal mastermind.
Wentworth further knew that Bourbon Bill hadn’t staggered more than ten blocks from his low-rent flophouse in over three years. Just a few weeks prior, the black-balled newsman had raised a stink over witnessing the kidnapping of the imminent scientist Doctor Emerick Berg. His former editors had merely laughed, assured of a pathetic ruse by the rummy to reclaim a byline.
It suddenly all made a kind of grotesque sense. The still-missing Dr. Berg’s area of expertise had been the advanced application of electromagnetism. Wentworth had read many of the scientist’s monographs, and they were brilliant.
Berg himself was once originally from the same neighborhood, which had since decayed into the bowery. Bourbon Bill, sober or not, could well have seen him there, perhaps he’d even observed his abduction. No one had seen Berg after that. Someone must be holding him, somewhere within those ten blocks, forcing the scientist into building some kind of terrible weapon. Berg might even be dead already, his temporary value fulfilled.
Lastly, there was something that even Commissioner Kirkpatrick had failed to notice. On that scrap of typing paper there had been a faint thumb print. Vague as it was, Wentworth immediately detected the faint scent of scorched skin coming from the paper. Once a man encountered the stench of burnt human flesh, as Wentworth had in many haunting circumstances, it was impossible to ever forget it.
If only someone had taken Henry’s claims about the scientist seriously, but just the week before he’d made a fuss over seeing sea serpents under the Brooklyn Bridge.
Even Wentworth hadn’t listened, then…but now the Spider had no choice. One by one, using methods the official police force could not dare, the Spider got what he demanded. The petty thugs and gutter gangsters eagerly, sometimes literally, spilled their guts to the snarling masked man-monster. Finally, he learned of dim rumors of a reclusive megalomaniac called the Crucible, a fearsomely fitting name. Then, he got a location.
Justice was closing in.
The Spider’s web was inescapable.
The dwarf waited. It was all he could do.
Rain splashing on the high windows of the abandoned warehouse diffused the street lights, streaking shadows like a barred cage across the floor. It was a prison, all right. But, being the dwarf beside the giant, he had truly never known anything else.
A corroded window latch gave way, falling almost noiselessly to the filthy floor. The dwarf smiled faintly as the Spider masterfully infested the chamber, gliding wraithlike down a silken rope with a heavy automatic in the other hand. Had the dwarf not been expecting him, doubtlessly the entrance of the slouched black figure would have been virtually invisible among the shadows.
The dwarf shuddered as the Spider’s piercing eyes regarded him with bitter hatred. Another gun had appeared in the other hand, thumbs cocked hammers, barrels unerringly aimed at the little man and at the still, silent monstrosity heaped beside him.
“The Crucible is dead,” the little man breathed. “I murdered him two days ago.”
Wentworth’s quick eyes detected a blood-crusted claw hammer laying some distance from the victim and his confessed killer. He also observed the smashed remains of a weird cannon-like machine composed of coiling copper wires, shattered vacuum tubes, and fitted with a machinegun tripod.
“You found us sooner than I expected,” the dwarf continued. “The Spider deserves his formidable reputation.”
Awe saturated the diminutive voice, although, strangely, there was no hint of fear.
Wentworth advanced, his savage fangs gritted. “Who are you?” he furiously hissed.
The dwarf glanced sympathetically to the giant mass beside him. “Just two brothers, cruelly used by this world,” he sighed with a sob. “I did love him, you know, even through all his torment and torture. He was all I had.”
Wentworth took in the strange sight of the withered dwarf protectively clumped next to the grey festering corpse of the giant. At last, he saw everything clearly and his rage diminished.
The Crucible had been an ogre, indeed, with the arms of a gorilla and the chest of a buffalo. Most of the brutish skull had been smashed into pulp. The little man breathed with a shuddering effort. He, too, Wentworth observed, was dying. It was inevitable. The reek of decay hung heavy in the air.
“ The whole scheme was his…the kidnapping…the machine … the murders…” the dwarf confessed, wracked with emotion. “My brother had a cruel, peculiar genius for such things. He was…what the world had made of him.”
Guns slid soundlessly back into concealed holsters, and Wentworth knelt at the dwarf ’s side.
“Yet, you had the courage to stop him,” it was Wentworth’s soft voice, not the Spider’s ugly rasp, which now issued from the fanged lips.
Tears streamed down the little man’s doll-like cheeks. “He was going to…aim that damnable machine at the whole skyline. I couldn’t stand it anymore. Maybe I finally went mad, too. No one…will ever understand.”
Wentworth clasped the small trembling hand held out to him. The mottled greyish flesh felt more dead than alive.
“I think I do,” his tone was comforting.
The dwarf attempted a smile, though his weakness prevented it. Wentworth could hear the rattle in the little man’s lungs. He was fading fast.
“P-please…” the small, tormented eyes implored. “…please don’t let them find us like this…don’t…don’t let them…”
Wentworth nodded, and the little man was gone.
Kerosene and a lighted match fulfilled the final wish of the Crucible’s last victim. No one would stare at them. No one would gawk. No awful exhibition. No one would ever know.
Wentworth watched mournfully as the flames consumed the secrets of the giant and the dwarf. The brothers passed from the world as they’d been born into it, together…as Siamese twins fused at the spine, bound forever in their prison of flesh and blood.
Their life-long internal conflict was over. Wentworth envied them.
The Spider could never rest.
END OF CITY OF THE MELTING DEAD!
NEXT TIME ON MOONSTONE CLIFFHANGER FICTION-
MEET THE SEDUCTIVE, ELUSIVE DOMINO LADY
as written by Ron Fortier!!
To purchase THE SPIDER: CHRONICLES anthology containing this story and more, go to http://moonstonebooks.com/shop/item.aspx?itemid=414 today!!