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Stolen Brains

9th September 2017
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Title: Stolen Brains
Author: Captain S. P. Meek
Summary: Dr. Bird, scientific sleuth extraordinary, goes after a sinister stealer of brains..
Word count:  10525
Public Domain Mark (PDM)

Image: Astounding Stories of Super-Science October 1930

 

I hope, Carnes,” said Dr. Bird, “that we get good fishing.”

“Good fishing? Will you please tell me what you are talking about?”

“I am talking about fishing, old dear. Have you seen the evening paper?”

“No. What’s that got to do with it?”

Dr. Bird tossed across the table a copy of the Washington Post folded so as to bring uppermost an item on page three. Carnes saw his picture staring at him from the center of the page.

“What the dickens?” he exclaimed as he bent over the sheet. With growing astonishment he read that Operative Carnes of the United States Secret Service had collapsed at his desk that afternoon and had been rushed to Walter Reed Hospital where the trouble had been diagnosed as a nervous breakdown caused by overwork. There followed a guarded statement from Admiral Clay, the President’s personal physician, who had been called into conference by the army authorities.

The Admiral stated that the Chief of the Washington District was in no immediate danger but that a prolonged rest was necessary. The paper gave a glowing tribute to the detective’s life and work and stated that he had been given sick leave for an indefinite period and that he was leaving at once for the fishing lodge of his friend, Dr. Bird of the Bureau of Standards, at Squapan Lake, Maine. Dr. Bird, the article concluded, would accompany and care for his stricken friend. Carnes laid aside the paper with a gasp.

 

Do you know what all this means?” Carnes demanded.

“It means, Carnsey, old dear, that the fishing at Squapan Lake should be good right now and that I feel the need of accurate information on the subject. I didn’t want to go alone, so I engineered this outrage on the government and am taking you along for company. For the love of Mike, look sick from now on until we are clear of Washington. We leave to-night. I already have our tickets and reservations and all you have to do is to collect your tackle and pack your bags for a month or two in the woods and meet me at the Pennsy station at six to-night.”

“And yet there are some people who say there is no Santa Claus,” mused Carnes. “If I had really broken down from overwork, I would probably have had my pay docked for the time I was absent, but a man with official pull in this man’s government wants to go fishing and presto! the wheels move and the way is clear. Doctor, I’ll meet you as directed.”

“Good enough,” said Dr. Bird. “By the way, Carnes,” he went on as the operative opened the door, “bring your pistol.”

Carnes whirled about at the words.

“Are we going on a case?” he asked.

“That remains to be seen,” replied the Doctor enigmatically. “At all events, bring your pistol. In answer to any questions, we are going fishing. In point of fact, we are—with ourselves as bait. If you have a little time to spare this afternoon you might drop around to the office of the Post and get them to show you all the amnesia cases they have had stories on during the past three months. They will be interesting reading. No more questions now, old dear, we’ll have lots of time to talk things over while we are in the Maine woods.”

 

ate the next evening they left the Bangor and Aroostook train at Mesardis and found a Ford truck waiting for them. Over a rough trail they were driven for fifteen miles, winding up at a log cabin which the Doctor announced was his. The truck deposited their belongings and jounced away and Dr. Bird led the way to the cabin, which proved to be unlocked. He pushed open the door and entered, followed by Carnes. The operative glanced at the occupants of the cabin and started back in surprise.

Seated at a table were two figures. The smaller of the two had his back to the entrance but the larger one was facing them. He rose as they entered and Carnes rubbed his eyes and reeled weakly against the wall. Before him stood a replica of Dr. Bird. There was the same six feet two of bone and muscle, the same beetling brows and the same craggy chin and high forehead surmounted by a shock of unruly black hair. In face and figure the stranger was a replica of the famous scientist until he glanced at their hands. Dr. Bird’s hands were long and slim with tapering fingers, the hands of a thinker and an artist despite the acid stains which disfigured them but could not hide their beauty. The hands of his double were stained as were Dr. Bird’s, but they were short and thick and bespoke more the man of action than the man of thought.

The second figure arose and faced them and again Carnes received a shock. While the likeness was not so, striking, there was no doubt that the second man would have readily passed for Carnes himself in a dim light or at a little distance. Dr. Bird burst into laughter at the detective’s puzzled face.

“Carnes,” he said, “shake yourself together and then shake hands with Major Trowbridge of the Coast Artillery Corps. It has been said by some people that we favor one another.”

“I’m glad to meet you, Major,” said Carnes. “The resemblance is positively uncanny. But for your hands, I would have trouble telling you two apart.”

 

The Major glanced down at his stubby fingers.

“It is unfortunate but it can’t be helped,” he said. “Dr. Bird, this is Corporal Askins of my command. He is not as good a second to Mr. Carnes as I am to you but you said it was less important.”

“The likeness is plenty good enough,” replied the Doctor. “He will probably not be subjected to as close a scrutiny as you will. Did you have any trouble in getting here unobserved?”

“None at all, Doctor. Lieutenant Maynard found a good landing field within a half mile of here, as you said he would, and he has his Douglass camouflaged and is standing by. When do you expect trouble?”

“I have no idea. It may come to-night or it may come later. Personally I hope that it comes later so that we can get in a few days of fishing before anything happens.”

“What do you expect to happen, Doctor?” demanded Carnes. “Every time I have asked you anything you told me to wait until we were in the Maine woods and we are there now. I read up everything that I could find on amnesia victims during the past three months but it didn’t throw much light on the matter to me.”

“How many cases did you find, Carnes?”

“Sixteen. There may have been lots more but I couldn’t find any others in the Post records. Of course, unless the victim were a local man, or of some prominence, it wouldn’t appear.”

“You got most of them at that. Did any points of similarity strike you as you read them?”

“None except that all were prominent men and all of them mental workers of high caliber. That didn’t appear peculiar because it is the man of high mentality who is most apt to crack.”

“Undoubtedly. There were some points of similarity which you missed. Where did the attacks take place?”

“Why, one was at—Thunder, Doctor! I did miss something. Every case, as nearly as I can recall, happened at some summer camp or other resort where they were on vacation.”

“Correct. One other point. At what time of day did they occur?”

“In the morning, as well as I can remember. That point didn’t register.”

“They were all discovered in the morning, Carnes, which means that the actual loss of memory occurred during the night. Further, every case has happened within a circle with a diameter of three hundred miles. We are near the northern edge of that circle.”

 

Carnes checked up on his memory rapidly.

“You’re right, Doctor,” he cried. “Do you think—?”

“Once in a while,” replied Dr. Bird dryly, “I think enough to know the futility of guesses hazarded without complete data. We are now located within the limits of the amnesia belt and we are here to find out what did happen, if anything, and not to make wild guesses about it. You have the tent set up for us, Major?”

“Yes, Doctor, about thirty yards from the cabin and hidden so well that you could pass it a dozen times a day without suspecting its existence. The gas masks and other equipment which you sent to Fort Banks are in it.”

“In that case we had better dispense with your company as soon as we have eaten a bite, and retire to it. On second thought, we will eat in it. Carnes, we will go to our downy couches at once and leave our substitutes in possession of the cabin. I trust, gentlemen, that things come out all right and that you are in no danger.”

Major Trowbridge shrugged his heavy shoulders.

“It is as the gods will,” he said sententiously. “It is merely a matter of duty to me, you know, and thank God, I have no family to mourn if anything does go wrong. Neither has Corporal Askins.”

“Well, good luck at any rate. Will you guide Carnes to the tent and then return here and I’ll join him?”

 

Huddled in the tiny concealed tent, Dr. Bird handed Carnes a haversack on a web strap.

“This is a gas mask,” he said. “Put it on your neck and keep it ready for instant use. I have one on and one of us must wear a mask continually while we are here. We’ll change off every hour. If the gas used is lethane, as I suspect, we should be able to detect it before its gets too concentrated, but some other gas might be used and we must take no chances. Now look here.”

With the aid of a flash-light he showed Carnes a piece of apparatus which had been set up in the tent. It consisted of two telescopic barrels, one fitted with an eye-piece and the other, which was at a wide angle to the first, with an objective glass. Between the two was a covered round disc from which projected a short tube fitted with a protecting lens. This tube was parallel to the telescopic barrel containing the objective lens.

“This is a new thing which I have developed and it is getting its first practical test to-night,” he said. “It is a gas detector. It works on the principle of the spectroscope with modifications. From this projector goes out a beam of invisible light and the reflections are gathered and thrown through a prism of the eye-piece. While a spectroscope requires that the substance which it examines be incandescent and throw out visible light rays in order to show the typical spectral lines, this device catches the invisible ultra-violet on a fluorescent screen and analyzes it spectroscopically. Whoever has the mask on must continually search the sky with it and look for the three bright lines which characterize lethane, one at 230, one at 240 and the third at 670 on the illuminated scale. If you see any bright lines in those regions or any other lines that are not continually present, call my attention to it at once. I’ll watch for the first hour.”

 

At the end of an hour Dr. Bird removed his mask with a sigh of relief and Carnes took his place at the spectroscope. For half an hour he moved the glass about and then spoke in a guarded tone.

“I don’t see any of the lines you told me to look for,” he said, “but in the southwest I get wide band at 310 and two lines at about 520.”

Dr. Bird advanced toward the instrument but before he reached it, Carnes gave an exclamation.

“There they are, Doctor!” he cried.

Dr. Bird sniffed the air. A faint sweetish odor became apparent and he reached for his gas mask. Slowly his hands drooped and Carnes grasped him and drew the mask over his face. Dr. Bird rallied slightly and feebly drew a bottle from his pocket and sniffed it. In another instant he was shouldering Carnes aside and staring through the spectroscope. Carnes watched him for an instant and then a low whirring noise attracted his attention and he looked up. Silently he caught the Doctor’s arm in a viselike grip and pointed.

Hovering above the cabin was a silvery globe, faintly luminous in the moonlight. From its top rose a faint cloud of vapor which circled around the globe and descended toward the earth. The globe hovered like a giant humming bird above the cabin and Carnes barely stifled an exclamation. The door of the cabin opened and Major Trowbridge, walking stiffly and like a man in a dream, appeared. Slowly he advanced for ten yards and stood motionless. The globe moved over him and the bottom unfolded like a lily. Two long arms shot silently down and grasped the motionless figure and drew him up into the heart of the globe. The petals refolded, and silently as a dream the globe shot upward and disappeared.

“Gad! They lost no time!” commented Dr. Bird. “Come on, Carnes, run for your life, or rather, for Trowbridge’s life. No, you idiot, leave your gas mask on. I’ll take the spectroscope; it’ll be all we need.”

Followed by the panting Carnes, Dr. Bird sped through the night along an almost invisible path. For half a mile he kept up a headlong pace until Carnes could feel his heart pounding as though it would burst his ribs. The pair debouched from the trees into a glade a few acres in extent and Dr. Bird paused and whistled softly. An answering whistle came from a few yards away and a figure rose in the darkness as they approached.

“Maynard?” called Dr. Bird. “Good enough! I was afraid that you might not have kept your gas mask on.”

“My orders were to keep it on, sir,” replied the lieutenant in muffled tones through his mask, “but my mechanician did not obey orders. He passed out cold without any warning about fifteen minutes ago.”

“Where’s your ship?”

“Right over here, sir.”

“We’ll take off at once. Your craft is equipped with a Bird silencer?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Come on, Carnes, we’re going to follow that globe. Take the front cockpit alone, Maynard; Carnes and I will get in the rear pit with the spec and guide you. You can take off your gas mask at an elevation of a thousand feet. You have pack ‘chutes, haven’t you?”

“In the rear pit, Doctor.”

“Put one on, Carnes, and climb in. I’ve got to get this spec set up before he gets too high.”

The Douglass equipped with the Bird silencer, took the air noiselessly and rapidly gained elevation under the urging of the pilot. Dr. Bird clamped the gas-detecting spectroscope on the front of his cockpit and peered through it.

“Southwest, at about a thousand more elevation,” he directed.

“Right!” replied the pilot as he turned the nose of his plane in the indicated direction and began to climb. For an hour and a half the plane flew noiselessly through the night.

“Bald Mountain,” said the pilot, pointing. “The Canadian Border is only a few miles away.”

“If they’ve crossed the Border, we’re sunk,” replied the doctor. “The trail leads straight ahead.”

 

For a few minutes they continued their flight toward the Canadian Border and then Dr. Bird spoke.

“Swing south,” he directed, “and drop a thousand feet and come back.”

The pilot executed the maneuver and Dr. Bird peered over the edge of the plane and directed the spectroscope toward the ground.

“Half a mile east,” he said, “and drop another thousand. Carnes, get ready to jump when I give the word.”

“Oh, Lord!” groaned Carnes as he fumbled for the rip cord of his parachute, “suppose this thing doesn’t open?”

“They’ll slide you between two barn doors for a coffin and bury you that way,” said Dr. Bird grimly. “You know your orders, Maynard?”

“Yes, sir. When you drop, I am to land at the nearest town—it will be Lowell—and get in touch with the Commandant of the Portsmouth Navy Yard if possible. If I get him, I am to tell him my location and wait for the arrival of reenforcements. If I fail to get him on the telephone, I am to deliver a sealed packet which I carry to the nearest United States Marshal. When reenforcements arrive, either from the Navy Yard or from the Marshal, I am to guide them toward the spot where I dropped you and remain, as nearly as I can judge, two miles away until I get a further signal or orders from you.”

“That is right. We’ll be over the edge in another minute. Are you ready, Carnes?”

“Oh, yes, I’m ready, Doctor, if I have to risk my precious life in this contraption.”

“Then jump!”

 

Side by side, Carnes and the doctor dropped toward the ground. The Douglass flew silently away into the night. Carnes found that the sensation of falling was not an unpleasant one as soon as he got accustomed to it. There was little sensation of motion, and it was not until a sharp whisper from Dr. Bird called it to his attention that he realized that he was almost to the ground. He bent his legs as he had been instructed and landed without any great jar. As he rose he saw that Dr. Bird was already on his feet and was eagerly searching the ground with the spectroscope which he had brought with him in the jump.

“Fold your parachute, Carnes, and we’ll stow them away under a rock where they can’t be seen. We won’t use them again.”

Carnes did so and deposited the silk bundle beside the doctor’s, and they covered them with rocks until they would be invisible from the air.

“Follow me,” said the doctor as he strode carefully forward, stopping now and then to take a sight with the spectroscope. Carnes followed him as he made his way up a small hill which blocked the way. A hiss from Dr. Bird stopped him.

Dr. Bird had dropped flat on the ground, and Carnes, on all fours, crawled forward to join him. He smothered an exclamation as he looked over the crest of the hill. Before him, sitting in a hollow in the ground, was the huge globe which had spirited away Major Trowbridge.

“This is evidently their landing place,” whispered Dr. Bird. “The next thing to find is their hiding place.”

 

He rose and started forward but sank at once to the ground and dragged Carnes down with him. On the hill which formed the opposite side of the hollow a line of light showed for an instant as though a door had been opened. The light disappeared and then reappeared, and as they watched it widened and against an illuminated background four men appeared, carrying a fifth. The door shut behind them and they made their way slowly toward the waiting globe. They laid down their burden and one of them turned a flash-light on the globe and opened a door in its side through which they hoisted their burden. They all entered the globe, the door closed and with a slight whirring sound it rose in the air and moved rapidly toward the northeast.

“That’s the place we’re looking for,” muttered Dr. Bird. “We’ll go around this hollow and look for it. Be careful where you step; they must have ventilation somewhere if their laboratory is underground.”

Followed by the secret service operative, the doctor made his way along the edge of the hollow. They did not dare to show a light and it was slow work feeling their way forward, inch by inch. When they had reached a point above where the doctor thought the light had been he paused.

“There must be a ventilation shaft somewhere around here,” he whispered, his mouth not an inch from Carnes’ ear, “and we’ve got to find it. It would never do to try the door; if any of them are still here it is sure to be guarded. You go up the hill for five yards and I’ll go down. Quarter back and forth on a two hundred yard front and work carefully. Don’t fall in, whatever you do. We’ll return to this point every time we pass it and report.”

The operative nodded and walked a few yards up the hill and made his way slowly forward. He went a hundred yards as nearly as he could judge and then stepped five yards further up the hill and made his way back. As he passed the starting point he approached and Dr. Bird’s figure rose up.

“Any luck?” he whispered.

Dr. Bird shook his head.

“Well try further,” he said. “I think it is probably beyond us, so suppose you go fifteen yards up and quarter the same as before.”

 

Carnes nodded and stole silently away. Fifteen yards up the hill he went and then paused. He stood on the crest of the hill and before him was a steep, almost precipitous slope. He made his way along the edge for a few yards and then paused. Faintly he could detect a murmur of voices. Inch by inch he crept forward, going over the ground under foot. He paused and listened intently and decided that the sound must come from the slope beneath him. A glance at his watch told him that he had spent ten minutes on this trip and he made his way back to the meeting place.

Dr. Bird was waiting for him, and in a low whisper Carnes reported his discovery. The doctor went back with him and together they renewed the search. The slope of the hill was almost sheer and Carnes looked dubiously over the edge.

“I wish we had brought the parachutes,” he whispered to the doctor. “We could have taken the ropes off them and you could have lowered me over the edge.”

Dr. Bird chuckled softly and tugged at his middle. Carnes watched him with astonishment in the dim light, but he understood when Dr. Bird thrust the end of a strong but light silk cord into his hands. He looped it under his arms and the doctor with whispered instructions, lowered him over the cliff. The doctor lowered him for a few feet and then stopped in response to a jerk on the free end. A moment later Carnes signaled to be drawn up and soon stood beside the doctor.

“That’s the place all right,” he whispered. “The whole cliff is covered with creepers and there is a tree growing right close to it. If we can anchor the cord here, I think that we can slide down to a safe hold on the tree.”

A tree stood near and the silk cord was soon fastened. Carnes disappeared over the cliff and in a few moments Dr. Bird slid down the cord to join him. He found the detective seated in the crotch of a tree only a few feet from the face of the cliff. From the cliff came a pronounced murmur of voices. Dr. Bird drew in his breath in excitement and moved forward along the branch. He touched the stone and after a moment of searching he cautiously raised one corner of a painted canvas flap and peered into the cliff. He watched for a few seconds and then slid back and silently pulled Carnes toward him.

 

Together the two men made their way toward the cliff and Dr. Bird raised the corner of the flap and they peered into the hill. Before them was a cave fitted up as a cross between a laboratory and a hospital. Almost directly opposite them and at the left of a door in the farther wall was a ray machine of some sort. It was a puzzle to Carnes, and even Dr. Bird, although he could grasp the principle at a glance, was at a loss to divine its use. From a set of coils attached to a generator was connected a tube of the Crookes tube type with the rays from it gathered and thrown by a parabolic reflector onto the space where a man’s head would rest when he was seated in a white metal chair with rubber insulated feet, which stood beneath it. An operating table occupied the other side of the room while a gas cylinder and other common hospital apparatus stood around ready for use.

Seated at a table which occupied the center of the room were three men. The sound of their voices rose from an indistinct murmur to audibility as the flap was raised and the watchers could readily understand their words. Two of them sat with their faces toward the main entrance and the third man faced them. Carnes bit his lip as he looked at the man at the head of the table. He was twisted and misshapen in body, a grotesque dwarf with a hunched back, not over four feet in height. His massive head, sunken between his hunched shoulders, showed a tremendous dome of cranium and a brow wider and even higher than Dr. Bird’s. The rest of his face was lined and drawn as though by years of acute suffering. Sharp black eyes glared brightly from deep sunk caverns. The dwarf was entirely bald; even the bushy eyebrows which would be expected from his face, were missing.

 

They ought to be getting back,” said the dwarf sharply.

“If they get back at all,” said one of the two figures facing him.

“What do you mean?” growled the dwarf, his eyes glittering ominously. “They’ll return all right; they know they’d better.”

“They’ll return if they can, but I tell you again, Slavatsky, I think it was a piece of foolishness to try to take two men in one night. We got Bird all right, but it is getting late for a second one, and they had to take Bird over a hundred miles and then go nearly three hundred more for Williams. The news about Bird may have been discovered and spread and others may be looking out for us. Carnes might have recovered.”

“Didn’t he get a full dose of lethane?”

“So Frick says, and Bird certainly had a full dose, but I can’t help but feel uneasy. Our operations were going too nicely on schedule and you had to break it up and take on an extra case in the same night as a scheduled one. I tell you, I don’t like it.”

“I’m sorry that I did it, Carson, but only because the results were so poor. We had planned on Williams for a month and I wanted him. And Bird was so easy that I couldn’t resist it.”

“And what did you get? Not as much menthium as would have come from an ordinary bookkeeper.”

“I’ll admit that Bird is a grossly overrated man. He must have worked in sheer luck in his work in the past, for there was nothing in his brain to show it above average. We got barely enough menthium to replace what we used in capturing him.”

“We ought to have taken Carnes and left Bird alone,” snorted Carson. “Even a wooden-headed detective ought to have given us a better supply than Bird yielded.”

“We are bound to meet with disappointments once in a while. I had marked Bird down long ago as soon as I could get a chance at him.”

“Well, you ran that show, Slavatsky, but I’ll warn you that we aren’t going to let you pull off another one like it. I take no more crazy chances, even on your orders.”

 

The hunchback rose to his feet, his eyes glittering ominously.

“What do you mean, Carson?” he asked slowly, his hand slipping behind him as he spoke.

“Don’t try any rough stuff, Slavatsky!” warned Carson sharply. “I can pull a tube as fast as you can, and I’ll do it if I have to.”

“Gentlemen, gentlemen!” protested the third man rising, “we are all too deep in this to quarrel. Sit down and let’s talk this over. Carson is just worried.”

“What is there to be worried about?” grunted the dwarf as he slid back into his chair. “Everything has gone nicely so far and no suspicion has been raised.”

“Maybe it has and then again maybe it hasn’t,” growled Carson. “I think this Bird episode to-night looks bad. In the first place, it came too opportunely and too easily. In the second place Bird should have yielded more menthium, and in the third place, did you notice his hands? They weren’t the type of hands to expect on a man of his type.”

“Nonsense, they were acid stained.”

“Acid stains can be put on. It may be all right, but I am worried. While we are talking about this matter, there is another thing I want cleared up.”

“What is it?”

“I think, Slavatsky, that you are holding out on us. You are getting more than your share of the menthium.”

Again the dwarf leaped to his feet, but the peace-maker intervened.

“Carson has a right to look at the records, Slavatsky,” he said. “I am satisfied, but I’d like to look at them, too. None of us have seen them for two months.”

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