Nick Carter Excerpts — Hour of the Wolf

Nick Carter #79, Hour of the Wolf,
Award Books AN1157, 1973
 
A voice came out of the darkness, “He is com­ing around.”
“Good!” another voice exclaimed. “Are you ready, Garth? I have very little time for this.”
The first voice answered laconically, “As ready as he is.”
Slowly the dark clouds parted, but at first nothing made any sense. I was swimming in a sea of pain. Then, gradually, I realized that I was stark naked, sitting upright in a studded iron chair. When I tried to move, I discovered my wrists and ankles were restrained by sharp metal shackles.

A few feet in front of me was a short, fleshy man. His huge belly sagged over his belt buckle and showed through the gaps in his shirt. He was completely bald, and his doughy face had the monumental unconcern of a professional executioner.
 
“Good evening, Carter:” he said.
I didn’t say anything. I was having troublemaking my throat work. It felt parched and constricted, as if somebody had stepped on it during the fight.
“Welcome to recreation room.”
I looked around me and began to realize where I was. I was in a small, square cell with rough-hewn stone walls. The air was foul with the smell of blood and excrement. In the flickering light of a single cresset I could see that the tiny dungeon had two massive doors at opposite ends, each with locks and narrow, eye-level slits in them. The walls were hung with ancient instruments of torture—leg and foot vises, an, eye-gouger, a branding iron, a spine roller, the hanging chains and bracelets of a strappado, and an assortment of stained, rusty tongs and. pincers. I chills felt the bile rising in my throat, and clammy chills rippled over my naked flesh.
 
Karac came back to me and pulled my head up by the hair, cruelly twisting it. “I want to know about Milan’s wolf,” he whispered urgently. “I want to know what’s so important about it.”
I said two words to him One was an imperative verb, the other a pronoun.
His face blanched beneath the beard, and he let go of my hair as if I’d stung him: ” Garth!”
He waved impetuously to the other man, and Garth came around behind the chair. I couldn’t see what he was doing, but I had the uncomfort­able idea that I wasn’t sitting in just any old chair. I could hear him moving around on his hands and knees. After a minute I began to smell smoke and the pungent odor of heating metal.
“You’re going to tell me, Carter. Sooner or later you’re going to tell me!”
The smell began to get stronger, and now I noticed the chair was growing uncomfortably hot. I strained against the straps as the old metal of the chair got hotter and hotter, burning my bare skin. I gritted my teeth and kept quiet.
“You think I can’t break you, Carter? Just watch!”
Tongues of flame curled up around the seat as Garth pumped with a small sheepskin bellows. The fire grew, licking up to the arms and singeing my flesh. The studded iron turned cherry red, and there was another, different stench rising in the fetid air—the stench of cooking meat. I was being roasted alive.
“Carter, what is the secret of that damned wolf? I know there is one, and I don’t have time to waste being nice about it, not with the army already on its way here. Tell me!”
I heard myself blurt out, “The . . . the goat!” “What? What goat?”
“Your . . . family’s goat, Karac.”
“What about it?”
I writhed in the burning chair, my lungs con­stricting with the smoke and pain. Somehow I sucked in enough air to gasp, “Your family’s goat, Karac. Too bad your mother didn’t fit it with contraceptives.”
Karac smashed a big fist into my face, tearing my lips open. “I’ll send you to hell by inches!” he snarled down at me. “Garth, enough of this. Chain him up for your specialty.”
Garth dashed water on the fire under the roast­ing chair, then unclamped me and dragged me roughly across the cold stone floor. My nerves were raw, and the pain was almost unbearable as the rough stones tore at my livid skin. The next thing I knew, Garth was closing the thick iron bracelets of the strappado around my wrists. The strappado is a nearly prehistoric forerunner of the rack, a savage torture that lifts the victim into the air, then suddenly drops him part way to the ground. It’s a brutal method of lengthening arms,
wrenching muscles, dislocating sockets, and breaking bones.
Garth hauled me up by my wrists till I hung suspended, with my toes barely scraping the floor. Then he went over to the wall behind the strap­pado and took down a coiled bullwhip. Shaking it out behind him, he turned to Karac, waiting for the command.
Karac’s eyes were feverishly bright and eager as he spoke to me. ” Now tell me about Milan’s wolf, Carter! Tell me while you can!” .
Then he stepped back and nodded. The whip shot out through the air and snapped around my body. The pain was excruciating as the rawhide coiled around the raw skin of my naked hips and lower belly. I writhed in my dangling position, heaving in an arc. The whip hit me again, leaving another scarlet streak on my naked flesh. I fought the chains that held me, throwing all my weight against them, trying to dodge the slashing strokes. But Garth was a master of his craft, and he never missed.
“Milan’s wolf, Carter! What is it about that wolf?”
Karac’s voice blurred as Garth hit me again and again. A scream echoed in the cell, and only when it had died away did I realize it was my own.
“The wolf . . .”
I had to have a rest. I had to get Garth to stop or I’d never find a way out of this mess. With a groan I let my head fall forward in feigned un­consciousness. My body hung slack and inert in the iron bracelets. Garth gave me a few more lashes, but somehow I managed to hold back the screams that rose in my throat. After a minute I heard the whip fall to the floor.
Karac was furious. “You went too far, you idiot!” he shouted at Garth. “Wake him up.” “You’ll have to wait.”
“I can’t wait!”
“You’ll have to.”
“Damn it, Garth! I have better things to do than watch him hang there. Call me when he’s able to talk again.”
I heard Karac stomp out of the chamber. The door slammed behind him with a hollow thud.
The minutes passed like centuries. The sweat trickled down my body, stinging the raw welts, but I didn’t move. Garth paced back and forth impatiently: “The hell with this!”
The door opened and slammed shut again, and Garth was gone.
I looked around the empty room, wondering how long I had till Garth would come back.
Some of my strength had returned, fueled by the horror of what they’d just told me. Bracing my feet against the stone wall, I pulled myself up to clutch the chains above my shackles. My fingers were slippery, but I held on. Taking a deep breath, I started climbing hand over hand as fast as I could. I could feel the muscles of my ‘shoulders and arms straining to the breaking point, but I kept shinnying upward.
Just as I reached the thick crossbeam, I caught the sound of approaching footsteps…

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