Nick Carter Excerpts — Operation Moon Rocket

Nick Carter #32, Operation Moon Rocket,
Award Books A295X, 1968
 
 
“Please keep still. Very still.” The voice behind him was lacking in inflection, but the gun pressed hard against his spine carried its own message, one not easily misun­derstood. “Good. Take a pace forward and turn slowly around, hands extended before you.”
Nick did as he was told. Johnny Hung Fat was flanked by two gorillas. Big, beefy non-Chinese gorillas, with snap-brim fedoras and fists the size of small hams. “Brace him, boys.”

One snapped the cuffs on him while the other ran his hands over him professionally, flushing the Colt Cobra .38 special which—in line with Elgar’s cover—was the only weapon Nick was packing. “Now, then,” said Hung Fat. “Who are you? You’re not Elgar, because you didn’t recognize me. Elgar knows I don’t talk like Charlie Chan.You just don’t add up.” He turned to the gorillas. “Max, Teddy, a Browns­ville stomping,” he snapped. “Eighty percenter for open­ers.”
Max hit Nick in the jaw and Teddy let him have it in the stomach. As he folded forward, Max brought his knee up. On the floor, he saw them shift their weight to their left legs and braced himself for the kicks that would fol­low. He knew it was going to be bad. They were wearing football cleats.
 
HE ROLLED OVER, struggling onto hands and knees, his head hanging toward the ground like that of a stricken animal. The floor was shaking. There was a stink of hot lubricating oil in his nostrils. He knew vaguely that he was alive, but who he was, where he was, what had hap­pened to him was temporarily beyond recall.
He opened his eyes. A shower of red pain burst through his skull. He moved his arm. The pain worsened. So he lay still, watching the sharp, reddish fragments race across his vision. He took stock. He could feel his feet and his hands. He could move his head from side to side. He could see the metallic coffin in which he lay. He could hear the steady roar of an engine.
He was in a moving object of some kind. A car trunk? No, too big, too smooth. A plane. That was it. He could feel the faint rise and fall, that sense of weightlessness that went with flight.
 
“Teddy, take care of our friend,” said a voice some­where off to his right. “He’s comin’ around.”
Teddy, Max. Johnny Hung Fat. It came rushing back to him now. The Brooklyn-style stomping. An eighty per­center—the most savage kicking a man could absorb short of having his bones crushed. Rage gave him strength. He started to climb to his feet . . .
A sharp pain exploded in the back of his head and he pitched forward into the darkness coming up at him from the floor.
 
It seemed only an instant that he was out, but it had to be longer. For as consciousness came seeping slowly back, an image at a time, he found that he was sitting strapped in a chair of some kind inside a large sphere of glass webbed by steel piping. The sphere hung at least fifty feet above the ground in a huge, cavernous room. Banks of computers stood along the far wall. Men in white smocks resembling surgeons were working over them, pushing switches, loading reels of tape. Other men, wearing earphones with dangling plugs, stood looking up at Nick.
One of the white-coated figures plugged a hand-mike into the console in front of him and spoke. Nick heard his voice, tiny and remote, trickling into his ear. “. . . thank you for volunteering. The idea is to test how much vibra­tion the human body can tolerate. High-speed whirling and tumbling on re-entry can shift the position of a man’s liver a full six inches . . .”
If Nick could hear the man, then maybe . . . “Get me out of here!” he bellowed at the top of his lungs.
“. . at zero-G, certain changes begin to take place,” the voice continued without pause. “Blood pools, vein walls soften. Bones release calcium to the blood. There are serious shifts in body fluid level, muscular weakening. It’s unlikely, however, that you will reach that point.”
The chair had started to slowly turn. Now it began to pick up speed. At the same time it began shaking up and down with increasing violence. “Remember that you yourself control the mechanism,” the voice in his ear said. “It’s the button under your left index finger. When you feel that you have reached the limit of your endurance, press it. The motion will cease. Thank you again for vol­unteering. Over and out.”
Nick pressed the button. Nothing happened. The chair whirled faster and faster. The vibrations grew more in­tense. The universe splintered into a chaos of unbearable motion. His brain crumbled under the terrible onslaught. A roaring started in his ears and over it he heard another sound. His own voice, shouting in agony against the mind-destroying shaking. His finger stabbed the button again and again but there was no reaction, nothing but the roaring in his ears and the bite of the straps that were tearing his body to pieces.
His shouts turned to screams as the assault on his senses continued. He closed his eyes in torment, but it did no good. The very cells of his brain, the corpuscles of his blood, appeared to throb, to burst in a mounting cre­scendo of pain.
Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the onslaught stopped. He opened his eyes but saw no change in the red-splashed darkness. His brain pounded inside his skull, the muscles of his face and body quivered uncontrollably. Gradually, bit by bit, his senses began to recover. The scarlet flashes became crimson, then green, then vanished. The background blended with them in a growing light­ness, and through the haze of his damaged sight something gleamed, pale and motionless.
It was a face.
A thin, dead face with dead gray eyes and a savage scar around its throat. The mouth moved. It said: “Is is there anythin’ else you want to tell us? Anythin’ you’ve forgotten?”
Nick shook his head and there was nothing after that but the long, deep dive into blackness. He surfaced once, briefly, to feel the faint rise and fall of a cool metal floor under him and to know that he was airborne once again; then the blackness spread across his vision like the wings of a great bird and he felt a cold, clammy rush of air against his face and knew it for what it was—death.
 
He was naked. And alone. In a bedroom with thick white carpeting and Kelly green satin furnishings. He glanced down at his body. Not a mark on it. And the pain—van­ished. But he automatically cringed at the thought of fur­ther punishment. The new look in torture, he thought grimly. Twice as effective as the old because you recovered so quickly.
 
“Anythin’ else you want to tell us?” That was an interrogation standard. It was used on someone just coming around. The idea was to con­vince them that they’d already talked, that only a few points remained to be filled in. Nick wasn’t going to fall for that one. He knew he hadn’t talked. He’d been in the business too long; his training had been too thorough.
Nick gathered saliva into his dry mouth. He had begun to think that he was safe, that the masquerade had worked. They hadn’t broken him,
 
Reno Tree slowly advanced toward Nick, his eyes bor­ing auger holes through him. He took a twelve-inch length of soft, pliable wire from his pocket and tossed it on the floor in front of Nick. “Pick it up,” he said. “Slowly. Good. Now turn around, hands behind you. Make the thumb-tie.”
“Lie on the sofa, face down,” Reno Tree said flatly. Nick moved across to it and lay down, hope beginning to fade. He knew what was coming next. “The legs,” said Tree. With this tie-up you could bind a man with six inch­es of string. It would hold him more securely than chains and handcuffs.
He bent his knees and lifted his foot, resting it in the crotch formed by the bent knee of the other leg, all the time trying to figure a way out. There was none. Tree moved in behind him, gripping his raised foot with light­ning speed, forcing it down hard so that it trapped the other foot behind the back of the calf and the thigh. With his other hand, he lifted Nick’s wrists, hooking them over the instep of the raised foot. Then he released the pres­sure on that foot and it sprang up against the thumb-tie, so that Nick’s arms and legs were painfully, hopelessly locked.
Reno Tree laughed. “Don’t worry about the wire, friend. The sharks will cut right through it.”
“They need incentive, Reno.” It was Hung Fat who said it. “A little blood, know what I mean?”
“How’s this for starters?”
The blow seemed to crush Nick’s skull. As he tumbled warmly into unconsciousness, he felt the blood flowing through his nasal tubes, choking him with its warm, salty, metallic taste. He tried to hold it back, to stem its flow by sheer willpower, but of course he couldn’t. It came out his nose, his mouth, even his ears. This time he was done for….
 

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