Nick Carter Excerpts — The Gallagher Plot

Nick Carter #114, The Gallagher Plot,
Award Books AD1647, 1976
I shook my head. ” So long as I don’t sign, you’ve got to keep me alive.”
I settled back in the leather couch. “Well,” I said, “I told you I’ll be damned if I sign away two million, five hundred thousand dollars to you. How do you plan on making me change my mind?”
St. Hilaire tapped the edge of the desk with his fingers. “Nikos is aboard, Mr. Harding,” he said. “I think I’ll let him try to convince you.”

St. Hilaire waited until Gallagher and Brenna had been ferried out to the returning seaplane and the motor dinghy had come back to the yacht. He left me in the saloon guarded by two armed sailors. It was more than twenty minutes before he came into the stateroom again.
He looked at me.
“Last chance, Mr. Harding. You can save us both con­siderable trouble if you sign the letter of credit now.”
I made no answer.
“Take him to the aft cabin.”
The taller of the two crewmen moved to my side, prod­ding me with the barrel of the carbine. I got to my feet.
St. Hilaire opened a door that gave onto a passageway, stepping out of the way as the sailors pushed me ahead of them. The passageway was narrow. Doors on either side led to guest cabins. There was another door at the far end of the passageway and it was through this that they shoved me.
Nikos was sitting on the bed. His eyes glared at me. “Tie him up!”
As one of the crewmen started to put down his rifle, I dove at Nikos, my right arm sweeping across in a flat-handed chop aimed for the bridge of his nose where only a thin shard of bone separates that point from the brain itself. The blow would have killed him if it had landed.
The second crewman thrust up his rifle, catching me alongside the head, stunning me momentarily and knock­ing me off balance.
My blow landed off target. It struck Nikos on the side of his face and he groaned.
As I stumbled, the sailor struck at me again. He missed, but the first crewman had turned back. Out of the corner of my eye I saw his carbine barrel descending toward my skull—and that was all. There wasn’t even the feeling of dropping into blackness.
I came back to consciousness slowly. An immense throbbing of pain surged in waves at the back of my neck and on the side of my head. The pain in my side was sharper and more excruciating than I remember pain ever having been. And in this half state of consciousness the sharp, knife-edge of pain in my rib cage came like a great, driving blow from a pole-axe, smashing the air from my lungs and sending fresh agonies through my chest. I sensed rather than heard the moan come out of my throat.
“That’s enough, Nikos! We don’t want to kill him just yet.”
My eyes opened in time to see a foot swing back and then at me. I tried to roll out of the way but found that I could not move. My wrists were tied behind my back, lashed securely to my drawn up ankles so that I lay helpless on my side on the cabin carpeting. The kick caught me just above the sternum, driving the breath from me.
“I said enough!” St. Hilaire’s voice was sharp.
Blurrily, I saw Nikos step away from me. I needed air, yet each breath I took thrust long blades of sharp steel into my ribs. I wondered how long Nikos had been kick­ing me.
St. Hilaire did not bother to bend down. “I see you are awake, Mr. Harding.” His voice came to me as, if from a great distance away.
Waves of blackness surged through my mind. I knew St. Hilaire was talking to me, but I couldn’t hold on to the words in my head. And then I was drifting off, hearing St Hilaire’s voice clearly one moment and then not hearing it at all….
Hours later I came to again. This time, I found myself lying on my back on the bed. My ankles were still lashed together as were my wrists, but now my wrists were tied in front and my hands lay heavily across my groin.
I opened my eyes slowly and turned my head. St. Hi­laire was standing by the bed. Nikos was a pace behind him. The shorter of the two sailors, swarthy and scarfaced, was by the far bulkhead, his carbine in his hands.
“Awake, Mr. Harding?”
I said nothing. The pain in my chest was so great I felt I would scream if I opened my mouth to speak.
“That was just the beginning,” St. Hilaire went on. “Nikos is eager to get on with his work. Sign the papers. I give you my word that you’ll be set free.”
The tone and aura of honesty was in St. Hilaire’s voice. It made me want to believe him. I had to remind myself that the man was not only an actor but a consummate liar.
“Believe me, Mr. Harding, once the papers are signed it would do me no good to have you killed. Nikos will be satisfied with what he’s already done to you. Sign the pa­pers. I’ll have you put ashore at once.”
I closed my eyes. I forced all thought from my mind, driving myself mercilessly into a state of complete uncon­sciousness where I could feel nothing. My heartbeat slowed, first to a gentle pulsing and then the pulses came slower and slower until, finally, it was almost undetecta­ble.
St. Hilaire prodded at my inert figure.
“Come now, Mr. Harding—”
He put his hand against my mouth and nose. There was no breath coming from them. He snatched at my wrist, pressing his fingertips deeply into the inner surface just above the tendons, searching for a pulse. There was none. He bent his head and touched his ear to my chest. There was no heartbeat.
Completely puzzled he straightened up. Ruthlessly he jabbed his knuckles into my ribs where Nikos had so bru­tally kicked me again and again. He twisted his knuckles hard.
Not the slightest tremor or sign showed on my face. There was absolutely no response from my body St. Hilaire turned furiously on Nikos. “You’ve killed him!” he screamed. “You bloody fool! You’ve thrown away more than two million dollars!”
The dark-faced crewman walked over to the bed. He reached out and touched my face. He bent down and put his own nose up against mine
“What the hell are you doing, you bloody Lascar!” The sailor straightened up.
“He alive,” the crewman said. “I see this one time in Bombay. All up here.” He tapped his forehead with one dark finger. “Hindu sadhu. Holy man. He close eyes. Stop breathe. Like dead.”
“Trance? Is that what you mean? He’s put himself in a trance?”
The Lascar nodded soberly. “Just like dead. You put in him pins . . . knife . . . no matter. He no bleed. Like dead. Big mystery.”
“How long does this go on?” St. Hilaire asked.
The Lascar shrugged. “Maybe t’ree . . . maybe four hours. Maybe more.”
St. Hilaire looked at his wristwatch. “Well time’s one thing we have,” he said finally, more to himself than to Nikos or the crewman. “We can wait him out. He’ll gain nothing by this trick.”
“Guard the door,” St. Hilaire ordered.
“Inside here?” asked the crewman.
“Of course, you bloody fool. I don’t trust him. I want you to watch him closely. Call me as soon as he comes out of it.”
The Lascar pulled a chair against the bulkhead and sat down, his carbine in his lap. For one long moment St. Hilaire stared curiously at my recumbent body before he turned and left the stateroom. Then the last of my consciousness faded away from me. I knew no more.
Consciousness drifted back in waves. I did not open my eyes. I was aware of pain.
Then, gathering a deep breath, I swung myself to a sit­ting position. Pain lanced through the left side of my rib cage as I inhaled. Gently I probed with my fingers despite the agony. Three of my ribs were broken. Pain was all I could think about….

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