Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER IV. Pit of Despair.
“Perhaps it won’t come to that,” said Weyland. “Have you a flat-blade screwdriver, by any chance?”
“Never travel without one,” I replied. “It’s in the glove box.”
Weyland opened the glove box and tossed out mounds of gloves. Meanwhile I steered around a dump truck that was cautiously making its way down the hill, narrowly missing a De Soto in the left lane. Horns blared, but I was not in a position to slow down and apologize.
“Found it,” Weyland announced. “Lift your feet, Peevish. And mind that Hudson up ahead.”
I swerved and avoided the slow-moving Hudson while Weyland awkwardly positioned himself on the floor. I lifted my feet as high as I could for him while he made ripping and clanking noises underneath me. I had no opportunity to see what he was up to: I had to keep my eye on the obstacles in front of me, and I could only see bits of carpet flying up into the passenger seat with my peripheral vision.
“Almost there,” said Weyland as a piece of flooring clanged on the passenger seat.
I could see the cloud of steam ahead, illuminated by the orange glow of the lava pit. We would be there in seconds.
“Brace yourself, Peevish,” said Weyland.
Suddenly the brakes made a mighty screeching noise, and I was jolted forward with such force that I might have flown through the windshield had I not been bracing myself against the steering wheel. The car jumped the curb at the curve and screeched to a halt just a foot or two from the edge of the lava pit.
I looked over at Weyland. He had some sort of tube in his mouth, and he was emphatically gesturing at me to get out of the car. I quickly opened the door and jumped out, and then stepped back a respectful distance from the lava pit.
A moment later the car lurched forward again. I nearly tried to stop it, but just before it rolled into the lava, Weyland appeared from the other side, breathing a bit heavily but otherwise in good shape. The Nash continued into the lava pit and sank with a good bit of hissing and burbling, until the only sign of it was a few glowing orange bubbles.
“Sorry about the Nash,” Weyland said between breaths. “Still, it could have been worse. You could have had a Pierce-Arrow.”
“How did you stop us?” I asked, still a bit shaken.
“Oh, simplest thing in the world, old boy,” said Weyland, breathing more normally. “I merely ripped the carpet up and used the screwdriver to pry up the floor panel; then I found the severed ends of the brake lines and was able to blow into them with enough pressure to activate the brakes very effectively. Fortunately my mother insisted that I take tuba lessons when I was young. I could not see the use of them in those days, but I am very grateful for the breath power they developed.”
“As am I,” I agreed. “But now it appears we’ll have to find some other means of transportation.”
Weyland looked down toward the nearby intersection with Palace Street and pointed. “That should do nicely, don’t you think?”
I followed his finger. He was pointing to a well-lighted streetcar safety island in the middle of Palace Street.
“I’d forgotten about the Palace Street line,” I said. “In fact, I’m not sure whether I ever knew about it at all.”
We walked quickly over to the Lava Pit stop, as it was marked on the sign, and in less than a minute a clanging bell announced the arrival of a trolley car marked 165 ARCHBISHOP’S PALACE.
“Well, that’s convenient,” I remarked.
“Just what we need at the moment,” said Weyland.
The car rolled to a stop right beside us, and the doors opened. We walked up the steps and found the car otherwise empty.
“No trouble finding a seat, at least,” said Weyland, installing himself on the front seat right behind the motorman’s compartment.
“There doesn’t seem to be a farebox,” I remarked, sitting next to him.
The doors closed, and with three crisp clangs of its bell the car started to move down the track.
“No motorman, either,” said Weyland, pointing to the empty motorman’s chair. “Must be a new automated model. It’s remarkable what they can do with vacuum tubes these days.”
The car was running quite rapidly now, and still accelerating. The ride was smooth; the tracks were set in a street of what appeared to be freshly laid concrete.
“I can’t help noticing,” Weyland continued, “that there appear to be no other vehicles on the road.”
“Well, it is very late,” I pointed out.
“True. Or early, depending on one’s point of view.”
The car was still accelerating, now rocketing through the night like an express train rather than an ordinary trolley car.
“I suppose we’ll get there expeditiously at least,” I remarked as the bell clanged again.
“Peevish,” Weyland said cautiously, “does it strike you as at all odd?”
“What do you think is odd?” I asked, though I admit I was beginning to have some similar thoughts.
“I mean that we found a trolley stop when you had no memory of a line’s existing at that location, and that it is controlled by some automated mechanism unfamiliar to us, and that there have so far been no intermediate stops, and that, from what I can see in the headlight, there appears to be no track on the other side of the street, as if no provision had been made for a return journey?”
I had been worried about the same things, and it was no comfort to me at all to know that Weyland had noticed them as well. “What do you conclude from these observations?” I asked him.
“I conclude that the United Street Railway Company must be a very queer organization,” Weyland replied.
The car made the left turn on Palace Avenue, hardly slowing at all; Weyland and I had to grip the seat to stay upright.
“Won’t be long now,” Weyland remarked. Then he fell silent again, and the car raced along the avenue for about a minute and a half, until it made a quick right turn on Palace Drive. Here it began to slow down, and soon it rolled to a stop right in front of the gate to the Archbishop’s palace.
The doors opened, and the interior lights were extinguished.
“End of the line, it seems,” said Weyland.
We stood up and walked down the steps, and then headed toward the gate.
Suddenly a bank of floodlights lit up, and we could see that we were surrounded by half a dozen men with machine guns. The machine guns were the first thing I noticed. After that, I noticed that the men were all wearing black cassocks and clerical collars.
“State cher business,” said one of the men in a gravelly voice.
Weyland and I glanced at each other, and then Weyland said, “We’ve come with important information for the Archbishop.”
“Norbert Weyland and John Peevish,” Weyland replied.
The man lifted a radio to his face. “Two guys what wants to see the Archbishop,” he said into the radio. “Names Weyland and Peevish.”
Some crackling came out of the speaker, and then a distorted female voice said, “Send them in.”
The men all lowered their machine guns, and the one who had spoken to us said, “Yinz guys can come with me.”
He led us through the gate, and we began the long walk up the well-lighted drive toward the Tudor-style mansion ahead of us.
“We haven’t been properly introduced,” Weyland said conversationally as we walked. “You know our names, but may I ask yours?”
“Yinz guys can just call me Father O’Malley,” our clerical guide responded.
“I don’t believe I’ve met you before,” said Weyland. “Have you worked for the Archbishop long?’
“I just discerned a vocation for security a week ago.”
“Oh, I see. A lot of demand for security in the Archdiocese?”
“Can’t be too careful these days,” said Father O’Malley.
“Oh, I certainly agree with you there,” said Weyland.
We came to the front door, and there was a brief radio conversation before the door opened to admit us. Behind it was another man in a cassock, this one with a prominent shoulder holster. He had nothing to say as he and Father O’Malley conducted us through the grand foyer, past two similarly becassocked men who looked vigilant and threatening, into the Archbishop’s receiving room, a large and elegant chamber with exposed beams, walnut paneling, and books along all four walls.
At the other end of the chamber the Archbishop was standing with his back to us, looking out the window, splendid in his archiepiscopal robe and miter.
“These is the guys what wanted to see you,” Father O’Malley announced.
The Archbishop made a dismissive gesture, and the security priests turned and walked out, closing the door behind them.
“Glad to find you in, Archbishop,”said Weyland. “I’ve come to warn you that Kun is on the move, and we have reason to believe he plans to take over the Archdiocese.”
A feminine voice replied, “It’s a bit late for that.”
The figure in the window slowly turned to face us; the hands rose and lifted off the miter, and a cascade of beautiful red hair spilled down her shoulders. The archbishop’s robe was open in the front, and under it was a very feminine form outlined in tight-fitting red.
“Who are you?” Weyland demanded.
“I represent my father’s interests here,” the woman replied. “You may call me Miss Kun if you like. Or you may follow the Andorran custom and call me the Devil Princess. But of course, like all men under my control, you will eventually call me Mistress.”
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode: