Even a secret agent has an
1. He Lost His Head ...
"Et le baccarat," the croupier called as he slid the pile of plaques across the table.
Dawn was only an hour away and most of the patrons of the casino were idling in the lounge, drinking and smoking while trying to recover from the heavy losses of the night at the tables. An hour before, the table had been emptied save for two grim contestants. Now the game was over.
With an expression of granite, the man in chair nine stood up. He was in his sixties, though he could have easily passed for one much younger. His face was hard and intelligent, with a rich tan from the French sun. Black gloves covered slender-fingered hands, which drummed methodically on the table for a brief moment, the only show of emotion he made; his face remained completely impassive, save for his deep black eyes. There was a suggestion of inhuman menace in their depths. For a moment, the table was electrified with a strained tension. Then the man rubbed his gray-streaked black hair and bowed to his opponent. A moment later he walked away and was soon lost in the milling crowd.
The clear blue eyes of the victor watched as his form vanished among the throng. They showed almost no suggestion of the grueling ordeal which the game had taken. With a wave of his hand, he pushed back the dirty-blond hair which had fallen to his forehead. His hard-lined, handsome face was set smugly as he slapped a Morland cigarette from the nearly empty pack and stuck it between his smirking lips. Even as he lit the blend of Balkan and Turkish tobacco and collected the plaques, his mind continued to ponder upon the man he had beaten. He sensed something wrong with the man. Szasz was what he had called himself, though he was certainly not a Bulgar as he claimed. The Englishman thought he detected a trace of a New England accent in the other's speech.
"Mr. Blake," a voice said, bringing John Blake out of his contemplation.
The waiter handed Blake a slip of paper and waited. The Englishman read it and then stuck the slip in the pocket of his wide-lapeled, black tuxedo. He put his cigarette out in the ashtray before him and stood from his seat.
"Have my winnings converted into currency and placed in the safe of the Hotel Splendide," Blake ordered as he walked away from the table.
Blake stood for several moments on the steps of the casino and soaked in the fresh pre-dawn air which blew in from the sea. His sweat-drenched body felt refreshed by its coolness and he felt ready to face the task ahead. Soon he turned his attention back to the present as he heard the roar of pistons. The silver-blue Aston-Martin D.B.III pulled out of the darkness and came to a stop before the steps. Blake tipped the cabman generously and stepped into the car. A moment later he was roaring off into the blackness that preceded the coming of day.
All the tension of the baccarat table dropped from Blake as he raced the car down the winding, tree-scaped approaches of the casino. As he glanced up at the rearview mirror, he spotted a pair of headlights not far behind him. Glancing from the road to the mirror and back again, he kept careful watch on the gaining vehicle. Because of the lateness of the hour, there was almost no traffic on this stretch of road, and the car had no trouble in passing Blake. He had only the briefest of glances at the occupants of the jet-black Mercedes-Benz as it roared by. The chauffeur was an almost repugnant figure of a man. There was something in his queer looks which reminded Blake of some of the more degenerate races of the South Sea islands. Seated in the back seat was the man who had called himself Szasz.
For a moment Blake toyed with the idea of giving him a race, but then shook it off. He didn't have any time for games now. Something was up. Something big that demanded his immediate attention. Dark clouds were gathering in the sky, and Blake vaguely wondered if nature was setting the scene for a strange act in the play of life.
The message had been an urgent call from a local who had been in the employ of Her Majesty's Secret Service for several years. He was a reliable, and quite able, agent, and Blake wondered what occurrence could have prompted him to set up the late-hour meeting which would jeopardize his cover if they were seen.
Blake had now reached the five-mile stretch of the promenade of the Royale-les-Eaux. The trim green lawns were wet with the early morning dew and glistened under the fading light of the stars. It was the longest stretch of beach in all of France. By day it swarmed with people as they enjoyed the comfort of the sea. Now it was as empty and barren of life as the moon.
Blake braked, pulled off the road, and came to a stop in the pale white sand a hundred feet from the rows of concrete bunkers. Slowly he emerged from the car. Instinctively, his hand reached inside his coat and undid the strap over his Walther PPK. His brightly polished shoes sank into the sand as he walked to where the meeting was to take place.
As Blake approached the nearest of the bunkers, a tall man in a tweed coat stepped out of the shadows. He eyed Blake for a moment before speaking.
"I -- I was rather expecting to see the other chap," he began.
"What did you want to see me about?" Blake cut him short.
"Down here," he said, as he started down the steps of the bunker. "Less chance of being overheard."
Blake nodded and followed him down into the semi-gloom of the concrete structure. At the bottom of the bunker they halted. Blake pulled a pair of cigarettes out of his pocket and offered one to the man. He accepted it and held it nervously in his hand as Blake flashed his lighter.
"Now what's this all about?" Blake demanded.
"I don't know where to begin," the man stammered between drags off the cigarette. "It all seems so fantastic. I stumbled onto it all by accident. Why I --"
Blake suddenly felt himself gripped by steel arms and slammed violently into the concrete wall. With a groan of bitter pain, he collapsed to the ground. From the darkness he heard terrifying screams and the sound of a great struggle. As suddenly as it began, it ended ... in a nauseous, splashing thud.
Two vague forms stood before Blake's uncertain vision. In the hand of one he spied the head of the man he had come to meet.
"The poor man seems to have lost his head," a strangely familiar voice said in a tone of sardonic mockery.
Blake's last painful vision was of a pair of brooding, inhuman, black eyes. Then darkness descended like a curtain over his consciousness.
2. A Gathering in Scotland
The skies of London were overcast and the streets were filled with rolling fog. Blake downshifted the Bentley and dodged in and out of the traffic which filled Piccadilly Circus, at last reaching Regents Park where his office was located.
Blake parked the car in the underground lot of a large business building in the export trade and headed for the elevator. When he emerged from the elevator car, he was met by the Chief of Operations of the British Secret Service.
"Something up?" he asked.
"The Admiral said to get you to his office on the double," the man replied.
Blake was eager to get back into action after being in the hospital for a week and a half. Though more than anything he wanted to get the man who had attacked him and masterminded his contact's death, the thought of any action sounded good to him.
He boarded the elevator again and waited as it climbed a few floors to where the Admiral kept his office. He felt ready to tackle any assignment that he could get. Inaction did not fit his nature. He thrived on action; inactivity to him was like not being alive.
When the elevator door opened, Blake swaggered down the hall to the Admiral's office. He opened the door and tossed his hat across the room. As always, it landed smack on the hat rack.
"Well, if it isn't the invalid," the redheaded woman behind the desk laughed.
"You're all heart, Penny," Blake told the Admiral's secretary. "Any idea what the old man wants to see me about?"
"You know I can't tell you that kind of information," she laughed slyly.
"Good old Penny," Blake grinned, "Britain's last line of defense."
"Kindly tell Blake that the 'Old Man' is waiting to see him, Miss Penny," a voice called from the box on the secretary's desk.
Blake shrugged his shoulders, straightened his tie, and headed for the door which led into the main office. When he was through, he found himself in the presence of an elderly man with graying hair, dressed in a tweed suit. He was seated behind a desk at the far end of the room, a pipe held firmly in his mouth. The only light in the room came from the one on the desk. The curtains of the green room were drawn, hiding the foggy weather in the world outside.
"Be seated, Blake," the Admiral said without looking up from his work.
Blake complied and took a seat near the desk. He pulled a Morland cigarette from his fresh pack and placed it in his mouth. No sooner had he lit it, when the Admiral looked up.
"Put it out," he growled. "Blast you, Blake! Why can't you be like the other chap?"
"Sorry, sir," Blake replied apologetically as he put out the cigarette. "You wished to see me, sir?"
"Yes," he nodded as he thumbed through a report. For several moments he said nothing, and Blake felt it unwise to ask. Finally he looked up again and laid the report aside.
"I have a new assignment for you," he said at length. "Seems that Scotland Yard has been interested in the activities of a certain Mr. Szasz for some time now. They suspect he may be behind some criminal activity under the front of that religious thing he's set up, the 'Starry Wisdom Sect.' Since they have no proof to go on, the Yard asked Secret Service for a hand."
At the mention of the name Szasz, Blake's brows arched. Still, he felt that it was hardly worth his time.
"Wouldn't this be better suited to MI-5?" he asked.
"They're busy cracking a dope ring in France," the Admiral replied, "and after that nasty incident on the Riviera, I thought you might be able to use a light mission to get back into shape.
"Miss Penny will have the arrangements for your assignment," the Admiral said in a tone of voice which he always used when a meeting was over.
Blake stood up from the chair and took his leave.
Blake wore a self-satisfied grin as he listened to the powerful whine of the Aston-Martin's engine. His hard blue eyes glanced occasionally at the speedometer. His foot pressed harder on the accelerator, and he watched the needle zoom from 60 mph to a speed of 120 mph. As began to near his destination, he eased up on the gas and continued on at an easier 70 mph.
Soon he was on the winding roads near Loch Lomond, traveling in the towering shadow of Ben Lomond. After twenty minutes he found the side road he sought. A "NO TRESPASSING" sign was strung across its width. Blake backed up the car and then shifted. The wheels screeched as it roared around the sign, through a maze of brush, and headed down the road.
A mile down the road Blake found a spot covered with thick foliaged trees. He pulled off there, hiding his car in their shadows. The rest of the journey would be made on foot.
Blake was garbed in a black turtleneck shirt and slacks, with a thick leather jacket completing his apparel. Rain was falling heavily and Blake pulled up the collar to keep the chill wetness from his neck.
Swiftly and silently, he darted through the woods which surrounded the estate of Szasz. After a hundred yards he came to a high mesh fence. He tossed a rock onto it and discovered that it carried no voltage. Gingerly, he leaped up and caught hold of the top of the fence and easily alighted over. Once on the other side, he pulled the Walther PPK from his Berns-Martin shoulder-holster and held it ready. Cautiously, he proceeded on.
Making little noise, he made his way through the thick tangle of brush which surrounded the house. When he reached the perimeter, he stopped. Blake waited intently as several guards made their rounds of the grounds. He quickly noted the same batrachian features which he had detected on Szasz's driver that night in France. When they had passed behind the corner of the sprawling brownstone structure, he advanced from his vantage point and headed toward the house.
Blake quickly shoved the Walther back into its holster. From the pocket of his jacket he produced a gun of the type which mountaineers use for casting lines. Gripping it in both hands, Blake took careful aim at the gable which jutted above a balcony. The gun hissed as the hook and line rocketed through the air, imbedding in the stone above the window. A quick tug tested the line and, in another heartbeat, he was making his way up the wall. He had just reached the balcony and pulled in the line when the guards reemerged from the other side of the building. Blake quickly took cover behind the stone and watched as they passed once more.
The large glass window behind him proved to be unlocked, making his entry into the house unheard. Blake passed through the darkened chamber and quickly found the door. Slowly he gripped the knob and opened the door a crack. His hard blue eyes found naught but a long and narrow expanse of hall carpeted in deep crimson. There was no one else.
Blake emerged from the room and immediately set out in the direction of the center of the house. Thirty feet from the door he came to a flight of steps. No sound reached his trained ears from below. With a deliberate caution, he padded down the steps. He had traversed halfway down to the main floor when the sound of footsteps sent him flying into retreat. He found himself too far from the steps to go back. Out of the corner of his eye he detected what appeared to be a study. He quickly entered the room, closing the door only moments before a guard marched by.
Blake was on the verge of leaving the study when the sound of voices reached his ears. It seemed to be coming from behind one of the many cases of books. Intrigued by the sounds, he began to fumble around with the books, certain that one of them held a key to the hidden chamber on the other side. He smiled as his fingers found what they sought. As he pulled down on a beaten, black tome, the entire case spun around, revealing a narrow passage which descended into the earth beneath the house.
Blake stepped through and closed the case behind him. Carefully, he made his way through the stygian darkness. The air of the passage was rank, burning his lungs, and the walls reeked with slime. He felt his skin crawl as his fingers contacted with its oozy wetness. Blake had gone approximately twenty yards when the passage began to wide and, eventually, emptied into a large subterranean chamber.
In the distance, his eyes detected the light of many torches. It was from there that the voices originated. As he drew closer, the sounds became clearer. It was a strange chant that echoed queerly in the earthy depths. As he drew near to the perimeter of the light, he spied several large obsidian columns. He quickly made for one of them. From his vantage point, Blake could see and hear what was taking place. Instinctively, his hand reached into his jacket and pulled out his gun.
The chamber he was peering into was circular and appeared to be the work of nature. In the center of the great chamber was a large pool which reflected luridly the lights of the torches. Directly across from it was a stone throne, carven with strange and grotesque designs. Seated on it, robed in azure, was Szasz. At his side fawned a pair of panthers.
Gathered in front of the throne was a group of ten figures. All but one of them, a woman, were of a batrachian type which Blake had come across before. Of all the women Blake had ever seen, she was easily the most beautiful. A robe of black clad her lithe frame. Long black hair fell down to the middle of her back. Her face was as oriental as delicately-carved jade. Large brown eyes stared at Szasz through slanted lids. Her full mouth was calm, but her nostrils flared slightly as if in rage. Without a word, she suddenly departed from the area.
"Have all the arrangements been made?" Szasz inquired of one of the men.
"Everything is in readiness, Dr. Dexter," the man answered in a bestial tone.
"Dexter," Blake muttered to himself as he heard the name, "Dr. Ambrose Dexter?"
He could scarcely believe what he had heard. It couldn't be the same man, he thought to himself. Or could it? Twenty years before there had been another man by that name who had been a part of the American team which had developed the atomic bomb. Several years later, he vanished -- supposedly, he defected to the Russians. Could this be the same man? Blake wondered.
"Tomorrow we leave for Boston," Dexter said, "and from there we shall go to the Miskatonic University in Arkham."
"Will it be there?' one man asked. "It was not at the British Museum, the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, the University of Buenos Aires, or the Widener Library at Harvard. Can you be sure that it is in Arkham?"
"They have the book," Dexter answered flatly, "and it has the page which the others do not."
Suddenly the panthers began to growl and Blake realized that a change in the subterranean breeze had blown his scent their way. Carefully, he edged back from the pillar and into the darkness. He hadn't gone a dozen yards when he heard the voice of Dexter cry out.
"There is an intruder! Find him!"
Blake increased his speed as he heard the sound of men beating the darkness around him. Out of the darkness one of the men stumbled in front of his path. Blake lashed out with a steel-capped shoe and caught the man in the groin. In the same motion he brought the butt of his Walther to bear on the man's skull with such violence that the sound of cracking bone echoed loudly. Several voices called out from his right and Blake fired three shots in their direction. He was rewarded by a loud cry of pain as one of the bullets found its mark. For a moment he was at a loss for which way to go.
"This way," a woman's voice called and Blake spun about.
It was the girl he had seen only a few minutes before. She called to him again. Blake quickly rushed toward her and she led him off. Their way led through a winding tunnel on the far wall of the chamber. After several minutes she stopped before a side passage.
"That will lead you back to the surface," she said.
"What about you?" Blake asked.
"They will not suspect me," she smiled softly.
Before he could utter a word of protest, she was off. She came to a stop a short way off and called back.
"Look to the heavens!" she cried and then was gone before Blake could make heads or tails of her words. The sound of pursuit began to draw closer and Blake departed.
The tunnel wound ever upward and soon Blake encountered a door. He threw it open and stood outside the fence of the Scottish estate. He wasted no time in heading for his car and driving away.
3. The Trail Leads to Arkham
The tall rangy man with thick red hair, in a blue pullover sweater and black slacks, stood by the window and watched as the big jumbo jet taxied to the terminal. He pulled off his sunglasses and deposited them in his trouser pocket with his one arm, the other being one of artificial metal. His bony face showed little emotion as the plane reached the terminal. He glanced at his watched and waited. Several minutes passed before the passengers began to disembark the plane. He made his way to the gate and waited until Blake emerged. He motioned the Englishman his way and started off. With a word, they walked past the throng of people who were swarming the Boston Airport. When they reached the taxi stand, a blue sedan pulled up and they stepped into the back seat.
"We already picked up your luggage," the redheaded man said before Blake could utter a word.
"Come, come, Frank," Blake laughed. "Where's the old CIA service with a smile?"
A grin appeared on Frank Larkin's worn face. He slapped Blake heartily on the shoulder.
"Goddamn! It's sure good to be working with you again, you miserable Limey!" he roared.
"Haven't changed a bit, you old son of a bitch," Blake retorted. "I wasn't sure if I'd be working with you on this end. Afraid I might get stuck with some kid straight out of college or something."
"After the way we handled that last job in Jamaica," he laughed, "they couldn't help but team us up again. That slug you took there still bother you?"
Blake shook his head and lit a cigarette.
"Where are we headed?" he asked as he blew out a thick stream of smoke.
"City called Arkham, down by the Miskatonic River," Larkin answered. "Seems our mutual friend, Dexter, has business there."
"We better stop by the university library," Blake said.
"Dexter said something about going there for something, when he was in Scotland," Blake explained. "The way he talked, it must be important."
Larkin nodded his head and relayed the instructions to the driver.
"This whole business has caused a hell of a roar," he told Blake.
"How so?" Blake inquired.
"When the FBI found out that Dexter was heading back to America they wanted to nab him at the airport," Larkin replied. "Took a lot of doing to get them to go along with this scheme. The Chief had to go to the President himself in order to keep them from screwing things up."
"That touches me," Blake said somberly.
"Smart ass," Larkin growled to the amusement of the Englishman.
Arkham and Miskatonic Valley, like all of the state, were blanketed in white. As they passed through the town and drew near the campus of the Miskatonic University, they could see students skating on the frozen Miskatonic. Blake pulled up the collar of his coat as they got out of the car. Larkin still wore no more than his sweater.
"How the hell is it that a Texan like you isn't affected by this cold?" Blake demanded.
"Been in Greenland for the last month," Larkin reflected with disgust.
Without further conversation they crossed the snow-covered lawn past the old buildings of the campus. They both heaved a sigh of relief when the passed through the door of the heated library. Larkin spoke with a girl at the checkout desk for a moment. She departed and then returned with the librarian.
"Is there something that I can do for you gentlemen?" he asked warmly. He was an old gentleman in his mid-sixties. His hair was thin and pure white. In his blue eyes there burned great intelligence.
Larkin handed the man a photo.
"Has this man been here recently?"
The librarian eyed the photo for a second and then handed it back.
"Yes," he said, and added, "A most rude and obnoxious man."
"Can you tell us what he wanted?" Blake inquired.
"He wanted to see the Necronomicon," the man answered. "I don't know why, perhaps it was his manner, but I refused. That seemed to madden him greatly. Said that he only wished to read one page."
"What was that?" Larkin asked with interest.
"It had something to do with a fiery messenger from the heavens called Zindarak," the librarian explained, "who was supposed to release Cthulhu from his watery sleep when commanded by the proper words."
"Sounds like gibberish to me," Larkin confessed.
"The book and what it contains," the librarian reproached Larkin, "are not to be scoffed at. I've lived here in the Miskatonic all my life and I've heard too many tales from the Dunwich region and Innsmouth to laugh at them. Perhaps that was why I refused to let that man see the book."
"'Look to the heavens'," Blake blurted out loud.
"What?" Larkin cried. "Wanna come again?"
"That's what the girl told me," Blake explained. "She said to 'look to the heavens.'"
"Oh, my god!" the librarian gasped as if in pain.
"What is it?" Blake cried.
"I know why he wanted to see that passage!" the man exclaimed. "Don't you see? You had the clue all the time. What else could the fiery messenger be but the Kohoutek Comet?"
"But what does it all mean?" Larkin demanded.
"The end of the world," the librarian replied somberly. "The end of the world."
They were escorted into a small reading room. It was empty. The librarian took a seat and the two secret agents did likewise. He then proceeded to explain the legends on which the Necronomicon was based. When he was done, Blake told him of Dexter.
"I should have known him!" the man exclaimed loudly. "I shan't go into all of the frightful things concerning the man, save to say that he was involved in the death of a cousin of mind, Edmund Fiske. Oh, the authorities never accused him of anything. They said Edmund had died of a heart attack. I knew better, though, It if is the same individual, gentlemen, you must destroy his body."
"What!" Larkin exclaimed.
"Yes," the man answered." "Burn it, shoot it, but the body must die. If all I know is correct, you aren't dealing with Ambrose Dexter in any real sense of the word."
"Then what are we dealing with?" Blake asked.
"Nyarlathotep," the librarian answered grimly. "One of the Great Old Ones. In light, he is subject to death as any man. In darkness, he is indestructible. Remember that."
"I would like your help," Blake asked.
"You need only ask," the librarian answered.
4. Following the Trail to Innsmouth
The night was cold. Under the pale light of the stars, the fields of snow glistened. The campus was shrouded in darkness. Like phantoms, the two figures stole across the deserted college campus until they reached the library. One of them began working on the door. After several minutes, it swung open.
Once inside, the pair worked quickly. They wasted no time hunting around the library. They knew exactly what they were after. They stood over the glass case under which the Necronomicon lay. One of them produced a pair of glass cutters from his large, woolen coat and proceeded to cut a section of glass slighter larger than the size of the book. He tossed the cut glass aside and quickly seized up the book. His companion had brought forth a protective sack and it was placed therein.
As quickly as they had come, they departed. In low guttural whispers they gloated over their work. Once off campus they jumped into their battered truck and drove off. Never once did they suspect anything.
"They're on the move," Larkin said as he started the ignition of his car. Blake nodded and kept his eyes glued to the small scanner on the dashboard. His brows arched intently as he watched the blip move across the screen.
Larkin smiled as the car roared off into the night.
"That bug you placed in the binding of the book appears to be doing the trick," he said.
"If all goes well," Blake replied, "we should have Dexter and his whole crew tonight."
"We'll have to," Larkin said. "The FBI has finally won over in the matter. As soon as Dexter's headquarters is found, they move in in full force."
By now they were out of Arkham and traveling at a safe distance from the car they trailed. After several miles the other car left the main highway and headed down a battered old road. Larkin found the turn and followed.
"Where does this lead?" Blake asked.
"A place called Innsmouth," the Texan answered. "It's an old sailing town, or used to be. There was some sort of big federal raid on the whole place back in '28. Official report said something about a spy roundup, though I don't think that was the real reason."
They continued the rest of the drive in silence. Their only movement was to gaze at the steady blip on the screen.
By midnight they had reached the outskirts of Innsmouth. It had been dismal and decrepit during the raid of 1928, but now it was worse. The entire town had suffered deterioration and decay. Many of the houses were boarded up and empty. Few were the lights which burned in the gaping eyes of the buildings.
For several minutes the two men saw no one on the streets. As they checked the scanner, they saw that the care they trailed had come to a stop. The blip began to move once more, but at a pace which they knew to be of a man walking. Larkin stopped the car behind a half-ruined structure of gray wood.
"I want to go in there," Blake said as he stepped from the car. "Stay here and send for some troops. Have them seal of this place, air, land, water. I don't want a worm to get out."
"Take it easy, John," the Texan grinned.
Blake waved his hand and moved off into the shadows.
As he slid past a group of weather-beaten houses, Blake slipped a gloved hand into his coat and withdrew a .44 Magnum High Standard Auto Mag. He had kept it stored in his luggage, just in case. The Walther was still tucked away in his shoulder-holster. Blake pulled out the clip and counted the bullets. There were seven in the clip. He pulled an eighth from his coat and stuck it in the chamber. Slowly, he moved on.
As Blake began to round a building, a saw a brightly lit street. Quickly he slipped back into the shadows. A rundown building stood directly in front of him. A weather-worn sign read: "The Esoteric Order of Dagon." Several men were standing in front of the building. They were the most degenerate looking creatures he had seen in his entire life. By the curb was parked the truck which they had been following.
Blake eyed the set up of the place carefully. Slowly he withdrew from his hiding place and backtracked through a maze of garbage-strewn byways. After several minutes of backtracking through the labyrinth, Blake came to the back of the building where the men stood guard. His cold blue eyes quickly spotted a thick metal pipe. The rusted structure ran past a half-open window on the third floor. Blake stuck the silver Magnum back into his coat and began to make his way up the pipe.
Standing on the slight ledge, Blake held to the pipe with one hand and drew open the window with the other. Slowly and cautiously, he entered. He found himself in a small storage room; janitorial supplies lay all about him. He moved catlike across the gloom-shrouded room until he came to the door. Blake drew it open a crack and peered down a hallway of gray boarding. It was empty.
Quickly sliding through the door, he shut it behind him and proceeded down the hall. He stopped when he heard the sound of voices creeping up to him from the floor below. Slowly he crept toward the sound. Soon he found himself standing at the top of an aged stairway. Blake stole halfway down and halted. He could make out the voices more clearly now.
"Is everything ready?"
It was the voice of Dexter.
"Yes," an almost hissing voice answered, "the plane is moored beyond Devil's Reef. You have the Shining Trapezohedron?"
"Yes," Dexter replied. "All that needs be done is to reach R'lyeh and wait the coming of Zindarak."
Even as Blake heard the voices, he suddenly became aware of the sound of someone sneaking towards him in the dark. From the careful padding of the steps he knew that he had been discovered. With no more need for stealth, Blake drew the .44 Magnum from his coat. He waited until he felt that the figure was just behind him. Without warning he spun about and leveled the gun at the man's chest. The darkness became light as the gun exploded. The powerful gun sent the man off the ground, slamming into a wall when he came down.
Blake ran down the stairs. He found himself in a large room in which Dexter and several men were conferring. Blake quickly aimed the gun at the light above the table and blasted it out of existence. He dived across the floor as men began to shout and scurry about. His gun roared three more times, one of which brought a man down in howling agony.
"Do not let him leave alive!" Dexter roared from a corner of the room.
Blake turned toward the door only to find it blocked by a large, burly figure. The man quickly grabbed him and they both fell to the floor. Blake brought his knee up into the man's groin an slammed the barrel of the big gun hard across his temple. He quickly rolled the prone form from his body.
"Dead weight," Blake muttered to himself.
Another man rushed him only to catch a solid punch in the throat. As he doubled over, Blake caught his jaw with the steel-capped front of his shoe. The man flew backwards, crashing into several of his companions. Blake dived into them as they fell and was soon past them. He had covered a dozen feet when a voice called to him. When he turned he saw the strangely beautiful girl who had saved him in Scotland.
"Strange how you happen to be around," he called to her.
"This way," she whispered.
Blake shrugged his shoulders and followed her. She took him past several doors, finally stopping before one near the end of the landing. He entered after her and shut the door. He found himself in a room of such elegance that it seemed grossly out of place in the decrepit structure. It was done in oriental fashion; the table was on the floor, surrounded by large silk pillows.
"A touch of home?" Blake asked.
She fell down on one of the pillows and stared up at him with the large brown pools of her eyes.
"They will not look for you here," she said in an almost musical voice. "You will be safe."
"That's nice to hear," Blake said as he took off his thick overcoat and threw it across the room. "Mind telling me just who you are? I rather like to know the names of the women who have a knack for saving my life."
"Linjar," she replied.
Blake seated himself at her side.
"Why won't they look for me here?" he asked.
"Because I am to be the bride of Cthulhu," she replied. "Even Nyarlathotep would dare not harm me."
"Mind telling me why you went to so much trouble to save me?" Blake inquired.
She sighed and stretched her lithe frame. Her mouth formed into a soft curve.
"Soon I am to marry a god," she said softly. "But dead Cthulhu is no man."
Blake's brow arched as he leaned forward. His mouth met hers and they fell back on the pillows. She slipped easily from her gown and lay down beneath Blake. He stared at her soft curvy frame and smiled.
"The things I do for the Queen," he said as he placed his hand on her breast and caressed it.
5. Christmas Plus Three
When Blake awoke, he found himself alone. He quickly donned his clothes and shoes. He cautiously stepped out into the hall, but the building was empty. The strange man, Dexter, and the girl and departed.
Blake emerged from the front door to the sound of gunfire. Federal Marshals and State Troopers stormed the streets, while Army helicopters opened fire on fleeing fugitives from the air. He hurried through the men and headed toward the wharf. When it reached it, Larkin was waiting in a Coast Guard cutter.
"Dexter escaped in a seaplane that was waiting just beyond Devil's Reef. We've got some of his henchmen trapped there."
Blake nodded and stuck a fresh clip into the handle of the big gun. As an added touch he placed an extra bullet in the chamber.
The boat cut through the ragged waves with great speed. Several other ships joined it and the small armada headed for the group of men who fought on Devil's Reef. A brief battle ensued, during which a score of the natives of Innsmouth were killed or wounded. The rest surrendered to the authorities.
"What are we going to do about that Dexter bastard?" Larkin asked when he and Blake reached Boston.
"I'd bed my life that he took that book with him," Blake replied.
"Gotcha!" Larkin exclaimed. "All we have to do is alert the Naval authorities to monitor the band on which that bug is transmitting."
"I think you better advise your people to have a fleet ready to sail," Blake interjected. "We may need plenty of firepower before this thing is over."
Larkin nodded and looked at the calendar on the wall. His eyes stopped on the twenty-eighth of December. There were only three days before the comet.
Action was immediate. The craft in which Dexter and his men flew was spotted the next morning flying past the Panama Canal. Blake and Larkin were flown by fighter to a waiting aircraft carrier out in the Pacific.
The fleet tracked the seaplane like a shadow. They were a force of one carrier, two attack battleships, and one submarine. At dusk on the twenty-eighth, the seaplane landed at South latitude 47° 9', West longitude 126° 43', and empty stretch of sea between Ponape and Easter Island. The ships kept well out of sighting from the plane. On the tower of the carrier, Blake and Larkin watched the craft through binoculars.
They had been doing so for ten minutes when a strange cry sailed through the air. A sailor cried out and the two secret agents looked up at the depths of the sky. No sooner had the strange words been uttered when a beam of light descended from the comet Kohoutek. It struck the sea beyond the plane.
Almost immediately there was a stirring in the ocean. The waters began to bubble and the waves rolled violently as if some terrific force was pulling at the bottom of the sea. To the surprise of all in the fleet, a strange island began to slowly emerge from the depths. Water crashed down its surface in torrents as it reared up from the sea. The light from the sky reflected queerly off the surface of glistening black, cyclopean blocks. Seaweed covered the island and a queer stench tainted the air after its emergence.
"My god!" Larkin cried.
"Get me a fast boat," Blake commanded. "I'm going down there."
"Not alone you don't!" Larkin protested.
Blake shook his head. "It's too goddamn risky. It's far more dangerous than the Vindicator bomber affair. Only one man can pull this off. I'm going down there to get the girl. Whether I'm back or not, blast that island out of the water in thirty minutes."
Larkin put up an argument, but in the end Blake was given the boat, a pouch of grenades, and an M-16 rifle. He set out at once and reached the shore of the strange island in ten minutes. After carefully mooring the craft in a small inlet on the south side of the island, Blake began to make his trek inland. He made reckless progress through the tangle of weeds which draped the cyclopean buildings. After several minutes, he heard voices from beyond the largest of the structures. Slowly he made his way around the building of black slime-coated blocks. With one hand he cocked the rifle, while pulling a grenade from the pouch with the other.
When Blake was within sight, he saw Dexter, the girl, and five of Dexter's batrachian assistants. Dexter stood before a rude stone altar upon which saw a small black box and the Necronomicon. Blake put away the grenade. Without warning, he jumped into view. He cut down the five men before they knew of his existence. Then he faced Dexter.
"This is not a game of baccarat," Dexter said calmly. "The stakes are much high and, in the end, I will eventually win. We, who are the Great Old Ones, were destined to destroy humanity. Can you change destiny, John Blake?"
"Only stall it," Blake answered as he leveled the gun on Dexter.
Even before Dexter could utter another word, the girl raced to the altar and opened the box. As the light of the night skies gleamed on the black stone within, Dexter fell to his knees.
"Shoot him now!" she cried.
Blake fixed his mouth cruelly and emptied the remaining bullets into Dexter's body. The man spun about several times before coming to rest on the ground. Blake's blue eyes suddenly went wide with horror. Slowly a black mist emerged from the gaping mouth of the dead man. Serpent-like, it coiled in the air. As if drawn magnetically, the began to weave toward the black stone in the box. Within several seconds the entire mist was absorbed in its depths.
Blake shook off the spell and grabbed the girl. He stopped by the altar and snatched up the tome.
"Miskatonic U. would never forgive me if I left it behind," he said as he grabbed the book and raced off with the girl.
"The plane is back over there," she told Blake.
"Just one," she answered quickly as they raced across the rocky terrain. They had covered half the distance to the plane when they heard a rumbling from deep within the ground.
"HE is coming!" the girl, Linjar, screamed.
She began to go into hysterics and fell screaming to the ground. Blake hauled her to her feet and belted her hard across the jaw. He then tossed her limp form over his shoulder and began to make his way to the plane. He tossed the rifle aside and pulled the Walther PPK from the holster beneath his left armpit. When he was near the rocky beach, he spotted the plane. The guard stood watch on the shore. Blake quickly dropped the man with several shots and began splashing through the surf toward the craft.
Within three minutes he was safely in. He strapped the girl into the copilot's seat and began to start the engines. Fortunately, they were still warm. They fired on the first attempt and, shortly after, the plane was gliding across the water and away from the island. He had just gained to the air when the first assault began.
The battleships laid down a heavy barrage of fire for several minutes. Each impact rocked the island violently. The strange rumbling which Blake had heard continued.
A squadron of F-111's began to rocket toward the island from the carrier. They struck in formation. Load after load exploded with a resounding fury on the pile of cyclopean blocks. After the third strike, the island began to sink.
The girl had just come to when the horror emerged from the gaping mouth of the large structure. Both she and Blake had little more than a glimpse of it. A mass of tentacles flung from the opening, giving them the impression of an enormous mass. Even as it rumbled forth, the island went under. One pale tentacle hovered out of the water for a moment and then was submerged with the island.
The plane had not reached a high enough level before a great wave of solid green struck it square on the fuselage. It crashed into the sea immediately and was quickly pulled under.
6. All's Well ...
The waves tossed the small rubber craft lightly. The two occupants of the raft lay back and stared at the open sea and the pale blue sky. One was Blake and the other was the girl, Linjar. The secret agent had one arm around her shoulder as she explained to him about her homeland, the strange and mysterious Plateau of Leng (and the evil lama who hides his face behind the mask of yellow silk), and how Dexter had summoned her. In the end, Blake shook his head and drew a cigarette from his shirt pocket.
"There's nothing to worry about now," Blake told her as he exhaled a stream of smoke. "All's well that ends well, as they might say in a movie. That island and Dexter are gone."
"This was only a small skirmish in a war of cosmic size," she replied. "You won this skirmish, perhaps you will win the next as well, but in the end defeat is inevitable."
Blake shrugged his shoulders and smiled wryly. It would be several hours before anyone picked them up, he reckoned.
"Lower periscope," the submarine commander ordered. "Should we pick them up now, Mr. Larkin?"
Larkin grinned boyishly and shook his head. "Give them twenty minutes more and then surface. John would never forgive me otherwise."
Created: January 31, 1998; Updated: August 9, 2004