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FAKFAK, and footsteps. Footsteps in the night. Footsteps. Fragments of sound, softly slithering. Intermittent whispers, borne on the fringe of the southeast trades that lazed up past Tanjong Tongerai, across the miles from the Arafura Sea.


They were only an echo, at first, flicking at the rim of John Daniels' brain. Background music. Like the ceaseless slap-slap-slapping of the Arafura's swell those endless days gone by. Or the doleful sound that to the black Kanakas passed for song.

He ignored them, as he ignored all things outside his mission. Strode on, heedless. On, away from the rubble of the landing. On, past the bulk of the Netherlands New Guinea Trading Company's warehouse, black-looming against the starless sky. On, toward the town atop the hill, where the seabreeze blew stronger, away from the fever-festering swamps' miasma.

The lights from the straggled buildings above were like beacons in John Daniels' brain. They blotted out the steaming, pitch-black tropic night; the mildewed taste of moulding hardtack, brackish water; the stink of filth and fish and copra.

The lights, and the memories. Memories of Tom, and of Poulain. Twin portraits, fiery images, seared in the living tissue of his brain.

Tom. His only brother. Dead Tom, now.

Dead, dead, dead.

A sob welled up within John Daniels' throat.

And then, Poulain.

The sob died in futile, paroxysmal fury.

Poulain. The smirking fat man. The human octopus, with tentacles in a hundred tropic ports. Evil, personified. The malign force without a body.

The murderer.

How long had he searched for Poulain? How many places?

Darwin to Soerabaja, Amboina to Timor.

But no Poulain.

A strange anticipation seemed to seize John Daniels' throat. With a start, he realized that he was sucking air in through his mouth. His legs already ached with strain.

Grimly, he forced himself to slow his pace. Fought down the taut anticipation. He couldn't let hope grow. Not now. Why buck the odds. This was one more fool's mission, doomed from the start.

He unclenched his fists. Stretched the ache from his cramping fingers.

It was then that he heard the steps again.

He was conscious of them now. Suddenly. Acutely. They echoed in his ears like the dull thud of a leaden hammer sealing a coffin's lid.

It was, he told himself, absurd. This was Fakfak. A thousand people lived here, if you counted blacks. Why wouldn't there be footsteps?

Without thinking, hardly realizing, he dragged his pace.

Behind him, those other feet dragged too.

A thin thread of despair ran through him, like the first edge of flame in a bamboo thicket. Not physical fear; that he could master. Rather, the racing undertow of panic that goes with forebodings of failure when failure must not be.

His brain refused to take it. After all, who had cause to follow him? He was only one more wanderer—penniless; unknown....

Unless Poulain himself—His heart leaped. Could it be that it wasn't a fool's mission this time? That Poulain was here, and waiting—menace, incarnate? The woman had known his mission, hadn't she? Would the fat man himself be less astute.

But no. It was absurd. This panic —only nature, exacting her penalty. Too many months of brooding. Too many hours of peril. Now, when he needed self-possession most, his nerves were beginning to crack. That was all. Once he got a firm grip on himself....

But instinct was too strong. The months, the years, all close to death, walked with him. His brain could not control them.

Ever so casually, he stopped, as if to get his breath. That only—it was too dark to see, and any more overt move might rouse suspicion.

Behind him, the footsteps halted.

Still casual, he drew a deep breath, climbed onward.

Those other feet resumed their padding progress.

IN A way, it was a relief. It reassured him, gave him new confidence in his own subconscious. The momentary panic vanished, replaced by a note of lethal competence. He was pursued? He wondered. There were those who'd thought they were pursuing ... He caught himself grinning wol?shly in the night.

Grimly, he forced himself to reason.

Could this be some straying headhunter, down from the bush, on the trail of grisly trophies for the village douba house?

No. That was out. He'd been stalked by natives too many times before. There would be no sound of stealthy footsteps if this were a wandering Mai- Mai warrior.

No, this was a white man. Or at least, a man who wore shoes.

A local footpad, then? Some drunken sailor, on the beach and out to make a stake?

Again, no. He was too obviously poverty-stricken himself to hold the eye of any looter.

That left Poulain.

Not in person, of course. That would be too much to ask.

No. He could expect no more than a flunky. Some hireling hoodlum, as before. A piece-worker, probably: no murder, no pay.

Abruptly, he shrugged. What difference did it make? He was being followed. That was enough. The next move was up to him.

Deliberately, he fumbled a cigarette from the pocket of the tattered old Marine combat jacket that served him as a coat. Paused, while he scratched a light on the sole of his ancient, cracking, Australian-issue boots.

His pursuer paused with him.

John Daniels laughed beneath his breath. Sucked at the cigarette till it became a glowing signal light in the night.

Boldly, then, he veered off to the right. Headed away from the path toward a long, squat shed that showed black against the sky some twenty yards from the main track up the hill.

The steps behind him missed a beat. He could sense his stalker's indecision.

Himself, he did not pause.

Instead, briskly, he strode on, stumbling noisily over rocks and roots and rubble.

It made a good show. He knew it. But with it there came a prickling between his shoulder blades, an icy finger on his spine. He made such a perfect target, bumbling along thus, even in the dark! He'd lost the footsteps in the clatter, too, and that made it worse. Because his pursuer had trailed him this far, he hoped that meant a plan; a time; a place. But he could not be sure. Not sure enough. It would only take one shot....

His breath was coming too fast. He caught himself wishing desperately that he hadn't had to sell his own Army forty-five for passage money.

He made it, after an eternity. Took his stand, in the shed's shallow doorway.

SHADOWS clung here. A sort of semi-concealment. It made him feel better, drained away a little of his tension.

But standing, waiting, was not enough. With a final ostentatious flourish, he pulled the cigarette from his mouth. Knocked off the ash. Wedged the butt head-high in the crevice between the door and jamb, so that the glowing tip hung visible, as if suspended from his lips.

Then, dropping to his knees, he slid forth again, close to the ground, a shadow among shadows, silent as the smoke that drifted from the smouldering butt.

The hunted, stalking the hunter.

Out from the building. Down his own backtrail. Away, into the blackness that no eye could pierce.

A pandanus clump gave him cover. He waited there, taut and tense, straining his ears for some tell-tale sound.

Ten seconds. Twenty. Thirty.

Still nothing. John breathed through his wide-open mouth, tenser than ever, fearful that even the whisper of air would betray him.

Forty. Fifty. A full minute.

He lay like a corpse, only his eyes moving.

Ten seconds more.

Off down the slope, dry grass momentarily rustled.

It was easy, after that. The pursuer was clumsy, heavy-footed. His pockets jingled, even. It was too dark to see him, save in terms of a vague black bulk, but a child could have followed his progress toward the shed. He made for the far end first, then sidled awkwardly along the wall toward the empty doorway where John's cigarette butt still glowed dimly in the night.

A ghost in the darkness, John oozed away from the pandanus clump. Fell in behind the man who sought him.

He never knew quite what it was that tripped him. A root, maybe. Or a snag of tangled grass.

The result was more important. One instant, he was the aggressor: silent, deadly; closing in like a hungry tiger on its prey. The next, a sprawling gawk, spread-eagled flat on his back on the ground.

The other spun round. A big man, thick of chest, gorilla-muscled. Light glinted from a Malay kris in his right hand. Like lightning, he leaped for John's throat, the wave-edged blade drawn back for the killing blow.

The man was fast—devilishly, disconcertingly fast; the more so in contrast to his clumsy stalking.

Even rolling away, John Daniels knew it. The next instant, an avalanche of flesh and bone smashed down upon him. He felt the kris slash through his jacket, sear his ribs.

Desperately, he caught the knife-wrist in both hands. Pinned it with every ounce of strength.

The other rocked back with all his weight. Crushed out John's wind. Drove a gnarled oak fist at his face.

John felt the blood spurt from his nose. His brain exploded in an anguished froth of paralysis and pain. It was all he could do to cling to the other's wrist.

The fist smashed down again.

More by instinct than design, john jerked his head aside. Surged upward, twisting.

His adversary toppled.

A spasm of effort, tearing free. Sobbing, john rolled away.

The big man lurched up in an instant. Charged again, the kris drawn back.

JOHN exploded his feet at the other's knees.

His opponent dodged, jumped sidewise. Came in fast.

But not quite fast enough. Again, john smashed out with his feet. Drove them square into the other's thick mid- riff. Felt his knees buckle with the impact.

Even in his own pain, he could hear the wind burst out of the charging knife-man. Saw him lurch and stagger.

He made himself follow through. Stumbled upright. Kicked with all his might for the other's groin.

Shrill agony burst from the knifer's throat. An animal cry, sheer torment, to make the hackles rise and the blood run cold.

John Daniels' pain was fading, his own wind back. A crimson haze of fury robed his brain. Snarling, ruthless, he sprang in close. Straightened the other against the squat shed's wall with a savage left to the jaw. Swung out with his right, fingers stiff, for the final spine-shattering palm-edge blow.

Behind him, a gun roared.

It was close, so close his ears rang with thunder, and the orange of the muzzle-blast blinded him, and the wind oi the slug sang a song of death beside his cheek.

Sheer reflex carried him, then. His blow went unstruck. Spasmodically, he flung himself away, flat on the ground where the shadows hung blackest.

Was this the way it was to end—with a bullet in the back in this wilderness of Dutch New Guinea? Were all the months of fruitless search to go in vain?

Silence. Taut, echoing eternities of silence, while his bones ached, and his nerves rang clashing discords, and the dark closed down upon him like a smothering hood.

He thought of that shot in the night, and the man who'd fired it. Of the knifer, and his kris. Of dead Tom, and Poulain, and death in the dark.

He wondered if the others, like he, still lay there waiting—waiting for him, John Daniels, to rise and make himself a target.

Off on the pathway, twenty immeasurable yards away, voices rose in drunken mirth. Then, slowly, they faded again, off down the hill toward the landing.

John wondered if he would ever live to reach that path.

Still nothing. No sounds. No movements.

He could stand it no longer. He thrust out an exploring hand, clutched a clod. Tossed it off toward the spot beside the shed where he and the knifer had struggled.

It landed with a thud. So faint a thud he had to strain his ears to catch it.

Frowning to himself, he tossed another.

This time rubble rattled, like a miniature landslide getting under way.

More seconds, ticking by.

Ever so slowly, ever so cautiously, John edged forward. It was an experiment, more than progress. Instinctively, he braced himself against the shot he feared would come.


He drew a deep breath. Came up on one knee.

Still nothing.

He frowned. It seemed incredible that those two, the knifer and the gunman, both could have escaped in that fraction of a second while he leaped for safety.

That first, silent clod!

He frowned again. Rose. Strode over to where they'd fought.

The knifer was still there. John fell across him, sprawled in the dirt, but the kris-man made no move.

Again, a match, scratched on the sole of the old Australian-issue boots.

John stared down at the fallen hoodlum by its light. Then, suddenly, in spite of his control, his fingers began to tremble.

There was nothing much outstanding about the man lying there. Just one more burly thug, with thick lips and tattooed arms and a brutal face. They came a guilder a dozen in these tropic ports.

But still, John Daniels' fingers trembled.

Because the man with the kris had a bullet-hole in his forehead.

He was very, very dead.


SHE was lovely, ethereally lovely, with an angel's face set off by a halo of spun gold hair. A dangerous loveliness, though, for a body went with the angel face, a body lithely sensual as that of a she-devil straight from hell.

John Daniels recognized that danger. The instant he saw her he recognized it. Instinctively. Without hesitation. She knew that he recognized it, too. He could see it in the lift of her chin, the quirk of her lips, the scorning green depths of her eyes.

It was not good, that knowledge. It gnawed like a flame at his vitals. He could feel the heat climb his cheeks as is speeded his breathing, dried his mouth.

A wafting tendril of hot, musky scent touched his nostrils.

Anger welled up within him. It was so patent, all of it. Her message—"I'll give you Poulain." That, and a rendezvous, and a meaningless name.

For all he'd known, it might have been a hoax, or even a trap.

But Poulain. She'd promised him Poulain. That was enough. Trap or true, he didn't care. It was worth the gamble.

It had brought him across three hundred miles of tropic sea, that promise. It would have carried him a thousand just as well, he thought, or back from beyond the grave. Hate was that way.

So now he sat here before her, high in this cluttered lodging on Fakfak's hill. A bullet-riddled corpse lay sprawled on the slope below, and a murderer stalked abroad, and he, John Daniels, was down to his last guilder, but he didn't care. Not as long as he got Poulain. That was all that mattered. He hadn't even bothered to report the shooting.

But this—dim lights. Perfume. The scarlet gown that on her was a sheath of flame. As if she were scheming to throw off his judgment, upset his plans.

And she. Eternal woman. Half loveliness, half lust. Smugly ready to set man's loins afire to gain her goal.

The anger welled higher, hotter. Grew to a smouldering spasm of fury that almost choked him.

He hardly heard her when she spoke.

"What?" It came out as a snarl.

"It is late, too late," she said again. Her English had a faintly foreign flavor, the barest hint of accent. "I am sorry. You took too long."

There was something about it. Her voice, maybe, or the way she said the words, or the too-fast rise and fall of breasts beneath their scarlet sheathing.

Slowly, his tide of fury ebbed. He stared at her. Took in the smooth shoulders' barely perceptible sag. The troubled lines that etched the angel face.

Again, her beauty's power swept over him. He caught himself wondering if he could have been wrong about her lure, the studied provocation.

"You might explain," he said at last. Even in his own ears his voice sounded strange—raw; uncertain; husky.

Wordless, she turned away. Crossed like breeze-borne down to the window. Drew back the sleazy drape.

Frowning, he followed. Stared over her shoulder through the starless night, down into the black of the yard below.

Silence. Nothing but silence.

"You see?"

He shook his head.

Her fingers were light on his arm, her face close to his.

"There, by the banyan tree. Where the shadows are blackest."

He strained his eyes. Stared off a fraction to one side, with that trick for night sight they had taught him in the Marines a thousand eternities ago.

"You see?" she whispered again.

The shadows. The black shadows, close to the banyan tree.

Even as she spoke, they moved.

Her fingers parted. Let the drape fall back.

"You see? You came too late. Already I am watched. Nothing can help now. Nothing at all."

A shudder ran through her, like the echo of a chill.

JOHN DANIELS' brain seethed, a caldron of tumult. Poulain, and dead Tom, and this woman and the stalker with the kris, and the shadow down there by the banyan tree—tossed together, all of them, swirling in a morbid sea that was fear and hate and fury and suspicion rolled in one.

A sort of frenzy seemed to seize the woman beside him, as if his own turmoil were spreading, contagious. Her voice echoed low, atremble with some dark emotion he could not label. Words came in a jumbling rush.

"You were my last hope, John Daniels. Tom, your brother—I knew him. I loved him. But because he helped me, Poulain cut him down. I was only a woman. I could not strike back."

Her voice broke. She buried her face in her hands. A spasm racked her.


Her shoulders still were shaking, her voice muffled.

"Word came to me you were back in the islands, scouring the ports, with. hate in your heart and death in your hands. They said that even Poulain was afraid. I—I needed help. Tom was dead, and I was left alone ... so all alone. That's why I sent for you."

Slowly, John nodded. When he spoke, it was half to himself.

"I'd wondered. No one seemed to know. Not what the trouble really was. Only that Poulain had done the job."

"And now it is too late." Listless, hollow-eyed, she crossed back to the window. Peered down through the night toward the banyan tree.

He watched her in sullen silence.

"Day after day, I waited, praying you'd come...."

"It took time." He couldn't keep the bitter note from his voice. "I was broke when the message caught me at Amboina. I had to sell my gun for passage money. Even so, all I could get was deck space on a stinking little trader that hit every clearing the master thought might gross a guilder's business."

"Of course." She toyed with a loose thread from the drape.

"And it's not too late. Not if that shadow in the yard is all that's worrying you." He drew his lips to a thin, harsh line. Let the fury he felt come out in words. "I'm hard to kill. Too hard, for the team Poulain's got playing. I've met the reception committee already, and there won't be any more trouble on that score. I doubt that your admirer down below will be tougher."

The woman shook her head, a world of weariness in the gesture.

"Even that—it is not enough. Poulain ... is gone."

"Where's he gone, we can follow." Impatience lashed at John's nerve-ends. The muscles of his shoulders and neck ached with strain. "We're wasting time now. Come on! Tell me! Let's go!"

"No." It was a whisper, a sigh. "We cannot follow. Not where he has gone."

Panic raced through john Daniels like a forest fire. He hardly dared speak. His world all at once was crashing about him.

"He isn't ... dead?"

"Dead? Poulain?" The woman laughed aloud. "If only he were! But no. That kind of good fortune cannot be ours."

With an effort, John held his voice level.

"Then what's wrong? You say we can't follow. If he's alive, I say we can."

"But he is already gone. Back into the interior, the wilderness, unexplored, that even the maps show blank. No one knows just where...."

Very softly, John said: "If one can go, another can follow. I've been in the bush. I know it, as well as any man does. If Poulain's there, I can find him. That I promise."

THE woman turned so sharply that her scarlet gown drew taut across the firm, uptilted breasts, and the golden sheen of hair rippled about her shoulders like dancing autumn sunlight. New life leaped to her face. Even in the dimness, John could see the color flood her cheeks. Her voice was suddenly bubbling, vibrant.

"You mean—even now you will help me? We will fight together against Poulain?"

Something about the way she said it—some off-key note—rang warning bells in John Daniels' brain. He measured his words.

"I'll help you do what?"

Her face mirrored confusion.

"Why ... the gold.... We will find it—"

Black fury burst through the dam of John's control. In two swift strides he was upon her. Gripping her shoulders. Shaking her till her teeth rettled, and the green eyes went wide with fear.

"Go on!" he lashed. "Go on! Tell me about it! How my brother died for you, by your own confession, and how now all you can think of is the loot you didn't get!"

He could see her face go white to the lips. Then her eyes blazed green lightning. Her hand flashed up, struck out in a stinging slap across his face.

He reeled back. Threw up his own arm against the rain of blows, the torrent of slashing hate that poured forth in some tongue he did not understand.

She switched to English:

"You fool! You stupid, brutal fool! Do you think the gold matters to me? Do you think I care one brass cash for it?"

"What the hell would I think?" Again his fury overwhelmed him. "You told me yourself, didn't you? You said you wanted me to help you find 'the gold'. I don't know what gold you're talking about, but off-hand it all sounds to me like you and Poulain were just two more thieves falling out."

"You fool!" Her tongue was dipped in vitriol. And then: "But you do not know. It is true. You do not know."

"What don't I know?"

She shrugged.

"You know nothing. Nothing at all. I must explain." Another pause. "You have heard of the Van Pelts?"

He shook his head.

"I am a Van Pelt. Anita Van Pelt of Djaimalang." She straightened as she said it, cloaked all at once with a dignity almost queenly. "For generations we have been the Van Pelts of Djaimalang. My ancestors claimed the island by right of discovery and exploration, back in the days when the Dutch first came to the Indies. Down through the years, the centuries, we lived there, working and trading and prospering.

"Then came the war. Day after day my father and brothers and I watched the Japs sweeping closer. Day after day, waiting for the inevitable landing. The blood. The looting. The fire and sword. We could not even flee, for our boats were gone, wrecked or stolen by natives running amok with fear."

SHE paused, lips parted and trembling. Stared past John Daniels—through him, almost—as if recreating those terrible days again.

He fought down the instinctive wave of sympathy that surged through him. Knotted his fists. Forced himself to stay cold and hard.


She half turned away. Her tongue moistened -her lips.

"Just before ... the end ... a plane came. An old tri-motored Junkers, fleeing Java. A break in the fuel line forced them down.

"To us it was an act of providence. We still had petrol, and the three Australians aboard the Junkers told us they would be glad to take us with them. They said the plane originally had been purchased for use in the great Wau goldfields, but that they would go to Darwin instead." She laughed a little, and the sound was bitter as vinegar and gall. "What fools were were! We should have known they were scum by the very smell of them. Probably they'd stolen the plane. But we were too frantic with fear to see beyond the moment.

"Even then, we might have escaped with our lives. But my brothers were not content with that. Down through the years, the Van Pelts had gathered a great treasure at Djaimalang, all coins and bullion—close to three million gulden in gold. They demanded that it go with us.

"The Australians were ever so cooperative. They agreed without question, even thought every wasted moment was dangerous. Carefully, they stowed the gold aboard. And then-—-"

Her voice broke. Shoulders shaking, she slumped to a chair, sobbing. It had a queer, keening note—high, half hysterical.

John gripped her shoulders.

"Go on!"

The sobs choked off. Face still averted, she spoke.

"They shot my brothers. Shot them down in cold blood as they stood there. They would have murdered my father and me, too, I have no doubt, but we were still in the house." Again her voice broke off.

Then, through tears: "Perhaps it would have been better had they done so."

John stood in silence, without the heart to speak.

"We buried my brothers," she went on finally. "After that we could only wait for the Japs. They came, and we were interned. My father died before the year was out. As for me ..." She shrugged. "I lived. Finally the war ended. I was freed. That is all."

"And the gold, and Tom?"

"The gold?" Her lips twisted. "I wish to God I had never heard of the gold again." A pause. "It was at Darwin, one of those miracles that are completely outside the laws of mathematical chance. I passed a man on the street and it was one of those three Australians who had been in the plane.

"MY FIRST thought was to kill him. Then I realized that if I did, I would lose my best chance of finding those other two." Again the shrug. "It was easy, really. I had changed much since that other time. He did not recognize me. And I had learned things about ... men. It did not take too long to become acquainted with him in a casual fashion. Because he was ugly and stupid and gross, and I am a woman, not too unattractive, he was flattered by my attention. He confided in me that he would be rich just as soon as he could locate an unscrupulous aviator with a private plane large enough to carry three passengers and a heavy cargo besides the crew. I gathered that the old Junkers—blown off its course in a storm—had crashed somewhere back of the Snow Mountains, deep in Netherlands New Guinea.

"Trusting no one, not even each other, those three bloody-handed murderers had stayed with the plane and the treasure throughout the war. It was not easy, of course. They degenerated into savagery, lived like animals. But to them, anything would do so long as they could retain their loot and dodge military service back in Australia.

"Then, at last, their radio—they had managed to salvage that—told them the war was over. Once more they could think of a life outside.

"Only now they discovered they were trapped. The Junkers was beyond repair, and they were hundreds of miles from the nearest port. The mountains, the jungle, were like prison walls about them, with a hundred untamed savage tribes—head-hunters still; cannibals— between them an d civilization as guards.

"Worst of all, the gold. It was too heavy to carry. Even granted that they might fight their way through to safety themselves, they would have to leave most if not all of it behind.

"Suspicious as they were, half crazed with isolation, they dared not abandon their treasure for fear one would kill the others when they reached the coast, in order that he might return alone to claim it.

"So instead, they decided that two would stay behind on guard, while the other—the man I'd met—trekked through on foot to the coast alone. He then would return for them by plane.

"My man—Carter, he called himself—finally fought his way through. He made it by sheer luck, he said, for the area through which he had to travel was territory of the Ngurus, one of those horrible, fierce tribes still found in the interior. They harassed him every step of the way. Only the Ngurus' belief that the mountain on which the Junkers had crashed was taboo had saved the Australians from massacre before.

"Carter had expected his troubles to end when he reached civilization. Instead, he found they had only begun, for now he had to locate a plane, and he had no money to pay for it. He dared not to go to any legitimate charter service, for they might suspect whatever story he conjured up and turn him in to the authorities. Adventurers, in turn, with such a stake at hand and knowing the scheme to be illegitimate, were all too likely to murder Carter and his friends for the loot, as my brothers had been murdered."

John shifted.

"Poulain," he pressed. "I want to know about Poulain, and Tom."

A wan smile touched Anita Van Pelt's lips.

"There is no hurry now," she answered. "Time now is cheap. And unless I tell you all, you will not understand."


Her hand came up to silence him.

"There is little more to tell. I had my information, but no proof to back it. To the authorities, it would be my word against Carter's. Even worse, Carter would not be specific as to where the Junkers had crashed. Without his aid, I knew I could not find it nor his partners.

"The best I could do, then, was pretend to fall in with his plans, fawning and flattering, worming his confidence. I told him I knew a crooked pilot well, that I would help him negotiate a deal if he would take me along—let me be his woman, share his wealth.

"It was true. I did know a pilot—knew him, and loved him. Your brother, Tom...."

Her face twisted. Spasmodically, she turned, stumbled away. Hid her face in her hands, while once again her shoulders shook with muffled sobs.

OF A sudden, tenderness—a great compassion—engulfed John Daniels. His throat was all at once too full for words. He turned the girl. Put his arms about her. Held her close, till the sobs that racked her ceased.

Face still averted, she went on.

"I told Tom my story, just as I tell it to you now. And because he loved me, understood me, he swore he would help me gain my revenge." She choked. Bit at her own white-clenched knuckles. "My revenge, God have mercy on me! My revenge! I killed him with it!" And then, as John confronted her: "Yes! I did! But you want my story, not my troubles, and you shall have it, though the truth tears my heart in two.

"Through his contacts, Tom located a plane. Very quietly, we prepared our little expedition, with everyone but Carter playing a twisted role. There were no difficulties, no major problems. I began to relax, almost. It seemed as if my prayers were to be answered, my dreams of vengeance to come true.

"But Carter drank heavily. Somewhere, somehow, he must have let slip some hint of what we planned.

"That hint reached Poulain, I found later, though at the time I would not even have recognized the name." She let go a brief, bitter sigh. "How he must have gloated at the thought of all that loot! But he was Poulain. He gave us no hint. Let us go on like the blind fools we were, making our little preparations, cherishing our little illusions.

"Then, like a cobra, he struck before we could move.

"It was the night before we were to take off. I came home exhausted to the little ground-floor apartment where I lived. Because I was so tired, I went straight to the bedroom and turned on a boudior lamp, then started across the room to pull down the shades.

"I owe my life to the full-length mirror on the closet door. That, and the dim little boudoir lamp.

"As I turned toward the windows, gunfire burst in my face. I screamed and dropped flat on the floor.

"By the time my brain began to function again, I could hear footsteps running away. Inside the building, people were shouting and banging on my door. I knew then that whoever had tried to kill me had lain in wait outside my bedroom window, and that now they were gone, so I got up." Tremulously, she smiled at John, but he saw that her hands were still two small, tight-knotted fists. "It was a miracle that I lived, of course. Almost beyond belief. In the dim light the gunman had mistaken my reflection in the mirror for me, and fired at it."

"And then?" said John softly.

"Then?" Her mouth drew into bitter lines. "Why, then I fled to Tom—and found him dead already. Carter had disappeared. Kidnapped by Poulain's men, I learned later. As for me"—her hand moved out in a little gesture of hopelessness, defeat—"I survived. I always do." Her smile was wry mockery, the green eyes dark and deep as sombre forest pools. "You see, John Daniels, I am—how do you say it?—a man-trap. Nothing ever really happens to me. It is those who love me that come to harm!"

Design for Murder

THEY sat there, then, while the seconds ticked by, and the tension drew tight as a strangler's cord, and the stillness grew to a living thing.

John Daniels rubbed his palms against his knees. Queer; even the friction helped now. As if he were psychologically paralyzed, unable to move, and this tiny gesture his sole remaining hold on reality.

It expressed itself a dozen ways. His lips were cracking dry, but somehow he could not bring himself to lick them. The froth of cottony saliva far back in his mouth half gagged him, yet he dared not clear his throat. When his eyes began to smart, he still stared straight ahead, unable to relax enough to let them close.

Then, slowly, the hate began to rise again—to swell and grow and seize him like a straw within a whirlpool once more.

"After that?" he said. And as he said it, he knew that it was a croak, more than a voice. A harsh, rasping croak, menace-laden as to raise the hair along his neck.

Anita's lips seemed barely to move. She sat very straight, hands in her lap, chin in, eyes almost luminous in the gloom.

"I came here," she said tonelessly. "A sailor I knew told me he'd seen Carter in Fakfak. So I sent you the message and came on myself."

Wordless, he prodded with his eyes.

She went on.

"I managed to talk to him once. Even then, he did not want to, but I made him. He was afraid—more afraid than any man I have ever seen. His outlook was that of one dead already. He said that he had been brought here in one of Poulain's schooners, and that he lived by Poulain's sufferance only. That he would be killed as soon as Poulain had the gold and was secure against betrayal. When I asked him why he did not try to escape—for he was unguarded, on the town—he answered that it was no use. That no man could beat Poulain."

"Then Poulain was here?" John grated the words between clenched teeth. Sudden excitement made him breathe too fast. He knew it. He couldn't help it.

Anitta nodded.

"Yes. He arrived early this afternoon, interviewed Carter, then took off again." She laughed without mirth. "Even three-million-gulden enterprises must wait their turn with the great Poulain. Or perhaps he had trouble getting a plane, as we did, and that was what delayed him. Not that it matters. Not now. For he came at last, in a great amphibian. Now he is gone, and our last hope is gone, too." She started at John, and he thought he detect a thin edge in her voice. "If only you had come sooner, John Daniels! As it was, I tried to persuade Carter to hide till he saw you, but he was too afraid." She shrugged. "So now even our lives are forfeit. To save his own miserable carcass, Carter must have told Poulain about us. And so we have moving shadows under the banyan tree."

John Daniels could feel his heart speed up to double time. He clenched and unclenched his fists. Licked at his lips, the paralysis' last remnants flown.

"Forget it!" he rapped harshly. "I said I'd take care of that shadow. I meant it. Other things are more important now."

"You mean—?" Her lips were half parted, her eyes suddenly bright.

"I mean I'm still out to get Poulain." He said it flatly. Coldly. Came to his feet in one smooth flow of motion. "Maybe you want revenge, too. Maybe you want gold. I don't know, or even care too much of a damn. You're still gunning for Poulain. That's all that matters."

"But how—?"

"HOW?" He laughed, deep in his throat. The despair was gone now, the power surging back through him. Almost without thinking he flexed his arms. Thrilled to the strength, the tension. "How? How the hell would you think? Poulain came here to interview your chum Carter, you say. Then he went on. For my money, that means he got his directions from Carter, so Carter knows where he went. And Carter's still here." He grinned, wolfishly. Felt a queer, dark undertow of savage satisfaction at the way the girl's eyes widened; the fear that was creeping into them. Let his strength and bitterness and hate run free exulting. "You want to know What, I'm going to do? All right. I'll tell you. I'm going after Poulain, but first I have to find him. That makes Carter my man. He can tell me what I want to know."

"You are throwing away your time. Your life, too, if he is guarded. He will tell you nothing."

"No?" John laughed again. "I think he will." He brought the heel of his hand down hard on the table by which he stood. "He will, that is, if he wants to live."

He could see her nostrils flare a fraction, but otherwise her face remained impassive.

"If you must, you must. I cannot stop you. But that man down there in the yard...."

"You say you're a man-trap. I'll leave him to you." He chuckled mirthlessly at her blank bewilderment. "What's downstairs, below here?"

She shrugged.

"Another room. Like this one, but vacant. All are the same. I could have had my choice, but after that shooting in Darwin, I insisted on something upstairs."

"Sure. I don't blame you. Though you're safe for the time being—if our friend by the banyan tree was out to kill you he'd have done it long before now." He frowned. "No. My bet is Poulain's just keeping tabs. For now, anyhow. So we'll use you for bait."

She stared at him without speaking, but he could see the fear ripple through her. For an instant it touched him. Made him hesitate, even. Weighing the odds. Wondering if he were justified.

But Tom.... Dead Tom....

The thought was enough. It swept away his scruples, hardened his heart.

"Go downstairs. Check the drapes at the window. If they're closed, open 'em. Then turn on the light as if you were just coming in. Stretch a little. Yawn as if you were tired. Then start undressing. Make it a strip-tease, right in front of the window."

Blood flooded Anita's cheeks in a crimson tide. He could see her stiffen. Her lips thinned with anger.

He paid it no heed.

"Stay there by the window for a good long minute, till you're sure our boy by the banyan tree's had a chance to spot you. Make it tempting. Tantalize him. Then move around a little—back and forth across the room; into the closet; over by the mirror.

"After that, stop again. Choose a spot off to one side from the window, so he can't see you unless he leaves that banyan tree and comes close to the building."

"That is all?" Anita's voice was low, razor-edged. Her eyes sparked green fire.

JOHN pretended he did not notice. Brought his shoulders up in a shrug. "Just keep it interesting enough so he'll stay there. It won't be hard. The show doesn't need to last more than a minute or two."

Even as he watched, she began to tremble. Her hands clenched into fists. Her voice shook.

"I should beat you, John Daniels! What kind of a creature do you think I am? If I were a man—"

"You're not." He made it brutal. "You're a woman. That's why I'm playing it this way. By your own word, you weren't too good to play Carter for a sucker. You told me you'd learned things about men. You came out of a Jap prison camp in one piece. That's good enough for me."

Her flush crept up to her hairline. For an instant, he thought her control would break. That she would spring at him, claw him.

Then, abruptly, her lips began to quiver. Her chin dropped to the soft hollow of her throat. She twisted her head, so that the rippling waves of spun gold hair fell dancing to hide her face.

"My apologies, Mijnheer Daniels. You are right. I shall go."

Swiftly, before he could move or say more, she spun about. Darted through the doorway, with only the faint musk of her perfume, the echo of a sob, to mark her going.

John Daniels stumbled to a chair. Again, as before, he scrubbed his palms along his pant-legs, only this time the palms were slick with icy sweat. He was trembling just a little, and his throat felt dry, and his breath came ragged, uneven.

But only for a few seconds. He could not spare more, not even for heartaches.

Grimly, then, he rose. Turned off the light. Crossed to the window. Drew back the drapes and silently muscled it up as far as it would go.

It was not so dark outside now. Down below him, a faint yellow glow marked the window of that other room, the room where Anita waited. Then the light shimmered, as from a shadow within the place, and he knew the drama had begun.

Silent, tense, he strained his eyes toward the banyan tree.

Nothing, not even a flicker of motion.

Below him, the oblong of light shimmered new movement. He caught the faint creak of a board.

The banyan tree stayed a vague black blur.

He heard the song, then. A weird song, throbbing with an off-key minor rhythm. Melancholy, yet somehow taut and alive with passion.

IT CAME to John faintly, as if it were very far away. So faintly he could not make out the words. But the voice was the voice of Anita, the message a paean of lust.

Over by the banyan tree, something moved.

The song went on, and the yellow light flickered.

A shadow, darker than the rest, detached itself from the banyan tree. Hung motionless, as if still debating.

Downstairs, the quick trip of feet came like a beat through the song.

The shadow in the yard contorted.

More footsteps. More motion. Then the song again, poignant and throbbing. But even more faintly this time. Farther away from the window. The yellow oblong no longer shimmered.

The man by the banyan tree edged into the open. The light from the window caught his face. A lascar, stripped to the waist, slavering with lust.

John Daniels measured his own breaths. Tried to relax, drive the ache from his muscles. Tried vainly—his body stayed taut as a bowstring.

The song faded further.

Cat-like, the lascar slid up to the building. Pressed tight against it, peering in through the window.

John planted one foot on the sill above. Bent double, crowding through the sash.

The lascar below him was fingering a knife. Pausing, irresolute, as if not quite sure what to do.

The song stopped.

It was like a signal. The lascar reached for the sill.

John Daniels sucked in air. Leaped out into space. Hurtled downward, projectile-like.

The scrape of his feet on the sill as he jumped warned the lascar. The man spun about, staring upward. One arm flashed up in a futile, desperate gesture.

Too late. John smashed down upon him, feet first. The battered Australian-issue boots struck him full in the face. With a scream, he pitched backward. A sharp, brittle crack, like a stick snapping, echoed in the night.

Anita's voice came: "John Daniels—!" He glanced up at her, framed there in the window, her gown hugged about her. Stumbled wearily to his feet from where he had sprawled.

"I'm okay."

"Thank God!" It was half sob, half prayer.

He ignored it.

"Where's Carter?"

Her hand went to her throat.

"You mean—?"

He made his voice rough, surly.

"I mean what I said in the first place. I'm in this game to get Poulain's hide. Carter's the first step. Where is he?"

"There—there is a place called Ladino's...." She stumbled over the words.

"Ladino's." He turned on his heel.

"John! Take me with you—!"

AS IF he had not heard, he stalked away. But he was cursing himself at every step. Swirling waves of mixed emotion broke over him. Swamped him. His brain was a froth of love and hate; tenderness, brutality. Again he saw the pale oval of her face. The rippling sheen of her hair. Her body's ripe curves. Those last anguished words rang in his ears, tormenting him, till he writhed like a tortured thing.

He made himself go on. Forced down his weakness. Poured hate into his heart in a savage torrent to drown out every other thought and feeling.

Ladino's. He knew it well. A hole-in-the-wall groggery, run by a half-caste Portugee from Timor. With women to share your drinks, and rooms upstairs where you could share the women.

That was where this Carter would be. Upstairs. Hiding in one of those stinking, crib-like rooms, with sweat on his face and fear in his heart.

He didn't even bother with the regular entrance. Someone would be on guard there. He could take that for granted.

But around at the back? He wondered.

He clung to the shadows, studying the place, for the space of a cigarette. Soaked up the scent of hyacinths and mangoes, the cool of the night wind, the distant lilt of laughing voices.

It was dark, here at the back of Ladino's. Dark enough for perfect safety. And he could see no guards.

Carefully, he crushed out his cigarette. Drifted toward the place, almost ambling. But his hand was on his captured kris.

A clatter of footsteps laid him back tight against the nearest wall while a door opened and a bushy-headed Papuan hurled out a bucket of slops.

John waited till the door slammed shut. Slid forward. Tried the knob.

The door gave, swung open. Light and sound washed over him.

Swiftly, he slipped inside. Dodged up the yawning black back stairs shaft.

A grey tunnel of door-flanked corridor loomed ahead, far end aglow with light from the bar below.

John hesitated. Caught the clink of glassware. Drunken laughter. The crash and clash of gamelan gongs.

Footsteps on the front stairs. Voices.

He retreated. Back again, into the shaft's black pit.

Up ahead, a door opened, then slammed. The voices were stilled.

John sucked in air. Felt his heart step up a beat. The kris's hilt was slick within his hand.

Cat-footed, he came up out of the stair-well. Moved like a shadow to the nearest door. Pushed it open.

Silence, and blackness.

Taut as a drumhead, he slipped in. Waited, not breathing.

Still silence.

He brought up one foot. Flicked a match on the bootsole. Glimpsed the room by the flare.


Out into the corridor again. On, to the next room.

Again: empty.

Another door. Another darkened room.

But not silence. Not this time.

Shapes, on a white iron bed. A man, surging up, cursing in Tamil. A woman's laugh—low, liquid.

John Daniels pulled the door shut. Moved on again. His lips felt dry, his face hot. A tremor touched his hand as he reached for the next knob.

The door swung wide. Almost too silently, he thought. Too easily. Like an invitation to trouble.

To hell with that. It was only his nerves. They were cracking. Tricking him, the way they had before, climbing the hill-

INVOLUNTARILY, he stiffened. A drop of icy sweat slid along his backbone like a chill, smooth-honed razor. Damn such analogies! His nerves hadn't tricked him, back there by the landing. Warned him, yes. But no trickery.

The darkness mocked him like a beckoning black finger.

He cursed beneath his breath. Shoved forward. Let the door swing closed behind him.

The blackness closed in.

Fingers trembling, he whipped out a match. Scratched it into flaming life.

If his teeth had not been clenched, he would have gasped aloud.

A man lay sprawled on the bed. A man like the subaltern in Kipling's poem—"with a big blue mark in his forehead and the back blown out of his head."

Only that wasn't the part that counted. John Daniels had seen dead men before. Too many dead men. To him, death itself no longer mattered. Certainly not enough to make him gasp.

No. But this man was different. The very sight of him was enough to rock John back on his heels and set his senses reeling.

Because the man on the bed was the same burly gorilla he'd seen down there on the slope those hours ago. The same sinister knifer whose kris he now carried.

Still rocking, he stood there. Stared, until the match burned his fingers and the hair on the back of his neck rose like a frightened dog's hackles. He could feel the sweat start. Taste his own fear, like death in the air. His brain was a whirling kaleidoscope of panic and confusion. He hardly heard the door behind him open.

Then the light pinned him, targeted him in the center of its glaring beam.

Life came back into him with a rush. kris ready, he spun.

Men crowded the doorway. Grim, official-looking men, ramrodded by a gaunt, hungry human hawk in pith helmet and razor-creased whites.

"It is as I said," the hawk rasped in Dutch. "Always the criminal returns to the scene of his crime."

A knot of ice was forming in John Daniels' stomach.

"Maybe that makes sense to you," he muttered, and realized even as he spoke that his voice rang guilt in every note.

The lean man chuckled. The way he did it made it an ugly, unpleasant sound.

"You will drop the kris, please. At once. My men have you covered."

The man's smirking self-satisfaction rasped at John's self-control.

"Who the hell are you? What's your business with me?"

The other's hungry features mirrored smug self-righteousness. He straightened, all ego, gloating arrogance. His very manner was at once an insult and a clipped, harsh threat. The menace of it was food and drink and nurture to the knot of ice in John Daniels' stomach.

"I, sir?" The lean man mouthed the words smugly, savoring their effect, their flavor. "I am Hans Vreeland, special assistant to the resident commissioner for Her Majesty's government. And my business at the moment is to arrest you for the murder of that man on the bed, the Australian sailor Rodney Carter!"

The Enemy

THE drone of the amphibian's engines brought John Daniels awake with a start. He came to his feet instinctively—half dazed, every nerve on edge.

For an instant he could not even quite remember where he was. Then, as sleep left him and the ugly reality of walls and bars came clear, he knew. Gloom settled over him like a mantle. His heart plummeted.

He wondered how he had ever managed to fall asleep. Certainly it hadn't seemed possible last night as he lay here tossing in this grimy cell, battling the vermin and cursing his fate. His fate, and Hans Vreeland—

Even the thought set his teeth on edge. Rage flooded through him all over again. That smug, too-immaculate beanpole! That study in supercilious self-confidence! He clenched his fists. Prayed that he would some day be granted one minute—just one!—to settle this score.

The amphibian's drone brought him back.

It was louder, now. Much louder. As if it were coming into the harbor for a landing.

He could not name the emotion that rose in him then. Or dared not. But his brain kept throbbing, echoing: Poulain.... Poulain.... Poulain....

Poulain had come in an amphibian. And now an amphibian was landing in the harbor.

In a frenzy, he paced the floor of the tiny cell. Clenched his fists and stamped his feet, and gnawed his knuckles till the red blood ran.

The amphibian's engines roared momentarily louder, then died.


John leaped to the window. Hung by the bars, straining arms and eyes to see.

It was no use. Only the bare rim of the harbor was visible from here.

He dropped back. Crossed to the iron door. Peered through the grating toward the cell-block entrance.


He'd hocked his watch in Sydney, so he couldn't tell the time. Not that it mattered, really. He wasn't going anywhere. Or maybe it was even for the best. After all, to watch those hands creep around.... It would drive him mad.

Only he was going mad now, that was the trouble. He was counting the seconds by his own pulse. Measuring the minutes with pacings back and forth across the cell.

Desperately, he tried to concentrate, to distract his aching brain.

The girl. Anita Van Pelt. He would think of her. He could see her, almost, when he closed his eyes. The angel's face. The she-devil's body. The rippling waves of golden hair.

He swallowed hard, his mouth gone suddenly dry.

What could have happened to her? Had they found the lascar's broken body? Connected her with it—arrested her, maybe? Or had she fled before they got the chance?

And her game—what was it? Vengeance, or gold? Or something else? That story of hers.... He shook his head.

But already his mind was wandering, drifting away. Anita's face blurred. Again he was pacing, counting the seconds....

He cursed aloud.

What did he care about her? What did he care about anything—anything, that is, except dead Tom and live Poulain!

Poulain! His fingers ached to clutch the fat man's throat.

He heard the voices, then. Dimly, at first. Faint echoes through the cell-block door.

Then that door opened, and the voices came louder. One he could even recognize: Vreeland, all smiles and sneers and ice.

The other he'd never heard before. He was sure of that, even without glancing through the grating to see the speaker.

A queer voice, that other. Not easily forgotten. A pleasant voice, too— quiet, well-modulated, with a thin thread of humor lilting through it.

And yet, there was something else, too. Something not quite so pleasant. An undertow of caution, as it were, as if the man to whom the voice belonged were just a trifle shrewd and hard and wary.

Even here, in this cell, it piqued John Daniels. Half sullen, half curious, he turned, just as his cell door clanged open/ and Vreeland spoke again.

"This is the man, Mijnheer Poulain. The murderer, John Daniels."


HOW long that awful, incredible moment lasted John Daniels never knew. An eternity, perhaps, and the fraction of an instant. All the eons of time, and the ?ashing of an eye. Poulain. A fat man, as the tales had told. A big man, too. But mostly grossly, obscenely fat.

Yet where most fat echoes sloth and weakness, this man showed neither. The glistening baldness of his great round head rose like a polished dome between the buttress shoulders. His movements were quick as a striking cobra, his biceps bulging out his sleeves, his fingers swift, deft pads of flesh around tight cores of cable.

But these were the surface things, the facade that veiled the real Poulain. Only in the eyes did the things that lurked within gleam through.

They were queer eyes, John thought. Queer, as the voice was queer. A mask and a revelation all at once. Dark, deep-sunk, amid their rolls of fat, they yet were darting, restless. Mockery gleamed in them, and menace and implacable, ruthless force. A dozen things, tumbling over one another in two twin mirrors of character that somehow made John's blood run cold.

As from afar, he heard the Dutchman's voice go on:

"He denies all guilt, Mijnheer Poulain. Insists that he never saw the man before." A brief, contemptuous laugh. "The fool! He was carrying Carter's kris when we caught him as he sneaked back to the scene of his crime. A dozen witnesses have identified it."

The voice brought John back from that strange, dazed world to which he'd strayed. Involuntarily, he stiffened. Felt his hands clench into fists without his effort.

"Daniels? Daniels? I do not know the man." Poulain was saying in that queer, well-modulated voice. He peered at John. "No, I do not know—" And then: "Yes! I do! There was a petty thief named Daniels who tried to take over one of my minor enterprises by violence. In the process he was killed by my man Carter. No doubt this man is some relative of that other Daniels. He must have killed poor Carter in revenge, m'sieur."

John made himself relax. That was the first step. A psychological feint. Convince them of his harmlessness. Throw them off guard.

"Maybe you'd like to try to prove my brother was a thief, or that he tried to muscle in." He let his voice take on a sullen ring. "This is a frame—"

"Of course," came back Poulain. His face was bland, his tongue dipped in oil. "I should be delighted to prove it. With witnesses, brought from Darwin at my own expense in the interests of justice."

Vreeland laughed aloud. He licked his thin lips, as if enjoying the situation's flavor.

"The resident will appreciate your generosity, Mijnheer Poulain. Not that it will be necessary to call on you for such a favor, of course, or even desirable. We have ample evidence already." He laughed again. "Enough to hang this man, at least. We have located the scene of the murder—down by one of the sheds on the hill—and this Daniels' footprints were mixed with those of your unfortunate Carter. While we watched from hiding, Daniels later stole into Carter's room at Ladino's. Our theory is that he brought the body there earlier. Then, after leaving, he discovered that he had forgotten some essential piece of evidence, some crucial point..."

He talked on, and on, but John Daniels was not listening. What did it matter, all those words? He would be convicted of murder, even if not Carter's murder. He knew it; accepted it.

But Poulain was here now! That was what counted. Here, mere feet away, open and vulnerable!

True, there were guards. They waited outside the cell now, three of them. Two, uniformed Javanese. The other, a powerful brute in rumpled khakis, a white man with cold eyes and a poker face; Poulain's bodyguard, obviously.

HE THOUGHT he could do the job in spite of them. One leap would put him near enough. Then a knee to the groin. A savage hand-edge blow to the back of the fat neck. The old, Australian-issue boots, exploding into the greasy face the instant the fat man hit the floor. Every ounce of his weight, his muscle, behind it. Crushing that dome-like head into the concrete. Smashing it. Pulping out the fat man's unclean life ...

"You're crazy!" he mumbled. He made a point of thickness, incoherence. Let them think he was a stupid, weak-witted fool! It would all help! And then: "Poulain's been hiding from me for months. He knows why I'm hunting him—"

The fat man laughed aloud.

"Perhaps you won't be able to hang this creature after all M'sieur Vreeland. Obviously he's mad."

Ever so casually, john shifted his weight. He had to he careful of his breathing, even, now. One false move could give him away.

"You think so, mijnheer?" Vreeland's gaunt face twisted in a smirk. "He is vicious, surely. Even dangerous. But mad—" He pursed his lips. Drew his eybrows together in the caricature of a frown.

They were looking at each other now, convulsed with their own saw—toothed humor. Even the guards' eyes were turned away. Attention seemingly had left John Daniels.

It was his moment. Like a tiger, he sprang.

He could not be quite sure what happened then. It came too fast, too unexpectedly.

For one thing, Poulain leaped deftly aside. The agility with which he moved was incredible incongruous. He was a dancer, a contortionist, skipping and sliding, twisting all at once. Like a shadow, he flickered away, out of John's reach.

Beyond him, the bodyguard erupted into synchronized, coordinated motion. His hand flashed under the khaki shirt. Leaped out again, gripping a short-barreled Luger.

A THOUSAND times in that moment, John Daniels died. His mind leaped like his vision. Took in and grasped the whole awful unbelievable scene in one horrid instant. He could see the mockery; the murderous mirth, in Poulain's deep-sunk eyes. The cold, inexorable menace of the gunman. The Javanese' blank bewilderment.

It had been planned, of course. Ever so carefully planned. He could see it now. Could recognize the skill and care and timing that went into it. They had come here to kill him, their minds made up. They had bandied words, ignored him, encouraging him to make the break they knew would come. Not for an instant had he been unobserved.

He cursed himself for a fool. —He'd let them play him. Charged down on Poulain, with murder in his own cracked brain, while all the time they'd been waiting: Poulain, a bundle of tight-wound springs, set to a hair trigger; the bodyguard, with his Luger oiled and his gun-palm itching.

And now—

He reeled to one side. Careened against the Dutchman Vreeland. Saw the bodyguard's gun come up. Heard the Luger's roar. Braced himself for the bullet's impact.

It never came.

Instead, Vreeland—off balance—crashed into the gunman as the pistol barked.

The shot went wild. Bodyguard and Dutchman went down together in a cursing jumble of arms and legs. The Luger skidded off across the floor.

Poulain dived for it.

John lashed out with his foot. Sent the gun off, out oi reach. Aimed a second kick at Poulain himself.

The fat man rolled clear. Snatched at John's foot.

"Hahlt! Vlug!"

It was Vreeland's voice, crackling guttural Dutch in a savage blend of ice and fury.

A rifle butt crashed into John's midriff to back up the commands. He staggered, retching and gasping.

The two Javanese guards held the center of the stage, black eyes aglisten. Ri?es ready, taut as bowstrings, they covered John, Poulain, the bodyguard.

Off to one side, where he had fallen, Vreeland stumbled erect. His whites were no longer immaculate, and the gaunt face had taken on an angry scarlet glow.

He spun on the guards.

"Clear this cell! Bar the door!"

John could see the tremor of rage that rippled through Poulain.

"This man attacked me—!"

Vreeland cut him off.

"So he did. That still does not make it my policy to allow Her Majesty's prisoners to be shot in their cells while other means of discipline will still avail."

Poulain's face darkened to match the Hollander's. His voice dropped to an ugly note of menace.

"Am I to understand—?"

"You may take any complaints up with the commissioner." Vreeland's words crackled like splintering ice. "That is all, Mijnheer! You may go!"

For a taut moment Poulain hesitated. Then, fat neck still fiery red, he turned and stalked from the cell like a machine.

His bodyguard started to pick up the Luger and follow.

Vreeland thrust out a bony hand.

"I will hold that for you. The commissioner will return it to you should he feel that is desirable for him to do so."

Muttering under his breath, the gunman let the Luger go. Shambled off after his master.

John let go a sigh of relief, tossed the gaunt Hollander a mocking salute.

"Thanks, Vreeland. That was close. Too—"

The other's expression hung between a sneer and anger—a mixture of distain and hatred.

"Prisoner, you will remember that I am special assistant to the resident commissioner. I expect to be treated with the respect due my rank." And then, to the guards: "Lock this cell with especial care. I shall hold you responsible if this man should get away."

Thin-lipped, eyes blazing, he straightened his now-rumpled coat about his thin shoulders and stiffly walked away.


SHE came in the night, long after he'd given her up.

At first she was only a voice—a faint, breathless whisper, waited through the cell window's grillwork.

John Daniels hardly heard the call. He'd passed listening; passed hope, even. Now he sprawled on his strap-iron cot, wallowing in a stormy sea of fury and self-pity and disillusion.

The call came again, louder.

He stiffened. Frowned. Sat up.

Not that it did any good. Not here, where the darkness clung thick as syrup—hot, sticky, impenetrable. He couldn't see his hand before his face, let alone anything else.

Again, the call.

He knew, now. He hadn't been mistaken. He'd heard a voice. Her voice.

A tremor of excitement shook him.


"Kohn! John Daniels!" And then: "Oh, thank God! I was so afraid...."

Her voice was quivering, atremble with emotion. "You are unharmed?" Everything is—how do you say? okay?"

He clambered onto the strap-iron cot. Clung to the window's bars.

"Unharmed, yes. But not okay." Bitterly he laughed. "I'm one hell of a ways from okay, my lady. Lying here in jail while Poulain walks free—or even lives—isn't my idea of right and proper." He hesitated, shifted. "But you? What happened? I thought maybe..." A sudden tremor touched his voice, heedless of his efforts to fight it down. He broke off sharply, half angry, half ashamed.

He heard her laugh softly, and when she spoke again, her voice had taken on a warmer, richer timbre.

"I was afraid for you last night. I followed you. Saw them lead you away a prisoner. After that, I was afraid to go back to my rooms. All day I hid, watching the jail. I saw Poplain and the others come, but I could do nothing, not till it was dark."

"And now?"

A new note of excitement crept into her voice.

"Now you will escape, John Daniels! You will escape and together we shall have our revenge, just as we planned!"

"Escape?" He laughed, curt and harsh and savage. "You paint a pretty picture, Anita, but it's not that easy. There are guards out front, and it's their necks if I get away. They know it. They'll play rough. And sawing through steel bars sounds simpler than it is."

"But with a gun...?"

He stiffened, in spite of himself. Felt new hope, new courage, surge through him.

"A gun!"

"Yes. Put your hand through the bars."

He hung by one hand. Thrust the other arm out through the grillwork as far as it would go. Felt the cold reassurance of a pistol butt shoved against his palm. Taut, careful, he brought it back through the bars. Dropped back to the strap-iron cot. Ran his hand over the weapon; a Luger, the extractor raised to the loaded position above the breech block.

Again Anita's voice drifted through the bars, ragged with excitement even in a whisper.

"Lie down on the floor and fire one shot. That will bring the guards. If you lie in such a position that it appears you have killed yourself, they will come close. Then you can hold them at pistol point and escape." A pause. "I shall wait for you by the sheds down the hill, close to the landing. The Netherlands New Guinea Trading Company warehouse, let us say."

John nodded in the darkness. It was involuntary, unconsidered. His mind knew she could not see him. Not with stones and bars and black night in between. It was only that his brain was racing ahead, too fast for his reflexes to follow. He could think of nothing but the weight of the heavy pistol in his hand, the promise of freedom its slugs carried. The bars were dissolving, and the walls. Again he visualized Poulain. Tried to imagine the expression that would freeze the rolls of fat —the terror that would strike the deep-sunk eyes—the fearful tremors seeping into the voice's modulation.

Anita was speaking.

"John Daniels! You understand! You are all right?"

ONCE more he nodded. A tiny spasm of anticipation ripped through him like a shudder. It was all he could do to keep it from his voice.

"I'm all right. The whole world's all right. Just get going, so that I can take care of this thing!"

And her answer; faint, tremulous: "Yes, John."

A whisper of footsteps, dying away.

John Daniels laughed aloud. Arranged himself carefully on the floor, Luger in hand, directly in front of the cell door. Sighted for the window's faint silhouette against the outer night. Drew in one deep breath.

"A little luck, Torn," he muttered. "That's all I need. Just a little. Then I'll be able to fix things up."

It was almost a prayer.

He squeezed the trigger.

The Luger bucked in his hand. The cell blazed orange with muzzle-flash.

John whipped the gun down, jammed it against his right temple. Rolled his head to the right on the floor, half covering the gun, so that the lack of blood could not be seen. Brought his left arm up, shielding his eyes, protecting him against any involuntary flicker of the lids.

He heard the cell-block door burst open. Saw scarlet through his tightly-closed lids as light struck them.

A shrill chatter of Market Malay echoed around him.

The guards!

Waiting. An eternity of waiting. Shallow breathing. Taut immobility.

Cautious footsteps, padding on the stone of the cell-block floor. The scrape of a rifle-breech against a belt-plate, over-loud against the other sounds. The sibilant hiss of a tense man's breathing.

Something prodded at his ribs.

He lay still and relaxed as death, holding his breath.

A hand gripped his shoulder. Started to heave him over.

It was now. Now, or never. The man above would be off balance, his weight poorly distributed.

John Daniels erupted into motion. He rolled with the guard's heave, smashing at the shocked brown face with fist and arm and elbow.

But the Malay was quick. He leaped back, away from the blow.

John didn't try to follow through. This was no time for a slug-fest. Not while he had the Luger.

The roll had put him back on his stomach, facing the guards. He came up on one knee in a crouch, the pistol poised and ready.

"Berhenti! Stop!"

One of the Malays—he who had gripped John's shoulder—had laid aside his rifle. The other was caught with his weapon's muzzle aimed awkwardly off to one side.

Together, they stared at the pistol's menace, black eyes beady, fascinated.

Slowly, the one who had no gun raised his hands.

HIS companion hesitated only the fraction of a second. Then his fingers opened. His rifle clattered to the floor.

John came up from his crouch. Wordless, a living threat, he sidled out of the cell. Herded the two Javanese into it. Left-handed, locked the door. Backed slowly away.

Brown faces blank and expressionless, now the first shock was over, they watched him go.

He slammed the cell-block door, breathed a sigh of relief. Wondered, for just an instant, what he would have done had the guards tried to stop him. It was one thing to kill for cause, in hate and anger. Another to butcher some harmless flunky who was only trying to do his duty.

He wondered....

But not for long. He had too many other things to do.

The Netherlands New Guinea Trading Company warehouse, that was the rendezvous. Down at the foot of the hill, close to the landing.

He frowned. He hated to waste the time. Now, especially, for he couldn't tell how long he'd have before an alarm was sounded.

And yet, what else could he do? He wanted revenge, but it was Anita, bringing the gun, who'd made it possible. He couldn't betray her after that.

A silent shadow, gun in hand, he slid through the night, every muscle tense, every nerve on edge. When a great night-flying moth nearly a foot across swept down upon him suddenly, he reeled back panting, barely able to fight down the urge to fire on it.

He thought of that other night, bare twenty-four hours ago, as he walked up this hill from the landing. Of the footsteps, padding behind him, and of Carter, the knife-man, with his kris.

Involuntarily, he shuddered. Caught himself straining his ears as he had before for the stealthy tread of a stalker in the night.

And then he heard them! 

The shock stopped him dead in his tracks. He wouldn't believe it. Couldn't.

But there they were just as before, moving when he moved, stopping as he did.

He could feel the sweat flood out of every pore, the hackles rise along his neck. Fear knotted his vitals, closed in on his throat. His mouth went dry as parching sand.

He made himself go on by sheer force of well, clutching the Luger as a drowning man clings to a straw.

Desperately, he tried to analyze, consider.

Footsteps were echoing his. Someone was following him, yet making no effort to catch him.

Yet who was there? Who, save Anita, knew that he was going to escape from that rickety jail? And- who cared?

That did it.

Who cared? 

And the answer came up: Anita. Hans Vreeland. Poulain.

Anita was out. Those weren't a woman's footsteps.

HANS VREELAND, too. He was the law, the born bureaucrat. In line of duty he might lie in wait for a suspected criminal, as he had last night at Ladino's. But certainly he wouldn't follow an escaped prisoner simply out of idle curiosity. No. Not Vreeland. The kind of action he'd take would be aimed at landing the prisoner back in jail in seconds.

That left Poulain.

John grinned in spite of himself. Of a sudden the Luger's butt felt solid and comforting against his hand.

Poulain, and him, and a Luger. If only the game could be played out that way....

He was almost down to the beach now. He could distinguish the warehouse where Anita waited far off to the left. Ahead loomed a clump of nipa palms, long leaves waving slowly in the breeze like queer, many-fingered tentacles.

John slowed his pace. In one way, the palms were good. They gave heavy cover close up; would make it hard for his pursuer to see him. On the other hand, they grew from the mud and slime of the tidal ?at. Let him once get into that, and the noise of his floundering would echo clear to the resident's house back up there on the hill.

Even as he thought of it, the ground gave under his foot, suddenly spongy. The next step took him into the wet slickness of the mud itself.

The mud made up his mind for him. Swiftly, he dropped to a crouch, breathing a silent prayer that he was close enough to the palms to confuse his pursuer. Spun about and quartered off along his back-trail, up the hill again once more.

Instantly, his stalker's footsteps stopped. But as they did, John caught another whisper of scuffing shoes, this time off to his left.

Chills raced up and down his spine. That sound could mean just one thing: he had not one pursuer, but two. He'd been so intent on the noisier of the pair that he'd failed to hear the other.

The realization made him curse himself for a fool. Why wouldn't there be two? Had he expected Poulain to be such a fool as to track him alone?

He swung right. Ran doubled over along the edge of the tidal ?at, toward the warehouse where Anita waited. After a hundred yards, he stopped to breath. When he'd gained it, he started back up the slope.

A flurry of movement caught his eye, even in the darkness. Flattened him to the ground, aquiver with new panic.

Again, he was cut off! A third stalker had outflanked him.

With all his heart he cursed Poulain. Odds were the fat man wasn't even here. Why should he worry himself with such details as a mere murder? Probably he was up on the hill right now, dining with the Dutch commissioner.

But cursing accomplished nothing. His pursuers were closing in. He had to act.

Again he spun. Raced back toward the fringe of tidal flat where the nipa palms' tentacles waved. Scurried crablike along the brink of solid ground in the direction of the landing. That was his chance—his only chance, so far as he could see. There were all kinds of craft in the harbor-trading schooners; patrol boats, probably; even a rusting freighter or two. Most important, clusters of native water-bugs—low-lying outrigger canoes—were festooned in a fringe along the beaches. Once off dry land in one of those, still armed with the Luger, he'd be dangerous to close with. Too dangerous, he had a notion.

He made progress—good progress. He wasn't sure just why. Maybe because they knew or suspected he had a gun, and didn't like to get too close. Or maybe he was harder to see, with the background of nipa palms mere yards away.

Then the warehouse loomed ahead, a few rods up the slope, and his heart stood still.

Anita! She was waiting for him, up there, off guard and unsuspecting: If he went straight on down to the harbor, she'd continue to wait, fair game for Poulain's killers. She might even hear the stir below; accidentally show herself.

YET if he made the dash for the warehouse, there'd probably be shooting, fast. Poulain's three men—and there might even be more—would converge on the building, in a hurry to route him out. They'd be trapped.

He had to decide. Quick. Already the nipa palms' cover was thinning as the tidal flat narrowed. A few yards more and it would disappear altogether, giving way to the deep water of the harbor proper.

For a split-second he debated.

Then, decision.

Anita would have to take her chance alone. It would still be better odds for her than having him rush up that slope. This way, if his stalkers came too close, forced him to shoot, the blaze of gunfire would give her warning, cover her escape. The other, he'd be carrying the fight to her, instead of away. They'd be together, but trapped.

He sucked air into his aching lungs. Sprawled flat for a moment, panting, while he measured the distance to the nearest clump of fuzzy-wuzzy outriggers. Gathered himself for an all-out rush, scrubbing the sweating palm of his gun-hand dry on a scraggy tuft of wuluhan grass.

And then Anita screamed.

It was without words, that cry. Without words, without meaning. A single high-pitched shriek of fright and pain.

One scream. No more.

John Daniels moved by reflex. One moment, he'd been ready to sprint for the harbor and—he'd hoped—safety. The next, he was racing toward the warehouse, his other plans forgotten. He couldn't tell that she was there, of course. Not from one cut-off cry. It might have come from anyplace. But the warehouse had been their rendezvous. He headed there by instinct.

He made it in one mad dash that left him shaking and winded, amazed that he was still alive.

For an instant he rested, pressed flat against the warehouse wall. Then he slid along it, deep in the shadows, his whole weight leaning on the Luger's trigger. He braced his body against a shot. Rounded each corner with every nerve atingle, set to stare death in the eye and face him down.

She wasn't there.

He halted, breathing hard. Leaned close to the wall once more—only this time it was to stop his shoulders' shaking. Again he scrubbed his gun-hand dry.

She wasn't here. He had to repeat it over and over, as if convincing himself.

YET as he considered, he knew it was to be expected. He'd acted too precipitatedly. One broken scream in the night just wasn't enough to go by, not even with the rendezvous to boot. It might not even have been Anita, after all.

But now he was here, endless yards from the landing....

Even as he meditated it, he glimpsed a moving shadow by the harbor. A man, sliding through the night, taking advantage of every wisp of cover.

John laughed aloud. Even in his own ears the sound was harsh, derisory.

He was here, all right. Here—and trapped.

He grinned, then, in spite of himself.

He was trapped—the same way a tiger grasped by the tail is trapped. Because he had the Luger, and the Luger spelled sudden death.

A sort of exhilaration seemed to seize him at the thought. A reckless lust for battle surged through him.

Grimly, he spread his feet for balance. Sighted the Luger on the man below, using his left forearm for a rest. Of a sudden his nerves were steady as granite slabs, his brain as cold and clear as ice.

The man by the landing lay still, now, sharp-outlined against the level ground. A perfect target.

John sucked in breath. Let out a portion. Ever so slowly, ever so carefully, squeezed the Luger's trigger.

The action clicked dully.

For the fraction of a second John stood as if paralyzed. Then, swiftly fumbled at the breech.

The "Geladen"—loaded—indicator on the extractor was down.

Cursing his trembling fingers, he whipped out the pistol's magazine.


Slowly, the light began to dawn. John's breath came fast and shallow.

Anita Van Pelt had given him a pistol so he could escape from Fakfak's makeshift jail. She'd even suggested how he should use it, firing one shot to call the guards and convince them he was a suicide.

But Anita had done other things, too, now that he stopped to consider.

She'd told him Carter was hiding at Ladino's—and when he got there, Carter's dead body was there ahead of him, and so were Hans Vreeland and his men; the murder frame neatly arranged.

For that matter, someone had put Carter to following him, kris in hand, and then murdered Carter when it appeared that he, John Daniels, might win the fight and wrest some information from the knife-man.

He wondered where Anita might have been at just that time.

She'd helped arrange his escape—and Poulain's men had known his plans, too; followed him; hemmed him in.

She'd made a rendezvous with him here, at this warehouse. When he'd started to pass it by, she'd screamed—only now she wasn't here.

All that didn't matter. It didn't really count, not any of it. It could be coincidence.

But there was one thing that wasn't inconclusive. One point that couldn't be coincidence.

Anita Van Pelt had given him a pistol, suggested that he fire it once.

And that pistol had only contained one cartridge.

Turn About

OTHER shadows became visible now, other flickers of movement. John Daniels could see them closing in on him, like winter-starved wolves circling a trapped stag.

A sea of wrath welled up-in his heart, a swirling, blinding, berserker fury. He snarled aloud. Lunged forward, crouching, down the slope, the Luger still tight-gripped within his hand.

The man below him sprang to his feet. Sprinted across to intercept him.

It was Poulain's bodyguard, the gorilla in rumpled khakis. Brutal face a kill-contorted grimace, pistol in hand, the man closed in.

John crouched lower, ran zig-zag.

The other cut him off the sharper, brought up a Luger, twin to the one in John's own hand.

They were mere yards apart now. Closing the gap fast. John glimpsed the gunman's face, snag teeth bared in a snarl of hate.

The killer's gun blazed fire and sound. John heard the bullet's high-pitched whine close past his head.

Panic raced through him in an icy wave. The man could shoot. Next time he wouldn't miss.

By reflex, almost, he reacted. Came up from his crouch in a smoking, heel-first slide. Hurled his own empty, useless weapon with all his might, straight at the gunman's ugly face.

He caught one flash of the man's expression, then, before the hurtling missile landed. Thrilled momentary satisfaction at the fear and shock that hung there.

Then the pistol struck, with a meaty thunk that John could hear across the space between them. The man spilled sidewise, backward; lurching, falling, his nose and mouth a broken, bloody smear.

That was all. John raced past him. On, down the slope. On, to the harbor. On, in a headlong dive for the water and safety.

He swam under water as far as he could. Came up, at last, just in time to see the little coastal cutter with which the Dutch patrolled these waters switch on its searchlight. A white knife, the beam sliced over the water, probing, searching.

John dived again. His lungs were bursting, every muscle weighted with a ton of sodden weariness. It took his last ounce of energy to force himself to swim at all.

Bitterly, he cursed the luck that had let the gunman fire his shot.

Before, he'd had only Poulain's thugs to contend with.

Now, the whole harbor was awake. Seamen lined the freighters' rails. Fuzzy-wuzzies squatted on the prows of their outriggers, peering through the darkness. He glimpsed the master of a tacky trader raising night glasses to his eyes.

Twice the searchlight nearly got him. Once a canoe almost ran him down.

Then interest seemed to wane. The sailors drifted from the rails. The light snapped off. The water-bugs settled back to slumber.

john panted his relief. Turned over, floating. He had no energy for more. Even here, in the tepid water of the harbor, chills of sheer exhaustion shook him, one after another. His teeth were chattering, his whole body a cramping knot of pain and fatigue.

That was how he lay when the searchlight's beam struck him.

It came back on suddenly, without warning. Struck him full in the eyes—dazzling brilliance, beating down on him, pinning him like a moth to a specimen card.

In spite of it he mustered enough strength to dive. Swam under water once again, with feeble, ever-weakening strokes.

He had to rise again in seconds. Again the great beam pinned him down.

"Hahlt!" bellowed a thick Dutch voice.

It was then he saw the amphibian. It rode at anchor not twenty yards away, white hull sleek and glistening in the fringe of the searchlight's rays. A jacob's ladder trailed from its half-open entry port into the water. A small boat hung close at heel beside it, rising and falling with the harbor's gentle swell.

HE NEVER knew quite where the spurt of energy came from. Not from his aching muscles, surely. They were too far gone for that.

Yet somehow, incredibly, find it he did. Wallowing, clumsy, strangling and swallowing water with every stroke, he lunged toward the plane.

The cone of light crept along the surface with him. Again the Dutch voice bellowed.

He paid it no heed.

A rifle bullet spudded water over his face in a stinging spray.

He lunged again.

The light beating down upon him grew brighter. The drone of the patrol boat's engines echoed louder in his ears. He could feel their throb through the water. A ripple of wash lapped over him.

He reached the ladder. Clutched at it. Dragged himself up by sheer willpower.

Overhead, the entry port swung wider. A sullen face scowled down upon him. A foot lashed out for his chin.

He was too tired to dodge. He could only throw up his crossed arms, catch the blow in their scissors. Somehow, more by accident than design, his hands caught the withdrawing ankle.

Off balance already, he let his whole weight go on his adversary's extended leg.

Above him, a curse. The man in the doorway toppled outward, clawing the air wildly.

Barely in time, John let go. Snatched at the ladder again. Stumbled upward, just as a crash of sound and shouting struck him. He glanced back. Realized with blank bewilderment that the Dutch patrol boat had come up. The man he'd thrown had landed on its eager crew as they stretched for John's retreating legs.

Half lurching, half falling, he sprawled through the loading port into the plane. Recovered barely in time to yank the jacob's ladder up out of the irate Dutchmen's reach.

But that was only temporary, and he knew it. In seconds they'd have solved t h e problem, be swarming through behind him.

Wildly, he glanced about. Spotted a weapons rack along one wall. A Mauser machine pistol, with its wood stock-holster.

His strength was coming back now. He stumbled through a maze of stacked, gurgling, fi?ve-gallon army-type gasoline cans to the rack. Snatched out the pistol.

It already was set at full automatic.

John raced back to the loading port. Brought up the weapon. Let go more than half the clip over the heads of the patrol boat crew below.

They scrambled wildly for cover.

HE AIMED the pistol at the sullen-faced man who'd been in the amphibian. Tossed down the jacob's ladder.

"You! Get back aboard! Fast!"

The man turned a sickly green. His mouth worked spasmodically.

"Take your choice," John said. He made his voice alive with menace. "Try jumping overside like your thinking, and get the rest of this clip through the brisket. Or climb aboard in one piece. It's up to you."

The man's Adam's apple jerked. His eyes were so wide with fear the white showed round the iris.

John sighted along the Mauser's barrel.


Trembling, the man stumbled forward. Clambered slowly up the ladder.

John backed away.

"Pull up the ladder. Then close the port."

Still ashiver, the other obeyed.

Only then did John permit himself the luxury of a grin. A tiny spark of triumph deep within him began to glow.

"Now get this crate out of the water and on its way. We've got places to go."

His captive shifted uneasily.

"Can't do it," he muttered sullenly. "Not enough gas. Besides, my crew's ashore."

John let his grin widen, but his voice stayed hard and deadly, his fingers close to the Mauser's trigger.

"After what happened, you expect me to believe that? Your pals went to a lot of trouble to get me herded down near the waterfront. Maybe it was just for atmosphere, but my bet is that Poulain's smart enough to figure it for an angle instead. He knew something might go wrong and cause shooting, so he planned the play in a spot where his lads could make a quick run for this plane and get away. As for gas, he's even got this cabin loaded with five-gallon cans."

"Wise guy, huh?"

John spoke between clenched teeth.

"Wise enough. At least, enough to know Poulainis in respectable company right now, figuring you can fly out any of his boys who land in trouble. He'll disclaim responsibility. Maybe even put up a reward for the nasty people that stole his plane." A pause. "Don't tell me you're not the pilot, either, or that you can't handle this ship alone in an emergency. That's why you're aboard right now. Poulain wouldn't take chances on his pilot getting shot up by accident." Then, gesturing with the Mauser: "All right. Get it up! Either or!"

Slowly, sullenly, the man moved forward to the controls. Manipulated the amphibian's engines into roaring life.

Outside, rifles cracked. A slug whined through the fuselage wall.

John prodded the pilot with the Mauser, pointed out the jagged hole.

"Get it up damn you! That Dutchman's firing on us. Next thing you know, he'll cut loose with a machine gun, if he's got one!"

THE pilot took one fast look at the puncture. His face went white again. He bent forward, worked feverishly.

The amphibian's engines roared louder. The whole ship quivered. Slowly, under the pilot's skillful guidance, it wheeled about, began moving into the wind that drifted up from the southeast. Faster. Faster.

A final shudder. The smooth, monotonous drone of flight.

The pilot glowered at John Daniels.

"Where now?"

John studied him thoughtfully.

A handsome young devil, this pilot. Big enough to wear his tropical whites with the casual air of one of those explorer-lecturers who leave the ladies starry-eyed in Keokuk. Solid in the spots where ten years would put, fat and sagging muscles. Blond hair, smooth-combed with a studied dash that hid the thin spots.

But the pale blue eyes set a trifle too closely together, and the over-full lips were a focal point for not-too-pleasant lines.

Handsome, yes. And completely untrustworthy.


"Moresby," said John. "That's British territory. I'll chance a landing there."

The pilot scowled.

"I don't think we've got gas to make it. That's twelve hundred miles."

john allowed himself a grin.

"And besides, Poulain is a little leary of tangling with John Bull, is that it?" He moved the Mauser in just enough of a gesture to make the pilot conscious of its presence. "Well, I hope we have gas, of course. But if we don't, you can always crash-land this crate in a swamp, and we'll walk the rest of the way." A pause. "One thing, though: I can read a map and compass, too. So if you've got any ideas about charting a course to suit yourself..."

Abruptly, he broke off, stalked back to a seat.

He wondered, a trifle vaguely, just how it would all come out. He'd escaped, of course, but he'd done it the hard way. The Dutch would be hot on his trail from here on. And Poulain—he chuckled aloud in spite of himself. Even from here, he could visualize the fat man's searing wrath.

No, there'd be no quarter from Poulain after this. His killers would be everywhere, his spies seeking John out. Then, somewhere, sometimes—a knife in the back. Or maybe a blazing gun, as with dead Tom...


John Daniels swallowed hard. Again he saw his brother's carefree, laughing face. Remembered the things Anita Van Pelt had said.

A GREAT sickness rose within him. Tom was dead, yet Poulain walked free. Poulain, and Anita Van Pelt, that lovely, living snare who'd spoiled his vengeance.

He caught himself wondering whether any part of her story had been true. Whether perhaps it wasn't a fraud, and she just one more spy, sent out by Poulain to lure and trap him.

He still was wondering when he heard the pounding. It came from behind him, back toward the tail of the ship, beyond a closed compartment door.

Mauser in hand, John rose. Moved to the doorway.

More pounding. He almost thought he could catch a voice, too.

He reached down, gripped the knob. Turned it, ever so slowly. Pressed with his knee.

The door gave.

John brought up the Mauser, braced himself. Then, in a sudden explosion of force, drove his foot at the now-unlatched portal with all his might.

The door burst open. Revealed another crowded room, stacked even higher with gas cans than the first.

John was inside almost before the door could hit the bulkhead.

The next instant he stopped short.

Anita Van Pelt stood there before him. Her eyes were shining, her lips half parted.

"John!" Her voice echoed gladness. She was upon him, clinging to him, even while he still reeled wild with shock. "Oh, John, I was so afraid! I thought they had killed you. That now we were flying away, Poulain and I, leaving you dead behind. I thought—"

Her perfume was heady in John's nostrils, the golden halo of her hair soft against his cheek, her body ?rm and warm on his. All at once his fears and doubts and distrust were nebulous, unreal. Of a sudden he wanted nothing so much as to kiss the tears from her eyes, hold her forever close.

But Tom. Dead Tom...

He twisted free. Stabbed, at her midriff with the Mauser's muzzle. Made his voice harsh and flat and hate-filled.

"That Luger. It had just one cartridge."

They were a study in themselves, those emotions that flooded across her face as he stood there watching. Bewilderment, first and panic. That was when she saw the gun. Then, slowly, almost together, hurt and understanding.

"Yes. I know." The words were low, her eyes suddenly averted. "Even at the cost of my life, I should not have done it. But at the time I was so very much afraid."

"Your life?" he sneered.

She stiffened visibly. Brought her eyes back. Stared into his.

"My life." She said it with calm dignity. "They came for me at dusk, while I still waited for you. They gave me the gun, told me I must give it to you if I did not want to die." A slow flush crept up her cheeks. "They said they would do ... other ... things, too, if I did not obey them. While I talked to you through the bars, saying the things they'd told me to, they were there beside me, their knives at my throat." Her tongue ?flicked at her lips. "Perhaps I am a coward, John Daniels, but I could see no reason for both of us to die if there was the slightest chance that one might live."

"And later, down there by the warehouse, when you screamed?"

"It was the final touch. They were sure it would lure you to your death. I cooperated, of course." Her ripe lips thinned, twisted. "I frequently scream, John Daniels, when someone suddenly twists my arm till I think the bone will leave its socket."

WORDLESS, John Daniels stood there, staring at her. His heart, his brain, were a sea oi futile, fuming turmoil. Suspicion tore at him, and tenderness. Fear, and the yearning to embrace her.

"What more can I say, John?" All at once her eyes were overflowing, her voice a choked appeal. "I had no choice. The pilot, Gilmore, dragged me here. Probably Poulain planned to throw me from the plane miles out at sea. Then I glimpsed you through the port as you came aboard, and I was happier than I had ever been since the murder of my family."

"You could have come out," John said. He knew his voice was bitter, even as he spoke. "I needed help."

"The door." She gestured toward it. "A spring lock. From your side, it was open. But not from in here. All I could do was pound and shout, and hope that you would hear me."

"I see." John mumbled the words. They sounded inane. They weren't even what he wanted to say. The trouble was, the words he did want to speak couldn't ever be said here. He knew it. They would take time, those words, and moonlight, and the tenderness of a caress.

Anita's face softened to pale radiance. Her eyes were suddenly luminous, her lips ripe invitation. As if she could read his mind,' his innermost thoughts. As if she, herself, could create that atmosphere of moonlight and soft words and tenderness, even here in this droning, hurtling plane.

"Then I am forgiven? We shall ?y together to where that gold-laden Junkers crashed?"

"The Junkers?"

"Of course. They are there, those men who murdered my brothers. Once we have dealt with them, we can claim the gold." Anita's breath came a fraction faster. Her eyes gleamed brighter. "Think of it, John! Three million gulden, all for us!"

In a rush, John's wariness came back. Involuntarily, he stiffened. He held his voice dead level.

"I'm thinking of it, and I don't like it. The answer is no."

The girl stared at him. A tiny, petulant note crept into her tone.

"But John, it will make us rich—"

"To hell with that!" he cut her off, suddenly savage again. "D'you think I'm in this bloody slaughterfest for money—one guilder, or a million, or ten millions?" He laughed harshly. "I'll have you know I value my neck more than that. For my brother's sake, I'm out to get Poulain. That's all. Nothing more."

"Of course, John." She closed the gap between them, all eagerness, all anticipation. Her fingers touched his shirt-front in a humming bird's caress. "Don't you see? Poulain will follow us, regardless of cost. His first thought will be of vengeance. When he finds we have the gold, also, nothing will hold him. He will close for the kill himself, personally. It will be your chance, your perfect opportunity..."

"Sure. I see." John said it between clenched teeth, the Mauser's muzzle lightly laid against her belly. "I see that you're after that gold, no matter what. And I'm not having any." He stared deep into her eyes' green depths. Tried to probe through them to her brain. "What kind of a fool do you take me for, Anita? Or is it just that you're off your base yourself? Sure, Poulain will come. He'll come with enough thugs to lick a regiment, enough armament to fight a war. And there we'd be, trapped and waiting." He snorted. "No, thanks, beautiful! I'll fight, but I'll pick my own field."

The look she threw him was beyond interpretation.

"Then you refuse—?"

"You're damned right I—"

That was as far as he got.

Anita leaped backward, away from him. Her face contorted.

"John! Look out!"

HE REMEMBERED, later a flash of thought that this might be a trick. Then, as quickly, realizing that no actress, however skilled, could ever simulate that look of shock and fear that leaped into her eyes.

He twisted. Dropped.

Something slashed past him, close to his head. He glimpsed the pilot's grimacing face. Realized, suddenly sick, that almost any plane's controls may be locked in a neutral position so that the pilot may leave his seat.

Desperately, John bucked. Snatched at the other's knees. Jerked a leg out from under him.

The pilot sprawled. His falling body struck John's arm. Sent the Mauser skittering across the narrow space, to land with an ear-jarring jangle amid the stacked gas cans.

John smashed a blow for the handsome face. Missed. Followed through with the elbow.

It was the only blow he had a chance to strike. Before he could launch another; Anita's voice slashed through to him.

"Stop! Cease this brawling before I shoot you both!"

Ice hung from the words. Enough ice to freeze them where they sprawled.

Slowly, john turned.

Anita stood with her back to the racked-up cans, gripping the Mauser. She held it close to her hip, as if she knew how to handle it.

She spoke again.

"Very well, mijnheren! You are wise." And then, green eyes dark and unsmiling. "You, Pilot Gilmore! Resume your place at the controls. We shall proceed at once to the crashed plane over which you flew Poulain today!"

The Junkers

THEY saw the mountain first: a wilderness of barren stone, its rugged peak shoved up ten thousand feet into the cloud-fluffed sky, set like a monstrous dam at the end of a great green valley that sparkled emerald facets in the morning sun.

"The Forbidden Mountain!" Anita Van Pelt whispered, half aloud. "It is as Carter said!"

Only the drone of the amphibian's engines answered.

John Daniels eyed her narrowly. Lines of strain now etched the angel face, and her hair's golden halo somehow gleamed not quite so bright. But the green eyes were still steady and watchful, the Mauser deadly, unmoving.

"Closer!" she commanded. "Come in low. The Junkers should be somewhere on the lower slope, just out of the valley. That is why it stayed safe. The mountain is taboo. The Ngurus fear to climb it."

Gilmore, the pilot, shot her one nervous glance.

"I don't like it," he muttered. "There's currents down there—updrafts, and God knows what else. We're liable to pile up the way that Junkers did."

Anita's lips went thin.

"Then move away and let me take the controls. John's brother, Tom, taught me the principles of flight. I can handle a ship in an emergency."

John saw the sweat-beads start on Gilmore's forehead.

"Hell, no, you don't! It's bad enough for me, let alone an amateur."

"Then do as I say. Fly low, so that we may see the Junkers."

Gilmore brought the plane in closer. Other details showed up now. The cliffs and overhangs and sheer rock faces. The murky, silt-laden streams in the valley below, and the neat, -geometric patchwork of fields and villages, set off in a hundred different patterns of light and shadow.

"Those large huts," the girl said. "What are they?"

John Daniels laughed without mirth.

"Douba houses. Local clubs. The place where the warriors keep their heads." And then: "With luck, ours will be there, too, some day. You said Carter told you these lads were still on the primitive side."

She gave no sign that he could see of even having heard him. Her attention had gone on, on to the bleak, towering heights of the Forbidden Mountain.

Skillfully, Gilmore banked and circled, bringing the amphibian even nearer to those menacing rock faces.

"There! There!" Excitement echoed in Anita's voice. "Do you see it? It lies on the very edge of the valley, down where the undergrowth still grows. It is as Carter said!"

Cautiously, Gilmore maneuvered the amphibian lower.

The Junkers was barely visible, even from this close. Either the brush had 'grown up around its wreckage, or a first-class camouflage job had been done.

To John, it didn't make much difference.

"Well?" he demanded. He didn't try to keep the irritation from his tone. "We're here. What now?"

"Now?" Anita's face mirrored surprise. "Is it not obvious? We land, of course, and proceed to the Junkers."

"We ... land ... ?" whispered Gilmore. Of a sudden, his face was no longer handsome. It had taken on a sickly expression, and there was a rim of white around his mouth.

"We land."

The sweat-beads on the pilot's forehead multiplied and grew. John could see his hands begin to tremble.

"It's suicide! You can't ask me to set a plane down on those rocks! We'll all be killed. Even Poulain decided not to try it without a helicopter—"

Anita Van Pelt gestured with the Mauser.

"It most assuredly will be suicide for you to refuse, Mijnheer Gilmore!"

"But I don't dare—"

John's own throat felt a trifle tight. He gazed down at the twisted mass of metal that had been the Junkers. Swallowing hard. Started to cross the plane.

Anita stabbed out at him with the Mauser.

"Stand back, John! Do not think I will not shoot because I ... like ... you."

HE STOPPED, mentally cursing the fate that had made him forget the pilot could set the controls, then move about the ship at will. Save for that one error, he, John Daniels, would still have the Mauser.

But now...

"We land!" Anita said again.

Gilmore's face was desperate. john could feel drops of perspiration sliding from his own armpits.

"Make it the nearest river, then," he pleaded. "We can trek up the mountain from there, providing those tribesmen down there don't get us first. But if we crash on that rockpile where the Junkers cracked up, we don't have any chance at all."

"Yes!" Gilmore was almost pathetic in his eagerness. "Let me put it down on the river, for the love of God. Anything but that damned mountain!"

A long, pulse-quickening pause. Then, slowly, Anita nodded.

"Very well. The river." A gesture with the Mauser. "But no tricks! Not if you want to live!"

Cautiously, Gilmore brought the amphibian down.

They could see even the details of the tribal villages below now. The huts—some round, some oblong, all with thick, grass-thatched roofs. The fields—neat, carefully cultivated, blends of a dozen different shades of green. The people themselves—burly blacks with savage, painted faces, dancing threats and fury. One, atop a queer, pole-like watchtower, even hurled a spear at the plane.

Gilmore's lips twisted.

"Friendly, aren't they?" But his handsome face was pale beneath its tan.

The streams which from on high had seemed mere trickles down here became broad, swift-flowing rivers, thick-laden with the mud they carried.

One, even larger than the rest, set off the Forbidden Mountain like a great moat, curling in a close embrace against the towering parapets of stone.

"Here goes nothing!" muttered Gilmore.

He manipulated the controls.

The amphibian swooped low. Bucked and spatted as it touched the water.

Then, of a sudden, they were down, moving swiftly shoreward on the ship's sleek, boat-like hull.

A tree projected from the mountain bank of the stream—a tall brown casuarina.

"Moor there," Anita commanded. And, after the ship had been made fast. "Now out with you both! Up, on the bank, where I can watch you."

John frowned.

"You mean—?"

"I mean I do not trust you. Not either of you." The girl's lips were thin and straight. "Once ashore, I shall be far more at your mercy than here, where I can guard you. So I shall take precautions, mijn vrienden. There is a thing I learned to do from your brother"—she nodded at John— "which will help to keep me safe. A trick. By removing one little part in here, I can prevent your flying away until I am ready."

Gilmore glowered at her sullenly.

"Watch your step, baby. You may jimmy things once too often, and then none of us will get out."

Anita's green eyes flashed.

"Out! You heard me! Out!"

Together, John and the pilot backed through the loading port. Clambered precariously ashore.

Behind them, Anita disappeared from the doorway.

"Well, now's our chance."

John eyed him.

"Our chance for what?"

"Our chance to get away from that wack. We can make a run for it, then sneak back later. She can't do anything to a plane I can't fix."

John shook his head.

"You're only half smart, Gilmore. There are ports in that fuselage. My bet is that Anita's watching us through one of them right now. Try to run, and she'll cut you down with that machine pistol before you get ten feet."

"I SUPPOSE so." Gilmore nodded, brows knitted. "All right, then. So we don't run. You stay here so she'll think everything's on the up-and-up. I'll crawl back aboard, up by the engines, and have a little fun with the fuel lines. It's insurance, pure and simple. I'll fix it so the ship will just about get off the river before it stalls. Then we'll tell her about it, and that'll make us even. She won't try taking a run-out powder on us, leaving us here while she beats it with the loot."

John studied him for a moment. Appraised again the shifty, close-set eyes, the weak, unpleasant mouth. He disliked this man instinctively. Distrusted him, too. Pilot he might be; competent, also. But his language and thoughts were those of a Lower East Side sharpy. The fact that he'd been flying for Poulain was proof enough of that.

And yet, he could see the logic of Gilmore's idea, too. At present, they were completely at Anita's mercy. She claimed she could ?y. Very well, she could equally take advantage of it to abandon them here, a thousand miles from civilization.

Reluctantly, he nodded.

"Go to it, Gilmore. I'll be the sucker."

The pilot grinned, leaped back to the amphibian's wing. In a moment he was fumbling at one of the engines, then clambering on across toward the other, out of sight.

John stared after him. He wondered just what kind of a fool he was being, playing it this way. He couldn't even understand just why he did it. It was beyond all sense, all logic, certainly.

A dozen times, he could have taken the Mauser from Anita. He had no illusions about that. He'd faced too many desperate men, too many hopeless situations, to believe that he was incapable of relieving a slim young girl of a pistol.

Yet he'd gone along. Without even a real try for freedom, he'd submitted to her will, allowed her to force Gilmore to fly here.

He wondered why. True, she was lovely. But the world was full of lovely women. Lovely women, even, who hadn't cheated and betrayed him.

Because Anita had betrayed him. There could be no doubt in his mind of that, no matter how much she might explain and rationalize and alibi. Willing or not, she'd led him into a death trap. She was leading him into another right now.

He clenched his fists and cursed beneath his breath. What was wrong with him? Why did he let her do it? He'd come back to this island hell for one reason only; to avenge Tom. Now, under her subtle spell, he was forgetting all that, following her lead instead....

Her voice broke in upon him.

"Where is the pilot, Gilmore?"

John stared at her, unspeaking, marveling again at the power she had over him.

SHE stood framed in the loading port, the slim, lithe lines of her firm young body on display, the golden halo of her hair once more smooth and alive as a rippling field of sun-ripened wheat.

A flush spread over the delicate oval of her face as she caught his stare. The red lips quivered. John could see the rise and fall of her breasts quicken beneath the thin blouse she wore.

"Well?" There was the faintest tremors in her tone.

"He's around somewhere. He just stepped away for a minute."

The green eyes narrowed. Instinctively, John looked away. Glanced along the amphibians wing toward the far engine.

No sign of Gilmore.

"He was on the wing?"

With a start, he realized that she had followed his glance.


Lithely, she leaped ashore. Darted down the bank for a better view. John followed.

There could be no doubt of it now. Gilmore had disappeared.

Anita turned. Eyed John.

"You don't know where he's gone?"

Wordless, he shook his head.

"It is no matter. I have fixed the plane. He cannot leave without me."

There was nothing to say. Silent, John waited.

The sternness left the girl's lips. Once more, as in those earliest hours, she was smiling, radiant.

"But you did not leave me, John? If he could go, so could you, but you did not?"

"No." He felt his own cheeks go hot.

She laughed softly for all the world like a spring breeze among the ferns and violets of the upland forests. The harsh lines disappeared from her face. Her voice was a caress.

"Dear John! I shall not forget this ... ever."

But her hand stayed on the Mauser.

A wave of sullen, smouldering anger lapped at the edges of John Daniels' brain.

Was this how it had been with Tom? This woman, with her devil's body and angel's face, luring him on, into that final slaughterfest at Darwin?

She was still smiling.

"Come, John. We shall leave that fool Gilmore behind while we climb to the Junkers."

He tried to hold his own voice steady.

"If you're expecting trouble, hadn't you better let me go back aboard and get a gun? These Aussie killers you talk about sound like rough business to me."

For the fraction of a second she hesitated, surveying him. Then, almost merrily, laughing softly, she shook her head.

"Oh, John I wish I dared. But there are times when I 'fear you, just a little. If you had a gun--" She broke off. "No, John. We must chance this little trip without such."

HIS anger burst into tiny, darting flames, but he held it under cover, save for the clenching of his doubled fists, the tightening of the muscles along his neck. He managed a noncommittal shrug.

"Have it your way."

"You will lead, please."

Without a word, he swung about. Started through the straggling sedge and kunai grass up the slope. Although he did not glance backward, he could tell from the rustle of undergrowth that Anita was following close behind him.

The setting was infinitely strange, a study in contrasts. On the one hand, patches of flowers—gentians, buttercups, a hundred species he could not name—dotted the way beside his path. Birds, brilliantly plumaged, swooped and pirouetted about him. Tiny monkeys chattered noisily in a grove of trees. A cassowary paraded solemnly past him down the slope. The sun was bright, the air clear and cool. It added up to perfection, exemplified.

Yet the overall effect was something else again. As if this bright, clear land held darkly hideous secrets not too far beneath its pleasant surface.

Perhaps it grew from the Forbidden Mountain, towering high above them, menacing, like some great cemetery monolith. Or perhaps it was only John's own nerves, frayed and ragged from the perilous days gone by.

The cause didn't matter. The effect was what counted.

And the effect was one of menace, incarnate.

Higher he climbed, and higher. Already the last vestiges of vegetation had disappeared from this inhospitable soil. Here stood nothing but barren jaws of rock.

He could hear Anita panting behind him. Grimly, he pressed on the faster. Took a certain sullen satisfaction in the knowledge that she was having difficulty keeping up.

Higher they climbed, and higher. John himself was gasping. He began to wonder if he could have missed the way.

Then, of a sudden, they topped one last rise. Came out on a tiny plateau thick with conifers.

There sat the Junkers.

John turned, just as Anita stumbled over the crest.

Her face convulsed, even as he watched. A sea of greed washed over it. She darted forward, heedless of the undergrowth. Plunged into the tangled mass of wreckage.

Silent, he followed.

Two men had occupied the Junkers' cabin. More, perhaps. But at least two. They were still here.

One had died in the crash. He sprawled in the pilot's seat, a skeleton, his shattered chest and ribs still pinned in the debris.

The other had survived, apparently. At least for a time.

HIS white-picked bones lay further back, beside a bulkhead door. One hand still gripped a rusting pistol thrust in his belt.

It was a draw he'd never made. A bullet had shattered his skull.

"Your friend Carter was right," john said. Somehow, the words came out a croak. "His buddies are still waiting for him. He killed 'em to make sure they wouldn't wander off."

He saw her green eyes go wide, then turn away.

"I—I did not know," she faltered.

"Of course not. That's why you charged up here without a worry or a care. You ?gured the boys would welcome you with open arms."

Her face went scarlet.

"So I knew. So he told me. What of it?" Her voice rose, half hysterically. "They murdered my brothers. If they had not been dead, I, myself, would have killed them. Now"—she shrugged—"the gold is ours. All ours. For the taking. It lies back there behind that door. Carter, himself, told me."

John held his face expressionless.

"Get on with it."

"Then you will help me, still—?" She asked it eagerly.

"Get on with it."

She didn't seem to catch his tone. He wondered why. He knew the bitter note was there. Or maybe it was just that the dream of gold had blinded her.

She pivoted. Hand shaking, twisted the knob. Pushed open the door.

Her cry, then, was like an animal in torment. Babbling and screaming, she stumbled into the rear compartment.

Woodenly, John followed. He felt suddenly aloof, apart from all this. As if he were merely a spectator to some not-too-well managed drama on a stage.

Anita's voice shrilled on.

"He lied to me, the dog! He tricked me! It isn't here..."

Bleak, detached, John glanced past her over her shoulder, into the compartment.

She was right. No treasure rested here. This room was a rusting, rubble-strewn cell.


Completely empty.

Canibal Covert

IT WAS strange, that trip back down the mountain.

It took time for John even to persuade Anita to leave the Junkers. Like one possessed, she scrambled through the dirt and rubble, eyes wild, face twitching, panting in panicky little gasps clawing at the charred debris as if sheer force and perserverance would wrest its secret from it.

She'd aged ten years in that one brief moment of disillusion. As if the treasure she sought were dearer than sanity, more precious than life itself.

Now the green eyes were smouldering, coals of jade, deep-sunk within their dark-ringed sockets. A shadow lay across her face. Her cheeks, her mouth, her throat, sagged loose, a study in bitter lines and broken dreams. Crow's-feet marred the corners of her eyes. Wrinkles were ironed across the former smooth perfection of her brow. Her lips mouthed meaningless sounds, and her shoulders drew together as with the weight of age. Her steps were stumbling, ill-placed.

Harshly, John laughed.

"So this is how it ends. A trial of corpses, leading to a phantasm. A treasure hunt without the treasure."

"Don't talk about it. I can't stand it."

On he pressed, tasting the flavor of savage satisfaction.

"In the end, Carter wins after all. He murdered his pals so he could have that three million guilders loot to himself. But you came along, and Poulain, each of you out to clip him."

"Stop it! Stop it, John. I can't stand it!"

"Only Carter had his ace in the hole. The one detail he'd held back: before he left, he'd moved that treasure." Again he laughed. "How he must have snickered as all of you closed in on him! You, and Poulain, and God knows who all else. Money-hungry vultures, gathering for the kill. Only Carter didn't care, not even when Poulain took time out to sentence him to death. He knew that in the end the treasure would be his or nobody's. I'll bet he went out laughing."

Anita stopped. Her face was grey. She swayed a trifle, like a slim bamboo against the wind. Jerkily, she raised the Mauser.

"That is enough, John Daniels. I will take no more." Her voice rang harsh and bitter. "You hate me now, as you hate Poulain. You hold me responsible, with him, for your brother's death. You see in me only the love of gold, the lust for wealth. The rest is forgotten, all of it—my brothers, shot down, murdered; my father dying of a broken heart in that prison camp; those years with my life hanging by a whim of those little yellow beasts..."

A shudder ran through her, convulsed her. Her mouth worked, and she licked at her lips with a queer, taut fierceness. Her voice rose, shrilling.

"That is all, John Daniels! I will not have it! You cannot sneer at me, and you can only sneer and loathe, and berate me. What if I did want gold? It was mine! It belonged to me—me, Anita Van Pelt of Djaimalang! I wanted it, the things it would buy. Now even that is gone, lost forever, babble your hate for me—!"

She broke off. Sound only not words, came from her throat—hacking, hysterical sound, half sob, half shriek, all agony.

How long it lasted john never knew. No more than a few seconds, probably, but he could not tell for sure. Too much was going on within him, too many mixed emotions rising in swirling, swelling turmoil.

Of a sudden, the girl before him was beautiful again. Not physically; her face was still contorted, marred with lines, her body cramped and shaking. The golden hair hung streaked and straggling, halo no more; the lips raw, cracking flesh.

Rather, it was as if her very ugliness, her pain, were drawing him to her. His throat was a tight, choked thing, his heart bursting with some queer, offbeat tenderness that twisted in him like a knife.

Involuntarily, without thought or logic, he started forward.

THE racking spasm left her. He could see the muscles along her jaw go rigid as she clamped her teeth. Her tear-streaked face came up, and the Mauser. The green eyes glinted through their Welling mist.

"No, John Daniels! No closer! The day for that is past. We shall go back to the river, now, and to the plane. You wanted it s0. Now you shall have it."

He was close to her, too close. The Mauser was his for the taking. One flicker of motion, one swift, sharp twist, would do it. Again he would be in complete command...

Without a word he turned away. Slogged stolidly back, on down the mountain.

He could have the gun, yes. He knew it. Only now he didn't want it. Let her keep it, if it helped her. Let her hold it, and with it her fast-dissolving grip on self-respect.

A turmoil of unrest within him, he slid on his heels down the last steep slope. Started back through the mass of scrubby undergrowth toward the gently rippling sea of head-high kunai grass that stretched away at an easy incline to where the amphibian hugged the river's bank. He felt angry, ill-natured, depressed. The sparkling sunlight was an irritation, the monkeys and birds of paradise a noisy nuisance.

Then, suddenly, he glimpsed a flicker of motion down by the plane.

He snapped taut in a rush of panic.

Gilmore had claimed he could repair any sabotage Anita might commit. Too, he could handle the amphibian alone.

The very thought sent chills racing up and down John's spine. A thousand times, in that moment, he visualized the plane plowing slowly out into the river. The engines thundering, speeding it through the mud-yellow water to a take-off. Gilmore's sullenly handsome face, mocking and sneering, as he circled over them before he forever left this valley...

By reflex, John sprang forward. Sprinted towards the amphibian's mooring.

Ahead of him, a scream split the air—shrill, blood-curdling, alive with pain and terror.

The next instant, a figure loomed in the amphibian's loading port.

John Daniels remembered, afterwards, that he cried out aloud. By instinct, he drove the heels of his old, Australian-issue boots deep into the thin earth in a shock-paralyzed stop so fast it almost threw him.

Yes, a figure was framed in the plane's entry. And what a figure! A burly black, naked body and hate-contorted face made more hideous still by the glistening contrast of weird, red-painted figures. A necklace of teeth ringed his throat, and huge bone ornaments pierced ear-lobes and nasal septum, high on his head he wore a cuscus-fur shako. Fur-and-sennit bands adorned the sinewy arms and legs. In one hand he bore an elliptic body shield, in the other a long, flat-bladed spear, close kin to an assegai.

The black apparently saw John in the same instant that John saw him.

For one racked moment they stood there. Taut. Unmoving. Staring at each other across that intervening sea of head-high grass.

Then Gilmore's fear-contorted face ?ashed up in the doorway over the black's shoulder. He screamed once, as before. Shrilly. Like an animal in pain.

Only once. With a jerk, his face disappeared.

It broke John's paralysis.

Still staggering from his stop, he spun about. Raced back toward the girl.

Behind him, the black bellowed a blood-curdling warcry.

Fear was in John's heart. A living, breathing fear that lent depth to his lungs and wings to his feet.

"Anita! Quick! That gun—"

He could see the green eyes distend in panic, the lips draw back in a grimace of terror.

"The gun!" he roared again.

Her paralysis seemed to break. She half turned, shielding the Mauser with her body.

"No, John! No! Let Gilmore go! We can climb back. The mountain is taboo to them—"

"Give me that gun, damn you!" In a fury, he leaped for her, hands outstretched to seize the weapon.

"No! They'll kill you! I cannot—"

She broke off. Pivoted sharply. Darted away.

He leaped after her.

Again she twisted, changed her course. Sped into the nearest finger-like copse of kunai grass.

Cursing, he followed.

BUT only for a few steps. The grass was a net, a snare. It closed in on him, clung to him, shackled him hand and foot. Dust rolled over him, and imprisoned heat. Smothering him. Dragging him down.

In seconds, he lost her, baffled by her own agility and the blinding, maddening screen of grass.

Sweating, atremble with fear and strain, he raced back. Scrambled up the nearest slope. Stated out across the rippling swale, searching for some hint, some trace.

It was no use. Already the grass had swallowed her up like a corpse flung into the sea.

He winced at the simile.

The wind sweeping up the valley blew hot and cold to him at once. His lips were suddenly cracking dry, his palms a sheen of sweat. Grimly, monotonously, futilely, he cursed his fate, on and on.

The Ngurus no longer were visible about the plane. Neither did they show any inclination to come out into the open after him.

"For that small favor let me be duly thankful!" he muttered half aloud.

Again he scanned the sea of grass.

Still nothing.

Then, deep in the gently-waving head-high prairie, the Mauser sprang to staccato life. A spray of shots, a parabola of sound.

A hundred yards away, the green waves momentarily parted. Swayed in a flurry of spasmodic violence.

Bodies. Black bodies.

Black bodies—lunging, charging, catapulting. Spraying in a shouting, screaming, triumphant human wave over one toppling slim white form.

The Ngurus

THE drums throbbed louder, now that the sun was down, echoing and re-echoing, reverberating from the very walls of the Forbidden Mountain itself.

Somehow, their sullen booming made John Daniels' blood run cold.

It set his nerves on edge, that chilling. Because it shouldn't have been. He knew the bush from years spent in it. Understood it, and its people. Even the workings of the native mind.

These drums? He'd heard their like in a thousand solitary camps. They signified only a primitive fear, a superstitious dread of evil spirits. Their noise kept these people company, helped hold the night at bay....

Yet now he shuddered.

Perhaps it was because this time it wasn't just his own neck that was menaced.

He caught himself wondering if he could ever forget those hellish shouts of triumph as the Ngurus dragged Anita and Gilmore down to the river, loading them into canoes for transport back to this teeming village, with its stench and smoke and throbbing drums.

Never had he felt so futile. Never!

It had been even worse when he reached the plane. Found it empty, save for the gasoline drums. Gutted of arms and ammunition. Reeking of rancid coconut oil and betel and unwashed black bodies.

The thought of the weapons made him frown even now. Had they been taken for ornaments and curios only? Or, by some black chance, did these tribesmen know how to fire them, too?

In spite of it all, he'd followed, drawn on as by a giant magnet. Unarmed, a ghost in the night, he'd swum the yellow river. Wormed his way through the thick-meshed kunai grass, snake-like, to the very edge of this village, so close that he could smell it.

Another shudder rippled through him. He could smell the village. Might not these villagers also smell him? Some wild tribes had noses keen as hound-dogs'. They could scent a white man at a mile.

His stomach knotted and he breathed a silent prayer.

Evil excitement seemed to grip the village. Even from here he could catch the tension, the taut-stretched edge of impending doom. Menace hung like a black cloud, so thick, so heavy, he could almost taste it.

Two naked women hurried by, chattering shrilly, young pigs suckling at their pendant breasts. They passed so close John could have touched them. Even through the semi-darkness he caught their glistening faces' taut animation as they scurried toward the center of the town.

Beyond them, fire flickered red on its bed of stones within a deserted hut. The faint fragrance of sago and sweet potatoes, and other, less familiar smells, drifted out to John. With an unpleasant start, it dawned on him that he hadn't eaten since the night before. A wave of weakness, a painful gnawing, swept over him close on the realization's heels.

Perhaps he could sneak into the hut. Snatch some of the food before its owners returned....

Grimly, he fought the temptation down. Edged forward once more, through the fringes of the village.

Another chattering group passed him, mere yards away, all eagerness, all expectation. They, too were headed toward the center of the clump of huts.

There was something about them. Some sinister undertone of menace.

John twisted. Followed in their wake.

Ahead the douba loomed, peaked black monstrosity against the sky. A big one, too. Fifty feet high at the entrance, if he were any judge, and God only knew how long.

The douba. Club and church and museum combined. Home of warriors, altar of skulls. Sanctuary of headhunting's blood-blackened cult.

Here, if anywhere, would be the prisoners.

If the prisoners still lived ...

John Daniels clenched his fists till the nails gouged the palms.

Cautiously, he wriggled closer. Then stopped short. A thrill of horror gripped him.

A clearing opened before the douba, the huts of the village grouped around it.

HERE were the booming drums, set off by flickering firelight. Here were the warriors, hundreds strong, strutting and prancing. Here were voices, rising and falling in an eager, excited jabber.

And here were the prisoners.

They hung by their lashings at two stakes in the clearing's center, exhaustion and panic mirrored in every line. Even by the firelight, John could see the blood that slowly dripped from a wound in Gilmore's forehead. Anita's blouse was a shredded mockery.

John felt his own blood quicken as he stared at her.

It was strange, the effect she had upon him.

Gilmore was worse hurt, certainly. Blond hair a rumpled, tangled mass. Sullenly handsome face now terror-straught. That ugly, jagged wound in his forehead.

And here he, John Daniels, lay in the grass. Unarmed. Helpless. Staring death in the face with every breath. Let just one of those berserker Nguru warriors spot him...

Yet, strangely, it didn't matter. Gilmore could live, or Gilmore could die. Who cared? As for himself... Well, he'd seen tight spots before. Sooner or later, there'd be one too close for him. He wouldn't make it.

He could pass it off. with a shrug of his shoulders.

But Anita—The very sight of her set him afire. The lashings, the bared white shoulders—-they loosed the kill-lust, sent murder racing through his veins. He wanted to leap up, charge toward her. Tear her free from her bonds. Shield her with his own body from all peril.

Sweat dripped into his eyes. He had to fight to keep from rising, running amok, shouting one last mad challenge as he threw his life away.

Then, while he watched, the tempo of the drums increased. Shrill voices shrieked commands. The fires flared higher, set new scarlet lights dancing on the gleaming black of oil-rubbed bodies. Shadows leaped in a weird rigadoon. The warriors began to chant.

He couldn't understand the words, nor was that unusual. Each of these valleys generally had a different dialect.

He hadn't seen this ceremony before, either. Past experience could not guide him through what was coming.

Yet he knew. Instinct, and intelligence, and years in the back bush all screamed the warning.

The details, he didn't know. Nor the reasons. After all, this was an ignorant, backward, superstitious people. A tribe straight from the stone age. Their purpose, their logic, didn't have to make sense to civilized men.

But they were head-hunters. The douba told him that; he could catch glimpses of the skull-racks even from here by the leaping firelight.

Cannibals, too, probably. The two so often went together. Odds were that the whole tribe was looking forward to a sampling of tender, savory long pig, skillfully roasted over those roaring fires. The luluai would come forward first, as was his right, to take the shin-bone. Then the others, too, would kai-kai, choosing their favored delicacies in the order of their own importance....

A wave of nausea swept over John. His imaginings were too vivid, his thoughts too real. He buried his face in the matted grass. Fought to gain control of his twitching, turbulent stomach.

The kundu drums boomed louder. Rose to a throbbing, rhythmic thunder, like the beat of a giant heart.

Boom.... boom.... boom.... boom....

The lilt of idle chatter was dying now, the warriors forming into lines, the polished stone and bone of their spears aglinting, their great carved wooden shields hideous in the flickering radiance of the fires. Their chanting voices rose and fell in a cacophony of sound.

The fear on Anita's face was a living thing. Gilmore's lips moved in babbling, incoherent panic.

Taut, desperate, John stared at them. Clawed involuntarily at the sod beneath him in a frenzy of hopelessness and indecision.

The fires leaped higher.

HE SAW it, then: the great, heaped pyre at the far end of the clearing. A pyramid of dry, stacked wood, higher than a tall man's head, bigger around than the largest hut. Beyond the circle of savage dancers.

Inspiration came with it, sharp and clean-cut as the finest etching. In an instant, he knew what he had to do.

Knew, and shook with the fear he could not do it.

He was crawling away even before the fog within his mind had cleared. Wriggling through the high, dry grass, away from the huts and the clearing. Then rising. Darting off at a low-crouched run.

Off, toward the river, and the plane.

He was panting, by the time he reached the log canoes, and his legs were aching, heavy. Yet he dared not pause. Not now. Too much was at stake.

He flung himself into the nearest craft, snatched up a paddle. Drove out from shore with powerful strokes, quartering upstream so that the current would land him by the amphibian.

His arms were aching, too, when he finally beached the awkward shell, and his breath was coming harder.

But back there, in that firelight clearing before the douba, the drums were beating louder, faster. Their throb was like a lash across his shoulders, a spur in his flanks—pressing him, pushing him, driving him on.

He stumbled through the amphibian's entry port. Clutched two of the five-gallon army-type gasoline cans. Lurched back again. Tumbled them into the canoe.

He didn't bother to try for more. There wasn't time. He'd do it with these, or he couldn't do it at all.

That was what he was afraid of: that he couldn't do it. Faster, the drums were beating, and faster still. The rhythm rang in his brain with the jolting impact of a jackhammer's blow. Insidiously, treacherously, it seeped into him, through every pore and fibre. Throbbed in his heart and in his bloodstream. Abraded his nerves to jagged frenzy.

He knew it gripped others, too. He could tell it by the distant chanting. Louder, that chanting, now, and faster, too, to match the drums' beat. It had taken on a jangling, half hysterical note, a wail of madness. It drowned out the myriad other sounds of the jungle night. Supplanted them with echoing horror.

Anita was there, amid those screaming, frenzied creatures. Bound. Helpless. Her white skin and rippling waves of hair a lure and a temptation.

Sweat trickled down John Daniels' spine in an icy ?ow. He hurled himself back into the canoe. Pushed out from shore.

Boom... boom... boom...

He tried to match the beat with his paddle strokes. Forced his aching arms to dig them deep, carry them through.

The throaty chanting rose and fell. Shriller. Wilder. Closer to the edge of madness.

One last, deep stroke. The canoe's bow snaked into the mud.

GASPING, staggering, John stumbled out into the shallow water. Lurched ashore, tottering under the weight of the gasoline.

The kundu drums throbbed on: boom.... boom.... boom.... boom....

The trip back became a mad nightmare. Twice he stumbled. Fell. His lungs, his heart, were balls of pain. Every breath a fire-tipped lance.

But he had to go on. He had to. So long as the drums thundered and the warriors chanted, he had to.

The last hundred yards came as a relief. The necessity for safety, if nothing else, made him slow.

Within the firelit clearing, the warriors' chant had turned to screaming. Like madmen, they danced and pranced and shouted. Shook their spears and waved their shields. Leaped high in orgies of release. Their eyes were wild, unreal; the filed—down, needle-pointed fangs of teeth foam-flecked. Witch-doctors in hideous, misshapen masks shrieked slavering imprecations.

But the prisoners were still there—cringing, terror-straught.

But there.

A great red welt now lay across Anita's bare white breast. The lashings' marks showed crimson, too. Strain twitched at her sagging face.

But she lived.

Gilmore, too. He strained at his bonds, casual and debonair no longer. Madness gleamed in his shock-distended eyes, and the sounds that he shrieked were the meaningless babble of sheer terror.

With an effort, John Daniels tore his gaze away. Fumbled at the gas-can caps.

It took him ten minutes to unscrew them. Of a sudden, he was clumsy beyond belief, all thumbs and toes. He could not make his hands behave.

Then the caps were unscrewed, and he came to his feet. Stumbled off through the blackness beyond the fires to the great woodpile at the far end of the clearing.

He approached it from behind, so that the dancers could not see him. Sloshed gasoline on the hard-packed ground at its base. Poured a gurgling line from it off into the tinder-dry kunai grass. Drew it on, through the undergrowth, around the whole left side of the village to the back of the thick-thatched douba.

It emptied the can. Hastily, he returned to his base, seized the other. Drew another line, like the first, to the village's right.

The town was encircled. The douba. The huts. The warriors. The kundu drums.

Especially the drums. They were the voice of madness now. The beat of an evil heart.

Boom — boom — boom — boom boom — boom

John raced for the nearest hut. Blew the cook-fire into the flame. Lighted a grass-stuffed bamboo brand.

He hesitated, then. Hesitated, with the torch and their destiny in his hand.

IT WAS queer, quite apart from the danger of the thing he was about to do. He had no illusions about his chances. Odds were he'd die like a dog in minutes, spitted on a broadblade Nguru spear. In acting, he was merely adding his own life in sacrifice. Putting it forward, alongside those other two already doomed.

Yet he knew he'd go ahead, for no reason he could give a name. He wasn't even sure he wanted to; he'd never felt this way before.

He'd come back to the islands with one thought in his mind.

Avenge Tom. Wipe out Poulain.

Yet here he was. Wagering his life in a madman's gamble. Forgetting Tom. Forgetting Poulain. Venturing everything.

For what?

To ask that question was to answer it.

For Anita. For Anita Van Pelt of Djaimalang.

She said.

In spite of himself, he laughed aloud. Harshly. Bitterly.

Yes, for Anita. For a woman who'd lied to him, tricked him, played games with his life. Her stories were as many as the fronds of the palm trees. He didn't even know for sure if her name was Anita, or Van Pelt.

She'd admitted herself Tom had died for her. She'd helped trap him, John Daniels. Brought him along here at the point of a gun. A dozen times she'd proved she cared only for gold. That he was her tool—and her fool; nothing more.

So now he'd turn the other cheek. Go out there and die on Nguru spears in one last vain effort to save her.

He cursed her.

But he'd do it. He knew it. Even though tomorrow she turned back, betrayed him.

Because the golden vision of her was in his brain, the gnawing hunger for her tight-knotted around his heart.

Because he loved her.

Again he laughed aloud. Only this time it wasn't bitter.

Grim-lipped, torch in hand, he strode out into the night.

Escape to Jeopardy

EVEN as he reached the clearing, the great drums stopped. The chant, the screaming, cut off knife-sharp.

Silence echoed like a clap of thunder.

Monstrous gargoyles in masks and rattles, the witch-doctors trooped forward. Slashed at the captives' lashings.

A shudder ran through John Daniels as he glimpsed—recognized—the knife. He'd seen others like it before. It was carved from a human shoulder blade.

But Anita and Gilmore were free. Sagging, true. Near-broken. Still held by Nguru hands.

But unbound. Free.

John swung back the torch.

Only the rustle of crushed dry grass in the sudden silence warned him. The fires' leaping flames had blinded his eyes. He'd seen nothing in the darkness about him.

Then: this rustle.

Instinctively, he whirled, just as a claw-nailed black hand clutched at his throat.

He caught one brief glimpse of a great stone axe descending. Of a hideous painted face behind it.

Desperately, he leaped sidewise. Stabbed with his torch for the black demon-face.

A scream of anguish burst from the thick, pierced lips. The warrior plunged backward, off balance.

John snatched the axe from his attacker's hand. Hurled it with all his might. Saw it part the other's spine-coiffed topknot.

Too late. Already the circle had exploded into bedlam.

With a curse, John flung the torch at the gas-soaked target circle behind the woodpile. Braced himself to meet the Nguru warriors' charge.

A stray thought flashed through his mind like a prophesy: she-devil's body, angel face; you'll die of them, John Daniels!

Then there was no more time for thinking.

He'd learned the disarming manual well, back there in the Marines. It stood him in good stead now.

One twist gave him the foremost Nguru's spear. Left the warrior a crumpled heap on the ground.

He drove the needle point through the next two painted figures with one thrust.

What happened next was a well-planned miracle, a coincidence of careful timing.

The torch struck its target. Roaring flames leaped high into the air.

Another instant, and a wall of fire was racing through the kunai grass, following that devil's trail of petrol stretched round the village.

The Nguru war-cries died in screaming, tumultuous panic. Like fire frighted animals, the natives fled. Away from the flames. Back toward the douba house.

John stood forgotten.

His heart in his throat, he raced after them. He still could hardly believe he was alive.

Anita and Gilmore stood paralyzed, quaking statues amid a racing torrent of black bodies, twin monoliths of fear-fraught flesh.

In seconds John was upon them. Shaking away their palsy. Rushing them back toward that thin line of fire across the hard ground by the woodpile.

Because already that fire was dying. Without sustenance, without fuel, fed only by the trail of gasoline, it fast was flickering out.

They leaped across the line. Sped onward in a headlong dash toward the river. The river, and the plane, and safety.

Behind them, the wall of fire raced faster, ever faster, on round the village toward the dauba. The trapped Ngurus milled and shouted.

The douba caught. Flames shot over its thick-thatched roof. Leaped, with a cannon-roar a hundred feet into the air.

But the warriors had seen John's point of exit. The dying embers across that strip of hard-packed ground.

Screaming vengeance, a black flood of hate, they charged after the whites. Desperately, John herded his staggering charges on.

THEY were lurching and falling already, their eyes blank, unseeing, with fatigue and panic. A dozen times he had to guide them, lift them, urge them on.

How long could he do it? He wondered. He'd been on the verge of cracking to begin. Now...

The Ngurus were an avalanche of savage sound. Screaming blood-lust. Gaining at every stride.

Even Anita caught it, and Gilmore. John could see it in the terror in their eyes. Sheer panic drove them on. They ran the faster.

Still the Ngurus gained. Off to the right, a dozen or more broke at an angle, cutting between the fugitives and the strip of riverfront where the canoes were beached.

John sobbed for breath. Veered away downstream.

Death at their heels, they reached the water. Plunged in. Swam madly through a shower of spears and arrows toward the far shore.

For a while John thought they wouldn't make it. The current picked them up, carried them along, farther and farther downstream. Anita clung to him, choking and sobbing. Gilmore clutched at him, floundering, dragging him down. The black night began to swim before his eyes in a rainbow aureole of lavish color.

And then, of a sudden, it was over. They were in the shallows, staggering ashore. Collapsing on the grassy bank, panting and sobbing.

John never knew how long they lay there. His body was a weak, drained thing, his arms, his legs, limp stumps of pain. The world reeled about him, and the stars swooped down in dazzling spirals to blind him with their brilliance. Even the fear died in him, blotted away for the while by the sheer ecstacy of physical release.

Then a voice was whispering in his ear. Soft hands caressing him.

The words he couldn't understand. He was beyond that. Too far gone with weariness and pain. They came to him only as sound: breath of the night wind; soft murmur of a mountain rill.

But he could understand the other the fingers' smooth delight; the lips, brushing his; the soft cheek, cool velvet against his own.

At first he couldn't believe it. Or wouldn't. It was too much like paradise, too close to nirvana's bliss. He was afraid to accept it. Aquiver with the panic that day's light would shatter it like a dream.

Then, slowly, the words began to come through. The word, and the voice. Anita's voice.

"My darling, my darling ... I am yours, John. Forever. If you will have me. I swear it, John Daniels, I swear it. My life ... it is yours now. To do with as you will. Forever ..."

IT WAS worse, then. Worse than he had believed possible, worse than hell itself. Because now he heard the words, and they promised incredible ecstacy, an Eden of rapture, transports of bliss beyond endurement.

Only now, his brain would not let him believe those words.

He wanted to believe them. Wanted to believe them more than he had ever wanted anything in this world.

Only always his brain's cold, bitter logic drew him back. Raised up those other ugly specters to dance and grimace before his aching eyes.

Carter, and murder. The jail, and entrapment. The scream, and an empty Luger.

And over them all, like twin hovering shadows, dead Tom, and Poulain....

Then, again, her lips were on his, chill ?re in the desert. Her face—a soft shadow. Her body, pressed close.

She-devil's body. Angel face.

It was more than flesh could bear. Within him, something snapped. He crushed her. Embraced her. Bruised the soft lips, the warm body. Clung to her, half sobbing, sating the hunger, the pain, that she evoked.

Gilmore's voice dragged him back. Ragged. Sneering. Ugly.

"Sure, it's nice, Daniels. Your girlfriend's hot stuff. But it's grey in the east already, and those damn' fuzzy-wuzzies will be hunting for us with a bottle of barbecue sauce."

John Daniels started. Twisted.

His first impulse was to smash that sullen, leering, handsome face. The tone, the sneer, the filthy implication—, they sent anger flooding through him in a rush.

But it was true. Already a fog-grey fringe topped the eastern hills. Even while he watched hills. Even while he watched, it crawled up the dark, inverted bowl that was the sky. Pale, luminous finger-tips of dawn crept through the crevice. A thread of sun gleamed scarlet.

He fought down his anger. Forced himself to face the pilot level-eyed.

"You're right. So what do you propose to do?"

The pilot stared, slack-jawed. His eyes were blood-shot, his face still loose with strain, fatigue.

"Why, the plane—"

"Maybe you think the Ngurus didn't think of that, too?"

Gilmore's face drained whiter still.

"My God! You mean..."

"I mean they're there. Now. This minute. You can bet on it." John laughed harshly. "It's not taboo to them, you know. The fact that they came there for you yesterday is proof enough of that. So now they're back there. Waiting. And they've had time to count their dead..."

Silence. Taut, echoing seconds of silence.

Then Anita: "So, John Daniels? What it is you would have us do?"

He shrugged.

"Who knows? Carter got through. That means it can be done. Over the mountain, maybe. That way you wouldn't come out within their country."

As one, the others turned. Stared up at those jagged, towering ramparts that were the Forbidden Mountain. Searched for some rift in the rocky pinnacle's lowering brow and sheer, sharp faces.

John stared with them. Took in the crags, the overhangs, the menace. Licked at his lips, although they were not dry.

Anita turned back first. Her eyes were all at once very bright, her lips pale. But her smile and look stayed tender.

"Then ... that is your suggestion, John? That we try to scale this mountain?"

IT STABBED like a knife in John Daniels' heart. Stabbed, and twisted. He had to try twice before he could make the words come out, and when they came, they had a queer, choked sound.

"Yes, Anita."

But again Gilmore broke in. His eyes were wild. His voice held a frantic note.

"You're crazy! You're off your nut! What are you trying to do, kill us all? You know we can never scale that pile of rock. And if we could, what good would it do us? There'd be another mountain—a dozen more. Other tribes, too. Swamps. Crocodiles. Snakes. Malaria. Dengue fever..." He was almost sobbing, on the ragged edge of hysteria.


A distant drone cut short all chance of answer.

They froze, the three of them, as if paralyzed.

The drone came louder, clearer. Far off down the valley, a moving speck, high-up, came shimmering into the morning sun.

"A plane!" Gilmore screamed. He leaped up. Danced wildly, shouting, arms waving.

"You fool!" John roared. "Come back, damn you! Do you want all the Ngurus in the valley here?"

He lunged after the pilot. Clutched at him.

All sanity had left Gilmore's face. He spun. Lashed out at John.

John ducked. Drove through one smashing right.

The pilot dropped like a poleaxed ox.

John caught him beneath the arms. Staggered with him at a crouch toward a thicket of bamboo, Anita close behind him.

The girl spoke first.

"Then ... we must let them go? Wait here, in hiding, for the end?"

He shook his head.

"Hell, no. The amphibian's in the river, and it's deserted. If that doesn't warn 'em something's wrong, nothing will. They'll land, if they're going to. But we can't chance signaling. By now, the Ngurus probably are spread over every inch of this area. Let them spot us..." He trailed off, swallowed hard. No need to go further.

The plane's roar grew louder. He turned. Strained to see it.

No luck. The bamboo was too thick. He could not even glimpse the sky.

Then, of a sudden:

"They will not land," Anita said. Her voice was all at once as dull as a bar of lead.

John went rigid. Stared at her. Followed her gesture.

The plane had passed beyond them—a trim military ship, bomber or transport, branded with the insignia of the Netherlands Air Force.

"Maybe they'll come back," he muttered.

Even as he spoke, he knew she would not believe it, any more than he did. To his surprise, she shook her head.

"That is not what I mean, John. If you will look below—"

He caught it, then. Caught it, and felt the spirit, the hope, drain out of him.

The ship was a land plane! It could not set down here, on this broken, thick-grown ground, no matter how many times it might come back.

A NUMBNESS crept over him. A dejection, blacker than hell's own pit. Suddenly, he watched the ship disappear into the blue behind the hills.

"It is gone," Anita said tonelessly.

"Gone," John Daniels echoed. He slumped there, staring into the tangled ribbon pattern of meshed bamboo. All at once his world was dull grey, his fire of hope gone dead.

Here he'd die. Here, in a bamboo thicket, in a back-of-beyond valley, deep in New Guinea's wilds. Here, with a Nguru spear thrust home between his ribs through the tattered fabric of his faithful old Marine combat jacket. If he were lucky...

Tom would have to go unavenged. Paulain would live to kill again. Anita.... He choked. Anita would die here, too. Here, beside him, before they ever had a chance really to live and love together—

He sprawled on his back, tipped sidewise, cursing in involuntary shock.

It was Gilmore.

The pilot came up from where John had dropped him like some primeval monster rising from swamp-slimed depths, screaming in rage and panic.

Before John could move, he was hurtling out of the bamboo thicket. Plowing up the valley like a tank, heedless of brush or blacks or kunai grass. Rushing straight for the plane on the river, the sleek amphibian still riding lightly at its moorings.

Anita leaped up. Started to follow.

Wearily, John waved her back.

"Let him go. He's done. They'll nail him before he's half-way there. After that..."

He saw the fear leap in her eyes.

"They'll come for us?" Her voice was shaking.

Wordless, he nodded.

In silence they watched his progress: a strange, wild figure in tattered whites, blond hair like a yellow crown—running, leaping, cavorting, charging ever onward toward the plane.

Closer he got, and closer. Narrowed the space between him and the amphibian.

A spark glowed in the ashes of the fire John had thought so dead. With a start, he realized that his muscles were once again tense, his fists clenched.


It was Anita, her fingers tight on his arm, new hope in her face.

On the pilot ran, and on.

Still no Ngurus.

The spark of hope burst into a tiny flame. John sucked in air. He scanned the horizon.

"It could be! Lord save us, it could!"

"You mean—?"

He suggested, off toward the charred far bank of the river. Away, to where a column of smoke still marked the douba's ruins.

"It may have been rough. That whole side is black as a burned blanket. Maybe in the end it disorganized 'em. Maybe they've had to retire, back beyond where the fire reached." He drew another deep breath. "Maybe we've even got a chance!"

Her fingers dug deeper.


Gilmore was still running.

John pulled his arm free.

"Come on! We'll chance it!"

Together, they raced over the broad savannah.

Ahead of them, Gilmore reached the ship. Clambered to the wing. Clawed at the engine.

John bit down hard.

"It'll take him time. He jimmied both engines. We'll make it!"

He prayed it wasn't just wishful thinking.

He had never run so far before. Not in terms of his nerves, at least. The yards stretched off ahead of them like miles. His steps. seemed only inches. Vaguely, desperately, he wondered if they would ever reach the ship.

AND then, incredibly, they were over the last knoll. Racing downhill to the river's edge. Stumbling in their excitement as they finally neared the plane.

Gilmore's head appeared above the further engine cowling. He lumbered back along the wing. Clambered awkwardly down to the loading port. Stood waiting for them, lips queerly twisted, still panting from his run.

But it was the man's eyes that frightened John Daniels. They were shallow as twin mirrors, yet deep as the bottomless pit. Nervous. Darting. Aglow with strange lights.

The thing they mirrored was madness.

"You fools!"

It was a curse, that phrase, and an epithet. It crawled with hate and scorn and loathing.

"Did you think you were fooling me, pulling the wool over my eyes?" Gilmore's voice was keening, shrill. "Did you think I believed your silly talk about those natives?"

He went off into a wild, hysterical peal of laughter.

"Gilmore!" John rapped. Desperately, he tried to catch the other's attention. To grope through the veil of madness to some last shred of sanity. "Gilmore, we've—"

"You fools!"

It was as before, intensified a hundredfold.

"Did you think I didn't see through your clever schemes?" Again, the laughter. "Why, I knew from the beginning you'd try to fly off and leave me here. That's why I fixed the engine. Only now the tables are turned, d'you hear? Turned, turned, turned!"

The pilot was screaming, his face a livid, contorted mask.

Ever so slowly, John edged forward.

"I'll fix you!" shrieked Gilmore. "I'll give you a dose of that medicine. I'll leave you here, just like you wanted to leave me."

John feigned boredom. Took another step.

"Oh, you thought you were smart—"

Another step. John could feel the sweat start out upon him. He tensed for a final lunge, a leap.

"Just one thing more, John Daniels!"

The madman's hand leaped inside his shirt. Flashed out again, gripping an ugly, snub—nosed automatic.

"Stand where you are, Daniels! This is my ace in the hole! I got it yesterday, just before those brush-monkeys jumped me. I didn't have a chance to use it then, but I hung onto it. And now I'm going to kill you!"

John Daniels stopped short. Icy chills walked spider-legged up and down his spine.

"Only first I'll let you in on a secret." Gilmore's voice dropped to a heavy, mock-conspiratorial tone. He leered down from the entry port, snickering and slavering. But the automatic in his hand was very steady.

"Remember the gold, Daniels? The gold you and that little tramp you travel with were so interested in?" Once more, the high, hysterical laughter. "Well, you found it, all right. You just didn't recognize it." The sullenly handsome face twisted. "So now I'm going to have it all! All, d'you hear? All! Because we landed here, Poulain and I. We found it, all of it, up there on the hill in that wrecked Junkers. We brought it down here, too, and loaded it aboard. It's been here all along, right in front of you, but you were too damn' stupid to know!"

A convulsion, an orgasm of obscene mirth, seemed to seize him. He doubled over. Rocked with laughter.

Only the gun stayed steady.

"Remember those gas cans, Daniels? Remember how you claimed we could go 'most anywhere, because we had all that gas aboard?" A pause. A leer. "Well, those cans carried gold, not gas! All of them, the ones in the rear compartment. The only ones with gas were the ones up here in front!"

In spite of himself, John stole a glance at Anita.

Her face was twitching, falling apart.

"I thought you'd like to know!" Gilmore cried in triumph.

"I quite agree," a clipped voice from the amphibian's cabin said.

Shock froze the pilot's demented face. His gun-hand jerked. He whirled.

Inside, a gun roared.

Gilmore's kill-crouched body catapulted out the port. Fell in the river with a splash. Lay there, quivering and twitching.

A bulbous, grotesque figure moved up to take his place in the entry.

"Surprised, M'sieur Daniels?"

It was Poulain.


THE eyes were what held John, the deep-sunk, mocking eyes, gleaming with murderous mirth and menace amid their rolls of fat. As in a dream, he heard the quietly sinister voice lilt on.

"... Or perhaps it is not surprise that stops your tongue, M'sieur Daniels. Perhaps it is joy—the stunned delight of seeing a long-lost friend, eh?"

The words were words only—empty, without meaning. John Daniels hardly heard them. His brain was still spinning, his senses reeling. He was shaking, too. Knew it. Could feel the jolting, waves of nervous shock pulse through him.

It did no good. He could not stop. Could not even tear his eyes from that fat-rolled, evil-grinning face.

"... It touches me, sir. Indeed it does! I am a sentimental man..."

John Daniels could feel his hands begin to twitch. Involuntarily. In spite of him. Every bone, every muscle, every fiber, ached with strain. His eyes were burning balls of fire within their sockets, half blinding him with pain. The world came to him through a scarlet haze. Once more, as in those endless days gone by, his stubborn brain was pulsing, throbbing: Tom ... Tom ... Tom ... He longed to hurl himself forward. Clutch at that dewlapped throat. Crush out the obscene life.

But the gun still peered above the folds of flesh that were the fat man's hand. The plump pink wiener-finger yet lovingly caressed the trigger. The deep-sunk eyes were bright and darting.

And Gilmore lay on his back, unmoving, half in and half out of the water, blond hair aripple in the gently tugging current...

John did not move.

And then another crisp, familiar voice was speaking. Heavy with accent; heavy with authority, too. It came from the plane's cabin, behind Paulain, and a thin, angry edge had replaced the usual smugly supercilious tone.

"You will drop your pistol, Alstublieft Mijnheer Poulain."

Hans Vreeland!

He appeared behind Poulain in the entry now, gaunt hawk-face white, lips thin with fury.

"Drop it, I say? There was no reason to kill that poor madman. A blow on the head would have been sufficient."

No tremor shook the rolls of fat. No feeling touched the round moon face.

"He was armed, M'sieur Vreeland. He started to turn—"

"Drop it!"

The fleshy fingers opened. The pistol plummeted.

It never reached the water.

Like a tiger, John leaped as the weapon left the fat man's hand. Landed feet-first in the mud-yellowed rider, waist-deep, almost touching the amphibian's hull. Snatched for the falling gun. Caught it. Lurched back to the sloping bank.

Wild triumph surged through him. Hoarse, incoherent, he cried aloud.

It was his moment. His final victory. He had the gun, the loaded, full-cocked gun, and Poulain, unarmed, stood here before him.

"Tom!" he choked. "Tom!"

It was strange. Incredibly strange. The whole world seemed warped, distorted, out of plumb. Anita's eyes were wide, her lips aquiver, a queer incredulous disbelief in every line and shadow. Harsh furrows, sharp angles, sculpted Vreeland's gaunt visage. His teeth were clenched. Even the sun seemed suddenly gone awry, touching odd, discordant colors not found in any spectrum.

Strange. All strange.

All but Poulain.

The fat man had not budged. His face was bland, his eyes still steady, his very stance a portrait of malicious, studied arrogance.

Hans Vreeland said, "Put down that gun. I did not parachute down here from that army plane with Poulain to lend a hand to murder."

"He killed my brother!" a voice said. "He murdered Tom!"

Only with an effort could John Daniels realize that voice belonged to him.

Vreeland gaunt hand shoved past Poulain. It, too, gripped a pistol.

"Drop it!" he rasped. "I have you covered, Daniels. I shall shoot you down like a dog."

"IT WON'T help," the queer, strained voice that was John Daniels' said. "I learned my shooting in the United States Marines, Vreeland. I've done a lot since then. I'm good. No matter how fast you are, I'll still get up this gun and pull the trigger before I die. After I die, if I have to ..."

"Drop it!"

"Drop yours, Vreeland. You're behind him. When I start, there'll be no stopping. I've got nothing against you, but if you're there, you'll go down with him." Three seconds' pause. "I'm leaning on the trigger, Vreeland."

Seconds, ticking by. Eternities, flying. A world, narrowing to one cramped corridor in space, with a fat man at the other end. A stolid, immobile fat man ...

Then, suddenly, the blubber lips were moving, the voice of mocking menace speaking.

"He means it, M'sieur Vreeland. I see by his eyes that he means it. He will shoot me down like a dog where I stand, and you, too, if you are in the way. Your only chance is to drop your gun, step back away from the line of fire."

The Dutchman's gaunt face was chalky, his lips pale indigo. But the muscles that hinged his jaws drew into stubborn knots.


The bulging shoulders rose in a shrug. The brows came up, pale miniatures of the gleaming, hairless dome.

"As you will..."

That dull resignation did more than the pleading.

Something seemed to happen to Vreeland's face. All at once he began to tremble. His jaw loosened. His eyes fell away. The bony fingers went limp, released his weapon.

It splashed into the river.

A flicker of motion. The gaunt man vanished. Back. Away. Out of the line of fire.

Ever so slowly, ever so carefully, John Daniels brought up his gun.

It wasn't the way he'd expected it to be. The joy, the triumph, were gone. The vindictive satisfaction, too. The soaring sense of power. Even the picture of himself, Avenger, and the furious, swirling memories of dead Tom.

Gone. All gone.

Of a sudden he was back in the real-life world again. He, John Daniels, with a gun in his hand, and an ache in his heart, and an ugly, dark-brown nausea where his stomach should have been.

With a start, he noticed that his hand was even trembling.

Poulain's lips parted. Drew back in a sneer.

"You dog! You cowardly yellow dog! Why don't you shoot? You're safe. You're armed. You can kill me now without fear."

He laughed aloud. Not wildly. Not hysterically. Only with curling lip and sneering face and tone of loathing.

The fat hands grasped the white shirt, ripped it wide. Bared the blubbery, hairless, pink-white chest.

"Go on! Shoot, damn you, sir! Shoot!"

Ashes were never drier than John Daniels' mouth, no knot drawn tighter than his heart. Sickness and anguish and despair washed over him in eddying waves.

He could not pull the trigger. No matter what Poulain had done, he couldn't. Not here. Not in cold blood. Not with Poulain unarmed.

He cursed aloud. Hurled the gun away.

It was like a signal.

Poulain erupted into motion. Dived headlong from the doorway, straight for where dead Gilmore lay. Slapped one fat hand over the automatic the corpse still clutched. Twisted in the water like a bulbous bullock, jerking the gun away.

"Stand very still, John Daniels!" The fat face showed suddenly radiant in a sort of evil ecstasy. The lilting voice rang menace.

John froze.

Mirthlessly, the fat man chuckled.

"A TOUCHING scene, indeed, John Daniels. I thought we played it well together." He struggled to his feet. Wallowed heavily ashore. His face twisted in an ugly grimace. "Now, however, it is time that we conferred in earnest."

"There's nothing for us to confer about," John said. But his lips were stiff, and the words didn't sound quite the way he meant them.

Again Poulain chuckled.

"Indeed? But I beg to differ with you." And then: "The problem, M'sieur Daniels, is simple. Gilmore is dead, and I am no pilot. Therefore, if we are to save the three million guilden in gold I have stored in those petrol cans in the rear compartment, we must compromise."

John stared at him.


"Why?" The fat man's deep-sunk eyes went suddenly chill. "Why, because I have this gun, sir!" He gave the squat automatic one quick, authoritative flick. "You had the advantage and threw it away out of sentiment." A pause. "You will not find me a sentimental man."

Slowly, John nodded. Tried to hold his face expressionless.

"I see. And the fact that the gold was stolen from Anita of course makes no difference?"

"Anita? Anita—?" The other's fat face mirrored puzzlement. Then, of a sudden, he seemed to notice the girl for the first time. Rocked in a spasm of convulsive laughter. "Anita, he says! This slut! This scraping from a brothel lavabo!"

Color flooded the angel face in a scarlet wave. The girl went rigid. Her small fists clenched. Her nostrils flared. Her voice shook.

"You lie, Poulain—!"

"Silence, you trollop!" The fat man's thick under lip curled. His eyes were beady with contempt.

"It is mine!" the girl spat, heedless. Her lovely face twisted in fury. "It is mine, I tell you! Stolen from my family—"

Three steps, Poulain took. Three swift, sure steps. His left hand flicked out with that incredible deftness he had shown those eons ago, back there in the jail at Fakfak.

The crack of his slap echoed like a pistol-shot.

Anita's head snapped back. A sharp little cry of pain burst from her lips. Meaning, she pitched to the ground, the mark of the fat man's fingers white-and-crimson across her cheek.

Poulain's eyes still held John.

"Surely you were not sucked into this carnival of carnage with the idea that the three million actually belonged to this sainted virgin?"

John stood wordless.

"Of course, the money was stolen from her family." Poulain chuckled wryly. "But did she tell you where they stole it?"

John dared not speak. He could see the girl's tear-misted eyes upon him.

A far-away look came over Poulain.

"The Van Pelts of Djaimalang!" His lips twisted. "The greatest crew of thieves ever to go unhung! They came as vandals, stayed as pirates, through half a dozen generations. They looted a Bank of Java branch as their final coup, between the flight of the Dutch and the Japs' arrival." A pause. "This is that money, Daniels. Three million gulden. My agents did a thorough job. They were instructed to wipe the family out, too, to settle certain old scores, but it seems this she-devil survived."

JOHN said nothing. Again the pain was with him. He thought of dead Tom, and of Carter. Of the smouldering Nguru village, and the lascar with the broken neck. Of Gilmore, and the Junkers, and the white-picked bones.

The sickness welled higher. His stomach swirled.

In spite of himself, his eyes strayed to Anita. Locked with hers. Caught the mute prayer, the silent question.

She-devil's body, angel face. Love and treachery, warm lips and betrayal. Lies and tears and passion.

He wondered what his answer would be.

"She must die, of course," Poulain was saying. "She, and that idiot Dutchman who insisted on using an army plane to hunt for my amphibian, then claimed it was his sacred duty to jump here with me. I had to agree for fear he would drop troops instead and find the loot himself. That I could not have." A pause. 'Enough. I shall make it well worth your while to fly me out. And not in gold only." He grinned wickedly. "The authorities will accept my word that the Ngurus, killed Vreeland, Gilmore and the girl. We can even claim that the girl killed Carter, then seduced Gilmore into stealing my plane so she could escape. You will be painted as the misjudged innocent, fleeing in sheer panic against an unjust charge. You took refuge in the plane only by coincidence." He chuckled, deep in his throat. "A mad story, Daniels. But backed by my influence it will be accepted. Certainly none of my men who actually had a part in killing Carter or moving his body to Ladino's will ever talk."

It was coming now. Even from where he stood, John could see it.

He would tell Poulain he could not fly.

Poulain would shoot him down.

That would be the end of it.

He wondered, vaguely, if Anita then would ?y the fat man out.

Anita. Anita Van Pelt of Djairnalang. One rose, budding on a stem of thorns. Sheer loveliness, from a dungpile of blood and loot.

Or was she?

Had the surface blinded him, perhaps? Was he seeing only her beauty—her body—her face? Had Poulain been speaking the truth in his mouthings, his ephithets?

A chill rippled through him at the thought. A queer desperation.

It was foolish, really. He'd never live to know.

Poulain's smooth voice came. Pleasant. Well-modulated. Lilting as always.

"Well, then, m'sieur? It is agreed? You will fly us out?"

The chill passed, replaced by doomladen calm.

For just the fraction of a second, john let his tongue touch the parched lips. Pressed his hands to his sides, where the cloth could drink up the sweat.

But Anita's voice came before he could speak. Low. Tense. Tremulous. Her face was pale, her nostrils a fraction flared.

"One word, John. Just one." She smiled a wan, wistful smile. "These things Poulain has told you—about me, about my family. They are not true, not any of them. My people were powerful; they made many enemies. But at least they were honest. The money from the Bank of Java was a trust, held by us at the branch manager's request. It was only a fraction of the three million gulden aboard that treasure plane. As for me..." Her voice trailed off. Ever so slightly, she shrugged. "I have lived a hard life these last years, John. I have done many things I hated. But believe me, no man has claimed me."

She broke off again. Color climbed in her cheeks. The green eyes pleaded. Beseeched.

"Well, m'sieur?" Poulin prodded.

THE knot of ice in John Daniels' stomach seemed to melt away. Of a sudden, a warm glow flowed through him. It came to him that telling Poulain he couldn't fly would be a waste of breath. Why tell him anything—anything but snarling defiance, savage challenge?

He sucked in breath.

"No, Poulain. The answer is no. And you can go to hell!"

It was worth the price. Worth every gulden, every cent, drop of sweat and blood.

The fat man's face went lax. His jaw dropped. His eyes bulged, frog-like. His mouth fell open. For an instant he was only a bulbous, shock-stunned animal—furious, exploding.

But only for an instant.

Then the control snapped back. The dew-lapped face went blank, expressionless as a carved stone Buddha. The deep-sunk eyes turned obsidian-hard. The thick pink finger tightened on the trigger.


"Furthermore, Poulain, I place you under arrest in the name of Her Majesty's government, for conspiring to murder the Australian sailor Rodney Carter, and for concealing guilty knowledge in order to imperil the American John Daniels, and for failure to report recovery of property you acknowledge to be stolen from the Bank of Java!"

An odd voice, that. Ragged. Uneven. Cracking.

The voice of a man whose poise has broken. Whose aplomb is gone, shattered by humiliation. Whose only refuge is the pompous condescension of authority ill-placed.

As one, they turned.

Hans Vreeland, special assistant to the resident commissioner for Fakfak, stood framed in the amphibian's entry port.

Bone showed white through the skin of his thin face. His lips trembled. His eyes gleamed over-bright.

A strange sight, he stood there. Portrait of desperation. Study in pride gone berserk. Unarmed. Empty-handed. Shaking.

"From the beginning you have played me for the fool, Mijnheer Poulain! You, with your cleverness and schemes and talk of influence—"

Poulain's beady, deep-sunk eyes flicked out over the man like a snake's darting tongue. He did not speak.

"You mocked me with lies. Turned my head with flattery. Duped me into betraying the sacred trust Her Majesty and the commissioner had placed in me—"

Choking, trembling, the Dutchman broke off. A wave of shamed, furious color swept up his pallid face.

Then, slowly, it ebbed.

HE DREW himself to his full height—clenched fists stiff at his sides, head high, shoulders, back, pale lips a thin, bitter line. Then, jerkily, he thrust out one bony hand.

"I arrest you, Poulain! Give me that pistol!"

The fat man's thick lips twisted.

Without a word, he fired.

He shot three times, so fast the last two blasts were but a rolling echo of the first.

Hans Vreeland's gaunt body jerked in rhythm with the pistol's thunder. Shock and pain and incredulity contorted the thin face. The out-thrust hand leaped in a twitching spasm. Came up, convulsively, to clutch at the scarlet blots grouped round his breast bone. He swayed, as if not knowing quite which way to fall.

As in the horrid fascination of a dream, John watched. His ears were ringing, his brain reeling. Mute anguish welled up in him, a hot, taut bond to this prideful, condescending, bureaucratic fool who yet was not afraid to die.

Vreeland choked. Blood gushed from his mouth. He pitched forward, out of the plane, into the water.

Something snapped in John Daniels' brain like a fiddle's too-taut E-string.

He screamed aloud. Leaped straight for Poulain.

The fat man whirled. His pistol bucked and roared.

Flame seared across John's shoulder, down his back.

Then he was in close. Catching Poulain's gun hand. Levering the automatic's muzzle up with a savage twist.

He caught the faint, sharp crack of the fat man's trigger finger breaking.

The gun was his!

Like lightning, Poulain lashed out. His palm-edge struck John's wrist a paralyzing blow.

The automatic flew wide. Splashed into the river, yards from shore.

John leaped back, out of the other's reach. Circled warily.

Of a sudden, he noted anew the fat man's bulging muscles, agile grace. Heeded again the thick-necked, dome-like head, sunk turtle-like between the massive shoulders. Observed the stance, the skillful guarding.

With something close akin to a chill of fear, he saw that the other was not even breathing hard. No twinge of pain from the broken finger showed on the blubber-puffed face.

Poulain's lips twisted. The deepsunk eyes gleamed menace.

"So, Daniels! This is how it ends! A fight to the death, with you the loser—"

He lunged.

Barely in time, John leaped aside. Dodged a foot, a vicious elbow. He could feel fear's sweat come.

It brought fury surging through him. He twisted. Charged. Got behind Poulain. Struck a savage blow, straight for the fat man's kidneys—

It never landed.

Lithe as a young girl, as if he had eyes in the back of his hairless head, Poulain swayed aside. Pivoted.

JOHN glimpsed bared teeth, a death's-head grin. Steel-cable fingers clawed at his wrist, jerked him off balance. He hurtled through space, high over a topsy-turvy world, a doll on the end of a stick that was his arm.

The earth rushed toward him.

Impact's shock struck a sledge-hammer blow. A myriad jagged, flame-tipped needles shot through him. His brain exploded like a bursting drum; He plunged into a racking, pitch-black sea.

Through a thousand miles of fog, he heard Poulain's triumphant shout.

John forced his eyes to open.

The very effort almost made him vomit. The lids came up like glaciers of ?re.

He glimpsed the charging avalanche of flesh.

He could not move. His body was wood, his mind gone blank. He knew his fingers clawed the grass, but they seemed like separate entities, no part of him.

He heard the plane, then.

At first he thought it was only the roaring of his own shock-paralyzed brain.

Then it came clearer. Louder.

There could be no mistake. It was a plane.

Hope leaped anew within him. As quickly, died.

Too late. Always, things came too late. He'd be dead before that plane could land. His life crushed out by the fat man's feet and fists and fingers.

He sobbed aloud.

The mad world about him slowed its whirling. His vision cleared.

The river lay before him, just beyond the charging, murderous fat man.

The river. The river, and the amphibian.

And all at once, John Daniels wished that he were dead.

Because he'd been right. He'd heard the amphibian.

Motors roaring, moorings cut, it moved out into the current. Thundered downstream.

Like a child putting a sum together, his brain added it up.

The gold-laden amphibian was taking off.

Anita had come for the gold. Anita could fly a plane.

Anita. She-devil's body, angel-face. Laughter, and lies, and promises of love.

Anita Van Pelt of Djaimalang.

He laughed himself. It was funny, really.

Such a fool. Such a sucker. Just like his brother had been—even more than his brother.

Here he lay, staring death in the face.

But Anita and the gold were gone—gone completely.

The Payoff

JOHN'S body rolled aside without his bidding. It had to be that way, or not at all. His brain would no longer give commands.

He glimpsed the vicious disappointment flick over Poulain's face as the man came down, feet foremost, on the spot from which he'd rolled.

A sullen savagery seemed to seize John Daniels, then. An inner fury, white-hot, all-consuming.

He snatched at the killer's flashing feet. Caught one. Jerked back with all his might.

His adversary sprawled. Tried, both at once, to free his foot and smash John's face with the other heel.

Again, long training told. By reflex, John threw back his head. Felt the bruising slash of the heel slide off his chin.

The inner fury boiled, leaped higher. He jerked the fat man's captive foot. Threw his full weight on it, twisting, turning.

For an instant he thought he'd done it—dislocated the hip, crippled his opponent.

But again, Poulain was too fast. In a perfect frenzy he hurled his whole body over, turning with John's twist, kicking for John's head.

It was too close. John let go, lurched back. Stumbled to his feet.

Sweat drenched him, every inch. His breath came in great, sobbing gasps. His whole body shook till he could hardly stand.

Poulain was his only consolation.

The fat man, too, was sweating, panting, the folds of blubber quivering. The lights in the deep-sunk eyes gleamed not quite so hard and bright.

Yet still he waddled forward.

The sweat oozed anew from John's body. He backed away, tried desperately to make his quaking legs behave.

A root, a snag in the grass, caught the fat man's foot. He tripped. Pitched to one knee.

It was an opening. One small opening, in a spot where such were few.

John lunged.

Wraith-like, Poulain swayed aside. Triumph glinted in the fat-enfolded eyes.

John caught it, read it.

The fall was not a fall. Only a feint to get him within reach.

Desperate, he twisted, tried to stop, to turn.

Too late. The fat man exploded forward, upward. The dome head drove for John's belly, the club fist for his crotch.

The fist John blocked with an up-jerked leg.

That was all he had time for. Against the butt he could do nothing.

The wind belched out of him as from a burst balloon. Helpless, paralyzed. he staggered backwards.

Like a striking snake, Poulain followed. He clutched for the throat, stabbed out for the eyes.

John stumbled. Pitched forward.

He was finished, now. Done for. Broken and beaten. Unless—

He hit the ground with his shoulders. Went forward in a somersault, following through with his feet with all his might. They smashed Poulain's belly, raked at his shinbones.

The fat man gasped, doubled, as John himself had done those brief seconds before.

Only now John was down, on his back, feet in the air.

In a spasm of effort, John exploded those feet into the murderer's midriff again. Again—

Poulain reeled backward, eyes bulging, mouth gaping silent agony.

Lurching near falling, John followed. Charged in.

Feebly, impotently, Poulain launched a countering blow.

JOHN caught the fat wrist. Turned under it. Brought it up in the small of the other's back with every ounce of strength he had.

Poulain screamed like a woman. The snap of breaking bone cut through it like an exclamation point.

John smashed home a rabbit punch at the base of the fat man's brain.

Poulain dropped. Tried to writhe away.

John leaped. Exploded the old, Australian-issue boot straight downward, every ounce of flaming hate and ice-cold fury piled behind them.

The sound they made when they struck the fat man's head was like that of a melon breaking...

For a moment John swayed. Stared down at his lifeless adversary. Then he, too, slumped to the ground.

The roar of the amphibian's engines was muted now, drawn to a guttural hum, the plane itself a climbing black bumblebee against the blue mountain sky.

John Daniels could not speak. His world was a weird kaleidoscope of light and shadow. Of love, and hate, and anguish. Surging pain, and a poignancy that welled till it almost closed his throat. He was hardly aware that the great kundu drums had begun to throb again, over on the Nguru side.

Off to the left, where the fire had not reached, the head-high kunai grass began to ripple gently, although there was no wind. John glimpsed a dark, hideously-painted shadow, with spear and weird-carved shield, gliding up from the river, into the cover.

Another drum joined in, over there where the douba's charred ruins still smouldered, and then another. A rising tide, they filled John's brain, like the rhythmic, menacing thunder of a thousand hate-filled hearts. Out it spread, and around, in a great arc of sound that echoed from the very cliffs of the Forbidden Mountain itself. It enshrouded him, hemmed him in. He felt as if he were being pinned tight to the rocks, like some fugitive caught on a prison wall by encircling searchlights' glare.

Yet still he did not move. He would never move now.

Poulain lay dead. Tom was avenged. But there was no triumph, no jubilation. Only sickness and deep-down pain.

Let the black devils come. They could have him as a peace offering, Use his head to ornament some new sanctuary. What did it matter?

"She-devil's body, angel face," he said aloud. "Anita Van Pelt of Djaimalang."

And a soft voice beside him answered: "You call me, John Daniels?"

He didn't believe it, at first. He couldn't. It was too absurd, too impossible. He found it easier to think his aching brain had finally cracked.

"Yes, John?"

Ever so slowly, ever so painfully, he turned his head.

His ears had not lied. Not unless his eyes, too, deceived him.

SHE was there beside him, gently smiling. Her garments hung in sodden folds about her, and the golden hair dripped water and yellow mud, but her face was still the face of an angel, and the red lips echoed tenderness and promise, and the green eyes were deeper than the distance to the farthest star.

"You're ... here?"

"I swore I was yours, John. Forever..."


"You do not understand?" Of a sudden she was close to him, her arms sliding around him, the soft cheek cool velvet on his once again. "Oh, my John! You did not know! You thought I had deserted you, because I took the plane." And then: "I was afraid, John, when you went down. I thought Poulain would kill you." A slow flush spread across her face. "He might have made me fly him out, then, John. He might have schemed some way to live. He had ways of making women do things."

He held her tight.

"So I took the plane. Set the controls, just at the take-off, as Gilmore did when he attacked you. Then I jumped out into the water and returned here. The plane flew on. It will keep on flying until—look!"

He followed her pointing finger.

The amphibian had vanished. But far away, high in the uplands, flame was leaping, smoke rising.

"It got that far," she said.

"And the gold?"

"The gold is there, too," she answered. Her eyes held the calm peace of untroubled watgrs. "Some things are more important than gold, John Daniels."

"But if Poulain had won—?"

He felt her shoulders lift in a shrug.

"What matter? I would have tried to avenge you, as you avenged your brother, Tom. Perhaps, too, I would have died. But without you, life would not be worth living."

Life. The very word made John tense now. Panic flared in his heart like a jungle fire. He thought of the spears, and the stages in the clearing, and razor-sharp knives made from human bones.

Yet, they were here together, Anita and he.

To what end?

A WAVE of helplessness washed over him. He felt like a dwarf in a land of giants—incredibly old, incredibly weary. His head throbbed louder than the drums, and his eyes were aching balls of fire.

The Ngurus were out in the open now, advancing cautiously, spears held ready. An arrow-murderously barbed with a cassowary claw—slashed at one of John's cracking old Australian-issue boots.

It made his blood run cold. Hastily, he drew Anita back into the shelter of a narrow ridge.

Her eyes still stayed upon him.

"And now, my darling?"

He turned without answering. Gazed up at the vast Forbidden Mountain's towering crags.

"Think it's worth a try?"

The smile never left Anita's face.

"With you, my darling...."

"There'll be other mountains beyond it. Other tribes. Swamps and crocodiles and fever. The quick way might he easier..."

The smile faded. She drew herself up and away. Her face took on calm dignity.

"I am Anita Van Pelt of Djaimalong!"

It was queer, John thought. All at once he felt wonderful. The doubts and shadows were resolved, the poignancy and panic gone. He could travel a million miles on the way she said those words; a million years. They made even the Ngurus unimportant.

"Well, John?"

John Daniels laughed aloud.

"After you, Juffrouw Van Pelt!"

Together, they started up the mountainside.