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Auction Of The Damned

by Donald Bayne Hobart
Author of "Hunchback House," "Clue of the Leather Noose," etc.

Death Stalks Grimly Across the Mongolian Lowlands as a Lone White Girl Faces Sinister Peril

HAL LAWSON shuddered as he heard the eerie death cries rising from the street. That had been going on for hours. Asia was always a land of strange adventures—but what was happening here in this little village back in the Savanski mountains was more horrible than anything Lawson had ever encountered.

"Listen to them, Hal!"

Sue Trent stood close to the window, dangerously close. For if these beasts that roamed the streets, looting, torturing, killing, caught a glimpse of the slender American girl there would be more trouble.

"We've got to get away!" she cried. "Why, they are like hungry wolves!"

"Worse." Lawson's tone was grim, his lean jaw set, and his eyes hard. "Those men down there are not human. Every one of them is an imbecile—a Mongolian cretin who escaped from the insane asylum near here not five hours ago."

"I know." Sue's voice was low, weary. She was so tired—and afraid. "But they are not so crazy that they don't know how to—murder!"

Lawson couldn't tell her that just a half-hour ago he had seen her father and the other two men who had come with them on this exploring expedition go down beneath the fury of the insane mob. It was better for her not to know—now. She would need all her courage before this was over.

Gradually the sounds in the street grew fainter, but they still lingered in the hot, dry night air. Lawson went to the window and peered out.

"They've gone?" Sue asked. He did not blame her for not looking down. Twisted shapes were scattered about down there; queer-looking, grotesque dead people half-hidden in the shadows.

"Yes, gone for the moment." Some part of Lawson's brain answered the question the girl had asked, but suddenly he found himself more afraid. Those people down there who had been murdered and tortured by the cretins were mostly natives. And as far as Lawson knew Sue Trent was the only white woman within fifty miles. What those fiends would do to her if they caught her . . . Lawson could not even think about that.

"Shall we try to make a break for it?" he asked. "You mean try and reach Father and the others?" asked Sue.

"They've already made a break for it," Lawson said slowly. "Got away all right, I guess."

"Oh!" Relief was in her tone. "Then perhaps we can find them if we go the way they did."

"We won't go the way they did," Lawson said grimly.

His hand lingered against the cold steel of the automatic in the side pocket of his coat as they descended the stairs. Strange smells came to them; pungent odors that were part of the Far East. This two-story lodging place, the Khan, where the camel caravans might rest for the night—both were deserted now.

There were still camels and goats close to the low stone wall that surrounded the place, but the men who had owned them—and their women— were among those torn, motionless forms in the street.

Lawson and Sue could still hear the—sounds of the raiders—and the screams of the dying. Above the towering blackness of the mountains the cold placidness of the stars was a mockery.

"Which way?" Sue's voice was a whisper as they left the Khan and made their way through the open courtyard toward the gate. She caught his arm, slender fingers digging into the flesh. "Listen, they are coming back!"

"Run!" Lawson flung open the gate and rushed her onto the road. "We'll head for the nearest mountain—it's our only chance."

Sue ran, her flimsy red low-necked dress fluttering, the short brown hair rippling about her neck.

Down the street Lawson spied the glare of flying torches. Figures were moving in the weird light of the fire brands. Horrible, evil faces that looked like those of walking cadavers—all with bulging eyes and the imbecilic expressions of the insane.

He cursed as he caught a glimpse of one figure that towered above the rest. That shaggy brown hair and rugged face did not belong to a Mongolian. That was a white man. A white man— marching with the cretins, apparently one of them! In that instant, hate for that man burned in Lawson's soul like the consuming fires of hell.

A shout told him that someone in that seething mob had spied them. They were on the trail like those hungry wolves that Sue had called them a little while ago.

The mountain was not more than a quarter of a mile down the road. Speeding for their lives, Sue and Lawson reached it, stumbling through the darkness. For an instant they paused, panting, breathless. Behind them came the bobbing lights of the torches—the swiftly approaching fires of death.

"We've got to hide!" From the first Lawson's fear had all been for the girl. His own life did not matter. He had risked it many times before. That was his breed—the breed of the adventurer. Looking swiftly about him, relief swept over him as he spied the gaping black mouth of a huge cave.

"Quick—inside the cave!" he cried. "We may escape them there."

THEY plunged into the darkness beyond the opening. And then from the blackness that engulfed them claw-like hands reached out. Sue screamed as she felt their clammy clutch upon the bare flesh of her arms. One of the cretins was hiding there.

Lawson had his automatic half-drawn with his right hand while he lashed out blindly with his left. But hands were clawing at him. Then something hard crashed down on his head and he dropped to the ground unconscious.

He regained his senses some time afterward— his head seemed on fire—and when he opened his eyes he felt as though he were part of some fantastic scene that was part of Dante's Inferno. Close to him two torches had been thrust into the walls of the huge cave. In their eerie glow he first grew conscious of row upon row of evil, beast-like faces. The cretins! But why were they mumbling, some of them shouting and holding up their dirty hands with sometimes two, three and even five fingers extended?

"What do you bid for her?" The voice that spoke was deep and harsh. The swift thought came to Lawson that if a buzzard could speak its tone would be like that. "What do you bid?"

The words were in English but the man who had voiced them immediately lapsed into a Mongolian tongue.

Lawson managed to turn his head—and felt sick. The shaggy-haired man he'd seen with the cretin mob was standing on a rock platform. An automatic was in one hand, and with the other he clutched Sue Trent's arm. Her dress had been half- torn off, and her wrists were held by heavy chains.

"God!" muttered Lawson. "He's auctioning her off to these fiends!"

For the first time he realized that he was tied. His wrists were bound behind him—but his feet were free. He had to do something to aid the girl— had to! Once she was sold to the highest bidder among the cretins she would die, though God alone knew what tortures she would first undergo.

He managed to stand erect. The cretins and the shaggy-haired man were so intent on their auction that they did not notice him.

"What do you bid for her?" It seemed to amuse the shaggy-haired man to ask questions in English so that the girl might understand. "Gar Jasill will turn her over to the one among you who makes the highest offer."

Then the same thing was repeated in the strange tongue.

The heat from the nearest torch was searing Lawson's back. It had been placed in a crack low in the wall of the cave. He glanced back. Here was his chance for freedom! Hastily backing up, he thrust his bound hands close to the torch. The flame seared his wrists—but the rope finally gave. He was free!

But a swift glance showed him that one of the cretins had seen him. The Mongolian devil was edging toward him, a sinister leer on his face. The others all had their backs to him as they listened to the auctioneer.

The cretin leaped at Lawson—but the strong hands of the adventurer caught the insane Mongolian by the throat, tightened like a vise. There was no pity in Lawson's heart for this creature. He kept choking until the man was unconscious. Only then did he release his grip.

Picking up the limp form, Lawson held it close in front of him as he edged his way around the outskirts of the crowd. If one of the cretins glanced back over his shoulder he would merely see one of his own kind moving about in search of a better position in the throng.

Lawson reached the entrance of the cave. He had decided that it might be best to wait until some one of the fiends had actually bought the girl and taken her away. Then there might be an opportunity for Lawson to save her, an attempt that would be far less futile than his trying to fight them all.

He put down his burden when he reached the outside of the cave. Scattered about the entrance were all sorts of things that the insane men had picked up in their looting of the town and dropped for the time being.

Boxes, chairs, foodstuff and, to Lawson's amazement, a submachine-gun that had been part of his own expedition! It was still in its case, and so had meant nothing to the cretins in its dismantled form.

SWIFTLY he put it together, and as hastily shoved a belt of bullets in the drum.

When he had finished he again examined the spoils about him. A heavy box caught his gaze, and he went closer. It was loaded with dynamite. Hastily he picked it up and staggered with it to the mouth of the cave. He placed it at the side of the entrance, unseen by those inside, and returned to the machine-gun.

Just as he reached the gun one of the cretins came hurrying out of the cave, carrying Sue in his arms. But others were close behind him, and Lawson did not dare reveal himself as yet. If he started firing with the machine-gun he might kill the girl.

Gar Jasill, as the renegade white man had called himself, appeared and issued an order to the cretins. Gleefully they started picking up their spoils and carrying them into the cave.

Lawson waited until they were nearly all inside, then started firing with the machine-gun. The cretins screamed in surprise and terror. They did not like it when they were the ones to suffer.

Cursing, Jasill raised his automatic as he saw Lawson with the machine-gun. Just as the shaggy- haired man fired, Lawson aimed the machine-gun at the box of dynamite—and fired! There was a deafening roar. Lawson found himself flung to the ground as the box exploded, and then the entrance of the cave collapsed. Dirt and rock poured down, burying Jasill and the cretins inside.

THE cretin who had bought Sue at the auction had put her down, and run back to see what happened, when he heard the explosion. A burst from the machine-gun finished the insane Mongolian then and there as Lawson swung the gun around.

And then Sue was running toward Lawson, stumbling through the darkness, knowing that she would only feel safe when he was close by her side.

"It's over," said Lawson as he went to meet her. "They'll never be able to get out of that cave. But a white man—" He shook his head in unbelief.

"Jasill let them free," said Sue. "Helped them to escape! He knew they would raid and kill—and he planned to get the best of the loot for himself. He boasted about it to me before the auction." She shuddered. "He was worse than the cretins."

"Far worse," said Lawson. "For they really had no minds, and he did."

For a moment they were silent. Lawson knew that soon he would have to tell her about her father. That wouldn't be easy—but she was brave. The kind of a girl who might mean all the world to a man.

"Hell!" muttered Lawson. Which was the normal reaction for an adventurer upon finding he was in love.