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Kenneth Robeson

The Land of Terror

Chapter 1. THE SMOKING DEATH

THERE were no chemists working for the Mammoth Manufacturing Company who could foretell future events. So, as they watched white-haired, distinguished Jerome Coffern don hat and topcoat after the usual Friday conference, none knew they were never to see the famous chemist alive again.

Not one dreamed a gruesome right hand and a right forearm was all of Jerome Coffern’s body that would ever be found.

Jerome Coffern was chief chemist for the Mammoth concern. He was also considered one of the most learned industrial scientists in the world.

The Mammoth Manufacturing Company paid Jerome Coffern a larger salary than was received by the president of the corporation. It was Jerome Coffern’s great brain which gave the Mammoth concern the jump on all its competitors.

Jerome Coffern plucked back a sleeve to eye a watch on his right wrist. This watch was later to identify the grisly right hand and forearm as Coffern’s.

'I wonder how many of you gentlemen have heard of Clark Savage?' he inquired.

Surprise kept the other chemists silent a moment. Then one spoke up.

'I recall that a man by the name of Clark Savage recently did some remarkable work along lines of ultimate organic analysis,' he said. 'His findings were so advanced in part as to be somewhat bewildering. Some points about chemistry generally accepted as facts were proven wrong by Clark Savage.'

Jerome Coffern nodded delightedly, rubbing his rather bony hands.

'That is correct,' he declared. 'I am proud to point to myself as one of the few chemists to realize Doc Savage’s findings are possibly the most important of our generation.'

At this juncture, another chemist gave an appreciable start.

'Doc Savage!' he ejaculated. 'Say, isn’t that the man who some weeks ago turned over to the surgical profession a new and vastly improved method of performing delicate brain operations?'

'That is the same Doc Savage.' Jerome Coffern’s none-too-ample chest seemed about to burst with pride.

'Whew!' exploded another man. 'It is highly unusual for one man to be among the world’s greatest experts in two lines so widely different as chemistry and surgery.'

Jerome Coffern chuckled. 'You would be more astounded were you to know Doc Savage fully. The man is a mental marvel. He has contributed new discoveries to more than surgery and chemistry. Electricity, archaeology, geology and other lines have received the benefit of his marvelous brain. He has a most amazing method of working.'

Pausing, Jerome Coffern gazed steadily at the assembled men. He wanted them to understand he was not exaggerating.

'As I say, Doc Savage has a most amazing method of working,' he continued. 'At intervals, Savage vanishes. No one knows where he goes. He simply disappears as completely as though he had left the earth. And when he returns, he nearly always has one or more new and incredible scientific discoveries to give to the world.

'It is obvious Doc Savage has a wonderful laboratory at some secret spot where he can work in solitude. Nobody can even guess where it is. But any scientific man would give half a lifetime to inspect that laboratory, so remarkable must it be.'

The eminent chemist smiled from ear to ear. 'And I will add more. You will, perhaps, find it hard to believe. I have said Doc Savage is a mental marvel. Well, he is also a muscular marvel as well. He has a body as amazing as his brain.

'His strength and agility are incredible. Why, for Doc Savage it is child’s play to twist horseshoes, bend silver half-dollars between thumb and forefinger and tear a New York telephone directory in half.

'Were Doc Savage to become a professional athlete, there is no doubt in my mind but that he would be the wonder of all time. But he will not employ his astounding strength to earn money, because he is one of those very rare persons — a genuinely modest man. Publicity and world-wide fame do not interest him at all.'

Jerome Coffern halted abruptly, realizing his enthusiasm was getting away with his dignity. He reddened.

'I could not resist the temptation to tell you of this remarkable man,' he said proudly. 'Doc Savage studied under me many years ago. He quickly learned all I knew. Now his knowledge is vastly beyond mine.'

He tugged back his right sleeve to display the watch.

'This timepiece was presented to me by Doc Savage at that time, as a token of gratitude,' he smiled. 'I am proud to say he is still my friend.'

Jerome Coffern gave his topcoat a final straightening tug.

'I am on my way now to have dinner with Doc Savage,' he smiled. 'He is to meet me in front of the plant immediately. So I shall now bid you gentlemen good afternoon.' The eminent chemist quitted the conference room.

It was the last time his colleagues saw him alive.

* * *

THE plant of the Mammoth Manufacturing Company was located in New Jersey, only a short distance from the great new George Washington Bridge across the Hudson River into New York City.

The brick buildings of the plant were modern and neat. Spacious grounds surrounded them. Shrubbery grew in profusion and was kept neatly trimmed. The walks were of concrete.

Standing on the high steps in front of the building where the conference of chemists had been held, Jerome Coffern glanced about eagerly. He was anxious to get a glimpse of the man he considered the most remarkable in the world — his friend, Doc Savage.

It was perhaps a hundred yards across a vista of landscaped shrubbery to the main highway.

A car stood on the highway. It was a roadster, very large and powerful and efficient. The color was a reserved gray.

Seated in the car was a figure an onlooker would have sworn was a statue sculptured from solid bronze!

The effect of the metallic figure was amazing. The remarkably high forehead, the muscular and strong mouth, the lean, corded cheeks denoted a rare power of character. The bronze hair was a shade darker than the bronze skin. It lay straight and smooth.

The large size of the roadster kept the bronze man from seeming the giant he was. Too, he was marvelously proportioned. The bulk of his great frame was lost in its perfect symmetry.

Although he was a hundred yards from the bronze man, Jerome Coffern could almost make out the most striking feature of all about Doc Savage.

For the bronze man was Doc Savage. And the most striking thing about him was his eyes. They were like pools of fine flake gold glistening in the sun. Their gaze possessed an almost hypnotic quality, a strange ability to literally give orders with their glance.

Undeniably, here was a leader of men, as well as a leader in all he undertook. He was a man whose very being bespoke a knowledge of all things, and the capacity to dominate all obstacles.

Jerome Coffern waved an arm at the bronze man.

Doc Savage saw him and waved back.

Jerome Coffern hurried forward. He walked with a boyish eagerness. The path he traversed took him through high, dense shrubbery. The bronze figure of Doc Savage was lost to sight.

Suddenly two ratty men lunged from the shrubs.

Before Jerome Coffern could cry an alarm, he was knocked unconscious.

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