7

The man called out a name, loudly, and Cathy kept very still for half a minute, maybe longer. There was a sound from the other side of the back wall, the wall with the hole in it and then someone came through the hole, a woman in dark slacks and shirt. "What's wrong, now?" she growled. "Why did you --?"

"We have another visitor," the small man said. He had scooped up Cathy's gun and purse, and held both of them in his left hand, keeping his own gun focused on a spot in the center of Cathy's forehead. He held them out to the woman who had just come in. She grabbed the purse and tore it open.

"Another one, and she too is in a party dress." She looked down at Cathy's feet. "And she, too, seems to have lost her shoes. Do all detectives lose their shoes these days? Or is it just another sign of the Depression?"

"Detective!" the man said.

"We already have one detective. It only makes sense that if another woman shows up, she's one too." Mrs. Leavenworth found Cathy's wallet and then found the license in it. "Yes, that's what she is. And she has the same last name as the other one, Casey."

"The same last name? What does that mean?" He sounded almost panicked now and the gun barrel pointed at Cathy wavered nervously, though not by much, she noticed. It was the kind of detail she was noticing right now.

Mrs. Leavenworth crammed the wallet back into the purse and threw it over against the wall. "It means nothing, Marvin. Except that they must be related. Sisters, I suspect. Possibly cousins. Nora and Cathy Casey, Private Eyes. They were probably at some socialite's wedding, guarding the presents."

On the floor behind Cathy, Bernard groaned unhappily.

"Ah, Bernard," said Mrs. Leavenworth. She went over to him but did not bend down.

Bernard groaned again and clutched his battered head with both hands. "Ah, she hurt me, she hurt me bad, Mrs. Leavenworth."

"Then get up. I have a present for you."

"A present?" muttered Bernard. He took his hands away from his head and looked up at her. "What present?"

Then he saw Cathy and the look of inquiry on his face changed to a very nasty smile. He got to his feet and the smile grew bigger and nastier. "Let me hurt her," he said. "It's only fair. Let me hurt her now."

Nora had managed to work herself into a sitting position and was looking up at them with raw terror on her face.

"I'll let you hurt them both," said Mrs. Leavenworth. "But first, we have some work to do. We can entertain ourselves later. Let's take them back in the cavern. Marvin, you go first."

The small man moved over to the back wall and scrambled through the hole. At the direction of Mrs. Leavenworth, Bernard picked up Nora and passed her through the opening to Marvin.

"Go ahead and undo her feet," Mrs. Leavenworth said. "Let her walk. I doubt you can carry her that distance anyway, Marvin."

"You, Bernard, take this one in there, too," Mrs. Leavenworth said.

Cathy got to her feet before Bernard could touch her. She looked first at Bernard, then at Mrs. Leavenworth. She wanted to say something, but all she could think of was, "You'll never get away with this," and she knew exactly how hollow and foolish that would sound.

"Hurry her along," the older woman said.

The wall had obviously been solid brick and looked like it had been broken through, and fairly recently, with a sledge hammer. Bernard pushed Cathy ahead of him toward the hole, which was only about three feet across. Her skirt snagged and tore as she went through.

"Don't worry about that, my dear," said Mrs. Leavenworth. "You won't need that much longer."

Cathy said, "You'll never get away with this." It sounded just as hollow and foolish as she had thought it would.

Once through the hole, Cathy found herself in another room with brick walls. On the far side there was an actual door, which was open, and beyond it what looked like a passageway. Marvin and Nora were both waiting, Marvin holding a gun and Nora still bound except for her legs.

Mrs. Leavenworth came through next, also with a gun in her hand. Her other hand held a piece of rope which she handed to Marvin. "Just her hands," she said. "Her hands and her mouth."

Marvin tied her hands, wrapping the rope around her wrists several times.

Bernard managed to squirm through the hole. He looked up at Cathy and his metal hand clinched at his side.

"Your turn will come," Mrs. Leavenworth said to him.

Marvin produced a handkerchief and began folding it.

"Is that handkerchief clean?" Cathy asked suddenly.

"Sorry," he said, moving behind her. "It's all I got."

He pulled it tightly into her mouth and knotted it under her right ear.

"Now, then, Bernard. She's yours."

Bernard grabbed Cathy roughly by the shoulder with his left hand and pulled back his metal fist.

"Not yet, Bernard," said Mrs. Leavenworth. "Just make her walk to the cavern. For now."

The look of disappointment on his face was evident, but Bernard lowered his fist. He pushed Cathy roughly toward the door.

Marvin led the way, with Cathy and Nora behind him. Behind them came Bernard and Mrs. Leavenworth, with automatics.

They were in a tunnel, dug into the dirt and shored up with posts and boards like a mine. It slanted downward, not quite steeply, but not gently, either. Nora felt Mrs. Leavenworth's gun in her ribs and she started forward after Marvin down the slope of the tunnel. The tunnel was poorly lighted with old fashioned oil lanterns hanging at either end.

For they could see the other end as they moved toward it. There was an opening, a hole rather than a door. It was as if someone had dug through a wall.

As they got closer Nora began to realize the hole led into a larger chamber, and she recalled Mrs. Leavenworth using the word "cavern." Did this lead into some sort of cave system?

Well, it led into a cave, natural not man-made. There were lights set up, however -- electrical lights, and fair sized ones -- illuminating the middle portion of the underground chamber. There was an electrical generator at the far end, with a metal pipe leading upward and apparently to the surface for ventilation. There were other such arrangements visible around the cavern, evidently to provide air. It all looked rather ramshackle, and the air down here smelled musty, but no one seemed to be suffering from it.

There were boxes stacked against one wall, boxes that looked as if they'd been down here for some time. In the far wall there was another opening that looked as if it might lead into another chamber.

There were two men in this chamber and while neither seemed to be suffering from bad air, one of them was certainly suffering from something. That was Arch Moreland, tied to a chair again, and bleeding from new injuries. The other was a tall, muscular man in his fifties who appeared to have been inflicting the fresh injuries. He looked up when the group came in.

"Where did the extra girl come from?" he said, looking at Nora and Cathy.

"The dark haired one invited a friend without telling us," said Mrs. Leavenworth.

"And why do we need them?"

"I thought it would help Arch's tongue to loosen if he watched what we do to them."

"Arch won't give a damn about them."

"I didn't think he would. But it might make him thoughtful if he knows that what we do with them we'll do to him when they're dead. And besides that, it'll keep Bernard happy to torture them."

"And you too," the man said.

"Oh, please, James. It's not like there isn't one for each of us. And how are things coming with the search?"

"I still say it's stupid to keep these women, but I'm not making progress with Arch, either."

"Then what do you suggest we do with them?"

Bernard had moved over to where Arch was and was looking down at him. "He's asleep again. Make him wake up."

The man called James went over to Arch and took a look at him. He felt his heart.

Mrs. Leavenworth said, "James, you didn't kill the poor man, did you?"

"While we still need to make him talk? Don't be silly, my dear. But we've been pretty rough on him. I think we need to let him get a bit of rest before we restart the questioning. I think he might have a weak heart."

"More delays!" Mrs. Leavenworth said with disgust. She glanced at Nora and Cathy. "What do we do with these two until then?"

"They'll keep," he said. "Just make sure they don't escape."

"I'm sure Bernard can manage that," she said.

"I'm sure he can," said James, drily. "Tell me, Frances. What did you do with their car?"

"Their car?" Mrs. Leavenworth said, as if the idea were new to her. "They didn't bring a car."

"Are you telling me they walked all the way from town?"

"I didn't think of that. But where could their car be?"

"You idiot," James snarled. "They must have left it up on the highway, near Moreland's car."

"Bernard --"

"Bernard can stay here and watch our guests," James said.

"Oh, surely Bernard is up to fetching someone's car."

"The brunette arrived first, alone. The blonde came sometime later," James said. "It's my guess she went somewhere and phoned the police. The police may have found Moreland's car by now, if that's the case. Do you think Bernard is up to a conversation with an inquisitive cop? I'll go."

He went over to a small table where his coat was draped over the back of a chair. Putting the coat on and picking up his hat, he looked back at Mrs. Leavenworth.

"Why don't you keep those two in the other room. Show them the graves, I'm sure they'd be interested in seeing the graves. They'd also be interested in seeing some of the toys Ricky left in here after the museum heist. Especially, the iron maiden."

8

When he got to the highway, sure enough, James Leavenworth found a police car parked near where Moreland's car had gone off the road.

If the car had gone off on the other side, it would have been easy to pull it into the shelter of some trees and hide it well enough no one could have spotted it from the road. But where it was, the best they could do is pull some brush and leaves over it. The ditch it was in made it impossible to get the car back on the highway without a good tow truck.

The police car's lights were on and in its headlights James could see what he took for the girls' car. It was a canary yellow Paragon, rather flashy and a couple years old, but a good car nonetheless. He wouldn't mind owning one himself, and if he could do something about the color to make it less conspicuous, he might think about hanging onto it after this was all over. Or he might torch it and buy a new one with all the money he was about to get his hands on.

There was one police officer there, and as he saw James coming up, he started toward him, playing his flashlight on James' face. James waved and said, "Hello, officer."

"Good evening sir," the policeman said. "This wouldn't be your automobile, would it?"

"The Paragon? No, I'm afraid not."

"I meant the other one, sir," the officer said, and turned his flashlight on Moreland's car in the ditch.

"Oh, my. Nor that one, either," James said. "That's quite a wreck, isn't it?"

"Well, it's a hell of place for a car to be, that's for sure," the cop said. "May I ask what brings you out here tonight?"

"The other car, actually."

"But that's not your car, sir. I mean, is it?"

James sensed a trap. "No, I'm picking it up as a favor to the young ladies who own it."

"The Casey sisters."

"That's right," James said. He went over to Cathy's car and looked inside. "It's a nice car, isn't it?"

"It certainly is."

"You know Cathy and Nora?"

"Every cop in the county knows them, especially Cathy since she bought this auto. Sweet girl, but drives like she's after the devil. I knew her father, rest his soul. Hell of a man. Was a cop himself for a few years before he became a private detective. The girls run his business now since he passed away. What do you know about the other car?"

James put his hands in his pocket and rocked back and forth, looking at the officer. "Not a lot. I did see it go off the road. I'm a doctor so I stopped and helped the driver. Man said his name was Moreland."

"Ever see him before?"

"Never."

"There's blood stains down there. And bullet holes in the back window."

"I know," James said. "Moreland told me it was hunters, careless with their guns. I didn't question him about it. Like I said, I'm a doctor, and he had a light wound on his neck. He also got banged up when the car landed down there like that. I patched him up and had my assistant drive him to town, to a clinic."

"The injuries were serious?"

"Oh, no, not really. He did lose some blood, though. I had to give him something for the pain and I felt he ought to spend the night under care. I was planning on going into town and making a report in the morning. Is that okay?"

"You say your assistant drove him? Do you live around here?"

"I'm buying an old house just a short distance up that road back there. It needs some work and my wife and I are out here this weekend doing repairs on it." He shook his head and smiled. "It needs a lot of work."

"Yeah," said the cop. "If it's the one I'm thinking of it sure would. What about the Casey girls?"

"Well, they came by and saw the car. One of them went ahead to phone the police. I suppose that's why you're here."

"It is."

"This was a few hours ago, well before dark. The dark-haired one --"

"Nora."

"Yes. She saw the road and went up as far as my house. On the way she twisted her ankle and fell and she can't make it back here. Her sister came back from phoning the police not long after that, and found the house. They're both there now, with my wife Frances. You want to follow me there and talk with them?"

"How bad did Nora get hurt?"

"Not too bad, but she banged her head when she fell, and I'd like her to get some rest. Frances and I have a couple of the bedrooms sort of fixed up, well, fixed up enough at least, and I'm trying to talk the girls into staying overnight."

"Then the driver of the car wasn't too badly hurt?"

James shook his head. "Not too much. I want him in a hospital overnight because he needs a couple tests, and so they can watch him. They might keep him longer but my guess is they'll let him go tomorrow morning."

"He said it was hunters? An accident?"

"That's what he told me," James said. His tone dropped conspiratorially. "But if you ask me, those holes in his car window were made by pistol bullets, not by anything you'd be out hunting with. If it were three years ago, I'd say the guy was probably running hooch."

"I noticed the same thing about those bullet holes," said the officer. "But you say he's in town at the hospital? I guess the detectives can find him if they think it's worth asking questions. Same thing with Cathy and Nora. Thanks for your time, Doctor, but I think I'll just go find a phone and turn this one over to the plain clothes."

"Oh, you're welcome, officer," said James.

And he was truly grateful as he said it.

9

Cathy was becoming tired of being prodded from location to location at the point of a gun; and she could imagine how Nora felt. Nora had a temper. They both did, but Nora's ran deeper. Cathy would get mad, let it explode, and get the full enjoyment out of it all at once, then forget it. But Nora's temper almost never showed. It would simmer just below the boiling point and no one would know it was there until she was ready to show it. And she could use it like a weapon when she wanted to.

A weapon was what they needed now but the only ones in sight, except for the anger that showed in Nora's eyes, were held by the people who had captured them. They led her into the next chamber of the cavern system, and it was like walking into Aladdin's cave.

Or Dracula's basement.

The floor where they were standing was level. The ceiling was no higher than what you'd find in a normal house. But a few feet ahead of Cathy, the floor began to slope down gently until the room deepened to about fifteen feet. It spread out, too, into a large chamber. Again, bright lights had been set up to illuminate the cave. Cathy wondered how deep under ground they were.

Along one wall there was a clutter of boxes, crates and other objects. One of the objects stood out. It stood against the wall, as tall as a sarcophagus was long, and its lid was open. It was big enough inside to hold a grown man, assuming he was not so large as Bernard was large. The points of sharp, long spikes inside the lid gleamed in the electric lights

Not far from where the iron maiden stood, Cathy saw what she took for four graves, marked with crosses. One was open and a casket, evidently empty, rested on the ground beside it.

Mrs. Leavenworth said, "Rather a wonderful place for a graveyard, don't you think? Atmospheric. You'll enjoy your own eternal rest down here, I'm sure."

Again Cathy felt the hard jab of the muzzle of Mrs. Leavenworth's gun against her back as she was urged forward, across the chamber.

She noticed now there were several openings in the room at irregularly spaced intervals, indicating that this must be quite a network of caverns and that they had gone much deeper than she supposed.

It was colder here and the temperature cut through the thin fabric of Cathy's torn dress. She could only imagine how poor Nora was suffering. The floor of the chamber seemed mostly to be packed dirt but here and there were outcroppings of stone, some flat, worn that way by time and water; some rough and painful to walk over with bare feet. Cathy looked around to see if she might spot something sharp enough to cut rope. The girls were herded to a brightly lit section near the graves.

There they were halted. Mrs. Leavenworth stood back a short distance and looked at them. She gave Nora an especially lingering look, spending several moments taking in her flat, well-shaped stomach and her legs. "I'll almost regret cutting your body to shreds," she said. "Almost."

She smiled. "You're both probably wondering what you've gotten yourselves into, aren't you? I don't suppose it would hurt anything to tell you." She stepped very close to Nora. "Besides, if I tell you, you'll realize we will have to kill you, whatever my fool husband thinks, and I want you to know that fact. And think about it. It'll help you react to the torture for Arch's benefit."

She touched the side of Nora's face, a gentle, lingering, insane woman's touch and for a moment Nora's eyes glittered with terror above her gag. Cathy felt a cold knot in her own stomach.

"About four years ago, my husband was part of an organization. The men who formed it were too brilliant to be called a gang. There were five of them. They began their career by robbing a museum in Chicago. They hauled off all sorts of things, medieval and more recent exhibits of treasures from Italy, Spain and England. That's how the iron maiden came into our possession. Almost everything else in that haul was jewel encrusted and the jewels removed from their settings and successfully fenced in Mexico and South America. The success of this robbery was followed up with others, mostly banks. When you rob a bank you seldom get as much money as you expect, I'm afraid. But it was reasonable work, and steady."

She ran the muzzle of her automatic down Nora's bare stomach as lightly as if the gun were just a feather, albeit a very cold feather.

"But sometimes, if you can find a way to get inside information, you can find out when a bank is holding a large amount of money. A very large amount. The group made off with eighty thousand dollars.

"Can you imagine that?" she went on. "So much money. But it had to be divided between five men and one of those five men got greedy. He hijacked the loot and found a hiding place for it that his partners didn't know about. He also began the practice of killing his partners. Three of them are buried in those graves over there. Unfortunately, one of the ones who's buried was the one who hid the money. The one who buried him was Arch Moreland, who you met. The loot in this system of caves -- we think. We haven't found it yet. That why we haven't yet gotten around to burying Arch in the fourth grave over there -- next to the bodies of the men he double-crossed and murdered. We suspect he must know something about where it's hidden. Now, I think you know all you need to know. Or ever will know, I suspect."

She turned her attention to Cathy, then, looking her over. After a moment she said, "Bernard, why don't you remove the blonde's dress, too."

Before Cathy quite realized what was going on, Bernard stepped forward and grabbed the top of her low-cut dress.

"And you, Marvin," Mrs. Leavenworth said, to the small man. "Why don't you put the other one into the iron maiden?"

10

Bernard obviously relished tearing Cathy's dress off her, but he did not linger over the job. She felt the sudden rough yank, the pull of the material against her shoulders, then its rip. She was almost jerked off her feet and had to pull against the tug of the dress to stay on her feet. Then the dress was gone and she was as exposed as Nora.

Marvin had Nora by the arms and was pushing her roughly toward the iron maiden.

In the museum the device had probably been cared for, and kept in glistening condition. Down here in this cave, it was coated with a patina of grime. Marvin propelled Nora toward it, then held her with one hand while with the other he pulled the door of the thing completely open. He shoved her in.

She went in facing the back and he grabbed her roughly and turned her round, then shoved her against the back of the iron maiden's interior and fastened leather straps across the front to keep her in.

The straps looked old and would probably be easy to snap, given time. Cathy didn't think Nora would have that much time.

"Marvin, see if you can't wake up Arch. I'm sure he'll be interested in this."

Marvin went over the chair where Arch was slumped against the ropes that bound him. He grabbed a handful of Arch's hair, lifted up the poor man's head and slapped him sharply.

Arch yelled and moaned, both inarticulately, neither seeming to indicate consciousness. Marvin slapped him again.

Bernard, holding Cathy helpless from behind said, "See how he slapped Arch? That's what I'm going to do to you before long. Guess which hand I'm going to use." He laughed.

She called him a nasty name but he didn't care; more than likely he couldn't understand her, so tightly was the handkerchief tied in her mouth.

He was holding her arm with his flesh and blood hand. The right arm was around her, the metal hand flat on her stomach. She was squirming and struggling and he paid her no attention. That was just as well, because she was managing to loosen the rope.

Marvin didn't seem to be very good at tying people up. He'd used too much rope, wrapping it three or four times around her wrists before knotting it. The result was that there was more slack in the rope than he intended. She was actually close to having one of the loops over her knuckles, and if she could do that, she could slip the rope completely off.

Arch suddenly burst in a tirade of name calling and invective. Marvin laughed but stopped slapping him. "That how you want it, Mrs. Leavenworth?"

"Very good, Marvin. Thank you." She approached Arch Moreland. "When you killed Pattison, did you use the iron maiden?" she asked.

He looked up, squinted as if he couldn't see clearly, looked at her again.

"Crazy old woman. What are you talking about?"

"You probably didn't make him talk before you killed him, Arch. You have no imagination. Well, we're going to show you something about the resources at your disposal. Take a look at the iron maiden."

Arch looked in the direction of the medieval torture device and Nora, who was in it. Apparently he was having trouble focusing his eyes and he blinked, squinted and looked again. "What the hell are you doing, you crazy old bitch? Why the hell is she in there?"

"Just so we can demonstrate something, Arch, to let you know exactly what's in store for you."

He tried to laugh but only sputtered a bit of blood and spittle. "What the hell do I care what happens to her? Now, you get in there, that would interest me."

The ropes slid off Cathy's hands. She caught them so they wouldn't fall to the ground and give her away.

"Just watch. And listen. Marvin, take that thing out of the poor girl's mouth. No one can hear her down here but us. Why not get the full enjoyment out of her pleading and screaming?"

Marvin went to Nora and pulled her head forward, forcing her to lean against the straps. He struggled a moment with the knot tied under her hair behind her head. Then the handkerchief was out of her mouth and he let it drop to the floor. He pushed her back.

He stepped back and Bernard's grip loosened around Cathy's waist.

"Close the door of that thing, Marvin," said Mrs. Leavenworth.

Cathy slipped from the grasp of Bernard and dove for Marvin.

She dodged right and came at him from an angle that would carry him away from the iron maiden and drove her shoulder into his ribs.

She was by no means a big girl but she knew a lot of ways to fight, not all of them clean. Her shoulder slammed into Marvin's lower ribs with considerable impact and she thought she heard something snap. Marvin yelped in pain and fell away from the iron maiden and caromed against Mrs. Leavenworth. Behind her, Cathy heard Bernard yell with anger.

She fumbled with the straps. Nora yelled, "Look out," and Cathy turned in time to see Bernard swing his metal hand at her. She stepped aside and for a moment was terrified he was going to hit Nora. But his hand inadvertently came down like a hammer on one of the straps that stretched across the case in front of Nora, and it snapped.

Cathy, meantime, whirled around and came in low under Bernard's grasp and hit him with her full weight.

Bernard went back shoulder first against the inside of the door. He screamed.

Somehow at that same moment, Nora snapped the other strap and was out of the iron maiden. "Cathy," she said. "Take a look up there." She indicated the top of the inside of the iron maiden, and Cathy immediately saw what she meant. There was a folded piece of paper taped there, well hidden unless you were in or almost in the device. She grabbed it, and then they darted toward the opening far across the cavern. Holding the folded paper in her right hand, she reached back and fumbled with the knot tying the handkerchief in her mouth.

Bernard, his shoulder impaled upon at least some of the spikes pushing out of the iron maiden's lid, kept screaming. Mrs. Leavenworth lay on the floor, gasping for breath. Marvin, confused, tried to help her and she grew angry with him but lacked enough breath to order him to stop the girls. Arch Morehouse, in his chair, bleeding from who knew how many cuts and abrasions, started laughing out loud.

Cathy saw him and turned toward him, not sure she could get him loose in time for the two of them to get away.

Abruptly Arch's laughter stopped. His breath caught with a gasp and blood and spittle bubbled at his mouth. He gave a weak moan and slumped against his ropes. Cathy realized there was no need to worry about Arch now.

She turned toward the opening and ran as fast as she could. Nora was already through it. Behind her, Bernard was whimpering. She reached the entrance. Just before she darted through it, Bernard stopped whimpering.

Maybe that meant he was dead, but she didn't think so.

Click HERE for Conclusion