BLOOD CASTLE

BLOOD CASTLE Review

“Carlton excels at the cliffhanger, the page turner, the can’t-put-it-down narrative.  I was exhausted just keeping up with the story’s action.  It is definitely not boring … this second book by Rosthern resident, Johnny Carlton, is a winner.”

Diane Rogers, Formerly with The Western Producer (weekly)

 

What BLOOD CASTLE is about

MEXICO CITY IS SINKING!

From the author of Shotgun, and The Haunting of Sheriff Evans, and other suspenseful novels, comes this new and intense supernatural thriller, BLOOD CASTLE.

AUGUST GLENN, action hero and genius with psychic powers, takes on his first case as a specially trained fighter of supernatural evil.  Together with his beautiful Gypsy wife, ZARINA, and JULIAN NAVARRO, the daring head of the Mexican government’s Commission on Elevation Decline, August accepts a dangerous challenge.  He attempts to find out why Mexico City’s normal rate of sinking into the mucky ground it was built on has increased to a disastrous eight inches per week, and why those who probe into the phenomena are being murdered–mysteriously burned to death.  The investigation leads August, Zarina, and Julian to the most bizarre and frightening residence in Mexico City–Blood Castle.

They uncover a coven of warlocks plotting to use their supernatural powers to destroy all governments in the world.  But finding this den of horrors is only the beginning.  Now good faces off against evil in an escalating suspense-filled buildup toward a shattering climax.

For a sneak preview of this book read the sample pages below:

 

ONE – THE RIGID MAN

 THERE WAS SOMETHING QUEER about the man.  And it wasn’t only that he wore a heavy black sweater in the comfortably regulated temperature of the Boeing’s passenger cabin.  Nor was it the extreme stiffness of his sitting posture–the remarkable lack of motion from all parts of his scrawny body.  No, there was more to it than that.

August Glenn continued to study the unpleasant strangeness of his fellow passenger who sat across the aisle from him to his right.  At the same time August himself was being observed with equal intentness by another pair of eyes.  However, the emotions behind these other eyes–which were large, blue, and pretty–were altogether different from the feelings of aversion presently being experienced by August.

A model-like blonde, flawlessly groomed and wearing a becoming gray outfit of pants and clinging cardigan, sat in the seat directly behind the thin man in the black sweater.  From where she sat she had a side and slightly rear view of August Glenn who was across the aisle from her to her left and just one seat ahead; and whenever he looked at the man in the seat in front of her, she got a profile view of August’s face.  He looked even more handsome, she decided, than he did in the photo of him she had been given.  She tried to avoid having him notice that she was studying him, and seemed to be having good success in that, for August’s attention was focused on the man in the seat in front of her.

As she ogled Glenn, an extra warm feeling began to take hold of her and she reluctantly reminded herself that she was looking at a married man.  Just her rotten luck.  Although he didn’t know it yet, she was anticipating working together with him shortly, so why did he have to be married and at the same time look like the essence of all beautiful masculinity, spiritual, intellectual, and physical, poured into one perfect skin?

Of course there was someone else that she cared about much more than this man whom she didn’t really know; the trouble was that Julian Navarro had never yet given her any indication that he had any strong feelings toward her.  So, for the time being, she tried to put Julian out of her mind and enjoyed looking at August Glenn whenever she had a chance to do so without him noticing it.

His finely carved face was framed by dark, softly curling hair moderately full about ears, neck, and forehead, completing the impression of a Grecian statue; only it was one that had been out in the sun long enough to take on a good tan.  He was a six-footer or maybe a little more, and he showed definition of lean, hard muscle even through his clothing.  All of his clothes, from shiny black riding boots to blue jeans to the white, open-collared shirt, were form fitting, and also as neat, spotless and unwrinkled as if they had never been worn before this day.  August sat with his legs crossed man-style, one ankle on one knee, using part of the aisle to accomplish this, and he looked relaxed, except for his eyes.  He continued to stare intently at the man across the aisle from him, without smiling or saying anything.  This was strange, embarrassing behavior.  And why didn’t the man in the seat ahead of her, the object of Glenn’s attention, ask Glenn why the hell he was staring at him?

She had to find out what was going on–after all, her job, presently, was to watch over August Glenn and his wife like a guardian angel.  She unbuckled her seatbelt, got up and walked past Glenn and the object of his attention a few seats toward the front of the plane.  She stopped beside a teenage girl whom she didn’t know from a bale of cotton and asked her, “Could you please tell me what time it is?”

The young redhead turned out to be some sort of smart ass, for she said, totally straight faced, “I am deeply embarrassed and highly humiliated to inform you that due to unforeseen circumstances the inner workings and hidden mechanisms of my chronometer are in such discord with the great solar movement by which time is commonly reckoned, that I am unable, at this juncture, to render to you any valid information regarding the time of day.”

The best comeback the blonde could think of was, “Would you like me to call the head steward?  He likely has some medication that might help you.”

By now the girl was smiling, and then, laughingly, she said, “I always wanted to use that on somebody.”

An older woman beside her, possibly her mother, said, “Oh, Adele, you’re so embarrassing!”

Adele now lifted up her wrist to display a sports model wristwatch big enough to have been put up on a post at a street corner.  The blonde pretended to read the time, then said, “That was a clever answer you gave me.  Very funny.  Could you do it again?  Maybe I could learn it.”

Adele seemed thrilled about this and at once began reciting the whole thing.  This gave the blonde an opportunity to look back along the aisle and get a fix on the man that Mr. Glenn was so interested in.

How stiffly that man sat, thought the blonde.  Was he real?  She studied his large-domed, small-jawed head perched on a garden-hose neck, his sloping but fairly wide shoulders covered by an impossible heavy sweater, his large hands on bony wrists.  Adele went through her little recitation twice and still the man had not moved a fraction of an inch.

“You want to try it now?” asked Adele and giggled.

“I think I’ve almost got it,” said the blonde, “but please go through it once more.”

“Sure,” said Adele, and started in from the beginning again.

The face of the man in the black sweater was big-nosed and tight-skinned.  There was no expression.  And his complexion showed an unnatural pallor.  She studied the man’s eyes with special interest, for, although they did blink, the rate of repetition of that natural function was far below normal.  Also, the eyes seemed extra dark.  Maybe the pupils were overly dilated, she thought.

Adele got through her recitation again and the blonde told her, “Thanks, I think I’ve got it now.”

As she headed back toward her own seat, the teenager called after her, “Why don’t you try it to see if you’ve got it right?”

“Maybe later,” said the blonde, glancing back at her.

August Glenn was taking some notice of the blonde now.  Smiling, he said, “Excuse me.  Could you tell me what time it is?”

She returned the smile as she took her seat.  “I’m not quite ready for that.  I might get it wrong.”

“I memorized it,” said August.  “I could write it down for you.”

“You must have a very good memory.”  Actually, she was perfectly aware of that fact, along with a lot of other fascinating information about him.  “Sure, I’d appreciate having it on paper.”

“I hope you don’t mind waiting a bit.”

“I’ll live,” she said.

August then went back to studying the man in the black sweater for a moment before he turned his face to the front.

The plane began to buck slightly as it hit upon turbulent air.  A Stewardess chose this moment, maybe as a show of daring, to walk the length of the cabin from front to rear, apparently checking to make sure everyone was behaving.  She seemed to take no notice of the rigid man.

August Glenn, getting his mind off the attractive blonde and back onto the repulsive man, was by now wondering if this entity in the black sweater was not a man at all but an icon carved out of Carrara marble.  After a moment August took a break from studying him, but not to look at the blonde.  Instead he turned in his seat to the other side and let his eyes fall on the most beautiful sight he had ever seen.

Two empty seats away from Glenn sat Zarina, his wife.  Her back was turned to him, for she had her nose to the window and was gazing down at the Gulf of Mexico 35,000 feet below.  Glenn could not see her face just now, and her slim medium-height body was partly disguised by her frilly yellow blouse.  Her bottom half was in snug jeans over femininely sleek riding boots that zipped up the sides.  A cascade of gently waving black hair fell over and mostly covered the yellow top.  From the frills of its short sleeves appeared her shapely, naked arms, golden bronze.  Her hair reached almost to her slender waist and would have fallen below had she been standing or sitting straight instead of being hunched over toward the window as she was.  Glenn let his eyes enjoy the shapeliness of her denim-covered butt and thighs, and could pinpoint, in his imagination, the little raindrop-shaped birthmark, or thought he could.  There it was, he told himself, in the center of her rear right pocket.

Peter Fuller had wanted them to make this trip all dressed up in suits–August in a ridiculous white one–to impress the Mexican officials they were going to meet.  But since Peter couldn’t make it to the airport with them they had been able to get away with wearing the casual stuff they were used to, although August made a generous compromise by getting into a white shirt.  They had pretty much stuck to everything else Fuller had wanted, including the roundabout plane trip which took the Glenns from Helena to New York and from there southwest over the Gulf of Mexico.  Anything to confuse the unknown enemies whose methods of gaining information might be as unusual and effective as their methods of killing.

August moved into the seat beside Zarina and she turned away from the porthole.  Although he had tried to stop thinking about the man in black, August found himself becoming more tense with every passing second.  Now he put his lips close to his wife’s ear.  “Zarina,” he whispered, “I think we may be in danger.”

“What’s wrong?” she breathed as she let her cheek touch his.

“I don’t know.  My nervous system is jangled … and it doesn’t get that way for nothing.”

Zarina knew enough about her husband to take this seriously.  “Is it an immediate danger?”

August hesitated.  “I don’t know, but I do know that it’s connected to the dude sitting across the aisle from us–the one in the black sweater.  That’s where all the bad vibrations are coming from.”

“Y’know,” whispered Zarina, “I’ve felt uneasy about him too, ever since we boarded.”

“This is more than an uneasy feeling I have now.  It started about ten minutes ago.  And since then he’s turned into a statue.  He wasn’t exactly vivacious to start with, but now his lack of movement is incredible.”

The couple drew apart somewhat then, Zarina to look at the man in black; Glenn took the opportunity, in spite of his apprehension, to rest his eyes on his wife’s face which he hadn’t seen for at least thirty seconds.  It was a pretty face, or maybe lovely was a more appropriate word, for the voluptuousness was made up of large, soft brown eyes, a femininely delicate nose, and lips a little too full to be called pretty or cute, but the word hot would have been appropriate.  Her high cheekbones and deep tan, combined with the three-inch golden rings in her ears, held connotations of wagon caravans, campfires, and violin music.  And rightly so, for Zarina was a full-blooded Gypsy.  The beauty of her face was minutely detracted from just now by the expression of revulsion that passed over it as she studied the motionless man in black.

After a few seconds she put her lips to August’s ear again.  “Wouldn’t you say he’s in some sort of trance?”

“Yeah, he is….  I think I’m going to go to work now.”

*      *      *

August Glenn had dropped out of college ten years ago because of boredom.  The formal education had been child’s play to him; he could have compacted several years of it into one and quickly graduated.  Instead he allowed the schooling to unravel at an average rate of speed for as long as he stayed.  This left him much time and mental energy to pour into areas of study that interested him the most but were hardly represented on the curriculum.  He sought out, read, and absorbed as much material as possible that dealt with mind development.  His 200-plus IQ coupled with stiff self-training in the powers of concentration and recall enabled him to digest prodigious amounts of compiled information dealing with the psychic and psychological matters that interested him.  It was not surprising then, that he soon came to the point where he found it necessary to leave many of the well-trod pathways of standard psychological theory so that he could tramp out some of his own.

August first met Peter Fuller, a Doctor of Psychology at the University of California, through a group engaged in a study of mysterious disappearances of persons throughout history.  August and Dr. Fuller, who headed the group, became close friends.

At this point there were only two persons, besides August himself, who knew anything at all about the depth of his knowledge in psychological and supernatural matters.  One of these was Dr. Fuller, and the other was Zarina.

He had met Zarina in Montana during his third and final year of college.  She was a full-blooded Gypsy with mystery surrounding her birth and early childhood.  According to the record, she had been brought to a San Francisco orphanage by her grandmother.  The woman told much about her own background–how as a child she had traveled with one of the many Gypsy caravans that had still colored parts of the North American countryside in those days, and about how she and her daughter and son-in-law had later joined a Gypsy enclave in the slums of Sacramento.

The mysterious aspect was that the woman, Zarina’s grandmother, was terrified.  She would not say much about her fear, or about what had happened to Zarina’s mother and father, but did suggest that someone was now trying to kill both herself and the child.  After being assured that Zarina would be well taken care of in the orphanage, she soon left–to the annoyance of the police who were trying to investigate her case.  She was never seen nor heard from again.  Zarina was adopted by a wealthy family who later moved to Montana, and so she found her way into the college attended by Glenn.

Professor Fuller had been to the wedding, but after that they hadn’t seen him for almost a year and a half.  He had quietly moved to Mexico without telling anyone what he was about.  Then, a few days ago, Peter had suddenly returned.  He had come to the ranch, near Helena, Montana, where Glenn and Zarina made their headquarters.  Glenn and his father were partners in a cattle-ranching enterprise.

“So I got a visit from one Julian Navarro,” Professor Fuller had told Glenn.  “Navarro heads a commission appointed by the Mexican government to investigate the strange, seemingly supernatural, and definitely terrifying occurrences that have been plaguing Mexico City for the last six months or so.  I knew about it, of course–that is, I knew as much as the average person knows.  I had seen some of the damage and read the papers.  This wasn’t my first meeting with Navarro.  He knew I was in Mexico for the purpose of conducting my own private investigation into the supernatural aspects of the ancient Mayan death cults….  Yeah, that’s what I’ve been doing there, but I guess there won’t be time to tell you much about that for a while.  Anyhow, Julian Navarro tried to enlist my services, whatever they might be worth, to help the commission get to the bottom of the problem they were dealing with.”  The professor smoothed back imaginary hair on his naked scalp.  Piercing blue eyes studied August for a moment.

August sat quietly and attentively in his dad’s favorite leather-covered armchair.  Fuller and August were alone in the old rancher’s den.  It had all the traditional western trimmings including a brass spittoon that no one used and on one wall a mounted set of steer horns.  The leather chair creaked as August unconsciously leaned toward the professor and asked, “What, exactly, was the problem?”

“You mean, what is the problem,” corrected Peter.  “No one has yet figured it out and recently it’s become a lot worse.”  He took a gulp of coffee.  “I’m sure you know that Mexico City, since the thirties at least, has been constantly sinking into the mucky ground it stands on….  Yeah, well, lately the rate of sinking has increased alarmingly, to put it mildly.  Engineers, geologists, and the whole circle of orthodox experts can find no reason for the sudden change.  But that’s not the worst of it.  The experts in charge of these studies have died–died quite mysteriously.  Not the workmen, mind you, not even all the experts, only the men in key positions in the investigation–those who were pushing the thing.  As you may guess, no one wants to take on the job anymore.  They’re scared, of course, but they give as an excuse that there has already been enough investigation done to prove that there’s nothing different about the soil under the city, it’s just as it always was.  In other words, they’re stumped.  You realize I’m talking about the engineers and geologists, not Navarro and his group.”

“What do you mean by mysterious deaths?” asked August.

“I mean that no one seems to know what killed these people.  Autopsies show nothing.  They just keel over and that’s it.  Since the medical people haven’t been able to find a bug or anything else, they’re forced to write heart failure on the dotted line.  But those closest to all the facts don’t believe it.”

“I knew about the buildings sinking at a faster rate.”  August picked up his coffee from a low mahogany table shaped like a horseshoe.  “I remember that it was on the news a couple of times a while back, but they didn’t make a big thing out of it then as one might have expected.  I mean they didn’t seem to be all that worried.  But I’ve been pretty well isolated for the last five months, doing some experiments on emotional concentration whenever I had time off from the ranch work, and Dad never bothers with what’s going on in the world.  Just how fast are the buildings sinking now?”

“Like you wouldn’t believe.  It’s not all over–never has been, but for decades the average has been about seven or eight inches per year.  That includes the whole lake bottom so it doesn’t mean that the buildings are disappearing into the ground that fast.  But according to sea level it was at least seven inches per year.  Well, in the last six months the area on which the city stands has dropped five feet, and several buildings have slid another five feet or so into the ground, making ten feet altogether for those.  The Palace of Fine Arts is one of them.  Think of it!  Ten feet in six months!  And most of that during the last month–February.  No one knows what to do about it.”

“Well, it sure seems to be a problem for geologists and engineers,” offered August, but he knew what Peter would say.

“Finding the cause of mysterious deaths is hardly a problem for geologists and engineers.”

“Agreed.  Whose problem is it then?”

Peter said, “Yours, I think.”

“Mine?….  You mean….”  August set down his cup.  “You mean you think I could do something there?”

“Whether or not you can remains to be seen.  The question is, will you go?–will you go and try to do something?”

“Well, you know perfectly well I’d like to.  That’s exactly the sort of thing I’ve been hoping to work at.  But it takes money.  Right now that’s something I don’t have.  Things have gone blooey lately–bad deals, bad luck, low cattle prices.  If things go on as they are now, in a year from now Dad and I will be bankrupt.”

Peter was smiling.  “If you’re all finished crying, then dry your eyes and get ready to lay your hands on a heavy check–and don’t thank me for the money, it’s not mine.”  He pulled a bank draft out of his pocket and handed it to August.

Reading the figure on the check, August kept himself from dancing on the ceiling only because he had spent years training himself to keep his emotions under control.  But he said with feeling, “I’m very happy about this.  Whose money is it?  Whom do I thank?”

“The government of Mexico.”

“They’ve … asked me to work for them?”

“Yep.  I convinced Navarro that you were just the man to put on the case.”

“It’s incredible!” said August half to himself.  “Do they know that I’ve had absolutely no practical experience in such matters?”

“No, and there’s no reason why they should.  Anyhow, I know of no one who does have practical experience in such things.  Doubtless there are some, but I don’t know them and I don’t know how to contact them.  But I do know you and I believe in you.  You’ll be leaving from Helena by plane the day after tomorrow.  I have reservations for you and Zarina.  I won’t be going back with you because I’ll be tied up at home for a couple of weeks, then I’ll come….  You’ll need to do some shopping before you leave–clothes and stuff.  Can’t have you looking threadbare when I’ve built you up to Navarro as a mighty man.  So call Zarina and the three of us will scoot into town right now.”  He got up.

August also got to his feet, a little unsteadily in spite of all his emotion-control training.  “This whole thing is an interesting shock.  I certainly accept your proposal, with gratitude.  But before I leave you’ll have to fill me in on a lot of details.”

“I’ll give you all I can, but I don’t know much more than I’ve already told you.  No one does.  However, I think you’ll find Julian Navarro a good man to work with.  He or some of his men will be at the Mexico City International Airport to bid you welcome.”

“You must know Zarina pretty well,” said August.  “It sure would be hard to make her stay home.  Although I know there’s danger involved, I can’t help but be glad she’s expected to go along with me.”

“Well, you should be.  If you get stuck on something, she’ll more than likely figure it out for you….  There, maybe that’ll take you down a few pegs.”

 

*      *      *

 

August couldn’t always read people’s minds at will; in fact, usually when he tried hard he drew a complete blank.  The thought waves of others more often penetrated his mind when he was least expecting it.  But in this case of the man in the black sweater, August felt confident that he’d be able to tune in to his brain without any trouble, for it was obviously nearly exploding with some dynamic force that was holding the man’s whole body rigid in its grip.

August Glenn leaned back and closed his eyes.  Zarina sat motionless now too, waiting suspensefully and confidently, for she had plenty of faith in her husband’s mental abilities.

Only thirty seconds later August opened his eyes, then leaned close to Zarina and whispered in her ear, “It’s worse than I thought.”

“What is it?”

“There’s only one thought–no, two thoughts–pounding through his head in a continuous, unbroken stream.  It’s horrible.  They’re unbelievably powerful thoughts.”

“You look pale,” noticed Zarina.

“It’s the power … and the horrible rigidity, but that’s not the worst of it.”

“What’s he thinking?”

“About the plane’s controls, that they can’t be moved.  Below this terrible repetition there’s an underlying thought that the plane is on an immovable course which will cause it to crash into the Sierra Madre Oriental–the mountain range straight ahead of us.”

Zarina kept her cool.  “How long till we crash?”

“I don’t know, because he doesn’t know.  He doesn’t think of anything but that the controls are rigid and that the plane will crash into the mountains.”

“You think he can do it?–lock the controls?”

“I think he’s already done it.”

The Gypsy looked out the window, then turned back to August and told him, “We’re no longer over the Gulf.  We’re over land.  But the mountains still look a good distance away.”

August had been turning his head and shoulders toward the man in black, but his wife’s words swiveled him back in her direction.  He did a quick calculation based on a rough estimate of the distance from coastline to mountain range plus his more precise knowledge of the jet’s ordinary cruising speed.  “We have anywhere from about five to ten minutes left before reaching the mountains.”  August also looked out the window now, trying to see to the front as much as possible.  He didn’t modify his calculation.

“If he’s doing it,” said Zarina as she glanced at the black-sweatered man, “we should be able to straighten out everything just by rousing him out of his trance.”

“We’ll try that,” agreed August.

Now a tense male voice sounded over the PA system:  “This is your captain speaking.  Everyone will please fasten their seatbelts.”   A female voice repeated this in Spanish.  In a few seconds a stewardess moved down the aisle from the pilot’s cabin and her face was as strained as the voices in the loudspeakers had been.  She was methodically checking man, woman, and child to make sure they were all obeying the order to buckle themselves down–apparently so they’d be safely strapped into their seats when the plane piled head-on into the sheer rock walls of the Sierra Madre.

A middle-aged woman not far ahead of August and Zarina asked the stewardess if the plane was about to land.  At that moment the chief steward appeared at the head of the aisle and unknowingly answered her question.  He was a large man and spoke in a loud, steady voice.  “Ladies and gentlemen, your full attention, please!  I’m very sorry to inform you that this aircraft is having difficulties in the control systems.  We may have to make an emergency landing within the next few minutes.  Please remain quietly in your seats with your seat belts fastened.  We will do all within our power to rectify the situation.”  He quickly turned back into the service lounge, a compartment next to the cockpit.

“Yes,” said August, “we will do all in our power to rectify the situation.”  He got up and stepped close to the man in the black sweater.  That person continued to stare straight ahead, his whole body as rigid as the controls of the plane.

August dealt the man a slap to the head that rocked his whole body, but did not move his head in relation to his shoulders.  It was like hitting a huge block of wood.  The man tipped back into his original position without having batted an eye or changed his expressionless face in the slightest.  It was obvious that he was completely unaware of August’s attack–as unaware as he was of all external sensations.  Zarina was now standing beside August, and he told her, “I’m beginning to think he’s under the control of other minds–a group working, concentrating together somewhere.”

“What makes you think that?”

“I find it hard to believe that one man alone could have enough psychokinetic power to lock the plane’s controls, but a group of experts in that science–”

He was interrupted by a stewardess.  “Sir, what are you doing?  I saw you strike that man!  Please be seated and fasten your seat belt.  You also, ma’am.  Didn’t you hear what Mr. Granger, the chief steward, said?  We may be forced to make a crash landing in a few minutes!”

August told her, “My wife and I probably know more than anyone else on this plane about what’s wrong with the controls.  Take me to the pilot at once.”  He didn’t wait for her to reply, but turned to Zarina.  “Keep working on this dude.  Do your best to snap him out of his trance.  We still have a few minutes left, but if nothing else works there’s still one sure way of turning him off–the permanent way….  Now, miss,” he swung back to the stewardess, “take me to the cockpit immediately.”

“If you know something about what’s wrong with the plane,” said the dark, slender hostess, “I guess I’d better.”

In a few seconds August was in the instrument-cluttered flight cabin facing three worried men–the pilot, the copilot, and the flight engineer.

The stewardess introduced Glenn thus:  “Captain, this man says he knows something about what’s wrong with the plane.  I thought I’d better bring him in here.”

August said, “I know partly what’s wrong, but that doesn’t mean I can do anything about it.”

The pilot had been in the act of getting up from his seat when August had entered; now he took a step toward him.  “If you have anything to say, you’d better say it fast.  We have only a few minutes left before we crash into those mountains!”  He pointed one arm out behind him to the narrow strip of front window.  It showed an abrupt range of barren gray-green rock with the visible part of its lower slopes a sharp contrast of vegetation.

“I understand,” said August, “that the controls are all stuck.  I came here mainly to check out the matter firsthand.”

“They’re stuck all right,” snapped the captain, “and unless they get unstuck … we’re all going to die!”  He was at the upper end of middle age but athletic and healthy looking.  Likely he had a wife, children, and grandchildren expecting his safe return home.

The copilot was bent over his radio talking to the controller at Mexico City’s airport.  The flight engineer, gray-haired, slightly pot-bellied, sat in an upholstered chair facing a side wall of the cabin.  In front of him, and on overhanging panels above him, was a great assortment of gauges and controls–the aircraft systems instruments.

“There’s something screwy about all this,” said the flight engineer.

“You’re damned right it’s screwy!” agreed the captain.  “It’s entirely impossible for all the controls to get jammed at the same time.  And before they got jammed they aimed us right at the mountains!  It must be some sort of sabotage.”  He looked sharply at August.  “If you know anything about it, mister, you’d better tell us right now!”

“It’s sabotage all right,” said August, “but not of any ordinary kind.  It’s–”

The pilot stepped close to August and grabbed him by the arms.  “What the hell have you done?  Tell me!”  The man’s policemanlike cap was turned slightly askew and a lock of unruly dark hair curled over his wrinkle-distorted forehead.  “Please tell me what you’ve done!”

“I haven’t done anything,” said August.  “Get a hold of yourself….  Now listen.  The plane’s controls have been immobilized by psychokinetic mind power.  I think a fair-sized group of persons are involved, but they’re channeling their power through one man who’s present in the plane.  The others needn’t be on the plane–they could be anywhere.”

The captain had lowered his hands from Glenn and moved back a pace.  “I don’t understand what the hell you’re talking about.”

“I do,” spoke up the copilot, a youngish, dark man who looked enough like the captain to have been his son and maybe was.  “I know about psychokinesis and I believe in it.”  He was taking off his earphones.

August stepped past the captain and stopped beside the copilot’s chair.  “That’s good.  We need to cooperate if anything’s to be done.  Right now my wife is trying to rouse the channel man out of his deep trance.  I don’t think she’ll have any success, so … we’ll probably have no choice but to kill him.  I think that’ll be the only way to free the controls so that a lot of innocent people don’t die instead.”

In the passenger cabin the blonde woman was watching Zarina working over the man in the black sweater.  Sometimes the Gypsy would talk into his ear; then again she would shake him, slap him, and once even punched him squarely in the nose so that a few seconds later his mouth and chin turned bloody.  Passengers all around were watching with expressions of shock on their faces, but so far no one had interfered.  When Zarina pulled the scrawny man out of his seat and flung him onto the floor of the aisle, the blonde woman got to her feet.  Just then she heard a man’s voice speaking from behind her.  The heavy voice said in Spanish, “Yes … you do not have much time….  I will do as you say.”

The blonde turned and was just in time to see a thickset, expensively suited little man, sitting two rows behind her, lowering something from the side of his head.  A fair sized two-way radio?

She turned her attention back to Mrs. Glenn and her victim.  He remained on the floor with Zarina kicking him savagely.

The Gypsy suddenly felt her arm caught in the strong grip of the blonde woman’s hand.  The blonde said, “Just what do you think you’re doing?”

In the cockpit, August and the copilot had pretty well taken the situation into their own hands.  Not that they were actually doing anything, but they were the only ones of the four in the cabin (the stewardess had left) who were calm enough to do any straight thinking.  And the copilot was willing to go along with whatever August suggested.  He really had nothing else to do.  The captain and the flight engineer had become impatient with August’s–and the copilot’s–talk about psychokinesis, and were at present struggling shoulder to shoulder with controls on the front panels.  They couldn’t move anything a fraction of an inch.  Even the dials of gauges such as the horizon and deviation indicators were motionless although the plane was obviously loosing altitude because of the way it was slanting downward from its proper flight path.

August glanced at the fast-approaching ramparts of the Sierra Madre.  “How much time left?” he asked the copilot.

“Can’t tell accurately,” replied the young man, “but I’d say about two minutes.  And it’s plain to see now that we’re headed for a solid smash-up.  We might miss the first few peaks, but we’re sure to pile up dead-on a few seconds later.  It’ll be over quickly anyhow–probably no suffering.”

“Don’t think about that yet,” said August.  “We still have our trump … and I’m going to play it right now.  Get ready to swing this bird right, left, or up, whatever turns you on.  The controls should be free in just about ten seconds.”

“You’re gonna do the guy in?”

“There’s nothing else to do,” said August as he started toward the door.  Just then it opened and three women came in–Zarina, the classy blonde, and a stewardess.  The stewardess began, “Captain, these two ladies insisted–”

“August!” Zarina cut in.  “Something queer has come up!  You’d better take a look.”

“Queer,” said the beautiful blonde woman, “is a bit of an understatement.”

August followed Zarina and the blonde back out into the passenger cabin.  As the three hurried toward the rigid man who was still lying in the aisle, Zarina began explaining the cause of her new anxiety.  “There seems to be some sort of a … shield … an invisible barrier around the man.  I can’t touch him anymore.”

August didn’t reply.  There was a tight knot forming in his stomach.  The trump he had been about to play had certainly been revolting to him; and yet he knew of no other way to save the planeload of passengers.  But now it was beginning to look as though he had no trump.  Well, nothing like trying, especially with time running out.

He reached into a tight jean pocket and pulled out a small toothbrush in a plastic case, quickly jerked it out of that container.  He got so far as activating the device by forcing the bristles to one side, thus readying it for a particular kind of squeeze that would cause it to blow off the end of its handle and spew out four tiny plastic pellets, one per squeeze, with enough force to penetrate a skull.

August stood over the stiff form of the man in black.  Although lying on his side on the floor, his body’s posture had not changed from when he had been in the seat; even his head had not dropped down toward the floor but was sticking straight out to the side.  Only now his nose and lips were bloody.  August was almost shocked at seeing how badly Zarina had beaten the strange duck in her attempt to rouse him from his trance.  She had done her best.

The copilot’s voice sounded over the intercom.  “Ladies and gentlemen, children:  It is my sad duty to inform you that unless a miracle happens, we will crash into the mountains before us in less than thirty seconds.  There will be no survivors.”   He was a spiritual man, so in this moment of gravity he added, “I suggest that we spend the remainder of our time in prayer.”

August pointed the toothbrush at the rigid man’s head.

But then August’s right arm and hand–the one holding the deadly device–went numb.

He couldn’t even open his fingers to drop the damn thing.

 

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