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Murder Madness by Murray Leinster

Murder Madness by Murray Leinster

Murder Madness! Seven Secret Service men had completely disappeared. Another had been found a screaming, homicidal maniac, whose fingers writhed like snakes. So Bell, of the secret “Trade,” plunges into South America after The Master—the mighty, unknown octopus of power whose diabolical poison threatens a continent!

Book Details

Book Details

Murder Madness! Seven Secret Service men had completely disappeared. Another had been found a screaming, homicidal maniac, whose fingers writhed like snakes. So Bell, of the secret “Trade,” plunges into South America after The Master—the mighty, unknown octopus of power whose diabolical poison threatens a continent!

Murder Madness is a four part serial novel of sinister adventure, first published in 1930 in Astounding Stories of Super Science. In 1931, it was republished as Leinster’s first hardback novel.

Murray Leinster (1896–1975) was a nom de plume of William Fitzgerald Jenkins. He wrote and published more than 1,500 short stories and articles, 14 movie scripts, and hundreds of radio scripts and television plays.

Murder Madness contains 4 illustrations.

Astounding1930 05 Murder Madness by Murray Leinster
Astounding Stories 1930-05


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Excerpt: Murder Madness

Chapter I

THE engines of the Almirante Gomez were going dead slow. Away up beside her monster funnels her siren blew dismally, Whoo-oo-oo-oo! and was silent for the regulation period, and blew desolately again into the clinging gray mist that ringed her all about.

Her decks were wet and glistening. Droplets of water stood upon the deck-stanchions, and dripped from the outer edge of the roof above the promenade deck. A thin, swirling fog lay soggily upon the water and the big steamer went dead slow upon her course, sending dismal and depressing blasts from her horn from time to time. It was barely possible to see from one side of the ship to the other. It was surely impossible to see the bow from a point half astern.

Charley Bell went forward along the promenade deck. He passed Senor Ortiz, ex-Minister of the Interior of the Argentine Republic. Ortiz bowed to him punctiliously, but Bell had a sudden impression that the Argentine’s face was gray and ghastly. He checked himself and looked back. The little man was climbing the companion-ladder toward the wireless room.

BELL slipped on toward the bow. He did not want to give an impression of furtiveness, but the Almirante Gomez was twelve days out of New York and Bell was still entirely ignorant of why he was on board. He had been called into the office of his chief in the State Department and told curtly that his request for leave of absence had been granted. And Bell had not asked for a leave of absence. But at just that moment he saw a rubber band on the desk of his immediate superior, a fairly thick rubber band which had been tied into a certain intricate knot. And Bell had kept quiet. He went to his apartment, found his bags packed and tickets to Rio via the Almirante Gomez in an envelope on his dressing-table, and went out and caught a train to the ship.

And that was all he knew. The siren up above blared dolefully into the fog. It was damp, and soggy, and depressing. The other passengers were under cover, and the decks seemed to be deserted. From the saloon came the sound of music. Bell pulled the collar of his light topcoat about his throat and strolled on toward the bow.

He faced a row of steamer chairs. There was a figure curled up in one of them. Paula Canalejas, muffled up against the dampness and staring somberly out into the mist. Bell had met her in Washington and liked her a great deal, but he swore softly at sight of her in his way.

The afternoon before, he had seen a stoker on the Almirante Gomez pick up a bit of rope and absently tie knots in it while he exchanged Rabelasian humor with his fellows. He had not looked at Bell at all, but the knots he tied were the same that Bell had last seen tied in a rubber band on a desk in the State Department in Washington. And Bell knew a recognition signal when he saw one. The stoker would be off watch, just now, and by all the rules of reason he ought to be out there on the forecastle, waiting for Bell to turn up and receive instructions.

BUT Bell paused, lit a cigarette carefully, and strolled forward.

“Mr. Bell.”

He stopped and beamed fatuously at her. It would have been logical for him to fall in love with her, and it is always desirable to seem logical. He had striven painstakingly to give the impression that he had fallen in love with her—and then had striven even more painstakingly to keep from doing it.

“Hullo,” he said in bland surprise. “What are you doing out on deck?”

Brown eyes regarded him speculatively.

“Thinking,” she said succinctly. “About you, Mr. Bell.”

Bell beamed.

“Thinking,” he confided, “is usually a bad habit, especially in a girl. But if you must think, I approve of your choice of subjects. What were you thinking about me?”

The brown eyes regarded him still more speculatively.

“I was wondering—” said Paula, glancing to either side, “I was wondering if you happen to be—er—a member of the United States Secret Service.”

Bell laughed with entire naturalness.

“Good Lord, no!” he said amusedly. “I have a desk in the State Department building, and I read consular reports all day long and write letters bedeviling the consuls for not including unavailable statistics in their communications. That’s my work. I’m on leave now.”

SHE looked skeptical and, it may be, disappointed.

“You look as if you didn’t believe me,” said Bell, smiling. “I give you my word of honor I’m not a member of the United States Secret Service. Will that do to relieve your suspicions?”

“I believe you,” she said slowly, “but it does not relieve my mind. I shall think about other people. I have something important to tell a member of the United States Secret Service.”

Bell shrugged.

“I’m sorry,” he said amiably, “that I can’t oblige you by tipping one of them off. That’s what you wanted me to do, isn’t it?”

She nodded, and the gesture was very much like a dismissal. Bell frowned, hesitated, and went on. He was anxious to meet the stoker, but this….

The siren droned dismally over his head. Fog lay deep about the ship. The washing of the waves and dripping of water on the decks was depressing. It seemed to be getting thicker. Four stanchions ahead, the mist was noticeable. He found that he could count five, six, seven…. The eighth was indefinite. But a bar materialized in the fog before him, and the grayness drew away before him and closed in behind. When he was at the forward end of the promenade, looking down upon the forecastle deck, he was isolated. He heard footsteps some distance overhead. The watch officer up on the bridge. Bell glanced up and saw him as an indistinct figure. He waited until the officer paced over to the opposite side of the bridge. The air throbbed and shook with the roaring of the siren.

Bell slipped over the edge of the rail and swung swiftly down the little ladder of iron bars set into the ship’s structure. In seconds he had landed, and was down upon that terra incognita of all passengers, the deck reserved for the use of the crew.

A  MAST loomed overhead, with its heavy, clumsy derrick-booms. A winch was by his side. Oddments of deck machinery, inexplicable to a landsman, formed themselves vaguely in the mist. The fog was thicker, naturally, since the deck was closer to the water’s edge.

“Hey!” growled a voice close beside him. “Passengers ain’t allowed down here.”

An unshaven, soot-smeared figure loomed up. Bell could not see the man save as a blur in the mist, but he said cheerfully:

“I know it, but I wanted to look. Seafaring’s a trade I’d like to know something about.”

The figure grunted. Bell had just given his word of honor that he wasn’t a member of the Secret Service. He wasn’t. But he was in the Trade—which has no official existence anywhere. And the use of the word in his first remark was a recognition signal.

“What is your trade, anyways?” growled the figure skeptically.

“I sharpen serpents’ teeth from time to time,” offered Bell amiably. He recognized the man, suddenly. “Hullo, Jamison, you look like the devil.”

JAMISON drew nearer. He grunted softly.

“I know it. Listen closely, Bell. Your job is getting some information from Canalejas, Minister of War in Rio. He sent word up to Washington that he’d something important to say. It isn’t treachery to Brazil, because he’s a decent man. Seven Secret Service men have disappeared in South America within three months. They’ve found the eighth, and he’s crazy. Something has driven him mad, and they say it’s a devilish poison. He’s a homicidal maniac, returning to the United States in a straight-jacket. Canalejas knows what’s happened to the Service men. He said so, and he’s going to tell us. His daughter brought the news to Washington, and then instead of going on to Europe as she was supposed to do, she started back to Rio. You’re to get this information and pass it on to me, then try to keep your skin whole and act innocent. You were picked out because, as a State Department man, hell could be raised if you vanished. Understand?”

Bell nodded.

“Something horrible is going on. Secret Service can’t do anything. The man in Asunción isn’t dead—he’s been seen—but he’s cut loose. And Service men don’t often do that. He don’t report. That means the Service code may have been turned over, and hell to pay generally. It’s up to the Trade.”

Excerpt From: Murray Leinster. “Murder Madness.”

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