Thursday, August 30, 2007

Part 1 of an old project repolished....Doc Zarathustra


Portions of this text were first published in a different form in Doc Zarathustra Magazine #23 November 1933. Reprinted by permission Concordat Press. Text here, Doc Zarathustra Adventures© Hazardous Tract Press 2002. Doc Zarathustra, Four-Eyes Patterson, Pam Zarathustra, Abraham McGurk and Spats Diamond and Nicky Tesla Jr are registered trade marks.


He took his name from a prophet of an ancient and venerable religion, because he had no memory, and the name had been in the title of the first book he’d opened following his physical recovery. He’d had no trouble reading or absorbing knowledge: he gained degrees as other men collected sports cards, or women. Physics, chemistry, biology, medicine. He didn't mind being called Doc. Folks knew him as Doc Zarathustra, and he was getting on for being a legend for fighting evil in the early days of 1933 when this tale is set.


From the Memoirs of Donald “Spats” Diamond

With the considerable income his patents and experiments brought him Doc maintained a number of free medical clinics in the poorer parts of New York where anyone down on their luck could get advice, treatment, or a sympathetic ear. He was working up to an ideal he called `socialised medicine' but he hadn't sold it to the President yet, even though it turned out he'd taken a bullet out of the man’s arm in the mud of the Great War, back before he’d lost his memory.

The clinics were supposed to be anonymous, but word had got out somehow that Doc was involved, possibly because a man with his physical strength and build couldn't pull an inspection without some punk intern reckoning that the papers had a need to know. Doc hated that, but sometimes it helped. If someone too worried about cost decided they trusted his free clinics - because Doc had been on the cover of the New York Times bending a steel bar - and got the jab he needed, Doc would be happy.
Sometimes it didn't help. Like when Pugs Layfette got a gat and the nurses in the clinic up against the wall and demanded Doc come and help him: not any surgeon or doctor, but Doc. It was lucky for the nurses that Doc was in the country. He'd flown back just the night before from Paris after the business of the Crown of Fantomas, with the accolades of L'Academie Francais ringing in his ears. A reporter at the airport had put down that he was still blushing from being kissed on the check by the French Premier's pretty niece, and that could have been so.
Certainly he was fussing and tinkering with his scientific works in the lab, in a way that he tended to do when distracted by something when the call reached him from the New York police commissioners office. In a second he and his crew were moving.
Spats Diamond, that's me – reformed confidence trickster (Doc was the only man ever to turn down the Big Con, and trick me into joining him for a life of adventure on the right side of the law, a trick I've never regretted falling for) – Abraham McGurk, the man-mountain of Nebraska, an ex-logger and the US's foremost authority on bird and animal life, and Nicholas Tesla Jr – the jive talking Negro nephew of the great inventor, taken under Doc's wing after his uncle's demise at the hands of The Cult of the Coiled Serpent. Four- Eyes Patterson - the King of Optics – was on contract at Panama Observatory fitting a new refractor of Doc's design, and thank heavens Pamela 'Iris' Vane, the mystery woman who claimed to be Doc's sister and to know as much about optics as Patterson, had trailed after him to his annoyance rather than after Doc. Thus it was the four of us that leap to action, diving into the whoop-chutes that carried us, on nigh frictionless surfaces coated with a material Doc was working on for the President's space-program down from the seventy fifth storey lab and into the great garage hidden under the building. I gunned the motor of the Rolls Royce engined auto, McGurk filling the two back seats like something explorers might bring back from the Amazon, and Nicholas sucking gum like a baby with a pacifier next to me. Doc Zarathustra rode the running board, his great corded muscles bending to accommodate every bump in the road as if he was surfing the car.

Pugs Layfette was getting nervous, and so were the women he'd got as hostages. He'd let loose with a few rounds to soften everyone up, and it was working. They were brave women, these nurses, they'd do anything a male doctor would do – risk infection, work through the bone shattering and flesh-cutting of operations, put their care and skill into saving lives – but they hadn't come to work geared for war, keyed up to be shot at, or ready to face a madman with a smoking machine gun.

Pugs hugged the gun to him like it was his only friend they told me later, and he was twitching. Great big spasms of the muscles in his arms like St Vitus dance. Just what you want to see in a gat waving hoodlum, so it’s hardly surprising that they didn't jump him, and they did as they were told.

Doc strode up to the front of the clinic and took a loud-hailer of the new collapsible sort from his pocket, where he'd placed it from our car's trunk of gadgets.

`Pugs?' he said. The gunsel had asked for him by name and had given his own. A bad sign in some ways, I thought – and had said as much to Doc on the way – a thug with no reason to hide his identity might have decided he wasn't going to be taken alive. Doc hadn't agreed, he's got the darnest cock-eyed optimism for a man who faces down some of the things and people he's been up against, and he put his view now to the man himself.

`You don't want to hurt anyone, do you?' Doc asked, and he had that reasonable tone I've heard him use. McGurk bless his flat mountain-man's head can charm the birds down out of the trees (I've seen him, heck I've had to clear the bald eagle droppings of that pet of his off my spats more times than I like) but Doc's got McGurk's tone for men.

`No, no…I'

Pugs seemed to be buying it. Just to be on the safe side I started up a fire-escape opposite meaning to get a bead on Pugs with an old army rifle I'd slung in the back of the car. Maybe I could shoot that gat out of his hands as he came out. Hey maybe I could just shoot him in the head, Doc'd give me a dressing down, but I've never cottoned to this complicated justice business for anyone who'd threaten a lady.
It was a mistake. The sun must have caught the barrel of the rifle as I maneuvered it into position and I guess Pugs caught that glint from the corner of his eye.

`No tricks, you freaks,' he shouted and he whirled the machine gun round in a arc his finger tightening on the trigger, as he jerked the muzzle of the death-dealing autofirer back towards the cowering dames. I struggled to get a line on him, but before I could fire a great shape moved between me and Pugs, as Doc covered the hundred yards of open space in a few scant seconds. I don't keep Olympic records in my head like Four-Eyes does, but I think Doc was giving them five minute milers a good head start and beating them at the finish. His left arm caught the muzzle of the machine gun as it fired and knocked it upwards, the flash must have burn his skin through his shirt but he didn't flinch at the powder-burn or the noise. Instead he followed through with his right, and Pugs's jaw crumpled under a blow that I knew in other circumstance Doc would have managed to land just hard enough to daze and disorientate. Under the circumstance I think he can be forgiven for KO'ing the man, even with what we learned later.

A nurse was at Doc's side bandaging his arm, when I made it over there. Nicholas was eyeing up the pretty women (I don't think I've ever seen a US nurse who wasn't a knock out, although when I was in England after the Great War, I saw some matrons that'd make you think twice about getting sick). Young Tesla’s going to be an Italian-Negro terror for the ladies when he gets his growth, and McGurk was patiently bending some surgical steel into a pair of hand-cuffs. Probably to impress the ladies too, the big oaf, for I knew for a fact there were several sets of Doc's escape proof cuffs in the car.

Another nurse, a brunette, maybe a bit less pretty than the blonde pampering Doc (much to his embarrassment) was checking out Pugs. Close up now I could see the squashed prize-fighters nose that must have given the gun man his nickname. I could also see he wasn't breathing, just as the nurse announced that he was dead.

It was a conundrum especially when the police medical examiner confirmed that Doc's blow, worthy of a world champ though it had been couldn't possibly have killed a healthy man. But something had terrified an armed thug into risking his liberty to contact Doc, and something had carried him away to the banks of the Styx before he could say what it was.

`I'd like to conduct the autopsy,' Doc was saying to the medical officer, `I wonder if Miss Weathen would care to assist me.' He indicated the brunette nurse, to - I thought – the blonde's evident annoyance, and I wondered for a second how he knew her name, before I spotted her nurses number on her uniform, and the duty roster on the back of the clinic wall, and of course before I remembered who's clinic it was and who personally checked that his funds were buying the best care for the ill folk they helped.

`Why, yes, Doctor Zarathustra,' Miss Weathen said, firmly, `I'd be grateful to assist in any way I can'.

`Excellent,' Doc said, `I have a suspicion about the manner of Mr Layfette's demise, tell me do you notice anything about his physiognomy?'

I peered closer as Miss Weathen did, and like her, I uttered a gasp. The man's face had begun to turn a mottled sickly back and blue as if it had been badly bruised days before.

Simon BJ [With love and regard to Doc Savage, and his creator Lester Dent]

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