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   Chapter 20 THE SKY SLIDER

Whispers at Dawn; Or, The Eye By Roy J. Snell Characters: 10305

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Having secured Spider as his special bodyguard and obtained permission to enter the deserted grounds of the Century of Progress, Johnny set out on his mission of discovery. He was determined to learn what he could about the mysterious Whisperer.

It was a dark night. Clouds hid the moon. One of those cold, gusty nights it was, when fine siftings of snow creep and tremble about your feet, when sharp gusts of wind shooting out from unexpected angles blow fine particles of ice upon your cheek, and you say with a start, "Some devil of the north has been let loose to blow his breath upon me."

"Boo!" Spider shuddered. "How cold it is!"

"Yes, and ghostly!" Johnny added. They were on the old Fair grounds. "When you think what this place has been, so full of light and sunshine, so hilarious with the screams and shouts of jolly revelers, every corner seems to hide a ghost."

"Yes." Spider quickened his pace. "There's the place where they had all those freaks-tall, skinny men, short, crooked ones, two headed, one legged-all sorts of funny and distorted humans. Gee! Johnny, what a joy to have two legs and two arms, eyes, ears and all that!"

"Yes, and what poor use some of us make of them!" Johnny grumbled.

"Look." Spider was full of recollections. "There's where they kept that huge snake. Suppose he's in there now, all coiled up, torpid for his winter's sleep?" The thought caused him to veer sharply to the left.

"Ghosts, all right," Johnny said quietly. "Ghosts of those who stood in these places hour by hour, patiently doing their duty, roasting hot dogs, guarding jewels, changing money, selling tickets. Ghosts too of performers on this hilarious Midway."

"And ghosts of those who came to see," Spider chuckled genially.

"But look!" Johnny's voice rose. He gripped Spider's arm. "Do I see a light up there, or don't I?"

"Up where?"

"Tower of the Sky Ride."

A gaunt skeleton of steel, the towers of the Sky Ride where, in the days of wild joy at the Century of Progress three million thrill seekers had shot upward to go gliding and bumping across the sky! And, yes, there at the very top of the left-hand tower a pale yellow light shone.

"The Whisperer!" Johnny's voice was husky with emotion. "We've found him."

"But that place-" There was doubt in Spider's tone. "That place has been locked for months. Electric current is probably turned off. How'd he get up there? Six hundred feet and more!" There was awe in his tone. He was a climber, was Spider-none better, so he had supposed. Had he come upon the tracks of one more skillful than he?

"I could do it," he muttered beneath his breath. "I could climb that tower. Six hundred feet. Bah! What's the diff? Two hundred, three hundred, or six, it's all the same.

"But that man?" He turned to Johnny. "He can't just pucker up his lips and whisper a mile, can he? Takes machines, instruments, whatever you may call it, don't it?"

"Yes, I'm sure it does," Johnny agreed. "I don't know a lot about it myself. It's all like magic to me. But it must take a lot of mechanisms and a strong electric current.

"Of course," he added thoughtfully, as they walked slowly forward, "the Sky Ride's in somebody's care. Bound to be. The managers of next year's Fair are going to operate it. And if someone had some sort of a pull he could get permission to turn on the current and set an elevator running. He could get up and down that way. And what a place he'd have for whispering! Whisper all over the world, I'd say. I'd like to have a picture of that man-if it is a man."

"If it is?" Spider laughed. "You don't think he's an ape, or something?"

"Might be a woman," said Johnny seriously.

"Yeah, a woman! Fine chance!" Spider scoffed.

"Tell you what!" he exclaimed suddenly. "I'll take that dare!"

"What dare?" Johnny stopped short in his tracks.

"I'll get you his picture, and if it's a lady, I'll take two pictures."

"You mean you'll climb that tower? Six hundred feet! You-you've not been drinking, Spider?"

"Drinking, Johnny?" There was a deep note of reproach in Spider's voice. "Whatever else I am, Johnny, I'm not a fool. Only a fool drinks. And a fellow who climbs is a double fool if he drinks. Drink, Johnny, makes you feel as if you could fly. And that's a fatal feeling when you're up in the air.

"No, Johnny, I'm sober. You want to know what that man looks like, what he's doing up there. So do I. The elevator may be working. Who knows? If not-up I go."

"All right," Johnny agreed reluctantly. Full well he knew how futile it is to argue with a person of Spider's nature. "You'll know when you've had enough, won't you? You'll give it up if it's sort of getting the best of you?"

The Spider's reply was a guttural mutter.

"All the same, you promise!" Johnny insisted.

"Have it your way," Spider mumbled. "But just you watch this flashlight. I'll fasten it to my belt, behind. It will be shining straight down. Guess you'll be able to see it all the way up. It's pretty bright. When you see it up there at the top you'll know I'm there.

"And-when you see a white flash you'll know I've got

the picture. Always carry a flash-bulb and a little camera, I do. Get some great pictures in all sorts of places."

"Yes," Johnny grumbled, "and some time you'll get your head blown off in the bargain!"

"Oh, yeah?" Spider laughed a crackly sort of laugh.

The elevator to the Sky Ride tower might or might not have been working. The two boys had no way to tell. The door to the place was locked and bolted, apparently from within.

"Just as well pleased," Spider chuckled. "Always have wanted to climb that thing since I saw the first two sections sticking up out of the snow in 1933-so here goes!" He was away up the steel frame, like a monkey.

It was with a feeling akin to awe that Johnny saw that small, wavering spot of yellow light mount up, up, up toward the spot where some bright star lay hidden behind a cloud.

"He'll never climb so high," he muttered. "I shouldn't have let him try. And yet-" There was a mystery to be solved, and mysteries at times are to be solved only by deeds of daring. So he watched the light at Spider's back mount and mount until it was but a tiny speck of yellow light that, winking and blinking, rose ever higher and higher.

As for Spider, he was not disturbed. A climber from the age of six, he had within him supreme self-confidence. What is distance anyway? If you fall at fifty feet you will die. Can six hundred be worse? Thus he reasoned and, mounting higher and higher, thought only of his goal. He would have a look into that room of mystery. He'd surprise someone at his work and, be he man, woman or devil-flash! There would be a picture.

He was right in part-at least, the flash was not lacking; for, having at last scaled the height, he stood upon a steel cross-beam to draw his chin above a steel window frame. And there he hung, drinking in with his eyes the scene that lay before him.

The right-hand corner of a broad, glass-enclosed space had been roughly partitioned off into a small room. At the center of this narrow space, bending over some curious instrument, was a tall, thin man.

That he was not conscious of prying eyes was at once apparent, for, after a moment, partially straightening up, he switched on a powerful lamp, thus sending a sharp pencil of illumination through the clouds that hung over the city.

This accomplished, he turned half about.

Spider dropped low, he might be seen.

When next he dared bring his eyes above the edge of the window frame he found the man facing a peculiar square of metal attached to a low pedestal.

"A microphone! He's talking into it. The Whisperer!" Spider breathed.

Then with the force of a blow it came to him that here was his chance.

"The picture," he muttered low.

Twisting an arm about a steel beam, with no thought of the dizzy depths below, with fingers that trembled ever so slightly, he adjusted an electric light bulb, half filled with a sort of tinfoil, to his flashlight. Then adjusting his small camera, he shifted his position, held camera and flashlight high, then pressed a button.

The result was most astonishing. A bright flash was to be expected. The tinfoil filled bulb was such as newspaper photographers use for taking flashlight pictures. Yes, that first bright flash was to be expected. The second, following closely upon the first and accompanied by a sharp report, had not been anticipated. A bullet burned Spider's ear. With a cry of consternation, he released his grip, dropped a short way toward the black depths below, struck a steel beam, threw out his hands, clutched something cold and substantial, then hung there between heaven and earth.

The first indication that all had not gone well came to Johnny when some object falling from the sky crashed upon a square of wind-blown pavement not twenty feet from where he stood.

Springing forward, he cast the light of his electric torch upon some black fragments scattered over the spot where the thing had struck.

"The-the camera!" he whispered. "Spider's camera. There'll be no picture. But Spider. What of him?"

The wind that whistled about the foot of the Sky Ride tower brought him no answer.

He had been watching the top of that tower for a full five minutes when some object, gliding along a cluster of four cables closely set together and running at a broad angle from the top of the tower to the ground, suddenly caught his attention.

"Can that be a man?" he asked himself, staring with all his eyes as the thing moved downward.

"If it's a man, is it Spider or the Whisperer?" he asked himself a moment later.

Determined to know, he went racing away toward the end of the cable, some three blocks away.

He arrived just in time to see the slider drop to earth. It was Spider.

"Quite a sky-slider, I am!" he chuckled.

"Well done!" exclaimed Johnny. "Did you see him?"

"Not very clearly. He's a man, all right. And he's a tiger. Nearly got me. Never again!"

Spider led the way off the grounds.

And so for the time the mystery of the Whisperer remained unsolved. Only this was known with a fair degree of certainty: his place of retreat was one high tower of the Sky Ride.

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