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In one of the most masterly of Doc Savage adventures, the Man of Bronze awakens to discover that he’s in another man’s body and imprisoned in a penitentiary, serving a life sentence! Hundreds will die unless Doc can escape and solve the mystery of the mesa madness in an adventure the ranges from New York to Ohio to Utah and points west.
155 pages, with a reading time of ~2.5 hours (38,762 words), and first published in 1939. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2016.
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The life of Thomas Idle had been an ordinary one. Nothing fantastic had ever happened to him.
Nor, unfortunately was Tom Idle a well-known young man. Had he been a person of importance, the newspapers might have blazed up about his disappearance, and perhaps this would have focused attention on the utterly incredible thing that happened to him.
Still, the thing was so strange that no one might have believed it, even if it had happened to Hitler, or Mussolini, or someone equally well known. No one believed Tom Idle. No one believed him in time, that is, to stop the baby monster of horror which began to grow when it took its first bite and swallowed Tom Idle.
Tom Idle was born on a Missouri farm, soon orphaned, went to high school, then worked on a farm as a hired man. A few weeks ago, he had become tired of farming, and, seeking greener fields, had vagabonded westward on freight trains and by hitchhiking.
Now he was trying to find a job in Salt Lake City, Utah.
So far, the nearest he had come to an adventure was the time old Jinn, the farm mule, kicked him; but old Jinn kicked him on the leg, not the head, so the incident in no way explained what occurred in Salt Lake City.
Tom Idle was using the city park for his hotel.
He awakened on the same park bench he had occupied three nights running. He carefully folded the newspapers he had used to keep the dew off, and placed them in a trash can—he had learned that the park cop, Officer Sam Stevens, did not mind you using the place for a hotel, but resented having the grass littered.
Officer Sam Stevens passed. Tom Idle gave him a grin, and the policeman grinned back.
“Today’s a lucky day, kid,” Officer Stevens said. “I been feelin’ it all mornin’. Today, you find that job.”
“Thanks!” Tom Idle said.
The officer’s hunch made him feel better. He was no clairvoyant, so he could not know what a phantasm the near future held.
Morning air was bracing, the sunshine was bright, and the sky had that remarkably healthful clarity peculiar to Salt Lake City. It did look like a lucky day, at that. Tom Idle went to Skookum’s lunchroom.
“Sinkers and java, Skookum.” He deposited his last nickel on the white counter.
He tried not to remember this was the third day he’d subsisted on coffee and doughnuts.
Skookum said, “This monotony’ll get you down, chief.”
“It’ll have to, then,” Tom Idle answered wryly, “because I’m broke.”
Skookum’s name wasn’t Skookum; it was something which nobody but a Greek could pronounce. Everyone called him Skookum because he was always using slangy Indian expressions when he talked. Skookum was liked.
A few moments later, Skookum unexpectedly put a plate of ham and eggs in front of Tom Idle.
“I can’t pay for that,” Tom Idle said.
“Pay when you land job, chief.”
“What makes you think I’ll land one?”
“Don’t kid yourself. Heap plenty job. You catch.”
Tom Idle’s eyes became suddenly damp with gratitude.
“Thanks, Skookum,” he mumbled.
Physically fortified with Skookum’s unexpected ham and eggs, and mentally perked up by Officer Sam Stevens’ statement that this was a lucky day, Tom Idle did his best—but did not find work that day. He visited all the employment agencies, and even solicited from door to door; but as one man put it, “Jobs are as scarce as hen’s teeth!”
Tom Idle slept that night on his usual bench in the park.
Ever afterward, it seemed to him that this was the last really normal day that he ever spent.
* * * * *
The next morning, a strangled rasping sound caused Tom Idle to awaken. He jerked erect, scattering his newspaper blankets. Because he had really starved for several days, he at once felt nervous and shaky.
He batted his eyes in the morning sun, looking around.
He saw the horrified man immediately.
The man stood beside the park bench. He was past middle age, looked seedy, might have been a professional bum. There was much of the furtiveness and insolence of a confirmed hobo in his face.
The man had obviously made the strangled sound which had aroused Tom Idle. There was utter horror on the man’s face.
“What?” Tom Idle said. “What’d you say?”
Tom Idle looked blankly at the man’s shocked, terrified expression, and came to the conclusion that the fellow was a drunk. He was some souse who’d mistaken Tom Idle for someone named Hondo Weatherbee. That must be it.
“Better sit down,” he suggested soothingly, “and get your eyes uncrossed.”
The horrified man acted as if the devil had asked him to come down and sample the warmth. He started back. Whirled. Fled. He ran wildly away, not looking back.
“I’ll be darned!” Tom Idle said.
He gazed after the fleeing man—the fellow looked so comically ridiculous in his flight. But Tom Idle somehow could not smile, because there was something unnerving about the whole thing. He had a creepy feeling.