LAUGH, KILLER, LAUGH
A WEB STORY (from Zip Comics #30)
by SCOTT FELDMAN
WILLIAM SLOANE, M. D., looked at the case history for the third time. Then he turned frightened eyes up to John Raymond and gestured nervously.
“There’s the entire story, John,” he said. “Do you think my analysis is correct?”
John Raymond peered at him through gleaming spectacles. “Just a moment,” he said. “You tell me that the three murdered doctors were found with their ears chopped off?”
“Exactly,” said Sloane. The pouches of fat on his face quivered. “Their ears had been sliced off with their own scalpels . . . and left lying there in pools of blood.”
Raymond nodded. “I begin to see your point,” he said. “You think that Michael Casey is the murderer—that he’s killing these men and chopping off their ears as a symbol of his revenge?”
“What else can I think?" asked Sloane. “When Casey was hit by that car and I performed the brain operation— why, I was a kid just out of medical school. I was green. It wasn’t my fault that the operation was unsuccessful and Casey came out of it stone deaf and—and—well, insane is the only word for it.” John Raymond’s thoughts raced back to the day Michael Casey had been hit by a drunken driver. Casey had been rushed to the nearest hospital and operated on by Sloane . . . since Sloane had been the only brain specialist available. Perhaps it hadn’t been Sloane’s fault that the operation was unsuccessful—but there had been a great deal of talk about carelessness because it was a charity case. “Go on,” said Raymond.
“Well,” continued Sloane, “as I see it, there’s only one explanation of all these murders. Casey’s twisted mind demands revenge, to pay back the doctors whom he thinks ruined his life. You know how he was after the operation —dull, sullen, long spells in which he forgot even his own name. Well, maybe he’s forgotten the name of the doctor who operated on him . . . and yet, with one of these insane twists, he remembers that the doctor was a member of the state medical board.” Sloane paused and took a deep breath which shook its way out of his throat. “I tell you I’m right, John. Maniacs never believe that they’re insane, so that wouldn’t bother him. But his loss of hearing must have been on his mind all these years—eating at him and filling him with hate— until, with insane logic, he decided to make sure he’d get the right doctor ... by killing every member of the board!”
Raymond looked at Sloane, almost enjoying the pudgy doctor’s fright. He didn’t like Sloane. For one thing, the doctor had always used his family’s wealth to help him— the fact that he became a member of the state medical board immediately upon his graduation from school, rather than after years of actual practice as a doctor, was a perfect example. And for another thing, there was the Casey operation. Raymond remembered how Sloane had airily dismissed ugly carelessness rumors by taking a trip to Europe until things blew over.
“I see,” Raymond said. “But why call on me?”
Sloane reached up and clutched Raymond’s shirt-front with twitching hands. “I’m frightened, John,” he said hoarsely. “You’re an authority on the criminal and the insane mind. You were a consulting specialist at the hospital when I operated on Casey—you remember the case. Do you think my analysis is correct? Tell me!”
Raymond disentangled Sloane’s fingers. “No, Sloane,” he said, with gravity. “I’m quite sure you have nothing to fear.” He retrieved his hat from the clothes-tree and stepped out of the door.
* * *
John Raymond looked tired. His eyes were clouded and his hair, run through many times by nervous fingers, was disarranged.
Suddenly he leaped to his feet. His eyes burned for a moment, and then the light in them quieted.
“No time to lose,” he said grimly. “The Web had better swing into action—right now!”
* * *
The Web dropped silently through an open window leading into the hall of William Sloane’s spacious home. As he did so, he heard footsteps . . . and he sprang, catlike, into a dark corner back of several bookcases.
Four men were walking to William Sloane’s door. One was Sloane himself, two were police officers, and the last man The Web recognized as a detective.
Beads of sweat formed on Sloane’s face. As the other men walked to the door, he waddled after them, repeating, “You’ve got to protect me. I tell you it’s only a miracle that I’m alive.”
At the door, the detective turned. “You’ll be perfectly safe, Dr. Sloane,” he said. “These two men will remain outside the building and make sure that Casey doesn’t make another attempt on your life.”
“Thank you,” said Sloane. “He came in through a window and leaped right at me. If I hadn’t begun to shout so that the neighbors came rushing in, I’d be dead now. It was horrible!”
The detective nodded, gave brief instructions to the policemen, and the three left. The door slammed behind them.
This was The Web’s signal. He leaped out into the open, directly before Sloane’s startled eyes. Sloane backed against the wall.
“That story you gave the police is a fake,” said The Web. “Casey was never here!” Sloane stared at him. “W-who are you?” he asked.
“Never mind that,” said The Web. “You might call me your justice ... murderer!”
“I don’t understand what you’re talking about,” said Sloane, his fat little body stiff. “Take another step toward me and I’ll call the police.”
The Web continued to move forward. “You killed the three doctors. They were collecting information to have you declared incompetent and to have your license to practice medicine cancelled . . . that’s common knowledge. So you killed them and stole the documents—and tried to pin the murder on Michael Casey!”
“You're crazy!” said Sloane, in a harsh whisper. "Casey tried to kill me not ten minutes ago.”
The Web smiled, humorlessly. “Just another trick to build your frame-up,” he said. "But it won’t help you, Sloane. The web of murder you’ve woven can only end in your own doom.” He took a step closer. “When you ruined Michael Casey’s mind, he began a series of petty and stupid crimes. He was easily caught and the authorities sent him to me for analysis. I treated him for almost a year, but after your incompetent operation, he couldn’t live too long. Do you follow me, Sloane? Michael Casey died last week!”
Sloane’s lips moved. And then, strangely, he began to laugh. Laughter burst from his throat and echoed down the long hall.
He wiped tears from his eyes. “There’s one thing I don’t understand,” he said. “Is the joke on me—or you?” He leaped forward, a gleaming scalpel in his hand.
The Web jumped to one side. He twisted, and lashed out with his left. Once, twice . . . Sloane’s head shot backwards and slammed against the wall. Sloane gasped and fell to the floor.
Then The Web went to work. Speedily, he delved through Sloane’s desk. In the third drawer, under a pile of unimportant papers, he found the documents stolen from the murdered medicos. With a gesture, he placed these in Sloane’s unconscious hand.
The police would be in soon to check up on Sloane’s safety. They had an interesting surprise in store for them.
For a moment, The Web turned and looked at the still figure of Dr. William Sloane. Then he leaped up to the window and went out into the night.
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