that you call us together here and allow him to make some preposterous blackmail claim against us. Well, I’m warning you now that I won’t pay any blackmail.”
“Gentlemen, gentlemen!” urged Marvin Masters. “Please! This isn’t getting us anywhere. Blake may or may not be responsible for the situation in which we find ourselves. Nevlo may or may not be preposterous in his claim against us. The thing for us to discuss is causes, not results.”
“Also,” he said heavily, “we’d better resign ourselves to the fact that he’s got us just where he wants us. I don’t have to tell you how many millions of dollars just one day’s shutdown of all our plants would cost us, or describe the catastrophes that would result from such a shutdown in hospitals and factories and subways. It is pretty evident that the most colossal sum he can try to extort must be carefully considered by us.”
Ryan’s choleric face expressed an insanity of fury. It was evident that he was driven almost out of his mind by the fact that some outside power had, momentarily, complete control over him. Obviously, he wasn’t used to being controlled by anything but his own dictates.
However, it was no good being enraged. Blake’s logic was sound, if comfortless.
“What do you suppose he’ll ask?”
Blake moistened his lips in the anguish that comes to any money man commanded to part with a large sum.
“He intimated to me, when he ordered me to get in touch with you gentlemen, that he would ask forty or fifty million dollars.”
“Fif—” gasped Guest. “The man’s mad!”
Blake nodded unhappily. “Mad, of course. Which makes our situation all the more hopeless. No sane man would shut off all power and allow the human suffering bound to result, for money. It takes a madman to do such a thing. If Nevlo were sane, we might be able to reason with him. Mad, he is beyond reason. There is left for us only to do as he says—or take the consequences.”
The door opened, and Blake’s butler poked his head in. The man’s face was pale, and his eyes bulged with fear.
“He is here, Mr. Blake. Nevlo.”
Instantly the room became so still that the sound of Ryan’s choleric breathing seemed loud. Then Blake’s ragged sigh sounded out.
“Show him in, Pearson.”
They all heard it. The dragging, shuffling steps of a person crippled and abnormal. The ill-timed steps that indicated a mental disorder as well as a physical imbalance.
The steps paused outside the door, and then the maker of the steps came into the room.
Bitter black eyes, a face that looked like the heavy-boned countenance of a gorilla, arms that hung so low they almost touched the floor, lips moving constantly in a soundless muttering.
“Here are the men you wanted to see, Nevlo,” said Blake. His face was strained in an effort not to show the fear and hate and disgust expressed more openly on the faces of the others. His tone was deliberately calm, almost soothing. “Tell us, now, just what you want.”
Harsh words came from the crouching, monstrous form by the door, while the vindictive black eyes went from one man to another of that tense group.
“What do I want?” came the harsh words. “Plenty, gentlemen. I grew up in the power business. I helped it reach the position it has today. My inventions are in use all over the land. I was the one who laid out Plant 4. And what was my reward? I was discharged like any dollar-an-hour electrician! I was cast aside on the junk heap. But I knew too much to stay on the junk heap.” Wild laughter came from the mumbling, stiff-looking lips. “I have proved that. And now I will have my revenge—and a fortune.”
“Yes, yes, you’ll have your revenge,” said Blake soothingly. “But precisely what is your demand, Nevlo?”
They all stared with bated breath at the monstrous, crippled figure.
“My demand?” said Nevlo. “This is it. I want five million dollars, cash, before tomorrow night. If I
James Morcan, Lance Morcan