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Under the Andes Rex Stout

Into The Whirlpool

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And then I knew. Complete comprehension flashed through my brain on the instant. I sprang to my feet, and my thought must have shown on my face, for Harry looked at me in surprise, demanding:

"What is it? What is it, Paul?"

And I answered calmly:

"We're caught, Hal. Like rats in a trap. Oh, the black devils! Listen! We have no time to lose. Bend over and touch the palm of your hand to the ground."

He did so, plainly puzzled. Then he drew his hand hastily away, exclaiming: "It's hot!"

"Yes." I spoke quickly. "Our boots kept us from feeling it before, and the stone doesn't throw out enough heat to feel it in the air. They've built a fire under us in the column. The stone is thick and heats slowly."

"But what--that means--"

"It means one of two things. In a few minutes this floor will be baking hot. Then we either fry on their stone griddle or drown in the lake. You see the distance below--only a man crazed by suffering or one incredibly brave would take that leap. This is their little entertainment--they expect us to dance for them."

"But the lake! If we could take it clean--"

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I saw that the lake was our only chance, if there could be said to be any in so desperate a situation. To be sure, there seemed to be no possibility of escaping, even if we took the water without injury. On every side its bank was lined with the watching Incas, and the bank itself was so steep that to ascend it would have required wings.

The heat began to be felt even through the soles of our heavy boots; involuntarily I lifted one foot, then the other. I saw the Child of the Sun in the alcove lean forward with an appreciative grin. Another minute--

I jerked my wits together--never did my brain answer with better speed. And then I remembered that flash of water I had seen under the spiral stairway at the base of the column. I had thought at the time that it might be connected with the lake itself. If that were so--

I turned to Harry and conveyed my idea to him in as few words as possible as we walked up and down, side by side. It was impossible longer to stand still--the stone was so hot that the bare hand could not be held against it for an instant. I saw that he did not comprehend what I said about the water in the column, but he did understand my instructions, and that was all that was necessary.

We ran to the edge of the column nearest the alcove.

Removing our woolen knickerbockers--for better ease in the water--we placed them on the hot stone, and on top of them our boots, which we had also removed. Thus our feet were protected as we stood on the extreme edge of the column, taking a deep breath for strength and nerve.

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Under the Andes
Rex Stout

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