The Garston Murder Case
Introducing Major Burke, private investigator, the solution of a sensational murder and the balking of a sinister conspiracy
SIR JOHN GARSTON glanced at the card his secretary had just brought in. It read: “Mr. Enrico Carducci, Turin Textiles, Turin, Italy.”
“Send him in.”
The big, ruddy-faced chairman of the Lancashire Cotton Operatives Association glanced toward the window and frowned at the office fronts on the other side of Threadneedle Street. He had had his own troubles with this big Italian trust. What did they want now? And who was their Mr. Enrico Carducci? Just like their gall to send an understrapper to talk to him. The door opened.
Mr. Carducci, Sir John,” said the secretary, and disappeared into the outer office again.
England’s premier cotton baron turned on his visitor, looked him up and down with a frown. He saw a man in a light overcoat whose features, distinctly foreign, were made even more foreign by the pointed black beard. Being a typical John Bull he disliked all aliens, and there was an odd glitter in the close-set dark eyes of this one that did not draw him to him.
“Sit do\xji, sir,” he said gruffly, indicating the chair on the other side of the desk.
“Thank you, Sair John.” The man moved with a
limp; the sole of his left boot was built up about an inch to compensate for an evident shortening of that leg.
“What can I do for you, Mr. Carducci?”
A queer smile twisted beneath the foreigner’s black beard, the glitter in his dark eyes deepened.
“Carducci is not my name, Sair John. Sooch a name I use to get into thees holy of holies that is so hard to approach. I come to speak of Egypt, and what you have done to my country.”
“What the dick—”
The cotton baron’s ruddy face reddened irately.
“You and your Lancashire Cotton Operatives have beat down the price of cotton ontil my people face ruin. Is eet fair that the fellahin of Egypt should starve that you make your millions?”
“Bunk!” exploded the Englishman. “It’s not my fault that the price of cotton has tumbled. Show some sense ! The market is glutted with Indian and American stuff. Egypt has to sell at the same price. And let me tell you this, whoever you are, before I show you the door. When there was a scarcity of cotton two years ago, your Egyptian fellahin forced me and my associates to pay through the nose—all but ruined us. The knife has got to cut both ways.”
“Today,” said the other man, smiling in his queer fixed way, “it cuts only one way—only one way, Sair John.”
He gave his arm a flick. Something gleamed in his gloved right hand—shot from it.
Sir John tried to make a sound, but it was only a gasp that escaped his taut lips. The knife had struck directly over his heart, had buried itself there to the hilt. He fell over his desk. A red stain began to grow on the white blotter.
The murderer was on his feet by this time, moving toward the door.
“Veree well, Sair John,” he was saying, just loud enough for the rumble of his voice to carry to the outer office. “I weel come tomorrow.”
In opening the door he sprang the little knob of the Yale lock, freeing the catch. He backed through it, bowing: “Good morning, and I thank you, Sair John.” Closing it behind him he walked quickly through the outer office which contained about half a dozen clerks. As he passed from it into the corridor of the large office building he saw that Sir John’s secretary was in the telephone booth near the door.
Two minutes later he was out in Threadneedle Street in the bustling traffic of London’s busy business thoroughfare. Walking quickly along to the Lyons Café on the nearest corner he met a man in the doorway, who handed him a small suitcase, and without speaking a word started off up the street. The thing happened so quickly that the transfer could hardly have been noticed.
Entering the café the murderer turned to the left just inside the door and descended the steps to the lavatory. It was deserted. Placing a penny in the slot of the nearest automatic water-closet he stepped in and shut the door behind him. When he stepped out again five minutes later he was minus his beard and his built-up shoe, and wore a dark overcoat instead of the light-grey. In short, he was a totally different man.
Walking leisurely up the steps he slipped out into Threadneedle Street again and started slowly along it, keeping close to the curb. His quick eyes noted two things; that three policemen were hurrying into the big office building down the street, and that a large limousine was drawing into the curb alongside. The door of the latter opened. He stepped into the back seat which contained the man who had handed him the suitcase.
This one asked in swift, foreign gutturals a single question: “You have killed the man, Excellency?”
“The knife is in his heart.”
The big car wound its way swiftly and skilfully westward toward Cheapside.
The day following, Colonel Strothard of the Foreign Office Secret Service sent for Major Burke, private
investigator, who made a specialty of affairs dealing with the Near East, for which he had qualified by being an airman with Lawrence’s Arab Army, and later in the employ of the Emir Abdullah of Transjordania as confidential agent. When the big, quiet-eyed Irishman had seated himself in the private office of the well-known Downing Street building, the Colonel said:
“I want you to look this Garston murder over, Burke. It may have all sorts of overtones.”
Such a request did not surprise Burke. It was not the first time he had been called in consultation by the Foreign Office.
“Suits me, Colonel,” he said. “What’s the layout at the present moment? I have nothing on it except what has appeared in the papers.”
“Scotland Yard has been busy ever since yesterday morning, but so far it hasn’t unearthed much. Sir John’s secretary has described the man. He left a card —called himself Carducci—supposed to represent Turin Textiles. The Yard had a wire from Turin this morning stating that they have no such name in their employ. And here’s an interesting thing: his secretary was called to the telephone shortly after she ushered him into Sir John’s office, and kept there for nearly five minutes answering odd questions asked in a foreign voice. That sounds like a confederate, doesn’t it? She would have been the first person to enter Sir John’s office, and the longer she was kept away from it the longer it would be before the murder was discovered. The locked door also helped to stave discovery off. The odd thing is that a man with a beard and a bad foot should have been able to hide himself so easily—disappear without trace.
A faint smile twisted Burke’s wide, humorous mouth. "At Scotland Yard they follow the good old rule of keeping their noses to the grindstone. But look at it this way, Colonel. A man with characteristics that make him stand out like a windmill on a hill commits a murder in a busy city office at the busiest hour of the day. He gets away with it and leaves no trace. Surely that cries to heaven of a disguise.”
“By gad, it does!” exclaimed the Colonel, banging his
fist on the oak table—and then sharply: “But where did he change? So far, two people have volunteered that they saw the bearded man within a hundred feet of the office building in Threadneedle Street. After that it’s blank.”
“Pretty hard to say where he changed. But we can be sure that he did so within a very few minutes after he left the building—certainly before the murder was discovered. But how did you happen to call me into the case, Colonel? Isn’t it a bit off my line?”
The long, lean, Secret Service head leaned forward intently: “For the past two weeks there have been various acts of sabotage among the cotton mills of Lancashire. In every case the finger has pointed to foreign-looking gentlemen who came and vanished swiftly. Sir John was murdered by a foreign-looking gentleman. His secretary was engaged in conversation over the telephone with a foreign-talking gentleman. And then there’s that card with the Italian name and address. But, I ask myself, does this trouble come from
Italy, or are these men Italians? Or have they taken on the Italian nationality to hide their own? Look at it this way. Could the average person tell the difference between an educated Italian and a Greek, or a Turk, so far as accent and appearance are concerned?”
“I get you,” said Burke, nodding his head.
“There’s another matter. The price of raw cotton has been slumping for two months. Egypt is one of the biggest sources of Lancashire’s raw cotton. The Cairo and Alexandria papers, particularly the Arab rags, have been yowling to heaven that the price slump has been engineered by the British cotton barons. Is it still off your line?”
Burke grinned: “Sounds closer home now, Colonel. I think I’ll go down to Sir John’s office and ...”
The telephone bell jangled. Colonel Strothard picked it up and growled into it: “Yes, Strothard speaking. Oh, hello, is that you, Gayford? What’s that? . . By gad, you don’t tell me . . . yes . . . yes . . . Very interesting. Oddly enough an old friend of yours, Burke, who’s with me now, suggested such a possibility a minute ago. Seems to prove it, eh? Did anyone see him leave the place? . . . Too bad. Thanks for ringing me.”
He turned to Burke with a chuckle. “You hit the nail squarely on the head, old man. That was Inspector Gayford of the Yard. It seems that the plumbing in the lavatory of a certain Lyons establishment in Threadneedle Street went flooey yesterday afternoon. The plumbers found a false beard blocking the flush. This morning when the cashier, who was off duty in the afternoon, heard the story she told the manager that she had seen a bearded man go downstairs to the lavatory a short time after the murder, carrying a suitcase. She didn’t see him come up. The management communicated at once with the police and they’re now taking the wig to every wigmaker in town in an attempt to find the man who had it made. By the way, you were saying something when the phone rang.”
“Yes,” Burke replied, rising, “I said I thought I’d go down and interview Sir John’s secretary. I’ve a few questions to ask her.”
“Good! Let me know if you run across a likely trail.” Half an hour later the big Irish investigator was sitting in the late cotton magnate’s office talking to the pale and still highly upset young lady whom he had found there.
“You say both men had foreign-sounding voices, Miss Hutton?”
“Yes, Major Burke.”
“I want you to listen to me closely, to the way I speak my vowels and especially my h’s and k’s. ‘Mees Hutton, have you know the clock on the shelf ees stop? How then can you tell the time?’ Do you catch my meaning? Did those two voices—allowing for the difference there is between all voices—sound their letters as I did just now?”
The girl was staring at him wide-eyed. “Exactly, Major Burke. Of course they didn’t exaggerate as you
did; they really spoke quite good English, but there was the same sort of guttural ...”
The big Irishman was rising. “Thanks very much,” he said. “Very quick of you to have spotted it so easily. May I use your phone?”
Leaning over the desk, Burke took up the receiver and a moment later was through to the Foreign Office. “Colonel Strothard? Burke speaking. I’ve been able to verify pretty certainly that Sir John Garston’s murderer was a Semite; and for our purposes that presumes his native tongue is Arabic. Your hunch seems to have been correct. See you later.”
And then Burke went around to inspect the lavatory at the Lyons tea shop.
' I 'HAT evening in the living room of his own flat he -*• was talking the case over with a gentleman whose gleaming dark eyes showed his interest in the tale, and who kept murmuring from time to time: “Wallah, by
my neck, el Bourque.” It needed some imagination to believe that this same gentleman, resplendent now in the latest of Bond Street clothes, his unruly black hair plastered down with brilliantine, had once been that desert Arab, Abdulla el Zaagi, who attached himself to Burke. When Burke came back to England he insisted on accompanying him; was now officially his private secretary; in reality his right hand man in those intricate cases which it was his lot to investigate. A whimsical looking fellow, Abdulla, with the long curved Arab nose, a wide mouth that grinning showed two perfect rows of white teeth, and eyes that always danced with the zest of living.
They were talking in Arabic. When Burke finished his tale the Zaagi cried: “By my uncle, there is no dung for a camel to follow. He must go blind. And those Scotland Yards are worse than blind. They run in circles looking for a man who has had a wig made. Wallah, are there not a dozen makers of wigs in Cairo and Damascus?” “It looks,” said Burke, “as if you might have to listen in'again at the Mahmoud Club.”
The Mahmoud Club was the great rendezvous in London for the Mohammedan world.
But suddenly Abdulla smote his thigh: “Banjam-ishuma, by your life and mine, el Bourque, it is six months since we lost Safad Pasha—may pigs defile his mother’s grave—on the river! Is his hand in this? There are more men than one. Perhaps he has come back to make good his threat.”
Against Safad Pasha Burke had twice been forced to pit his wits. This gentleman, a Turkish Arab, had sworn a bitter enmity against the British people, and was head
of a strange secret organization known as the neoIslamic League, which championed any eastern cause that would embarrass the British Government. Although two of his carefully built up organizations in England had been scattered through Burke’s clever investigations, he himself had always escaped. Could it be that the Zaagi was right and that the sinister conspirator was back again with another gang?
Burke leapt to his feet. “Go to the Mahmoud Club and hear the whisperings. I’ll make the round of the West End hotels.”
“Aiee,” cried the Zaagi, his eyes gleaming. “This time, perhaps, I shall get my hands under his beard. Wallah, he has lived too long!”
OUTSIDE the Berkeley Hotel a newsboy was shouting: “Lytest abaht the Gawrsting Murder! New clue fahnd !”
Slipping a sixpenny bit into the lad’s hand Burke took the paper under his arm and carried on into the hotel rotunda. Seating himself there he glanced over the sheet. There was nothing new in the newspaper account except a feature article on the beard, about which he already knew. He was throwing the paper down when a smaller heading caught his sharp eye: Josiah Holt New Head of Cotton Operatives. He read on. At a meeting held that afternoon in Threadneedle Street Josiah Holt head of Holt & Son, big Oldham cotton manufacturers, had been elected Chairman of the Lancashire Cotton Operatives Association, to succeed the murdered Sir John Garston.
A minute later Burke was in one of the hotel telephone booths talking to Miss Hutton.
“Is Mr. Josiah Holt in London, Miss Hutton? He was here for the meeting this afternoon, eh? Can you tell me where he’s staying? Carlton? Thanks . . . what’s that?
No, nothing like that . . nothing to worry about. Good night.”
He then asked the hotel central to get him the Carlton.
“Carlton Hotel? I want to speak to Mr.
Presently a voice with a rich north-country accent came briskly over the wire.
“This is Jose Holt.”
“My name is Burke, Mr. Holt. I’m doing some work for the Foreign Office in connection with the death of Sir John Garston.”
“Aye, are ye now? Yon was a terrible affair, Mr. Burke,” replied the man from Lancashire sententiously.
“I want to ask you a favor and give you a warning, Mr. Holt. Your life is in danger and—”
“Look here now, my lad, Jose Holt can look after himself without any fandoodlin . . .”
“Quite, Mr. Holt,” Burke cut in smoothly.
“You men from up north know your way about. At the same time would it be asking too much for you to let me know if any foreigners ring you up on the phone or ask for an interview?”
“How do I know ye’re not a foreigner?” demanded the north countryman suspiciously.
“I am, Mr. Holt,” Burke replied with a laugh. “I come from Ireland. But if you want to reassure yourself I’ll slip over to the Carlton now and let you have a look at me. In fact, I’d be glad to go into this whole matter —you’ll see me? Fine! I’ll be along immediately.”
Five minutes later he was stepping out of his taxi in front of the big hotel. Three men were coming out of the door as he crossed the sidewalk, one of whom, a stocky, sandy-haired man of about fifty was in the centre, gave him an odd look.
The look remained with him as he entered the lobby and went over to the desk. There had been a queer pain in the blue' eyes—an almost tortured concentration.
“Mr. Josiah Holt is expecting me,” he said to the clerk at the desk.
The fellow stared at him. “Mr. Holt just went out with two gentlemen. You must have passed him coming . . . ”
Burke waited to hear no more. Swinging about he dashed across the narrow lobby to the door. He knew now the meaning of that look in those blue eyes. Josiah Holt had been trying to signal to him, must have also tried to signal to others in the hotel lobby, with that distressful glance. The two men with him—Burke could see now why they had walked so close to the cotton manufacturer—were abducting him !
A large black limousine had drawn away from the curb, was purring down toward Trafalgar Square. Pointing after it Burke said to the commissionaire who was examining the tip in his hand: “Did three men get into that car?”
“Get me a taxi—quick.”
The commissionaire blew his whistle.
“Did you hear them give an address?”
“No, sir. The chauffeur started away as soon as I closed the door. Seemed to know where ’e was going.” By the time the taxi drew in to the curb the big limousine was disappearing eastward around the foot of the Haymarket. Leaping aboard Burke ordered the driver to follow it. The car shot down the hill. Turning into Cockspur Street, Burke caught a glimpse of his quarry a couple of hundred feet ahead. As the taxi shot past the Nelson monument, that distance had been more than split in half. And then suddenly the traffic policeman at Charing Cross Road stepped immediately in front and held up his hand to release the north and south-bound traffic. Within a few seconds the limousine was lost to sight along the Strand.
“Take me to Scotland Yard,” Burke growled to the driver as the traffic officer stepped aside.
INSPECTOR GAYFORD wiped both flanks of his I heavy brown mustache with the back of a fat hand. “I’ll have the information sent out at once to the entire police force,” he said. “You think it was a Daimler car, eh? Too bad you didn’t get the number.”
The inspector lent to that last statement a certain intonation of reproach, as much as to saythat anyone who couldn’t have taken the car number under such circumstances was sleeping at the switch. Burke grinned at
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him. This was not the first time they had been rivals, more or less; and out of that rivalry the inspector hadn’t come with his colors flying at full mast on every occasion.
“Isn’t it?” the big Irishman said brightly. “As a matter of fact I tried to get it but she was too far away. Not that it might have helped us much. If Josiah Holt was abducted by the gang I suspect they’ve already changed the numbers on that Daimler.”
The inspector’s heavy eyebrows went up. “You suspect someone?” he exclaimed. “This is news to me.” “You’re a great organization, Gayford,” Burke exclaimed, laughing as he rose to his feet, “but you’re not the fount of all knowledge. Keep an eye out for Safad Pasha. In the meantime, pleasant dreams.” From the Yard Burke took a taxi to his flat in Bruton Street. So far, he had to confess as the lights and traffic of London’s night slipped past, every alley had been blind, and as he remembered how close he had come to catching Josiah Holt’s abductors in the act it seemed that the fates were being particularly malevolent. The abductors must have entered the cotton manufacturer’s room almost immediately at the end of his telephone conversation with him. It was useless going to the Carlton to enquire about them—they probably had come and gone within a quarter of an hour—and he himself had as good a description of them as any of the clerks or porters would be likely to have. In any case Scotland Yard could look into such details.
It was ten o’clock when he mounted the steps of his flat and inserted his latchkey. The place was in darkness; the Zaagi hadn’t returned yet. Switching on the hall light he removed his overcoat and hat, hung them up, went along to the living room at the back and switched the light on there.
And then a cool guttural voice said behind him; “You come at last, Major Burke!”
He found himself staring at two men seated negligently in his chairs on either side of the table, each holding a revolver over his knee.
“You will put your hands above the head high, Major, if you please.” It was the man with the grey at the temples, and the podgy, sleepy eyes who spoke. And then he said to his accomplice: “Search him, Rahail.”
The latter got behind Burke and, pressing his gun into the middle of his back, went through his pockets, relieving him of his Webley. “It is all, Ali Said,” he answered, handing the weapon over to the other man.
“You fellows are getting bold,” Burke said coolly, eyeing the two through narrowed lids. “One of these days you’re going to overstep yourselves. You can’t go on murdering and abducting prominent Englishmen and get away with it.”
The one called Ali Said showed his teeth in a wolfish grin. “Perhaps it is not necessary that we go further now that we have you,” he said. “And perhaps with you in our hands we can do more than we have already done without being caught. You are the man who has always prevented my master, Safad Pasha, from carrying out his aims. From now on you will not do that, Major. Tonight, we take you to Safad. He has prepared a welcome for you.”
Rising from the chair he said to the other in Arabic: “Go, Rahail. See if the car has arrived.” And then to Burke in English: “Perhaps as an extra precaution while Rahail is gone you will keep »<>»»> the hands higher.”
Burke’s brain was working swiftly. He Î would not have more than a minute or two alone with this man before the other returned from the front door. If he were going to save himself the decided unpleasantness that lay I ahead in meeting Safad Pasha he must act in that time. He heard the front door open— dose. Suddenly, as he was on the point of risking all on a leap at the man in front of him, Ï a slight movement of the portières that hung between the living room and dining room caught his eye. Had they posted a third member of the gang there in case he made just j the move he was contemplating?
He could hear the fellow called Rahail returning along the hall, the light in which he had turned off.
j Suddenly the portières parted.
“Now, Ali Said, son of a foolish mother, deliver !” came an order in curt Arabic.
It was the Zaagi who stood in front of the I portières, an automatic in his hand.
Ali Said had swung. He seemed to be raising his hands. But the right one which held his gun, crashed suddenly into the table lamp [ which alone lit the room. And then flame
Î leapt from the mouth of that gun into the
Burke had shot toward the door leading ( from the hall, through which the other Arab would enter. Ali Said did not fire again and the room became deathlike and silent. Had he done the Zaagi in? Suddenly the big Irishman heard a slight movement in the doorway close-by. His hand shot out, caught hold of something—the collar of a coat whose occupant began to squirm frenziedly. There was a roar of sound and a flash of light in Burke’s very face, and a bullet crashed into the wall immediately behind him. As he tried to grab the fellow’s wrist someone seemed to brush past him. He heard an imploring: “Ali !” from the man he was holding. And then suddenly, he found himself holding on to a coat from which the occupant had slipped free. There was a rush into the hall. Dropping the coat he sprang after, raced toward the front door which opened and closed with the bang just before he reached it.
But there were steps swift and stealthy coming behind him. Pressing back against the wall he waited. As the flying figure shot past he thrust his foot out. There was the sound of a figure crashing to the floor. He leapt. A moment later he had wrenched the gun from the fallen man’s hand, had risen to his feet and switched on the light.
“By my life, el Bourque.”
It was the Zaagi who sat on the floor, rubbing the side of his head tenderly. “Wallah, why have you tried to kill me when they have both gone?” he demanded reproachfully.
With an oath Burke sprang to the door, flung it open and shot out. A large racing car, with two men in the back seat, was swooping toward Grosvenor Square. It had no tail light. Yes, it had. The red gleam flashed suddenly on as it roared into the Square. They had some arrangement whereby they could flash it off and on, and so make the number plates unreadable.
He glanced around for a taxi—but Burton Srreet was deserted.
When he entered the house again he found the Zaagi
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sufficiently recovered to have picked up the coat the younger Arab had left behind. In true Bedouin fashion Abdulla was going through what spoils the pockets might contain.
“Look,” he cried excitedly, holding out a handful of letters; “by my life, the dog had many writings.”
“Bring them into the office,” said Burke, leading the way into a room on the left.
Switching on the light over his desk he took the papers from the Zaagi’s hand and glanced through them. Letters in Arabic with the Cairo postmark and addressed to Rahail Zelouar, G.P.O., London. The letters of a wife to a husband, containing nothing of any importance. He was about to throw them down in disgust when a card fell from among them. He picked it up.
In English it read, “Rahail Zelouar”; and down at the left corner in pencilled script “89 qg.”
He stared at it, at the pencilled and cryptic signs in that left corner. Did they mean something in the nature of a clue? “89 qg.” The words kept repeating and repeating in his brain. If he could only ...
“Wallah," exclaimed the Zaagi, who was looking at the card over his shoulder, “he has been niggardly with his address. May he come to a sudden end!”
Address? Had the quick-witted Arab hit the nail on the head? “89 Q.G.” By Jove, there was a mark above the letter ghain which doubled it! That made it “89 Q.G.G.”
Dashing across to the bookcase he drew out his Bacon’s Atlas and Guide to London, and turned to the street index. Queen’s Gardens? No! Queen’s Gate?
“Got it! Queen’s Gate Gardens.” He swung on the Zaagi. “Come on. We’re going to investigate your hunch.”
Five minutes later they were in a taxi sweeping around Hyde Park Corner in the direction of Kensington.
TEA VING the taxi at the corner of Cromwell and Gloucester Roads they found themselves presently in the large tree-filled square that was Queen’s Gate Gardens. Here was a residential district inhabited by well-to-do law-abiding Londoners. As he glanced at the smug comfortable Georgian houses, so respectable in outline, Burke wondered if perhaps he wasn’t chasing a wild goose. His confidence received a further bump when he discovered tha.t No. 89 was empty and had a “To Let” sign up in one of the large lower windows.
“By the face of Allah,” exclaimed the Zaagi with a crestfallen look, “the lost camels have not strayed this way.”
“We seem fated never to get a lead in this case we can hang on to,” the big Irishman said, as they strolled toward Queen’s Gate. “They’re a slippery crew. Safad seems to have learned his lesson.”
They had left the Gardens behind and were passing the mouth of a mews that ran behind the houses on the eastern side of the square. Suddenly Burke halted and glanced down it. The sinister darkness of the narrow lane seemed to invite him. He said to the Zaagi: “I’m going
to make absolutely certain of that house. Feel an idiot if I’d passed up a straight lead.”
The Zaagi who, in his unregenerate youth had spent more than one night in a Turkish jail for housebreaking, grinned with the keenest anticipation. Here was adventure for a man of spirit.
The mews gate at the back of No. 89 was locked, but it took them only a
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moment to clamber over the top. They were now in a narrow backyard paved with asphalt. Keeping to the shadow of the fence on the right they crept cautiously toward the house. The back door —Burke turned the handle and put his shoulder stealthily against it—was locked. So were all the ground floor and basement windows. But dropping to his knees beside one of the latter, the big Irishman put the barrel of his gun against the glass and pressed steadily on the butt with the palm of his hand. There was a faint crack. Presently he laid a three-cornered chunk of glass on the ground, and then another piece. He thrust his hand in through the opening and undid the latch.
As the window swung open, the Zaagi said enviously: “Inshallah, it is hard to believe that you have always been an honest man, el Bourque.”
With a low chuckle, the detective squeezed through the window, disappeared inside. Abdulla followed him. At Burke’s whispered order they took their shoes off.
They were in a basement kitchen empty of all fittings. Burke’s tiny flashlight picked out the door opposite. They stepped out into a hall at the foot of a flight of stairs. They started up these— in the darkness now—for the detective was taking no chances with his light. They stepped into a large hall. Not a sound of human occupancy. The silence hung heavy on them. On tiptoe they crossed to a room nearby—empty. To other rooms—all empty. Nothing whatsoever on the ground floor. Nevertheless while one voice whispered to Burke that he was up a blind alley, another voice bade him carry on.
Up the wide staircase. From room to room on the second floor. Empty—all empty. Into the attic—empty.
“Well,” growled the detective in an undertone, “I’m satisfied now. We’ll go home and call it a day. Just the same I’d like to know what that ‘89 qgg’ meant.”
They were on their way down the broad flight of stairs leading to the large hall on the first floor when the sharpeared Zaagi suddenly clutched him by the arm.
“Listen, el Bourque.”
A faint click at a door below, somewhere in the rear.
“Back,” hissed Burke.
Beyond the bend in the stairs they halted, pressed their bodies close against the wall.
A door opened below. They heard the low mutter of voices, muffled footsteps, then silence again.
“By my neck,” hissed the Zaagi, “they have descended to the basement. They entered as we did from the back. Perhaps they saw us and have come to catch a thief.” He chuckled in the darkness.
The silence continued, dragged out a full five minutes. And then Burke said: “We’re going down to the basement again. It’s the only part of the house we haven’t fully investigated.”
“And if they are policemen shall we fight first and explain later?” the Zaagi asked eagerly.
But Burke was already streaking wraith!ike down the stairs.
'“THEY were in a small room that had evidently been used as a laundry. In one corner stood a small square cupboard. Following the tiny circle of light from his flash Burke stepped toward it. So far, having examined the entire basement, they had found nothing. Gingerly he opened the cupboard door. It was what it purported to be—the old board walls studded with hooks.
Shutting the door he said to the Zaagi: “This is very mysterious. There must be a room somewhere we haven’t found. Let’s take another look at that drying room.”
They had barely gone a couple of steps when a sound halted them. It seemed to come from the very cupboard they had
just examined. Shoving the Zaagi in front of him Burke pressed back into the corner it made with the wall, and waited tensely, his gun in his hand.
A creaking sound; the door of the cupboard opened.
A beam of light from a large torch illumined the far wall. And then, following it into the drying room beyond, trailed a procession of dark figures. An order was rapped out in guttural Arabic.
“By my neck,” hissed the Zaagi, “it is the voice of Safad.”
Preparations of some sort were being made in that other room. Finally Burke tiptoed across the floor to the door. In the circle of light shed by the torch he saw a man who was gagged, being bound to a chair. The man was stocky in build, had sandy hair—it was the man he had seen leaving the Carlton between the two gangsters—Josiah Holt! And then he saw another, more familiar figure, a thickset Arab with a dark beard and a heavy, dominating and sinister face—Safad. Safad was standing by, watching grimly.
When they had tied the cotton manufacturer to the chair they pushed him against the wall. About three feet above his head was a water faucet. Safad himself turned this on, turned it very slightly on so that it merely dripped, but dripped on the top of Josiah Holt’s bare head. The waterdrop torture—the steady drip, drip, drip that wears a man’s reason away, drives him finally insane.
“You are a fool,” growled Safad, stepping back and glaring malevolently down at the imprisoned man. “You have only to promise that the price of cotton shall rise and you are free to go. But you are stubborn. Your race is all stubborn. So you shall die, as that dog, Garston, has died, as others will die before I, Safad, have finished.”
There was good stuff in Josiah Holt. He merely looked the Arab straight in the eye and made a noise through his gag that sounded like laughter.
“Yakh,” cried Safad, his face darkening with fury. “You shall learn. And all the English shall learn.” Then he swung on his followers and growled in Arabic: “Come, let the dog dwell in darkness.”
Realizing suddenly that he and the Zaagi dare not return to -their former hiding-place which would be illuminated by the torch of the returning gang, Burke pressed back toward some tubs set along the nearby wall. As they crouched behind these, the man with the torch stepped into the room. A moment later the gang had disappeared into the secret passage that lay beyond the cupboard.
Several things were clear to Burke now. Safad, or some other member of his gang acting for him, had rented the house next door. Whether or not they had also rented this one they had made this communication between the two houses in order to enable the gang to come and go through this house and into the mews behind, and thereby prevent any suspicion from falling on the other house.
V\ 7ITHIN a matter of seconds they had * * Josiah Holt unbound and free.
“So it was you who rang me up?” he exclaimed, when Burke had told him who he was. “My word, lad, I’d no more than laid the phone down when they knocked on my door. ‘Come in!’ I said, and there they were. ‘Who the devil are ye?’ I cried. ‘You’ll find that out later,’ they said. ‘But first ye’ll come with us and make no trouble about it.’ Then they put the gun to my head. What else could
I do? But that bullying bird, Safad, got no change from Jose Holt. Wanted me to make all sorts of promises. I told him where I’d see him, by gad !”
“Did they bring you in through this house?” Burke asked him.
“They did. There’s a passage into the other one through yon cupboard.”
“The sooner we get out of here and get the police around these two houses the better,” said Burke. “Come along, sir.” And then suddenly out of the darkness behind them a voice said sharply: “But, no! Put the hands up—queeck!”
A circle of light was flashed on them. Behind it they saw a lean dark face, two glittering eyes and the barrel of a gun. Their hands went up.
The man holding the torch reached sharply above his head and struck a wire with his gun. Burke tried to utilize that moment but before his arm was down halfway a bullet seared past his face so close he could feel its heat.
“Keep the hands up!” The voice had the ominous ring of chilled steel.
Footsteps in the laundry—a shout. “It is I, Abdul,” the man with the torch answered. “Come, I have found one who looks like the man, Burke, whom Ali Said was after tonight.”
Three Arabs came running in.
“Search for their guns,” the man Abdul cried, and when that was done: “Take them into the other house—all three. If thees Burke has found the place others weel find it. We take no chance. Y’allah!” Then to the prisoners: “And you three dogs keep your hands up.”
AS THE three prisoners were marched *into the heavily curtained drawingroom of the other house two of the three men seated at the table there playing cards leaped to their feet and stared wideeyed—Ali Said and the younger, Rahail.
“Excellency,” Ali cried to the man holding the gun. “You have got him— Burke.”
“He was in the next house—where I find heem trying to set free thees othair prisoner. You and Rahail have blundered —left a scent behind you. Where is Safad?”
“He has gone, Excellency,” said Ali Said, cringing, “but this minute. To interview ...”
“Enough,” the other cut in warningly. “Speak no names.”
Burke was watching closely this man, Abdul, whom they addressed as Excellency, and of whom they seemed to stand in some awe. He wracked his brain to recall whether or not he had ever met him in the East. Excellency is a title only given to men of high rank, and in Egypt only to princes. Was he an Egyptian prince?
The fellow was smiling at him in a cold, glittering way.
“You have step into our trap, Major Burke,” he said. “It is good. Too often you have escape my friend, Safad Pasha. But no more. When he returns tonight I present him with a corpse. It will be your corpse.”
Burke’s lips moved in a grim smile. “And you will hang some day, prince, with a rope around your scheming neck.”
The fellow started. “You know me? You know I am ...”
“I know enough; so does Scotland Yard.”
The dark eyes glittered savagely—eyes of a killer—of one in whom hate has become pathological. “But they do not know, and you do not know, that I have with my own hands keel the dog, Garston;
and I will keel you—and you—and you!” He ticked the Zaagi and Josiah Holt off with his gun. “Now! Tonight!”
For all his outward calm Burke knew that he and his two fellow-prisoners were in a desperate situation. It was plain from the look in the killer’s eyes that he had made no idle threat and would wreak it within a few moments. He glanced quickly around the room. The three of them were standing with their backs to the wall and their hands above their heads. The seven other members of the gang were grouped around the table about a dozen feet away, Excellency standing somewhat in the foreground. A curtained window a few yards on his left held possibilities, but if he rushed it, and even if he managed to break through it, the Zaagi and Josiah Holt would certainly be shot down before they could follow him.
Excellency had broken his revolver open, was examining it. As he closed it again and turned, his beady black eyes narrowed with his sinister purpose, a strange thing happened. The Zaagi fell to the floor and started writhing and twisting in a typical epileptic fit. Foaming at the mouth, jerking and twisting in a way terrible to watch, he bumped and bounced about the floor. The Arabs stared at him with that awe that always takes hold of them in the presence of what they believe to be a seizure by evil spirits. Even Burke was carried away by the realism of it.
Suddenly a spasm crossed Excellency’s face. "Take him away. He sickens me,” he shouted, turning on the men nearest him.
At the same instant, and in one of his wildest contortions, the Zaagi shot suddenly upright from the floor. Like the head of a striking cobra his fist shot out, caught Excellency a crack on the point of the jaw, and sent him flying in a heap to the floor where he lay limp.
Burke’s right hand had dropped with lightning speed from above his head. The gun he kept secreted in his armpit, which the searching Arabs had failed to find, flicked into his grip.
“Put ’em up!” he yelled in Arabic. “Up, by your necks, or death shall strike to every belly!”
Two minutes later seven revolvers lay on the table. Six men—Excellency still lay where he had fallen—stood against the far wall, covered by the Zaagi and Josiah Holt.
Burke was at the telephone.
“That you, Gayford? Burke speaking. Better come along to 87 Queen’s Gate Gardens as soon as you can. Got a little surprise here for you—seven little surprises including the murderer of Sir John Garston and the abductors of Mr. Josiah Holt. Mr. Holt is with us now. No, old dear, it isn’t a bedtime story. Come and see for yourself—but make it snappy.”
A MINUTE before, a large Daimler limousine had drawn up at the curb outside, from which stepped its single occupant. Crossing the sidewalk he let himself in at the front door with a latchkey and entered the hall.
Suddenly the voicein the drawing-room, the door of which was barely ajar, caught his ear.
“That you, Gayford? Burke speaking. Better come along .
He tiptoed over and peered in. A spasm twitched his bearded face, his whole body bunched up tautly, his fists clenched. For the moment it looked as though he would burst into the other room and charge barehanded at the tall Irishman at the telephone. And then suddenly he turned away. His face went pale. His figure seemed to slump. Dragging himself to the front door he let himself silently out, crossed the sidewalk to the waiting car, stepped in at the back and gasped to the driver in hoarse Arabic:
“Away! Anywhere. I am destroyed again—by that fiend—that Burke.”
It was Safad Pasha, head of the proud neo-Islamic League.