Kent Power, scientific detective, in the strange case of The Cobra and The Pathan
THE CONCENTRATED human conflict of a big city tends to throw up eccentricity, and Montreal is no exception. Yet few in the city, even among his acquaintances, knew that Cole Dickin was one of the greatest authorities on snakes in North America, or that, on the ample grounds of his residence at Westmount, he had an ophidiarium containing the world’s most dangerous reptiles. Kent Power, himself no mean biologist, knew this, and had in the past done some experimental work for Dickin. He also knew the story of Dickin’s life, which had run briefly as follows:
The scion of a wealthy Montreal family, Dickin had gone from the Military College at Kingston to the Indian Army. He had done this against the wishes of his grandfather, old Pierce Dickin, the pulp and paper pioneer, because some atavistic instinct drew him eastward. There he had discovered that he had a power over reptilia akin to that of the well-known Indian snake charmers. His interest in them was more than esoteric, and lie was one of the earliest to suggest that an antivenin for snake-bite poisoning might be feasible.
He had about decided to give up his army career and follow this lead when his grandfather died and. in an ironic moment, nominated him. the youngest grandson, to carry on the huge financial obligations of Dickin Paper, Inc. Cole Dickin returned to Montreal fully determined to get from under. But when it was represented to him that neither his uncle nor his two cousins were capable of the responsibility, and that his refusal to accept it would undoubtedly mean the wreckage of old Pierce’s lifework. he gave up India.
But not his reptiles. In the course of fifteen years, in addition to building Dickin Paper, Inc., into a yet more glittering structure, his had become a name to conjure with in that part of the scientific world that deals with the descendants of those creatures that tempted Eve.
Now he lay dead, here in the bedroom of the large family house, with two tiny pricks over his right temple and all the signs of having been caressed by one of his strange pets. A large, boldly cut man, not even death had erased from his
strong face that look of aloofness, that outward hardness that had made him so unapproachable to most other men.
SERGEANT Jules Papineau of the Montreal detective force said from the head of the bed: “It is open-shut—non?”
Power turned to the bearded and inscrutable Pathan, Ali Huzoor, the dead man’s personal servant and another relic of his Indian days.
“You say the bedroom doorwaslocked?’’
“Was that usual?”
“By the mercy of Allah, sar, my master has always lock the door, as he say, to keep the world away.”
“To escape his enemies?”
“He has not known fear.” The Pathan seemed anxious to proclaim that his master was no coward.
“Where’s the snake?”
“They ’ave find no snake,” Papineau answered. “That’s funny!” Power went to the window. Outside hung a tiny, iron-railed balcony on which perhaps two people could stand. From it the wall of the house dropped sheer to the lawn and garden—through which a path ran to the glass house that was the ophidiarium.
He turned to Papineau. “It was a cold October night, last night. Snakes don’t like wandering about in the cold.
And unless I mistake my reptiles, the one that bit Dickin should have curled up in the bed beside him for his warmth.”
“Sacré!” exclaimed Papineau, in an awe-struck way and with the general look of one on whom new worlds are dawning.
Power turned to the Pathan. “Who looks after the snakes?”
“I, Ali Huzoor!” the Indian answered, not without pride.
“You closed the ophidiarium last night, I suppose?”
“Yes, sar. But some evil one has opened the door. I find it so this morning.”
“Any of the pets missing?”
“No, sar—but the cage of the nadjihad j¿ is uncovered. I find him hanging from the water-pipe.”
Power went over to the bed, and for the second time examined the dead man. He said to Papineau finally:
“Been dead about eight hours. Ten o’clock now. Must have happened somewhere between one and three.
Notice that little blue mark?” He pointed to a discoloration about the size of a quarter whose centre lay directly below one of the fang marks.
“One of the veins was punctured.
Death must have come fairly quickly.”
“But why ’as he not waken wit’ the bite?” asked Papineau.
“That’s what I’ve been wondering.”
Power turned to the servant. “How many chota-pegs did your master have last night?”
“His decanter is almost empty this morning, sar.”
“Whisky’s a pretty fair anaesthetic,
Pap,” Power said. “Let’s go below.”
They were moving along the upper hall when a bedroom door opened suddenly to disclose a girl standing in it.
She said in a low voice: “May I speak to you, please?”
r"PHE TWO MEN stepped inside.
Nada Dickin was a tall girl, with her dead brother’s air of aloofness, and a disturbing beauty. Just now her cool, lovely eyes were troubled. She asked:
“Have you discovered how my brother died?”
“It looks,” Power said, “as if one of his snakes had bitten him.”
“No more than that?”
The girl glanced from one to the other of the two men as though trying to steel herself to something, then she said: “I hate to say it—but there has been trouble here lately.”
“I thought there had always been a certain amount of friction in your family.”
“It’s been worse since Cole had to remove cousin John from the managership of Eastern Power.”
“That’s a subsidiary of Dickin Paper, Inc., isn’t it?”
“Do you suggest, mademoiselle,”
Papineau asked, “that your cousin ’as left the door of the snake-house open last night, non?"
The girl looked at him in a queer way, as though some profound and painful struggle were going on within her. Then she shivered in a dazed sort of way: “It’s so terrible—so terrible!”
She covered her face with her hands.
Power watched her with pity for a moment and then moved to the window. It also had its balcony. He leaned out, came back again. “Your bedroom is next to your brother’s; whose is the room beyond his?” Her hands dropped from her face. “Uncle Silas’.” “And the room directly above your brother’s?”
Standing presently on the firm grassy sward beneath the dead man’s window and gazing up at the blank wall of the house, Power said: “I don’t know a heck of a lot about snakes, Pap, but it’s my opinion that—even if a snake would have dared last night’s chill air—it couldn’t have climbed to that balcony.”
“Me,” declared Papineau earnestly, “I ’ave been t’inking la même chose.”
He dropped at once to his knees and began to search the grass, while Power continued to stare aloft. Presently he rose again, wearing a slightly baffled expression: “Rien! If a ladder is used by someone to carry that snake up, it ’as leave no mark. The ground is hard—it ’as been dry lately —there is not even the suggestion of a footprint.”
Power said: “See if there’s a ladder about the place. I’ll get Ali Huzoor to show me the ophidiarium—meet you there.”
He glanced up at the wall of the house again as Papineau moved off. Ali Huzoor was regarding him gravely from the dead man’s window. Calling the Pathan down, they went to the snake-house. The glass structure gave out a tropic warmth, was well lined with steam radiators. A sinister place, from the tiers of thin-meshed wire cages its denizens seemed to leer. Ali Huzoor moved about with confidence.
At the far end was a laboratory ; microscopes, retorts and all the paraphernalia of science. On shelves above the bench stood racks of test tubes and bottles, all meticulously labelled. Power took down one of the bottles and read: Naja Elaps Venom.
ÜETURNING to the outer room, he met Papineau entering gingerly. Pap shook his head and muttered:
Power pointed to the magnificent king cobra which had raised its hooded head to stare arrogantly: “How’d you like to meet him in a blind alley, Pap?”
“I would not like.”
Power said to the Pathan: “When was Mr. Dickin here last?”
“Yesterday afternoon, sar.”
“It was you who locked up then?”
“Where is the key kept?”
“I keep it, sar.”
“Is there another key?”
“The sahib’s, sar.”
“Nobody had your key last night?”
“By my father, no!” The answer was vehement, as though to imply that Vishnu himself might not borrow the key of Ali Huzoor.
“We’ll go and see if your master’s key is missing.”
“It is here, sar!” The Pathan brought a bunch from his
pocket and held one up. “I find it in his trousers this morning.”
“Someone ’as make a skeleton, non?” Papineau murmured.
Ali Huzoor suddenly made a queer sound. And then, picking up a handful of earth from a box on the floor, he dropped it on his head. “Allah ! Allah ! Allah! It is to accuse me the wicked man has done this ! The enemies of nr master are also my enemies!”
“What do you mean?” Power askec him curtly.
“Is it not an open book, sahib?” the Pathan cried. “They know that only I, Ali Huzoor, have a key beside the master. They leave the door oj>en in order to blacken my face before the world. They will accuse me of this evil.”
“ ‘They?’ What do you mean?” Suddenly Ali I luzoor was the inscrutable Oriental again. “1 blacken no man, sar,” he said with dignity.
“Then go in and tell the Dickin sahibs we’ll be with them in a few minutes.”
They went outside. Ali Huzoor locked the ophidiarium and departed wraithlike toward the house. Power was frowning again at the blank wall a hundred yards away that was centred by Cole Dickin’s window. “There’s something darned queer about all this, Pap,” he said. “I don’t believe for a minute that the king cobra bellied it all the way over there and up that wall to Dickin’s room. Somebody took it there —and somebody brought it back. If they hadn’t brought it back it would have—as I said before—snuggled up against the dead man. But why didn’t he put it back in its cage and lock the door?”
“To make it look like the snake ’as done everyt’ing itself.”
“But isn’t it clear from the marks on Dickin’s temple that he was bitten by a snake? Where else could the snake come from but here? Why then dot the t’s and cross the i’s? Only a fool would imagine for a moment that anyone’d believe a snake could climb to that balcony. The person who planned this murder was no fool. He wanted to be very certain that the reptile would be blamed—but he’s overdone it. There must be a reason why he overdid it. Let’s go in and interview the family.”
THEY FOUND the Dickin men in the large drawing-room, whose appointments dated back to the grand Victorian epoch of old Pierce, whose portrait by John Collier looked down sardonically from above the large fireplace.
For father and sons, the three gentlemen proved strangely diverse. Silas Dickin. now seventy-five, was a small, lean man with a Vandyke beard. His brave and jaunty mustaches, and the twinkling malice in his terrierlike little eyes, lent him the color of character.. He stood, legs apart, warming his hands behind him at the fire.
Of his sons, John, the older, showed more clearly the family characteristics that were so marked in Cole Dickin and old Pierce. A large man with a bald face, whose rather prominent grape eyes seemed to have sought something they never found, he was about fifty years of age. Lester was a little shorter, a little younger, but with his father’s leanness. He had quick, dark eyes and an alert, eager expression. He wore a tweed jacket and grey flannel trousers, as becomes a sportsman, for he had once played on Canada’s Davis Cup team, still pilgrimaged to Wimbledon and Forest Hills every year, and had a lawn-tennis soul. There were three things in the world he loved above all others to do: to trounce younger men at his favorite game, to sit on the board of Dickin Paper, Inc., and feel himself among the mighty, and to drive his costly motor car along the Quebec highways with the accelerator on the floor. On such occasions he wore a tense and devilish look. Neither of the brothers had married, a sort of David-andJonathan attachment between them having made any other association superfluous.
“Well, gentlemen,” old Silas exclaimed in his terse, jaunty way, “I trust your investigations have ended satisfactorily.”
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Continued from page 17—Starts on page 16
“So far as they’ve gone.” Power replied. And then; “Your bedroom is next to your nephew’s; did you hear anything last night?”
“I’m a good sleeper, Mr. Power,” replied the old man. “When I go to sleep, I sleep.”
“What time did you go to sleep last night?”
“Eleven—my usual hour.”
“What time did your nephew go?” “About twelve,” John Dickin answered. “Did you see him go*?” Power asked the larger brother.
“Yes; Lester and I were in the billiard room when he passed the door.”
"Notice anything odd about him?”
John shrugged, glanced at his brother who also shrugged, and replied: “He’d
“Know any reason for the over-indulgence?”
Old Silas answered with that look of malice in his little eyes. “Better ask Tom Cullen that.”
“And Nada’s fiancé.”
“I le was here last night?”
“With Cole in the library. Heard ’em shouting at one another on my way upstairs.”
“Quarrelling, eh? Know why?” “Business, probably. They were thick as thieves. My nephew placed more confidence in outsiders than in his own family. Perhaps he discovered his mistake last night.” There was venom in the old man’s eyes and voice.
“Were any of you gentlemen in the ophidiarium last night?”
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The denial came in three quick forceful no’s. “Never go near the place!” cried the old man. “Hate snakes ! Tried for years to get Cole to get rid of the things.”
“That goes for my brother and me. too,” declared Lester Dickin. “I always said there’d be trouble.”
“What time did you and your brother go to bed?”
“Quarter past twelve.”
“And neither of you heard anything during the night?”
“And you’ve no theory as to who left the ophidiarium door open?”
The three Dickins shrugged. John said, in his heavy way: “Ali Huzoor is the only one besides Cole with a key.”
“Always had my suspicions of that nigger,” growled old Silas. “Furtive devil. Always out playing with those reptiles.”
T)OWER and Papineau went upstairs again. The former knocked on Nada Dickin’s door and, when they were admitted, asked: “Did you know that
Tom Cullen was here last night?”
The girl gave him a quick, startled glance. “Y'es,” she said, and after a moment: “We were out to dinner. He
brought me home. But he didn’t stay. He left me at the front door.”
“What time was that?”
“About ten o’clock. But what—” "Your uncle says,” Papineau stated gravely, “that he ’as heard him talking to M’sieu Cole Dickin in the library at eleven. They are quarrelling.”
“But that’s ridiculous!” cried the girl. “Tom and Cole were the liest of friends.” Later, facing one another in the dead man’s bedroom, Papineau said with a grin: “Always we go up the blind alley.” Power sat down on the arm of the large chair. “There are one or two glimmers in the fog. I watched the three Dickins pretty closely when I asked them if they’d been near the ophidiarium last night. 1 think we can take it that the snake quest ion has been a real cause of family discord. Whatever happened last night, they haven’t made a practice of going to the ophidiarium. That means that none of them could be familiar enough with snakes to carry a king cobra up to Dickin’s balcony. Only a person with complete mastery of the reptiles would dare to risk that adventure.”
“As the case stands now, he’s the only possible murderer.”
“I shall arrest him, then?”
Power shook his head. “The trouble is I see no reason why the Pathan should have murdered Dickin. They seem to have been pretty close for servant and master. In Dickin’s work with the snakes, Ali was actually more of a collaborator than a servant.”
“There is M’sieu Cullen, perhaps, who ’as quarrelled wit’ the dead man.”
“I wonder if old Silas’ insinuation had anything behind it,” Power said musingly. "Cullen may have tried a business doublecross on Dickin and got found out. There’s a possible motive lurking there and Cullen would know the workings of this house. Then there’s that information Miss Dickin gave us about cousin John being relieved of the managership of Eastern Power last month. That must have been a blow to John. He was old Pierce Dickin’s oldest grandson—passed over in the old bird’s will for Cole. That must have simmered bitterly all the years. This last indignity on top of it would make quite a bitter stew.”
“But you ’ave say that he could not ’ave handle the snake.”
“It wouldn’t be for lack of guts.” Power lit a cigarette and continued: “The Dickin boys may lack a business sense, but they’ve got courage. Here’s an example I heard some years ago at the dub: They went overseas during the war in the same regiment. During a night raid in front of Vimy, John got wounded and was left out in No Man’s Land. lister went out against orders to the shellhole after him. John refused to be carried in; wouldn’t let Lester risk his life on him. When Lester insisted, he drew his revolver and said he’d blow his brains out first. I guess the impasse lasted for some time. Finally lister said, ‘All right. I’ll go,’ and held his hand out for the farewell. Unsuspecting, John changed the revolver to the other hand and held out his mitt. Lester heaved him over his shoulder and the next minute was staggering back through the high explosive and machine-gun bullets. That gives you an idea not only of their brand of nerve, but also of the love they bear one another.”
“So!” exclaimed Papineau softly. “Then perhaps M’sieu Lester is not above making the revenge for his brother who is no longer manager of Eastern Power?”
“That thought has occurred to me,” Power agreed. “I remember seeing him pass me on the Ste. Agathe Road one day last spring. He was driving like a fiend. I believe brother Lester has his demonic moments. I know he’d boil himself in oil for John.”
“But all this marches nowhere!” exclaimed Papineau. “You ’ave said that neither of the two could arrange the snake affair last night.”
“I still think that.” Power rose from the chair. “I want to have one more look at that balcony. Let’s go out.”
THEY STEPPED through the French window. With the two of them down on their knees very little space remained, but it was Papineau’s sharp eyes that first narrowed on quarry. “Regardez!" He
held up a short length of fibre. “She might be from a length of rope, non?" They found three others, which Power placed in an envelope.
He was replacing it in his jxx'ket when the other cried: "Qu'est que c’est?" He
was pointing at a dark, grumous substance that clung to one of the iron rails of the balcony.
“Don’t touch it!” Power said sharply. Taking out his penknife, he scraped the stuff off and secreted it in a match-box which he emptied of its usual contents.
“It is the venom of the snake, non?” Pap asked eagerly.
“Looks like it.”
The balcony yielded nothing more and they went inside. While Power wrapped the match-box in a piece of paper, Papineau
stood beside the bed studying the dead man. He leaned closer to look at the fang marks. “I shall order the post mortem, non?"
“Yes,” Power answered.
Pap suddenly said, “Ouch!” and lifted his hand from the pillow against which it had rested. There was a drop of blood on the forefinger. “Somet’ing on the pillow ’as scratch me.”
Power bent down. Suddenly he snatched a pair of tweezers from his vest pocket and took something from the white slip. It looked like the tip of a strong thorn. He cried: “Suck that finger ! As hard as you can !”
Giving the hell at the bedside a savage jab, he went over to the gas logs in the fireplace, turned the gas on and lit it. He held the small blade of his pocketknife in the flame.
“Sacré nom!" Papineau’s face was pale with apprehension. “You t’ink I ’ave—” “Give me that finger and grit your teeth,” Power said through tense lips. “This is going to hurt like hades, but it’s got to be done.”
Holding the finger tightly in one hand, he jabbed the red-hot knife blade against the nick in it and twisted it around. Beads of agony stood out on Papineau’s forehead. "Sacré nom d'un nom d'un nom!” he gasped.
A few minutes later, when a strip of clean handkerchief had been bound around the finger and Papineau reclined weakly in the large chair, Power said: “I hope it
wasn’t necessary to gouge you like that, Pap, but we daren’t take chances. I’ve a hunch that bit of thorn that scratched you has venom on it. If I’m right, it means that Cole Dickin wasn’t bitten by a snake at all.”
Ali Huzoor appeared at the door. “You ring, sar?”
“I suppose Mr. Dickin kept some cobra antivenin handy?”
“Yes, sahib. It is always ready in the syringe in case the hadji-nadji strike.” “Bring it—and some whisky.”
The Pathan hesitated, enquiry in his dark eyes.
“ Y’Allah!” Power snapped at him. He departed.
Power turned to Papineau: “It’s my
belief that Dickin was bitten by a thorn— by two thorns arranged in some way to imitate a cobra’s fangs—that had been dipped in venom. That stuff I scraped from the balcony rail was some the murderer spilled. He brought it with him and dipped the thorns in it so they’d he dripping with it when they pierced Dickin’s temple. Get the idea?”
“I try for to follow. But I do not feel so good, me,” Papineau replied weakly.
“Your trouble’s probably largely psychological. I must have scotched most of the venom with the hot knife.”
“I hope so.”
Ali Huzoor returned with whisky and the filled syringe, which Power injected into Papineau’s arm. He then poured a walloping hooker of Scotch, which Papineau made a wry face at, swallowed, and made a wrier one.
"Sacré! I am drunk in a moment.” “Has the sahib been bitten?” Ali Huzoor enquired.
“What could bite him up here?” Power exclaimed, innocently enough. “We’re just experimenting.”
The Pathan seemed unconvinced, puzzled. Power said to him: “Help me carry the sergeant down to the car.”
Pan declared that lie could make it under his own steam, rose to his feet, took a couple of steps toward the door, but would have crumpled had they not caught him. They carried him below, and Power, after driving him to his own flat, gave him yet another heroic dollop of Scotch and put him to bed.
THE SERGEANT passed a bad afternoon. Some of the cobra venom had escaped the searing and Power had to send for his friend. Dr. John Batson of the Montreal Vic, who stayed working for an
hour and a half. But by four o’clock the symptoms began rapidly to subside, the patient fell asleep, and when he wakened at seven he was all right except for "le mal de tête from too much whisky.” Dinner and a hair of the dog practically completed his rehabilitation, and after that he was quite prepared to carry on where he had left off.
They went to the laboratory at the back of Power’s flat, and the latter produced the gleanings of his afternoon’s work. “I was able to establish,” he declared, “by microscopy and chemical examination that those fibres you found on the balcony were hemp. I think that settles it that the murderer reached the balcony either by climbing or descending a rope to it, and that in the process those fibres were braised off.”
“Descending?” Papineau asked. “It means Ali Huzoor—that route. It is his window above the balcony.”
“If it was an ascent, someone must have gone into Dickin’s room before he retired and tied the rope to the balcony.”
“There was a burglary some years ago where the burglar ’as get to the upper verandah in this way. He goes to the flat and says he is the building inspecteur. He loops a string over the rail wit’ both ends hanging below. It is not noticed. In the night he returns, ties a light rope to the string and draws it up over the rail and down again. He has then the rope doubled, which he climbs. When he descends he pulls on one end and—voilà—it comes away. Perhaps in the same fashion—” “That’s an idea. It would account for the braising of the loose strands—the friction as the rope was pulled over. Let another snake bite you, Pap, and we’ll have this mystery solved.”
Papineau laughed hollowly. “You are funny sometimes.”
Then Power took from the floor beneath the bench an odd contraption. It was a thin length of pole about eight feet long. To one end of it was fastened a tiny square piece of wood, from which stuck two thorns in complete imitation of a cobra’s fangs.
"Sacré!” exclaimed Papineau. “Where ’ave you find cette chose?”
“I didn’t find it. I made it. But it’s my idea that some sort of thing like it was used in this murder. The murderer got to the balcony with it, dipped the thorns in venom, and then reached in through the window and tapped Dickin on the temple with it. Dickin’s bed was about six feet from the window.”
Papineau smiled. “For sure you ’ave allow your imagination to run fast. Kent Power.”
“How else can we account for everything, then?” Power demanded. “First of all, there was the spilled venom. Then there was the thorn. And why was the bit of thorn that stung you stuck to the pillow? It was stuck there because in pulling the thing away it caught in the cloth, was tugged, broke. You can only explain that on the supposition that the thorn was at the end of a longish pole that was awkward to handle.”
“But you do not find such a pole.”
“No. I was out there before dinner and made a thorough search. It was probably
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burned and the ashes scattered. But do you see what this does? It widens as to possible suspects. As matters stood before, only Ali Huzoor could have killed Dickin. Now anyone who knew his way about the place could have done it. There was no necessity of handling the snake at all. The murderer had only to get hold of a bottle of venom, lift the lid from the king cobra’s cage, and run. Which leaves us with a case against the three Dickins—and Tom Cullen.”
“But we ’ave not’ing against them except suspicion.”
“We’ve got a single possibility. The murderer spilt venom against that balcony rail. Some of it may have splashed on his clothes. If it didn’t, we’re out of luck.”
' 1 vOM CULLEN was one of those large -*• men with a quiet smile who possess the rare gift of secrecy. When Cole Dickin had taken him up seven years ago, he was a very junior unit in old Dr. Burkhart's well-known legal firm. He was now his own master and had been dose to Dickin in some of the latter’s largest deals. If he felt any surprise when Power and Papineau announced their business, he showed no sign.
Power said: “I understand that, after leaving Miss Dickin night before last, you had an interview with Dickin.”
A wary look came into the lawyer’s eyes. The fingers that had been handling the paper knife came to rest. He stared hard at Power for some moments and then said: “Yes, I did. Cole met me on the pathway as I was leaving and took me into his library through the French windows. But as I came out the same way, it rather surprises me that anyone knew about it.” “Silas Dickin overheard you as he passed the library door.”
“But the door was closed.”
“He ’as hear the raised voices,” remarked Papineau. “You are quarrelling. non?”
“Yes; that’s true, too.”
“Would you care to say what the quarrel was about?” Power asked.
The lawyer shrugged. “Nothing particularly serious. There’d have been no quarrel if ...” He shrugged again.
"M’sieu Dickin ’ad been drinking?” Pap suggested.
“Then you don’t mind telling us the cause of the row?” Power said.
“He’d been having some trouble with Ali Huzoor,” the lawyer answered after a moment’s delay. “There was a strange relationship between them; the snakes drew them together, I suppose. It was over the snakes they had quarrelled. It seems Cole wanted to kill the king cobra — for some scientific purpose, he said. The cobra was Ali’s particular pet.”
“And your quarrel with Dickin?”
“I urged him to give up playing with the things; told him that association with them was changing his disposition. He resented it more than I expected.”
“And that was the only thing you quarrelled about? It was suggested that there might have been another reason for disagreement between you: that you might have double-crossed Dickin in business.” Cullen’s face went an angry white. “That’s a lie! You got that from the Dickins ! They’ve always resented me !” “Then you have no objection if the sergeant and I give your fiat the once over?”
“Hang it, man, you don’t suspect that I—”
“Just the routine,” Power said quietly. The lawyer shrugged. “Very well, then,” he growled.
In the car outside, Papineau said: “Me, I wonder if he ’as speak the trut’? Perhaps he ’as tell the tale about Ali Huzoor to t’row suspicion off himself, non?”
“You’ve got to admit it was a plausible enough story, Pap,” Power said thoughtfully. And then: “I’ll leave you at Cullen’s fiat. Get hold of the clothes he wore last night—and the shoesand bring them to
my place. I’ll meet you there directly.”
Power himself went along to the Dickin home and there interviewed the inscrutable Pathan.
“Where,” he asked the Indian, “did your master keep his most confidential papers —or do you know?”
“In the house of snakes there is a tin box where he put writings, sar.”
“Show me,” Power said.
AN HOUR and a half later he turned from 1 he desk in the laboratory at the end of the ophidiarium and said to the Pathan: “Are the Dickin sahibs at home?”
"Do you remember the clothes they were wearing last night?”
“Are they wearing them this, morning?”
“No, sar. Sahibs go to business in other suits.”
“Then get them for me—clothes and shoes.”
'1'hey went to the house. While the Pathan was busy in the bedrooms Power used the op|>ortunity to undertake some quiet snooping on his own. On his return to his flat he found Papineau already there. And then he proceeded on a search that lasted three full days. First of all he placed each individual article of raiment under a strong light and went meticulously over it with a magnifying glass. Wherever he found the suspicion of a s|x>t he snipped that bit of cloth out, placed it in a test tube, covered it with a small quantity of distilled water and labelled it. When he had done, the garments in question presented a rather moth-eaten appearance. The four pairs of shoes presented a more difficult problem, since they had all been polished. It was necessary to scrape off the wax practically down to leather, and treat the scrapings with care. For these presented a real problem in chemistry. Snake poison is a proteide and very readily broken down by chemical reagents used in separating it from other substances. In order, therefore, to remove it from the polishing wax all manner of chemical strategy was necessary.
Finally, with fifty-odd test tubes of potential venom solutions to hand, he imported a crate of white mice.
On the afternoon of the third day there were gathered in his laboratory the three Dickins, Tom Cullen and Ali Huzoor. A weary Power faced them from the stool beside the long bench.
“We are going to discuss,” he said, “the manner of Cole Dickin’s death.”
THE ANNOUNCEMENT drew no fire from the assembly except an impatient “Hah!” from old Silas Dickin, who at the same time gave his jaunty mustaches a curt upward push with the back of his hand.
“I’ve been put to a great deal of trouble by this case,” Power went on, “but I seem to have determined who killed him.”
Again old Silas became vocal. “Demn it, man, I could have told you that days ago.” Hands on walking stick, he glared about him as if challenging a denial.
But the brothers remained silent, as did 'lorn Cullen. Ali Huzoor smiled in a strange way that might have signified triumph.
Power proceeded to reconstruct, with the evidence he had obtained, the manner of the crime. “In brief.” he said finally, “someone made a contraption fitted with two thorns to imitate a cobra’s fangs, obtained a bottle of cobra venom, and got onto Cole Dickin’s balcony. He used the thing to kill him and then destroyed it. But he spilled some of the venom. In the hope he had splashed it on his clothes, I have made these solutions.” He pointed to the racks of test tubes. “They are from your clothes, your shoes. In tliat cage you see white mice—fifty-two of ’em, count ’em.” He pointed to the milling cage of animals. “You’ll note that, despite the fact that they were injected with the suspicious solutions, they are still lively. But here is tragedy.”
On the glass slab in front of him two mice lay stiff in death. “These were injected from this test tube.” He held the phial out. “I repeated the injection to make doubly certain. Both died with the clear-cut symptoms of cobra-venom poisoning.”
From the chair beside him he lifted a pair of grey flannel trousers. He pointed to one of the various snippets in the legs. “The particular solution that killed the two mice was made from a spot found here. They’re your trousers, aren’t they?” He held them out to Lester Dickin.
Old Silas sprang to his feet in a blind fury. “This is ridiculous! A rigmarole of pseudo science. You’re trying to railroad this thing on my son!”
“I merely said,” Power replied calmly, “that it was on your son’s trousers the venom was found.”
He turned to Ali Huzoor, whose dark eyes betrayed a profound satisfaction. “You went to your bedroom on the night of the murder at half past twelve, didn’t you?”
“Did you lock your door?”
“The wise man’s door is always locked against his enemies, sar.” The Pathan’s glance took in the three Dickins.
POWER held up a microscope slide.
“On this is fixed a shred of fibre which we found on the balcony outside Dickin’s window. It is hemp and was frayed from the rope the murderer used to get to the balcony.” He laid it down and picked up a second slide. “Here also is a shred of hemp. I believe any court will accept that it came from the same rope—a rojie that had recently been lightly oiled with butter to make it run smoothly, yet not so greasy it couldn’t be climbed. I have determined by chemical analysis that the little specks of oil found on both these shreds is butter. Since butter is an unusual lubricant for rope, I think that establishes the fact that they could only have come from the same rope. This second fragment of butter-oiled hemp rope I found on the floor of your bedroom close to the window, Ali Huzoor.”
The startled Pathan’s mouth dropped open, his dark eyes became pools of fear. “By Allah, it is not so !” he cried.
“I knew it!” exclaimed old Silas Dickin. “From the beginning !”
Power said to the Indian. “Your master was killed somewhere between one and three o’clock. If your story that you locked your bedroom door is true, no one could have entered your room while you slept and climbed down from it by that rope. Yet that rope must have gone through your window or we wouldn’t have found the shred of hemp on the floor.”
“But how the deuce did that venom get on my trousers?” demanded Lester Dickin. “I’ve never handled the stuff.” “Ali Huzoor was wearing them that night” Power replied. “When the house became quiet he slipped down to your room and purloined the clothes you had been wearing that night. I suppose he thought they might act as a partial disguise if he were seen on the balcony.”
“But what was his motive?” Tom Cullen exclaimed incredulously.
“You gave me the clue to that,” Power answered, “when you told me he had quarrelled with Dickin about the killing of the king cobra. I’ve since discovered— found the information in Dickin’s private papers—that Ali Huzoor belongs to the famous Suleiman tribe—a tribe that extends all over the Mohammedan world from Morocco to Malay—to whom the cobra is sacred. Members of the clan will go through hell to preserve the life of its sacred reptile.”
The Pathan had been standing with a queer dazed look in his eyes, listening. Suddenly, a queer moan escaped him. “Allah! Allah!” His hand dropped to his belt, came away with a knife. But before he could slash his own throat with it, Papineau made a dart at his wrist, which presently felt the cool of other steel.