The Golden Scorpion by Sax Rohmer
Part II. Statement of Gaston Max
I. The Dancer of Montmartre
Chapter I. Zara El-Khala
The following statement which I, Gaston Max, am drawing up in duplicate for the guidance of whoever may inherit the task of tracing "The Scorpion"--a task which I have begun--will be lodged--one copy at the Service de Surete in Paris, and the other copy with the Commissioner of Police, New Scotland Yard. As I apprehend that I may be assassinated at any time, I propose to put upon record all that I have learned concerning the series of murders which I believe to be traceable to a certain person. In the event of my death, my French colleagues will open the sealed packet containing this statement and the English Assistant Commissioner of the Special Branch responsible for international affairs will receive instructions to open that which I shall have lodged at Scotland Yard.
This matter properly commenced, then, with the visit to Paris, incognito, of the Grand Duke Ivan, that famous soldier of whom so much was expected, and because I had made myself responsible for his safety during the time that he remained in the French capital, I (also incognito be it understood) struck up a friendship with one Casimir, the Grand Duke's valet. Nothing is sacred to a valet, and from Casimir I counted upon learning the real reason which had led this nobleman to visit Paris at so troublous a time. Knowing the Grand Duke to be a man of gallantry, I anticipated finding a woman in the case--and I was not wrong.
Yes, there was a woman, and nom d'nom!she was beautiful. Now in Paris we have many beautiful women, and in times of international strife it is true that we have had to shoot some of them. For my own part I say with joy that I have never been instrumental in bringing a woman to such an end. Perhaps I am sentimental; it is a French weakness; but on those few occasions when I have found a guilty woman in my power--and she has been pretty-- morbleu!--she has escaped! It may be that I have seen to it that she was kept out of further mischief, but nevertheless she has never met a firing-party because of me. Very well.
From the good fellow Casimir I learned that a certain dancer appearing at one of our Montmartre theatres had written to the Grand Duke craving the honour of his autograph--and enclosing her photograph.
Pf! it was enough. One week later the autograph arrived--attached to an invitation to dine with the Grand Duke at his hotel in Paris. Yes--he had come to Paris. I have said that he was susceptible and I have said that she was beautiful. I address myself to men of the world, and I shall not be in error if I assume that they will say, "A wealthy fool and a designing woman. It is an old story." Let us see.
The confidences of Casimir interested me in more ways than one. In the first place I had particular reasons for suspecting anyone who sought to obtain access to the Grand Duke. These were diplomatic. And in the second place I had suspicions of Zara el-Khala. These were personal.
Yes--so she called herself--Zara el-Khala, which in Arabic is "Flower of the Desert." She professed to be an Egyptian, and certainly she had the long, almond-shaped eyes of the East, but her white skin betrayed her, and I knew that whilst she might possess Eastern blood, she was more nearly allied to Europe than to Africa. It is my business to note unusual matters, you understand, and I noticed that this beautiful and accomplished woman of whom all Paris was beginning to speak rapturously remained for many weeks at a small Montmartre theatre. Her performance, which was unusually decorous for the type of establishment at which she appeared, had not apparently led to an engagement elsewhere.
This aroused the suspicions to which I have referred. In the character of a vaudeville agent I called at the Montmartre theatre and was informed by the management that Zara-el-Khala received no visitors, professional or otherwise. A small but expensive car awaited her at the stage door. My suspicions increased. I went away, but returned on the following night, otherwise attired, and from a hiding-place which I had selected on the previous evening I watched the dancer depart.
She came out so enveloped in furs and veils as to be unrecognizable, and a Hindu wearing a chauffeur's uniform opened the door of the car for her, and then, having arranged the rugs to her satisfaction, mounted to the wheel and drove away.
I traced the car. It had been hired for the purpose of taking Zara el-Khala from her hotel--to the theatre and home nightly. I sent a man to call upon her at the hotel--in order to obtain press material, ostensibly. She declined to see him. I became really interested. I sent her a choice bouquet, having the card of a nobleman attached to it, together with a message of respectful admiration. It was returned. I prevailed upon one of the most handsome and gallant cavalry officers in Paris to endeavour to make her acquaintance. He was rebuffed.
Eh bien! I knew then that Mlle. Zara of the Desert was unusual.
You will at once perceive that when I heard from the worthy Casimir how this unapproachable lady had actually written to the Grand Duke Ivan and had gone so far as to send him her photograph, I became excited. It appeared to me that I found myself upon the brink of an important discovery. I set six of my first-class men at work: three being detailed to watch the hotel of the Grand Duke Ivan and three to watch Zara el-Khala. Two more were employed in watching the Hindu servant and one in watching my good friend Casimir. Thus, nine clever men and myself were immediately engaged upon the case.
Why do I speak of a "case" when thus far nothing of apparent importance had occurred? I will explain. Although the Grand Duke travelled incognito, his Government knew of the journey and wished to learn with what object it had been undertaken.
At the time that I made the acquaintance of Casimir the Grand Duke had been in Paris for three days, and he was--according to my informant--"like a raging lion." The charming dancer had vouchsafed no reply to his invitation and he had met with the same reception, on presenting himself in person, which had been accorded to myself and to those others who had sought to obtain an interview with Zara el-Khala!
My state of mystification grew more and more profound. I studied the reports of my nine assistants.
It appeared that the girl had been in Paris for a period of two months. She occupied a suite of rooms in which all her meals were served. Except the Hindu who drove the hired car, she had no servant. She never appeared in the public part of the hotel unless veiled, and then merely in order to pass out to the car or in from it on returning. She drove out every day. She had been followed, of course, but her proceedings were unexceptionable. Leaving the car at a point in the Bois De Boulogne, she would take a short walk, if the day was fine enough, never proceeding out of sight of the Hindu, who followed with the automobile, and would then drive back to her hotel. She never received visits and never met any one during these daily excursions.
I turned to the report dealing with the Hindu. He had hired a room high up under the roof of an apartment house where foreign waiters and others had their abodes. He bought and cooked his own food, which apparently consisted solely of rice, lentils and fruit. He went every morning to the garage and attended to the car, called for his mistress, and having returned remained until evening in his own apartment. At night, after returning from the theatre, he sometimes went out, and my agent had failed to keep track of him on every occasion that he had attempted pursuit. I detached the man who was watching Casimir and whose excellent reports revealed the fact that Casimir was an honest fellow--as valets go--and instructed him to assist in tracing the movements of the Hindu.
Two nights later they tracked him to a riverside cafe kept by a gigantic quadroon from Dominique and patronized by that type which forms a link between the lowest commercial and the criminal classes: itinerant vendors of Eastern rugs, street performers and Turkish cigarette makers.
At last I began to have hopes. The Grand Duke at this time was speaking of leaving Paris, but as he had found temporary consolation in the smiles of a lady engaged at the "Folies" I did not anticipate that he would depart for several days at any rate. Also he was the kind of man who is stimulated by obstacles.
The Hindu remained for an hour in the cafe, smoking and drinking some kind of syrup, and one of my fellows watched him. Presently the proprietor called him into a little room behind the counter and closed the door. The Hindu and the quadroon remained there for a few minutes, then the Hindu came out and left the cafe, returning to his abode. There was a telephone in this inner room, and my agent was of opinion that the Indian had entered either to make or to receive a call. I caused the line to be tapped.
On the following night the Hindu came back to the cafe, followed by one of my men. I posted myself at a selected point and listened for any message that might pass over the line to or from the cafe. At about the same hour as before--according to the report--someone called up the establishment, asking for "Miguel." This was the quadroon, and I heard his thick voice replying. The other voice--which had first spoken--was curiously sibilant but very distinct. Yet it did not sound like the voice of a Frenchman or of any European. This was the conversation:
"Scorpion. A message for Chunda Lal."
Almost holding my breath, so intense was my excitement, I waited whilst Miguel went to bring the Hindu. Suddenly a new voice spoke--that of the Hindu.
"Chunda Lal speaks," it said.
I clenched by teeth; I knew that I must not miss a syllable.
"Scorpion" replied ... in voluble Hindustani--a language of which I know less than a dozen words!