The Golden Scorpion by Sax Rohmer
Part II. Statement of Gaston Max
II. "Le Balafre"
Chapter V. Conclusion of Statement
I come now to the conclusion of this statement and to the strange occurrence which led to my proclaiming myself. The fear of imminent assassination which first had prompted me to record what I knew of "The Scorpion" had left me since I had ceased to be Charles Malet. And that the disappearance of "Le Balafre" had been accepted by his unknown chief as evidence of his success in removing me, I did not doubt. Therefore I breathed more freely ... and more freely still when my body was recovered!
Yes, my body was recovered from Hanover Hole; I read of it--a very short paragraph, but it is the short paragraphs that matter--in my morning paper. I knew then that I should very shortly be dead indeed-- officially dead. I had counted on this happening before, you understand, for I more than ever suspected that "The Scorpion" knew me to be in England and I feared that he would "lie low" as the English say. However, since a fortunate thing happens better late than never, I say in this paragraph two things: (1) that the enemy would cease to count upon Gaston Max; (2) that the Scotland Yard Commissioner would be authorised to open Part First of this Statement which had been lodged at his office two days after I landed in England--the portion dealing with my inquiries in Paris and with my tracking of "Le Balafre" to Bow Road Station and observing that he showed a golden scorpion to the chauffeur of the yellow car.
This would happen because Paris would wire that the identification disk found on the dead man was that of Gaston Max. Why would Paris do so? Because my reports had been discounted since I had ceased to be Charles Malet and Paris would be seeking evidence of my whereabouts. My reports had discontinued because I had learned that I had to do with a criminal organization of whose ramifications I knew nothing. Therefore I took no more chances. I died.
I return to the night when Inspector Dunbar, the grim Dunbar of Scotland Yard, came to Dr. Stuart's house. His appearance there puzzled me. I could not fail to recognize him, for as dusk had fully come I had descended from my top window and was posted among the bushes of the empty house from whence I commanded a perfect view of the doctor's door. The night was unusually chilly--there had been some rain--and when I crept around to the lane bordering the lawn, hoping to see or hear something of what was taking place in the study, I found that the windows were closed and the blinds drawn.
Luck seemed to have turned against me; for that night, at dusk, when I had gone to a local garage where I kept my motor bicycle, I had discovered the back tire to be perfectly flat and had been forced to contain my soul in patience whilst the man repaired a serious puncture. The result was of course that for more than half an hour I had not had Dr. Stuart's house under observation. And a hundred and one things can happen in half an hour.
Had Dr. Stuart sent for the Inspector? If so, I feared that the envelope was missing, or at any rate that he had detected Zara el-Khala in the act of stealing it and had determined to place the matter in the hands of the police. It was a maddening reflection. Again--I shrewdly suspected that I was not the only watcher of Dr. Stuart's house. The frequency with which the big yellow car drew up at the door a few moments after the doctor had gone out could not be due to accident. Yet I had been unable to detect the presence of this other watcher, nor had I any idea of the spot where the car remained hidden--if my theory was a correct one. Nevertheless I did not expect to see it come along whilst the Inspector remained at the house-- always supposing that Zara el-Khala had not yet succeeded. I wheeled out the "Indian" and rode to a certain tobacconist's shop at which I had sometimes purchased cigarettes.
He had a telephone in a room at the rear which customers were allowed to use on payment of a fee, and a public call-box would not serve my purpose, since the operator usually announces to a subscriber the fact that a call emanated from such an office. The shop was closed, but I rang the bell at the side door and obtained permission to use the telephone upon pleading urgency. I had assiduously cultivated a natural gift for mimicry, having found it of inestimable service in the practice of my profession. It served me now. I had worked in the past with Inspector Dunbar and his subordinate Sergeant Sowerby, and I determined to trust to my memory of the latter's mode of speech.
I rang up Dr. Stuart and asked for the Inspector, saying Sergeant Sowerby spoke from Scotland Yard. "Hullo!" he cried, "is that you, Sowerby?"
"Yes," I replied in Sowerby's voice. "I thought I should find you there. About the body of Max.."
"Eh!" said Dunbar--"what's that? Max?"
I knew immediately that Paris had not yet wired, therefore I told him that Paris had done so, and that the disk numbered 49685 was that of Gaston Max. He was inexpressibly shocked, deploring the rashness of Max in working alone.
"Come to Scotland Yard," I said, anxious to get him away from the house.
He said he would be with me in a few minutes, and I was racking my brains for some means of learning what business had taken him to Dr. Stuart when he gave me the desired information spontaneously.
"Sowerby, listen," said he: "It's 'The Scorpion' case right enough! That bit of gold found on the dead man is not a cactus stem; it's a scorpion's tail!"
So! they had found what I had failed to find! It must have been attached, I concluded, to some inner part of "Le Balafre's" clothing. There had been no mention of Zara el-Khala; therefore, as I rode back to my post I permitted myself to assume that she would come again, since presumably she had thus far failed. I was right.
Morbleu! quick as I was the car was there before me! But I had not overlooked this possibility and I had dismounted at a good distance from the house and had left the "Indian" in someone's front garden. As I had turned out of the main road I had seen Dr. Stuart and Inspector Dunbar approaching a rank upon which two or three cabs usually stood.
I watched la Bell Zara enter the house, a beautiful woman most elegantly attired, and then, even before Chunda Lal had backed the car into the lane I was off ... to the spot at which I had abandoned my motor bicycle. In little more than half an hour I had traversed London, and was standing in the shadow of that high, blank wall to which I have referred as facing a row of wooden houses in a certain street adjoining Limehouse Causeway.
You perceive my plan? I was practically sure of the street; all I had to learn was which house sheltered "The Scorpion"!
I had already suspected that this night was to be for me an unlucky night. Nom d'un p'tit bon-homme! it was so. Until an hour before dawn I crouched under that wall and saw no living thing except a very old Chinaman who came out of one of the houses and walked slowly away. The other houses appeared to be empty. No vehicle of any kind passed that way all night.
Turning over in my mind the details of this most perplexing case, it became evident to me that the advantages of working alone were now outweighed by the disadvantages. The affair had reached a stage at which ordinary police methods should be put into operation. I had collected some of the threads; the next thing was for Scotland Yard to weave these together whilst I sought for more.
I determined to remain dead. It would afford me greater freedom of action. The disappearance of "Le Balafre" which must by this time have been noted by his associates, might possibly lead to a suspicion that the dead man was not Gaston Max; but providing no member of "The Scorpion" group obtained access to the body I failed to see how this suspicion could be confirmed. I reviewed my position.
The sealed letter had achieved its purpose in part. Although I had failed to locate the house from which these people operated, I could draw a circle on the map within which I knew it to be; and I had learned that Zara el-Khala and the Hindu were in London. What it all meant--to what end "The Scorpion" was working I did not know. But having learned so much, be sure I did not despair of learning more.
It was now imperative that I should find out exactly what had occurred at Dr. Stuart's house. Accordingly I determined to call upon the Inspector at Scotland Yard. I presented myself towards evening of the day following my vigil in Limehouse, sending up the card of a Bureau confrere, for I did not intend to let it be generally known that I was alive.
Presently I was shown up to that bare and shining room which I remembered having visited in the past. I stood just within the doorway, smiling. Inspector Dunbar rose, as the constable went out, and stood looking across at me.
I had counted on striking him dumb with astonishment. He was Scottishly unmoved.
"Well," he said, coming forward with outstretched hand, "I'm glad to see you. I knew you would have come to us sooner or later!"
I felt that my eyes sparkled. There was no resentment within my heart. I rejoiced.
"Look," he continued, taking a slip of paper from his note-book. "This is a copy of a note I left with Dr. Stuart some time ago. Read it."
I did so, and this is what I read:
"A: the name of the man who cut out the lid of the cardboard box and sealed it in the envelope--Gaston Max!
"B: the name of the missing cabman--Gaston Max!
"C: the name of the man who rang me up at Dr. Stuart's and told me that Gaston Max was dead--Gaston Max!"
I returned the slip to Inspector Dunbar. I bowed.
"It is a pleasure and a privilege to work with you, Inspector," I said ....
This statement is nearly concluded. The whole of the evening I spent in the room of the Assistant Commissioner discussing the matters herein set forth and comparing notes with Inspector Dunbar. One important thing I learned: that I had abandoned my nightly watches too early. For one morning just before dawn someone who was not Zara had paid a visit to the house of Dr. Stuart! I determined to call upon the doctor.
As it chanced I was delayed and did not actually arrive until so late an hour that I had almost decided not to present myself ... when a big yellow car flashed past the taxicab in which I was driving!
Nom d'un nom! I could not mistake it! This was within a few hundred yards of the house of Dr. Stuart, you understand, and I instantly dismissed my cabman and proceeded to advance cautiously on foot. I could no longer hear the engine of the car which had passed ahead of me, but then I knew that it could run almost noiselessly. As I crept along in that friendly shadow cast by a high hedge which had served me so well before, I saw the yellow car. It was standing on the opposite side of the road. I reached the tradesman's entrance.
From my left, in the direction of the back lawn of the house, came a sudden singular crackling noise and I discerned a flash of blue flame resembling faint "summer lightning." A series of muffled explosions followed ... and in the darkness I tripped over something which lay along the ground at my feet--a length of cable it seemed to be.
Stumbling, I uttered a slight exclamation ... and instantly received a blow on the head that knocked me flat upon the ground! Everything was swimming around me, but I realized that someone--Chunda Lal probably--had been hiding in the very passage which I had entered! I heard again that uncanny wailing, close beside me.
Vaguely I discerned an incredible figure--like that of a tall cowled monk, towering over me. I struggled to retain consciousness--there was a rush of feet ... the throb of a motor. It stimulated me--that sound! I must get to the telephone and cause the yellow car to be intercepted.
I staggered to my feet and groped my way along the hedge to where I had observed a tree by means of which one might climb over. I was dizzy as a drunken man; but I half climbed and half fell on to the lawn. The windows were open. I rushed into the study of Dr. Stuart.
Pah! it was full of fumes. I looked around me. Mon Dieu! I staggered. For I knew that in this fume-laden room a thing more horrible and more strange than any within my experience had taken place that night.