Fire-Tongue by Sax Rohmer
Chapter IX. Two Reports
On returning to his office Paul Harley found awaiting him the report of the man to whom he had entrusted the study of the movements of Nicol Brinn. His mood was a disturbed one, and he had observed none of his customary precautions in coming from Doctor McMurdoch's house. He wondered if the surveillance which he had once detected had ceased. Perhaps the chambers of Nicol Brinn were the true danger zone upon which these subtle but powerful forces now were focussed. On the other hand, he was quite well aware that his movements might have been watched almost uninterruptedly since the hour that Sir Charles Abingdon had visited his office.
During the previous day, in his attempt to learn the identity of Ormuz Khan, he had covered his tracks with his customary care. He had sufficient faith in his knowledge of disguise, which was extensive, to believe that those mysterious persons who were interested in his movements remained unaware of the fact that the simple-minded visitor from Vancouver who had spent several hours in and about the Savoy, and Paul Harley of Chancery Lane, were one and the same.
His brain was far too alertly engaged with troubled thoughts of Phil Abingdon to be susceptible to the influence of those delicate etheric waves which he had come to recognize as the note of danger. Practically there had been no development whatever in the investigation, and he was almost tempted to believe that the whole thing was a mirage, when the sight of the typewritten report translated him mentally to the luxurious chambers in Piccadilly.
Again, almost clairvoyantly, he saw the stoical American seated before the empty fireplace, his foot restlessly tapping the fender. Again he heard the curious, high tones: "I'll tell you... You have opened the gates of hell...."
The whole scene, with its tantalizing undercurrent of mystery, was reenacted before his inner vision. He seemed to hear Nicol Brinn, startled from his reverie, exclaim: "I think it was an owl.... We sometimes get them over from the Green Park...."
Why should so simple an incident have produced so singular an effect? For the face of the speaker had been ashen.
Then the pendulum swung inevitably back: "You are all perfectly cruel and horrible...."
Paul Harley clenched his hands, frowning at the Burmese cabinet as though he hated it.
How persistently the voice of Phil Abingdon rang in his ears! He could not forget her lightest words. How hopelessly her bewitching image intruded itself between his reasoning mind and the problem upon which he sought to concentrate.
Miss Smith, the typist, had gone, for it was after six o'clock, and Innes alone was on duty. He came in as Harley, placing his hat and cane upon the big writing table, sat down to study the report.
"Inspector Wessex rang up, Mr. Harley, about an hour ago. He said he would be at the Yard until six.
"Has he obtained any information?" asked Paul Harley, wearily, glancing at his little table clock.
"He said he had had insufficient time to do much in the matter, but that there were one or two outstanding facts which might interest you."
"Did he seem to be surprised?"
"He did," confessed Innes. "He said that Ormuz Khan was a well-known figure in financial circles, and asked me in what way you were interested in him."
"Ah!" murmured Harley. He took up the telephone. "City 400," he said.... "Is that the Commissioner's Office, New Scotland Yard? ... Paul Harley speaking. Would you please inquire if Detective Inspector Wessex has gone?"
While awaiting a reply he looked up at Innes. "Is there anything else?" he asked.
"Only the letters, Mr. Harley."
"Leave the letters, then; I will see to them. You need not wait." A moment later, as his secretary bade him good-night and went out of the office:
"Hello," said Harley, speaking into the mouthpiece... "The inspector has gone? Perhaps you would ask him to ring me up in the morning." He replaced the receiver on the hook.
Resting his chin in his hands, he began to read from the typewritten pages before him. His assistant's report was conceived as follows:
'Re Mr. Nicol Brinn of Raleigh House, Piccadilly, W. I.
'Mr. Nicol Brinn is an American citizen, born at Cincinnati, Ohio, February 15, 1884. He is the son of John Nicolas Brinn of the same city, founder of the firm of J. Nicolas Brinn, Incorporated, later reconstituted under the style of Brinn's Universal Electric Supply Corporation.
'Nicol Brinn is a graduate of Harvard. He has travelled extensively in nearly all parts of the world and has access to the best society of Europe and America. He has a reputation for eccentricity, has won numerous sporting events as a gentleman rider; was the first airman to fly over the Rockies; took part in the Uruguay rebellion of 1904, and held the rank of lieutenant colonel of field artillery with the American forces during the Great War.
'He has published a work on big game and has contributed numerous travel articles to American periodicals. On the death of Mr. Brinn, senior, in 1914, he inherited an enormous fortune and a preponderating influence in the B.U.E.S.C. He has never taken any active part in conduct of the concern, but has lived a restless and wandering life in various parts of the world.
'Mr. Nicol Brinn is a confirmed bachelor. I have been unable to find that he has ever taken the slightest interest in any woman other than his mother throughout his career. Mrs. J. Nicolas Brinn is still living in Cincinnati, and there is said to be a strong bond of affection between mother and son. His movements on yesterday, 4th June, 1921, were as follows:
'He came out of his chambers at eight o'clock and rode for an hour in the park, when he returned and remained indoors until midday. He then drove to the Carlton, where he lunched with the Foreign Secretary, with whom he remained engaged in earnest conversation until ten minutes to three. The Rt. Hon. gentleman proceeded to the House of Commons and Mr. Brinn to an auction at Christie's. He bought two oil paintings. He then returned to his chambers and did not reappear again until seven o'clock. He dined alone at a small and unfashionable restaurant in Soho, went on to his box at Covent Garden, where he remained for an hour, also alone, and then went home. He had no callers throughout the day.'
Deliberately Paul Harley had read the report, only removing his hand from his chin to turn over the pages. Now from the cabinet at his elbow he took out his tin of tobacco and, filling and lighting a pipe, lay back, eyes half closed, considering what he had learned respecting Nicol Brinn.
That he was concerned in the death of Sir Charles Abingdon he did not believe for a moment; but that this elusive case, which upon investigation only seemed the more obscure, was nevertheless a case of deliberate murder he was as firmly convinced as ever. Of the identity of the murderer, of his motive, he had not the haziest idea, but that the cloud which he had pictured as overhanging the life of the late Sir Charles was a reality and not a myth of the imagination he became more completely convinced with each new failure to pick up a clue.
He found himself helplessly tied. In which direction should he move and to what end? Inclination prompted him in one direction, common sense held him back. As was his custom, he took a pencil and wrote upon a little block:
Find means to force Brinn to speak.
He lay back in his chair again, deep in thought, and presently added the note:
Obtain interview with Ormuz Khan.
Just as he replaced the pencil on the table, his telephone bell rang. The caller proved to be his friend, Inspector Wessex.
"Hello, Mr. Harley," said the inspector. "I had occasion to return to the Yard, and they told me you had rung up. I don't know why you are interested in this Ormuz Khan, unless you want to raise a loan."
Paul Harley laughed. "I gather that he is a man of extensive means," he replied, "but hitherto he has remained outside my radius of observation."
"And outside mine," declared the inspector. "He hasn't the most distant connection with anything crooked. It gave me a lot of trouble to find out what little I have found out. Briefly, all I have to tell you is this: Ormuz Khan--who is apparently entitled to be addressed as 'his excellency'--is a director of the Imperial Bank of Iran, and is associated, too, with one of the Ottoman banks. I presume his nationality is Persian, but I can't be sure of it. He periodically turns up in the various big capitals when international loans and that sort of thing are being negotiated. I understand that he has a flat somewhere in Paris, and the Service de Surete tells me that his name is good for several million francs over there. He appears to have a certain fondness for London during the spring and early summer months, and I am told he has a fine place in Surrey. He is at present living at Savoy Court. He appears to be something of a dandy and to be very partial to the fair sex, but nevertheless there is nothing wrong with his reputation, considering, I mean, that the man is a sort of Eastern multimillionaire."
"Ah!" said Harley, who had been listening eagerly. "Is that the extent of your information, Wessex?"
"That's it," replied Wessex, with a laugh. "I hope you'll find it useful, but I doubt it. He hasn't been picking pockets or anything, has he?"
"No," said Harley, shortly. "I don't apprehend that his excellency will ever appear in your province, Wessex. My interest in him is of a purely personal nature. Thanks for all the trouble you have taken."
Paul Harley began to pace the office. From a professional point of view the information was uninteresting enough, but from another point of view it had awakened again that impotent anger which he had too often experienced in these recent, strangely restless days.
At all costs he must see Ormuz Khan, although how he was to obtain access to this man who apparently never left his private apartments (if the day of his vigil at the Savoy had been a typical one) he failed to imagine.
Nevertheless, pausing at the table, he again took up his pencil, and to the note "Obtain interview with Ormuz Khan" he added the one word, underlined: