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Title: The Tomb's Secret
Author: Robert E. Howard
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Language: English
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The Tomb's Secret
Robert E. Howard



When James Willoughby, millionaire philanthropist, realized that
the dark, lightless car was deliberately crowding him into the curb,
he acted with desperate decision. Snapping off his own lights, he
threw open the door on the opposite side from the onrushing stranger,
and leaped out, without stopping his own car. He landed sprawling on
all fours, shredding the knees of his trousers and tearing the skin on
his hands. An instant later his auto crashed cataclysmically into the
curb, and the crunch of crumpled fenders and the tinkle of breaking
glass mingled with the deafening reverberation of a sawed-off shotgun
as the occupants of the mysterious car, not yet realizing that their
intended victim had deserted his automobile, blasted the machine he
had just left.

Before the echoes died away, Willoughby was up and running through
the darkness with an energy remarkable for his years. He knew that his
ruse was already discovered, but it takes longer to swing a big car
around than for a desperately frightened man to burst through a hedge,
and a flitting figure in the darkness is a poor target. So James
Willoughby lived where others had died, and presently came on foot and
in disheveled condition to his home, which adjoined the park beside
which the murderous attempt had been made. The police, hastening to
his call, found him in a condition of mingled fear and bewilderment.
He had seen none of his attackers; he could give no reason for the
attack. All that he seemed to know was that death had struck at him
from the dark, suddenly, terribly and mysteriously.

It was only reasonable to suppose that death would strike again at
its chosen victim, and that was why Brock Rollins, detective, kept a
rendezvous the next evening with one Joey Glick, a nondescript
character of the underworld who served his purpose in the tangled
scheme of things.

Rollins bulked big in the dingy back-room appointed for the
meeting. His massive shoulders and thick body dwarfed his height. His
cold blue eyes contrasted with the thick black hair that crowned his
low, broad forehead, and his civilized garments could not conceal the
almost savage muscularity of his hard frame.

Opposite him Joey Glick, never an impressive figure, looked even
more insignificant than usual. And Joey's skin was a pasty grey, and
Joey's fingers shook as he fumbled with a bit of paper on which was
drawn a peculiar design.

"Somebody planted it on me," he chattered. "Right after I phoned
you. In the jam on the uptown train. Me, Joey Glick! They plant it on
me and I don't even know it. Only one man in this burg handles dips
that slick--even if I didn't know already.

"Look! It's the death-blossom! The symbol of the Sons of Erlik!
They're after me! They've been shadowing me--tapping wires. They know
I know too much--"

"Come to the point, will you?" grunted Rollins "You said you had a
tip about the gorillas who tried to put the finger on Jim Willoughby.
Quit shaking and spill it. And tell me, cold turkey--who was it?"

"The man behind it is Yarghouz Barolass."

Rollins grunted in some surprise.

"I didn't know murder was his racket."

"Wait!" Joey babbled, so scared he was scarcely coherent. His
brain was addled, his speech disjointed. "He's head of the American
branch of the Sons of Erlik--I know he is--"

"Chinese?"

"He's a Mongol. His racket is blackmailing nutty old dames who
fall for his black magic. You know that. But this is bigger. Listen,
you know about Richard Lynch?"

"Sure; got smashed up in an auto wreck by a hit-and-run speed
maniac a week ago. Lay unidentified in a morgue all night before they
discovered who he was. Some crazy loon tried to steal the corpse off
the slab. What's that got to do with Willoughby?"

"It wasn't an accident." Joey was fumbling for a cigarette. "They
meant to get him--Yarghouz's mob. It was them after the body that
night--"

"Have you been hitting the pipe?" demanded Rollins harshly.

"No, damn it!" shrilled Joey. "I tell you, Yarghouz was after
Richard Lynch's corpse, just like he's sending his mob after Job
Hopkins' body tomorrow night--"

_"What?"_ Rollins came erect, glaring incredulously.

"Don't rush me," begged Joey, striking a match. "Gimme time. That
death-blossom has got me jumping sideways. I'm jittery--"

"I'll say you are," grunted Rollins. "You've been babbling a lot
of stuff that don't mean anything, except it's Yarghouz Barolass who
had Lynch bumped off, and now is after Willoughby. Why? That's what I
want to know. Straighten it out and give me the low-down."

"Alright," promised Joey, sucking avidly at his cigarette. "Lemme
have a drag. I been so upset I haven't even smoked since I reached
into my pocket for a fag and found that damned death-flower. This is
straight goods. I know why they want the bodies of Richard Lynch, Job
Hopkins and James Willoughby--"

With appalling suddenness his hands shot to his throat, crushing
the smoldering cigarette in his fingers. His eyes distended, his face
purpled. Without a word he swayed upright, reeled and crashed to the
floor. With a curse Rollins sprang up, bent over him, ran skilled
hands over his body.

"Dead as Judas Iscariot," swore the detective. "What an infernal
break! I knew his heart would get him some day, if he kept hitting the
pipe--"

He halted suddenly. On the floor where it had fallen beside the
dead man lay the bit of ornamented paper Joey had called the blossom
of death, and beside it lay a crumpled package of cigarettes.

"When did he change his brand?" muttered Rollins. "He never smoked
any kind but a special Egyptian make before; never saw him use this
brand." He lifted the package, drew out a cigarette and broke it into
his hand, smelling the contents gingerly. There was a faint but
definite odor which was not part of the smell of the cheap tobacco.

"The fellow who slipped that death-blossom into his pocket could
have shifted fags on him just as easy," muttered the detective. "They
must have known he was coming here to talk to me. But the question is,
how much do they know now? They can't know how much or how little he
told me. They evidently didn't figure on him reaching me at all--
thought he'd take a draw before he got here. Ordinarily he would have;
but this time he was too scared even to remember to smoke. He needed
dope, not tobacco, to steady his nerve."

Going to the door, he called softly. A stocky bald-headed man
answered his call, wiping his hands on a dirty apron. At the sight of
the crumpled body he recoiled, paling.

"Heart attack, Spike," grunted Rollins. "See that he gets what's
needed." And the big dick thrust a handful of crumpled bills into
Spike's fingers as he strode forth. A hard man, Rollins, but one
mindful of his debts to the dead as well as the living.

A few minutes later be was crouched over a telephone.

"This you, Hoolihan?"

A voice booming back over the wires assured him that the chief of
police was indeed at the other end.

"What killed Job Hopkins?" he asked abruptly.

"Why, heart attack, I understand." There was some surprise in the
chief's voice. "Passed out suddenly, day before yesterday, while
smoking his after-dinner cigar, according to the papers. Why?"

"Who's guarding Willoughby?" demanded Rollins without answering.

"Laveaux, Hanson, McFarlane and Harper. But I don't see--"

"Not enough," snapped Rollins. "Beat it over there yourself with
three or four more men."

"Say, listen here, Rollins!" came back the irate bellow. "Are you
telling _me_ how to run my business?"

"Right now I am." Rollins' cold hard grin was almost tangible in
his voice. "This happens to be in my particular domain. We're not
fighting white men; it's a gang of River Street yellow-bellies who've
put Willoughby on the spot. I won't say any more right now. There's
been too damned much wire-tapping in this burg. But you beat it over
to Willoughby's as fast as you can get there. Don't let him out of
your sight. Don't let him smoke, eat or drink anything till I get
there. I'll be right on over."

"Okay," came the answer over the wires. "You've been working the
River Street quarter long enough to know what you're doing."

Rollins snapped the receiver back on its hook and strode out into
the misty dimness of River Street, with its furtive hurrying forms--
stooped alien figures which would have fitted less incongruously into
the scheme of Canton, Bombay or Stamboul.

The big dick walked with a stride even springier than usual, a
more aggressive lurch of his massive shoulders. That betokened unusual
wariness, a tension of nerves. He knew that he was a marked man, since
his talk with Joey Glick. He did not try to fool himself; it was
certain that the spies of the man he was fighting knew that Joey had
reached him before he died. The fact that they could not know just how
much the fellow had told before he died would make them all the more
dangerous. He did not underestimate his own position. He knew that if
there was one man in the city capable of dealing with Yarghouz
Barolass, it was himself, with his experience gained from years of
puzzling through the devious and often grisly mysteries of River
Street, with its swarms of brown and yellow inhabitants.

"Taxi?" A cab drew purring up beside the curb, anticipating his
summoning gesture. The driver did not lean out into the light of the
street. His cap seemed to be drawn low, not unnaturally so, but,
standing on the sidewalk, it was impossible for the detective to tell
whether or not he was a white man.

"Sure," grunted Rollins, swinging open the door and climbing in.
"540 Park Place, and step on it."

The taxi roared through the crawling traffic, down shadowy River
Street, wheeled off onto 35th Avenue, crossed over, and sped down a
narrow side street.

"Taking a short cut?" asked the detective.

"Yes, sir." The driver did not look back. His voice ended in a
sudden hissing intake of breath. There was no partition between the
front and back seats. Rollins was leaning forward, his gun jammed
between the shoulders of the driver.

"Take the next right-hand turn and drive to the address I gave
you," he said softly. "Think I can't tell the back of a yellow neck by
the street lamp? You drive, but you drive careful. If you try to wreck
us, I'll fill you full of lead before you can twist that wheel. No
monkey business now; you wouldn't be the first man I've plugged in the
course of duty."

The driver twisted his head about to stare briefly into the grim
face of his captor; his wide thin mouth gaped, his coppery features
were ashy. Not for nothing had Rollins established his reputation as a
man-hunter among the sinister denizens of the Oriental quarter.

"Joey was right," muttered Rollins between his teeth. "I don't
know your name, but I've seen you hanging around Yarghouz Barolass's
joint when he had it over on Levant Street. You won't take me for a
ride, not tonight. I know that trick, old copper-face. You'd have a
flat, or run out of gas at some convenient spot. Any excuse for you to
get out of the car and out of range while a hatchet-man hidden
somewhere mows me down with a sawed-off. You better hope none of your
friends see us and try anything, because this gat has a hair-trigger,
and it's cocked. I couldn't die quick enough not to pull the trigger."

The rest of that grim ride was made in silence, until the reaches
of South Park rose to view--darkened, except for a fringe of lights
around the boundaries, because of municipal economy which sought to
reduce the light bill.

"Swing into the park," ordered Rollins, as they drove along the
street which passed the park, and, further on, James Willoughby's
house. "Cut off your lights, and drive as I tell you. You can feel
your way between the trees."

The darkened car glided into a dense grove and came to a halt.
Rollins fumbled in his pockets with his left hand and drew out a small
flashlight, and a pair of handcuffs. In climbing out, he was forced to
remove his muzzle from close contact with his prisoner's back, but the
gun menaced the Mongol in the small ring of light emanating from the
flash.

"Climb out," ordered the detective. "That's right--slow and easy.
You're going to have to stay here awhile. I didn't want to take you to
the station right now, for several reasons. One of them is I didn't
want your pals to know I turned the tables on you. I'm hoping they'll
still be patiently waiting for you to bring me into range of their
sawed-offs--ha, would you?"

The Mongol, with a desperate wrench, struck the flashlight from
the detective's hand, plunging them into darkness.

Rollins' clutching fingers locked like a vise on his adversary's
coat sleeve, and at the same instant he instinctively threw out his
.45 before his belly, to parry the stroke he knew would instantly
come. A knife clashed venomously against the blue steel cylinder, and
Rollins hooked his foot about an ankle and jerked powerfully. The
fighters went down together, and the knife sliced the detective's coat
as they fell. Then his blindingly driven gun barrel crunched
glancingly against a shaven skull, and the straining form went limp.

Panting and swearing beneath his breath, Rollins retrieved the
flashlight and cuffs, and set to work securing his prisoner. The
Mongol was completely out; it was no light matter to stop a full-arm
swing from Brock Rollins. Had the blow landed solidly it would have
caved in the skull like an egg-shell.

Handcuffed, gagged with strips torn from his coat, and his feet
bound with the same material, the Mongol was placed in the car, and
Rollins turned and strode through the shadows of the park, toward the
eastern hedge beyond which lay James Willoughby's estate. He hoped
that this affair would give him some slight advantage in this blind
battle. While the Mongols waited for him to ride into the trap they
had undoubtedly laid for him somewhere in the city, perhaps he could
do a little scouting unmolested.

James Willoughby's estate adjoined South Park on the east. Only a
high hedge separated the park from his grounds. The big three-storied
house--disproportionately huge for a bachelor--towered among carefully
trimmed trees and shrubbery, amidst a level, shaven lawn. There were
lights in the two lower floors, none in the third. Rollins knew that
Willoughby's study was a big room on the second floor, on the west
side of the house. From that room no light issued between the heavy
shutters. Evidently curtains and shades were drawn inside. The big
dick grunted in approval as he stood looking through the hedge.

He knew that a plainclothes man was watching the house from each
side, and he marked the bunch of shrubbery amidst which would be
crouching the man detailed to guard the west side. Craning his neck,
he saw a car in front of the house, which faced south, and he knew it
to be that of Chief Hoolihan.

With the intention of taking a short cut across the lawn he wormed
through the hedge, and, not wishing to be shot by mistake, he called
softly: "Hey, Harper!"

There was no answer. Rollins strode toward the shrubbery.

"Asleep at the post?" he muttered angrily. "Eh, what's this?"

He had stumbled over something in the shadows of the shrubs. His
hurriedly directed beam shone on the white, upturned face of a man.
Blood dabbled the features, and a crumpled hat lay near by, an unfired
pistol near the limp hand.

"Knocked stiff from behind!" muttered Rollins. "What--"

Parting the shrub he gazed toward the house. On that side an
ornamental chimney rose tier by tier, until it towered above the roof.
And his eyes became slits as they centered on a window on the third
floor within easy reach of that chimney. On all other windows the
shutters were closed; but these stood open.

With frantic haste he tore through the shrubbery and ran across
the lawn, stooping like a bulky bear, amazingly fleet for one of his
weight. As he rounded the corner of the house and rushed toward the
steps, a man rose swiftly from among the hedges lining the walk, and
covered him, only to lower his gun with an exclamation of recognition.

"Where's Hoolihan?" snapped the detective.

"Upstairs with old man Willoughby. What's up?"

"Harper's been slugged," snarled Rollins. "Beat it out there; you
know where he was posted. Wait there until I call you. If you see
anything you don't recognize trying to leave the house, plug it! I'll
send out a man to take your place here."

He entered the front door and saw four men in plain clothes
lounging about in the main hall.

"Jackson," he snapped, "take Hanson's place out in front. I sent
him around to the west side. The rest of you stand by for anything."

Mounting the stair in haste, he entered the study on the second
floor, breathing a sigh of relief as he found the occupants apparently
undisturbed.

The curtains were closely drawn over the windows, and only the
door letting into the hall was open. Willoughby was there, a tall
spare man, with a scimitar sweep of nose and a bony aggressive chin.
Chief Hoolihan, big, bear-like, rubicund, boomed a greeting.

"All your men downstairs?" asked Rollins.

"Sure; nothin' can get past 'em and I'm stayin' here with Mr.
Willoughby--"

"And in a few minutes more you'd both have been scratching gravel
in Hell," snapped Rollins. "Didn't I tell you we were dealing with
Orientals? You concentrated all your force below, never thinking that
death might slip in on you from above. But I haven't time to turn out
that light. Mr. Willoughby, get over there in that alcove. Chief,
stand in front of him, and watch that door that leads into the hall.
I'm going to leave it open. Locking it would be useless, against what
we're fighting. If anything you don't recognize comes through it,
shoot to kill."

"What the devil are you driving at, Rollins?" demanded Hoolihan.

"I mean one of Yarghouz Barolass's killers is in this house!"
snapped Rollins. "There may be more than one; anyway, he's somewhere
upstairs. Is this the only stair, Mr. Willoughby? No back-stair?"

"This is the only one in the house," answered the millionaire.
"There are only bedrooms on the third floor."

"Where's the light button for the hall on that floor?"

"At the head of the stairs, on the left; but you aren't--"

"Take your places and do as I say," grunted Rollins, gliding out
into the hallway.

He stood glaring at the stair which wound up above him, its upper
part masked in shadow. Somewhere up there lurked a soulless slayer--a
Mongol killer, trained in the art of murder, who lived only to perform
his master's will. Rollins started to call the men below, then changed
his mind. To raise his voice would be to warn the lurking murderer
above. Setting his teeth, he glided up the stair. Aware that he was
limned in the light below, he realized the desperate recklessness of
his action; but he had long ago learned that he could not match
subtlety against the Orient. Direct action, however desperate, was
always his best bet. He did not fear a bullet as he charged up; the
Mongols preferred to slay in silence; but a thrown knife could kill as
promptly as tearing lead. His one chance lay in the winding of the
stair.

He took the last steps with a thundering rush, not daring to use
his flash, plunged into the gloom of the upper hallway, frantically
sweeping the wall for the light button. Even as he felt life and
movement in the darkness beside him, his groping fingers found it. The
scrape of a foot on the floor beside him galvanized him, and as he
instinctively flinched back, something whined past his breast and
thudded deep into the wall. Then under his frenzied fingers, light
flooded the hall.

Almost touching him, half crouching, a copper-skinned giant with a
shaven head wrenched at a curved knife which was sunk deep in the
woodwork. He threw up his head, dazzled by the light, baring yellow
fangs in a bestial snarl.

Rollins had just left a lighted area. His eyes accustomed
themselves more swiftly to the sudden radiance. He threw his left like
a hammer at the Mongol's jaw. The killer swayed and fell out cold.

Hoolihan was bellowing from below.

"Hold everything," answered Rollins. "Send one of the boys up here
with the cuffs. I'm going through these bedrooms."

Which he did, switching on the lights, gun ready, but finding no
other lurking slayer. Evidently Yarghouz Barolass considered one would
be enough. And so it might have been, but for the big detective.

Having latched all the shutters and fastened the windows securely,
he returned to the study, whither the prisoner had been taken. The man
had recovered his senses and sat, handcuffed, on a divan. Only the
eyes, black and snaky, seemed alive in the copperish face.

"Mongol alright," muttered Rollins. "No Chinaman."

"What is all this?" complained Hoolihan, still upset by the
realization that an invader had slipped through his cordon.

"Easy enough. This fellow sneaked up on Harper and laid him cold.
Some of these fellows could steal the teeth right out of your mouth.
With all those shrubs and trees it was a cinch. Say, send out a couple
of the boys to bring in Harper, will you? Then he climbed that fancy
chimney. That was a cinch, too. I could do it myself. Nobody had
thought to fasten the shutters on that floor, because nobody expected
an attack from that direction.

"Mr. Willoughby, do you know anything about Yarghouz Barolass?"

"I never heard of him," declared the philanthropist, and though
Rollins scanned him narrowly, he was impressed by the ring of
sincerity in Willoughby's voice.

"Well, he's a mystic fakir," said Rollins. "Hangs around Levant
Street and preys on old ladies with more money than sense--faddists.
Gets them interested in Taoism and Lamaism and then plays on their
superstitions and blackmails them. I know his racket, but I've never
been able to put the finger on him, because his victims won't squeal.
But he's behind these attacks on you."

"Then why don't we go grab him?" demanded Hoolihan.

"Because we don't know where he is. He knows that I know he's
mixed up in this. Joey Glick spilled it to me, just before he croaked.
Yes, Joey's dead--poison; more of Yarghouz's work. By this time
Yarghouz will have deserted his usual hang-outs, and be hiding
somewhere--probably in some secret underground dive that we couldn't
find in a hundred years, now that Joey is dead."

"Let's sweat it out of this yellow-belly," suggested Hoolihan.

Rollins grinned coldly. "You'd sweat to death yourself before he'd
talk. There's another tied up in a car out in the park. Send a couple
of boys after him, and you can try your hand on both of them. But
you'll get damned little out of them. Come here, Hoolihan."

Drawing him aside, he said: "I'm sure that Job Hopkins was
poisoned in the same manner they got Joey Glick. Do you remember
anything unusual about the death of Richard Lynch?"

"Well, not about his death; but that night somebody apparently
tried to steal and mutilate his corpse--"

"What do you mean, mutilate?" demanded Rollins.

"Well, a watchman heard a noise and went into the room and found
Lynch's body on the floor, as if somebody had tried to carry it off,
and then maybe got scared off. And a lot of the _teeth_ had been
pulled or knocked out!"

"Well, I can't explain the teeth," grunted Rollins. "Maybe they
were knocked out in the wreck that killed Lynch. But this is my hunch:
Yarghouz Barolass is stealing the bodies of wealthy men, figuring on
screwing a big price out of their families. When they don't die quick
enough, he bumps them off."

Hoolihan cursed in shocked horror.

"But Willoughby hasn't any family."

"Well, I reckon they figure the executors of his estate will kick
in. Now listen: I'm borrowing your car for a visit to Job Hopkins'
vault. I got a tip that they're going to lift his corpse tomorrow
night. I believe they'll spring it tonight, on the chance that I might
have gotten the tip. I believe they'll try to get ahead of me. They
may have already, what with all this delay. I figured on being out
there long before now.

"No, I don't want any help. Your flat-feet are more of a hindrance
than a help in a job like this. You stay here with Willoughby. Keep
men upstairs as well as down. Don't let Willoughby open any packages
that might come, don't even let him answer a phone call. I'm going to
Hopkins' vault, and I don't know when I'll be back; may roost out
there all night. It just depends on when--or if--they come for the
corpse."

A few minutes later he was speeding down the road on his grim
errand. The graveyard which contained the tomb of Job Hopkins was
small, exclusive, where only the bones of rich men were laid to rest.
The wind moaned through the cypress trees which bent shadow-arms above
the gleaming marble.

Rollins approached from the back side, up a narrow, tree-lined
side street. He left the car, climbed the wall, and stole through the
gloom, beneath the pallid shafts, under the cypress shadows. Ahead of
him Job Hopkins' tomb glimmered whitely. And he stopped short,
crouching low in the shadows. He saw a glow--a spark of light--it was
extinguished, and through the open door of the tomb trooped half a
dozen shadowy forms. His hunch had been right, but they had gotten
there ahead of him. Fierce anger sweeping him at the ghoulish crime,
he leaped forward, shouting a savage command.

They scattered like rats, and his crashing volley re-echoed
futilely among the sepulchers. Rushing forward recklessly, swearing
savagely, he came into the tomb, and turning his light into the
interior, winced at what he saw. The coffin had been burst open, but
the tomb itself was not empty. In a careless heap on the floor lay the
embalmed corpse of Job Hopkins--_and the lower jawbone had been sawed
away._

"What the Hell!" Rollins stopped short, bewildered at the sudden
disruption of his theory. "They didn't want the body. What did they
want? His teeth? And they got Richard Lynch's teeth--"

Lifting the body back into its resting place, he hurried forth,
shutting the door of the tomb behind him. The wind whined through the
cypress, and mingled with it was a low moaning sound. Thinking that
one of his shots had gone home, after all, he followed the noise,
warily, pistol and flash ready.

The sound seemed to emanate from a bunch of low cedars near the
wall, and among them he found a man lying. The beam revealed the
stocky figure, the square, now convulsed face of a Mongol. The slant
eyes were glazed, the back of the coat soaked with blood. The man was
gasping his last, but Rollins found no trace of a bullet wound on him.
In his back, between his shoulders, stood up the hilt of a curious
skewer-like knife. The fingers of his right hand had been horribly
gashed, as if he had sought to retain his grasp on something which his
slayers desired.

"Running from me he bumped into somebody hiding among these
cedars," muttered Rollins. "But who? And why? By God, Willoughby
hasn't told me everything."

He stared uneasily at the crowding shadows. No stealthy shuffling
footfall disturbed the sepulchral quiet. Only the wind whimpered
through the cypress and the cedars. The detective was alone with the
dead--with the corpses of rich men in their ornate tombs, and with the
staring yellow man whose flesh was not yet rigid.

"You're back in a hurry," said Hoolihan, as Rollins entered the
Willoughby study. "Do any good?"

"Did the yellow boys talk?" countered Rollins.

"They did not," growled the chief. "They sat like pot-bellied
idols. I sent 'em to the station, along with Harper. He was still in a
daze."

"Mr. Willoughby," Rollins sank down rather wearily into an arm-
chair and fixed his cold gaze on the philanthropist, "am I right in
believing that you and Richard Lynch and Job Hopkins were at one time
connected with each other in some way?"

"Why do you ask?" parried Willoughby.

"Because somehow the three of you are connected in this matter.
Lynch's death was not accidental, and I'm pretty sure that Job Hopkins
was poisoned. Now the same gang is after you. I thought it was a body-
snatching racket, but an apparent attempt to steal Richard Lynch's
corpse out of the morgue, now seems to resolve itself into what was in
reality a successful attempt to get his teeth. Tonight a gang of
Mongols entered the tomb of Job Hopkins, obviously for the same
purpose--"

A choking cry interrupted him. Willoughby sank back, his face
livid.

"My God, after all these years!"

Rollins stiffened.

"Then you do know Yarghouz Barolass? You know why he's after you?"

Willoughby shook his head. "I never heard of Yarghouz Barolass
before. But I know why they killed Lynch and Hopkins."

"Then you'd better spill the works," advised Rollins. "We're
working in the dark as it is."

"I will!" The philanthropist was visibly shaken. He mopped his
brow with a shaking hand, and reposed himself with an effort.

"Twenty years ago," he said, "Lynch, Hopkins and myself, young men
just out of college, were in China, in the employ of the war-lord Yuen
Chin. We were chemical engineers. Yuen Chin was a far-sighted man--
ahead of his time, scientifically speaking. He visioned the day when
men would war with gases and deadly chemicals. He supplied us with a
splendid laboratory, in which to discover or invent some such element
of destruction for his use.

"He paid us well; the foundations of all of our fortunes were laid
there. We were young, poor, unscrupulous.

"More by chance than skill we stumbled onto a deadly secret--the
formula for a poisonous gas, a thousand times more deadly than
anything yet dreamed of. That was what he was paying us to invent or
discover for him, but the discovery sobered us. We realized that the
man who possessed the secret of that gas could easily conquer the
world. We were willing to aid Yuen Chin against his Mongolian enemies;
we were not willing to elevate a yellow mandarin to world empire, to
see our hellish discovery directed against the lives of our own
people.

"Yet we were not willing to destroy the formula, because we
foresaw a time when America, with her back to the wall, might have a
desperate need for such a weapon. So we wrote out the formula in code,
but left out three symbols, without any of which the formula is
meaningless and undecipherable. Each of us then, had a lower jaw tooth
pulled out, and on the gold tooth put in its place was carved one of
the three symbols. Thus we took precautions against our own greed, as
well as against the avarice of outsiders. One of us might conceivably
fall so low as to sell the secret, but it would be useless without the
other two symbols.

"Yuen Chin fell and was beheaded on the great execution ground at
Peking. We escaped, Lynch, Hopkins and I, not only with our lives but
with most of the money which had been paid us. But the formula,
scrawled on parchment, we were obliged to leave, secreted among musty
archives in an ancient temple.

"Only one man knew our secret: an old Chinese tooth-puller, who
aided us in the matter of the teeth. He owed his life to Richard
Lynch, and when he swore the oath of eternal silence, we knew we could
trust him."

"Yet you think somebody is after the secret symbols?"

"What else could it be? I cannot understand it. The old tooth-
puller must have died long ago. Who could have learned of it? Torture
would not have dragged the secret from him. Yet it can be for no other
reason that this fellow you call Yarghouz Barolass murdered and
mutilated the bodies of my former companions, and now is after me.

"Why, I love life as well as any man, but my own peril shrinks
into insignificance compared to the world-wide menace contained in
those little carven symbols--two of which are now, according to what
you say, in the hands of some ruthless foe of the western world.

"Somebody has found the formula we left hidden in the temple, and
has learned somehow of its secret. Anything can come out of China.
Just now the bandit war-lord Yah Lai is threatening to overthrow the
National government--who knows what devilish concoction that Chinese
caldron is brewing?

"The thought of the secret of that gas in the hands of some
Oriental conqueror is appalling. My God, gentlemen, I fear you do not
realize the full significance of the matter!"

"I've got a faint idea," grunted Rollins. "Ever see a dagger like
this?" He presented the weapon that had killed the Mongol.

"Many of them, in China," answered Willoughby promptly.

"Then it isn't a Mongol weapon?"

"No; it's distinctly Chinese; there is a conventional Manchu
inscription on the hilt."

"Ummmmmm!" Rollins sat scowling, chin on fist, idly tapping the
blade against his shoe, lost in meditation. Admittedly, he was all at
sea, lost in a bewildering tangle. To his companions he looked like a
grim figure of retribution, brooding over the fate of the wicked. In
reality he was cursing his luck.

"What are you going to do now?" demanded Hoolihan.

"Only one thing to do," responded Rollins. "I'm going to try to
run down Yarghouz Barolass. I'm going to start with River Street--God
knows, it'll be like looking for a rat in a swamp. I want you to
contrive to let one of those Mongols escape, Hoolihan. I'll try to
trail him back to Yarghouz's hangout--"

The phone tingled loudly.

Rollins reached it with a long stride.

"Who speaks, please?" Over the wire came a voice with a subtle but
definite accent.

"Brock Rollins," grunted the big dick.

"A friend speaks, Detective," came the bland voice. "Before we
progress further, let me warn you that it will be impossible to trace
this call, and would do you no good to do so."

"Well?" Rollins was bristling like a big truculent dog.

"Mr. Willoughby," the suave voice continued, "is a doomed man. He
is as good as dead already. Guards and guns will not save him, when
the Sons of Erlik are ready to strike. But _you_ can save him, without
firing a shot!"

"Yeah?" It was a scarcely articulate snarl humming bloodthirstily
from Rollins' bull-throat.

"If you were to come alone to the House of Dreams on Levant
street, Yarghouz Barolass would speak to you, and a compromise might
be arranged whereby Mr. Willoughby's life would be spared."

"Compromise, Hell!" roared the big dick, the skin over his
knuckles showing white. "Who do you think you're talking to? Think I'd
fall into a trap like that?"

"You have a hostage," came back the voice. "One of the men you
hold is Yarghouz Barolass's brother. Let him suffer if there is
treachery. I swear by the bones of my ancestors, no harm shall come to
you!"

The voice ceased with a click at the other end of the wire.

Rollins wheeled.

"Yarghouz Barolass must be getting desperate to try such a child's
trick as that!" he swore. Then he considered, and muttered, half to
himself: "By the bones of his ancestors! Never heard of a Mongolian
breaking _that_ oath. All that stuff about Yarghouz's brother may be
the bunk. Yet--well, maybe he's trying to outsmart me--draw me away
from Willoughby--on the other hand, maybe he thinks that I'd never
fall for a trick like that--aw, to Hell with thinking! I'm going to
start acting!"

"What do you mean?" demanded Hoolihan.

"I mean I'm going to the House of Dreams, alone."

"You're crazy!" exclaimed Hoolihan. "Take a squad, surround the
house, and raid it!"

"And find an empty rat-den," grunted Rollins, his peculiar
obsession for working alone again asserting itself.

Dawn was not far away when Rollins entered the smoky den near the
waterfront which was known to the Chinese as the House of Dreams, and
whose dingy exterior masked a subterranean opium joint. Only a pudgy
Chinaboy nodded behind the counter; he looked up with no apparent
surprise. Without a word he led Rollins to a curtain in the back of
the shop, pulled it aside, and revealed a door. The detective gripped
his gun under his coat, nerves taut with excitement that must come to
any man who has deliberately walked into what might prove to be a
death-trap. The boy knocked, lifting a sing-song monotone, and a voice
answered from within. Rollins started. He recognized that voice. The
boy opened the door, bobbed his head and was gone. Rollins entered,
pulling the door to behind him.

He was in a room heaped and strewn with divans and silk cushions.
If there were other doors, they were masked by the black velvet
hangings, which, worked with gilt dragons, covered the walls. On a
divan near the further wall squatted a stocky, pot-bellied shape, in
black silk, a close-fitting velvet cap on his shaven head.

"So you came, after all!" breathed the detective. "Don't move,
Yarghouz Barolass. I've got you covered through my coat. Your gang
can't get me quick enough to keep me from getting you first."

"Why do you threaten me, Detective?" Yarghouz Barolass' face was
expressionless, the square, parchment-skinned face of a Mongol from
the Gobi, with wide thin lips and glittering black eyes. His English
was perfect.

"See, I trust you. I am here, alone. The boy who let you in said
that you are alone. Good. You kept your word, I keep my promise. For
the time there is truce between us, and I am ready to bargain, as you
suggested."

"As _I_ suggested?" demanded Rollins.

"I have no desire to harm Mr. Willoughby, any more than I wished
to harm either of the other gentlemen," said Yarghouz Barolass. "But
knowing them all as I did--from report and discreet observation--it
never occurred to me that I could obtain what I wished while they
lived. So I did not enter into negotiations with them."

"So you want Willoughby's tooth, too?"

"Not I," disclaimed Yarghouz Barolass. "It is an honorable person
in China, the grandson of an old man who babbled in his dotage, as old
men often do, drooling secrets torture could not have wrung from him
in his soundness of mind. The grandson, Yah Lai, has risen from a mean
position to that of war-lord. He listened to the mumblings of his
grandfather, a tooth-puller. He found a formula, written in code, and
learned of symbols on the teeth of old men. He sent a request to me,
with promise of much reward. I have one tooth, procured from the
unfortunate person, Richard Lynch. Now if you will hand over the
other--that of Job Hopkins--as you promised, perhaps we may reach a
compromise by which Mr. Willoughby will be allowed to keep his life,
in return for a tooth, as you hinted."

"As _I_ hinted?" exclaimed Rollins. "What are you driving at? I
made no promise; and I certainly haven't Job Hopkins' tooth. You've
got it, yourself."

"All this is unnecessary," objected Yarghouz, an edge to his tone.
"You have a reputation for veracity, in spite of your violent nature.
I was relying upon your reputation for honesty when I accepted this
appointment. Of course, I already knew that you had Hopkins' tooth.
When my blundering servants, having been frightened by you as they
left the vaults, gathered at the appointed rendezvous, they discovered
that he to whom was entrusted the jawbone containing the precious
tooth, was not among them. They returned to the graveyard and found
his body, but not the tooth. It was obvious that you had killed him
and taken it from him."

Rollins was so thunderstruck by this new twist, that he remained
speechless, his mind a tangled whirl of bewilderment.

Yarghouz Barolass continued tranquilly: "I was about to send my
servants out in another attempt to secure you, when your agent phoned
me--though how he located me on the telephone is still a mystery into
which I must inquire--and announced that you were ready to meet me at
the House of Dreams, and give me Job Hopkins' tooth, in return for an
opportunity to bargain personally for Mr. Willoughby's life. Knowing
you to be a man of honor, I agreed, trusting you--"

"This is madness!" exclaimed Rollins "I didn't call you, or have
anybody call you. _You,_ or rather, one of your men, called _me."_

"I did not!" Yarghouz was on his feet, his stocky body under the
rippling black silk quivering with rage and suspicion. His eyes
narrowed to slits, his wide mouth knotted viciously.

"You deny that you promised to give me Job Hopkins' tooth?"

"Sure I do!" snapped Rollins. "I haven't got it, and what's more,
I'm not 'compromising' as you call it--"

"Liar!" Yarghouz spat the epithet like a snake hissing. "You have
tricked--betrayed me--used my trust in your blackened honor to dupe
me--"

"Keep cool," advised Rollins. "Remember, I've got a Colt .45
trained on you."

"Shoot and die!" retorted Yarghouz. "I do not know what your game
is, but I know that if you shoot me, we will fall together. Fool, do
you think I would keep my promise to a barbarian dog? Behind this
hanging is the entrance to a tunnel through which I can escape before
any of your stupid police, if you have brought any with you, can enter
this room. You have been covered since you came through that door, by
a man hiding behind the tapestry. Try to stop me, and you die!"

"I believe you're telling the truth about not calling me," said
Rollins slowly. "I believe somebody tricked us both, for some reason.
You were called, in my name, and I was called, in yours."

Yarghouz halted short in some hissing tirade. His eyes were like
black evil jewels in the lamplight.

"More lies?" he demanded uncertainly.

"No; I think somebody in your gang is double-crossing you. Now
easy, I'm not pulling a gun. I'm just going to show you the knife that
I found sticking in the back of the fellow you seem to think I
killed."

He drew it from his coat-pocket with his left hand--his right
still gripped his gun beneath the garment--and tossed it on the divan.

Yarghouz pounced on it. His slit eyes flared wide with a terrible
light; his yellow skin went ashen. He cried out something in his own
tongue, which Rollins did not understand.

In a torrent of hissing sibilances, he lapsed briefly into
English: "I see it all now! This was too subtle for a barbarian! Death
to them all!" Wheeling toward the tapestry behind the divan he
shrieked: "Gutchluk!"

There was no answer, but Rollins thought he saw the black velvety
expanse billow slightly. With his skin the color of old ashes,
Yarghouz Barolass ran at the hanging, ignoring Rollins' order to halt,
seized the tapestries, tore them aside--something flashed between them
like a beam of white-hot light. Yarghouz's scream broke in a ghastly
gurgle. His head pitched forward, then his whole body swayed backward,
and he fell heavily among the cushions, clutching at the hilt of a
skewer-like dagger that quivered upright in his breast. The Mongol's
yellow claw-like hands fell away from the crimsoned hilt, spread wide,
clutching at the thick carpet; a convulsive spasm ran through his
frame, and those taloned yellow fingers went limp.

Gun in hand, Rollins took a single stride toward the tapestries--
then halted short, staring at the figure which moved imperturbably
through them: a tall yellow man in the robes of a mandarin, who smiled
and bowed, his hands hidden in his wide sleeves.

"You killed Yarghous Barolass!" accused the detective.

"The evil one indeed has been dispatched to join his ancestors by
my hand," agreed the mandarin. "Be not afraid. The Mongol who covered
you through a peep-hole with an abbreviated shotgun has likewise
departed this uncertain life, suddenly and silently. My own people
hold supreme in the House of Dreams this night. All that we ask is
that you make no attempt to stay our departure."

"Who are you?" demanded Rollins.

"But a humble servant of Fang Yin, lord of Peking. When it was
learned that these unworthy ones sought a formula in America that
might enable the upstart Yah Lai to overthrow the government of China,
word was sent in haste to me. It was almost too late. Two men had
already died. The third was menaced."

"I sent my servants instantly to intercept the evil Sons of Erlik
at the vaults they desecrated. But for your appearance, frightening
the Mongols to scattering in flight, before the trap could be sprung,
my servants would have caught them all in ambush. As it was, they did
manage to slay he who carried the relic Yarghouz sought, and this they
brought to me."

"I took the liberty of impersonating a servant of the Mongol in my
speech with you, and of pretending to be a Chinese agent of yours,
while speaking with Yarghouz. All worked out as I wished. Lured by the
thought of the tooth, at the loss of which he was maddened, Yarghouz
came from his secret, well-guarded lair, and fell into my hands. I
brought you here to witness his execution, so that you might realize
that Mr. Willoughby is no longer in danger. Fang Yin has no ambitions
for world empire; he wishes but to hold what is his. That he is well
able to do, now that the threat of the devil-gas is lifted. And now I
must be gone. Yarghouz had laid careful plans for his flight out of
the country. I will take advantage of his preparations."

"Wait a minute!" exclaimed Rollins. "I've got to arrest you for
the murder of this rat."

"I am sorry," murmured the mandarin. "I am in much haste. No need
to lift your revolver. I swore that you would not be injured and I
keep my word."

As he spoke, the light went suddenly out. Rollins sprang forward,
cursing, fumbling at the tapestries which had swished in the darkness
as if from the passing of a large body between them. His fingers met
only solid walls, and when at last the light came on again, he was
alone in the room, and behind the hangings a heavy door had been slid
shut. On the divan lay something that glinted in the lamplight, and
Rollins looked down on a curiously carven gold tooth.



THE END




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