Black Talons by Robert E. Howard
First published in
Strange Detective Stories, December 1933
Also published as "Talons In The Dark"
JOEL BRILL slapped shut the book he had been scanning, and
gave vent to his dissatisfaction in language more appropriate for the deck of
a whaling ship than for the library of the exclusive Corinthian Club.
Buckley, seated in an alcove nearby, grinned quietly. Buckley looked more
like a college professor than a detective, and perhaps it was less because of
a studious nature than a desire to play the part he looked, that caused him
to loaf around the library of the Corinthian.
"It must be something unusual to drag you out of your lair at this time of
the day," he remarked. "This is the first time I ever saw you in the evening.
I thought you spent your evenings secluded in your rooms, pouring over musty
tomes in the interests of that museum you're connected with."
"I do, ordinarily." Brill looked as little like a scientist as Buckley
looked like a dick. He was squarely built, with thick shoulders and the jaw
and fists of a prizefighter; low browed, with a mane of tousled black hair
contrasting with his cold blue eyes.
"You've been shoving your nose into books here since six o'clock,"
"I've been trying to get some information for the directors of the
museum," answered Brill. "Look!" He pointed an accusing finger at the rows of
lavishly bound volumes. "Books till it would sicken a dog—and not a
blasted one can tell me the reason for a certain ceremonial dance practiced
by a certain tribe on the West African Coast."
"A lot of the members have knocked around a bit," suggested Buckley. "Why
not ask them?"
"I'm going to." Brill took down a phone from its hook.
"There's John Galt—" began Buckley.
"Too hard to locate. He flits about like a mosquito with the St. Vitus.
I'll try Jim Reynolds." He twirled the dial.
"Thought you'd done some exploring in the tropics yourself," remarked
"Not worthy of the name. I hung around that God-forsaken Hell hole of the
West African Coast for a few months until I came down with malaria—
A suave voice, too perfectly accented, came along the wire.
"Oh, is that you, Yut Wuen? I want to speak to Mr. Reynolds."
Polite surprise tinged the meticulous tone.
"Why, Mr. Reynolds went out in response to your call an hour ago, Mr.
"What's that?" demanded Brill. "Went where?"
"Why, surely you remember, Mr. Brill." A faint uneasiness seemed to edge
the Chinaman's voice. "At about nine o'clock you called, and I answered the
phone. You said you wished to speak to Mr. Reynolds. Mr. Reynolds talked to
you, then told me to have his car brought around to the side entrance. He
said that you had requested him to meet you at the cottage on White Lake
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Brill. "This is the first time I've phoned Reynolds
for weeks! You've mistaken somebody else for me."
There was no reply, but a polite stubbornness seemed to flow over the
wire. Brill replaced the phone and turned to Buckley, who was leaning forward
with aroused interest.
"Something fishy here," scowled Brill. "Yut Wuen, Jim's Chinese servant,
said I called, an hour ago, and Jim went out to meet me. Buckley,
you've been here all evening. Did I call up anybody? I'm so infernally
"No, you didn't," emphatically answered the detective. "I've been sitting
right here close to the phone ever since six o'clock. Nobody's used it. And
you haven't left the library during that time. I'm so accustomed to spying on
people, I do it unconsciously."
"Well, say," said Brill, uneasily, "suppose you and I drive over to White
Lake. If this is a joke, Jim may be over there waiting for me to show
As the city lights fell behind them, and houses gave way to clumps of
trees and bushes, velvet black in the star-light, Buckley said: "Do you think
Yut Wuen made a mistake?"
"What else could it be?" answered Brill, irritably.
"Somebody might have been playing a joke, as you suggested. Why should
anybody impersonate you to Reynolds?"
"How should I know? But I'm about the only acquaintance he'd bestir
himself for, at this time of night. He's reserved, suspicious of people.
Hasn't many friends. I happen to be one of the few."
"Something of a traveler, isn't he?"
"There's no corner of the world with which he isn't familiar."
"How'd he make his money?" Buckley asked, abruptly.
"I've never asked him. But he has plenty of it."
The clumps on each side of the road grew denser, and scattered pinpoints
of light that marked isolated farm houses faded out behind them. The road
tilted gradually as they climbed higher and higher into the wild hill region
which, an hour's drive from the city, locked the broad crystalline sheet of
silver that men called White Lake. Now ahead of them a glint shivered among
the trees, and topping a wooded crest, they saw the lake spread out below
them, reflecting the stars in myriad flecks of silver. The road meandered
along the curving shore.
"Where's Reynolds' lodge?" inquired Buckley.
Brill pointed. "See that thick clump of shadows, within a few yards of the
water's edge? It's the only cottage on this side of the lake. The others are
three or four miles away. None of them occupied, this time of the year.
There's a car drawn up in front of the cottage."
"No light in the shack," grunted Buckley, pulling up beside the long low
roadster that stood before the narrow stoop. The building reared dark and
silent before them, blocked against the rippling silver sheen behind it.
"Hey, Jim!" called Brill. "Jim Reynolds!"
No answer. Only a vague echo shuddering down from the blackly wooded
"Devil of a place at night," muttered Buckley, peering at the dense
shadows that bordered the lake. "We might be a thousand miles from
Brill slid out of the car. "Reynolds must be here—unless he's gone
for a midnight boat ride."
Their steps echoed loudly and emptily on the tiny stoop. Brill banged the
door and shouted. Somewhere back in the woods a night bird lifted a drowsy
note. There was no other answer.
Buckley shook the door. It was locked from the inside.
"I don't like this," he growled. "Car in front of the cottage— door
locked on the inside—nobody answering it. I believe I'll break the door
"No need." Brill fumbled in his pocket. "I'll use my key."
"How comes it you have a key to Reynolds' shack?" demanded Buckley.
"It was his own idea. I spent some time with him up here last summer, and
he insisted on giving me a key, so I could use the cottage any time I wanted
to. Turn on your flash, will you? I can't find the lock. All right, I've got
it. Hey, Jim! Are you here?"
Buckley's flash played over chairs and card tables, coming to rest on a
closed door in the opposite wall. They entered and Buckley heard Brill
fumbling about with an arm elevated. A faint click followed and Brill
"The juice is off. There's a line running out from town to supply the
cottage owners with electricity, but it must be dead. As long as we're in
here, let's go through the house. Reynolds may be sleeping
He broke off with a sharp intake of breath. Buckley had opened the door
that led to the bedroom. His flash played on the interior—on a broken
chair, a smashed table—a crumpled shape that lay in the midst of a dark
"Good God, it's Reynolds!"
Buckley's gun glinted in his hand as he played the flash around the room,
sifting the shadows for lurking shapes of menace; it rested on a bolted rear
door; rested longer on an open window, the screen of which hung in
"We've got to have more light," he grunted. "Where's the switch? Maybe a
fuse has blown."
"Outside, near that window." Stumblingly Brill led the way out of the
house and around to the window. Buckley flashed his light, grunted.
"The switch has been pulled!" He pushed it back in place, and light
flooded the cottage. The light streaming through the windows seemed to
emphasize the blackness of the whispering woods around them. Buckley glared
into the shadows, seemed to shiver. Brill had not spoken; he shook as with
Back in the house they bent over the man who lay in the middle of the red-
Jim Reynolds had been a stocky, strongly built man of middle age. His skin
was brown and weather-beaten, hinting of tropic suns. His features were
masked with blood; his head lolled back, disclosing an awful wound beneath
"His throat's been cut!" stammered Brill. Buckley shook his head.
"Not cut—torn. Good God, it looks like a big cat had ripped
The whole throat had literally been torn out; muscles, arteries, windpipe
and the great jugular vein had been severed; the bones of the vertebrae
"He's so bloody I wouldn't have recognized him," muttered the detective.
"How did you know him so quickly? The instant we saw him, you cried out that
it was Reynolds."
"I recognized his garments and his build," answered the other. "But what
in God's name killed him?"
Buckley straightened and looked about. "Where does that door lead to?"
"To the kitchen; but it's locked on this side."
"And the outer door of the front room was locked on the inside," muttered
Buckley. "Doesn't take a genius to see how the murderer got in—and he
—or it—went out the same way."
"What do you mean, it?"
"Does that look like the work of a human being?" Buckley pointed to the
dead man's mangled throat. Brill winced.
"I've seen black boys mauled by the big cats on the West Coast—"
"And whatever tore Reynolds' gullet out, tore that window screen. It
wasn't cut with a knife."
"Do you suppose a panther from the hills—" began Brill.
"A panther smart enough to throw the electric switch before he slid
through the window?" scoffed Buckley.
"We don't know the killer threw the switch."
"Was Reynolds fooling around in the dark, then? No; when I pushed the
switch back in place, the light came on in here. That shows it had been on;
the button hadn't been pushed back. Whoever killed Reynolds had a reason for
wanting to work in the dark. Maybe this was it!" The detective indicated,
with a square-shod toe, a stubby chunk of blue steel that lay not far from
"From what I hear about Reynolds, he was quick enough on the trigger."
Buckley slipped on a glove, carefully lifted the revolver, and scanned the
chamber. His gaze, roving about the room again, halted at the window, and
with a single long stride, he reached it and bent over the sill.
"One shot's been fired from this gun. The bullet's in the window sill. At
least, one bullet is, and it's logical to suppose it's the one from the empty
chamber of Reynolds' gun. Here's the way I reconstruct the crime:
somethingsneaked up to the shack, threw the switch, and came busting
through the window. Reynolds shot once in the dark and missed, and then the
killer got in his work. I'll take this gun to headquarters; don't expect to
find any fingerprints except Reynolds', however. We'll examine the light
switch, too, though maybe my dumb pawing erased any fingerprints that might
have been there. Say, it's a good thing you have an iron-clad alibi."
Brill started violently. "What the Hell do you mean?"
"Why, there's the Chinaman to swear you called Reynolds to his death."
"Why the devil should I do such a thing?" hotly demanded the
"Well," answered Buckley, "I know you were in the library of the club all
evening. That's an unshakable alibi—I suppose."
Brill was tired as he locked the door of his garage and turned toward the
house which rose dark and silent among the trees. He found himself wishing
that his sister, with whom he was staying, had not left town for the weekend
with her husband and children. Dark empty houses were vaguely repellent to
him after the happenings of the night before.
He sighed wearily as he trudged toward the house, under the dense shadows
of the trees that lined the driveway. It had been a morbid, and harrying day.
Tag ends of thoughts and worries flitted through his mind. Uneasily he
remembered Buckley's cryptic remark: "Either Yut Wuen is lying about that
telephone call, or—" The detective had left the sentence unfinished,
casting a glance at Brill that was as inscrutable as his speech. Nobody
believed the Chinaman was deliberately lying. His devotion to his master was
well known—a devotion shared by the other servants of the dead man.
Police suspicion had failed to connect them in any way with the crime.
Apparently none of them had left Reynolds' town house during the day or the
night of the murder. Nor had the murder-cottage given up any clues. No tracks
had been found on the hard earth, no fingerprints on the gun other than the
dead man's nor any except Buckley's on the light switch. If Buckley had had
any luck in trying to trace the mysterious phone call, he had not divulged
Brill remembered, with a twinge of nervousness, the way in which they had
looked at him, those inscrutable Orientals. Their features had been immobile,
but in their dark eyes had gleamed suspicion and a threat. He had seen it in
the eyes of Yut Wuen, the stocky yellow man; of Ali, the Egyptian, a lean,
sinewy statue of bronze; of Jugra Singh, the tall, broad shouldered, turbaned
Sikh. They had not spoken their thoughts; but their eyes had followed him,
hot and burning, like beasts of prey.
Brill turned from the meandering driveway to cut across the lawn. As he
passed under the black shadow of the trees, something sudden, clinging and
smothering, enveloped his head, and steely arms locked fiercely about him.
His reaction was as instinctive and violent as that of a trapped leopard. He
exploded into a galvanized burst of frantic action, a bucking heave that tore
the stifling cloak from his head, and freed his arms from the arms that
pinioned him. But another pair of arms hung like grim Fate to his legs, and
figures surged in on him from the darkness. He could not tell the nature of
his assailants; they were like denser, moving shadows in the blackness.
Staggering, fighting for balance, he lashed out blindly, felt the jolt of
a solid hit shoot up his arm, and saw one of the shadows sway and pitch
backward. His other arm was caught in a savage grasp and twisted up behind
his back so violently that he felt as if the tendons were being ripped from
their roots. Hot breath hissed in his ear, and bending his head forward, he
jerked it backward again with all the power of his thick neck muscles. He
felt the back of his skull crash into something softer—a man's face.
There was a groan, and the crippling grip on his imprisoned arm relaxed. With
a desperate wrench he tore away, but the arms that clung to his legs tripped
him. He pitched headlong, spreading his arms to break his fall, and even
before his fingers touched the ground, something exploded in his brain,
showering a suddenly starless night of blackness with red sparks that were
engulfed abruptly in formless oblivion.
Joel Brill's first conscious thought was that he was being tossed about in
an open boat on a stormy sea. Then as his dazed mind cleared, be realized
that he was lying in an automobile which was speeding along an uneven road.
His head throbbed; he was bound hand and foot, and blanketed in some kind of
a cloak. He could see nothing; could hear nothing but the purr of the racing
motor. Bewilderment clouded his mind as be sought for a clue to the identity
of the kidnappers. Then a sudden suspicion brought out the cold sweat on his
The car lurched to a halt. Powerful hands lifted him, cloak and all, and
he felt himself being carried over a short stretch of level ground, and
apparently up a step or so. A key grated in a lock, a door rasped on its
hinges. Those carrying him advanced; there was a click, and light shone
through the folds of the cloth over Brill's head. He felt himself being
lowered onto what felt like a bed. Then the cloth was ripped away, and he
blinked in the glare of the light. A cold premonitory shudder passed over
He was lying on the bed in the room in which James Reynolds had died. And
about him stood, arms folded, three grim and silent shapes: Yut Wuen, Ali the
Egyptian, and Jugra Singh. There was dried blood on the Chinaman's yellow
face, and his lip was cut. A dark blue bruise showed on Jugra Singh's
"The sahib awakes," said the Sikh, in his perfect English.
"What the devil's the idea, Jugra?" demanded Brill, trying to struggle to
a sitting posture. "What do you mean by this? Take these ropes off me—"
His voice trailed away, a shaky resonance of futility as he read the meaning
in the hot dark eyes that regarded him.
"In this room our master met his doom," said Ali.
"You called him forth," said Yut Wuen.
"But I didn't!" raged Brill, jerking wildly at the cords which cut into
his flesh. "Damn it, I knew nothing about it!"
"Your voice came over the wire and our master followed it to his death,"
said Jugra Singh.
A panic of helplessness swept over Joel Brill. He felt like a man beating
at an insurmountable wall—the wall of inexorable Oriental fatalism, of
conviction unchangeable. If even Buckley believed that somehow he, Joel
Brill, was connected with Reynolds' death, how was he to convince these
immutable Orientals? He fought down an impulse to hysteria.
"The detective, Buckley, was with me all evening," he said, in a voice
unnatural from his efforts at control. "He has told you that he did not see
me touch a phone; nor did I leave his sight. I could not have killed my
friend, your master, because while he was being killed, I was either in the
library of the Corinthian Club, or driving from there with Buckley."
"How it was done, we do not know," answered the Sikh, tranquilly. "The
ways of the sahibs are beyond us. But we know that somehow, in
some manner, you caused our master's death. And we have brought you here to
expiate your crime."
"You mean to murder me?" demanded Brill, his flesh crawling.
"If a sahib judge sentenced you, and a sahib hangman dropped
you through a black trap, white men would call it execution. So it is
execution we work upon you, not murder."
Brill opened his mouth, then closed it, realizing the utter futility of
argument. The whole affair was like a fantastic nightmare from which he would
Ali came forward with something, the sight of which shook Brill with a
nameless foreboding. It was a wire cage, in which a great gaunt rat squealed
and bit at the wires. Yut Wuen laid upon a card table a copper bowl,
furnished with a slot on each side of the rim, to one of which was made fast
a long leather strap. Brill turned suddenly sick.
"These are the tools of execution, sahib," said Jugra Singh,
somberly. "That bowl shall be laid on your naked belly, the strap drawn about
your body and made fast so that the bowl shall not slip. Inside the bowl the
rat will be imprisoned. He is ravenous with hunger, wild with fear and rage.
For a while he will only run about the bowl, treading on your flesh. But with
irons hot from the fire, we shall gradually heat the bowl, until, driven by
pain, the rat begins to gnaw his way out. He can not gnaw through
copper; he can gnaw through flesh—through flesh and muscles and
intestines and bones, sahib."
Brill wet his lips three times before he found voice to speak.
"You'll hang for this!" he gasped, in a voice he did not himself
"If it be the will of Allah," assented Ali calmly. "This is your fate;
what ours is, no man can say. It is the will of Allah that you die with a rat
in your bowels. If it is Allah's will, we shall die on the gallows. Only
Brill made no reply. Some vestige of pride still remained to him. He set
his jaw hard, feeling that if he opened his mouth to speak, to reason, to
argue, he would collapse into shameful shrieks and entreaties. One was
useless as the other, against the abysmal fatalism of the Orient.
Ali set the cage with its grisly Occupant on the table beside the copper
bowl—without warning the light went out.
In the darkness Brill's heart began to pound suffocatingly. The Orientals
stood still, patiently, expecting the light to come on again. But Brill
instinctively felt that the stage was set for some drama darker and more
hideous than that which menaced him. Silence reigned; somewhere off in the
woods a night bird lifted a drowsy note. There was a faint scratching sound,
"The electric torch," muttered a ghostly voice which Brill recognized as
Jugra Singh's. "I laid it on the card table. Wait!"
He heard the Sikh fumbling in the dark; but he was watching the window, a
square of dim, star-flecked sky blocked out of blackness. And as Brill
watched, he saw something dark and bulky rear up in that square. Etched
against the stars he saw a misshapen head, vague monstrous shoulders.
A scream sounded from inside the room, the crash of a wildly thrown
missile. On the instant there was a scrambling sound, and the object blotted
out the square of starlight, then vanished from it. It was inside the
Brill, lying frozen in his cords, heard all Hell and bedlam break loose in
that dark room. Screams, shouts, strident cries of agony mingled with the
smashing of furniture, the impact of blows, and a hideous, worrying, tearing
sound that made Brill's flesh crawl. Once the battling pack staggered past
the window, but Brill made out only a dim writhing of limbs, the pale glint
of steel, and the terrible blaze of a pair of eyes he knew belonged to none
of his three captors.
Somewhere a man was moaning horribly, his gasps growing weaker and weaker.
There was a last convulsion of movement, the groaning impact of a heavy body;
then the starlight in the window was for an instant blotted out again, and
silence reigned once more in the cottage on the lake shore; silence broken
only by the death gasps in the dark, and the labored panting of a wounded
Brill heard some one stumbling and floundering in the darkness, and it was
from this one that the racking, panting was emanating. A circle of light
flashed on, and in it Brill saw the blood-smeared face of Jugra Singh.
The light wandered erratically away, dancing crazily about the walls.
Brill heard the Sikh blundering across the room, moving like a drunken man,
or like one wounded unto death. The flash shone full in the scientist's face,
blinding him. Fingers tugged awkwardly at his cords, a knife edge was dragged
across them, slicing skin as well as hemp.
Jugra Singh sank to the floor. The flash thumped beside him and went out.
Brill groped for him, found his shoulder. The cloth was soaked with what
Brill knew was blood.
"You spoke truth, sahib," the Sikh whispered. "How the call came in
the likeness of your voice, I do not know. But I know, now, what slew
Reynolds, sahib. After all these years—but they never forget,
though the broad sea lies between. Beware! The fiend may return. The
gold—the gold was cursed—I told Reynolds, sahib—had
he heeded me, he—"
A sudden welling of blood drowned the laboring voice. Under Brill's hand
the great body stiffened and twisted in a brief convulsion, then went
Groping on the floor, the scientist failed to find the flashlight. He
groped along the wall, found the switch and flooded the cottage with
Turning back into the room, a stifled cry escaped his lips.
Jugra Singh lay slumped near the bed; huddled in a corner was Yut Wuen,
his yellow hands, palms upturned, limp on the floor at his sides; Ali
sprawled face down in the middle of the room. All three were dead. Throats,
breasts and bellies were slashed to ribbons; their garments were in strips,
and among the rags hung bloody tatters of flesh. Yut Wuen had been
disemboweled, and the gaping wounds of the others were like those of sheep
after a mountain lion has ranged through the fold.
A blackjack still stuck in Yut Wuen's belt. Ali's dead hand clutched a
knife, but it was unstained. Death had struck them before they could use
their weapons. But on the floor near Jugra Singh lay a great curved dagger,
and it was red to the hilt. Bloody stains led across the floor and up over
the window sill. Brill found the flash, snapped it on, and leaned out the
window, playing the white beam on the ground outside. Dark, irregular
splotches showed, leading off toward the dense woods.
With the flash in one hand and the Sikh's knife in the other, Brill
followed those stains. At the edge of the trees he came upon a track, and the
short hairs lifted on his scalp. A foot, planted in a pool of blood, had
limned its imprint in crimson on the hard loam. And the foot, bare and splay,
was that of a human.
That print upset vague theories of a feline or anthropoid killer, stirred
nebulous thoughts at the back of his mind—dim and awful race memories
of semi-human ghouls, of werewolves who walked like men and slew like
A low groan brought him to a halt, his flesh crawling. Under the black
trees in the silence, that sound was pregnant with grisly probabilities.
Gripping the knife firmly, he flashed the beam ahead of him. The thin light
wavered, then focused on a black heap that was not part of the forest.
Brill bent over the figure and stood transfixed, transported back across
the years and across the world to another wilder, grimmer woodland.
It was a naked black man that lay at his feet, his glassy eyes reflecting
the waning light. His legs were short, bowed and gnarled, his arms long, his
shoulders abnormally broad, his shaven head set plump between them without
visible neck. That head was hideously malformed; the forehead projected
almost into a peek, while the back of the skull was unnaturally flattened.
White paint banded face, shoulders and breast. But it was at the creature's
fingers which Brill looked longest. At first glance they seemed monstrously
deformed. Then he saw that those hands were furnished with long curving steel
hooks, sharp- pointed, and keen-edged on the concave side. To each finger one
of these barbarous weapons was made fast, and those fingers, like the hooks
clotted and smeared with blood, twitched exactly as the talons of a leopard
A light step brought him round. His dimming light played on a tall figure,
and Brill mumbled: "John Galt!" in no great surprise. He was so numbed by
bewilderment that the strangeness of the man's presence did not occur to
"What in God's name is this?" demanded the tall explorer, taking the light
from Brill's hand and directing it on the mangled shape. "What in Heaven's
name is that?"
"A black nightmare from Africa!" Brill found his tongue at last, and
speech came in a rush. "An Egbo! A leopard man! I learned of them when I was
on the West Coast. He belongs to a native cult which worships the leopard.
They take a male infant and subject his head to pressure, to make it
deformed; and he is brought up to believe that the spirit of a leopard
inhabits his body. He does the bidding of the cult's head, which mainly
consists of executing the enemies of the cult. He is, in effect, a human
"What's he doing here?" demanded Galt, in seeming incredulity.
"God knows. But he must have been the thing that killed Reynolds. He
killed Reynolds' three servants tonight—would have killed me, too, I
suppose, but Jugra Singh wounded him, and he evidently dragged himself away
like a wild beast to die in the jungle—"
Galt seemed curiously uninterested in Brill's stammering narrative.
"Sure he's dead?" he muttered, bending closer to flash the light into the
hideous face. The illumination was dim; the battery was swiftly burning
As Brill was about to speak, the painted face was briefly convulsed. The
glazed eyes gleamed as with a last surge of life. A clawed hand stirred,
lifted feebly up toward Galt. A few gutturals seeped through the blubbery
lips; the fingers writhed weakly, slipped from the iron talons, which the
black man lifted, as if trying to hand them to Galt. Then he shuddered, sank
back and lay still. He had been stabbed under the heart, and only a
beast-like vitality had carried him so far.
Galt straightened and faced Brill, turning the light on him. A beat of
silence cut between them, in which the atmosphere was electric with
"You understand the Ekoi dialect?" It was more an assertion than a
Brill's heart was pounding, a new bewilderment vying with a rising wrath.
"Yes," he answered shortly.
"What did that fool say?" softly asked Galt.
Brill set his teeth and stubbornly took the plunge reason cried out
against. "He said," he replied between his teeth, "'Master, take my tools to
the tribe, and tell them of our vengeance; they will give you what I promised
Even as he ground out the words, his powerful body crouched, his nerves
taut for the grapple. But before he could move, the black muzzle of an
automatic trained on his belly.
"Too bad you had to understand that death-bed confession, Brill," said
Galt, coolly. "I don't want to kill you. I've kept blood off my hands
so far through this affair. Listen, you're a poor man, like most scientists
— how'd you consider cutting in on a fortune? Wouldn't that be
preferable to getting a slug through your guts and being planted alongside
those yellow- bellied stiffs down in Reynolds' shack for them to get the
"No man wants to die," answered Brill, his gaze fixed on the light in
Galt's hand—the glow which was rapidly turning redder and dimmer.
"Good!" snapped Galt. "I'll give you the low down. Reynolds got his money
in the Kameroons—stole gold from the Ekoi, which they had stored in the
ju-ju hut; he killed a priest of the Egbo cult in getting away. Jugra Singh
was with him. But they didn't get all the gold. And after that the Ekoi took
good care to guard it so nobody could steal what was left.
"I knew this fellow, Guja, when I was in Africa. I was after the Ekoi gold
then, but I never had a chance to locate it. I met Guja a few months ago,
again. He'd been exiled from his tribe for some crime, had wandered to the
Coast and been picked up with some more natives who were brought to America
for exhibition in the World's Fair.
"Guja was mad to get back to his people, and he spilled the whole story of
the gold. Told me that if he could kill Reynolds, his tribe would forgive
him. He knew that Reynolds was somewhere in America, but he was helpless as a
child to find him. I offered to arrange his meeting with the gold-thief, if
Guja would agree to give me some of the gold his tribe hoarded.
"He swore by the skull of the great leopard. I brought him secretly into
these hills, and hid him up yonder in a shack the existence of which nobody
suspects. It took me a wretched time to teach him just what he was to do
—he'd no more brains than an ape. Night after night I went through the
thing with him, until he learned the procedure: to watch in the hills until
he saw a light flash in Reynolds' shack. Then steal down there, jerk the
switch —and kill. These leopard men can see like cats at night.
"I called Reynolds up myself; it wasn't hard to imitate your voice. I used
to do impersonations in vaudeville. While Guja was tearing the life out of
Reynolds, I was dining at a well-known night club, in full sight of all.
"I came here tonight to smuggle him out of the country. But his blood-
lust must have betrayed him. When he saw the light flash on in the cottage
again, it must have started a train of associations that led him once more to
the cottage, to kill whoever he found there. I saw the tag-end of the
business —saw him stagger away from the shack, and then you follow
"Now then, I've shot the works. Nobody knows I'm mixed up in this
business, but you. Will you keep your mouth shut and take a share of the Ekoi
The glow went out. In the sudden darkness, Brill, his pent-up feelings
exploding at last, yelled: "Damn you, no! You murdering dog!" and sprang
aside. The pistol cracked, an orange jet sliced the darkness, and the bullet
fanned Brill's ear as he threw the heavy knife blindly. He heard it rattle
futilely through the bushes, and stood frozen with the realization that he
had lost his desperate gamble.
But even as he braced himself against the tearing impact of the bullet he
expected, a sudden beam drilled the blackness, illuminating the convulsed
features of John Galt.
"Don't move, Galt; I've got the drop on you."
It was the voice of Buckley. With a snarl, Galt took as desperate a chance
as Brill had taken. He wheeled toward the source of the light, snapping down
his automatic. But even as he did so, the detective's .45 crashed, and
outlined against the brief glare, Galt swayed and fell like a tall tree
struck by lightning.
"Dead?" asked the scientist, mechanically.
"Bullet tore through his forearm and smashed his shoulder," grunted
Buckley. "Just knocked out temporarily. He'll live to decorate the
"You—you heard—?" Brill stuttered.
"Everything. I was just coming around the bend of the lake shore and saw a
light in Reynolds' cottage, then your flash bobbing among the trees. I came
sneaking through the bushes just in time to hear you give your translation of
the nigger's dying words. I've been prowling around this lake all night."
"You suspected Galt all the time?"
The detective grinned wryly.
"I ought to say yes, and establish myself as a super sleuth. But the fact
is, I suspected you all the time. That's why I came up here tonight
— trying to figure out your connection with the murder. That alibi of
yours was so iron-clad it looked phony to me. I had a sneaking suspicion that
I'd bumped into a master-mind trying to put over the 'perfect crime.' I
apologize! I've been reading too many detective stories lately!"