Full Moon - Talbot Mundy - ebook

Full Moon ebook

Talbot Mundy



Hulbert Footner (1879–1944) was a Canadian writer of non-fiction and detective fiction. About 1920, Footner began to write detective fiction, his first series detective character being Madame Rosika Storey. This is the seventh book of the succesful mystery series Madame Storey, by canadian-american author Hulbert Footner. Footner most successful creation was the beautiful and brilliant Madame Rosika Storey and her plain assistant who explains the evolving solutions to her boss’ cases. These stories take the reader to Morocco and China etc... basically out of NYC where Storey resides. There’s lots of action and danger and disguises and very very bad people.

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Liczba stron: 340

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BOMBAY sweltered. The police commissioner’s dim-lit library was stifling in spite of electric fans. The night’s humidity, the length of a garden, and two streets deadened the clang of tramcars; but there was a rumbling undertone of indrawn rancor. There had been a three-day pause, brooding between riots; passion, momentarily exhausted, redistilled itself at ninety in the shade. But the watch kept. Police headquarters are where the commissioner is at the end of a telephone. He clicked back the phone on its rest and wiped his forehead; a gray man, with a rather close-clipped gray mustache and heavy eye-brows over his dark and deep-sunken eyes.

Blair Warrender took the chair opposite and eased his long legs under the table. He was a much younger man, not scared of the commissioner but not quite at ease. The commissioner was an irritating enigma–he was sometimes genial, equally often sardonic. He expected his subordinates to work in the dark and take the blame for accidents. He had a better than usual record for blaming or praising the right man, but he trusted subordinates, according to their view of it, too much or not enough.

He almost never trusted one individual with all the facts of a case. When he called a man by his first name, it might indicate confidence, or it might reveal familiarity that borders on contempt; there was no knowing which. But no one, least of all Blair Warrender, doubted his ability or dreamed of disobeying his orders.

There was a rather new scar on his chin, but nothing very noticeable about Blair Warrender except his eyes. They smoldered. They made some women hate him at sight. Other, wiser women, recognized controlled and consequently deadly anger; some took sporting chances with it. Wiser women yet sought his friendship, dangerous in one sense though it might be. Men found him easy to work with, if rather exacting. He was very neat in a new uniform that he could ill afford: his other one had been torn off his back by Hindus. In the course of routine duty he had saved some of them from being scragged by Moslems, and they had therefore accused him of racial prejudices along with more unmentionable faults: but he was used to that and exasperatingly unresentful.

The table was near one end of the room, where the shaded electric light made the Bokhara hanging look like a blood-stained arras. At the other end of the room, near the door, stood a turbaned servant who had rather Mongolian eyes: when the commissioner, with a cigar in one side of his mouth, grumbled indistinctly and in a low voice that it was the hottest night in ten years, the servant examined the switch of the electric fan. So the commissioner pitched his voice still lower.

“Read this.”

He handed Blair Warrender a London daily paper ten days old, blue-penciled at a headline in heavy type:


Blair Warrender read the paragraph–frowned– passed the paper back.

“Frensham,” he said, “has been missing for months. According to the League of Nations report about a hundred thousand people vanish every year without trace. The mystery is that the papers didn’t learn of this sooner. I suppose this means trouble.”

“For you, yes. You find Frensham.” The commissioner folded the newspaper, laid it on some other documents and slipped an elastic band over the lot. Then he handed a file of reports across the table. “I need you like the devil here in Bombay, but”–he paused perceptibly, with his eyes on the servant over by the door–“you are to take this case and find Frensham dead or alive.”

Blair Warrender scowled over the file, turning the papers and idly refreshing memory.

“Nothing new here, sir. We knew all this before Frensham was three days massing? On leave in Rajputana–vanished–trunk in his bedroom, at the Kaiser-i-Hind Hotel at Mount Abu found cut open and looted of unknown contents–one servant, said to be deaf-and dumb, also missing–the other servant paid off. sent home and knows nothing. Private affairs apparently in order–no money trouble–no debts–no known enemies–health good–no probable reason for suicide. Nothing new in that file.”

“Did you notice the date?”

“The eleventh.”

The commissioner pushed a calendar across the table. “Notice anything else?”

“No. The calendar says full moon on the fifteenth, but what of it?”

“Bear that in mind. Leaving Mount Abu on horseback, tiding leisurely, a man might reach Gaglajung in three days. There is an unconfirmed and unreliable report that a man who might be David Frensham was seen on foot, not far from Gaglajung, on the late afternoon of the fourteenth.”

“Why should he go there?”

“That’s for you to find out. Frensham’s friend at Doongar, which is near Gaglajung, is a Mohammedan named Abdurrahman Khan. He’s a quite unimpeachable gentleman, aged seventy–ex-rissaldar of irregular horse –three medals–five bars–persona grata–old and innocuous. He might have supplied a horse or two; he has them. Night, near the full of the moon, in Rajputana, is the best time to travel, and horses that reached Mount Abu by night and left the same night might not be noticed.

“Abdurrahman Khan may have liked Frensham as much as I did. He’d be capable of doing what he was asked, and saying nothing. Men of his type, expecting to die soon, have a way of letting secrets die with them. You won’t get much out of him, but you may get something, if you’re careful and don’t ask questions.”

Warrender lit a cigarette and glanced in a mirror to see why the commissioner kept watching the servant, but the glance told him nothing. “Abdurrahman Khan may already have been questioned,” he said.

The commissioner nodded. “Yes. If so, he’ll tell nothing at all.” He took his eyes off the servant at last and looked straight at Blair. “But there are some scattered facts worth noting. For instance, Frensham had a photograph of Wu Tu among his private papers.”

Blair scowled at that. “Who hasn’t? Wu Tu advertises herself like a film-star.”

“Know what her name means?”

“Yes–Chinese for ‘Five Poisons.’”

“Right. Wu Tu may have murdered Frensham.”

Blair Warrender held his tongue. He had suggested investigating Wu Tu months ago, but no one who was even half-wise reminded the commissioner about advice that he had seen fit not to take.

“David Frensham,” the commissioner continued, “has been my intimate personal friend for going on thirty years. His wife died more than twenty years ago. Aside from his personal kindliness, he was a charming lunatic or a great genius, either or perhaps both. An omnivorous reader–student of archaeology and ancient languages–mathematician– philosopher. He used to read Charles Fort’s books. Nothing delighted him more than to prove Charles Fort right and everybody else wrong. Do you know Fort’s books?”

“Yes. His daughter Henrietta lent them to me.”

“That’s another clue. Keep that also in mind. So far, you’ve the new moon on the fifteenth–Gaglajung, where a charcoal-burner said he saw a man who might be Frensham– Abdurrahman Khan, who may have provided horses–Wu Tu’s photograph–Charles Fort’s books and Frensham’s known delight in Indian magic. That’s stuff that no soldier should tackle, although soldiers are the ones who seem most interested. It gets them a ‘rep’ for being unreliable and shuts them off from promotion. Headquarters were always glad to let Frensham wander off investigating one thing or another. As an Engineer officer he had plenty of opportunities for that, and he did some decent Intelligence work. But he couldn’t let magic alone. Secret Service File FF is half-choked with his reports on that stuff.”

Blair Warrender smiled. “Do you believe in magic?”

“I am not saying what I believe. That file is raw material for scientific study, I don’t mind telling you. It contains stories from men returned from Himalayan expeditions that would make your hair stand on end. Frensham believed magic is the crumbled remnants of an ancient science. That’s a clue to his disappearance.”

“As you say, sir. I know nothing about magic.”

“Nor I, except what David Frensham told me.” The commissioner dropped his voice even lower. “But don’t forget that some people think they do know. I’m about to introduce you to a man who thinks he does; whether he does or doesn’t is beside the point. Study him.”

His eyes were again on the servant, but his right hand went into a steel box on the table. He groped in it among docketed papers. Deliberately, slowly, he produced what looked like a block of gold, seven or eight inches long by about half that breadth and depth.

“Look at it,” he said. “Take hold of it.” It was heavy. Blair weighed it in both hands –examined it narrowly, thumbing a corner where a very small piece had been sawn or chipped off.

“I did that,” said the commissioner. “Had it analyzed. Almost pure gold. Something less than one half of one per cent of an unknown alloy that makes it harder than cast iron. But it seems to become permanently soft, like ordinary gold, after being melted two or three times.”

Blair Warrender’s eyes betrayed a vague excitement.

“Pure gold?” he said. “No, not heavy enough.”

“Shake it.”

The thing was hollow. He could feel but not hear movement of something loose inside it.

“Well?” he demanded. It made him angry to have traps set for his curiosity; he was not a baby being set conundrums. The commissioner noticed that. He seemed amused. He spoke almost absent-mindedly.

“I don’t know what it is. The microscope reveals no joint, welding or anything like that.” He was no longer looking at Blair. He got up, stared at the servant near the door, walked over to him and spoke in English.

“You’re a patient rogue. Come and look at it. Let me see you take it in your hands.”

The servant’s ivory-yellow face revealed no other emotion than a slight and hardly visible alertness. He was a big, upstanding man with heavy neck and shoulders, handsomely ugly, broad-nosed, intelligent looking, and probably almost strong enough to fell an ox with his fist. But the humid heat of Bombay had rather slackened his stance. He was sweating.

“What is it? Look at it. Hold it. Speak!” the commissioner ordered.

The man’s face grinned with sudden wrinkles, and each wrinkle seemed to hide a secret. He turned the block over and over in his hands. It appeared to excite him but to make him cautious. He conquered the excitement, let the wrinkles die, and shook his head.

“Not knowing–knowing nothing about this,” he said, in English that appeared intentionally mispronounced. Then he shut up–eyes, mouth, attitude. The commissioner seized his wrist and felt his pulse; then he ordered him out of the room. When he had gone he chose a fresh cigar, sat down and said:

“Pulse normal. Calls himself Taron Ling–came to me from a place called Naga Kulu in the Northern Punjab. He had one of the most beautifully forged testimonials I have ever seen. I took him on to find out what his game is.”

“Do you know now?”

“No more than I know how Frensham vanished. But I know Taron Ling is a crook, a hypnotist and a spy, for or against Wu Tu, I don’t know which. I know he wants, but I don’t know why he wants, this gold brick, He knows now that I know he wants it. So perhaps he’ll chuck trying to steal it, and bolt. If he doesn’t, I’ll scare him properly. I want him to bolt. I want him followed.” Blair Warrender nodded doubtfully. He knew the odds in favor of a fugitive through Indian crowds, with most men and–worse yet, women–aiding or benevolently neutral. Nobody aids the pursuing police except from the thoroughly unreliable motives of fear or revenge. But it was no use discussing that; the commissioner would do as he pleased; he always did.

The commissioner put the gold block back into the steel box and locked it. “It’s Frensham’s, I think. It was found in the possession of a Punjabi Moslem, who was badly savaged in the riot last Thursday afternoon. He died the same night without giving his name or saying anything. But he was identified the following morning as the man who murdered Henrietta Frensham’s ex-chauffeur, who had left her, rather more than two months ago, without giving notice. She reported the loss of this thing–woman-fashion–vaguely. She described it as a hollow block made of yellow metal, gave approximate dimensions and said it had been stolen from a suitcase in her bedroom. I have thought of opening it.”

“Why not, sir?”

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