It was that dark, still, depressing hour of the night, when all life is at its lowest ebb. In the low, strangely perfumed room of books Zani Chada sat before his table, his yellow hands clutching the knobs on his chair arms, his long, inscrutable eyes staring unseeingly before him.
Came a disturbance and the sound of voices, and Lou Chada, his son, stood at the doorway. He still wore his evening clothes, but he no longer looked smart. His glossy black hair was dishevelled, and his handsome, olive face bore a hunted look. Panic was betoken by twitching mouth and fear-bright eyes. He stopped, glaring at his father, and:
"Why are you not gone?" asked the latter sternly. "Do you wish to wreck me as well as yourself ?"
"The police have posted a man opposite Kwee's house. I cannot get out that way."
"There was no one there when the boy was brought in."
"No, but there is now. Father!" He took a step forward. "I'm trapped. They sha'n't take me. You won't let them take me?"
Zani Chada stirred not a muscle, but:
"To-night," he said, "your mad passion has brought ruin to both of us. For the sake of a golden doll who is not worth the price of the jewels she wears, you have placed yourself within reach of the hangman."
"I was mad, I was mad," groaned the other.
"But I, who was sane, am involved in the consequences," retorted his father.
"He will be silent at the price of the boy's life."
"He may be," returned Zani Chada. "I hate him, but he is a man. Had you escaped, he might have consented to be silent. Once you are arrested, nothing would silence him."
"If the case is tried it will ruin Pat's reputation."
"What a pity!" said Zani Chada.
In some distant part of the house a gong was struck three times.
"Go," commanded his father. "Remain at Kwee's house until I send for you. Let Ah Fang go to the room above and see that the woman is silent. An outcry would ruin our last chance."
Lou Chada raised his hands, brushing the hair back from his wet forehead, then, staring haggardly at his father, turned and ran from the room.
A minute later Kerry was ushered in by the Chinese servant. The savage face was set like a mask. Without removing his hat, he strode across to the table and bent down so that fierce, wide- open blue eyes stared closely into long, half-closed black ones.
"I've got one thing to say," explained Kerry huskily. "Whatever the hangman may do to your slimy son, and whatever happens to the little blonde fool he kidnapped, if you've laid a hand on my kid I'll kick you to death, if I follow you round the world to do it."
Zani Chada made no reply, but his knuckles gleamed, so tightly did he clutch the knobs on the chair arms. Kerry's savagery would have awed any man, even though he had supposed it to be the idle threat of a passionate man. But Zani Chada knew all men, and he knew this one. When Daniel Kerry declared that in given circumstances he would kick Zani Chada to death, he did not mean that he would shoot him, strangle him, or even beat him with his fists; he meant precisely what he said--that he would kick him to death--and Zani Chada knew it.
Thus there were some moments of tense silence during which the savage face of the Chief Inspector drew even closer to the gaunt, yellow face of the Eurasian. Finally:
"Listen only for one moment," said Zani Chada. His voice had lost its guttural intonation. He spoke softly, sibilantly. "I, too, am a father------"
"Don't mince words!" shouted Kerry. "You've kidnapped my boy. If I have to tear your house down brick by brick I'll find him. And if you've hurt one hair of his head--you know what to expect!"
He quivered. The effort of suppression which he had imposed upon himself was frightful to witness. Zani Chada, student of men, knew that in despite of his own physical strength and of the hidden resources at his beck, he stood nearer to primitive retribution than he had ever done. Yet:
"I understand," he continued. "But you do not understand. Your boy is not in this house. Oh! violence cannot avail! It can only make his loss irreparable."
Kerry, nostrils distended, eyes glaring madly, bent over him.
"Your scallywag of a son," he said hoarsely, "has gone one step too far. His adventures have twice before ended in murder--and you have covered him. This time you can't do it. I'm not to be bought. We've stood for the Far East in London long enough. Your cub hangs this time. Get me? There'll be no bargaining. The woman's reputation won't stop me. My kid's danger won't stop me. But if you try to use him as a lever I'll boot you to your stinking yellow paradise and they'll check you in as pulp."
"You speak of three deaths," murmured Zani Chada.
Kerry clenched his teeth so tightly that his maxillary muscles protruded to an abnormal degree. He thrust his clenched fists into his coat pockets.
"We all follow our vocations in life," resumed the Eurasian, "to the best of our abilities. But is professional kudos not too dearly bought at the price of a loved one lost for ever? A far better bargain would be, shall we say, ten thousand pounds, as the price of a silk handkerchief------"
Kerry's fierce blue eyes closed for a fraction of a second. Yet, in that fraction of a second, he had visualized some of the things which ten thousand pounds--a sum he could never hope to possess--would buy. He had seen his home, as he would have it-- and he had seen Dan there, safe and happy at his mother's side. Was he entitled to disregard the happiness of his wife, the life of his boy, the honourable name of Sir Noel Rourke, because an outcast like Peters had come to a fitting end--because a treacherous Malay and a renegade Chinaman had, earlier, gone the same way, sped, as he suspected, by the same hand?
"My resources are unusual," added Chada, speaking almost in a whisper. "I have cash to this amount in my safe------"
So far he had proceeded when he was interrupted; and the cause of the interruption was this:
A few moments earlier another dramatic encounter had taken place in a distant part of the house. Kerry Junior, having scientifically tested all the possible modes of egress from the room in which Lady Pat was confined, had long ago desisted, and had exhausted his ingenuity in plans which discussion had proved to be useless. In spite of the novelty and the danger of his situation, nature was urging her laws. He was growing sleepy. The crowning tragedy had been the discovery that he could not regain the small, square window set high in the wall from which he had dropped into this luxurious prison. Now, as the two sat side by side upon a cushioned divan, the woman's arm about the boy's shoulders, they were startled to hear, in the depths of the house, three notes of a gong.
Young Kerry's sleepiness departed. He leapt to his feet as though electrified.
"What was that?"
There was something horrifying in those gong notes in the stillness of the night. Lady Pat's beautiful eyes grew glassy with fear.
"I don't know," replied Dan. "It seemed to come from below."
He ran to the door, drew the curtain aside, and pressed his ear against one of the panels, listening intently. As he did so, his attitude grew tense, his expression changed, then:
"We're saved!" he cried, turning a radiant face to the woman. "I heard my father's voice!"
"Oh, are you sure, are you sure?"
He bent to press his ear to the panel again, when a stifled cry from his companion brought him swiftly to his feet. The second door in the room had opened silently, and a small Chinaman, who carried himself with a stoop, had entered, and now, a menacing expression upon his face, was quickly approaching the boy.
What he had meant to do for ever remained in doubt, for young Kerry, knowing his father to be in the house and seeing an open door before him, took matters into his own hands. At the moment that the silent Chinaman was about to throw his arms about him, the pride of the junior school registered a most surprising left accurately on the point of Ah Fang's jaw, following it up by a wilful transgression of Queensberry rules in the form of a stomach punch which temporarily decided the issue. Then:
"Quick! quick!" he cried breathlessly, grasping Lady Pat's hand. "This is where we run!"
In such fashion was Zani Chada interrupted, the interruption taking the form of a sudden, shrill outcry:
"Dad! dad! Where are you, dad?"
Kerry spun about as a man galvanized. His face became transfigured.
"This way, Dan!" he cried. "This way, boy!"
Came a clatter of hurrying feet, and into the low, perfumed room burst Dan Kerry, junior, tightly clasping the hand of a pale- faced, dishevelled woman in evening dress. It was Lady Rourke; and although she seemed to be in a nearly fainting condition, Dan dragged her, half running, into the room.
Kerry gave one glance at the pair, then, instantly, he turned to face Zani Chada. The latter, like a man of stone, sat in his carved chair, eyes nearly closed. The Chief Inspector whipped out a whistle and raised it to his lips. He blew three blasts upon it.
From one--two--three--four points around the house the signal was answered.
Zani Chada fully opened his long, basilisk eyes.
"You win, Chief Inspector," he said. "But much may be done by clever counsel. If all fails------"
"Well?" rapped Kerry fiercely, at the same time throwing his arm around the boy.
"I may continue to take an interest in your affairs."
A tremendous uproar arose, within and without the house. The police were raiding the place. Lady Rourke sank down, slowly, almost at the Eurasian's feet.
But Chief Inspector Kerry experienced an unfamiliar chill as his uncompromising stare met the cold hatred which blazed out of the black eyes, narrowed, now, and serpentine, of Zani Chada.