I can't help thinking, Chief Inspector," said the officer in charge at Limehouse Station, "that you take unnecessary risks."
"Can't you?" said Kerry, tilting his bowler farther forward and staring truculently at the speaker.
"No, I can't. Since you cleaned up the dope gang down here you've been a marked man. These murders in the Chinatown area, of which this one to-night makes the third, have got some kind of big influence behind them. Yet you wander about in the fog without even a gun in your pocket."
"I don't believe in guns," rapped Kerry. "My bare hands are good enough for any yellow smart in this area. And if they give out I can kick like a mule."
The other laughed, shaking his head.
"It's silly, all the same," he persisted. "The man who did the job out there in the fog to-night might have knifed you or shot you long before you could have got here."
"He might," snapped Kerry, "but he didn't."
Yet, remembering his wife, who would be waiting for him in the cosy sitting-room he knew a sudden pang. Perhaps he did take unnecessary chances. Others had said so. Hard upon the thought came the memory of his boy, and of the telephone message which the episodes of the night had prevented him from sending.
He remembered, too, something which his fearless nature had prompted him to forget: he remembered how, just as he had arisen from beside the body of the murdered man, oblique eyes had regarded him swiftly out of the fog. He had lashed out with a boxer's instinct, but his knuckles had encountered nothing but empty air. No sound had come to tell him that the thing had not been an illusion. Only, once again, as he groped his way through the shuttered streets of Chinatown and the silence of the yellow mist, something had prompted him to turn; and again he had detected the glint of oblique eyes, and faintly had discerned the form of one who followed him.
Kerry chewed viciously, then:
"I think I'll 'phone the wife," he said abruptly. "She'll be expecting me."
Almost before he had finished speaking the 'phone bell rang, and a few moments later:
"Someone to speak to you, Chief Inspector," cried the officer in charge.
"Ah!" exclaimed Kerry, his fierce eyes lighting up. "That will be from home."
"I don't think so," was the reply. "But see who it is."
"Hello!" he called.
He was answered by an unfamiliar voice, a voice which had a queer, guttural intonation. It was the sort of voice he had learned to loathe.
"Is that Chief Inspector Kerry?"
"Yes," he snapped.
"May I take it that what I have to say will be treated in confidence?"
"Think again, Chief Inspector," the voice continued. "You are a man within sight of the ambition of years, and although you may be unaware of the fact, you stand upon the edge of a disaster. I appreciate your sense of duty and respect it. But there are times when diplomacy is a more potent weapon than force."
Kerry, listening, became aware that the speaker was a man of cultured intellect. He wondered greatly, but:
"My time is valuable," he said rapidly. "Come to the point. What do you want and who are you?"
"One moment, Chief Inspector. An opportunity to make your fortune without interfering with your career has come in your way. You have obtained possession of what you believe to be a clue to a murder."
The voice ceased, and Kerry remaining silent, immediately continued:
"Knowing your personal character, I doubt if you have communicated the fact of your possessing this evidence to anyone else. I suggest, in your own interests, that before doing so you interview me."
Kerry thought rapidly, and then:
"I don't say you're right," he rapped back. "But if I come to see you, I shall leave a sealed statement in possession of the officer in charge here."
"To this I have no objection," the guttural voice replied, "but I beg of you to bring the evidence with you."
"I'm not to be bought," warned Kerry. "Don't think it and don't suggest it, or when I get to you I'll break you in half."
His red moustache positively bristled, and he clutched the receiver so tightly that it quivered against his ear.
"You mistake me," replied the speaker. "My name is Zani Chada. You know where I live. I shall not detain you more than five minutes if you will do me the honour of calling upon me."
Kerry chewed furiously for ten momentous seconds, then:
"I'll come!" he said.
He replaced the receiver on the hook, and, walking across to the charge desk, took an official form and a pen. On the back of the form he scribbled rapidly, watched with curiosity by the officer in charge.
"Give me an envelope," he directed.
An envelope was found and handed to him. He placed the paper in the envelope, gummed down the lapel, and addressed it in large, bold writing to the Assistant Commissioner of the Criminal Investigation Department, who was his chief. Finally:
"I'm going out," he explained.
"After what I've said?"
"After what you've said. I'm going out. If I don't come back or don't telephone within the next hour, you will know what to do with this."
The Limehouse official stared perplexedly.
"But meanwhile," he protested, "what steps am I to take about the murder? Durham will be back with the body at any moment now, and you say you've got a clue to the murderer."
"I have," said Kerry, "but I'm going to get definite evidence. Do nothing until you hear from me."
"Very good," answered the other, and Kerry, tucking his malacca cane under his arm, strode out into the fog.
His knowledge of the Limehouse area was extensive and peculiar, so that twenty minutes later, having made only one mistake in the darkness, he was pressing an electric bell set beside a door which alone broke the expanse of a long and dreary brick wall, lining a street which neither by day nor night would have seemed inviting to the casual visitor.
The door was opened by a Chinaman wearing national dress, revealing a small, square lobby, warmly lighted and furnished Orientally. Kerry stepped in briskly.
"I want to see Mr. Zani Chada. Tell him I am here. Chief Inspector Kerry is my name."
The Chinaman bowed, crossed the lobby, and, drawing some curtains aside, walked up four carpeted stairs and disappeared into a short passage revealed by the raising of the tapestry. As he did so Kerry stared about him curiously.
He had never before entered the mystery house of Zani Chada, nor had he personally encountered the Eurasian, reputed to be a millionaire, but who chose, for some obscure reason, to make his abode in this old rambling building, once a country mansion, which to-day was closely invested by dockland and the narrow alleys of Chinatown. It was curiously still in the lobby, and, as he determined, curiously Eastern. He was conscious of a sense of exhilaration. That Zani Chada controlled powerful influences, he knew well. But, reviewing the precautions which he had taken, Kerry determined that the trump card was in his possession.
The Chinese servant descended the stairs again and intimated that the visitor should follow him. Kerry, carrying his hat and cane, mounted the stairs, walked along the carpeted passage, and was ushered into a queer, low room furnished as a library.
It was lined with shelves containing strange-looking books, none of which appeared to be English. Upon the top of the shelves were grotesque figures of gods, pieces of Chinese pottery and other Oriental ornaments. Arms there were in the room, and rich carpets, carven furniture, and an air of luxury peculiarly exotic. Furthermore, he detected a faint smell of opium from which fact he divined that Zani Chada was addicted to the national vice of China.
Seated before a long narrow table was the notorious Eurasian. The table contained a number of strange and unfamiliar objects, as well as a small rack of books. An opium pipe rested in a porcelain bowl.
Zani Chada, wearing a blue robe, sat in a cushioned chair, staring toward the Chief Inspector. With one slender yellow hand he brushed his untidy gray hair. His long magnetic eyes were half closed.
"Good evening, Chief Inspector Kerry," he said. "Won't you be seated?"
"Thanks, I'm not staying. I can hear what you've got to say standing."
The long eyes grew a little more narrow--the only change of expression that Zani Chada allowed himself.
"As you wish. I have no occasion to detain you long."
In that queer, perfumed room, with the suggestion of something sinister underlying its exotic luxury, arose a kind of astral clash as the powerful personality of the Eurasian came in contact with that of Kerry. In a sense it was a contest of rapier and battle-axe; an insidious but powerful will enlisted against the bulldog force of the Chief Inspector.
Still through half-closed eyes Zani Chada watched his visitor, who stood, feet apart and chin thrust forward aggressively, staring with wide open, fierce blue eyes at the other.
"I'm going to say one thing," declared Kerry, snapping out the words in a manner little short of ferocious. He laid his hat and cane upon a chair and took a step in the direction of the narrow, laden table. "Make me any kind of offer to buy back the evidence you think I've got, and I'll bash your face as flat as a frying- pan."
The yellow hands of Zani Chada clutched the metal knobs which ornamented the arms of the chair in which he was seated. The long eyes now presented the appearance of being entirely closed; otherwise he remained immovable.
Following a short, portentous silence:
"How grossly you misunderstood me, Chief Inspector," Chada replied, speaking very softly. "You are shortly to be promoted to a post which no one is better fitted to occupy. You enjoy great domestic happiness, and you possess a son in whom you repose great hopes. In this respect Chief Inspector, I resemble you."
Kerry's nostrils were widely dilated, but he did not speak.
"You see," continued the Eurasian, "I know many things about you. Indeed, I have watched your career with interest. Now, to be brief, a great scandal may be averted and a woman's reputation preserved if you and I, as men of the world, can succeed in understanding one another."
"I don't want to understand you," said Kerry bluntly. "But you've said enough already to justify me in blowing this whistle." He drew a police whistle from his overcoat pocket. "This house is being watched."
"I am aware of the fact," murmured Zani Chada.
"There are two people in it I want for two different reasons. If you say much more there may be three."
Chada raised his hand slowly.
"Put back your whistle, Chief Inspector."
There was a curious restraint in the Eurasian's manner which Kerry distrusted, but for which at the time he was at a loss to account. Then suddenly he determined that the man was waiting for something, listening for some sound. As if to confirm this reasoning, just at that moment a sound indeed broke the silence of the room.
Somewhere far away in the distance of the big house a gong was beaten three times softly. Kerry's fierce glance searched the face of Zani Chada, but it remained mask-like, immovable. Yet that this had been a signal of some kind the Chief Inspector did not doubt, and:
"You can't trick me," he said fiercely. "No one can leave this house without my knowledge, and because of what happened out there in the fog my hands are untied."
He took up his hat and cane from the chair.
"I'm going to search the premises," he declared.
Zani Chada stood up slowly.
"Chief Inspector," he said, "I advise you to do nothing until you have consulted your wife."
"Consulted my wife?" snapped Kerry. "What the devil do you mean?"
"I mean that any steps you may take now can only lead to disaster for many, and in your own case to great sorrow."
Kerry took a step forward, two steps, then paused. He was considering certain words which the Eurasian had spoken. Without fearing the man in the physical sense, he was not fool enough to underestimate his potentialities for evil and his power to strike darkly.
"Act as you please," added Zani Chada, speaking even more softly. "But I have not advised lightly. I will receive you, Chief Inspector, at any hour of the night you care to return. By to- morrow, if you wish, you may be independent of everybody."
Kerry clenched his fists.
"And great sorrow may be spared to others," concluded the Eurasian.
Kerry's teeth snapped together audibly; then, putting on his hat, he turned and walked straight to the door.