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0100_005E Fire-Tongue Sax Rohmer

Nicol Brinn Goes Out

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"I couldn't say. She went some time ago."

Stokes stood squarely before Nicol Brinn--a big, menacing figure; but he could not detect the slightest shadow of expression upon the other's impassive features. He began to grow angry. He was of that sanguine temperament which in anger acts hastily.

"Look here, sir," he said, and his dark face flushed. "You can't play tricks on me. I've got my duty to do, and I am going to do it. Ask your visitor to step in here, or I shall search the premises."

Nicol Brinn replaced his cigar in the right corner of his mouth: "Detective Sergeant Stokes, I give you my word that the lady to whom you refer is no longer in these chambers."

Stokes glared at him angrily. "But there is no other way out," he blustered.

"I shall not deal with this matter further," declared Brinn, coldly. "I may have vices, but I never was a liar."

"Oh," muttered the detective sergeant, taken aback by the cold incisiveness of the speaker. "Then perhaps you will lead the way, as I should like to take a look around."

Nicol Brinn spread his feet more widely upon the hearthrug. "Detective Sergeant Stokes," he said, "you are not playing the game. Inspector Wessex passed his word to me that for twenty-four hours my movements should not be questioned or interfered with. How is it that I find you here?"

Stokes thrust his hands in his pockets and coughed uneasily. "I am not a machine," he replied; "and I do my own job in my own way."

"I doubt if Inspector Wessex would approve of your way."

"That's my business."

"Maybe, but it is no affair of yours to interfere with private affairs of mine, Detective Sergeant. See here, there is no lady in these chambers. Secondly, I have an appointment at nine o'clock, and you are detaining me."

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"What's more," answered Stokes, who had now quite lost his temper, "I intend to go on detaining you until I have searched these chambers and searched them thoroughly."

Nicol Brinn glanced at his watch. "If I leave in five minutes, I'll be in good time," he said. "Follow me."

Crossing to the centre section of a massive bookcase, he opened it, and it proved to be a door. So cunning was the design that the closest scrutiny must have failed to detect any difference between the dummy books with which it was decorated, and the authentic works which filled the shelves to right and to left of it. Within was a small and cosy study. In contrast with the museum-like room out of which it opened, it was furnished in a severely simple fashion, and one more experienced in the study of complex humanity than Detective Sergeant Stokes must have perceived that here the real Nicol Brinn spent his leisure hours. Above the mantel was a life-sized oil painting of Mrs. Nicolas Brinn; and whereas the great room overlooking Piccadilly was exotic to a degree, the atmosphere of the study was markedly American.

Palpably there was no one there. Nor did the two bedrooms, the kitchen, and the lobby afford any more satisfactory evidence. Nicol Brinn led the way back from the lobby, through the small study, and into the famous room where the Egyptian priestess smiled eternally. He resumed his place upon the hearthrug. "Are you satisfied, Detective Sergeant?"

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