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Fire-Tongue Sax Rohmer

The Catastrophe

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Creeping forward to the doorway by which Rama Dass had gone out, Nicol Brinn emerged upon a landing from which stairs both ascended and descended. Faint sounds of footsteps below guided him, and although from all outward seeming he appeared to saunter casually down, his left hand was clutching the butt of a Colt automatic.

He presently found himself in a maze of basements--kitchens of the establishment, no doubt. The sound of footsteps no longer guided him. He walked along, and in a smaller deserted pantry discovered the base of a lift shaft in which some sort of small elevator worked. He was staring at this reflectively, when, for the second time in his adventurous career, a silken cord was slipped tightly about his throat!

He was tripped and thrown. He fought furiously, but the fatal knee pressure came upon his spine so shrewdly as to deprive him of the strength to raise his hands.

"My finish!" were the words that flashed through his mind, as sounds like the waves of a great ocean beat upon his ears and darkness began to descend.

Then, miraculously, the pressure ceased; the sound of great waters subsided; and choking, coughmg, he fought his way back to life, groping like a blind man and striving to regain his feet.

"Mr. Brinn!" said a vaguely familiar voice. "Mr. Brinn!"

The realities reasserted themselves. Before him, pale, wide-eyed, and breathing heavily, stood Paul Harley; and prone upon the floor of the pantry lay Rama Dass, still clutching one end of the silken rope in his hand!

"Mr. Harley!" gasped Brinn. "My God, sir!" He clutched at his bruised throat. "I have to thank you for my hfe."

He paused, looking down at the prone figure as Harley, dropping upon his knees, turned the man over.

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"I struck him behind the ear," he muttered, "and gave him every ounce. Good heavens!"

He had slipped his hand inside Rama Dass's vest, and now he looked up, his face very grim.

"Good enough!" said Brinn, coolly. "He asked for it; he's got it. Take this." He thrust the Colt automatic into Harley's hand as the latter stood up again.

"What do we do now?" asked Harley.

"Search the house," was the reply. "Everything coloured you see, shoot, unless I say no."

"Miss Abingdon?"

"She's safe. Follow me."

Straight up two flights of stairs led Nicol Brinn, taking three steps at a stride. Palpably enough the place was deserted. Ormuz Khan's plans for departure were complete.

Into two rooms on the first floor they burst, to find them stripped and bare. On the threshold of the third Brinn stopped dead, and his gaunt face grew ashen. Then he tottered across the room, arms outstretched.

"Naida," he whispered. "My love, my love!"

Paul Harley withdrew quietly. He had begun to walk along the corridor when the sound of a motor brought him up sharply. A limousine was being driven away from the side entrance! Not alone had he heard that sound. His face deathly, and the lack-lustre eyes dully on fire, Nicol Brinn burst out of the room and, not heeding the presence of Harley, hurled himself down the stairs. He was as a man demented, an avenging angel.

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