From Supernatural Stories 49 - 1961
THE SECRET OF THE PYRAMID
BY BRON FANE
Copyright © R. Lionel Fanthorpe
Used with permission
“Under the crumbling stone and faded gilt the thing waited.”
Old Angus Maginty was a character. A fantastic character, an incredible character, an unbelievable character, but he was real.
What was more, he was a nightwatchman, one of that dying breed of ‘Old Bill’ stalwarts, who still turn the dark hours into light by their very presence and cheerfulness; their improbable whiskers, their cups of tea, their nips of brandy, their strange, homespun philosophy. All these make the nightwatchman — a tough old bulldog of the British breed. The nightwatchman is part and parcel of fiction.
And yet, he is more than that, because fiction borrowed him from fact. Angus Maginty was one of the most improbable facts that ever drew breath in the realm of reality. He was short and square, he perspired as he made his rounds. His grizzled hair protruded from beneath the sides of his battered cloth cap. His clay pipe — perpetually hanging upside down — emitted a foul odour of stale, acrid tobacco, but nobody ever remembered seeing it lit. It was believed at some time in the early twenties Angus had given up smoking as a protest about the ha’penny increase in the tobacco tax, and had never taken it up again — such was his strength of character. He wore a disreputable Army greatcoat, that he was believed to have purloined from the stores some time after the armistice, but nobody knew the ins and outs of the matter, and Angus preferred to tell some tale about removing it from a dead German — in spite of the fact that it was a British coat!
However, if Angus said that was a fact, that was a fact. There were even those who suspected Angus of having one more nip than usual before going ‘over the top’ in that fateful battle in 1918, and shot what he believed to be a patrolling German, removed his coat in pride, and found that it was his Commanding Officer! But as Angus had lived to tell the tale, and the Commanding Officer had not, that little episode was surrounded by mystery.
Suffice to say that he had lived a fantastic life, that the episodes with which he was credited had been magnified out of all proportion, and that he was now rolling down the long, gentle slopes of the hill of retirement as he puffed and pottered his way as museum night watchman.
It was not a large museum. Bridgeford was not a large town. It was one of those very, very old towns that dated back farther than the Roman occupation. Its museum was dedicated mainly to a large Natural History section and another floor which was referred to as the ‘Collectors’ Corner’ comprised almost the entire structure. But some of the exhibits were valuable, and it was considered that in the interests of security, old Angus should be on the spot in case of any possible trouble.
He went into his cubby hole, laid the cherished old clay carefully on one side, took a battered flask from his hip pocket and poured himself a fair measure of the ‘hard stuff’. Carefully recorking the flask, he replaced it in his pocket, picked up his pipe once more, readjusted his cap to a sufficiently jaunty angle and set off on his rounds again.
He had got half way to the foot of the stairs when he suddenly heard a footstep on the floor above him. A quite unmistakable footstep. Or was it?
“Footsteps,” argued Angus, “do not come in ones.” That had been just a single ‘bump’. Possibly a cat had knocked something over. He disliked chasing cats, they were usually too fast for him. A running fight with a cat was not his idea of how to spend a pleasant evening. But duty was duty, decided Angus, and he made his way up the stairs towards the gallery.
He had ascended three steps when he heard a CRASH! That made him think the end of the world was coming, and he knew that no cat could have caused that.
“Vandalism,” he thought. Now — what was he to do? To blow the police whistle with which he was provided, and to go rushing up the stairs, truncheon in hand — ‘rushing’ was rather a euphemism, for Maginty’s top speed for stair ascension was about two-and-a-half miles an hour. More so if he thought somebody at the top was about to bludgeon him with half a chair, even if it was an antique chair of great age and beauty that the intruder might pick up for the purpose.
Maginty had no intention of being bludgeoned with it if he could possibly help it.
Perhaps stealth would be the best approach. Creep quietly up the stairs and then suddenly call out,
“All right, men, take them!”
That might do it. He thought of another idea — the best of all — creep back to his office and use the telephone. But suppose something had just fallen accidentally, the police would not be very grateful to him.
Perhaps he had better peep through the gallery first before he brought the local constabulary down here in force to pick up a fallen showcase! That would make him look foolish. He decided to go and inspect it. . . . He imagined fondly that he could mount the stairs and peep into the gallery without himself being observed. Then if he did see hooligans or thieves at work he could tiptoe down again, quietly.
With bated breath he mounted the stairs . . . one . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . a dozen. He reached the top and turned left, beneath the great pillars that had come from some Greek Temple, and now marked the entrance to the Collectors’ Corner, which collection had come from all over the world. Old retired sea captains of the Victorian epoch, who had long since settled in Bridgeford and whose bones now rested in Bridgeford churchyard, had brought home Egyptian mummies, masks from the Indies, scimitars from Persia, swordfishes’ heads from the oceans of the world, and these, bequeathed by well meaning relatives who had no use for such bric-a-brac themselves, filled the Collectors’ Corner of the museum.
Someone was moving, Maginty could see that, a tall man in what looked like a white mackintosh.
It was the sort of thing he had seen on the films and T.V. several times. The man was standing uncertainly, with his back to Maginty, and he was moving his arms about.
What the devil is he doing, thought the old watchman. Seeing that the man was alone, and seeing that he had a truncheon, he drew it, and suddenly switching on his torch he shouted,
“All right, you’d better come quietly. My men have got you surrounded!”
The ‘man’ turned to face him, and as he did so Maginty saw that the crash had been caused by the lid of a sarcophagus falling against a glass case, and he saw too that the figure was not wearing a white mac. It was enshrouded in bandages. Two baleful red eyes flashed back at him in the light of his torch, and with almost incredible swiftness the lumbering thing started towards Maginty.
Angus stood rooted to the spot, his eyes dilated with terror. The thing reached him . . . There was a short, sharp struggle and then dreadful silence. And the heap in the corner that had once been Maginty looked like a bundle of old rags, carelessly discarded.
* * *
Inspector Rod Gorman was a big, heavy, powerfully built man. His face was broad and expressive. His eyebrows beetled together, his black hair was thinning a little at the front, he had a high, distinguished-looking forehead — which was the way he preferred to think of his encroaching baldness.
His shoulders were broad, the expanse of his chest wide and barrel-like. He had rather more avoirdupois than is recommended by the leading body-culture experts, nine-tenths of the said avoirdupois was solidly-packed muscle, not fat. He was an outstandingly powerful man with a keen, darting mind, and the tenacity of a bulldog. The mind that lurked behind the dark, penetrating eyes was as tough as the body that went with it.
Mens sana in corpore sano — ‘healthy mind in a healthy body’ applied more to Rod Gorman than to any other member of his division, and the men in his division were many of them big, tough men.
Because of his muscular prowess Gorman had very little difficulty in getting about at surprising speed. He was muscular to excess, but he was not muscle-bound. Every inch of that poundage could be used, every ounce of him could be put to very good effect when the occasion arose. He was an almost invulnerable fighting machine, an almost insurmountable obstacle to lawlessness and disorder.
The Curator was a tiny, distraught, phrenetic little man who was rushing around Gorman’s feet in ever-decreasing circles.
Gorman, on occasion, was more than outspoken.
“Mr. Curator,” he said darkly, “if you don’t stand still and answer my questions, I’m going to get very, very annoyed, and when I get annoyed people get hurt. Especially little people.” He said it with a great big beaming smile that took much of the acid out of his words.
“But it’s dreadful, Inspector, so absolutely, unbelievably dreadful, I just don’t know how to begin to explain it.”
“Start — at — the — beginning!”
“I was going to telephone, then I thought I’d better come along and see you. You see, when I saw the constable he said that you were in, and that if it was something important I had better see you, and —”
“Start — at — the — beginning,” Gorman said each word very slowly and distinctly, as though he were dealing with a difficult, backward child.
“Try — very — hard — to — get — your — thoughts — sorted — out!”
The phrenetic little Curator threw himself down on to a chair in the Inspector’s office and gave a little gasping cough.
“May I have a drink of water?” asked the Curator, and Gorman fetched him one from the faucet.
“Now, you really must try to control yourself, my dear Curator,” his voice was very gentle and silky soft. All the exaggeration had gone from his voice, and he was deeply earnest. It was obvious to a man of the Inspector’s capabilities that something had very seriously upset the Curator.
“It’s old Angus Maginty,” the Curator managed to gasp at last, “Our old night watchman — he’s dead! I — I think it must have been foul play . . . I went in this morning and, well — you’d better come and look for yourself, Inspector. I just took one glance and rushed out again.” He was absolutely verging on hysteria again.
“You’re absolutely sure there is no mistake?” persisted Gorman.
“Absolutely convinced, Inspector,” insisted the Curator.
“All right! Let’s get the wagon.” He rang for the police car, and they were picked up at the station door.
“Bridgeford museum,” Gorman’s voice was like a whiplash. “Make it fast!”
“Sir!” said the driver in affirmation, and the powerful 25 h.p., saloon sped away like an arrow from a bow.
They reached the museum within four and a half minutes flat.
“Good going!” commended Gorman, “Now, Mr. Curator, you lead the way, will you?”
The little man was peering about nervously.
“All right! Tell me where it is and I’ll lead the way!” said the Inspector. Gorman was not a man who always lived by the strictest letter of the regulations that he was supposed to keep, and his hand hovered at the pocket of his sports jacket, for Gorman carried a gun on some occasions when he lacked the necessary permit.
He took the stairs three at a time, looking like some weird impossible cross between a ballet dancer and a rogue bull elephant.
His great shoulder thudded against the door of the Collectors’ Corner, and it went flying backwards as though it were a ball of pitch that had suddenly received a violent blow from a high frequency vibration.
He took in a lot of detail with one swift, sure glance, a glance that went rubbering round the room, like a ball rumbling towards the pins in a bowling alley.
The ball of observation knocked down every fact of importance, every detail that was worth absorbing. And finally, that long, searching, swinging gaze came to rest on the pathetic rag-like bundle. There was no doubt at all from the way the wreckage was lying that a cadaver was all that remained of old Angus Maginty. The body on the floor was either that of a dead man or a contortionist.
No living man with a normal osteonic formation could have twisted his limbs into such a horrible limp knot.
Rod Gorman was as tough as nails. He had a stomach like the inside of an old leather bucket. It was a stomach which very rarely turned queasy, and he had seen an enormous number of unpleasant and ghastly sights in the course of a long and varied career. But never had he witnessed a sight like the sight he was witnessing now.
At first glance he would have thought old Angus had been hit by a truck. But no . . . put through a mangle, perhaps? Caught in heavy machinery?
Again, not necessarily.
What then? Oddly enough, a phrase of Scripture went darting through his mind.
“To what will ye liken me?”
He looked at the body on the floor. It seemed to be calling out, as the blood of Abel had called out for justice. The body was mocking him.
“To what will ye liken me, Inspector Gorman?”
“I knew that old man,” he said, half to himself and half to the Curator. “I knew him well. A bit of an ‘Old Bill’ type, a little bit of what we would term a ‘blow-broth’ but all the same, one of the salt of the earth, for all the rumours that they used to spread about the old fellow.
“A good old man. An old man with character. And there are few enough of them about. He wasn’t one of the insipid milk-toast bunch. He was a real live human being. There was red blood in his veins.”
“I would endorse your opinion entirely, Inspector, indeed, he was rather too forthright for my own personal liking, but one couldn’t help admiring him.”
Gorman gave a rather cynical little grin. He could imagine that it wouldn’t be difficult for a man to be ‘too forthright’ for the prim and proper little Curator.
Some of the worst of his phrenetic panic had died away. Gorman began examining the other details. A large glass case had apparently contained a heavy Egyptian sarcophagus. It had also contained the stone outer sarcophagus. This had been pushed to one side, while the heavy, inner wooden lid had been flung through the glass.
“This is damned odd,” said Gorman.
“What is?” said the Curator.
“This glass,” said Gorman, “look how it’s lying . . . it would appear to have been burst outwards. It would appear to have been thrown from the inside. If somebody had smashed in the case and then hauled the lid out, there would have been a considerable amount of glass lying there on the interior. But there’s scarcely a piece. It’s all been thrown outwards by a very violent impact.”
He looked accusingly at those glass fragments that seemed to make so little sense. “And I damn well want to know why!” he finished angrily. “There has to be a reason. There’s a reason for everything in spite of what the cranks, the crackpots and other mystics may say, we live in a perfectly sane, logical world. Science is my god. I believe that everything can be weighed and tested, and tasted and handled and analysed. If it can’t, then I don’t believe it.
“I do, however, believe that appearances can be deceptive. For example,” he said thoughtfully, looking half at the Curator and half at the glass, “if a powerful vacuum had been applied at this point, that would have been sufficient to pull all the glass outwards. Even though the blow was struck inwards.”
“Seems a bit elaborate for a burglar, doesn’t it? Who’d want to do that?”
“I don’t know. Is it burglary, or is it vandalism?” The old Curator was almost in tears as he looked at the body of Angus Maginty,
“Is that vandalism?” he asked quietly.
“No,” replied the Inspector, “that’s a murder! A damnably pointless, unnecessary, savage murder! And I wish to get my hands on the rat or rats who did it! The way I feel now, about that helpless old man —” he broke off short. “I shouldn’t be talking like that as a police officer. My job is to uphold justice and fair play. Even the man — if we can call him a man — who did that, is entitled to a British trial, thank God.
“We’re not a Police State yet,” he laughed. “That’s a funny phrase for a policeman to use, I suppose. But I believe in democracy. Ye gods, we fought hard enough to get the vote in days gone by. All of us. Women particularly. Now how many of us bother to use it? You know,” he turned dourly to the Curator, “take these local Council elections, I’ll bet there aren’t more than 40-50 per cent bother to turn out — astounding, isn’t it?”
“Yes, I suppose it is, but then again, speaking as a member of the Council,” said the Curator, “I — I know I’m in rather an odd position, of course, this is a Council maintained museum, and strictly ethically I shouldn’t be allowed to hold such a post, but as a large proportion of my salary comes from a private Trust which is at the back of the museum — but that’s a rather long and complicated story —”
The Inspector cut him short.
“Yes, I don’t think we’d better go into that,” he agreed, “We’re here to discuss the death of the man on the floor, the breaking of the case in an apparently inexplicable manner —” He snapped his fingers, “If a small hole was made with a cutter, and an explosive charge inserted, having a long fuse, it would probably have blown the roof off as well. . . .”
“But I hardly think it would have disintegrated the mummy completely, as well,” said the Curator suddenly. “It’s missing!”
“Missing!” snapped the Inspector.
“Why yes,” said the old man, “I hadn’t realised, with all the tragedy about this poor man on the floor. There was a mummy inside that sarcophagus. A horrible looking brute! We had examined it on one or two occasions, but we decided to keep the sarcophagus shut! It had a singularly repulsive face! It was the mummy of Amen el Karak, the High Priest of Set, Beloved of Set, High Priest of Darkness, to give him his full titles, Set, you know, was the evil god of Egyptian mythology. But I’m afraid you mustn’t let me start talking about Egyptology or we will never get the investigation finished.”
“Hmmm,” said the Inspector. He went back to the police car and made a call.
Experts arrived. Experts with cameras, experts with finger print kits, experts with measures. Gorman and his experts worked long and hard, taking in every detail. Finally he went back to the station.
It was, he decided, an incredible sort of case. Nothing about it seemed to make sense. Nothing that a man could call sense. There was a vague pattern of events, but circumstantial evidence pointed in such a peculiar direction that you couldn’t really call it circumstantial evidence.
Circumstantial nonsense, more like. He took those aggravating little points that refused to lie down and go away. Those nasty little indicators that kept on popping up into his logical, legal mind, and saying, ‘You believe in the facts, Gorman, you believe in the facts. These are the facts. Argue your way out of this, Gorman. These are the facts, Gorman.’
“Blast the facts,” he said suddenly, out loud, “Damn the facts! There has to be a sensible explanation.” But the facts remained. The glass had been broken from the inside. The glass lay all over the floor on the outside. The lid, after a careful physical study of dynamics and thrust, appeared to have been lifted up straight — from the interior, and then thrown through the side of the glass! As though something lying inside the sarcophagus had woken after a 4,000 year sleep, seized the great lid as though it were a fragment of tissue paper, and tossed it to one side. That would account for the position in which it lay. And again, the way in which the old night watchman had met his end. There were shreds of white bandage, bandage which the Curator had identified quite definitely as belonging to a mummified corpse.
Rod Gorman stopped wrestling with impossible facts that refused to fit into any logical pattern and came to a decision.
He came to it reluctantly, but inevitably. He knew of one man, and one man only, who could make sense out of the impossible. A specialist crime and mystery reporter, the star reporter of the ‘Daily Globe’ — a big, grey-eyed curly haired adventurer, who rejoiced in the name of Val Stearman.
It went against the grain to call Stearman in because he and Gorman had argued on many occasions about the supernatural. Gorman was hardboiled and scientific. Stearman had been once, until he had got involved in a fantastic series of psychic adventures which had changed his point of view. And then, of course, thought Gorman, there was always the fascinating Mrs. Stearman, the fabulous La Noire, with her ageless, timeless beauty, her Cleopatra face, her deep, mysterious eyes, and that voice which sent odd little shivers up and down the Inspector’s back. And if a feminine voice could do that to a back which was as misogynic as Gorman’s it had to be a voice indeed! Gorman had been known to say on occasion that there was more sex appeal in La Noire Stearman’s voice than in a whole evening at the Folies Bergere, and Gorman considered himself an expert upon such fascinating matters. He reached for the telephone and called through to the station switchboard.
“Peter, put me through to the ‘Daily Globe’ Office, London, you’ll find the number on the card.”
“Sir!” Four-and-a-half seconds later he was through. His switchboard operator was a first-class chap. To work under Rod Gorman a switchboard operator had to be almost a magician — otherwise he didn’t last. Peter had lasted a long time. His accuracy and speed were phenomenal. He got the ‘Globe’ switchboard.
“Inspector Rod Gorman here of the Bridgeford Police. I want a priority call to your Mr. Stearman, Mr. Val Stearman.”
“At once, sir,” said the Globe operator and there were a series of lightning clicks that sounded like subdued machine gun fire, as connections were made. A familiar voice, deep and powerful, crackled across the line.
“Val Stearman speaking.”
“This is Rod, here,” said Gorman.
“Rod? — Oh, Rod, yes ! Hello, how are you, you old-son-of-a-gun! What’s the trouble now? Want me to save your soul?”
“I haven’t got a soul,” said Gorman doggedly, “but if I had, I wouldn’t let you save it! I’d send it to somebody reliable. You’re like those Chinese laundries that are always losing people’s sheets.”
“I thought the only sort of sheets you believed in were the sort that go over your pseudo ghosts,” he said. “Well, you old materialist, what can I do for you now?”
“I’m on a case, and I’ll admit to you Val, and to nobody else, that it’s got me beat! I’m not giving any details over the phone, because I know what you Press hounds are. If I swear you to secrecy you’ve probably got some hound listening in who is not bound by your oath, and the whole thing will be in tomorrow’s Press.”
“Tch, tch, tch,” murmured Stearman, “How could you think so harshly of that grand old British institution the ‘Daily Globe’?”
“This’ll be worth your while, Val, can you come straight across?”
“Bridgeford, 150,” said Val. “Well, if we don’t get any traffic jams, about two hours, say two hours and a half.”
“That’s moving,” said the Inspector.
“I’ve got a very heavy toe,” said Stearman, with a grin.
“I know,” said Gorman, “one of these days one of my boys will get you for using it! The accelerator pedal is meant to be used with discretion.”
“Except in cases of emergency, of course,” said Stearman with a chuckle. “All right. I’ll just pick up La Noire, and I’ll be with you.” He hung up, picked up the interoffice line and called Mack. “Put one of the cubs on that new Spiritualist Circle Development, I’ve got something breaking in Bridgeford that sounds very important.”
“Is that Rod Gorman, again?” inquired the old Scottish editor, his voice bristling with interest.
“Rod Gorman indeed,” said Val.
“He’s a braw lad,” said Mack. “Back it up! Back it up!”
“I’m on me way,” said Val and hung up. It was a change, he thought, to catch Mack in a good mood. That happened about once every thirty million years, or every tenth blue moon.
The drive was swift and uneventful. He did it in two hours ten. The motor way had just been a ribbon of road, as the 150 m.p.h. roadster had devoured the tarmac like some fearsome, metallic monster.
He called for Gorman at the station, and they drove to Stearman’s hotel.
Settled comfortably in the lounge, over foaming tankards, he and the Inspector talked, while La Noire listened intelligently and toyed daintily with a Martini glass.
“And you still think,” said Val, when Gorman had finished, “that it can be explained by one of those clever Houdini-type tricks?”
“I don’t know what I think any more,” answered Gorman. He looked like a man whose energy had been entirely drained by an interminable mental struggle. “I just don’t know what to think any more,” he repeated dully. “There has to be an answer, Val, there has to be. But what is it?”
“The reason you can’t find it,” said Stearman, not unkindly, “is because you refuse to recognise it. You stand just about as much chance of finding a solution to this crime, working along orthodox, scientific, materialistic lines, as a blind man would have in picking out red from green in a series of otherwise identical coloured bricks.”
Gorman nodded his head. There didn’t seem much to say. Val glanced at his watch.
“Let’s get over to this museum,” he said.
“Sure,” said the Inspector. “I was wondering when you would ask to get over there, Val.”
La Noire suddenly chimed in,
“Can we pick the Curator up, on the way. I’d rather like to meet him!”
“Sure,” agreed Gorman.
It was only a few minutes to the Curator’s house, and he looked in terror at the powerful sports before venturing into it. They were quickly at the museum, for Gorman directed Val unerringly towards their destination. It was dark as they ascended the stairs. At the top of the flight Val suddenly paused. La Noire clutched his arm as she scented the air, rather like an unbelievably dainty female hound, a thoroughbred pack dog, on the track of a dreadful quarry.
“Val,” she whispered, “Whatever was here has come back! I can feel it!” Her voice had sunk to a sibilant whisper. “When we were in Egypt, you remember that dreadful thing under the crumbling stone and faded gilt — the thing that waited — the thing that guarded the tomb so long ago. I can sense the same atmosphere here, darling. It’s in the air all around us. The same dreadful evil. The presence of Set.”
The old Curator whispered faintly:
“The mummy that is missing is the mummy of Amen el Karak, High Priest of Set, Beloved of Set, High Priest of Darkness.”
There was a long deathly silence, and then — in the darkness ahead of them — they heard a soft, terrifying footstep. A sound of a dragging, muffled foot, a bandaged foot, a mummified foot, treading upon the gallery floor.
Val’s hand darted to his right hand pocket. Like Rod Gorman, Stearman carried a gun, but unlike Rod Gorman’s, Stearman’s gun had one specific purpose. It was not a common or garden automatic. It was a magnificently balanced Browning automatic, a piece of superlative British craftsmanship. It fired silver bullets.
Gorman had his own gun in his hand.
As they advanced slowly into the gallery, he whispered to Val,
“To think that blasted thing must have been hiding here!”
“They don’t stray far from the sarcophagus; they are like vampires, they must stay within reach of the burial place. Something in the atmosphere, some strange radiation is vitally necessary to their existence. God alone knows what woke it up after all these years —” he shrugged his shoulders.
“The stars in their courses,” whispered La Noire, “must have reassumed the dreadful position, the harmony was there in the celestial spheres. . . .”
“Do you believe in astrology as well?” demanded Gorman.
“All the old sciences are based on facts which modern science will one day re-discover,” answered La Noire, “but now let us be silent, for the warrior who whispers gives himself away to the warrior who is silent.”
Gorman realised the truth of her words, and the wisdom of her idea. They moved stealthily forward into the gloom of the gallery.
The old Curator’s knees were almost beating the speed of sound as they vibrated together. His eyeballs were dilated with fear. His jaw sagged open and twitched. A cold sweat broke out upon his forehead. He seemed an abject, pitiful relic of a man.
“Quiet,” whispered Stearman.
“I — I — c-c-ca-n’t help it!” stammered the Curator,
“Then keep still and let us go on,” hissed Val.
“Don’t leave me!” The Curator’s voice was filled with even more abject terror.
“All right!” hissed Stearman, “but for God’s sake keep quiet.”
Up ahead of them something big, sinister and heavy was padding around. Something that should have been dead for four thousand years, something that had no right to be in the world of men. Something evil and sinister, something irrevocably bad, untenable, inhuman, ghastly.
How do these things happen, thought Val, how do they come about?
Almost as if she had been waiting for his thought he received a telepathic answer from La Noire.
“The High Priests of Set, the God of evil, are endued with a certain power. Have you not heard the words of the Necronomican of Abdul el Hazrad, the Mad Arab,
“That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange eons even Death may die.”
“So it is with the High Priests of Set. So it is with those like Amen el Karak.”
Val was glad of her telepathy. He desperately wanted to ask her about this hideous phenomenon. He wanted to commune with her, and yet he did not wish to whisper.
Gorman, showing up stark and grim in the moonlight, was beckoning him slowly forward.
Val advanced a little, his gun at the ready. The wrist that held the gun firm as granite, tough as rock. One steel-like finger tensed around the trigger, ready to spit silver death at the slightest pressure. Waiting for something to move. But they could only hear it . . . thud . . . thud . . . thud . . . thud . . . thud.
And then — suddenly — it sprang. Like a white-shrouded grizzly bear it leapt out from an alcove behind two ancient war canoes.
The old Curator saw it coming and his choking scream warned them all.
But at the same time, it was the scream that attracted the attention of the hideous, evil, mummy-thing . . . the claw-like bandaged hands fastened with a grip of steel round the old Curator’s throat. The mummy lifted him into the air and shook him like a rag doll. The body went limp as it twisted.
“Poor little devil,” gasped Stearman. Gorman was down on one knee firing with cool, calm, calculated precision. Shot after shot after shot.
Every time his bullet struck home a dark powder burn appeared on the bandages. The mummy jerked and writhed and twisted, but it still kept shaking the lifeless body of the old Curator.
Stearman was on the opposite side. He dared not risk a shot himself until he was clear of the Inspector and had put himself between La Noire and the hideous thing that had rattled the life out of the Curator. Then he pressed the trigger of that beautiful Browning.
The report was rather louder than the crack of the big police automatic that the Inspector had used, and the effect was a great deal more spectacular.
The silver bullet struck fair and square in the chest of the living dead thing.
There was a flash, a flash as though a million kilowatt generator had just burned itself out.
As though the power of evil had met the power of good, and in one great concentric focal point the universe had exploded.
As the silver bit into the foul metabolism of Amen el Karak, High Priest of Set, Beloved of Set, High Priest of Darkness, the thing swayed, lurched, and suddenly seemed to disintegrate like a pillar of porcelain blown to fragments by a vibration of the correct frequency.
Flecks of decaying dust and tiny fragments of bandage, the odour of ancient embalming spice. All these filled the air of the museum’s Collectors’ Corner.
And then there was nothing but the body of the Curator and a heap of dust,
“By the saints,” whispered the Inspector, as he looked at Stearman, “How the devil am I going to write this one up, Val?”
“Well, if you want to stick to your scientific theories,” said Stearman, as he cleaned and re-loaded the Browning, “I don’t know what you’re going to do. If you tell the truth you’ll probably get sacked, if not committed to a Home for the Bewildered! If I were you I would be prepared to swallow my pride and write this one off to ‘Murder by person or persons unknown,’ You might add the theft of the mummy of Amen el Karak, that’ll help to explain its disappearance.”
“I think perhaps you’re right,” said Gorman, and grinned ruefully.
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