«The Best of Adversaries By Matthew Baugh (A sequel to “Taverel Manor” by Robert E. Howard and Richard A. Lupoff) 1 - A Chance Encounter So there ...»
The Best of Adversaries
By Matthew Baugh
(A sequel to “Taverel Manor” by Robert E. Howard and Richard A. Lupoff)
1 - A Chance Encounter
"So there is no hope Doctor?"
Costigan stared at me forlornly, his plate untouched. The American was a strapping man, six feet tall
and a solid fourteen stone, but worry and lack of sleep were wearing down even his strength.
"There is always hope my boy." I said gently, "You have to believe that."
"What hope?" Costigan demanded, his black eyes blazing with anger, "You've admitted that you have no idea what sort of drug it is that's killing her! If you don't know, what hope is there?" I bit my lip, unable to say anything. As much as I hated it, he was right. I had no idea what the toxin was that was eating away the life of his beloved, and I had good reason to believe my experience with exotic drugs and poisons was equal to that of any practitioner in London.
Costigan sighed, "I'm sorry Petrie. I know you've done as much as anyone could. It's just that when I think of Zuleika, dying like this…" His voice trailed off and he flexed his powerful hands in a helpless gesture. "I always thought I could protect her from anything, but this…" "I know," I said, "I've thought what it would be like if it were my Kara who were affected. But we can't give in to despair! You must be strong for Zuleika's sake! You know that`s what Smith would say!" That brought a brief, sad smile to his lips.
"Smith," he said, "Yes, that does sound like him, doesn't it? He'd have snapped my head off for being so maudlin."
Costigan stood. His face had resumed the mask-like composure that it usually wore. That stoicism, along with his straight black hair and sun-bronzed skin always made me think of the Red Indians of his homeland. Even in a Saville Row suit he looked every inch the savage warrior. He stood and pushed his chair in.
"I'm sorry Petrie," he said, "But I can't finish this." He nodded to the steak dinner at his place.
"Be reasonable man." I implored, "You need to keep your strength up!" "No," he said quietly, "I need to be by her side."
I would have argued, but the resolve in his voice brooked no dispute. In any case it seemed a healthier frame of mind than the impotent anger he had been feeling. I nodded.
"I understand." I said, "You do what you must. I'll be back at hospital within an hour myself.
After we said our goodbyes I turned my attention to my meal but found my own appetite wanting. The dinner was splendidly prepared, but the recent death of my dear friend had robbed my world of taste and color. It was only with a mechanical effort that I was able to eat.
I was finishing my coffee when the woman came in. A tall brunette of exotic beauty, with dark almond eyes. She had fair skin but with an olive cast that spoke of faraway lands and other times. She wore a daring ensemble of the latest fashion. On a woman of lesser beauty it would have been absurd but on her the effect was stunning. It was as if the Queen of Sheba had arrived, fresh from the shops of Paris.
The headwaiter showed her a great deal of deference as he showed her to a table. As I watched I could not help wondering who she was, and who she might be waiting for.
I did not have to wait long to find out. A few moments later the mysterious beauty was joined by a man nearly as exotic as she was. He was slender and of medium height, dressed in black and with a dark complexion that made me suspect there was a touch of the Asiatic in his blood. His beard was small and neat and the black of his hair was broken by a jagged streak of white at the temple.
With a start I realized that I knew the newcomer, he was Anton Zarnak, a man with the reputation of a modern Sainte-Germain. He spoke a dozen languages, held advanced degrees from several of the greatest universities in Europe and America, and was even rumored to have rediscovered the secrets of alchemy. It was the sort of reputation that usually accompanied a charlatan, but Smith had spoken of him with high regard.
My mind whirled. If even part of Zarnak's reputation were true he might hold the key to Zuleika's recovery.
Page 1 of 20 Even if he couldn't help, there was nothing lost in asking. I rose and walked to his table."
"I beg your pardon," I said, "But are you Dr. Anton Zarnak?" The woman's eyes flashed brilliantly, though with derision or humor I could not say. Zarnak regarded me calmly.
"Dr. Petrie, isn't it?" he said.
"Why yes. Though I confess I'm surprised you know me."
"Don't be modest Doctor," he said, "I've read your monograph on the pathology of tropical mycotia. A most insightful study. Besides, no one acquainted with the career of the late Sir Denis Nayland Smith could be ignorant of his Boswell." His face clouded slightly. "You have my sympathies Doctor, his passing diminishes us all."
"Thank you," I said with some feeling, "Dr. Zarnak, I'm afraid I have to impose on you."
"Yes?" "There is a young woman at St. Bart's," I said, "She is dying of a poison that we cannot identify. My expertise has failed, and no specialist I can find has managed any better. I was hoping that you…" "How would you rate her prognosis?" "She has only days left. Perhaps hours."
Zarnak rose smoothly to his feet. He paused to kiss the slender fingers of his companion.
"I am sorry my dear Isis," he said, "But this is something I must attend. Please give my warmest regards to your father. I hope to call on you again soon."
She smiled mysteriously and nodded. "I understand," was all she said.
Zarnak caught my arm as we walked out. "My car is outside."
He said, "Tell me what you can as we go."
2 - Petrie's Story "You said you believe the young woman is suffering the effects of a poison?" Zarnak asked. The evening traffic was light and his town car was making excellent time.
"Yes," I responded, "She was kidnapped weeks ago and held for some time. Her fiancé and some friends were able to affect her release, but not before the fiend given her drugs. At first we thought he had addicted her to opium to bind her to his will, but the standard courses of treatment have failed to produce any result. Her symptoms are like those of withdrawal, but they steadily continue to worsen. Frankly I don't know how she is still alive."
"Perhaps you should tell me of the kidnapper." Zarnak suggested.
I nodded, "Two years ago the police became aware of a single mind directing most of the vice and narcotic traffic of London, a mastermind known as the Scorpion. Nayland Smith was assigned to investigate and found that this was true. The man was a devil, who had used drugs to create unwilling servitors. Zuleika was the Scorpion's slave at that time, and her fiancé, Stephen Costigan was one of his drug-thralls.
Fortunately Smith was able to free them and defeat the monster. For a time we thought he was destroyed, blown to bits in an explosion that shook the city, but he returned.
"Smith was working on breaking up an opium ring, and had made Costigan his special assistant.
A separate investigation took them to Tavares Manor up on the northern coast."
"The home of Sir Rupert Taverel?" Zarnak cut in.
"Why, yes." I said, "That is until his recent death. It is now in the hands of a distant kinsman of his, Sir Haldred Taverel. Why, is it important?" Probably not," Zarnak said, "But I knew Sir Rupert a little from a time when we were both in the Far East. He was a man of interesting connections.
"I shouldn't be surprised." I said, "Sir Rupert's death drew Sir Haldred into the old manor house where he vanished under mysterious circumstances. Nayland Smith was an old family friend of Haldred's fiancée Marjory and he and Costigan went to investigate. It turned out that the Scorpion was behind Sir Haldred's disappearance. Costigan managed to track the fiend to Calais, but not before Smith was killed."
"And the Scorpion?" Zarnak asked.
Page 2 of 20 "Costigan says he killed the fiend with his bare hands." I replied, "But the Sûreté never found the body in their search of his headquarters."
"Who was he?" "Ah," I hesitated, "That part of the story is the most difficult to believe."
"Doctor, I assure you, I am anything but a cynic about such things."
Zarnak said, "And neither my opinion of you nor my promise to help your patient will be swayed by anything you have to tell me."
"Very well," I said, "The Scorpion seems to have been a survivor of ancient Egypt, or perhaps Atlantis. Costigan believes him to be a million years old or more."
"It seems unlikely that all three are true." Zarnak commented.
"I say!" I protested, "After your assurances I certainly don't appreciate…" "Please Doctor," he said calmly, "I am not being flip. One of those theories is likely true, but it may be important to determine which. Please continue."
"I'm sorry," I said, "I only know what Costigan has told me. He says that the Scorpion is a living mummy, as if he had used the techniques of Egypt to preserve his body and found a way to use them to preserve his life as well. His skin is as thin and dry as parchment and his face is so badly withered that it resembles a skull. Costigan sometimes calls him `Skull Face' but his true name is Kathulos."
Zarnak started visibly at the name, but said nothing and gestured for me to continue.
"We can't say with any certainty where he came from," I said, "The only story Costigan knows is that a sealed sarcophagus was found drifting in the Atlantic far from any shore. A passing ship picked up the box and found Kathulos sealed inside. He and Smith were never able to verify the story."
"But several years ago," Zarnak mused, "That would be around '26, the year of the Maracot deep sea expedition."
"I'm afraid I don't know about that." I said.
"Most people don't." Zarnak replied, "The findings were suppressed by the government shortly after the Maracot party returned. Suffice to say, I think we know where this Kathulos comes from. If he is indeed a survivor of Atlantis that may provide a clue to the nature of the drugs he has used on your patient."
"Thank God." I breathed.
"Not yet Doctor," Zarnak cautioned, "Even if this idea bears out it may not help us much. Most of the secrets of Atlantis are lost to us.
"Tell me," his voice softened a bit, "How did Nayland Smith die?" "A trap," The words nearly caught in my throat. It had been scarcely a week since I had learned of my friend's death. "He was leaving the manor when Costigan saw him struck down by what looked like a lightning bolt. That devil Skull Face delights in electrical traps, one of his own men was killed by one inside the great house."
"What about the body?" He persisted, "Was an autopsy performed?" "There was no body." I said bitterly. "Costigan had to leave for France immediately to save Zuleika and Sir Haldred. He didn't have the chance even to notify Scotland Yard about Sir Denis. By the time they finally reached Taverel Manor the body was gone. We can only assume the Society of the Scorpion disposed of it in some manner."
"I see." he said, "And what of Taveral Manor?" "What of Taveral Manor?" I snapped. "Doctor Zarnak, I can understand your curiosity but the life of a young woman hangs in the balance. I promise to satisfy your curiosity at the first convenient moment, but for now we must focus on the task at hand."
Anton Zarnak regarded me cooly for a moment. When he spoke his voice carried a distinct sharpness.
"Doctor Petrie, you clearly have no idea what lies in the balance."
I started to protest but he cut me off with a gesture.
"I will cure your patient Doctor, but there is a price. If you want my help you must answer my questions! If I give you instructions you must follow them exactly and without hesitation!" "Now see here!" I said. His high handed manner was becoming too much to bear!
Page 3 of 20 "No Doctor!" He said with a quiet anger that stopped me cold. "It is you who must see! With your help I will save your patient, and there is no telling how many others. If you refuse me their blood is on your hands! Everything I say, everything I do is for a purpose. If you are too dense to see that purpose that is of little consequence! Now tell me about the manor!" The force of his personality was like the blow of a pollaxe. My own outrage had vanished in the face of it and I felt vaguely embarrassed.
"What, um... what would you like to know about it?" "What did the police find when they searched it?" "I'm not certain." I said, "I don't know that they've bothered to search it yet."
"Not bothered?" he demanded, "Why on earth not?" "Well," I said, the Scorpion is dead, his society scattered. What would be the point?" "What indeed?" Zarnak said bitterly. "What about this Sir Haldred Tavares? Has he taken up residence there since all this?" "No," I answered, "The whole affair has put him off the Hall for the time being. He and his fiancée Marjory Harper are staying in his parents’ home in the south for several weeks."
"So the manor is empty?" "No," I said,” Marjory’s brother Harry is also engaged. His fiancée has taken on a few servants and is working to put the place in shape before the wedding."
"And who is this fiancée?" "Miss Joan La Tour," I responded, "She is an American who has only recently..." I trailed off for Zarnak implacable face now wore a stunned expression.
"What is it?" I asked, "Do you know her?" "Doctor Petrie," Zarnak said dryly, "Your patient is rapidly proving to be the most interesting consultation I have had in a very long time."
3 - Return to Taverel Manor Costigan was silent as we drove up the coast. He was not one to complain aloud but I could tell that he was anything but pleased with the assignment Zarnak had given us.
"Go to Taverel Manor." He had said, "I will meet you there as soon as I can. Until then keep your eyes open."
"I'd like to know what this is all about." Costigan had protested, "Just what do you expect us to find there?" "I cannot say," Zarnak said, "Minions of your Skull Face perhaps, or an ally. Perhaps even Kathulos himself. As you have noted he seems to be nearly impossible to destroy. There is simply no way to tell at this point so best to be prepared for anything."
"We should take a squad of police." I suggested, but Zarnak had forbidden it.