Welcome to today's triple Z..... The triple Z podcast is a daily program that you can use to help you fall asleep each night. Just turn down the volume, lay back, relax, and enjoy as you fall asleep.
Murray Leinster, born June 16, 1896, died June 8, 1975, was a pen name of William Fitzgerald Jenkins, an American writer of genre fiction, particularly of science fiction. He wrote and published more than 1,500 short stories and articles, 14 movie scripts, and hundreds of radio scripts and television plays.
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This was Istanbul, and the sounds of the city--motor-cars and clumping donkeys, the nasal cries of peddlers and the distant roar of a jet-plane somewhere over the city--came muted through the windows of Coghlan's flat. It was already late dusk, and Coghlan had just gotten back from the American College, where he taught physics. He relaxed in his chair and waited. He was to meet Laurie later, at the Hotel Petra on the improbably-named Grande Rue de Petra, and hadn't too much time to spare; but he was intrigued by the unexpected guests he had found waiting for him when he arrived. Duval, the Frenchman, haggard and frantic with impatience; Lieutenant Ghalil, calm and patient and impressive in the uniform of the Istanbul Police Department. Ghalil had introduced himself with perfect courtesy and explained that he had come with M. Duval to ask for information which only Mr. Coghlan, of the American College, could possibly give.
They were now in Coghlan's sitting-room. They held the iced drinks which were formal hospitality. Coghlan waited.
"I am afraid," said Lieutenant Ghalil, wryly, "that you will think us mad, Mr. Coghlan."
Duval drained his glass and said bitterly, "Surely I am mad! It cannot be otherwise!"
Coghlan raised sandy eyebrows at them. The Turkish lieutenant of police shrugged. "I think that what we wish to ask, Mr. Coghlan, is: Have you, by any chance, been visiting the thirteenth century?"
Coghlan smiled politely. Duval made an impatient gesture. "Pardon, M. Coghlan! I apologize for our seeming insanity. But that is truly a serious question!"
This time Coghlan grinned. "Then the answer's 'No.' Not lately. You evidently are aware that I teach physics at the College. My course turns out graduates who can make electrons jump through hoops, you might say, and the better students can snoop into the private lives of neutrons. But fourth-dimension stuff--you refer to time-travel I believe--is out of my line."
Lieutenant Ghalil sighed. He began to unwrap the bulky parcel that sat on his lap. A book appeared. It was large, more than four inches thick, and its pages were sheepskin. Its cover was heavy, ancient leather--so old that it was friable--and inset in it were deeply-carved ivory medallions. Coghlan recognized the style. They were Byzantine ivory-carvings, somewhat battered, done in the manner of the days before Byzantium became successively Constantinople and Stamboul and Istanbul.
"An early copy," observed Ghalil, "of a book called the Alexiad, by the Princess Anna Commena, from the thirteenth century I mentioned. Will you be so good as to look, Mr. Coghlan?"
He opened the volume very carefully and handed it to Coghlan. The thick, yellowed pages were covered with those graceless Greek characters which--without capitals or divisions between words or any punctuation or paragraphing--were the text of books when they had just ceased to be written on long strips and rolled up on sticks. Coghlan regarded it curiously.
"Do you by any chance read Byzantine Greek?" asked the Turk hopefully.
Coghlan shook his head. The police lieutenant looked depressed. He began to turn pages, while Coghlan held the book. The very first page stood up stiffly. There was brown, crackled adhesive around its edge, evidence that at some time it had been glued to the cover and lately had been freed. The top half of the formerly hidden sheet was now covered by a blank letterhead of the Istanbul Police Department, clipped in place by modern metal paper-clips. On the uncovered part of the page, the bottom half, there were five brownish smudges that somehow looked familiar. Four in a row, and a larger one beneath them. Lieutenant Ghalil offered a pocket magnifying-glass.
"Will you examine?" he asked.
Coghlan looked. After a moment he raised his head.
"They're fingerprints," he agreed. "What of it?"
Duval stood up and abruptly began to pace up and down the room, as if filled with frantic impatience. Lieutenant Ghalil drew a deep breath.
"I am about to say the absurd," he said ruefully. "M. Duval came upon this book in the Bibliotheque National in Paris. It has been owned by the library for more than a hundred years. Before, it was owned by the Comptes de Huisse, who in the sixteenth century were the patrons of a man known as Nostradamus. But the book itself is of the thirteenth century, written and bound in Byzantium. In the Bibliotheque National, M. Duval observed that a leaf was glued tightly. He loosened it. He found those fingerprints and--other writing."
Coghlan said, "Most interesting," thinking that he should be leaving for his dinner engagement with Laurie and her father.
"Of course," said the police officer, "M. Duval suspected a hoax. He had the ink examined chemically, then spectroscopically. But there could be no doubt. The fingerprints were placed there when the book was new. I repeat, there can be no doubt!"
Coghlan had no inkling of what was to come. He said, puzzledly:
"Fingerprinting is pretty modern stuff. So I suppose it's remarkable to find prints so old. But-"
Duval, pacing up and down the room, uttered a stifled exclamation. He stopped by Coghlan's desk. He played feverishly with a wooden-handled Kurdish dagger that Coghlan used as a letter-opener, his eyes a little wild.
Lieutenant Ghalil said resignedly:
"The fingerprints are not remarkable, Mr. Coghlan. They are impossible. I assure you that, considering their age alone, they are quite impossible! And that is so small, so trivial an impossibility compared to the rest! You see, Mr. Coghlan, those fingerprints are yours!"
While Coghlan sat, staring rather intently at nothing at all, the Turkish lieutenant of police brought out a small fingerprint pad, the kind used in up-to-date police departments. No need for ink. One presses one's fingers on the pad and the prints develop of themselves.
"If I may show you-"
Coghlan let him roll the tips of his fingers on the glossy top sheet of the pad. It was a familiar enough process. Coghlan had had his fingerprints taken when he got his passport for Turkey, and again when he registered as a resident-alien with the Istanbul Police Department. The Turk offered the magnifying-glass again. Coghlan studied the thumbprint he had just made. After a moment's hesitation, he compared it with the thumbprint on the sheepskin. He jumped visibly. He checked the other prints, one by one, with increasing care and incredulity.
Presently he said in the tone of one who does not believe his own words: "They--they do seem to be alike! Except for-"
"Yes," said Lieutenant Ghalil. "The thumbprint on the sheepskin shows a scar that your thumb does not now have. But still it is your fingerprint--that and all the others. It is both philosophically and mathematically impossible for two sets of fingerprints to match unless they come from the same hand!"
"These do," observed Coghlan.
Duval muttered unhappily to himself. He put down the Kurdish knife and paced again. Ghalil shrugged.
"M. Duval observed the prints," he explained, "quite three months ago--the prints and the writing. It took him some time to be convinced that the matter was not a hoax. He wrote to the Istanbul Police to ask if their records showed a Thomas Coghlan residing at 750 Fatima. Two months ago!"
Coghlan jumped again. "Where'd he get that address?"
"You will see," said the Turk. "I repeat that this was two months ago! I replied that you were registered, but not at that address. He wrote again, forwarding a photograph of part of that sheepskin page and asking agitatedly if those were your fingerprints. I replied that they were, save for the scar on the thumb. And I added, with lively curiosity, that two days previously you had removed to 750 Fatima--the address M. Duval mentioned a month previously."
"Unfortunately," said Coghlan, "that just couldn't happen. I didn't know the address myself, until a week before I moved."
"I am aware that it could not happen," said Ghalil painedly. "My point is that it did."
"You're saying," objected Coghlan, "that somebody had information three weeks before it existed!"
Ghalil made a wry face. "That is a masterpiece of understatement-"
"It is madness!" said Duval hoarsely. "It is lunacy! Ce n'est pas logique! Be so kind, M. Coghlan, as to regard the rest of the page!"
Coghlan pulled off the clips that held the police-department letterhead over the top of the parchment page, and immediately wondered if his hair was really standing on end. There was writing there. He saw words in faded, unbelievably ancient ink. It was modern English script. The handwriting was as familiar to Coghlan as his own-
Which it was. It said:
See Thomas Coghlan, 750 Fatima, Istanbul.
Professor, President, so what?
Gadget at 80 Hosain, second floor, back room.
Make sure of Mannard. To be killed.
Underneath, his fingerprints remained visible.
Coghlan stared at the sheet. He found his glass and gulped at it. On more mature consideration, he drained it. The situation seemed to call for something of the sort.
There was silence in the room, save for the drowsy sounds of the night outside. They were not all drowsy, at that. There were voices, and somewhere a radio emitted that nasal masculine howling which to the Turkish ear is music. Uninhibited taxicabs, an unidentifiable jingling, an intonation of speech, all made the sound that of Istanbul and no other place on earth. Moreover, they were the sounds of Istanbul at nightfall.
Duval was still. Ghalil looked at Coghlan and was silent. And Coghlan stared at the sheet of ancient parchment.
He faced the completely inexplicable, and he had to accept it. His name and present address--no puzzle, if Ghalil simply lied. The line about Laurie's father, Mannard, implied that he was in danger of some sort; but it didn't mean much because of its vagueness. The line referring to another address, 80 Hosain, and a "gadget" was wholly without any meaning at all. But the line about "professor, president"-that hit hard.
It was what Coghlan told himself whenever he thought of Laurie. He was a mere instructor in physics. As such, it would not be a good idea for him to ask Laurie to marry him. In time he might become a professor. Even then it would not be a good idea to ask the daughter of an umpty-millionaire to marry him. In more time, with the breaks, he might become a college president--the odds were astronomically against it, but it could happen. Then what? He'd last in that high estate until a college board of trustees decided that somebody else might be better at begging for money. All in all, then, too darned few prospects to justify his ever asking Laurie to marry him--only an instructor, with a professorship the likely peak of his career, and a presidency of a college something almost unimaginable. So, when Coghlan thought of Laurie, he said sourly to himself, "Professor, president, so what?" And was reminded not to yield to any inclination to be romantic.
But he had not said that four-word phrase to anybody on earth. He was the only human being to whom it would mean anything at all. It was absolute proof that he, Thomas Coghlan, had written those words. But he hadn't.
"That's my handwriting," he said carefully, "and I have to suppose that I wrote it. But I have no memory of doing so. I'll be much obliged if you'll tell me what this is all about."
Duval burst into frantic speech.
"That is what I have come to demand of you, M. Coghlan! I have been a sane man! I have been a student of the Byzantine empire and its history! I am an authority upon it! But this--modern English, written when there was no modern English? Arabic numerals, when Arabic numerals of that form were unknown? House-numbers when they did not exist, and the city of Istanbul when there was no city of that name on earth? I could not rest! M. Coghlan, I demand of you--what is the meaning of this?"
Coghlan looked again at the faded brown writing on the parchment. Duval abruptly collapsed, buried his face in his hands. Ghalil carefully crushed out his cigarette. He waited.
Coghlan stood up with a certain deliberation.
"I think we can do with another drink."
He gathered up the glasses and left the room, but he did not find that his mind grew any clearer. He found himself wishing that Duval and Ghalil had never been born, to bring a puzzle like this into his life. He hadn't written that message--but nobody else could have. And it was written.
It suddenly occurred to him that he had no idea what the message referred to, or what he should do about it.
He went back into the living-room with the refilled glasses. Duval still sat with his head in his hands. Ghalil had another cigarette going, was regarding its ash with an expression of acute discomfort. Coghlan put down the drinks.
"I don't see how anyone else could have written that message," he observed, "but I don't remember writing it myself, and I've no idea what it means. Since you brought it, you must have some idea."
"No," said Ghalil. "My first question was the only sane one I can ask. Have you been traveling in the thirteenth century? I gather that you have not. I even feel that you have no plans of the sort."
"At least no plans," agreed Coghlan, with irony. "I know of nowhere I am less likely to visit."
Ghalil waved his cigarette, and the ash fell off.
"As a police officer, there is a mention of someone to be killed; possibly murdered. That makes it my affair. As a student of philosophy it is surely my affair! In both police work and in philosophy it is sometimes necessary to assume the absurd, in order to reason toward the sensible. I would like to do so now."
"By all means!" said Coghlan dryly.
"At the moment, then," said Ghalil, with a second wave of his cigarette, "you have as yet no anticipation of any attempt to murder Mr. Mannard. You have no scar upon your thumb, nor any expectation of one. And the existence of--let us say--a 'gadget' at 80 Hosain is not in your memory. Right?"
"Quite right," admitted Coghlan.
"Now if you are to acquire the scar," observed Ghalil, "you will make--or have made, I must add--those fingerprints at some time in the future, when you will know of danger to Mr. Mannard, and of a gadget at 80 Hosain. This-"
"Ce n'est pas logique!" protested Duval bitterly.
"But it is logic," said Ghalil calmly. "The only flaw is that it is not common sense. Logically, then, one concludes that at some time in the future, Mr. Coghlan will know these things and will wish to inform himself, in what is now the present, of them. He will wish--perhaps next week--to inform himself today that there is danger to Mr. Mannard and that there is something of significance at 80 Hosain, on the second floor in the back room. So he will do so. And this memorandum on the fly-leaf of this very ancient book will be the method by which he informs himself."
Coghlan said, "But you don't believe that!"
"I do not admit that I believe it," said Ghalil with a smile. "But I think it would be wise to visit 80 Hosain. I cannot think of anything else to do!"
"Why not tell Mannard about all this?" asked Coghlan dryly.
"He would think me insane," said the Turk, just as dryly. "And with reason. In fact, I suspect it myself."
"I'll tell him," said Coghlan, "for what it's worth. I'm having dinner with him and with his daughter tonight. It will make small talk at least." He looked at his watch. "I really should be leaving now."
Lieutenant Ghalil rose politely. Duval took his head from his hands and stood up also, looking more haggard now than at the beginning of the talk. Something occurred to Coghlan.
"Tell me," he said curiously, "M. Duval, when you first found this book, what made you loosen a glued-down page?"
Duval spread out his hands. Ghalil turned back the cover again, and put the fly-leaf flat. On what had been the visible side there was a note, a gloss, of five or six lines. It was in an informal sort of Greek lettering, and unintelligible to Coghlan. But, judging by its placement, it was a memo by some previous owner of the book, rather than any contribution of the copyist.
"My translator and M. Duval agree," observed Ghalil. "They say it says, 'This book has traveled to the frigid Beyond and returned, bearing writing of the adepts who ask news of Appolonius.' I do not know what that means, nor did M. Duval, but he searched for other writings. When he saw a page glued down, he loosened it--and you know what has resulted."
Coghlan said vexedly, "I wouldn't know what an adept is, and I can hardly guess what a frigid beyond is, or a warm one either. But I do know an Appolonius. I think he's a Greek, but he calls himself a Neoplatonist as if that were a nationality, and says he hails from somewhere in Arabia. He's trying to get Mannard to finance some sort of political shenanigan. But he wouldn't be referred to. Not seven centuries ago!"
"You were," said Ghalil. "And Mr. Mannard. And 80 Hosain. I think M. Duval and myself will investigate that address and see if it solves the mystery or deepens it."
Duval suddenly shook his head.
"No," he said with a sort of pathetic violence. "This affair is not possible! To think of it invites madness! Mr. Coghlan, let us thrust all this from our minds! Let us abandon it! I ask your pardon for my intrusion. I had hoped to find an explanation which could be believed. I abandon the hope and the attempt. I shall go back to Paris and deny to myself that any of this has ever taken place!"
Coghlan did not believe him, said nothing.
"I hope," said Ghalil mildly, "that you may reconsider." He moved toward the door with the Frenchman in tow. "To abandon all inquiry at this stage would be suicidal!"
"For one," admitted Ghalil, ruefully, "I should die of curiosity!"
He waved his hand and went out, pushing Duval. And Coghlan began to dress for his dinner with Laurie and her father at the Hotel Petra. But as he dressed, his forehead continually creased into a scowl of somehow angry puzzlement.
All the taxicabs of Istanbul are driven by escaped maniacs whom the Turkish police inexplicably leave at large. The cab in which Coghlan drove toward the Hotel Petra was driven by a man with very dark skin and very white teeth and a conviction that the fate of every Pedestrian was determined by Allah and he did not have to worry about them. His cab was equipped with an unusually full-throated horn, and fortunately he seemed to love the sound of it. So Coghlan rode madly through narrow streets in which foot-passengers seemed constantly to be recoiling in horror from the cab-horn, and thereby escaping annihilation by the cab.
The cab passed howling through preposterously narrow lanes. It turned corners on two wheels with less than inches to spare. It rushed roaring upon knots of people who dissolved with incredible agility before its approach, and it plunged into alleys like tunnels, and it emerged into the wider streets of the more modern part of town with pungent Turkish curses hanging upon it like garlands.
Coghlan did not notice. Once he was alone, suspicions sprang up luxuriantly. But he could no more justify them than he could accept the situation his visitors had presented. The two had not asked for money or hinted at it. Coghlan didn't have any money, anyhow, for them to be scheming to get. The only man a swindling scheme could be aimed at was Mannard. Mannard had money. He'd made a fortune building dams, docks, railroads and power installations in remote parts of the world. But he was hardly a likely mark for a profitable hoax, even if his name was mentioned in that memorandum so impossibly in Coghlan's handwriting. He was one of the major benefactors of the college in which Coghlan taught. He had at least one other major philanthropy in view right now. He'd be amused. But there was Laurie, of course. She was a point where he could be vulnerable, be hit hard.
Decidedly Mannard had to be told about it.
The cab rushed hooting down the wide expanse of the Grande Rue de Petra. It made a U-turn. It eeled its way between a sedate limousine and a ferocious Turkish Army jeep, swerved precariously around a family group frozen in mid-pavement, barely grazed a parked convertible, and came to a squealing stop precisely before the canopy of the Hotel Petra. Its chauffeur beamed at Coghlan and happily demanded six times the legal fare for the journey.
Coghlan beckoned to the hotel Commissionaire. He put twice the legal fare in the man's hand, said, "Pay him and keep the change," and went into the hotel. His action was a form of American efficiency. It saved money and argument. The discussion was already reaching the shouting stage as he entered the hotel's large and impressive lobby.
Laurie and her father were waiting for him. Laurie was a good deal better-looking than he tried to believe, so he muttered, "Professor, president, so what?" as he shook hands. It was very difficult to avoid being in love with Laurie, but he worked at it.
"I'm late," he told them. "Two of the weirdest characters you ever saw turned up with absolutely the weirdest story you ever heard. I had to listen to it. It had me flipped."
A gleaming white shirt-front moved into view. A beaming smile caressed him. The short broad person who called himself Appolonius the Great--he came almost up to Coghlan's shoulder and outweighed him by forty pounds--cordially extended a short and pudgy arm and a round fat hand. Coghlan noticed that Appolonius' expensive wrist-watch noticeably made a dent in the fatness of his wrist.
"Surely," said Appolonius reproachfully, "you found no one stranger than myself!"
Coghlan shook hands as briefly as possible. Appolonius the Great was an illusionist--a theatrical magician--who was taking leave from a season he described as remarkable in the European capitals west of the Iron Curtain. His specialty, Coghlan understood, was sawing a woman in half before his various audiences, and then producing her unharmed afterward. He said proudly that when he had bisected the woman, the two halves of her body were carried off at opposite sides of the stage. This, he allowed it to be understood, was something nobody else could do with any hope of reintegrating her afterward.
"You know Appolonius," grunted Mannard. "Let's go to dinner."
He led the way toward the dining-room. Laurie took Coghlan's arm. She looked up at him and smiled.
"I was afraid you'd turned against me, Tommy," she said. "I was practising a look of pretty despair to use if you didn't turn up."
Coghlan looked down at her and hardened his heart. On two previous occasions he'd resolutely broken appointments when he'd have seen Laurie, because he liked her too much and didn't want her to find it out. But he was afraid she'd guessed it anyway.
"Good thing I had this date," he told her. "My visitors had me dizzy. Come to think of it, I'm going to ask Appolonius how they did their stunt. It's in his line, more or less."
The head-waiter bowed the party to a table. There were only the four of them at dinner, and there was the gleam of silver and glass and the sound of voices, with a string orchestra valiantly trying to make a strictly Near-Eastern version of the Rhapsody in Blue sound like American swing. They didn't make it, but at least it wasn't loud.
Coghlan waited for the hors d'oeuvres, his face unconsciously growing gloomy. Appolonius the Great was lifting his wine-glass. The deeply-indented wrist-watch annoyed Coghlan. Its sweep-second-hand irritated him unreasonably. Appolonius was saying blandly:
"I think it is time for me to reveal my great good fortune! I offer a toast to the Neoplatonist Autonomous Republic-to-be! Some think it a lie, and some a swindle and me the would-be swindler. But drink to its reality!"
He drank. Then he beamed more widely still.
"I have secured financing for the bribes I need to pay," he explained. All his chins radiated cheer. "I may not reveal who has decided to enrich some scoundrelly politicians in order to aid my people, but I am very happy. For myself and my people!"
"That's fine!" said Mannard.
"I shall no longer annoy you for a contribution," Appolonius assured him. "Is it not a relief?"
Mannard chuckled. Appolonius the Great was almost openly a fake; certainly he told about his "people" with the air of one who does not expect anybody to take him seriously. The story was that somewhere in Arabia there was a group of small, obscure villages in which the doctrines of Neoplatonism survived as a religion. They were maintained by a caste of philosopher-priests who kept the population bemused by magic, and Appolonius claimed to have been one of the hierarchy and to be astonishing all Europe with the trickery which was the mainstay of a cult. It sounded like the sort of publicity an over-imaginative press-agent might have contrived. A tradition of centuries of the development and worship of the art of hocus-pocus was not too credible. And now, it seemed, Appolonius was claiming that somebody had put up money to bribe some Arab government and secure safety for the villagers in revealing their existence and at-least-eccentric religion.
"I'd some visitors today," said Coghlan, "who may have been using some of your Neoplatonistic magic." He turned to Mannard. "By the way, sir, they told me that I am probably going to murder you."
Mannard looked up amusedly. He was a big man, deeply tanned, and looked capable of looking after himself. He said:
"Knife, bullet, or poison, Tommy? Or will you use a cyclotron? How was that?"
Coghlan explained. The story of his interview with the harassed Duval and the skeptical Ghalil sounded even more absurd than before, as he told it.
Mannard listened. The hors d'oeuvres came. The soup. Coghlan told the story very carefully, and was the more annoyed as he found himself trying to explain how impossible it was that it could be a fake. Yet he didn't mention that one line which had most disturbed him.
Mannard chuckled once or twice as Coghlan's story unfolded.
"Clever!" he said when Coghlan finished. "How do you suppose they did it, and what do they want?"
Appolonius the Great wiped his mouth and topmost chin.
"I do not like it," he said seriously. "I do not like it at all. Oh, the book and the fingerprints and the writing ... one can do such things. I remember that once, in Madrid, I--but no matter! They are amateurs, and therefore they may be dangerous folk."
Laurie said, "I think Tommy'd have seen through anything crude. And I don't think he told quite all the story. I've known him a long time. There's something that still bothers him."
Coghlan flushed. Laurie could read his mind uncannily.
"There was," he admitted, "a line that I didn't tell. It mentioned something that would mean nothing to anyone but myself--and I've never mentioned it to anyone."
Appolonius sighed. "Ah, how often have I not read someone's inmost thoughts! Everyone believes his own thoughts quite unique! But still, I do not like this!"
Laurie leaned close to Coghlan. She said, under her breath, "Was the thing you didn't tell--about me?"
Coghlan looked at her uncomfortably, and nodded.
"Nice!" said Laurie, and smiled mischievously at him.
Appolonius suddenly made a gesture. He lifted a goblet with water in it. He held it up at the level of their eyes.
"I show you the principle of magic," he said firmly. "Here is a glass, containing water only. You see it contains nothing else!"
Mannard looked at it warily. The water was perfectly clear. Appolonius swept it around the table at eye-level.
"You see! Now, Mr. Coghlan, enclose the goblet with your hands. Surround the bowl. You, at least, are not a confederate! Now...."
The fat little man looked tensely at the glass held in Coghlan's cupped hands. Coghlan felt like a fool.
"Abracadabra 750 Fatima Miss Mannard is very beautiful!" he said in a theatrical voice. Then he added placidly, "Any other words would have done as well. Put down the glass, Mr. Coghlan, and look at it."
Coghlan put down the goblet and took his hands away. There was a gold-piece in the goblet. It was an antique--a ten-dirhem piece of the Turkish Empire.
"I could not build up the illusion," said Appolonius, "but it was deceptive, was it not?"
"How'd you do it?" asked Mannard interestedly.
"At eye-level," said Appolonius, "you cannot see the bottom of a goblet filled with water. Refraction prevents it. I dropped in the coin and held it at the level of your eyes. So long as it was held high, it seemed empty. That is all."
"It is the principle which counts!" said Appolonius. "I did something of which you knew nothing. You deceived yourselves, because you thought I was getting ready to do a trick. I had already done it. That is the secret of magic."
He fished out the gold-piece and put it in his vest pocket, and Coghlan thought sourly that this trick was not quite as convincing as his own handwriting, his own fingerprints and most private thoughts, written down over seven centuries ago.
"Hm ... I think I'll mention your visitors to the police," said Mannard. "I'm mentioned. I may be involved. It's too elaborate to be a practical joke, and there's that mention of somebody getting killed. I know some fairly high Turkish officials ... you'll talk to anyone they send you?"
"Naturally." Coghlan felt that he should be relieved, but he was not. Then something else occurred to him.
"By the way," he said to Appolonius, "you're in on this, too. There's a memorandum that says the 'adepts' were inquiring for you!"
He quoted, as well as he was able, the memo on the back of the page containing his fingerprints. The fat man listened, frowning.
"This," he said firmly, "I very much do not like! It is not good for my professional reputation to be linked with tricksters. It is very much not good!"
Astonishingly, he looked pale. It could be anger, but he was definitely paler than he had been. Laurie said briskly:
"You said something about a gadget, Tommy. At-80 Hosain, you said?"
Coghlan nodded. "Yes. Duval and Lieutenant Ghalil said they were going to make inquiries there."
"After dinner," suggested Laurie, "we could take the car and go look at the outside, anyhow? I don't think Father has anything planned. It would be interesting-"
"Not a bad thought," said Mannard. "It's a pleasant night. We'll all go."
Laurie smiled ruefully at Coghlan. And Coghlan resolutely assured himself he was pleased--it was much better for him not to be anywhere with Laurie, alone. But he was not cheered in the least.
Mannard pushed back his chair.
"It's irritating!" he grunted. "I can't figure out what they're driving at! By all means let's go look at that infernal house!"
They went up to Mannard's suite on the third floor of the Petra, and he telephoned and ordered the car he'd rented during his stay in Istanbul. Laurie put a scarf over her head. Somehow even that looked good on her, as Coghlan realized depressedly.
Appolonius the Great had blandly assumed an invitation and continued to talk about his political enterprise of bribery. He believed, he said, that there might be some ancient manuscripts turned up when enlightenment swept over the furtive villages of his people. Coghlan gathered that he claimed as many as two or three thousand fellow-countrymen.
The car was reported as ready.
"I shall walk down the stairs!" announced Appolonius, with a wave of his pudgy hand. "I feel somehow grand and dignified, now that someone has given me money for my people. I do not think that anyone can feel dignified in a lift."
Mannard grunted. They moved toward the wide stairs, Appolonius in the lead.
The lights went out, everywhere. Immediately there was a gasp and a crashing sound. Mannard's voice swore furiously, halfway down the flight of curving steps. A moment ago he had been at the top landing.
The lights came on again. Mannard came storming up the steps. He glared about him, breathing hard. He was the very opposite of the typical millionaire just then. He looked hardboiled, athletic, spoiling for a fight.
"My dear friend!" gasped Appolonius. "What happened?"
"Somebody tried to throw me down-stairs!" growled Mannard balefully. "They grabbed my foot and heaved! If I'd gone the way I was thrown--if I hadn't handled myself right--I'd have gone over the stair-rail and broken my blasted neck!"
He glared about him. But there were only the four of them in sight. Mannard peered each way along the hotel corridors. He fumed. But there was literally nobody around who could have done it.
"Oh, maybe I slipped," he said irritably, "but it didn't feel like that! Dammit--Oh, there's no harm done!"
He went down the stairs again, scowling. The lights stayed on. The others followed. Laurie said shakily:
"That was odd, wasn't it?"
"Very," said Coghlan. "If you remember, I said I'd been told that I'd probably murder him."
"But you were right by me!" said Laurie quickly.
"Not so close I couldn't have done it," said Coghlan. "I sort of wish it hadn't happened."
They reached the lower floor of the hotel, Mannard still bristling. Appolonius walked with a waddling, swaying grace. To Coghlan he looked somehow like pictures of the Agha Khan. He beamed as he walked. He was very impressive. And he'd been thinking as Coghlan had thought, for in the lobby he turned and said blandly:
"You said something about a prophecy that you might murder Mr. Mannard. Be careful, Mr. Coghlan! Be careful!"
He twinkled at the two who followed him, and resumed his splendid progress toward the car that waited outside.
It was dark in the back of the car. Laurie settled down beside Coghlan. He was distinctly aware of her nearness. But he frowned uneasily as the car rolled away. His own handwriting in the book from ancient days had said, "Make sure of Mannard. To be killed." And Mannard had just had a good chance of a serious accident.... Coghlan felt uncomfortably that something significant had taken place that he should have noticed.
But, he irritably assured himself, it couldn't be anything but coincidence.