“Perhaps I do not entirely understand you, monsieur?” said M. Max.
“It is so simple. The police are determined to raid one of our establishments: they adopt the course of tracking an habitue. This is not impossible. They question him; they ask, ‘Do you know a Mr. King?’ He replies that he knows no such person, has never seen, has never spoken with him! I assure you that official inquiries have gone thus far already, in New York, for example; but to what end? They say, ’Where is the establishment of a Mr. King to which you have gone on such and such an occasion?’ He replies with perfect truth, ‘I do not know.’ Believe me this little device is quite in your own interest, M. Gaston.”
“But when again I feel myself compelled to resort to the solace of the pipe, how then?”
“So simple! You will step to the telephone and ask for this number: East 18642. You will then ask for Mr. King, and an appointment will be made; I will meet you as I met you this evening—and all will be well.”
M. Max began to perceive that he had to deal with a scheme even more elaborate than hitherto he had conjectured. These were very clever people, and through the whole complicated network, as through the petal of a poppy one may trace the veins, he traced the guiding will—the power of a tortuous Eastern mind. The system was truly Chinese in its elaborate, uncanny mystifications.
In some covered place that was very dark, the car stopped, and Gianapolis, leaping out with agility, assisted M. Max to descend.
This was a covered courtyard, only lighted by the head-lamps of the limousine.
“Take my hand,” directed the Greek.
M. Max complied, and was conducted through a low doorway and on to descending steps.
Dimly, he heard the gear of the car reversed, and knew that the limousine was backing out from the courtyard. The door behind him was closed, and he heard no more. A dim light shone out below.
He descended, walking more confidently now that the way was visible. A moment later he stood upon the threshold of an apartment which calls for no further description at this place; he stood in the doorway of the incredible, unforgettable cave of the golden dragon; he looked into the beetle eyes of Ho-Pin!
Ho-Pin bowed before him, smiling his mirthless smile. In his left hand he held an amber cigarette tube in which a cigarette smoldered gently, sending up a gray pencil of smoke into the breathless, perfumed air.
“Mr. Ho-Pin,” said Gianapolis, indicating the Chinaman, “who will attend to your requirements. This is our new friend from Paris, introduced by Sir B. M——, M. Gaston.”
“You are vewry welcome,” said the Chinaman in his monotonous, metallic voice. “I understand that a fee of twenty-five guineas”—he bowed again, still smiling.
The visitor took out his pocket-book and laid five notes, one sovereign, and two half-crowns upon a little ebony table beside him. Ho-Pin bowed again and waved his hand toward the lemon-colored door on the left.