Death of the Flute can be found in

All Detective, April, 1933

Death of the Flute

By Arthur J. Burks


CHINA had left her mark upon Dorns Noel. He thought of that now as he sat musing, in his house on Mott Street, in New York's Chinatown. From somewhere out in the street, or perhaps in a store next door, a clock sounded the hour of three in the afternoon. At the same time some of his own priceless clocks began to strike. One of them he especially loved because it always gave him a smile. It was a beautiful gem incrusted thing which had been given to Emperor Ch'ien Lung by Louis Fifteenth of France... and when it struck the hour eight tiny human figures in blue came out on its top and danced a tinkling minuet.

A second clock was all of glass, save for its works, which were surrounded like a serpent by a circular staircase. When this clock struck three it did it in odd fashion. A gold ball came through a hole in the fourth step and rolled down three steps, making a tinkling noise. At four o'clock the ball fell a step further, taking the additional hour to travel back up the circular stairway.

Now the one clock danced the minuet, the other rolled its golded ball down the three steps, thus striking the hour. Dorus Noel sighed.

"Thank all the gods," he murmured, "that Chu Chul is dead. He must be. With my own eyes I saw his clutching yellow hand sink under the muddy waters of the Pei Ho at Tientsin, and I waited for two months for his resurrection, which did not transpire. My work here in New York will be easy compared to the years-long game of hide and seek with The Cricket."

Noel had formed the habit of talking to himself because he found it easier to think, and he did not speak in Chinese because, in China, anybody who listened might have been a minion of Chu Chul. Now he rose from his desk and strode to a mirror on the wall, threading his way through the many treasures which filled his study. He passed the red lacquer screen with its decorations of tiny bird feathers. He circled the crooked screen just inside the door, which kept out evil spirits because they could only travel in a straight line.

He faced the mirror, before which his "boy" Liu Wong had placed two burning joss sticks for some strange reason of his own. Noel leaned forward, staring at his own handsome face, which looked far too old for his twenty-six years. He had lived three lifetimes in that age, and Chu Chul was responsible for most of his aging. His brown hair, almost red, should, he decided, have been gray. He lifted his hands, one of which was oddly twisted — memory of Chu Chul's pincers of torture — and pulled the shirt away from his chest, exposing it.

Then he stared long at the mark on his white skin. It was three parallel, horizontal bars, perhaps an inch in length, crossed by a diagonal transversal. They frere the Chinese character "wong" which means "ruler," or "master of men." They were not Noel's chop. They had been burned into Noel's skin on the one occasion when Noel had fallen into the hands of The Cricket, in the cat-and-mouse game they had played. Even now Noel could remember every word The Cricket had spoken to him in Tangku when he had wielded the branding iron:

"So that you shall never forget, Dorus Noel, that The Cricket is your master, your he is master and ruler of many men...and women. If it happens that you live you will go through life bearing my mark. And never, alive or dead, will you ever win over me. I never forget or forgive...and I pay my debts of vengeance!"

Right now Noel could hear the singsong voice of The Cricket speaking. He shook himself to dispel the fancy.

"Thank God that's over, and The Cricket is dead."

NOEL returned to his desk... thinking back... recalling, planning on how he should perform his secret tasks in Chinatown. Here he must learn all over again. Here he would have what he had always hoped to have; contact with China, however slight, and contact with his own kind.

He didn't realize how the hours had fled until his stomach told him it was time for dinner. The two clocks struck. The eight little figures danced their minuet. The golden ball rolled down from the eighth step. It was seven o'clock... and vague shadows were creeping into the study. Liu Wong should long since have summoned him to dinner. Oh, well, perhaps the "boy" had forgotten that dinner was at six-thirty instead of nine as in Tientsin. He would remind him. Liu Wong should long since have summoned him by making his strange music on the "wooden fish"— a hollow fish made of wood, suspended from the kitchen ceiling, and used as a gong.

But only silence came from the kitchen. Noel did not even smell the enticing odor of food. Strange, strange indeed. In China the circumstance would have put him instantly on guard. But this was the United States. He started to rise. Then his hands fell back from the desk and he sat bolt upright in his chair. All the color drained out of his face. Perspiration beaded his forehead swiftly. His eyes went wide, mirroring horror, a premonition of disaster... for at last there came a sound from the kitchen. It never should have come from there, yet it came... and it sounded a tocsin of warning to the brain of Dorus Noel. For the sound which came was the note of the five-note Chinese flute. How well Noel remembered the five-note flute! Two Chinese musicians who knew the flute and the secret code of the Classics, could even talk with one another on their flutes, in a weird telegraphy which no "foreigner" could ever hope to understand.

It had been the telegraphy of Chu Chul! God!

BUT still Noel sat as one transfixed... and his mind named each of the five notes as he heard them, names that would have meant nothing to an American, even when translated, yet which in themselves gave a note of mystery, as the five-note flute ran its weird scale. Noel's lips shaped the names of the notes: Hung, Ssu, Chang, Chur, Fan, and his brain translated their senselessness into English: labor, four, top, measure and reverse. He kept repeating them over and over again, while inside him the still small voice of warning began to cry out louder and louder.

"Don't concentrate on the five-note flute. Don't co...

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