The Griffon's Gamble can be found in






Flying Aces, August 1935

The Griffon's Gamble

by Arch Whitehouse

Gleaming white yachts bobbed in the Sound in front of that gaily lighted mansion. Glittering, streamlined cars sped up the driveway, and the soft strains of music floated out into the night. Little did those kings of finance know that they were gathering—not for their dictator's annual ball—but for the opening tableau of a tragedy that would shock the world. For in a plane high above that gay scene, flew a man in a black cloak and scarlet mask. The dread Griffon was to be an uninvited guest at the festivities—and his presence could mean only one thing—death!

A SLEEK-WINGED amphibian swept out of the east with a low roar of its Avia W-44 motor and raced toward the gleaming lights that shone from Southampton to the east shore of Long Island. The pilot had left a secret hangar a few miles south of Montauk Light half an hour before. Since then, he had made a survey of the surface vessels below and then, suddenly checking the time by the wristwatch under the sleeve of his black evening cloak, he had turned toward the shore line with a nod to the man in the back seat.

Without a word, they changed seats, and the man in the evening clothes snapped the black enameled swivels of the parachute harness to the Dorsal pack fitted to the back cushion of the comfortable chair.

Then, as the black amphibian eased toward the shore, the new pilot drew back a steel handle. Suddenly the giant 1,000-h.p. Avia ceased its roar, and only the low whine of slipstream emerged from under the eighteen-cylinder power plant. The Skoda mufflers had been cut in.

The strange ship climbed gently, for the motor was still ramming out its revs. Below was visible a vast black area that meant well-trimmed lawn. In the center, at the top of a semi-circular driveway that wound its half-moon path through patches of heavy and expensive foliage, stood their goal—Rockwell Manor, the palatial mansion of the Long Island Prances.

It was the annual midsummer dinner and ball, staged annually by Hubert L. Prance, internationally known millionaire and oil operator. Already the lights of expensive cars were streaking up that driveway. At the long private dock, facing the cool, gray-blue ocean, a few palatial cruisers were warping in, with uniformed men in attendance. At a buoy, a few yards off the bathing float, bobbed a gleaming, silver-hulled flying boat that was worth a king's ransom.

Little did they know—these scions of fortune, these butterflies of society, these kings and dictators of finance—that they were gathering for the opening tableau of a tragedy that was to shock the nation.

More cars rolled up and uniformed chauffeurs opened doors and bowed their charges out. Footmen and butlers in scarlet and braid announced the arrivals. Soft music coated through the reception room, and already members of the younger set were gliding over the polished teakwood floor of Rockwell Manor's famed ballroom.

Overhead purred the silenced motor of a black amphibian. A man in black evening clothes had climbed out of the sheltered coupe top and stood poised on the wing-root. He nodded to the pilot and dropped.

The ship pulled away and climbed. The pilot circled easily and watched the black parachute drop silently toward the flat roof of the residence below. Several minutes passed; then he saw the reassuring beam of a signal lamp that flashed three times. He nodded and drew away from the area, checking the watch on the dashboard carefully.

"Four minutes to go," he breathed.

The man who had taken this daring leap landed on Rockwell Manor with delicacy and accuracy and worked fast, once he had cleared himself of the black parachute harness. He hurriedly rolled the black silk canopy up into a ball and darted to a ventilator that opened on the rooftop. He stuffed the bundle in quickly, and hid behind a massive old chimney.

Something popped lightly, and the man in the black evening coat stuck an opera topper on his head at a jaunty angle. Then he pulled a scarlet mask from his pocket and placed it over his eyes. A third object was drawn from below his opera cloak—a box.

He edged to the buttress of the roof, threw a long leg over and found a hidden iron pipe partially covered with vines. Carefully, with the string of the box in his teeth, he lowered himself to where he could place his toe on a wide windowsill. Moving like a cat, he felt carefully for the window.

INSIDE he could see a tall, sparse man in black and gleaming linen. He stood behind a large mahogany desk, his fingers holding a black package before his eyes. The window eased up in well fitted guides and the man behind the desk whirled. He stared into the small black hole that seemed to blink out of an automatic pistol. The package in his hands dropped to the table with a thud.

The man in the scarlet mask glided to the table, picked up the black package and replaced it with the one he had carried in his teeth.

"What do you want?" Prance gasped, starting to reach for a desk phone.

"Stop!" ordered the man in the scarlet mask. "Hands away from that phone—yes, and the button. This gun might go off, you know."

"Well, you've robbed me. What are you waiting for?"

"I want the rest—the leases."

"The leases? Who are you?" Prance muttered.

The man in the evening cloak and scarlet mask smiled. He drew a small card from his waistcoat pocket and flipped it across the desk. Prance picked it up and stared at it.

"The Griffon!" he said, his voice dropping to an awed whisper.

The man opposite smiled. "The Griffon," he said.

Prance sat down in his large chair, and jerked when the man in the scarlet mask took a step forward.

"Keep your hands on top of your desk, Mr. Prance. That's it. What about the leases?"

"You're too late. Yung Shi Pai has them. I turned them over ten minutes ago. He just, left this room. Why don't you go after him and get them?"

"I'm not that sort of fool," smiled the Griffon. "No, you are the victim this time, Mr. Prance. You have double-crossed your syndicate—and your country. You must pay the penalty. You see, I know about your dealings with the Manchukuo Petroleum Corporation."

"How the devil? How do you know, Mr.Mr.—" blurted out Prance.

"Simple. I have hounded Yung Shi Pai ever since he arrived. Interesting, these Mongols who are working with the Japs in Manchuria. Interesting devils, but bad medicine, if you give them an inch. You, Mr. Prance, have given Yung Shi Pai entirely too much rope. I'm sorry it had to happen this evening, but there you are. It will mess up this splendid party of yours, won't it?"

"Are you going to murder me in cold blood?" Prance asked faintly.

"Murder you? Certainly not! The Griffon is accused of many things, but they'll never get him for murder, Mr. Prance. Besides, there are so many other, more interesting ways—in that package I brought, for instance. Open it."

Prance opened the square, paper-wrapped package, staring at the Griffon with terrified eyes. Under the wrapping was a beautiful carved box of Oriental design. Prance's jaw dropped. He knew, then, that his end was near.

"Go on," the Griffon taunted him. "You required a lot of nerve on the leases. This should be easy."

Prance's fingers slipped the catch back and the lid came up. Three gleaming knives, set in carved ivory handles, with blades that glinted and flaunted their. keenness, lay in three depressions. Scarlet silk formed an ominous background for the blades.

"Ko-Dachi!" gasped Prance.

"Ko-Dachi!" agreed the Griffon, "You know what is inscribed on the handles?"

Prance nodded. His face was drawn, heavily lined, and his skin was like mouldy parchment.

"Well, what is it to be?" snapped the Griffon, staring at his wrist-watch. "The bullet of the Griffon, a firing squad at Leavenworth—or Ko-Dachi?"

"These are the knives from Yung Shi Pai's collection?" Prance asked hollowly.

The Griffon nodded.

Prance turned to the man in the scarlet mask. "Then if—" he started,

...

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