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Final episode, taken from The Wizard July 12th 1975.

Inspector Lannigan has finally caught up with the man behind the Clutching Hand!



The sacred Tablets of Ziss had been stolen and sold to ten magicians, but the magicians had been threatened with death by a mysterious powerful hand if they used the illusions on the Tablets.

Already four magicians had been killed.


It was a little after 11 p.m. when Spooky Lannigan arrived at the music-hall where Zeno the Miracle Man topped the bill. Ever since he had received that message from the Assistant-Commissioner of Scotland Yard, telling him that the Tablet of Ziss which he had despatched by Sergeant Bully was a fake, the Detective-Inspector had been trying to trace where the switch-over could have taken place. He was beginning to think that Zeno had not given him a genuine Tablet in the first place. He went to the theatre to have another interview with Zeno. “Zeno!” said the man who was closing the stage-door. “He went home a quarter of an hour ago.” Lannigan drove to the private hotel where the American illusionist was staying. He looked about him for the two plain clothes men who had been posted to guard Zeno. One of them named Gregory, appeared at his side. “I’m going to call on Zeno,” Spooky Lannigan told him. “Do you know if he’s home yet?” “Yes, sir, he went in not more than five minutes ago,” He pointed to a window on the third floor. “There’s his shadow on the blind.” Lannigan looked up and saw the shadow of the head and shoulders of a man cross the lighted blind over the window indicated Zeno was not in bed. He crossed the empty hall and took the lift to the third floor. He had been there before, and knew the way. He was soon knocking on the door of Number Ten. There was no response, so he rang the bell. Still nothing happened. Lannigan began to feel uneasy. He decided that desperate measures were necessary and took from his pocket a set of pick-locks, and got busy. Two minutes later the door was open, and he stepped inside. He pushed open the lounge door, then paused in astonishment. Over by the window was a radiogram. The turntable which held the records was slowly revolving, but there was no record on it. Instead, attached to the edge of the turn-table, was a piece of cardboard roughly shaped in the likeness of a man’s head and shoulders. An electric hand-lamp had been placed in such a position that every time the cardboard figure came in with the light a shadow was thrown on the blind. Here was the reason for the moving shadows which Detective Gregory had noticed. “Zeno!” called Lannigan sharply and rushed into the other room. The American was not there. He was nowhere in the apartment. “More trickery!” muttered the Detective-Inspector. “I wonder if this is the first time he’s fooled the watchers?” Lannigan wasted no more time. He went down to the back of the building and whistled for the other detective who was on duty. The man was positive that Zeno had not come out the rear door. Yet the American had vanished. For a man who made things and people appear and disappear every day for a living, it might not be too difficult to get out of the building unseen. Lannigan remembered that Zeno garaged his car in a nearby all-night garage, and he hurried there.


Yes, said the attendant, Mr Zeno had taken his car out not ten minutes before. That was enough for Spooky Lannigan. He got a full description of the car and its number and phoned the local police to stop it. There was nothing else he could do but return to the police station and await results. Within half an hour, the description of that car would be sent all over England. At two o’clock in the morning a report was phoned in by a police patrol. They had found Zeno’s car on the outskirts of the city. There was blood on the inside of the car. There was also a battered black felt hat, stained with blood, and a black sleeve which had evidently been torn from a coat during a struggle. “Touch nothing till I come!” snapped Lannigan, and hurried out to a police car. The spot where the magicians car had been found was a lonely one, and badly lighted. The car had been on the grass verge without any lights. The offside door had been wide open. Lannigan examined the interior with the aid of a torch. It looked as though a desperate struggle had taken place in there. The hat was undoubtedly Zeno’s. Search in the neighbourhood failed to reveal any sign of Zeno. After ordering the search for the missing magician to be intensified, Lannigan went to get some sleep, but before doing so he asked for the bloodstained hat to be handed in at the police laboratory for examination. He slept late the following morning, and was awakened by the telephone. It was from the local inspector who had been helping him. “We’ve just had a report in from the laboratory,” said the inspector. “The blood on that hat of Zeno’s has been found to be rabbit’s blood. What do you know about that?” “H’m. I don’t think we need trouble to look for a corpse,” snapped Lannigan. “Zeno is very much alive and must be found.” He dressed and went at once to the music-hall, where he saw one of Zeno’s stage assistants. The man admitted that Zeno used live rabbits in his act, as well as ducks and birds. On the way out Lannigan encountered the worried looking manager of the hall. He asked if Zeno would be found and the Detective-Inspector said it was highly probable. “Then I must get someone to take his place on the programme tonight!” exclaimed the manager. “He occupied a quarter of the bill. It will be a disaster if I cannot get another illusionist in the short time.” “There are plenty doing nothing in the country at the moment,” said Lannigan drily. “There’s Max Lieber, Minotaur, El Ultra, and two or three others. They’re all complaining that we’re preventing them from fulfilling their engagements. Phone some of them and see if they won’t take Zeno’s place.” The manager thanked him for the tip and hurried away.


By mid-afternoon there was still no trace of Zeno, although the entire police force of Britain was seeking him.

Wondering whether either of the magician’s assistants had ever heard him mention any friends in this country. Lannigan went along to the music-hall again to question them. He was surprised to find the stage fully lit and a show in progress. The manager had succeeded in persuading Minotaur, the Spanish illusionist, to rush up from London to take Zeno’s place for the remainder of the week. Minotaur had declared that he could make use of Zeno’s apparatus. He was now having a dress rehearsal. Lannigan and Sergeant Bully stood in the unlighted auditorium watching as Minotaur tried to go through Zeno’s act. Minotaur was an excitable little Spaniard, but he was clever enough at his art. Doubtless with his own apparatus he would have been superb, but he was working with the trick properties of another man. There was a large birdcage hanging in the middle of the stage, completely empty. Minotaur stood right on the further side of the stage, close to the twin beds which were now not needed, and fired a pistol at the cage. Smoke whirled round the gilded cage, and when it cleared a dozen birds were seen to be fluttering about inside. It was very effective. Minotaur stood for just as long as the applause would have lasted if there had been an audience, and had just started towards one of the bigger Chinese cabinets, when the lights flicked and went out, plunging the stage in darkness. Simultaneously, from somewhere overhead a voice cried out from amongst the cat-walks and girders above the stage. “It’s all right!” the voice said. “It’s only a short-circuit. I got two live wires crossed.” “That’s the electrician!” muttered Lannigan. On the stage was confusion. Someone was shouting for lights. Just as Lannigan managed to reach the top of the ramp, the lights came on again. The electrician still overhead had managed to do something. A scream from the back of the stage made everyone turn. It was the girl assistant, and she was pointing to something which lay partially screened by the large Chinese cabinet. Lannigan saw a pair of feet sticking out, and rushed to her side. Lying flat on the boards, face down, with his head twisted at an unnatural angle, was Minotaur. Lannigan knew the signs and muttered fiercely. “Another of them!” Gently he turned the man over. There were purple bruises beginning to come out on the throat. “The Hand again,” muttered Sergeant Bully. “Lock and guard all doors!” shouted Lannigan. “Nobody is to come in or go out.” Still kneeling, the Detective-Inspector looked around the stage. The Hand had struck during the brief minutes when the lights had been out. It had killed Minotaur practically under their noses. One thing was definite, this had not been planned. No one could have foreseen that the electrician would cross two live wires and temporarily plunged the stage in darkness. But someone had been close by and ready to seize the chance. Within a few minutes, a dozen police were searching the hall. For an hour the search continued without success. The police had collected in a group down in the front of the auditorium, and were awaiting new instructions from Lannigan. The lights all over the building had been switched on, but suddenly those in the top circle went out. Everyone looked up. There was a belt of darkness at the top rear of the theatre, and something stirred there. It was The Hand. Lannigan at once made for the further side of the circle, where the Hand had appeared. The entry to the circle was wide open. “That was closed the last time I was up here,” said Sergeant Bully. Helped by their torches, they hurried in, the place was empty, but on the carpet at their feet showed blurred black footprints. They led across the circle and out of the exit at the other side. Lannigan touched one of the footprints with his finger. “Damp soot!” he muttered. They followed the footsteps and they led to the small kitchen used by the theatre staff for making tea, coffee, and sandwiches, and ices to serve to audiences. There was another black footprint on the light-coloured oil-cloth. Spooky Lannigan made for the door that led to the fire-escape. It was locked on the inside. He stepped out on to the small iron platform at the top of the ladderway. A powerful light was directed on him from below. There were police waiting in the yard. They assured him that nobody had come down the escape. He ducked back inside and relocked the door, putting the key in his pocket. He had noticed that it was drizzling outside. He looked round the kitchen again. In the ceiling there was a small trapdoor. It was almost immediately over the sink, and led to the roof. It was probably there to allow workmen to get at the water-tanks. He examined the edge of the sink. He saw blurred black marks, and when he rubbed them with his finger he discovered they were also soot. “If a man stood on the edge of this sink he could just reach that trap-door. An agile man could pull himself up,” he muttered. “Sergeant, fetch that ladder which I saw hanging in the passageway.” The ladder was propped against the wall, and Lannigan went up and raised the trap. It was not fastened either inside or out. He climbed a little higher, and put his head and shoulders outside. It was a very dark night. The roof glistened damply, and he guessed that there was a thick deposit of soot. Anyone who walked out there would get wet soot on their shoes. Slowly he turned the torch from side to side, trying to sweep the roof in all directions. His bulk blocked the trapdoor completely, and prevented Sergeant Bully below from seeing what his superior was doing. Suddenly something knocked the torch from Lannigan’s hand. It flashed in from one side, and he fancied it was a hand – a hand of metal. As he made a grab for the fallen torch, it rolled down the sloping roof, and the Hand snatched for his throat. He clawed at it desperately with both hands, but he was handicapped by the fact that he was standing on the rung of a ladder. He could neither go backwards nor forwards. He was wedged in that small square opening. There was a wrist attached to the hand, and he tried to force that away from him, but all the time the steely fingers were crushing – crushing – crushing… There was a roaring in his head, and lights flashed before his eyes. His lungs were straining madly for air that was cut off from them. Gurgling noises came from him as he tried to call Sergeant Bully. Sergeant Bully, at the foot of the ladder, could only watch helplessly as Lannigan’s feet jigged up and down on the rung.


Sweat poured down Spooky Lannigan’s face and neck. It was probably this that saved him, for the steely fingers suddenly slipped on his throat, and the finger-tips came together with a clashing sound.

Lannigan sucked in air and clutched at his bruised throat. The Hand darted forward again, but this time he was too quick for it. He threw the front part of his body flat on the roof, and he heard the fingers again clash together over his head. “Bully!” he gasped, as he wriggled out through the trapdoor. “Come –” That was all he could gasp. He had no breath for anything else. He fancied he saw a figure moving away to the right at great speed. Slowly he got to his feet. The head and shoulders of Sergeant Bully emerged through the trapdoor. He had his torch in his hand. “Are you all right, sir,” he asked. “I was nearly straggled by the Hand. It went that way!” muttered the Detective-Inspector, and he snatched the torch as Bully began to climb out on to the roof. He shone it to the right, but could see nobody. He focused it on the roof, and then he saw a tell-tale line of footprints leading away from the trap-door. The damp layer of soot took a clear impression of the tracks. Lannigan and Bully began to follow them. Together they crept towards the chimney stack. The rain had made the slates slippery, and it was not easy to keep a footing. The footprints went round the left side of the chimney stack. “Watch your throat!” croaked Lannigan, holding his arm across his chest to ward off any sudden attack by the Hand. He rushed round the end of the big stack, but there was no sign of anyone there. He bent to look for further footprints, and Sergeant Bully shouted: “Over there to the left, sir. I saw somebody.” He was pointing, and at the same time Lannigan discovered blurred footprints going in that same direction. Then they both saw the crouching, swiftly-moving figure on the farther side of a huge roof-light which was protected by a stout wire netting. The man was running towards the left, where a low parapet divided that part of the roof from the big dome which was the main feature of the building. The dome was of glass and very little light came through it. It rose about thirty feet above the general level of the roof, and round the bottom edge of it there was a ledge no more than two feet wide. The dark shape ahead swarmed over the parapet and got on to this ledge. It began to work its way around to the other side of the dome. The two Scotland Yard men straddled the low parapet and looked at the ledge. It shone wetly when they directed the light on it. Below the ledge there was a sheer drop of about twenty feet to the sloping roof of the west side of the music-hall. It was a sight to make any man hesitate. To keep one’s balance on the circular ledge, it would be necessary to lean inwards towards the dome. The fugitive moved fast. He had already vanished round the farther side of the dome. Lannigan wondered if there was a steel ladder leading from there down on to the lower roof. There was only one way of finding out. “I’m going round this way, Bully,” he muttered. “If you care for it, try the other side.” Sergeant Bully did not care for it, but he could not let the Detective-Inspector go alone. As Lannigan began slowly to work his way round to the right of the dome. Bully started along to the left. It was nerve-racking. There was a wind blowing, and it was impossible to forget the drop that awaited them if they made the slightest slip. Now Lannigan was nearing the farther side of the dome, and saw they had the fugitive trapped. The man could go no farther. Perhaps he also had expected there to be a ladder to the lower roof, but there was none. Dressed all in black, the man crouched back against the dome. He looked one way and saw the Detective-Inspector closing in on him. He looked the other way and saw Sergeant Bully slowly but surely approaching. Lannigan had stopped. “Don’t be a fool, man. You can’t get away,” he told the other. For reply the mystery man went down on his knees, then deliberately backed over the edge, and dropped on the roof below. The man landed on his feet, but they slipped from under him on the wet, sloping slates, and he began to slither down the slope to the edge of the roof. He clawed desperately at the surface to save himself, but failed. Over and over he rolled, gathering speed. He screamed once, then went over the edge. Horrified, Lannigan and Bully pressed back against the dome. Without exchanging a word, they retraced their perilous way to the flat section of the roof, and hurried across to the trap door. A few minutes later, they pushed their way through the group of uniformed figures which surrounded the spreadeagled figure on the ground. It was Zeno, the Miracle Man. A doctor had been sent for, but it was quite obvious that the magician had only a few minutes to live. Before he died, the American confessed to the murders of Harrison and Minotaur and the theft of the Tablet owned by George Cade. Lannigan asked him if he had been responsible for the other murders, but there was no reply – Zeno, the Miracle Man was dead. When they moved him, they found he was lying on a twisted piece of apparatus which did much to explain the death of Minotaur and possibly the others. There was a hand of steel, with a long tubular wrist. This was attached to the end of a pair of very fine lazy-tongs which could be opened out to more than 20 feet by pressure on two aluminium handles. From these same handles it was possible to control the opening and closing of fingers and thumb of the hand, and to exert great pressure. Much of the mechanism had been smashed in the fall, but enough remained to tell Lannigan that by means of this steel hand, Zeno had been able to strangle his victims from any distance up to 20 feet. It would not have been necessary for him to have been in the same room as his victim as long as he could find an opening large enough to allow the hand and the extended lazy-tongs to pass. Was this the explanation of the mysterious murders which had been attributed to the supernatural powers of the Yogi of Danuk? The newspapers and his superiors at Scotland Yard thought so, but Lannigan was not so sure. It was his idea that Zeno may have seen a chance to cash in on the notoriety of the Hand and steal the coveted Tablets of Ziss secure in the knowledge that the Hand would be suspected. The deaths of Harrison and Minotaur could be explained by this theory. Harrison had obviously seen Zeno sneaking out one night. The detective had probably confronted the magician and paid the penalty. As for Minotaur, he had probably discovered Zeno’s hiding place and perhaps had threatened to tell the police, the unexpected black-out had proved a boon to the Miracle Man and fatal to Minotaur. Next day Lannigan’s theory received support from an unexpected source. A week or so previously he had despatched a cable to the Indian Police asking them to investigate the Yogi of Danuk. A reply to that cable was on his desk when he came in that morning. An Indian police inspector had made the long journey to the Yogi’s cave and discovered the Yogi of Danuk – dead. But it was the last line in the cable that made Lannigan purse his lips in a low, thoughtful whistle. The Yogi had been dead for a few days – and his right hand was missing! Lannigan looked thoughtfully at the cable for a few minutes then shrugged and turned to the file of a new case that had cropped up. As far as he was concerned, the case of the Yogi’s hand was closed. The Tablets of Ziss which Zeno had stolen were found amongst his possessions. No trace of the others was ever found. It was at Spooky Lannigan’s suggestion that the remaining owners of the Tablets returned them to Scotland Yard, and that they should be handed over to the Government of India.

This was done, and none of the illusions, which had been performed through the centuries by the Priests of Ziss, was ever shown on a public stage.





© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2006