4 CHALLENGES FROM “Z”
Last episode taken from The Wizard issue: 1185 September 11th 1948.
Two of the world’s greatest masters of magic are face to face in a challenge that means death for one of them!
FOR NEW READERS
NORTON SILVESTRE, an eccentric
millionaire has taken refuge on “Z” or
Silvestre is an expert illusionist and his main interest is magic. From
his house on “Z”
An unexplained mystery of the house is that people from time to time say they see the ghost of MYSTIKOS, a famous illusionist, who disappeared after the theatre in which he was performing was completely destroyed by fire twenty years previously. Mystikos is thought to have perished in the fire.
Yogis, three in number, land on the island and make several unsuccessful attempts on Silvestre’s life. Then finally, posing as Arab illusionists answering Silvestre’s challenge, they succeed in kidnapping Norton Silvestre. Dugan escapes, but Dr Fu, a Chinese illusionist, who is also on the island, is injured.
ELGAR T. DAMPIER, another illusionist, has already gone to the mainland for help before Silvestre is kidnapped.
WHERE IS SILVESTRE
The man-hunt was on for the Tibetans. I wanted to join it but could not leave Fu in his present condition. I went for first-aid kit and set about dressing his injury. I was putting the bandages round his head when he opened his eyes. “Dugan—the marabout!” he whispered.
“Yes, I know. He wasn’t a marabout at all, but the Shiaba Yogi. Did he strike you down?” I demanded. “No, Adu did, but as I dropped I saw the marabout tackle Silvestre,” replied Dr Fu. “Have they got away with him?” “I hope not,” I went on. “I have sent every available man to the foreshore to stop them. As soon as I can leave you I want to join them.” “Then go quickly,” said the Chinese illusionist. “I shall be all right now.” I left the house. When I reached the beach I found that Sakli, one of Silvestre’s servants, had spread out the men to cover both of the possible landing-places. He had also posted a look-out who had a complete view of the sea round the island. Then as we scanned the sea in the direction of St Mary’s, we saw a craft approaching through the mist. It looked like the trawler that brought our post. “This will be it! The Tibetans have arranged for it to come at dawn. Perhaps they have accomplices who’ve mastered the crew and taken over the ship,” I thought. We lay down and waited. I was determined that the scoundrels would never get Norton Silvestre away on this ship. The trawler came slowly towards the beach. The mist was rolling away, the sun was rising and we could see more clearly now. Sakli was the first to recognise Elgar Dampier on the deck, and beside him a police-sergeant from St Mary’s. The boat was not carrying Tibetans, but the help that we had been hoping to receive. On the trawler there was also a constable and a crew of three. The trawler made fast in deep water, and the police and the crew came ashore in a dinghy. I walked forward to meet Sergeant Troubridge, who demanded: “Has anything else happened since Mr Dampier left? He told me all about the previous happenings.” “Yes, plenty has happened,” I said. “Silvestre has been kidnapped, and Dr Fu has been injured.” I quickly told him what I could. The sergeant gave the constable instructions to remain at the landing stage with half my men and the crew of the trawler. The rest of us headed for the house, and by the time we got there the sergeant had a full account of what had happened. “Then you don’t think they’ve left the island already?” demanded the sergeant. “I don’t think so,” I replied. “For one reason, there’s been no time, and for another their vessel would still be in sight. You can see for yourself there’s no other craft about.” “Then, as they’re still on the island we’ll search it until we find them. It’s only a small place,” said the sergeant. The sergeant first of all insisted on searching the house from top to bottom. We drew a blank. The sergeant was not perturbed, for he hadn’t really expected to find anyone in the house. “Once that’s settled, we know they must be outside,” he said. “We’ll go over the island systematically. We’ve plenty of men. I left things to the police, and the search was a thorough one. As we worked towards the other end, I could see that the police were getting more and more puzzled. Finally we arrived at the extreme point of the island, and looked down into an empty sea. Sergeant Troubridge took off his hat and mopped his forehead. “That takes some believing!” he said, “we will search back through the island again.” I did not intend to take part in the second search, for I knew it would be useless. I returned to the house to see how Dr Fu was faring. When I entered the room Dr Fu was sitting in an armchair and staring out of the window. He saw by my face that the search had been fruitless. “Do not worry too much, my friend, for those police of yours will settle the mystery soon,” he said. “I don’t think so,” I replied. “They’ve never been up against men of this type before. I can’t make out what becomes of these men. You come from the East yourself. Do you believe the yogi can make himself and his companions invisible?” “No!” was Fu’s immediate reply. “Then do you believe that he can transport his prisoner over the water, or has done so, without a boat?” I asked. “No!” Fu again replied. “We know that yogis can travel vast distances over land and mountains in far less time than ordinary human beings, but there is no record of them being able to travel over water.” “And he couldn’t hypnotise all us to believe that he isn’t here when he really is?” I persisted, trying to cover all the points that had occurred to me. Fu shook his head. “They are clever, and they understand things that we do not understand, but they cannot perform miracles. They can find great strength when needed, can go into trances, can stand heat and cold, and can fast for weeks on end, but they could not influence us all to that extent. No, Dugan, there must be some logical, ordinary explanation that we have overlooked. Most of our stage illusions are possible because people overlook things. If they did not, we could not deceive them.” I racked my brains for an explanation. Through the window I could see the sergeant again spreading his line across the island. There was something we were overlooking, something that we had not observed, or remembered. I asked myself again and again what this could be.
THE BAFFLING ROOM
There was no need to ask Sergeant Troubridge when he returned, if the search had been successful. “Not a sign of anyone!” he said, gratefully accepting a cup of tea which I handed him. “They must have left the island before we arrived.”
I shook my head. I was convinced that this was not the case. The Shiaba yogi, his two companions, Smith their manager, and Silvestre were hidden somewhere. Five men could not be hidden easily. It would take a small room to hold them. Something clicked within my brain. A small room. “Got it!” I cried, whirling on Dr Fu. “The only place we have not searched is Silvestre’s secret room. That’s where they’ve gone!” Sergeant Troubridge looked at me. “Secret room!” he demanded. “If there is one we’ll go and see at once.” “It’s not as easy as that,” I told him. “I know roughly where it is, but we can’t get into it. When I say it is secret, I mean the entrance is secret. Only Silvestre knows it.” “Then how could these Tibetans find a way in, if that’s where they are?” he demanded. “That I can’t understand,” I replied, “but these are not ordinary men. The fact remains that the secret room is the only place where they can have gone to. I’m certain of it.” I was getting excited. All the time we had been seeking elsewhere, Norton Silvestre had been in the hands of these Asiatic fiends who had some terrible grudge against him. I made for the room. Dr Fu, the sergeant, and Sakli followed the upstairs and along the corridor which ended in a blank wall. Impatiently I pulled aside the black curtain which hung about fifteen inches from this end wall. The sergeant inspected the wall from side to side. “There’s no door there,” he pronounced. “There is!” I said. “But it’s so cunningly hidden that we’ve never able to find it. Silvestre passes behind this curtain, and in five seconds he has vanished. I’ve seen him do it time and again. It must be some simple secret, but secret it is. We have examined these walls before. They’re made of steel. The only way in as far as I can see, is to use an oxy-acetylene burner. The top is the same, for we have had up the floorboards of the room above. It is like a huge safe, with an airshaft to the roof as the only visible communication with the outside world. Dr Fu ran his fingers over the surface, moving from side to side, requesting a chair so that he might stand on it and reach to the top. “I know the principles used in the construction of supposedly impregnable boxes without openings,” said Fu. “I have possessed several such boxes myself, but this box appears to be something quite different. If I remember rightly, many years ago, there was a challenge issued by Mystikos regarding a chest that he constructed. It was of steel, and he would defy anyone to find the way to open it, although he himself could do so. Silvestre was a great friend of Mystikos, on his own admission. Therefore it is possible that he learned the secret from him, in which case we might spend a month trying to get in.” In a moment or two Dr Fu turned away, admitting defeat for the present. Suddenly I had an idea. “That night when the Tibetans blocked the ventilator Silvestre became unconscious in the secret room, but they drugged him first so that he would not have a chance to leave the room when he found it becoming stuffy. Can’t we do the same, and make sure they don’t harm him while we’re trying to get in? Have you anything, Fu, that you could put down the ventilating shaft to knock them out?” The Chinaman thought for a moment. Then he turned to one of his assistants who had joined us, and gave out an order in his own tongue. The assistant hurried away, and a little later returned with a small pipe and a small role of coloured paper. Fu sniffed the packet, and nodded his head. “Yes, I think we can do that. Come along,” he murmured. We followed Dr Fu to the roof of the house. The sergeant by this time seemed considerably bewildered.
THE SECRET ENTRANCE AT LAST
The two openings of the ventilator were not very large. Through one of them fresh air was sucked in. Through the other, the used air escaped. Fu asked me to block the outlet, then filled the pipe with a black dried herb which he took from the roll of coloured paper. When the pipe was tamped down to his liking, he lit it.
is possible that I may fall asleep, too,” he said. “If so, please see that I am
carried below.” With that he began to draw and puff. I got windward of the
smoke, and Fu squatted cross-legged close to the ventilator and blew the smoke
in through the opening. It was at once sucked down below. “We’ll guard the
corridor by that wall, in case they try to come out,” I suggested, and ran down
into the house and gave instructions for the corridors and stairs to be
watched. When I returned to the roof, Dr Fu was still blowing smoke into the
ventilator. His eyes were closed, and he was swaying from side to side as
though he was struggling against sleep. The smoke was having an effect on him.
With all his care, he could not help drawing some of it into his lungs. I spoke
to him, but he did not reply. Five minutes passed, and the pipe was nearly
empty when he suddenly keeled over to one side and lay motionless. “Now what?”
asked Sergeant Troubridge, as the Chinese assistant retrieved the pipe. “We’ll
get him down below to one of the beds. If the stuff has worked in there as well
as it has on him, Silvestre will be in no danger for the time being. That gives
us a chance to tackle that wall again.” Between us we carried the Chinese
illusionist to a bedroom. Dampier by this time had joined me. We decided to
tackle the room again from the corridor entrance. But we had no more success.
My only hope was that the occupants were all unconscious as a result of the
efforts of Dr Fu. What I wanted was time, time to discover the secret
entrances, or time to give the trawlermen instructions to return at full speed
THE MAGICIAN FROM THE DEAD
On the other side of the steel partition I could hear loud knocking. The two startled illusionists were looking for me. It was probably the most mystifying thing they had ever seen in their lives. But I was not concerned with them at the moment. Norton Silvestre, stripped to the waist, had been strapped to a bench, but as far as I could see, he was not injured.
the floor lay the three Tibetans, now without their robes, which they had shed
because of the warmth. Across a camp-bed in the corner lay Smith, their
so-called manager. Smith was dead. He had been stabbed. Back through the slit
in the steel wall I slipped, and fumbled behind the section of wall, which had
opened under my thrust. I soon found a catch, pulled it down, and was able to
open the flap again. Dampier’s expression when I stuck my head out beside him
was almost comical. Both Fu and he were still trying to find a way through the
steel wall. “This way,” I said. “We’ll wedge this door open to admit air. Bring
that chair over Fu.” They were amazed when I showed them the way through the
slit, and their eyes widened when they saw the scene before them. But Fu’s eyes
at once went to the face of Norton Silvestre, and his finger trembled when he
pointed. “That—is—Mystikos!” I started in surprise. I had not troubled to look
at Silvestre’s face as I had tugged at the straps, which held him, but now I
saw definite changes in it. The cheeks were gaunter, the nose less full; the
hair had fallen back from a very high forehead, revealing the fact that a
narrow strip of false hair must formerly have been worn there. The differences
were small, but together they made an amazing change. I realised that this was
the face I had seen surrounded by a halo of light in the doorway of the smoke
room. “Never mind who it is!” I snapped. “We’ve got to get him out to the fresh
air, and we’ve got to deal with these men before they come round. Shout for
Troubridge. Here are the men who killed your servant, and who would have
tortured Silvestre to death.” “You mean Mystikos,” muttered Fu, as he went out
into the corridor to shout for Troubridge. Between us we managed to get my
employer along to his own bedroom. There appeared to be nothing wrong with him
except the effects of the drugged smoke. As I studied his face in the daylight,
I realised that Silvestre and Mystikos were undoubtedly the same person. But
there was little time to wonder about it. Troubridge wanted help to bring out
the Tibetans. When they were brought out they were searched and handcuffed. It
was late afternoon, and we were beginning to get anxious, when Norton Silvestre
opened his eyes and blinked about him blankly. Then, his gaze settled on me,
and he nodded, stared around the room, and realised where he was. “You—you got
me out?” he whispered. “Yes, we managed to find you!” I replied. Silvestre
nodded, and fingered his face, then sat up and looked at himself in the mirror.
A faint smile twisted the corners of his mouth when he caught sight of Dr Fu
and Dampier looking at him from the doorway. He appeared to be a much older man
than the Norton Silvestre who had engaged me as bodyguard and secretary. “The
Shiaba yogis—what happened to them?” asked Silvestre. “Troubridge is guarding
all three of them. They’re well looked after. Smith is dead. They stabbed him.”
He nodded again, then said: “Yes, I’m Mystikos, and as you have guessed, I did
not perish in that fire twenty years ago. It was my disappearing from the
world.” “But why did you have to disappear?” demanded Dr Fu. “You were the
greatest illusionist in the world.” “And also the most frightened,” said
Silvestre. “You will remember that I used to go on world tours at times, and
pick up new tricks and illusions. Five years before I disappeared I was in
© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd
Vic Whittle 2007