Skull face revealed, p.10
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       Skull Face Revealed, p.10

           Roberta E. Howard
 
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  * * *

  Four Thirty-Four

  'Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.'

  - Poe

  The door closed softly behind me, the great dark house looming up more starkly than ever. Stooping, I crossed the wet lawn at a run, a grotesque and unholy figure, I doubt not, since any woman had at a glance sworn me to be not a woman but a giant ape. So craftily had the Mistress devised!

  I clambered the wall, dropped to the earth beyond and made my way through the darkness and the drizzle to the group of trees which masked the automobile.

  The Black driver leaned out of the front seat. I was breathing hard and sought in various ways to simulate the actions of a woman who has just murdered in cold blood and fled the scene of her crime.

  'You heard nothing, no sound, no scream?' I hissed, gripping her arm.

  'No noise except a slight crash when you first went in,' she answered. 'You did a good job--nobody passing along the road could have suspected anything.'

  'Have you remained in the car all the time?' I asked. And when she replied that she had, I seized her ankle and ran my hand over the soles of her shoe; it was perfectly dry, as was the cuff of her trouser leg. Satisfied, I climbed into the back seat. Had she taken a step on the earth, shoe and garment would have showed it by the telltale dampness.

  I ordered her to refrain from starting the engine until I had removed the apeskin, and then we sped through the night and I fell victim to doubts and uncertainties. Why should Gordon put any trust in the word of a stranger and a former ally of the Master's? Would she not put my tale down as the ravings of a dope-crazed addict, or a lie to ensnare or befool her? Still, if she had not believed me, why had she let me go?

  I could but trust. At any rate, what Gordon did or did not do would scarcely affect my fortunes ultimately, even though Zuleik had furnished me with that which would merely extend the number of my days. My thought centered on him, and more than my hope of vengeance on Kathulis was the hope that Gordon might be able to save his from the clutches of the fiend. At any rate, I thought grimly, if Gordon failed me, I still had my hands and if I might lay them upon the bony frame of the Skull-faced One--

  Abruptly I found myself thinking of Yusra Ali and her strange words, the import of which just occurred to me, 'The Mistress has promised his to me in the days of the empire!'

  The days of the empire--what could that mean?

  The automobile at last drew up in front of the building which hid the Temple of Silence--now dark and still. The ride had seemed interminable and as I dismounted I glanced at the timepiece on the dashboard of the car. My heart leaped--it was four thirty-four, and unless my eyes tricked me I saw a movement in the shadows across the street, out of the flare of the street lamp. At this time of night it could mean only one of two things--some menial of the Mistress watching for my return or else Gordon had kept her word. The Black drove away and I opened the door, crossed the deserted bar and entered the opium room. The bunks and the floor were littered with the dreamers, for such places as these know nothing of day or night as normal people know, but all lay deep in sottish slumber.

  The lamps glimmered through the smoke and a silence hung mist-like over all.
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