by Gardner F. Fox
Originally written for KILLERS #1 (1947) and published by Magazine Enterprises
NICOLAS THE APACHE crept along the slime-wet sewer ledge, deep under the streets of Paris. In his right hand was a long bladed knife. It glimmered in the dim moon light filtering down through a grille high above.
Ahead of him a shadow moved. Nicolas crouched back against the wet sewer wall. He lifted his knife. “He comes now, le cochon! The pig! On him I will blood my knife, my little Georgette!"
The man came forward, cried out. But Nicolas was already leaping. His arm swept down. The long steel blade buried itself in the throat of the screaming man. There was a gurgle of hot blood. The man's eyeballs rolled back. He slumped. His body fell lifeless to the edge of the ledge.
Nicolas bent over the man. He snarled, "Peste! One more killing to my credit. This makes number-twenty-four!”
Calmly he wiped his bloody knife on the coat of the dead man, gave him a kick with his foot. He stood like a statue, hearing the faint splash of the body as the body hit the water and was slowly carried on by the sluggish flow, out to sea....
Eddie Mack patted the barrel of his short barreled Tommy-gun affectionately. He looked out of the window of the cab that carried him through the Parisian streets. He grinned to himself, put his Tommy-gun back into the violin case and lighted a cigarette.
"Ten grand," he mused, “Dat's not bad dough, Eddie-boy, just fer pumpin' a few lead jackets into a guy. It's a lotta moola, as a matter of fact. It means plenty of good rye and lotsa lamb chops."
Mack thrust back his sleeve, peered at his wrist-watch in the light of a streetlamp. 9:27. "Just in time to catch the gee comin' out of his apartment!"
He leaned forward and tapped on the cab window. "I'll get out here, Bud. You keep on goin'. I'm gonna jump.” He shoved a fifty franc note into the driver's hand. The driver whistled and shrugged. If the passenger wanted to risk his neck, that was all right by him!
Eddie Mack jumped. He ran a few steps to maintain his balance, then faded into the shadows. In the darkness, he lifted out his Tommy-gun and patted it. “Ten grand," he chuckled, and focused his eyes on the apartment doorway.
A man came out, paused to light a cigarette. Eddie Mack stared at the red carnation in his buttonhole. "Dat's him," breathed Eddie Mack, and lifted his Tommy-gun!. He sighted briefly. His expert finger touched the trigger.
Rat-a-tat-tat! Rat-a-tat-tat! Rat-a-tat!
The man with the red carnation folded in two as though he were made of paper. Red stains sprang to life across his white shirt front. Blood spurted. His knees buckled and he went down, to sprawl grotesquely on the sidewalk.
A police whistle shrilled. Eddie Mack took one last look at his victim, turned and sped away into the night.
Incense rose and floated from the little bronze Buddha on the table. Ling Foo sniffed it appreciatively, supple yellow fingers sliding along the silken cord that drooped in his hands. He turned toward the radio that looked out of place in the oriental luxury of his rooms.
“News flash! News flash! The prominent attorney, Marcel duBruif, was shot down and killed by an unknown assailant at 9:36 this evening—”
Ling Foo smiled happily. He murmured, "One of them gone. Now if Nicolas has done his job, too ... the rich Soulard estate will be mine! My brother Paul ... taken care of by Nicolas ... my uncle Marcel duBruif already dead ..."
A girl entered the room, carrying a tray. She said in a whining voice, “Does m'sieu duBruif wish anything else?”
Ling Foo whirled. His black eyes narrowed. He spat, "How many times must I tell you to call me Ling Foo, you scatter-brained idiot?”
The girl shrank back, frightened. She whispered, seeing him stroke the silken cord and advanced on her, silently, across the decadent oriental rug. He smiled cruelly, “You have been in my employ a long time, mademoiselle, know I pose as a Chinese mandarin. The faking of my peculiar skin and facial formation know too, that as an Oriental, I secure my wealth by-ah-ridding the world of-ah-dangerous to various world gangsters. Eh? You know all that!”
"M'sieu ... for the love of le bon Dieu ... please ... not the cord ... not the —!”
The doorbell shrilled. Ling Foo straightened, glared coldly at the trembling girl. He smiled, "Answer the bell, Marie. You are safe with me, as long as you remember who I am!”
“Ye—yes, your Hi—Highness."
Nicolas the Apache stood in the doorway for only an instant. Then he was gliding, snake-like, out of the hotel corridor and into the room. His nostrils twitched as he smelled the incense. His rat-like features lighted as he saw Ling Foo. "I got him. As I told you I would. Paul duBruif. In the sewers! Peste! He likes to roam, does Paul."
Ling Foo said softly, "He is-was-a police reporter. There is good blood in his veins. He would have been wealthy—one day. Instead, I shall be wealthy in his stead."
Nicolas grinned. “Got some plan to inherit his dough, hey? You yella monkies are plenty smart. Got to hand it to you."
"I am smarter than you think, Nicolas. Tell me. You are an expert killer. Are there any greater killers than you?”
The Apache looked amused. He said, "I have heard of a man named Edouard Mack. He is an American gangster. A trigger man. He has killed twenty-three men, they say. I, Nicolas, have killed twenty-four!"
Ling Foo laughed softly. "Confucius says that only they are modest who have nothing of which to boast. What of Ling Foo, man? Is he not a great killer?”
Nicolas shrugged. “He is half myth. I have heard stories, yes. But I do not believe!"
“Disabuse yourself of doubt, Nicolas. I am Ling Foo. I kill—but secretly, so the police of many nations will not hunt me down. And yet I have killed only . . . twenty-two men. Not so many as you ... nor so many as Eddie Mack!"
"You!” gasped the Apache “You—Ling Foo? The killer?"
Ling Foo bowed graciously from the waist. His elaborately ornate silken mandarin robe rustled. His long fingers toyed gently with the silken cord. He heard Nicolas laugh harshly, triumphantly.
Nicolas rasped, "You fool—to tell me that! Now I will have something with which to blackmail you, to get some of your wealth in my own hands! Ten thousand francs you were going to pay me for Paul duBruif's death? It shall be five hundred thousand francs!”
Ling Foo barely moved, but his yellow fingers flew forward and a silken noose knotted itself around the neck of the Apache, Nicolas opened his mouth to scream, and the noose tightened. Swiftly, inexorably it choked off his voice, the air ... precious air to breathe!
Nicolas could not struggle. He gasped and writhed, but the lack of air drew a black cloud across his eyes, made his muscles turn weak as water. He fell full length on the thick rug, twitched once, twitched twice, and was still.
Ling Foo waited calmly. Then he leaned forward and touched the man's skin. It was cold. Rigor mortis was setting in. Gently Ling Foo disengaged his cord and sat back. He mused, “I am tied with Eddie Mack now, Nicolas. I have killed twenty-three men. One more, and I will tie you....!"
Eddie Mack rubbed his fingers together as he came into Ling Foo's apartment. He did not have his violin-case with its Tommy-gun with him. This was a purely social visit for Eddie Mack. He had come to have a drink of peach brandy and to collect his ten thousand dollars.
"I got'm for ya," he said. "He's deader'n a door-nail"
Ling Foo smiled graciously. He riffled the sheaf of green-backs in his hands, noting how Eddie Mack stared at them, how he wet his lips with his tongue.
Ling Foo bowed and handed the money over. “May they be as lucky as—"
Eddie Mack had both hands full of money. He was looking at it, too. Ling Foo had the cord tight about his neck before he realized his danger, and by then it was too late.
Eddie Mack put up a fight. He threw the money from him and came for Ling Foo. He threw a left hook, but the killer was ducking around behind Eddie's stumbling body, both hands mercilessly tightening the cord, choking off the air that Eddie Mack needed in his lungs in order to stay alive.
Eddie Mack fell to his knees. Ling Foo cursed and tightened the cord, cutting into the flesh of the neck. “Die! Hurry up!”
Eddie Mack died. He writhed his life out on the rug. Ling Foo rose, panting. He glared down at the dead gangster, breathing hard. He whispered, “So! Now I have tied the Apache, I have killed twenty-four men, too. And since Mack will be the last man I shall ever kill, we rest tied for honors as the greatest killers of modern times!”
Ling Foo laughed and tossed the silken cord from him. He watched it loop through the air and start its fall. He glanced down at the still body in front of him. His lips twisted mirthlessly.
"I will get rid of you and Nicolas. I will pay Marie off and leave the apartment. I will return to Paris—two months from now—and pretend to be very surprised at the inheritance. My plans are well laid. Nothing can change them. I will no longer be Ling Foo, the great killer. I will be Henri duBruif, an honorable gentleman."
Ling Foo laughed and added, “But I will have to hurry. I must dispose of the bodies and catch the one o'clock express. There must be no delay. I will hurry—”
He ran across the room, yanking the mandarin robe from him. He ran swiftly, not noticing the noose that dangled from the chandelier above him, where he had thrown it. The noose caught at his throat and the noose tightened.
If he had kept his head, he would have been able to escape. Even if the knot were some thing only an expert could disengage once it tightened, he might have won free. But Ling Foo—or Henri duBruif—lost his head. He tried to break the noose and the silk was strong as steel.
He died a slow death, but he died. The greatest killer of all hung there in his own apartment and kicked out his life helplessly. But he was the greatest killer. His own death made the number of his victims-twenty-five!