Read Death out of Thin Air Online

Authors: Clayton Rawson

Death out of Thin Air

Death Out of Thin Air

Don Diavolo Mysteries

Clayton Rawson writing as Stuart Towne


Open Road Integrated Media Ebook

Across Manhattan's midnight sky fly the webbed wings of doom — and in inaccessible towers, where no human foot could climb, death strikes its victims down. Has the living ghost of a medieval murderer loosed his creatures on the city or can a dead man be behind this plague of vampires? Only Don Diavolo, magician, adventurer and ghostbreaker, can give you the answer — and you won't sleep at nights until he does.


The Bat and the Elephant

sooty London fog swirled beyond the windows of the dimly lit room. The street lights on the dark thoroughfare far below were haloed with a greenish haze. Big Ben, in the distance, tolled twice.

The woman sat stiffly in the deep chair, her dark eyes staring fixedly before her at a tall man who leaned forward speaking in a tense hypnotic voice. Then her gaze shifted, moved beyond him, and she saw a black-cloaked figure materialize outside the open window as if from the fog itself.

It slid in silently across the sill that was four stories above the street. The fog came with it.

A scream tore at the woman's throat. The man before her whirled — too late. The cloaked figure made a hasty pointing motion with a long black-gloved forefinger. The woman's companion slumped to the floor as if sleep, swift and all embracing, had suddenly, inexplicably enveloped him!

The woman's horror-stricken cry stopped abruptly, and then, as the shadowy figure glided swiftly toward her, began again, hysterically. Two hands sought her throat and found it. Two thumbs pressed gently, expertly into the hollows of her neck just beneath the ears.

Her body lost its stiff rigidity and grew limp. Her final scream stopped, half uttered. Her head dropped loosely against the chair back, its chin tilted.

The head and shoulders of the attacker bent toward the white curve of the woman's neck. The shadow that the dark thing threw, high on the wall, was monstrous and evil….

Later, when the great clock beyond the fog was tolling three slow strokes, the silent figure once more crossed the window-sill. Beyond it there was no support but empty air!

It looked back once and the lamplight shone for a moment on its face. The face, if it could be called that, was black, and its features were unutterably grotesque and hideous. White pointed teeth gleamed between the bestial lips. The Thing had the face of a bat!

And on the woman's neck, on the blue vein that throbbed there faintly now, were two small red incisions….

In America, several weeks later, the Haines Newspaper Syndicate sent to all its subscribing papers a Sunday-magazine feature story titled:
Is Vampirism a Superstition?
It was written by Dr. Lynn De Kolta, the famous scholar and authority on the occult.

When it turned up in the paper that Inspector Church read each Sunday morning — provided there had been no axe murders during the night to keep him at work — he scoffed.

“If we could lick the dope traffic,” he told his wife, “then these newspaper hopheads couldn't get their daily jolt of hashish and I wouldn't have to face stuff and balderdash like
at breakfast!”

Had the Inspector only had the gift of prophecy, he would have dropped this attitude at once. And he would have read the article through, paying particular attention to those paragraphs which read:


Numerous well authenticated reports have reached this writer in the past year concerning a mysterious phantom figure that is at large in London. Two persons have seen it climbing the sheer side of a house in Leicester Square. One man, in Mayfair, who saw its face, will not speak about it. He will only say that he has seen the same face before —
on the bloodsucking vampire bat of South America.

The style magazines say that the current fashion of wearing a narrow black silk band around the throat, which was started by several of the smartest, wealthiest Mayfair women, is only the return of a Victorian style.

writer is not so sure.

The Inspector would have been even better forearmed if he could have also seen the cablegram that J. Haywood Haines, Jr., columnist on the New York
received shortly after the article's publication.

It read:

London Police Finally Decide to Take Action. Too Late. Vampire Rumored on Its Way to New York City.

The signature was that of Dr. Lynn De Kolta.

The great curtain on the stage of the Manhattan Music Hall rose slowly and majestically. The orchestra supplied music that had in it all the mystery and barbaric color of the East—the exotic, Oriental
The Manhattan Girls in the trousered, veiled costumes of Old Baghdad swarmed onto the broad stage, moving sinuously in a voluptuous harem dance before the towering backdrop of silhouetted minarets and mosques.

Somewhat apart, at one side of the stage, bathed in the soft glow of an amber spot, sat a snake-charmer piping shrill notes on a strangely-shaped flute. Before him, the flickering-tongued head of an enormous cobra arose from a wicker basket and swayed gently back and forth in hypnotic time to the music.

In the center of the stage, well away from the wings or the scenery at the back, was a great five-foot-high platform some twenty feet square. The dancers moved around and beneath it. A long stilted ramp led up to it from the wings. Moving out and upward on the ramp came a gorgeously caparisoned elephant bearing a golden howdah.

There was a trumpeting of horns and the multitude of dancers became quiet; the music dimmed until only the low melodious tinkle of the bronze bells that adorned the elephant's gilt-encrusted trappings and the thin piping of the street conjurer's flute were heard.

A girl reclined on silken pillows within the howdah and a negro slave stirred the air above her with an enormous peacock fan. The girl was blonde, beautiful and fair-skinned though dressed in the flowing diaphanous garments of the East. Her arms were covered with jeweled bracelets that made music when she moved. Her dark-rimmed eyes above the harem veil were round and frightened.

Then, her glance saw the snake charmer and she spoke quickly to the small-turbaned boy who perched in front of the howdah astride the elephant's head. The boy kicked the elephant behind the ears sharply with his bare heels.

The great beast halted, raised his trunk, curled it about the boy's waist, lifted him and set him on the ground. As the boy ran quickly toward the conjurer the elephant continued on up the ramp and stopped atop the platform. The thickness of the platform — four or five inches at the most — and the four slender poles that supported it at the corners seemed inadequate.

The boy spoke to the magician with rapid, excited gestures, pointing first toward the princess and the elephant and then, fearfully, back in the direction from which they had come.

The magician listened to him, then nodded and stood up. Quickly he reached and pulled a large silken many-colored banner down from where it hung over the nearby edge of a balcony. He gathered the cloth in his hands and, carrying it, moved hurriedly to a position directly before the raised platform. Suddenly he cried “
Allah Bismallah!
” and tossed the banner high in the air.

And the banner—

Magically it spread out before the elephant and the lady, hiding them. It remained suspended in midair.

The stage figures muttered in uneasy wonder, and then in fright, and the bearded, dark-faced figure of a sultan rushed in. He carried in his hand a drawn sword whose Damascene steel curve flashed menacingly in the light. A dozen tall Nubian slaves, jet black and powerfully muscled, came close behind him, their swords also drawn and ready.

The crowd broke and scattered before them, running panic-stricken across to the left where they huddled in the shadows of the bazaar and watched with apprehension.

The magician alone remained to face the sultan. He bowed, smiling. The sultan's black eyes flashed with anger as he pointed with his scimitar toward the mysteriously floating banner and the concealed top of the platform behind it. The magician shook his head in answer, his white teeth gleaming.

Then he raised his hands and clapped them once. The great cloth instantly collapsed and fluttered to the ground.

The platform's top was completely bare. The elephant, the princess and the two slaves all had vanished into thin air! The music swelled.

The magician bowed again toward the defeated sultan, turned and came forward toward the audience. Slowly the curtains closed behind him.

Removing his turban, Don Diavolo, the Scarlet Wizard, took his bow to prolonged applause.


Death Comes to Call

first performance of his newest illusion, “The Princess and the Elephant” was a success. A few of the spectators in the front rows noticed that the gratified smile on his face was also a tired one. They wondered, not knowing that he and his assistants had worked unceasingly all night long, polishing the final details and testing the mysterious apparatus that could, as the audience had just seen, vanish an elephant into nothingness.

Chan, the bland, brown-skinned Eurasian boy (his father had been a high caste Indian, his mother a Manchu princess) met Diavolo as he stepped from the backstage elevator and hurried toward his dressing room on the fifth floor of the great Manhattan Theater building. Chan, usually solemn-faced, was grinning now as he spoke in the prim, almost too correct accent he had acquired when Diavolo, touring Europe, had left him to be educated at Eton.

“May I congratulate you, master. India's great magician, the famous fakir of Potala, could have done no better.”

Diavolo smiled, “Thanks, Chan,” he said. “I think we've got something there. We'll have to take Pat and Mickey and Karl and throw a dinner party tonight. We'll see what we can do about vanishing some of your favorite

Diavolo and Chan turned from the corridor and entered the door above which were lettered the words,
Don Diavolo
along with the insignia of a small red mask. They crossed the anteroom and went together into the dressing room proper where the magician, with Chan's help, began to divest himself of his Oriental costume.

Diavolo's record breaking six-month run at the Manhattan Music Hall had the whole town talking. The short twenty minutes of streamlined sorcery in his own distinctive style together with the presentation every two weeks of a new big illusion in company with the Music Hall's entire cast of actors and dancers, had, almost overnight, made Don Diavolo a name to conjure with along Broadway.

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