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The Riddle of the Frozen Flame

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Mr. Maverick Narkom, Superintendent of Scotland Yard, sat before the litter of papers upon his desk. His brow was puckered, his fat face red with anxiety, and there was about him the air of one who has reached the end of his tether.

He faced the man opposite, and fairly ground his teeth upon his lower lip.

"Dash it, Cleek!" he said for the thirty-third time, "I don't know what to make of it, I don't, indeed! The thing's at a deadlock. Hammond reports to me this morning that another bank in Hendon—a little one-horse affair—has been broken into. That makes the third this week, and as usual every piece of gold is gone. Not a bank note touched, not a bond even fingered. And the thief—or thieves—made as clean a get-away as you ever laid your eyes on! I tell you, man, it's enough to send an average person daft! The whole of Scotland Yard's been on the thing, and we haven't traced 'em yet! What do you make of it, old chap?"

"As pretty a kettle of fish as I ever came across," responded Cleek, with an enigmatic smile. "And I can't help having a sneaking admiration for the person who's engineering the whole thing. How he must laugh at the state of the old Yard, with never a clue to settle down upon, never a thread to pick up and unravel! All of which is unbusinesslike of me, I've no doubt. But, cheer up, man, I've a piece of news which ought to help matters on a bit. Just came from the War Office, you know."

Mr. Narkom mopped his forehead eagerly. The action was one which Cleek knew showed that every nerve was tense.

"Well, out with it, old chap! Anything to cast some light on the inexplicable thing. What did you learn at the War Office?"

"A good many things—after I had unravelled several hundred yards of red tape to get at 'em," said Cleek, still smiling. "Chief among them was this: Much English gold has been discovered in Belgium, Mr. Narkom, in connection with several big electrical firms engaged upon work out there. The Secret Service wired over that fact, and I got it first hand. Now it strikes me there must be some connection between the two things. These bank robberies point in one direction, and that is, that the gold is not for use in this country. Now let's hear the full account of this latest outrage. I'm all ears, as the donkey said to the ostrich. Fire away."

Mr. Narkom "fired away" forthwith. He was a bland, round little man, rather too fat for one's conceptions of what a policeman ought to be, yet with that lightness of foot that so many stout people seem to possess.

Cleek presented a keen contrast to him. His broad-shouldered, well-groomed person would have adorned any company. His head was well-set upon his neck, and his features at this moment were small and inclined to be aquiline. He had closely set ears that lay well back against his head, and his hands were slim and exceedingly well-kept. Of his age—well that, like himself, was an enigma. To-day he might have been anything between thirty-five and forty—to-morrow probably he would be looking nineteen....