Chapter 1: She of the Three Heads

Morgo the Mighty by Sean O’Larkin was originally serialized in The Popular Magazine in 1930. Over the next few weeks I’m going to be serializing it again here. I’m reproducing the text as printed in the original publication.

It all began that night in Darjeeling. Had I been anywhere else, I should never have seen Kanchenjunga’s icy breasts nor her torrid heart; I should never have known Morgo nor the love of Nurri Kala – I should never have believed that an evil as great as Zorimi’s existed in this world. Yet all this did come to pass because of one man’s death and another’s insatiable vanity.

We were in the Nepal Bar, Jim Craig and I. He was drunker than the proverbial lord, and myself, sitting across the hooker-rimmed table from him, enjoyed no less a degree of eminence.


Craig bellowed like a bull.

“Set up another round for me and McRory! Be quick, you black scut!”

Haste is an unseemly mannerism in Darjeeling but the white-coated servant was galvanized into action by Craig’s bull-elephant trumpeting. Two whiskey and sodas materialized between our fingers and we put them where they belonged.

“It’s diamonds I’m telling you of, McRory!” Craig was saying in a lower tone. “Not diamonds like you think of them – pebbles and pips of stones – but mountains of the rock – a solid wall of it. I’ll be as rich as that guy – Croesus – richer, I’ll swear!”

“And where are they, Jim?” I asked for the hundredth time.

“That I’ll not be telling the likes of you, Jerry McRory!” Craig snapped pettishly. “Drink with me – but don’t pry into my secrets!”

“Secrets, is it!” I laughed. “Tell me the floor of the Sikkim is diamond-laid. Diamonds! It’s the drink that’s giving you fancies, Jim. If you had a genuine secret you’d not keep it, for you’re not that kind of man, Jim Craig.”

“Liar you call me!” Craig heaved his six feet of brawn from his chair and hung over me, closing his brutish fists. “You’d give the lie to a Craig!”

“Sure,” I grinned up at him. “I don’t believe a word of your prattlings!”

I was not afraid of any Craig out of Ireland, for I’m a McRory.

The big fellow thought better of rashness and smiled weakly. “Well, I can’t be blaming you, Jerry. It does sound like a five pound trout out of a one-pound brook. But so help me – it’s the truth that I speak.”

“Sit down and have a drink on me,” I said. “And we’ll talk of something more sensible than mountains of diamonds.”

He did sit down, and after a pause, in which he collected his wits, he began to talk. “I’ll have you know, Jerry, that it’s God’s truth that I utter – there are diamonds – a solid wall of that ice.”

“I suppose you’ve found a map?” I chided him. “Tell me the old-map story – how the beggar in Port Said sold it to you for a sou!”

” ‘Tis no map, McRory!” he said heatedly. He looked about him and, noting that the nearest drinker was two tables away, he fiddled with the buttons of his khaki shirt. “Look, Jerry – look!”

Caught tight to his hairy chest with adhesive tape was what the Egyptians call a pectoral – a sort of insignia worn by the old Pharaohs as a symbol of high rank and blood. But what Jim Craig wore was not of Egyptian design but something cruder, a thinnish piece of crystal shaped like a heart out of which protruded three heads – a woman’s and on either side of it, a lizard’s and a bat’s.

“Looks like crystal,” I commented, “Ancient stuff, too.”

“Crystal me eye!” Craig chucked, buttoning up his shirt. “It’s diamond. The biggest flat diamond you ever laid eyes on!”

I winked at him, incredulously. “Where did you steal it?”

“I found it, you red-headed baboon!” he replied, his gaze never flinching. “It’s the key to the place that’s lousy with its like.” For a moment the liquor clouded his thoughts and he muttered, “I heard it from his own lips when he was asleep – and God knows he never lies – asleep or awake.”

“So a sleepwalker gave it to you, Jim?”

“Mind your tongue, McRory! But wait a month here, my fine fellow, and when I come back the eyes’ll pop out of your head. I’ll be showing you diamonds then!’

“If I waited here a month, Jim,” I said, waving my hand to the bar, “My liver would be floating away. But tell me, do  you walk to this diamond mine of your dreams?”

“Sure I don’t. I’m flying – and in the morning at that.” His drooping, drink-laden eyelids flashed wide open, the fierce look on his face startling me.

“What have I been telling you, McRory? I’m soused.”

“I know that – and with diamonds!”

“Diamonds?” he muttered, sobriety coming into his eyes. “What nonsense was I mumbling?”

“You talked of bedazzling me with the shiny stuff.”

His right paw clapped itself to his chest and a finger slipped beneath his shirt, touching that thing with the three heads. He felt reassured and grinned sheepishly.

“I’m daft with this stuff,” he said, tapping his glass. “I’ll be pushing off to my trundle bed.”

“I’m to hear no more about the wall of diamond? Let me play with that toy under your shirt – she with the three heads!” I kidded him.

“Hush your mouth, McRory. Is there no sense beneath that red skull of yourn? It was the liquor weaving dreams in my addled head. I know of no diamonds nor – ” His glance went to a shadow that fell across our table.

A tall aristocratic gentleman with the lean nose of a condor was standing just behind Craig’s chair. His hand fell upon my friend’s shoulder paternally. “Hello, Jim! I’ve been looking all over for you. I might have thought of the Nepal Bar sooner.”

“Kenvon,” Craig started perceptibly, but he did not look up. “Have a drink? Sit down. Meet an old friend, Jerry McRory. He flies too.” He presented the newcomer as his boss, Mr. Kenvon.

The condor-nose bowed with clicking heels. I got up and gave my own worn heels a snap together, inclining from the hips as formally as he had. Could this be Edgar B. Kenvon, the millionaire man of mystery from New York? He didn’t look like thirty cents in his baggy tweeds. Hadn’t I heard why he was in Darjeeling? To be sure! I remembered when the fumes settled in my pate: he was planning a flight over Kanchenjunga, that glittering crown of the Himalayas only a thousand feet lower than haughty Everest. So my pal Jim Craig was hooked up with him – as pilot probably.

What Jim Craig’s business was in Darjeeling I didn’t know. I hadn’t troubled to ask. The sight of him there in the Nepal Bar, his fingers wrapped around a glass, was too good – after seven long years – so we had talked of those seven years until he got onto the line about his diamonds.

“I’m pleased to meet a fellow airman,” Kenvon said, loftily. “And a friend of Jim’s. Are you flying in these parts, Mr. McRory?”

“I was. I came up from Bombay with a party of tourists in a De Haviland,” I explained. “One of them, a fellow named Jesperson, took the bus up yesterday and God knows where he landed. He was no flyer. So I’m waiting here – and comfortably – for word from the search party.”

Kenvon nodded. He had heard of my passenger’s ill-advised solo. Jesperson was probably tempting carrion by this time, dangling with the wreckage on some jungle treetop, he added.

“By the way, Jim,” Kenvon said to Craig in a lower voice. “We’ve had a burglar at the hangar.”

“The saints protect us!”

“Some valuables of mine are gone. But the machine is untouched.”

“The saints be thanked!”

“I’ve lost something very precious. Did you notice any loiterers around the place today?”

“No – no, boss, I didn’t. Now what would anyone be wanting with your property, up here at the end of civilization?”

“I said it was something very precious, Jim.” There was a cold metallic ring in Kenvon’s voice. “It was an antiquity I picked up in Delhi. Something I prized.”

Craig shook his head dumbly, sadly. Kenvon watched him an instant and then regarded me with marked suspicion. My glass was empty – as usual – but I raised it to my lips and pretended to drink while I avoided Kenvon’s eyes. I could read in them that he was talking about the loss of that thing with three heads. I’ve hunches like that. His condor nose twitched as though scenting spore.

“I’m taking off at dawn, Jim,” Kenvon went on. “I’ll be needing you and your wits then, so you’d better knock off here. Call it a night and turn in. We have a long day ahead of us.”

“I know – I’m going home now, boss.”

Craig got up and shook hands with me, muttering a fond cheerio.

“Are you coming my way, boss?”

“No, I’ll stop for a drink with McRory. I’ll awaken you at sunup. Lacrosse and Harker are asleep in my shack. You take the hanger cot again. I’m worried about that theft. Someone might mean to harm the plane – to mess up our flight. All the world has its eyes on us, Jim. We’re tackling a big thing tomorrow.”

“Don’t I know it!”

Craig grinned and he lumbered out of the Nepal Bar. Kenvon watched his every step while I ordered two more whiskey-and-sodas.

The condor nose sat down opposite me, transfixed me with hawkish eyes and demanded bluntly enough: “What was Craig talking about with you, McRory?”

I met his inquisitive glance. “The war, of course. We were in the same American outfit in France. We swapped yarns and guzzled the stuff for old times’ sake. Hadn’t met in seven years til tonight.”

The man did not believe a word I uttered, I knew. “You’re in commercial flying now, I take it. I’m something of a flyer myself.” He spoke this last a trifle childishly, proudly.

“Somewhat – since the big scrap. And I’ve done some military flying, too.”

I proceeded to tell him what I had done in the air. Planes were my bread and butter. I knew them as a watchmaker knows his Swiss movements. All this I recounted to the condor nose. He nodded, pleased and understanding.

“Where do you stay in Darjeeling, Mr. McRory?”

I pointed to the ceiling beyond the punkahs that stirred the warm tobacco-filled air. “Always over a bar. Upstairs.”

Kenvon quizzed me about different types of planes, partiticularly the new Junkers G-38, that tailless model just out of Germany. Could it stand a high gale? Was it good on altitude? Was it easy to handle? I said “yes” to these questions, adding that I had piloted one over Munich for a German company. I assured him that I could fly anything that went up in the air, except certain women who were naturally intractable. We had another drink together and he left me.

I paid my score and, as usual, Craig’s, and before turning in, decided on a stroll for a lungful of outer night. Outside, I started down the street, life returning to my rebellious limbs. It was a starry night, cool and sweet, such as one can only find in the silences of India, that vast mysterious triangle jutting into tropical seas. A breeze was stirring the trees on the edge of town. The morrow promised to be a fine flying day. Jim Craig had fine weather ahead of him – for whatever he and Kenvon were up to.

I stopped on the edge of a clearing and looked up at Orion, that glorious huntsman of the heavens. What a sight for eyes tired of hot suns and parched greenery. A million diamonds hung on the underside of dark-blue velvet!

Orion vanished and I leaped upward into sudden darkness.

When I opened my eyes again, my head was throbbing, threatening to split itself open. Nimble fingers were scurrying through my pockets, under my shirt, over my money belt. We McRorys have hard heads as a matter of history, for none were broken on the Boyne, though many were cracked, and I was once more in full possession of my few wits.

The man who bent over me was a native with an unusually large head. His fetid breath fanned my cheeks. Without a second thought, my hands went up and closed around his bull neck. He choked and as I swung him on his back, the silvery flash of a knife darted across the starlit heavens.

It took all of my might to avoid that deadly blade. But I did. In another moment I was astride the man, crushing away the breath of him, watching his tongue and eyes pop at me. The knife hand went limpe and the body stilled – though life stayed in it.

Three natives came down the road as I got to my feet, rubbing the back of my head. They took one look at the big-headed man and fled into town shrieking: “Dakait! Dakait!”

I guessed as much myself. The fellow was a dacoit – one of that skilled band of thuggee from Burma, an adept at thievery and murder. And I wondered on my way back to the Nepal Bar why he had beset me.

Then I remembered the burglary in Kenvon’s hangar. Something funny was up in Darjeeling. The hunch was in my bones. Jim Craig must be warned. Instead of turning into my hostelry, I went on to the hangar, the location of which I had a fair idea. It was at the other end of town on the edge of the flying field.

I hove in sight of the place after a ten minutes’ brisk walk.

The hangar was dark, but I was drawn to a window by a strange moving light. It was that of a torchlight seeking a goal. The window was dirty, but I managed to see inside – into a far corner beyond the bulk of a huge black bird.

A man – a native – was standing over a cot, a light in his hand full upon the sleeper. It was Jim Craig. My friend was supine, untroubled by the glare in his face. The native’s fingers ripped open Craig’s shirt and ripped the three-headed thing from the adhesive tapes that held it to his hairy chest.

He  stepped back from the cot, studying the three-headed thing with the light. It glistened, I swear, with an unholy light.

I cried out. The light was doused.

I had seen a knife upright in Jim Craig’s heart.

To Be Continued!

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