In the early morning hours, a car careens up the Queens-side ramp to the Queensboro Bridge. At the wheel is Charleston Chiu, intrepid occult reporter, and Alphonse Gilbert, valet to Chiu’s boss, Freddie Blakely.
They are pursuing three creatures they saw leaving the Maspeth cemetery, which Chiu had wanted to stake out after hearing reports of grave robbers. The creatures prove both tough and acrobatic; Gilbert hypothesizes they are orang-utans. One of them scrambles up a support cable and springs onto their car. Chiu slams on the brakes, and Gilbert fires a burst from a Tommy gun into the creature. It is slowed down but not stopped; Chiu guns the engine and runs it over.
Another of the creatures stumbles into oncoming traffic and a pickup truck spins out of control, slamming into Chiu and Gilbert’s vehicle. Gilbert staggers out and shoots one of the creatures, blasting it off the bridge and into the river. Unfortunately, the third creature, having dodged the oncoming truck, pounces on him, mauling him with claws. Even a burst at short range does not stop this creature.
Chiu jumps into the cab of the truck, does a quick J-turn, and races at the creature. It rolls out the way, still holding on to Gilbert, but it is enough of a distraction for the Frenchman to throw it off of him. Chiu fishtails around again and smashes the creature.
By now the sounds of police cars racing towards the bridge from Queens can be heard, so Gilbert and Chiu take the truck into Manhattan, eventually ditching it and going to Brenda’s Diner in Harlem. There they encounter their boss, Roland “Freddie” Blakely, notorious playboy and nominal publisher of the Golden Sentinel, stumbling out of the Cotton Club.
Meanwhile William “Doc” Blont wakes up in his SRO in Kip’s Bay. As he is heading out to his longshoreman’s job, the desk clerk hands him a telegram from Jackson Elias, asking him to meet her at Grand Central Station that morning. He calls in fired to his job.
At the Sentinel, Freddie meets Addison Bright, former playboy gone straight.
“Ah, Sunshine old man! What can I do for you.”
“Just checking that you’re coming to the charity ball tonight, old sport.”
“Yes, the one I wrote you about three weeks ago, called you about two weeks ago, and dropped by to remind you about last week.”
Freddie calls for his secretary, Sheila. “Abigail old girl, am I going to a ball thingy tonight?”
“Yes, Mr. Blakely.”
“Oh, and about the check, it doesn’t need to be certified, old man.” says Bright.
“Anastasia, am I bringing Sunshine a check?”
“Yes, Mr. Blakely.”
“I am? Capital! How much?”
“$25,000, Mr. Blakely.”
Meanwhile Blont arrives at Grand Central and waits for Elias; nobody matching her description gets off the train. However, a young newsboy approaches him; this turns out to be Elias in disguise. She asks to stay with him for the day, and casually invites him to come to Bright’s charity ball.
At the Sentinel, Shelia sees Bright out. “I’m surprised to see you here today boss. Not only because it’s a Monday, but because you told me you were meeting your friend Elias today.”
“Yes, Mr. Blakely, you got a telegram two weeks ago.”
Buried under the coat checks and tailor’s bills on his desk, Freddie finds the telegram from Jackson Elias, asking him to meet her at the docks at 9 AM and pleading for him to not be late.
“Shelia, what time is it?”
“9:05 AM, Mr. Blakely.”
Freddie hustles to the docks with Chiu and Gilbert. The purser tells him that no one using any of Elias’s aliases had been on the ship. A passenger who resembles Elias gives Blakely a message explaining that she would see him at Bright’s ball that evening.
At the British Embassy, Pearkes meets his indefatigable chief of staff, Captain Sam Steele. “Remember you’re to go to Mr. Bright’s ball with the ambassador tonight, Colonel.”
“Very good Steele. Now, be a good fellow and walk MacDonald.”
“Excellent sir,” says Steele as he picks up the elkhound’s leash. “After all, that’s what I went to Sandhurst for.”
Elias asks Blont to go to the British Embassy to secure a passport under a different identity for her; although as the daughter of a Canadian she is entitled to a British passport, she insists that it not be under her name. She also asks Blont to go by her old office on 135th street and see if anyone is watching it. Blont heads out to accomplish these missions, stopping in the meantime at the docks to see if he can arrange for an emergency transport out of the city for Elias; while he doesn’t understand what she is afraid of, he wants to make sure there’s a backup plan to get her to safety. He finds Mr. M’Dari, a respected East African foreman.
“Ah, the doctor! What can I do for you, my friend.”
After Blont explained his problem, M’Dari nodded gravely. “Yes, it can be done. It will not be cheap! But it can be done. Do not worry. M’Dari knows everything! It is all up here,” he says, tapping his head. “I keep it all up here. That is why they trust M’Dari!”
Blont meets Pearkes coming in the front door of the Embassy. While Blont has mostly tried to put the war behind him, Pearkes still nurses resentments over Blont’s drinking on duty while under his command. He examines the paperwork for the passport, and recognizes Elias’s picture; he also notices that the papers are earmarked for Smythe, a rather shady clerk in the passport office. He decides to hold the papers until Elias can meet him to discuss the situation, and tells Steele to show Blont out of the Embassy.
Steele looks at Blont. “I say, you must have been on the Western Front.”
“Yes. Yes, I was.”
“I’ve got nothing but respect for you chaps. Only made it to East Africa myself. But you had much worse.” He pauses. “Tell you what I can do. I’ll see if I can get the papers from the Colonel and have them put through myself. Would that be all right?”
“Thanks very much, I’m grateful.”
Blont then swings by Elias’s old office and confirms that it is being watched by several black men.
At Bright’s ball, Chiu fast-talks his way past the master of ceremonies and the off-duty cops providing security; his press pass may not be the best, but it’s enough to get him in. Blont arrives at the back of the Waldorf, where the ball is being held, and a friend of Elias’s gives him a waiter’s jacket and tells him to go out and serve drinks.
The British ambassador arrives, accompanied by Pearkes and his fiancee. They meet Blakely, Chiu, and Gilbert; Constance, Pearkes’s fiancee, is very taken with the playboy Blakely, chastising Pearkes for not introducing her to his famous friends. Blont arrives with drinks, and Bright ushers all of them in the back to view some Gainsboroughs he had recently acquired.
In the back room they meet Elias, wearing an evening gown.
“What ho, Jackson, what’s all this bother about?” says Freddie.
“And why do you want a passport with a false name?” demands Pearkes.
“Because I might need to run, and don’t want to use any of the names people know me by,” says Jackson.
“Just what is wrong?” asks Blont, with concern.
Elias lights up a cigarette. “If I told you, believe me, you couldn’t deal with it.”
Chiu mutters something about hoping the dead don’t come back again, referencing his previous adventure with Elias.
“I asked you all here because I need some help,” says Elias. “Freddie, I need your help to get me an interview with Erica Carlyle.”
“Carlyle? Not Rotten Roger’s sister? I knew him slightly, back in the day. Something terrible happened, didn’t it?”
“He was torn to pieces in the African bush. Him and everyone with him.”
“What’s the other thing,” asks Pearkes.
“There’s an auction tomorrow, and I need you to buy something for me. A dagger, with an ibis head.”
Blont shakes his head slightly. He is concerned for Elias; in his medical opinion, she’s obviously suffered a recent breakdown and is exhibiting the symptoms of paranoia. “What’s really going on, Jackson?”
Elias takes a long drag on her cigarette. “Not all the members of the Carlyle expedition died. I’ve talked to Jack Brady, his close friend, this year in Singapore and Shanghai.”
The others try and get more information out of Elias, but she clams up. Pearkes offers to bring her to the Embassy for her protection, but she refuses. “I’m not going any place where there’s guns and walls to keep me leaving.”
“Well, me and the Admiral”—meaning Colonel Pearkes—“can handle the auction, and I’ll just pop out and see if Erica’s here,” says Freddie.
Blakely finds Erica Carlyle in one corner of the ballroom, drinking the seltzer water that was the strongest thing Bright was serving. With her is her beau, Bradley Grey, a lawyer who’s occasionally bailed out Freddie, and Constance Blythe, the Colonel’s fiancee. “I say, Erica, would you mind if one of my reporters popped by tomorrow?”
“Certainly, Freddie. Just have your man call my man and we’ll arrange something for the afternoon.”
The group soon splits up again, having decided that Blont and Chiu will accompany Elias to the Carlyle mansion on Long Island, while Freddie, the Colonel, and Gilbert will attend the auction.