Jack Kirk is walking down the street and kind of has the willies. He slips into a place even more willie-inducing, Gorgan & Wilkins Reptile Importers. He finds the eponymously-named Gorgan and the eponymously-named Wilkins and the just-plain-weirdly-named-for-a-dude-from-India, Wentworth Lane.
Lane feels he is drawing suspicion because he only exports Regal Pythons. He is ready to quit because he has heard The Cobra is in town. Just to make things confusing, The Cobra is a self-appointed superhero who kills bad guys with darts containing cobra venom. Gorgan shoots Lane for his disloyalty.
Kirk is ordered to dispose of the body, so drives it out to Yorkshire. He is followed by a black sedan driven by Deen Bradley of the Bombay Department of Justice. These are the worst-named Indian characters in literary history. He handled the car with dexterity, never shifting his cobra eyes (!) from the red tail light of the cadaver car before him.
The American suddenly saw the brake-light of the other machine flare into being. Kirk slowed momentarily and as he did so, a limp bundle tumbled lifelessly from the car.
Wait, what? Isn’t the American Kirk, who is in front of the Indian? How did he see the tail-light of the car behind him? Why would the 2nd car even apply the brakes? Anyway, Bradley picks up Lane’s only-mostly-dead body and takes him to the hospital.
Lane is near death with 3 slugs in him. The doctors inject him with Adrenalin. He recognizes Bradley as The Cobra. He only manages to say, “Code word Pythons . . . House of Kaa” before croaking. That night the police find the cadaver of Jack Kirk. Protruding from his neck is a small dart.
At Scotland Yard, Inspector Ryder suggests to Commissioner Marshall that they not look too hard for The Cobra. Kirk was a known thug. The Cobra had cleaned up the streets in a way the police couldn’t. Marshall admonishes him that they are a nation of laws, that vigilantism often gets the wrong people killed, that The Cobra must receive a fair trial before a jury of his peers. No, wait — he says to drop the investigation.
Marshall and Ryder are visited by Bradley. The author refers to Bradley as an American, so I guess the excerpted passage above makes sense after all. Although, I have to wonder why an American is working for the Bombay Police Department if this is not a sitcom. A colonial Brit, I might buy. In fact, I guess Lane is not an Indian either, but just a Brit posted in India. Are there actually any Indians in India? I keep hearing big talk about a billion people, but they all seem to be Anglos.
Bradley says there have been a series of jewel thefts in Bombay. Most notorious is the Kubij Opal belonging to Rajah Sarankh. Bradley is investigating how these jewels are getting into London past the watchful scrutiny of your Revenue Officers. I like how the real crime is that the government might not be getting their cut.
The officers deduce that Gorgan & Wilkins Reptile Importers are the center of the smuggling operation. They hide jewels in food and feed them to the snakes. By the time the snakes poop them out, they have arrived in England.
Bradley next visits Gorgan & Wilkins Reptile Importers. He tells them he followed Lane’s work in Bombay and wants to be part of the organization. When challenged, he even gives the password, Home of Kaa. Actually, Lane said House of Kaa. This story is 80 freakin’ years old — no one ever thought to correct that?
They figure out that Bradley is the “Yank dick” — hehe, yank dick — that Lane had warned them was hanging around the office in Bombay. They decide to send him downstairs to be fed to the 30 foot python. There is a pretty nifty fight in the snake pit and justice prevails . . . unless you are a 30 foot python just doing what comes naturally — then you get a bullet in the noggin.
It is a pretty slight story, but well-told. The fight in the snake room is really the only reason for the story, but that’s enough.
- First published in the February 1934 issue of Ten Detective Aces. Also that month: Tina Louise is born; her first words were bitching about Gilligan’s Island.
- Kindle gets the title wrong as House of Raa.
- Kaa means “possession” in Hindi, but c’mon, this had to be a Jungle Book homage.