The House of Kaa – Richard Sale (1934)

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.

Other Stuff:

  • 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.

The Scalpel of Doom – Ray Cummings

pulpscalpelofdoom01After Death Flight and this one, I feel like maybe I’m not getting my $.99/25 worth out of some of these stories.  But I always seem to lose interest in the last few short stories in a collection. I’ve never known whether it was my short attention span or if the good stuff is skewed to the front [1].

Dr. Bates is resting in the office of his medical practice which occupies the bottom floor. He had a rough day with performing two operations and taking patients until 11:30 PM. Meanwhile, I sat for 3 goddamn hours at the urgent care clinic last Monday and only got as far as a nurse practitioner.  But I digress.

Dr. Bates gets a visitor at midnight.  18 year old Jenny Dolan needs him to attend to her twin brother Tom who is injured in the woods.  She drives Bates out to the spot as far as they can by road then they go on foot to a shack in the woods.

Bates diagnoses by the wound that Tom has been stabbed.  He diagnoses by his prison-issued clothes that he just busted out of the joint.  Tom starts waving a gun around, but Bates is able to grab it away.

Turns out Tom is serving time for a murder committed by Jenny’s hoodlum husband Jim during a robbery they pulled together. Tom was not injured in the escape, but was stabbed by Jim when Tom confronted him about abusing his wife.  Rather than seeing the error of his ways or being grateful for Tom taking the murder rap, he is more interested in where the loot is hidden.

Jim shows up at the cabin looking for the loot.  Jenny thought she had seen him lurking around her house.  So did he follow her to the cabin when Jenny brought Tom to the cabin?  Why not confront Tom at the house while she was out stealing a car?

OK, maybe he was afraid of being spotted by the neighbors.  So he hung around the neighborhood for however long not knowing if or when they would relocate?

He tailed them to the shack, then did not confront them immediately, or confront Tom alone while Jenny had gone to get the doctor.

But he does show when Tom is there with two allies and witnesses.  He pulls out a gun demanding again to know where the loot is.  He gets off a couple of shots but only manages to hit the doctor in the arm.  The doctor manages to take a scalpel to his throat.

The doctor drives Tom and Jenny to the hospital.  Although, as she is the only one not shot or stabbed, it seems like Her Majesty could have volunteered for the driving duties.

I guess, free of Jim’s terror, these two crazy kids will live happily ever after.  Except, Tom is still an escaped prisoner who was involved in the original crime that left a man dead, and Jenny is now a car thief.

[1] I’ve come to the realization that I have the attention span of a hummingbird; which is part of the reason for this blog.  Just in Stephen King’s collections:

  • Night Shift (1978) — Skipped the last 4 stories.
  • Different Seasons (1982) — Skipped the last story, The Breathing Method.
  • Skeleton Crew (1985) — I think I actually finished this one.
  • Four Past Midnight (1990) — On a roll, I think I finished this one too.
  • Nightmares & Dreamscapes (1993) — Skipped the last 7 stories.
  • Everything’s Eventual (2002) — Stephen King says in the intro that the stories were ordered randomly based on a deck of cards.  I have no memory of the last 2, but am also spotty on a few others.
  • Skipped Just after Sunset (2008) and Full Dark, No Stars (2010) altogether.

On the other hand, I did finish Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts (2005) and look forward to another collection.


  • First published in Ten Detective Aces, February 1947.
  • Also that month:  Really nothing exciting.  I guess people were still sleeping-in after WWII.