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Title:      The Purple Heart of Erlik
Author:     Robert E. Howard
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Edition:    1
Language:   English
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Date first posted:          June 2006
Date most recently updated: June 2006

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Title:      The Purple Heart of Erlik
Author:     Robert E. Howard





"You'll do what I tell you--or else!" Duke Tremayne smiled cruelly as he
delivered his ultimatum. Across the table from him Arline Ellis clenched
her white hands in helpless rage. Duke Tremayne, world adventurer, was
tall, slim, darkly mustached, handsome in a ruthless way; and many women
looked on him with favor. But Arline hated him, with as good reason as
she feared him.

But she ventured a flare of rebellion.

"I won't do it! It's too risky!"

"Not half as risky as defying me!" he reminded her. "I've got you by the
seat of your pretty pants, my dear. How would you like to have me tell
the police why you left Canton in such a hurry? Or tell them my
version of that night in Baron Takayami's apartment--"

"Hush!" she begged. She was trembling as she glanced fearfully about the
little curtained alcove in which they sat. It was well off the main
floor of the Bordeaux Cabaret; even the music from the native orchestra
came only faintly to their ears. They were alone, but the words he had
just spoken were dynamite, not even safe for empty walls to hear.

"You know I didn't kill him--"

"So you say. But who'd believe you if I swore I saw you do it?"

She bent her head in defeat. This was the price she must pay for an hour
of folly. In Canton she had been indiscreet enough to visit the
apartments of a certain important Japanese official. It had been only
the harmless escapade of a thrill-hunting girl.

She had found more thrills than she wanted, when the official had been
murdered, almost before her eyes, by his servant, who she was sure was a
Russian spy. The murderer had fled, and so had she, but not before she
had been seen leaving the house by Duke Tremayne, a friend of the slain
official. He had kept silent. But the murderer had taken important
documents with him in his flight, and there was hell to pay in
diplomatic circles.

It had been an international episode, that almost set the big guns of
war roaring in the East. The murder and theft remained an unsolved
mystery to the world at large, a wound that still rankled in the
capitals of the Orient.


Arline had fled the city in a panic, realizing she could never prove her
innocence, if connected with the affair. Tremayne had followed her to
Shanghai and laid his cards on the table. If she did not comply with his
wishes, he'd go to the police and swear he saw her murder the Jap. And
she knew his testimony would send her to a firing squad, for various
governments were eager for a scape-goat with which to conciliate the
wrathful Nipponese.

Terrified, Arline submitted to the blackmail. And now Tremayne had told
her the price of his silence. It was not what she had expected, though,
from the look in his eyes as he devoured her trim figure from blonde
hair to French heels, she felt it would come to that eventually. But
here in the Bordeaux, a shady rendezvous in the shadowy borderland
between the European and the native quarters, he had set her a task that
made her flesh crawl.

He had commanded her to steal the famous Heart of Erlik, the purple ruby
belonging to Woon Yuen, a Chinese merchant of powerful and sinister
connections.

"So many men have tried," she argued. "How can I hope to succeed? I'll
be found floating in the Yangtze with my throat cut, just as they were."

"You'll succeed," he retorted. "They tried force or craft; we'll use a
woman's strategy. I've learned where he keeps it--had a spy working in
his employ and he learned that much. He keeps it in a wall safe that
looks like a dragon's head, in the inner chamber of his antique shop,
where he keeps his rarest goods, and where he never admits anybody but
wealthy women collectors. He entertains them there alone, which makes it
easy."

"But how am I going to steal it, with him in there with me?"

"Easy!" he snapped. "He always serves his guests tea. You watch your
chance and drop this knock-out pill in his tea."

He pressed a tiny, faintly odorous sphere into her hand.

"He'll go out like a candle. Then you open the safe, take the ruby and
skip. It's like taking candy from a baby. One reason I picked you for
this job, you have a natural gift for unraveling Chinese puzzles. The
safe doesn't have a dial. You press the dragon's teeth. In what
combination, I don't know. That's for you to find out."

"But how am I going to get into the inner chamber?" she demanded.

"That's the cream of the scheme," he assured her. "Did you ever hear of
Lady Elizabeth Willoughby? Well, every antique dealer in the Orient
knows her by sight or reputation. She's never been to Shanghai, though,
and I don't believe Woon Yuen ever saw her. That'll make it easy to fool
him. She's a young English woman with exotic ideas and she spends her
time wandering around the world collecting rare Oriental art treasures.
She's worth millions, and she's a free spender.

"Well, you look enough like her in a general way to fit in with any
description Woon Yuen's likely to have heard. You're about the same
height, same color of hair and eyes, same kind of figure--" his eyes lit
with admiration as they dwelt on the trim curves of bosom and hips. "And
you can act, too. You can put on an English accent that would fool the
Prince of Wales, and act the high-born lady to a queen's taste.

"I've seen Lady Elizabeth's cards, and before I left Canton I had one
made, to match. You see I had this in mind, even then." He passed her a
curious slip of paper-thin jade, carved with scrawling Chinese
characters.

"Her name, of course, in Chinese. She spends a small fortune on cards
like that, alone. Now go back to your apartment and change into the duds
I had sent up there--scarlet silk dress, jade-green hat, slippers with
ivory heels, and a jade brooch. That's the way Lady Elizabeth always
dresses. Eccentric? You said it! Go to Woon Yuen's shop and tell him you
want to see the ivory Bon. He keeps it in the inner chamber. When you
get in there, do your stuff, but be careful! They say Woon Yuen worships
that ruby, and burns incense to it. But you'll pull the wool over his
eyes, all right. Be careful he doesn't fall for youl Couldn't blame him
if he did."


He was leaning toward her, and his hand was on her knee. She flinched at
the feel of his questing fingers. She loathed his caresses, but she
dared not repulse him. He was arrogantly possessive, and she did not
doubt that when--and if--she returned with the coveted gem, he would
demand the ultimate surrender. And she knew she would not dare refuse
him. Tears of helpless misery welled to her eyes, but he ignored them.
Grudgingly he withdrew his hand and rose.

"Go out by the back way. When you get the ruby, meet me at room Number
7, in the Alley of Rats--you know the place. Shanghai will be too hot
for you, and we'll have to get you out of town in a hurry. And remember,
sweetheart," his voice grew hard as his predatory eyes, and his arm
about her waist was more a threat than a caress, "if you double-cross
me, or if you flop on this job, I'll see you stood before a Jap firing
squad if it's the last thing I do. I won't accept any excuses, either.
Get me?"

His fingers brushed her chin, trailed over the soft white curve of her
throat, to her shoulder; and as he voiced his threat, he dug them in
like talons, emphasizing his command with a brutality that made Arline
bite her lip to keep from crying out with pain.

"Yes, I get you."

"All right. Get going." He spanked her lightly and pushed her toward a
door opposite the curtained entrance beyond which the music blared.

The door opened into a long narrow alley that eventually reached the
street. As Arline went down this alley, seething with rebellion and
dismay for the task ahead of her, a man stepped from a doorway and
stopped her. She eyed him suspiciously, though concealing a secret throb
of admiration for a fine masculine figure.


He was big, broad-shouldered, heavy-fisted, with smoldering blue eyes
and a mop of unruly black hair under a side-tilted seaman's cap. And he
was Wild Bill Clanton, sailor, gun-runner, blackbirder, pearl-poacher,
and fighting man de luxe.

"Will you get out of my way?" she demanded.

"Wait a minute, Kid!" He barred her way with a heavy arm, and his eyes
blazed as they ran over the smooth bland curves of her blond loveliness.
"Why do you always give me the shoulder? I've made it a point to run
into you in a dozen ports, and you always act like I had the plague."

"You have, as far as I'm concerned," she retorted.

"You seem to think Duke Tremayne's healthy," he growled resentfully.

She flinched at the name of her master, but answered spiritedly: "What I
see in Duke Tremayne's none of your business. Now let me pass!"

But instead he caught her arm in a grip that hurt.

"Damn your saucy little soul!" he ripped out, anger fighting with fierce
desire in his eyes. "If I didn't want you so bad, I'd smack your ears
back! What the hell! I'm as good a man as Duke Tremayne. I'm tired of
your superior airs. I came to Shanghai just because I heard you were
here. Now are you going to be nice, or do I have to get rough?"

"You wouldn't dare!" she exclaimed. "I'll scream--"

A big hand clapped over her mouth put a stop to that.

"Nobody interferes with anything that goes on in alleys behind dumps
like the Bordeaux," he growled, imprisoning her arms and lifting her off
her feet, kicking and struggling. "Any woman caught here's fair prey."

He kicked open the door through which he had reached the alley, and
carried Arline into a dim hallway. Traversing this with his writhing
captive, he shoved open a door that opened on it. Arline, crushed
against his broad breast, felt the tumultuous pounding of his heart, and
experienced a momentary thrill of vanity that she should rouse such
stormy emotion in Wild Bill Clanton, whose exploits with the women of a
hundred ports were as widely celebrated as his myriad bloody battles
with men.

He entered a bare, cobwebby room, and set her on her feet, placing his
back against the door.

"Let me out of here, you beast!" She kicked his shins vigorously.

He ignored her attack.

"Why don't you be nice?" he begged. "I don't want to be rough with you.
Honest, kid, I'd be good to you--better than Tremayne probably is--"

For answer she bent her blonde head and bit his wrist viciously, even
though discretion warned her it was probably the worst thing she could
do.

"You little devil!" he swore, grabbing her. "That settles it!"

Scornful of her resistance he crushed her writhing figure against his
chest, and kissed her red lips, her furious eyes, her flaming cheeks and
white throat, until she lay panting and breathless, unable to repel the
possessive arms that drew her closer and closer.

She squirmed and moaned with mingled emotions as he sank his head,
eagerly as a thirsty man bending to drink, and pressed his burning lips
to the tender hollow of her throat. One hand wandered lower, to her
waist, locked her against him despite her struggles.

In a sort of daze she found herself on the dingy cot, with her skirt
bunched about her hips. The gleam of her own white flesh, so generously
exposed, brought her to her senses, out of the maze of surrender into
which his strength was forcing her. Her agile mind worked swiftly. As
she sank back, suddenly she shrieked convulsively.

"My back! Something's stabbed me! A knife in the mattress--"

"What the hell?" He snatched her up instantly and whirled her about, but
she had her hands pressed over the small of her back, and was writhing
and moaning in well-simulated pain.

"I'm sorry, kid--" he began tearing the mattress to pieces, trying to
find what had hurt her, and as he turned his back, she snatched a heavy
pitcher from the wash-stand and smashed it over his head.

Not even Wild Bill Clanton could stand up under a clout like that. He
went down like a pole-axed ox--or bull, rather--and she darted through
the door and down the hall. Behind her she heard a furious roar that
lent wings to her small high heels. She sprang into the alley and ran up
it, not stopping to arrange her garments.

As she emerged into the street, a backward glance showed her Clanton
reeling out into the alley, streaming blood, a raging and formidable
figure. But she was on a semi-respectable street, with people strolling
past and Sikh policemen within call. He wouldn't dare come out of the
alley after her. She walked sedately away, arranging her dress as she
went. A few loungers had seen her run from the alley, but they merely
smiled in quiet amusement and made no comment. It was no novelty in that
quarter to see a girl run from a back alley with her breasts exposed and
her skirt pulled awry.

But a few deft touches smoothed out her appearance, and a moment later,
looking cool, unruffled and demure as though she had just stepped out of
a beauty shop, she was headed for her apartment, where waited the
garments she must don for her dangerous masquerade.


An hour later she entered the famous antique shop of Woon Yuen, which
rose in the midst of a squalid native quarter like a cluster of jewels
in a litter of garbage. Outside it was unpretentious, but inside, even
in the main chamber with its display intended to catch the fancy of
tourists and casual collectors, the shop was a colorful riot of rich
artistry.

A treasure trove in jade, gold, and ivory was openly exhibited,
apparently unguarded. But the inhabitants of the quarter were not fooled
by appearances. Not one would dare to try to rob Woon Yuen. Arline
fought down a chill of fear.

A cat-footed Chinese bowed before her, hands concealed in his wide
silken sleeves. She eyed him with the languid indifference of an
aristocrat, and said, with an accent any Briton would have sworn she was
born with: "Tell Woon Yuen that Lady Elizabeth Willoughby wishes to see
the ivory Bon." The slant eyes of the impassive Chinese widened just a
trifle at the name. With an even lower bow, he took the fragment of jade
with the Chinese characters, and kowtowed her into an ebony chair with
dragon-claw feet, before he disappeared through the folds of a great
dark velvet tapestry which curtained the back of the shop.

She sat there, glancing indifferently about her, according to her role.
Lady Elizabeth would not be expected to show any interest in the trifles
displayed for the general public. She believed she was being spied on
through some peephole. Woon Yuen was a mysterious figure, suspected of
strange activities, but so far untouchable, either by his many enemies
or by the authorities. When he came, it was so silently that he was
standing before her before she was aware of his entrance. She glanced at
him, masking her curiosity with the bored air of an English noblewoman.

Woon Yuen was a big man, for a Chinese, squattily built, yet above
medium height. His square, lemon-tinted face was adorned with a thin
wisp of drooping mustachios, and his bull-like shoulders seemed ready to
split the seams of the embroidered black silk robe he wore. He had come
to Shanghai from the North, and there was more Mongol than Chinese in
him, as emphasized by his massive forearms, impressive even beneath his
wide sleeves. He bowed, politely but not obsequiously. He seemed
impressed, but not awed by the presence of the noted collector in his
shop.

"Lady Elizabeth Willoughby does my humble establishment much honor,"
said he, in perfect English, sweeping his eyes over her without any
attempt to conceal his avid interest in her ripe curves. There was a
natural arrogance about him, an assurance of power. He had dealt with
wealthy white women before, and strange tales were whispered of his
dealings with some of them. The air of mystery and power about him made
him seem a romantic figure to some European women. "The Bon is in the
inner chamber," he said. "There, too, are my real treasures. These," he
gestured contemptuously about him, "are only a show for tourists'. If
milady would honor me--"

She rose and moved across the room, with the assured bearing of a woman
of quality, certain of deference at all time. He drew back a satin
curtain on which gilt dragons writhed, and following her through, drew
it together behind them. They went along a narrow corridor, where the
walls were hung with black velvet and the floor was carpeted with thick
Bokhara rugs in which her feet sank deep.

A soft golden glow emanated from bronze lanterns, suspended from the
gilt-inlaid ceiling. She felt her pulse quicken. She was on her way to
the famous, yet mysterious, inner chamber of Woon Yuen, inaccessible to
all but wealthy and beautiful women, and in which, rumor whispered, Woon
Yuen had struck strange bargains; He did not always sell his antiques
for money, and there were feminine collectors who would barter their
virtue for a coveted relic.


Woon Yuen opened a bronze door, worked in gold and ebon inlay, and
Arline entered a broad chamber, over a silvery plate of glass set in the
threshold. She saw Woon Yuen glance down as she walked over it, and knew
he was getting an eyeful. That mirror placed where a woman must walk
over it to enter the chamber was a typical Chinese trick to allow the
master of the establishment to get a more intimate glimpse of the charms
of his fair customers, as reflected in the mirror. She didn't care, but
was merely amused at his ingenuity. Even Woon Yuen would hardly dare to
make a pass at Lady Elizabeth Willoughby.

He closed the door and bowed her to an ornate mahogany chair.

"Please excuse me for a moment, milady. I will return instantly."

He went out by another door, and she looked about her at a display whose
richness might have shamed a shah's treasure-house. Here indeed were the
real treasures of Woon Yuen--what looked like the plunder of a thousand
sultans' palaces and heathen temples. Idols in jade, gold, and ivory
grinned at her, and a less sophisticated woman would have blushed at
some of the figures, depicting Oriental gods and goddesses in amorous
poses of an astonishing variety. She could imagine the effect these
things would have on some of his feminine visitors.

Even her eyes dilated a trifle at the sight of the smirking, pot-bellied
monstrosity that was the ivory Bon, looted from God only knew what
nameless monastery high in the forbidden Himalayas. Then every nerve
tingled as she saw a gold-worked dragon head jutting from the wall
beyond the figure. Quickly she turned her gaze back to the god, just as
her host returned on silent, velvet-shod feet.

He smiled to see her staring at the idol and the female figure in its
arms.

"That is only one of the conceptions of the god--the Tibetan. It is
worth, to any collector--but let us delay business talk until after tea.
If you will honor me--"

With his guest seated at a small ebon table, the Mongol struck a bronze
gong, and tea was served by a slim, silent-footed Chinese girl, clad
only in a filmy jacket which came a little below her budding hips, and
which concealed none of her smooth-skinned, lemon-tinted charms.

This display, Arline knew, was in accord with the peculiar Chinese
belief that a woman is put in a properly receptive mood for amorous
advances by the sight of another woman's exposed charms. She wondered,
if, after all, Woon Yuen had designs--but he showed no signs of it.

The slave girl bowed herself humbly out with a last salaam that
displayed her full breasts beneath the low-necked jacket, and Arline's
nerves tightened. Now was the time. She interrupted Woon Yuen's polite
trivialities.

"That little jade figure, over there on the ivory shelf," she said,
pointing. "Isn't that a piece of Jum Shan's work?"

"I will get it!"


As he rose and stepped to the shelf, she dropped the knock-out pellet
into his tea-cup. It dissolved instantly, without discoloring the
liquid. She was idly sipping her own tea when the Mongol returned and
placed the tiny figure of a jade warrior before her.

"Genuine Jum Shan," said he. "It dates from the tenth century!" He
lifted his cup and emptied it at a draught, while she watched him with a
tenseness which she could not wholly conceal. He sat the cup down empty,
frowning slightly and twitching his lips at the taste.

"I would like to call your attention, milady--" he leaned forward,
reaching toward the jade figure--then slumped down across the table, out
cold. In an instant she was across the room, and her white, tapering
fingers were at work on the teeth of the carved dragon's head. There was
an instinct in those fingers, a super-sensitiveness such as skilled
cracksmen sometimes have.

In a few moments the jaws gaped suddenly, revealing a velvet-lined nest
in the midst of which, like an egg of some fabled bird of paradise,
burned and smoldered a great, smooth, round jewel.

She caught her breath as awedly she cupped it in her hands. It was a
ruby, of such deep crimson that it looked darkly purple, the hue of old
wine, and the blood that flows near the heart. It looked like the
materialization of a purple nightmare. She could believe now the wild
tales she had heard--that Woon Yuen worshiped it as a god, sucking
madness from its sinister depths, that he performed terrible sacrifices
to it--

"Lovely, is it not?"

The low voice cracked the tense stillness like the heart-stopping blast
of an explosion. She whirled, gasping, then stood transfixed. Woon Yuen
stood before her, smiling dangerously, his eyes slits of black fire. A
frantic glance sped to the tea-table. There still sprawled a limp, bulky
figure, idential to Woon Yuen in every detail.

"What--?" she gasped weakly.

"My shadow," he smiled. "I must be cautious. Long ago I hit upon the
expedient of having a servant made up to resemble me, to fool my
enemies. When I left the chamber a little while ago, he took my place,
and I watched through the peep-hole. I supposed you were after the
Heart.

"How did you guess?" She sensed the uselessness of denial.

"Why not? Has not every thief in China tried to steal it?" He spoke
softly, but his eyes shone reddishly, and the veins swelled on his neck.
"As soon as I learned you were not what you pretended, I knew you had
come to steal something. Why not the ruby? I set my trap and let you
walk into it. But I must congratulate you on your cleverness. Not one in
a thousand could have discovered the way to open the dragon's jaws."

"How did you know I wasn't Lady Elizabeth?" she whispered, dry-lipped;
the great ruby seemed to burn her palms.

"I knew it when you walked across the mirror and I saw your lower
extremities reflected there, I have never seen Lady Elizabeth, but all
dealers in jade know her peculiarities by reputation. One of them is
such a passion for jade that she always wears jade-green step-ins. Yours
are lavender."

"What are you going to do?" she panted, as he moved toward her.

A light akin to madness burned in his eyes.

"You have defamed the Heart by your touch! It must drink of all who
touch it save me, its high priest! If a man, his blood! If a woman--"


No need for him to complete his abominable decree. The ruby fell to the
thick carpet, rolled along it like a revolving, demoniac eyeball. She
sprang back, shrieking, as Woon Yuen, no longer placid, but with his
convulsed face a beast's mask, caught her by the wrist. Against his
thickly muscled arms her struggles were vain. As in a nightmare, she
felt herself lifted and carried kicking and scratching, through heavily
brocaded drapes into a curtained alcove. Her eyes swept the room
helplessly; she saw the ivory Bon leering at her as through a mist. It
seemed to mock her.

The alcove was walled with mirrors. Only Chinese cruelty could have
devised such an arrangement, where, whichever way she twisted her head
she was confronted by the spectacle of her own humiliation, reflected
from every angle. She was at once actor and spectator in a beastly
drama. She could not escape the shameful sight of her own writhings and
the eager brutish hands of Woon Yuen remorselessly subduing her
hopeless, desperate struggles.

As she felt the greedy yellow fingers on her cringing flesh, she saw in
the mirrors, her quivering white breasts, her dress torn--dishevelled,
the scarlet skirt in startling contrast to the white thighs, with only a
wisp of silk protecting them as they frantically flexed, twisted and
writhed--then with a sucking gasp of breath between his grinding teeth,
Woon Yuen tore the filmy underthings to rags on her body....

At the tea-table the senseless Chinese still sprawled, deaf to the
frantic, agonized shrieks that rang again and again through the inner
chamber of Woon Yuen.


An hour later a door opened into a narrow alley in the rear of Woon
Yuen's antique shop, and Arline was thrust roughly out, her breasts
almost bare, her dress ripped to shreds. She fell sprawling from the
force of the shove, and the door was slammed, with a brutal laugh.
Dazedly she rose, shook down the remains of her skirt, drew her dress
together, and tottered down the alley, sobbing hysterically.

Inside the room from which she had just been ejected, Woon Yuen turned
to a lean, saturnine individual, whose pigtail was wound tightly about
his head, and from whose wide silk girdle jutted the handle of a light
hatchet.

"Yao Chin, take Yun Kang and follow her. There is always some man behind
the scenes, when a woman steals. I let her go because I wished her to
lead us to that man, send Yun Kang back to me. On no account kill him
yourself. I, and only I, must feed the Heart with their vile blood--hers
and his."

The hatchetman bowed and left the room, his face showing nothing of his
secret belief that Woon Yuen was crazy, not because he believed the
Heart drank human blood, but because he, a rich merchant, insisted on
doing murder which others of his class always left to hired slayers.

In the mouth of a little twisting alley that ran out upon a rotting
abandoned wharf, Arline paused. Her face was haggard and desperate. She
had reached the end of her trail. She had failed, and Tremayne would not
accept any excuse. Ahead of her she saw only the black muzzles of a
firing squad to which he would deliver her--but first there would be
torture, inhuman torture, to wring from her secrets her captors would
think she possessed. The world at large never knows the full story of
the treatment of suspected spies.

With a low moan she covered her eyes with her arm and stumbled blindly
toward the edge of the wharf--then a strong arm caught her waist and she
looked up into the startled face of Wild Bill Clanton.

"What the hell are you fixin' to do?"

"Let go!" she whimpered. "It's my life! I can end it if I want to!"

"Not with me around," he grunted, picking her up and carrying her back
away from the wharf-lip. He sat down on a pile and took her on his lap,
like a child. "Good thing I found you," he grunted. "I had a hell of a
time tracin' you after you slugged me and ran up that alley, but I
finally saw you duckin' down this one. You pick the damndest places to
stroll in. Now you tell me what the trouble is. A classy dame like you
don't need to go jumpin' off of docks."

He seemed to hold no grudge for that clout with the pitcher. There was
possessiveness in the clasp of his arms about her supple body, but she
found a comforting solidity in the breast muscles against which her
flaxen head rested. There was a promise of security in his masculine
strength. Suddenly she no longer resented his persistent pursuit of her.
She needed his strength--needed a man who would fight for her.

In a few words she told him everything--the hold Tremayne had on her,
the task he had set for her, and what had happened in Woon Yuen's inner
room.

He swore at the narrative.

"Ill get that yellow-belly for that! But first we'll go to the Alley of
Rats. Try to stall Tremayne along to give you another chance. In the
meantime I'll work on a Eurasian wench I know who could tell me plenty
about him--and she will, too, or I'll skin her alive. He's been mixed up
in plenty of crooked rackets. If we get somethin' hot on him, we can
shut his mouth, all right. And we'll get somethin', you can bet."

When they entered the Alley of Rats, in a half-abandoned warehouse
district in the native quarter, they did not see two furtive figures
slinking after them, nor hear the taller whisper: "Yun Kang, go back and
tell our master she had led us to a man! I will watch the alley till he
comes."

Clanton and Arline turned into a dingy doorway, and went down a corridor
that seemed wholly deserted. Groping along it, in the dusk, she found
the room she sought and led Clanton into it. She lit a candle stub stuck
on a shelf, and turned to Clanton: "He'll be here soon."

"I'll wait in the next room," he said, reluctantly taking his arm from
about her waist. "If he gets rough, I'll come in."

Alone in the candle-lighted room she tried to compose herself; her heart
was beating a wild tattoo, loud in the stillness. Somewhere rats
scampered noisily. Time dragged insufferably. Then quick, light steps
sounded in the hall, and Duke Tremayne burst through the door, his eyes
blazing with greed. They turned red as he read defeat in her eyes; his
face contorted.

"Damn you!" His fingers were like talons as he gripped her shoulders.
"You failed!"

"I couldn't help it!" she pleaded. "He knew I was a fake. Please don't
hurt me, Duke. I'll try again--"

"Try again? You little fool! Do you think that Chinese devil will give
you another chance?" Tremayne's suavity was gone; he was like a madman.
"You failed, after all my planning! All right! I'll have a little profit
out of you! Take off that dress--" Already in shreds, the garment ripped
easily in his grasp, baring a white breast which quivered under his
gaze.

The inner door swung open. Tremayne wheeled, drawing a pistol, but
before he could fire, Clanton's fist crashed against his jaw and
stretched him senseless. Clanton bent and picked up the gun, then
whirled as the hall door opened behind him. He stiffened as a tranquil
voice spoke: "Do not move, my friend!"

He looked into the muzzle of a gun in Woon Yuen's hand.

"So you are the man?" muttered the Mongol. "Good! The Heart drinks--"


He could fire before Clanton could lift the pistol he held. But behind
the American Arline laughed suddenly, unexpectedly.

"It worked, Bill!" she exclaimed. "Our man will get the ruby while we
hold Woon Yuen here! The fool! He hasn't yet guessed that we tricked him
to draw him away from his shop after I'd found where he hid the gem."

Woon Yuen's face went ashen. With a choking cry he fired, not at Clanton
but at the girl. But his hand was shaking like a leaf. He missed, and
like an echo of his shot came the crack of Clanton's pistol. Woon Yuen
dropped, drilled through the head.

"Good work, kid!" Clanton cried exultantly. "He fell for it--hard!"

"But they'll hang us for this!" whimpered the girl. "Listen! Someone's
running up the hall! They've heard the shots!"

Stooping swiftly Clanton folded Duke Tremayne's fingers about the butt
of the smoking pistol, and then kicked the man heavily in the shins.
Tremayne grunted and showed signs of returning consciousness. Clanton
drew Arline into the other room and they watched through the crack of
the door.

The hall door opened and Yao Chin came in like a panther, hatchet in
hand. His eyes blazed at the sight of Woon Yuen on the floor, Tremayne
staggering to his feet, a pistol in his hand. With one stride the
hatchetman reached the reeling blackmailer. There was a flash of steel,
an ugly butcher-shop crunch, and Tremayne slumped, his skull split.
Yao Chin tossed the reeking hatchet to the floor beside his victim and
turned away.

"Out of here, quick!" muttered Clanton, shaking Arline who seemed
threatened with hysteria. "Up the alley--in the other direction."

She regained her poise in their groping flight up the darkened alley, as
Clanton muttered: "We're in the clear now. Tremayne can't talk, with his
head split, and that hatchetman'll tell his pals Tremayne shot their
boss."

"We'd better get out of town!" They had emerged into a narrow, lamp-lit
street.

"Why? We're safe from suspicion now." A little tingle of pleasure ran
through her as Clanton turned into a doorway and spoke to a grinning old
Chinaman who bowed them into a small neat room, with curtained windows
and a couch.

As the door closed behind the old Chinese, Clanton caught her hungrily
to him, finding her red lips, now unresisting. Her arms went about his
thick neck as he lifted her bodily from the floor. Willingly she
yielded, responded to his eager caresses.

She had only exchanged masters, it was true, but this was different.
There was a delicious sense of comfort and security in a strong man who
could fight for her and protect her. There was pleasure in the dominance
of his strong hands. With a blissful sigh she settled herself
luxuriously in his powerful arms.



THE END





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