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Title: Dark Shanghai
Author: Robert E. Howard
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0608591.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: November 2006
Date most recently updated: November 2006

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Dark Shanghai
Robert E. Howard



THE FIRST MAN I MET, when I stepped offa my ship onto the wharfs
of Shanghai, was Bill McGlory of the _Dutchman,_ and I should of took
this as a bad omen because that gorilla can get a man into more jams
than a Chinese puzzle. He says: "Well, Steve, what do we do for
entertainment--beat up some cops or start a free-for-all in a saloon?"

I says: "Them amusements is low. The first thing I am goin' to do
is to go and sock Ace Barlow on the nose. When I was in port six
months ago somebody drugged my grog and lifted my wad, and I since
found out it was him."

"Good," said Bill. "I don't like Ace neither and I'll go along and
see it's well done."

So we went down to the Three Dragons Saloon and Ace come out from
behind the bar grinning like a crocodile, and stuck out his hand and
says: "Well, well, if it ain't Steve Costigan and Bill McGlory! Glad
to see you, Costigan."

"And I'm glad to see you, you double-crossin' polecat," I says,
and socked him on the nose with a peach of a right. He crashed into
the bar so hard he shook the walls and a demijohn fell off a shelf
onto his head and knocked him stiff, and I thought Bill McGlory would
bust laughing.

Big Bess, Ace's girl, give a howl like a steamboat whistle.

"You vilyun!" she squalled. "You've killed Ace. Get out of here,
you murderin' son of a skunk!" I don't know what kind of knife it was
she flashed, but me and Bill left anyway. We wandered around on the
waterfront most of the day and just about forgot about Ace, when all
of a sudden he hove in view again, most unexpectedly. We was bucking a
roulette wheel in Yin Song's Temple of Chance, and naturally was
losing everything we had, including our shirts, when somebody tapped
me on the shoulder. I turned around and it was Ace. I drawed back my
right mauler but he said: "Nix, you numb-skull--I wanta talk business
with you."

His nose was skinned and both his eyes was black, which made him
look very funny, and I said: "I bet you went and blowed your nose--you
shouldn't never do that after bein' socked."

"I ain't here to discuss my appearance," he said annoyedly. "Come
on out where we can talk without bein' overheard."

"Foller you out into the alley?" I asked. "How many thugs you got
out there with blackjacks?"

At this moment Bill lost his last dime and turned around and seen
Ace and he said: "Wasn't one bust on the snoot enough?"

"Listen, you mugs," said Ace, waving his arms around like he does
when excited, "here I got a scheme for makin' us all a lot of dough
and you boneheads stand around makin' smart cracks."

"You're goin' to fix it so we make dough, hey?" I snorted. "I may
be dumb, Ace Barlow, but I ain't that dumb. You ain't no pal of
our'n."

"No, I ain't!" he howled. "I despises you! I wisht you was both in
Davy Jones's locker! But I never lets sentiment interfere with
business, and you two saps are the only men in Shanghai which has got
guts enough for the job I got in mind."

I LOOKED AT BILL AND Bill looked at me, and Bill says: "Ace, I
trusts you like I trusts a rattlesnake--but lead on. Them was the
honestest words I ever heard you utter."

Ace motioned us to foller him, and he led us out of the Temple of
Chance into the back of his grog-shop, which wasn't very far away.
When we had set down and he had poured us some licker, taking some
hisself, to show us it was on the level, he said: "Did you mutts ever
hear of a man by the name of John Bain?"

"Naw," I said, but Bill scowled: "Seems like I have--naw--I can't
place the name--"

"Well," said Ace, "he's a eccentric milyunaire, and he's here in
Shanghai. He's got a kid sister, Catherine, which he's very fond of--"

"I see the point," I snapped, getting up and sticking the bottle
of licker in my hip pocket. "That's out, we don't kidnap no dame for
you. C'mon, Bill."

"That's a dirty insult!" hollered Ace. "You insinyouatin' I'd
stoop so low as to kidnap a white woman?"

"It wouldn't be stoopin' for you," sneered Bill. "It would be a
step upwards."

"Set down, Costigan," said Ace, "and put back that bottle, les'n
you got money to pay for it.... Boys, you got me all wrong. The gal's
already been kidnapped, and Bain's just about nuts."

"Why don't he go to the police?" I says.

"He has," said Ace, "but when could the police find a gal the
Chineeses has stole? They'd did their best but they ain't found
nothin'. Now listen--this is where you fellers come in. I _know_ where
the gal is!"

"Yeah?" we said, interested, but only half believing him.

"I guess likely I'm the only white man in Shanghai what does," he
said. "Now I ask you--are you thugs ready to take a chance?"

"On what?" we said.

"On the three-thousand-dollar reward John Bain is offerin' for the
return of his sister," said Ace. "Now listen--I know a certain big
Chinee had her kidnapped outa her 'rickshaw out at the edge of the
city one evenin'. He's been keepin' her prisoner in his house, waitin'
a chance to send her up-country to some bandit friends of his'n; then
they'll be in position to twist a big ransome outa John Bain, see? But
he ain't had a chance to slip her through yet. She's still in his
house. But if I was to tell the police, they'd raid the place and get
the reward theirselves. So all you boys got to do is go get her and we
split the reward three ways."

"Yeah," said Bill bitterly, "and git our throats cut while doin'
it. What you goin' to do?"

"I give you the information where she is," he said. "Ain't that
somethin'? And I'll do more--I'll manage to lure the big Chinee away
from his house while you go after the gal. I'll fake a invitation from
a big merchant to meet him somewheres--I know how to work it. An hour
before midnight I'll have him away from that house. Then it'll be pie
for you."

ME AND BILL MEDITATED.

"After all," wheedled Ace, "she's a white gal in the grip of the
yeller devils."

"That settles it," I decided. "We ain't goin' to leave no white
woman at the mercy of no Chinks."

"Good," said Ace. "The gal's at Yut Lao's house--you know where
that is? I'll contrive to git him outa the house. All you gotta do is
walk in and grab the gal. I dunno just where in the house she'll be,
of course; you'll have to find that out for yourselves. When you git
her, bring her to the old deserted warehouse on the Yen Tao wharf.
I'll be there with John Bain. And listen--the pore gal has likely been
mistreated so she don't trust nobody. She may not wanta come with you,
thinkin' you've come to take her up-country to them hill-bandits. So
don't stop to argy--just bring her along anyhow."

"All right," we says and Ace says, "Well, weigh anchor then,
that's all."

"That ain't all, neither," said Bill. "If I start on this here
expedition I gotta have a bracer. Gimme that bottle."

"Licker costs money," complained Ace as Bill filled his pocket
flask.

"Settin' a busted nose costs money, too," snapped Bill, "so shut
up before I adds to your expenses. We're in this together for the
money, and I want you to know I don't like you any better'n I ever
did."

Ace gnashed his teeth slightly at this, and me and Bill set out
for Yut Lao's house. About half a hour to midnight we got there. It
was a big house, set amongst a regular rat-den of narrow twisty alleys
and native hovels. But they was a high wall around it, kinda setting
it off from the rest.

"Now we got to use strategy," I said, and Bill says, "Heck, there
you go makin' a tough job outa this. All we gotta do is walk up to the
door and when the Chinks open it, we knock 'em stiff and grab the
skirt and go."

"Simple!" I said sourcastically. "Do you realize this is the very
heart of the native quarters, and these yeller-bellies would as soon
stick a knife in a white man as look at him?"

"Well," he said, "if you're so smart, you figger it out."

"Come on," I said, "we'll sneak over the wall first. I seen a
Chinee cop snoopin' around back there a ways and he give us a very
suspicious look. I bet he thinks you're a burglar or somethin'."

Bill shoved out his jaw. "Does he come stickin' his nose into our
business, I bends it into a true-lover's knot."

"This takes strategy," I says annoyedly. "If he comes up and sees
us goin' over the wall, I'll tell him we're boardin' with Yut Lao and
he forgot and locked us out, and we lost our key."

"That don't sound right, somehow," Bill criticized, but he's
always jealous, because he ain't smart like me, so I paid no heed to
him, but told him to foller me.

WELL, WE WENT DOWN a narrow back-alley which run right along by
the wall, and just as we started climbing over, up bobbed the very
Chinese cop I'd mentioned. He musta been follering us.

"Stop!" he said, poking at me with his night-stick. "What fella
monkey-business catchee along you?"

And dawgoned if I didn't clean forget what I was going to tell
him!

"Well," said Bill impatiently, "speak up, Steve, before he runs us
in."

"Gimme time," I said snappishly, "don't rush me--lemme see now--
Yut Lao boards with us and he lost his key--no, that don't sound
right--"

"Aw, nuts!" snorted Bill and before I could stop him he hit the
Chinee cop on the jaw and knocked him stiff.

"Now you done it!" said I. "This will get us six months in the
jug."

"Aw, shut up and git over that wall," growled Bill. "We'll git the
gal and be gone before he comes to. Then with that reward dough, I'd
like to see him catch us. It's too dark here for him to have seen us
good."

So we climbed into the garden, which was dark and full of them
funny-looking shrubs the Chineeses grows and trims into all kinds of
shapes like ships and dragons and ducks and stuff. Yut Lao's house
looked even bigger from inside the wall and they was only a few lights
in it. Well, we went stealthily through the garden and come to a
arched door which led into the house. It was locked but we jimmied it
pretty easy with some tools Ace had give us--he had a regular
burglar's kit, the crook. We didn't hear a sound; the house seemed to
be deserted.

We groped around and Bill hissed, "Steve, here's a stair. Let's go
up."

"Well," I said, "I don't hardly believe we'll find her upstairs or
nothin'. They proberly got her _in_ a underground dunjun or
somethin'."

"Well," said Bill, "this here stair don't go no ways but up and we
can't stand here all night."

So we groped up in the dark and come into a faintly lighted
corridor. This twisted around and didn't seem like to me went
nowheres, but finally come onto a flight of stairs going down. By this
time we was clean bewildered--the way them heathens builds their
houses would run a white man nuts. So we went down the stair and found
ourselves in another twisting corridor on the ground floor. Up to that
time we'd met nobody. Ace had evidently did his job well, and drawed
most everybody outa the house.

All but one big coolie with a meat cleaver.

WE WAS JUST CONGRATULATING ourselves when _swish! crack!_ A shadow
falling acrost me as we snuck past a dark nook was all that saved my
scalp. I ducked just as something hummed past my head and sunk three
inches deep into the wall. It was a meat cleaver in the hand of a big
Chinee, and before he could wrench it loose, I tackled him around the
legs like a fullback bucking the line and we went to the floor
together so hard it knocked the breath outa him. He started flopping
and kicking, but I would of had him right if it hadn't of been for
Bill's carelessness. Bill grabbed a lacquered chair and swung for the
Chinee's head, but we was revolving on the floor so fast his aim
wasn't good. _Wham!_ I seen a million stars. I rolled offa my victim
and lay, kicking feebly, and Bill used what was left of the chair to
knock the Chinaman cold.

"You dumb bonehead," I groaned, holding my abused head on which
was a bump as big as a goose-egg. "You nearly knocked my brains out."

"You flatters yourself, Steve," snickered Bill. "I was swingin' at
the Chinee--and there he lays. I always gits my man."

"Yeah, after maimin' all the innocent bystanders within reach," I
snarled. "Gimme a shot outa that flask."

We both had a nip and then tied and gagged the Chinee with strips
tore from his shirt, and then we continued our explorations. We hadn't
made as much noise as it might seem; if they was any people in the
house they was all sound asleep. We wandered around for a while
amongst them dark or dim lighted corridors, till we seen a light
shining under a crack of a door, and peeking through the keyhole, we
seen what we was looking for.

On a divan was reclining a mighty nice-looking white girl, reading
a book. I was plumb surprised; I'd expected to find her chained up in
a dunjun with rats running around. The room she was in was fixed up
very nice indeed, and she didn't look like her captivity was weighing
very heavy on her; and though I looked close, I seen no sign of no
chain whatever. The door wasn't even locked.

I opened the door and we stepped in quick. She jumped up and
stared at us.

"Who are you?" she exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"

"Shhhhh!" I said warningly. "We has come to rescue you from the
heathen!"

To my shocked surprise, she opened her mouth and yelled, "Yut
Lao!" at the top of her voice.

I GRABBED HER AND CLAPPED my hand over her mouth, whilst goose-
flesh riz up and down my spine.

"Belay there!" I said in much annoyance. "You wanta get all our
throats cut? We're your friends, don't you understand?"

Her reply was to bite me so viciously that her teeth met in my
thumb. I yelped involuntarily and let her go, and Bill caught hold of
her and said soothingly, "Wait, Miss--they's no need to be scared--
_ow!"_ She hauled off and smacked him in the eye with a right that
nearly floored him, and made a dart for the door. I pounced on her and
she yanked out my hair in reckless handfuls.

"Grab her feet, Bill," I growled. "I come here to rescue this dame
and I'm goin' to do it if we have to tie her hand and foot."

Well, Bill come to my aid and in the end we had to do just that--
tie her up, I mean. It was about like tying a buzz-saw. We tore strips
offa the bed-sheets and bound her wrists and ankles, as gentle as we
could, and gagged her likewise, because when she wasn't chawing large
chunks out of us, she would screech like a steamboat whistle. If
they'd been anybody at large in the house they'd of sure heard. Honest
to gosh, I never seen anybody so hard to rescue in my life. But we
finally got it done and laid her on the divan.

"Why Yut Lao or anybody else wants this wildcat is more'n I can
see," I growled, setting down and wiping the sweat off and trying to
get my wind back. "This here's gratitude--here we risks our lives to
save this girl from the clutches of the Yeller Peril and she goes and
bites and kicks like we was kidnappin' her ourselves."

"Aw, wimmen is all crazy," snarled Bill, rubbing his shins where
she had planted her French heels. "Dawgone it, Steve, the cork is come
outa my flask in the fray and alt my licker is spillin' out."

"Stick the cork back in," I urged. And he said, "You blame fool,
what you think I'd do? But I can't find the cork."

"Make a stopper outa some paper," I advised, and he looked around
and seen a shelf of books. So he took down a book at random, tore out
the fly-leaf and wadded it up and stuck it in the flask and put the
book back. At this moment I noticed that I'd carelessly laid the girl
down on her face and she was kicking and squirming, so I picked her up
and said, "You go ahead and see if the way's clear; only you gotta
help me pack her up and down them stairs."

"No need of that," he said. "This room's on the ground floor, see?
Well, I bet this here other door opens into the garden." He unbolted
it and sure enough it did.

"I bet that cop's layin' for us," I grunted.

"I bet he ain't," said Bill, and for once he was right. I reckon
the Chinee thought the neighborhood was too tough for him. We never
seen him again.

WE TOOK THE OPPOSITE side from where we come in at, and maybe you
think we had a nice time getting that squirming frail over the wall.
But we finally done it and started for the old deserted warehouse with
her. Once I started to untie her and explain we was her friends, but
the instant I started taking off the gag, she sunk her teeth into my
neck. So I got mad and disgusted and gagged her again.

I thought we wouldn't never get to the warehouse. Tied as she was,
she managed to wriggle and squirm and bounce till I had as soon try to
carry a boa-constrictor, and I wisht she was a man so I could sock her
on the jaw. We kept to back alleys and it ain't no uncommon sight to
see men carrying a bound and gagged girl through them twisty dens at
night, in that part of the native quarters, so if anybody seen us,
they didn't give no hint. Probably thought we was a couple of strong-
arm gorillas stealing a girl for some big mandarin or something.

Well, we finally come to the warehouse, looming all silent and
deserted on the rotting old wharf. We come up into the shadder of it
and somebody went, "Shhhh!"

"Is that you, Ace?" I said, straining my eyes--because they wasn't
any lamps or lights of any kind anywheres near and everything was
black and eery, with the water sucking and lapping at the piles under
our feet.

"Yeah," came the whisper, "right here in this doorway. Come on--
this way--I got the door open."

We groped our way to the door and blundered in, and he shut the
door and lit a candle. We was in a small room which must have been a
kind of counting or checking room once when the warehouse was in use.
Ace looked at the girl and didn't seem a bit surprised because she was
tied up.

"That's her, all right," he says. "Good work. Well, boys, your
part's did. You better scram. I'll meet you tomorrer and split the
reward."

"We'll split it tonight," I growled. "I been kicked in the shins
and scratched and bit till I got tooth-marks all over me, and if you
think I'm goin' to leave here without my share of the dough, you're
nuts."

"You bet," said Bill. "We delivers her to John Bain, personal."

ACE LOOKED INCLINED to argy the matter, but changed his mind and
said, "All right, he's in here--bring her in."

So I carried her through the door Ace opened, and we come into a
big inner room, well lighted with candles and fixed up with tables and
benches and things. It was Ace's secret hangout. There was Big Bess
and a tall, lean feller with a pale poker-face and hard eyes. And I
felt the girl stiffen in my arms and kind of turn cold.

"Well, Bain," says Ace jovially, "here she is!"

"Good enough," he said in a voice like a steel rasp. "You men can
go now."

"We can like hell," I snapped. "Not till you pay us."

"How much did you promise them?" said Bain to Ace.

"A grand apiece," muttered Ace, glancing at us kind of uneasy,
"but I'll tend to that."

"All right," snapped Bain, "don't bother me with the details. Take
off her gag."

I done so, and untied her, watching her nervously so I could duck
if she started swinging on me. But it looked like the sight of her
brother wrought a change in her. She was white and trembling.

"Well, my dear," said John Bain, "we meet again."

"Oh, don't stall!" she flamed out. "What are you going to do to
me?"

Me and Bill gawped at her and at each other, but nobody paid no
attention to us.

"You know why I had you brought here," said Bain in a tone far
from brotherly. "I want what you stole from me."

"And you stole it from old Yuen Kiang," she snapped. "He's dead--
it belongs to me as much as it does to you!"

"You've hidden from me for a long time," he said, getting whiter
than ever, "but it's the end of the trail Catherine, and you might as
well come through. Where's that formula?"

"Where you'll never see it!" she said, very defiant.

"No?" he sneered. "Well, there are ways of making people talk--"

"Give her to me," urged Big Bess with a nasty glint in her eyes.

"I'll tell you nothing!" the girl raged, white to the lips.
"You'll pay for persecuting an honest woman this way--"

John Bain laughed like a jackal barking. "Fine talk from you, you
snake-in-the-grass! Honest? Why, the police of half a dozen countries
are looking for you right now!"

John Bain jumped up and grabbed her by the wrist, but I throwed
him away from her with such force he knocked over a table and fell
across it.

"Hold everything!" I roared. "What kind of a game is this?"

JOHN BAIN PULLED HISSELF up and his eyes was dangerous as a
snake's.

"Get out of here and get quick!" he snarled. "Ace can settle with
you for this job out of the ten thousand I'm paying him. Now get out,
before you get hurt!"

"Ten thousand!" howled Bill. "Ace is gettin' ten thousand? And us
only a measly grand apiece?"

"Belay everything!" I roared. "This is too blame complicated for
me. Ace sends us to rescue Bain's sister from the Chinks, us to split
a three-thousand-dollar reward--now it comes out that Ace gets ten
thousand--and Bain talks about his sister robbin' him--"

"Oh, go to the devil!" snapped Bain. "Barlow, when I told you to
get a couple of gorillas for this job, I didn't tell you to get
lunatics."

"Don't you call us looneyticks," roared Bill wrathfully. "We're as
good as you be. We're better'n you, by golly! I remember you now--you
ain't no more a milyunaire than I am! You're a adventurer--that's what
old Cap'n Hurley called you--you're a gambler and a smuggler and a
crook in general. And I don't believe this gal is your sister,
neither."

"Sister to that swine?" the girl yelped like a wasp had stung her.
"He's persecuting me, trying to get a valuable formula which is mine
by rights, in case you don't know it--"

"That's a lie!" snarled Bain. "You stole it from me--Yuen Kiang
gave it to me before he got blown up in that experiment in his
laboratory--"

"Hold on," I ordered, slightly dizzy, "lemme get this straight--"

"Aw, it's too mixed up," growled Bill. "Let's take the gal back
where we got her, and bust Ace on the snoot."

"Shut up, Bill," I commanded. "Leave this to me--this here's a
matter which requires brains. I gotta get this straight. This girl
ain't Bain's brother--I mean, he ain't her sister. Well, they ain't no
kin. She's got a formula--whatever that is--and he wants it. Say, was
you hidin' at Yut Lao's, instead of him havin' you kidnapped?"

"Wonderful," she sneered. "Right, Sherlock!"

"Well," I said, "we been gypped into doin' a kidnappin' when we
thought we was rescuin' her; that's why she fit so hard. But why did
Ace pick us?"

"I'll tell you, you flat-headed gorilla!" howled Big Bess. "It was
to get even with you for that poke on the nose. And what you goin' to
do about it, hey?"

"I'll tell you what we're goin' to do!" I roared. "We don't want
your dirty dough! You're all a gang of thieves! This girl may be a
crook, too, but we're goin' to take her back to Yut Lao's! An' right
off."

Catherine caught her breath and whirled on us.

"Do you mean that?" she cried.

"You bet," I said angrily. "We may look like gorillas but we're
gents. They gypped us, but they ain't goin' to harm you none, kid."

"But it's my formula," snarled John Bain. "She stole it from me."

"I don't care what she stole!" I roared. "She's better'n you, if
she stole the harbor buoys! Get away from that door! We're leavin'!"

THE REST WAS KIND OF like a explosion--happened so quick you
didn't have much time to think. Bain snatched up a shotgun from
somewhere but before he could bring it down I kicked it outa his hands
and closed with him. I heard Bill's yelp of joy as he lit into Ace,
and Catherine and Big Bess went together like a couple of wildcats.

Bain was all wire and spring-steel. He butted me in the face and
started the claret in streams from my nose, he gouged at my eye and he
drove his knee into my belly all before I could get started. But I
finally lifted him bodily and slammed him head-first onto the floor,
though, and that finished Mr. John Bain for the evening. He kind of
spread out and didn't even twitch.

Well, I looked around and seen Bill jumping up and down on Ace
with both feet, and I seen Catherine was winning her scrap, too. Big
Bess had the advantage of weight but she was yeller. Catherine sailed
into her, fist and tooth and nail, and inside of a minute Big Bess was
howling for mercy.

"What I want to know," gritted Catherine, sinking both hands into
her hair and setting back, "is why you and that mutt Barlow are
helping Bain!"

"Ow, leggo!" squalled Big Bess. "Ace heard that Bain was lookin'
for you, and Ace had found out you was hidin' at Yut Lao's. Bain
promised us ten grand to get you into his hands--Bain stood to make a
fortune outa the formula--and we figgered on gyppin' Costigan and
McGlory into doin' the dirty work and then we was goin' to skip on the
early mornin' boat and leave 'em holdin' the bag!"

"So!" gasped Catherine, getting up and shaking back her disheveled
locks, "I guess that settles _that!_"

I looked at Bain and Ace and Big Bess, all kind of strewn around
on the floor, and I said I reckon it did.

"You men have been very kind to me," she said. "I understand it
all now."

"Yeah," I said, "they told us Yut Lao had you kidnapped."

"The skunks!" she said. "Will you do me just one more favor and
keep these thugs here until I get a good start? If I can catch that
boat that sails just at dawn, I'll be safe."

"You bet," I said, "but you can't go through them back-alleys
alone. I'll go back with you to Yut Lao's and Bill can stay here and
guard these saps."

"Good," she said. "Let me peek outside and see that no one's
spying."

So she slipped outside and Bill picked up the shotgun and said,
"Hot dawg, will I guard these babies! I hope Ace will try to jump me
so I can blow his fool head off!"

"Hey!" I hollered, "be careful with that gun, you sap!"

"Shucks," he says, very scornful, "I cut my teeth on a gun--"

_Bang!_ Again I ducked complete extinction by such a brief hair's
breadth that that charge of buckshot combed my hair.

"You outrageous idjit!" I says, considerably shooken. "I believe
you're tryin' to murder me. That's twice tonight you've nearly kilt
me."

"Aw don't be onreasonable, Steve," he urged. "I didn't know it had
a hair-trigger--I was just tryin' the lock, like this, see--"

I took the death-trap away from him and throwed it into the
corner.

"Gimme a nip outa the flask," I said. "I'll be a rooin before this
night's over."

I took a nip which just about emptied the flask, and Bill got to
looking at the wadded-up fly-leaf which was serving as a stopper.

"Lookit, Mike," he said, "this leaf has got funny marks on it,
ain't it?"

I glanced at it, still nervous from my narrer escape; it had a lot
of figgers and letters and words which didn't mean nothing to me.

"That's Chinese writin'," I said peevishly. "Put up that licker;
here comes Miss Deal."

She run in kind of breathless. "What was that shot?" she gasped.

"Ace tried to escape and I fired to warn him," says Bill
barefacedly.

I told Bill I'd be back in a hour or so and me and the girl went
out into those nasty alleys. I said, "It ain't none of my business,
but would you mind tellin' me what this formula-thing is?"

"It's a new way to make perfume," she said.

"Perfume?" I snift. "Is that all?"

"Do you realize millions of dollars are spent each year on
perfume?" she said. "Some of it costs hundreds of dollars an ounce.
The most expensive kind is made from ambergris. Well, old Yuen Kiang,
a Chinese chemist, discovered a process by which a certain chemical
could be substituted for ambergris, producing the same result at a
fraction of the cost. The perfume company that gets this formula will
save millions. So they'll bid high.

"Outside of old Yuen Kiang, the only people who knew of its
existence were John Bain, myself, and old Tung Chin, the apothecary
who has that little shop down by the docks. Old Yuen Kiang got blown
up in some kind of an experiment, he didn't have any people, and Bain
stole the formula. Then I lifted it off of Bain, and have been hiding
ever since, afraid to venture out and try to sell it. I've been paying
Yut Lao plenty to let me stay in his house, and keep his mouth shut.
But now it's all rosy! I don't know how much I can twist out of the
perfume companies for the formula, but I know it'll run up into the
hundred thousands!"

We'd reached Yut Lao's house and I went in through a side-gate--
she had a key--and went into her room the same I way me and Bill had
brung her out.

"I'm going to pack and make that boat," she said. "I haven't much
time. Steve--I trust you--I'm going to show you the formula. Yut Lao
knows nothing about it--I wouldn't have trusted him if he'd known why
I was hiding--he thinks I've murdered somebody.

"The simplest place to hide anything is the best place. I
destroyed the original formula after copying it on the flyleaf of a
book, and put the book on this shelf, in plain sight. No one would
ever think to look there--they'd tear up the floor and the walls
first--"

And blamed if she didn't pull down the very book Bill got to make
his stopper! She opened it and let out a howl like a lost soul.

"It's gone!" she screeched. "The leaf's been torn out! I'm
robbed!"

At this moment a portly Chinee appeared at the door, some
flustered.

"What catchee?" he squalled. "Too much monkey-business!"

"You yellow-bellied thief!" she screamed. "You stole my formula!"

And she went for him like a cat after a sparrow. She made a flying
leap and landed right in his stummick with both hands locked in his
pig-tail. He squalled like a fire-engine as he hit the floor, and she
began grabbing his hair by the handfuls.

A BIG CLAMOR RIZ in some other part of the house. Evidently all
Yut Lao's servants had returned too. They was jabbering like a zoo-
full of monkeys and the clash of their knives turned me cold.

I grabbed Catherine by the slack of her dress and lifted her
bodily offa the howling Yut Lao which was a ruin by this time. And a
whole passel of coolies come swarming in with knives flashing like the
sun on the sea-spray. Catherine showed some inclination of going to
the mat with the entire gang--I never see such a scrapping dame in my
life--but I grabbed her up and racing across the room, plunged through
the outer door and slammed it in their faces.

"Beat it for the wall while I hold the door!" I yelled, and
Catherine after one earful of the racket inside, done so with no more
argument. She raced acrost the garden and begun to climb the wall. I
braced myself to hold the door and _crash!_ a hatchet blade ripped
through the wood a inch from my nose.

"Hustle!" I yelled in a panic and she dropped on the other side of
the wall. I let go and jumped back; the door crashed outwards and a
swarm of Chineeses fell over it and piled up in a heap of squirming
yeller figgers and gleaming knives. The sight of them knives lent
wings to my feet, as the saying is, and I wish somebody had been
timing me when I went acrost that garden and over that wall, because I
bet I busted some world's speed records.

Catherine was waiting for me and she grabbed my hand and shook it.

"So long, sailor," she said. "I've got to make that boat now,
formula or not. I've lost a fortune, but it's been lots of fun. I'll
see you some day, maybe."

"Not if I see you first, you won't," I said to myself, as she
scurried away into the dark, then I turned and run like all get-out
for the deserted warehouse.

I was thinking of the fly-leaf Bill McGlory tore out to use for a
stopper. Them wasn't Chinese letters--them was figgers--technical
symbols and things! The lost formula! A hundred thousand dollars!
Maybe more! And since Bain stole it from Yuen Kiang which was dead and
had no heirs, and since Catherine stole it from Bain, then it was as
much mine and Bill's as it was anybody's. Catherine hadn't seen Bill
tear out the sheet; she was lying face down on the divan.

I gasped as I run and the sweat poured off me. A fortune! Me and
Bill was going to sell that formula to some perfume company and be
rich men!

I didn't keep to the back-alleys this time, but took the most
direct route; it was just getting daylight. I crossed a section of the
waterfront and I seen a stocky figger careening down the street,
bellering, "Abel Brown the sailor." It was Bill.

"Bill McGlory." I said sternly, "you're drunk!"

"If I wasn't I'd be a wonder!" he whooped hilariously. "Steve, you
old sea-horse, this here's been a great night for us!"

"Where's Ace and them?" I demanded.

"I let 'em go half an hour after you left," he said. "I got tired
settin' there doin' nothin'."

"Well, listen, Bill," I said, "where abouts is that--"

"Haw! Haw! Haw!" he roared, bending over and slapping his thighs.
"Lemme tell you somethin'! Steve, you'll die laughin'! You knew old
Tung Chin which runs a shop down on the waterfront, and stays open all
night? Well, I stopped there to fill my flask and he got to lookin' at
that Chineese writin' on that paper I had stuffed in it. He got all
excited and what you think? He gimme ten bucks for it!"

"Ten bucks!" I howled. "You sold that paper to Tung Chin?"

"For ten big round dollars!" he whooped. "And boy, did I licker
up! Can you imagine a mutt payin' good money for somethin' like that?
What you reckon that sap wanted with that fool piece of paper? Boy,
when I think how crazy them Chineese is--"

And he's wondering to this day why I hauled off and knocked him
stiffer than a red-brick pagoda.



THE END



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