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Title: Winner Take All
Author: Robert E. Howard
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0609201.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: December 2006
Date most recently updated: December 2006

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Winner Takes All
Robert E. Howard

ME AND BILL O'Brien was flat broke when we come out of Jerry
Rourke's American Bar. Yes, sir--half a hour ashore, and cleaned along
by of a land shark with a pair of educated dice. Not having the coin
to pay his fine in case my white bulldog Mike followed his usual
custom of tearing off some cop's pants leg, I left him with Jerry till
I could raise some dough.

Well, me and Bill sallied forth into the night looking for
anything that might mean money, experience having told us that you can
find mighty near anything in the wharf-side streets of Singapore.
Well, what we did find was the last thing we'd of expected.

We was passing a dark alley in the native quarters when we heard a
woman screaming: "Help! Help! Help!"

We dashed into the alley immediately, and in the faint light we
seen a girl struggling with a big Chinee. I seen the flash of a knife
and I yelled and dived for him, but he dropped the frail and scooted
down the alley like a scared rabbit, ducking the cobble-stone Bill
heaved after him.

"Are you hurt, Miss?" I asked with my usual courtesy, lifting her
to her feet.

"No, but I'm scared stiff," she answered. "That was a close call--
let's get out of here before the big Chinee comes back with a mob."

So we legged it out into the street. Under the light of the street
lamps we saw she was a white girl--American by her accent, and not
hard to look at either, with her big grey eyes and wavy black hair.

"Where at shall we take you to, Miss?" asked Bill.

"I dance at the Bristol Cabaret," said she. "But let's go into the
saloon--the bar-keep's a friend of mine and I want to buy you men a
drink. It's the least I can do, for saving my life."

"Don't mention it, Miss," said I with a courtly bow. "We was glad
to be of service. Howthesomever, if it will give you any pleasure to
buy us a drink, we would not think of refusin'."

"More especially as we have just lost all our jack in a crap game,
and are slowly but surely perishin' of thirst," said Bill, who ain't
got my natural tact.

So we went in and got a back room to ourselves, and while we was
downing our liquor--me and Bill, that is, because the girl said she
never even tasted the stuff--she cupped her chin in her hands and
rested her elbows on the table and gazing deep in my eyes, she sighed

"If I had a big strong man like you to protect me," she said in
open admiration, "I wouldn't have to work in joints like the Bristol,
and be abused by such swipes as tried to slit my gullet tonight."

I involuntarily expanded my enormous chest and said: "Well, lady,
as long as Steve Costigan, A.B. mariner, can stand on his feet and hit
with either maulie, you got no call to be afraid of anybody. The best
thing, next to fightin', that me and Bill O'Brien here do is aid
ladies in distress."

She shook her head wistfully. "You've been very kind to me, but
you sailors are all alike--a girl in every port. But--I haven't even
introduced myself--my name is Joan Wells, and I'm from Philadelphia."

"We're mighty glad to meet somebody from the States," said Bill.
"But why was that slant-eye tryin' to knife you?"

"I--I really shouldn't tell," said she, looking kind of

"We ain't tryin' to intrude in your private affairs none," I
hastened to add.

"I couldn't keep a secret from a man like you," said she with a
languishing glance that made my heart skip a beat, "so I'll tell you.
Take a look out the door to see that nobody's listening at the key-

Nobody wasn't, so she went on.

"Did you ever hear of the No Sen Tong?" We shook our heads. We
knowed in a general way about the big tongs, or merchant houses, which
just about controls the Orient, but we hadn't had no experience with

"Well," said she, "it's the richest, most secret tong in the
world. When I first came here I worked as private secretary for old To
Ying, who's one of its highest secret officials. He fired me because I
wouldn't let him get fresh with me--the old slant-eyed snake--and I
went to work at the Bristol. But once you've been on the inside of an
organization like that, you have ways of knowing things that other
people don't."

Her eyes sparkled and her fists clenched as she got all excited.
"I'm in on the biggest coup of the century!" she exclaimed. "If I
live, I'll be a rich woman! Did you ever hear of the Korean Copper
Company? No? Well, it's about to go bankrupt. They've never paid a
single dividend. Stock's selling at a dollar a share, with no buyers.
But, listen! They've hit the biggest copper mine that the world has
ever seen! The No Sens are quietly buying up all the stock they can
get--at a dollar a share! As soon as I found this out I ran down to
the broker's and bought a hundred shares. It took every cent I had.
But one of the No Sen spies saw me, and that's why old To Ying tried
to have me bumped off. He's afraid I'll squeal.

"Think what a riot there'll be on the stock market tomorrow when
the word gets in! Tonight Korean Copper's selling for a dollar!
Tomorrow it'll be worth a thousand dollars a share!"

"Hold everything!" I said, kind of dizzy. "You mean you shoot a
buck and get a thousand on the spin of the wheel?"

"I sure do--say, why don't you men buy some stock? It's the chance
of a lifetime! Most of it has been bought up by the No Sens, but I
know where I can get you a few hundred shares."

Bill laughed bitterly. "Sister, it might as well be sellin' for a
thousand per right now as far as we're concerned. We ain't got a dime!
And my watch is in a pawn-shop in Hong Kong."

"I'd gladly lend you some money," said she, "but I spent all mine
on stock--"

"Wait a minute," said I, getting on my feet, "I got a idee. Miss
Wells--Joan, is it safe for you to be left alone for a few hours?"

"Sure; the bar-keep goes off duty in a few minutes, and he can see
me home."

"All right. I think we can raise some dough. Where can we see you,
in say about three hours?"

"Come to the Alley of the Seven Mandarins," said she, "and knock
on the door with the green dragon carved on it. I'm going to hide
there till the No Sens quit looking for me. I'll be waiting for you,"
said she, giving my rugged hand a timid, shy little squeeze that made
my big, honest heart flutter like a boy's.

THEN ME AND Bill was out in the foggy dim lighted streets and
making tracks. I led the way through narrow streets and garbage-strewn
back alleys till we was in the toughest section of Singapore's
waterfront. It's dangerous in the daytime; it's pure Hades at night.

Right on the wharfs we come to a big ramshackle building, which a
struggling sign announced as Heinie Steinman's Grand International
Fight Arena. This dump was all lighted up, and was shaking with the
ferocious roars which went up inside.

"Hello, Steve; hello, Bill," said the fellow at the door, a dip
who knowed us well. "How 'bout a couple good ringside seats?"

"Gangway," said I. "We ain't got no money--but I'm fightin' here

"G'wan," said he, "you ain't even matched with nobody--"

"One side!" I roared, drawing back my famous right. "I'm fightin'
_somebody_ here tonight, get me?"

"Well, go in and fight somebody that's paid to git mutilated!" he
squawked, turning slightly pale and climbing up on the ticket counter,
so me and Bill stalked haughtily within.

If you want to study humanity in its crudest and most uncivilized
form, take in one of Heinie Steinman's fight shows. The usual crowd
was there--sailors, longshoremen, beach-combers, thugs and crooks; men
of every breed and color and description, from the toughest ships and
the worst ports in the world. Undoubtedly, the men which fights at the
International performs to the toughest crowds in the world. The
fighters is mostly sailors trying to pick up a few dollars by
massacring each other.

Well, as me and Bill entered, the fans was voicing their
disapproval in a tone that would of curled the hair of a head-hunter.
The main event had just driven the patrons into a frenzy by going to
the limit, and they was howling like a pack of wolves because they'd
been no knockout. The crowd that comes to Heinie's Arena don't make no
talk about being wishful to see a exhibition of boxing. What they want
is gore and busted noses, and if somebody don't get just about killed
they think they have been gypped, and wreck the joint.

Just as me and Bill come in, the principals scurried out of the
ring followed by a offering of chair bottoms, bricks and dead cats,
and Heinie, who'd been acting as referee, tried to calm the mob--which
only irritated them more and somebody hit Heinie square between the
eyes with a rotten tomato. The maddened crowd was fast reaching a
point where they was liable to do anything, when me and Bill climbed
into the ring. They knowed us, and they kind of quieted down a minute
and then started yelling fiercer than ever.

"For my sake, Steve," said Heinie, kind of pale, wiping the
vegetable out of his eyes, "say somethin' to 'em before they start a
riot. Them two hams that just faded away only cake-walked through the
bout and these wolves is ready to lynch everybody concerned,
particularly includin' me."

"Have you got somebody I can fight?" I asked.

"No, I ain't," he said, "But I'll announce--"

"I don't see no announcer," I growled, and turning to the crowd I
silenced them by the simple process of roaring: "_Shut up!"_ in a
voice which drowned them all out.

"Listen here, you tin-horn sports!" I bellered. "You've already
paid your dough, but do you think you've got your money's worth?"

"_No!_" they thundered in a voice that started Heinie's knees to
knocking. "We been robbed! We been rooked! We been gypped! Give us our
money back! Wreck the dump! Hang that Dutchman!"

"Shut up, you Port Mahon baboons!" I roared. "If you're sports
enough to jar loose and make up a purse of twenty-five dollars, I'll
fight any man in the house to a finish, winner take all!"

At that they lifted the roof. "'At's the stuff!" they whooped.
"Shower down gents. We know Steve! He always gives us a run for our

Coins and a few bills began to shower on the canvas, and two men
jumped up from among the crowd and started for the ring. One was a
red-headed Englishman and the other was a lithe black-haired fellow.
They met just outside the ropes.

"One side, bloke," growled the red-head. "H'I'm fightin' this
bloody Yank!"

Black-head's right shot out like a battering ram and red-head
kissed the floor, and laid still. The mob went into hysterics of joy
and the winner hopped over the ropes, followed by three or four of the
most villainous looking mugs I ever hope to see.

"I weel fight Costigan!" said he, and Heinie give a deep sigh of
relief. But Bill swore under his breath.

"That's Panther Cortez," said he. "And you know you ain't been
trainin' close lately."

"Never mind," I growled. "Count the money. Heinie, you keep your
hands off that dough till Bill counts it."

"Thirty-six dollars and fifty cents," announced Bill, and I turned
to the slit-eyed devil which called hisself Panther Cortez, and
growled: "You willin' to fight for that much--winner take all, loser
gets nothin' but a headache?"

He grinned with a flash of white fangs. "Sure!--I fight you just
for the fun of knocking you cold!"

I turned my back on him with a snarl and, giving Heinie the money
to hold, though it was a terrible risk to take, I strode to one of the
make-shift dressing rooms, where I was given a pair of dingy trunks,
which Heinie pulled off a preliminary boy which had gone on earlier in
the evening and was still out.

I gave little thought to my opponent, though Bill kept grouching
about the fact that I was going to get so little for knocking out such
a man as Cortez.

"You oughta be gettin' at least a hundred and fifty," Bill
grumbled. "This Cortez is a mean puncher, and shifty and dirty. He
ain't never been knocked out."

"Well," said I, "it ain't never too late to begin. All I want you
to do is watch and see that none of his handlers don't sneak around
and hit me with a water bottle. Thirty-six shares means thirty-six
thousand dollars for us. Tomorrer we'll kick the Old Man in the slats
for a token of farewell, and start livin'! No more standin' watch and
gettin' sunburnt and froze for somebody else--"

"Hey!" yelled Heinie, looking in at the door, "hurry up, will ya?
This crowd's goin' clean nuts waitin'. The Panther's already in the

AS I CLIMBED through the ropes I was greeted by a roar such as
must of resembled them given by the Roman mobs when a favorite
gladiator was throwed to the lions. Cortez was seated in his corner,
smiling like a big lazy jungle cat, the lids drooping down over his
glittering eyes in a way that always irritated me.

He was a mixed breed--Spanish, French, Malay and heck knows what
else, but all devil. He was the choice fighting man aboard the _Water
Snake,_ a British vessel with a shady reputation, and though I'd never
fought him, I knowed he was a dangerous man. But, gosh, all he
represented to me just then was thirty-six dollars and fifty cents,
which in turn represented thirty-six thousand dollars.

Heinie waved his arms and said: "Gents, you all know these boys!
Both of them has fought here plenty of times before, and--"

The crowd rose up and drowned him out: "Yeah, we know 'em. Cut the
introductions and le's see gore spilt!"

"Weights," yelled Heinie to make hisself heard. "Sailor Costigan
of the _Sea Girl,_ one hundred ninety pounds! Panther Cortez of the
_Water Snake,_ one hundred eighty-five pounds!"

"That's a lie!" roared Bill. "He weighs one-ninety if he weighs a

"Aw, stow yer gab, ye bleedin' mick!" snarled one of the Panther
seconds, shoving out his lantern jaw. Bill bent his right on that jaw
and the limey went over the ropes on his head. The mob applauded
madly; things was going just to their taste! All they needed to make
it a perfect evening was for me or Cortez to get our neck broke--
preferably both of us.

Well, Heinie chased Cortez' handlers out of the ring, and Bill
climbed out, and the slaughter was on. Heinie was referee, but he
didn't give us no instructions. We'd fought enough there to know what
we was supposed to do, and that was to sock and keep on socking till
somebody kissed the canvas and stayed there. The gloves we wore was at
least a ounce and a half lighter than the regular style, and nothing
was a foul at the International as long as both fellows could stand on
their feet.

The Panther was lithe, rangy, quick; taller than me, but not so
heavy. We come together in the middle of the ring, and he hit with
cat-like speed. Left to the face, right to the body and left to the
jaw. Simultaneous I shot my right to his chin, and he hit the canvas
on the seat of his trunks. The crowd howled, but he wasn't hurt much,
mainly surprised and mad. His eyes blazed. He took the count of nine,
though he could of got up sooner, and bounced up, stopping me in my
tracks with a hard left to the mouth. I missed with a looping left,
took a right to the ribs and landed hard under the heart. He spat in
my face and began working his arms like pistons--left, right, left,
right, to the face and body while the crowd went nuts. But that was my
game; I grinned savagely and braced my feet, boring in and slugging
hard with both hands.

A minute of this, and he backed away in a hurry, blood trickling
from a cut on his cheek. I was after him and sank a left deep in his
midriff that made him clinch and hold on. On the break he nailed me
with a straight right to the head, and followed it up with a hard left
to the eye, but failed to land his right, and got a wicked right hook
to the ribs. I battered away at his body, but he was all elbows, and,
irritated, I switched to his head and nearly tore it off with a
blazing right hook just at the gong.

"That round was yours by a mile," said Bill, between exchanging
insults with Cortez' handlers. "But watch out; he's dangerous and

"I'm goin' to ask Joan to marry me," I said. "I can tell she's
fell for me, right off. I dunno why it is, but it seems like they's a
fatal fascination about me for women. They can't keep from floppin'
for me at first sight--"

The gong sounded and I dashed out to collect that $36.50.

Well, the Panther had found out that he couldn't trade wallops
with me, so he come out boxing. I don't mean he tin-canned and rode
his bicycle, like some prominent fighters I could mention. He was one
baby that could fight and box at the same time, if you get me. When I
say he boxed, I mean he feinted me out of position, kept me off
balance, speared me with cutting left jabs, ducked my ferocious
returns, tied me up in the clinches, nearly ripped my head off with
right uppercuts in close, stayed inside my wings, and generally made a
sap outa me.

Inside of a minute he had me bleeding at the mouth and nose, and I
hadn't landed solid once. The crowd was howling like wolves and Bill
was cussing something terrible, but I wasn't worried. I had all night
to lick him in, and I knowed I'd connect sooner or later, and I did
quicker than I'd thought. It was a smashing right hook under the
heart, and it bent Senyor Cortez double. While in this position I
clouted him heartily behind the ear and drove him to his knees. He was
up without a count, slipped the terrible swing I threw at him, and
having clinched and tied me up, scraped his glove laces across my eyes
and ground his heel into my instep. He hung on like a regular octopus
regardless of my cruel and unusual oaths. Heinie wouldn't pull him
loose, and finally we both went to the canvas still clinched in a
vise-like embrace.

This mishap threw the crowd into a perfect delirium of delight,
which was increased by Cortez earnestly chewing my ear while we
writhed on the mat. Driven to frenzy I tore loose, arose and closed
the Panther's left eye with a terrible right swing the minute he was
on his feet. He came back with a slashing left hook to the body,
ripped the same hand to my already battered face, and stopped a
straight left with his own map. At that moment the gong rang.

"I'M GOIN' TO kick Heinie Steinman loose from his britches after the
fight!" snarled Bill, shaking with rage as he mopped the blood off my
mangled ear. "If that wasn't the dirtiest foul I ever seen--"

"I wonder if we couldn't buy a half share with that fifty cents,"
I meditated. "That'd be five hundred dollars--"

I rushed out for the third frame inclined to settle matters quick,
but Cortez had other plans. He opened a cut over my eye with a left
hook, ripped a right hook to my sore ear and went under my return. He
come up with a venomous right under the heart, ducked my left swing
and jabbed me three times on the nose without a return. Maddened, I
hurtled into him headlong, grabbed him with my left and clubbed him
with my right till he tied me up.

At close quarters we traded short arm rights and lefts to the body
and he was the first to back away, not forgetting to flick me in the
eye with his long left as he did so. I was right on top of him and
suddenly he lowered his head and butted me square in the mouth,
bringing a flow of claret that dyed my chin. He instantly ripped in a
right uppercut that loosened a bunch of my teeth and backed me into
the ropes with a perfect whirlwind of left and right hooks to the

With the ropes cutting into my back I rallied, steadied myself and
smashed a right under his heart that stopped him in his tracks. A left
to the jaw set him back on his heels and rattled his teeth like a
castinet, and before I could hit again the gong sounded.

"This is lastin' considerably longer than I thought," I said to
Bill, who was mopping blood and talking to Heinie with some heat.

"My gosh, Bill," said Heinie. "Be reasonable! If I stopped this
fight and awarded it to Steve or anybody else on a foul, these thugs
wouldst tear this buildin' down and hang me to the rafters. They
craves a knockout--"

"They're goin' to get one!" I snarled. "Never mind the fouls. Say,
Bill, did you ever see such clear, honest eyes as Joan's got? I know
women, I wanta tell you, and I never seen a straighter, squarer jane
in my life--"

At the gong we went into a clinch and pounded each other's
midsections till Heinie broke us. Cortez wasn't taking much chances,
fighting wary and cautious. He slashed away with his left, but he kept
his right high and never let it go unless he was sure of landing. He
was using his elbows plenty in the clinches, and butting every chance
he got, but Heinie pretended not to see. The crowd didn't care; as
long as a man fought, they didn't care _how_ he fought. Bill was
making remarks that would of curled the toes of a Hottentot, but
nobody seemed to mind.

About the middle of the lap, Cortez began making remarks about my
ancestors that made me good and mad. My Irish got up, and I went for
him like a wild bull, head down and arms hammering. He shot his left
and side-stepped, but the left ain't made that can stop me when my
temper's up, and I was right on top of him too fast for him to get
away. I battered him across the ring, but just as I thought I had him
pinned on the ropes he side-stepped and I fell into them myself.

This highly amused the crowd, and Cortez hooked three lefts to my
head while I was untangling myself, and when I slewed around and
swung, he ducked and crashed my jaw with a right hook he brought up
from the floor and which had me groggy for the first time that night.
Sensing victory, he shot the same hand three times to my head,
knocking me back into the ropes where he sank his left to the wrist in
my midriff.

I was dizzy and slightly sick, but I saw Cortez' snarling face in
a sort of red haze and I smashed my right square into the middle of
that face. He was off his guard--not expecting a return like that and
his head went back like it was hinged. The blood splattered, and the
crowd howled with relish. I plunged after him, but he crouched and as
I came in he went under my swing and hooked his right hard to my
groin. Oh Jerusha! I dropped like my legs had been cut from under me,
and writhed and twisted on the canvas like a snake with a broken back.

I had to clench my teeth to keep from vomiting and I was sick--
nauseated if you get what I mean. I looked up and Heinie, with his
face white, was fixing to count over me.

"One!" he said. "Two! Three!"

"You hog-fat nit-wit!" screamed Bill. "If you count him out I'll
blow your brains through the back of your skull!"

Heinie shivered like he had a chill; he took a quick look at Bill,
then he shot a scared glance at the ravening crowd, and he ducked his
head like a tortoise, shut his eyes and kept on counting.

"Four! Five! Six!"

"Thirty-six thousand dollars!" I groaned, reaching for the ropes.
The cold sweat was standing out on my brow as I pulled myself up.

"Seven! Eight! Nine!"

I was up, feet braced wide, holding the top rope to keep from
falling. Cortez came lunging in to finish me, and I knowed if I let go
I'd fall again. I hunched my shoulder and blocked his right, but he
ripped his left to my chin and crashed his right high on my temple--
and then the gong sounded. He socked me again after the gong, before
he went to his corner--but a little thing like that don't cause no
comment in the International Fight Arena.

BILL HELPED ME to my corner, cursing between clenched teeth, but,
with my usual recuperative powers, I was already recovering from the
effects of that foul blow. Bill emptied a bucket-full of cold water
over me, and much to Cortez' disgust I come out for the fifth frame as
good as new. He didn't think so at first, but a wicked right-hander
under the heart shook him to the toes and made him back pedal in a

I went for him like a whirlwind and, seeming somewhat discouraged,
he began his old tactics of hit and run. A sudden thought hit me that
maybe all the shares was bought up. This fight looked like it was
going on forever; here I was chasing Panther Cortez around the ring
and doing no damage, while the No Sens was buying up all the Korean
Copper in sight. Every minute a fortune was slipping that much farther
away from me, and this rat refused to stand up and be knocked out like
a man. I nearly went crazy with fury.

"Come on and fight, you yellow skunk!" I raged, while the crowd
yelled blood-thirstily, beginning to be irritated at Cortez' tactics,
which was beginning to be more run than hit. "Stand up to it, you
white-livered, yellow-bellied, Porchugeeze half-caste!"

They's always something that'll get under a fellow's hide. This
got under Cortez'. Maybe he did have some breed blood in him. Anyway,
he went clean crazy. He give a howl like a blood-mad jungle-cat, and
in spite of the wild yells from his corner, he tore in with his eyes
glaring and froth on his lips. _Biff! Bim! Bam!_ I was caught in a
perfect whirlwind of punches; it was like being clawed by a real
panther. But, with a savage grin, I slugged it out with him. That's my
game! He hit three blows to my one, but mine were the ones that

There was the salty tang of blood in my mouth, and blood in my
eyes; it reddened Heinie's shirt, and stained the canvas under our
feet. It spattered in the faces of the yelling ring-siders at every
blow. But my gloves were sinking deep at every sock, and I was
satisfied. Toe to toe we slashed and smashed, till the ring swum red
and the thunder of our blows could be heard all over the house. But it
couldn't last; flesh and blood couldn't stand it. Somebody had to go--
and it was Cortez.

Flat on his back he hit, and bounced back up without a count. But
I was on him like a blood-mad tiger. I took his left and right in the
face without hardly feeling them, and smashed my right under his heart
and my left to his jaw. He staggered, glassy eyed; a crashing right to
the jaw dropped him under the ropes on his face. Maybe he's there yet.
Anyhow, up to the count of ten he didn't bat an eyelash.

"Gimme that dough!" I snarled, jerking it out of Heinie's
reluctant hand.

"Hey!" he protested. "What about my cut? Didn't I promote this
show? Didn't I stand all the expense? You think you can fight in my
ring for nothin'--"

"If I had your nerve I'd be King of Siam," I growled, shaking the
blood outa my eyes, and at that moment Bill's right met Heinie's jaw
like a caulking mallet meeting a ship's hull, and Heinie went to
sleep. The crowd filed out, gabbling incoherently. That last touch was
all that was needed to make the night a perfect success for them.

"Here, give this to Cortez when he wakes up!" I snarled, shoving a
five-dollar bill--American money--into the hand of one of the
Panther's seconds. "He's dirty, but he's game. And he don't know it,
but it's the same as me givin' him five thousand dollars. Come on,

I CHANGED MY clothes in the dressing-room, noting in a cracked
mirror that my face looked like I'd fallen afoul a wildcat, and
likewise that I had a beautiful black eye or two. We skinned out a
side door, but I reckon some thugs in the crowd had seen us get the
money--and they's plenty of men in the Singapore waterfront who'd cut
your throat for a dime. The second I stepped out into the dark alley-
way something crashed against my head, and I went to my knees seeing
about a million stars. I come up again and felt a knife-edge lick
along my arm. I hit out blind and landed by sheer luck. My right
lifted my unseen attacker clean off his feet and dropped him like a
sack on the ground. Meanwhile Bill had grappled with two more and I
heard the crack as he knocked their heads together.

"You hurt, Steve?" he asked, feeling for me, because it was that
dark you couldn't see your hand before you.

"Scratched a little," I said, my head still ringing from the
blackjack sock. "Let's get outa here. Looks like we got to lick
everybody in Singapore before we get that stock."

We got out of the alley and beat it down the street, people
looking kind of funny at us. Well, I guess I was a sight, what with my
black eye and cut and battered face, the bump on my head, and my arm
bleeding from the knife wound. But nobody said nothing. People in
places like that have got a way of minding their own business that
politer folks could well copy.

"We better stop by the Waterfront Mission before we go for that
stock, Steve," said Bill. "The gospel-shark will bandage your arm and
not charge a cent--and keep his mouth shut afterward."

"No, no, no!" said I, becoming irascible because of my hurts and
the delay. "We're goin' to get that stock before we do anything else."

We was passing a gambling hall and Bill's eyes lighted as he heard
the click and whir of the roulette wheel.

"I feel lucky tonight," he muttered. "I betcha I could run that
thirty bucks up to a hundred in no time."

"And I'd give my arm for a shot of licker," I snapped. "But I tell
you, we ain't takin' no chances. We can guzzle and play fan-tan and
roulette all we want to after we get rich."

After what seemed a century we arrived at the dismal, dark and
vile smelling alley that the Chinese call the Alley of the Seven
Mandarins--why, I never could figure. We found the door with the green
dragon and knocked, and my heart stood still for fear Joan wouldn't be
there. But she was. The door opened and she give a gasp as she saw me.

"Quick, don't keep us in suspense," Bill gasped. "Is the stock all
took up?"

"Why, no," she said. "I can get you--"

"Then do it, quick," I said, pressing the money into her hand.
"There's thirty-one dollars and fifty-cents--"

"Is that all?" she said, like she was considerably disappointed.

"If you'd a seen how I won it, you'd think it was a lot," I said.

"Well," she said. "Wait a minute. The man who owns that stock
lives down the alley."

She vanished down the dark alley-way, and we waited with our
hearts knocking holes in our ribs for what seemed like hours. Then she
came out of the darkness, looking kind of white and ghostly in the
shadows, and slipped a long envelope into my hot and sweaty hand. I
hove a vast sigh of relief and started to say something, but she put
her finger to her lips.

"Shhh! I musn't be seen with you. I must go, now." And before I
could say a word, she'd vanished in the dark.

"Open the envelope, Steve," urged Bill. "Let's see what a fortune
looks like!"

I opened it and pulled out a slip of paper. I moved over to the
lamp-light in the street to read what was wrote on it. Then I give a
roar that brought faces to every window on the street. Bill jerked the
paper from me and glared at it and then he give a maddened howl and
joined me in a frenzied burst of horrible talk that brought a dozen
cops on the run. We wasn't in no condition to make any coherent reply,
and the ensuing riot didn't end till the reserves was called out.

On the paper which was in the envelope Joan Wells gave me in
return for my hard-earned money was wrote:

This is to certify that you are entitled to thirty-one and a half
shares of stock in the Korean Copper Company which was dissolved in
the year 1875. Don't worry about the No Sen Tong; it was extinct
before the Boxer Rebellion. Of all the suckers that have fallen for
this graft, you saps were the easiest. But cheer up; you're out only
$31.50, and I took one bonehead for $300. A girl has got to live.


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