When Margo caught her breath, the only thing she could do was parrot what Shiwan Khan had said: “You’re dying.”
“Indeed,” said Khan. “I have contracted an inoperable form of cancer. The results, I fear, of investigation into the realm of nuclear weapons...but that is neither here nor there right now. I face a death of considerable pain in some months’ time, or a quick, clean death not long from this day.”
“Khan, listen to me,” said Margo. “The Shadow knows men of science, men of medicine. He can get you to specialists. They can see about your cancer, ease your pain.”
“And you think I do not?” Khan looked at her as a teacher would look at a backwards child. “I have been to more physicians and men of knowledge than you could imagine. The verdict was the same: I am dying. This being the case, it is meet that I end my life with the realization of my own ambition.”
“By...killing the Shadow?”
“Not only him, but myself, and your nation as well. Possibly more than that. It will remain to be seen how efficient my methods are, before they are neutralized.”
She sighed and gripped the bars. “Tell me.”
He considered his words, then spoke. “I have in my employ biologists of no mean talent, Miss Lane. One of them made a very important discovery. He synthesized a disease organism that is, as far as we have determined, incurable. It is one hundred percent fatal, quick-acting, and spreads like wildfire. Once unleashed, this malady can decimate the population of a continent. Human and animal life alike. Where once was the noise of humanity, machines, livestock, pets, will only be...silence.”
Margo shook her head. “You’re insane, Khan. Please, let me help. We can...”
“You can do nothing!” Khan’s voice was suddenly sharp, and his eyes seemed to pierce her like icepicks. “You are my prisoner, and my bait for the Shadow, and that is all you are. I am supremely sane, Miss Lane. No madman could plot, coordinate, and execute the operations I have accomplished, and that which I am about to. No fool could go against the Shadow as many times as I have, and live. This is an omen. Ying Ko well knows that I am the one enemy he cannot defeat. He well knows that I am the one foe who will destroy him.”
“No,” said Margo. “He is the one man capable of destroying you.”
“Then why has he not done it? Why have I, instead, played him like a puppet in this war?”
“That’s not the way it’s gone before,” Margo smiled. “Every time you’ve gone against him, he’s thwarted you. Beaten you. Smashed all your plans, killed your men.”
“True,” acknowledged Khan. “But only up to this point. You see, Miss Lane, in a war, one must take the long view. An army may lose battle after battle. Yet, by luring the opposing forces into a trap they cannot avoid, the war itself may be won.”
“It hasn’t been yet,” said Margo. “And the Shadow is a better general than you.”
“Is he, now?” Khan turned away. “That remains to be seen. But I have my agenda. I am an actor, he is the reactor. Which of us has more power? The one who acts, or the one who merely seeks to prevent? I have had time to plan and prepare. He acts on a crash basis, pulling together his forces at the last moment, trusting to luck as much as to skill. He well knows, as do I, that one day his luck must run out. That day, Miss Lane, is here.
“That which is in my body, and that upon which I stand, Miss Lane, are one. America is the cancer of the world. In this nuclear age, it holds virtual dominion, balked only by Russia’s similar firepower. With the United States no longer in the picture, the balance of power will shift again, and correct itself. A new world will be born.”
Margo slapped the back of the door in frustration. “You’re going to mass-murder over a hundred million people! You’ll damn the ones who survive to Communist tyranny! Khan, damn you, haven’t you got the slightest feeling for human beings?”
“Of course,” he said. “I feel much for those who will survive. But in order for the herd to live, ofttimes there must be a cull. Whether you understand or not is immaterial. Goodbye, Miss Lane.” The heir of Genghis Khan began to walk away.
The woman in the cell turned around herself, found an object, went to the barred door window, and threw it.
Casually, Shiwan Khan whirled and caught the hurled water jug on the fly.
“I will have another one given to you,” he said. “If you break it, there will not be a replacement.”
She couldn’t even curse him as she watched him walk away.
There are secret masters in Chinatown, as in other ethnic enclaves of America, whose business has nothing to do with spirituality. One of these was Hung Fat Lee, who commanded a host of warriors who never wore uniforms. Some called the group which he served the Triad, some called it a Tong. More or less, it was both. Thanks to a complex system of buffers, nothing substantial had yet been pinned on Hung Fat Lee, but that didn’t stop people of Chinatown from fearing him. As long as he confined his operations to that sector of the city, the police largely left him unmolested.
But not all his foes were of the police, or rivals.
Hung Fat was well guarded behind steel doors and five guards. Two on the outside, three on the inside. They had enough armament to repel a force of many men. Once, when in war with another Society, they had to do just that. Thankfully, the other side took the most losses.
Now, Hung Fat Lee was reviewing his books, the ones with the coded entries that told him exactly what the week’s take had been from extortion, gambling, drug running, and prostitution. Plus there had been a little levy taken from the other operators in the district. That always helped him cover his nut. One of his father’s maxims, which he had taken to heart, had something about always attending to business, lest business attend to you. This was something Hung Fat had taken to heart as much as he had the lessons of murder and illegal revenue learned from the Society.
A red light came on, in a lamp that was otherwise never lit. Hung Fat dropped his books and grabbed the automatic within his shoulder holster. The guard sitting in the room with him had already sprung up and was positioned by the side of the metal door, gun out. Whipping his gaze to the open door into the next room, Hung Fat called out, “Intruders! Prepare!” The two other guards rushed into the room, weapons at the ready.
There were two shots from outside. Hung Fat had heard enough gunfire to tell that only one came from his guard’s weapon. No more reports could be heard. He went to a telephone, dragged it behind the desk where he crouched, put the receiver to his ear, and started dialing a number for his second-in-command before he realized there was no dial tone.
“War is being made upon us,” he called to his men. “Defend yourselves.”
The desk was plated with metal and made a good hiding place. The three men with him waited for the attack which was to come. The guard at the door, fearing explosives, moved back to what he thought was a safe distance.
They heard a hissing, smelled an acrid scent. “Acid,” said one of the guards. “They’re burning their way through the door.”
Hung Fat thought about his several routes of escape, chose one, and said, “Sell yourselves well, my warriors.” He bolted from the desk, making for the hidden trapdoor in the back room.
Before he could get there, blackness began rising up in a cloud from beneath the doorjamb.
A large quantity of black smoke was being pumped into the rooms. The dark cloud rose so quickly that even Hung Fat couldn’t find the trapdoor, though he got on his hands and knees and felt for it frantically. The three men shouted imprecations in their native tongue and wondered how in hell to cope with this.
A rough noise indicated the door had been sprung open. The guards cried out and fired in its direction.
There was a noise of striking and a cry of pain. One of the guards was down. Another fell in swift succession, from the sound of it. Nothing could be seen. The third guard blasted away with his automatic. Before he loosed his fifth shot, the sound of another gun was heard. The guard made no more noises.
Hung Fat Lee remained still. Any noise on his part would give him away. Whoever had struck had some means of seeing through the smoke. Not even an infra-red sight would enable that. For all he knew, he was in plain view of the attacker. But not, perhaps, within hearing of him.
If he lived this day, Hung Fat would visit terrible vengeance on his invader. Him, and those who employed him.
As he completed that thought, Hung Fat was grabbed by the throat and gun wrist by a figure whom he did not see clearly, of whose presence he had no clue before he was seized. He was lifted off the floor, carried swiftly across the room, and slammed hard against the wall. The two hands upon him had a crushing grip. He sought to knee the man, but a sudden pressure on his throat made him gasp and almost black out. Of course, he could have emptied his automatic, but the shots would only have gone into the ceiling.
“Unhand your weapon, Hung Fat Lee,” pronounced a voice that struck fear, somehow, into the ganglord’s heart. “Today, I come not as an enemy.”
The Asian gangster could barely speak, but the pressure about his throat eased a little. “You are,” he managed to say, “from what Society?”
“I am the Shadow.”
It was impossible that a man live in Chinatown and deal in crime, and not hear such a name. But, miraculously, Hung Fat had never encountered the Man of Darkness. He had heard tales passed from other men in his business, of dark justice visited on various men who overstepped their bounds. Some he knew had gone absent, but whether the police or the Societies were responsible had never been known. A few, guardedly, had ventured the opinion that the Shadow might be behind some of the vanishings.
Until something was proven one way or the other, Hung Fat regarded the Shadow as a legend.
The legend was holding him by the throat.
“What do you want of me?” said Hung Fat. He seemed to see, through the smoke, two gleaming points of light that discomfited him.
“Do you know of a man named Shiwan Khan?”
Hung Fat coughed and searched his memory. “One of that name is not unknown in Chinatown. But as for dealing with him, I have not.”
“I have,” said the Shadow. “He is not only a rival to you and me, but a threat to all human life, including your own. Cooperate with me in this venture and you will be left unharmed. Refuse, and you will never have a moment’s peace until your doom, which will not be long in coming. Answer me now.”
The ganglord took a breath and calmed himself. Negotiations, he understood. “You have the upper hand, for the moment.”
“Yes or no, Hung Fat Lee?”
After a pause, Hung Fat said, “For the moment, yes.”
“Give me your weapon,” said the Shadow.
The smoke was getting thinner, and the ganglord thought he could make out some details of the man before him. A huge slouch hat, dark clothing, a red muffler pulled up over his mouth, a hawk nose, and those two piercing eyes. Wordlessly, he loosened his grip on the automatic. The Shadow released his wrist and quickly grasped it. He took his hand away from Hung Fat’s throat. The gangster thought of springing at the Shadow, trying to bear him down and wrest his gun away. One look at the dark man’s eyes dissuaded him from trying it.
The Shadow removed the magazine of bullets from the weapon and handed it back to Hung Fat. “One of your guards is dead. The others are merely incapacitated.”
Hung Fat leaned against the wall. “Fortunes of war.”
“And we are in a war, Hung Fat,” confirmed the Shadow. “Like none you have ever known. I will require something of you, and in return, will aid you against our common enemy.”
“You say he is an enemy,” said Hung Fat. “How am I to know this is true? Might he not be a friend?”
The Shadow stepped a pace closer. “Either he is your enemy, or I am your enemy. Which of us is in the room with you now, Hung Fat?”
“Your point is well taken,” Hung Fat conceded. “I have heard of this Shiwan Khan. Though you would be an enemy, you would not be a business rival as he would.”
“It is said, the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” returned the Shadow. “On that basis, are we allies?”
“If such as you have said proves true, we are,” admitted Hung Fat. “What do you require? Weapons?”
“Men,” said the Shadow. “Under your command. We need more eyes and ears. We need more soldiers. Shiwan Khan, too, has his army. When the time comes to battle him, our forces may well join hands.”
“So you say.”
“But before then, we must be kept informed. We must learn of Shiwan Khan’s men, and we must learn the hiding place of Khan himself. When we know these things, we will be able to strike. Mark you, Hung Fat, this must be done within a short time, else all is lost.”
Hung Fat considered. “Of this man’s intentions, I have no proof. Supposing I trust you. Will proof be provided?”
The Shadow looked intently at Hung Fat, or so it seemed. “In any of the legends of the underworld, Hung Fat, has it ever been said that the Shadow has lied?”
“It has not. But in a matter of this import...”
“Proof will be provided, I am confident, when battle is won,” said the Shadow. “For now, you must decide whether or not to trust me.”
“For now, I will,” said Hung Fat. “What now, Shadow?”
“You must send your men out to the boundaries of Chinatown, and to all points within,” the Shadow instructed. “Anyone your men do not know must be investigated, by any and all means. We must learn whom they are with. If the name of Shiwan Khan passes their lips, I must know of it, and I must speak to them. I will contact you daily. If I tell you to work with a man, you will work with him. Agreed?”
“Agreed. But how will you contact me?”
The smoke was growing fairly thin. Hung Fat, by all rights, should have been able to see his new ally better than before. But somehow, it became impossible to see him. He waved his arm through the smoke, sweeping part of it away.
When enough of it had lifted, he saw his fallen guards. He entered the next room, saw one unconscious, the other shot through the chest, dead. The outer door had the lock burned away from it by acid.
On impulse, Hung Fat went back into his inner room, tried the telephone again, and this time heard a dial tone. He dialed a certain number. His chief lieutenant answered.
“A meeting must take place,” he said. “We have new working orders. Be here within the hour.”
Then Hung Fat replaced the receiver on the cradle, looked about him, and sat at his desk again, to wait.
Within 24 hours, the methods of Hung Fat Lee bore fruit.
The population of Chinatown was finite and concentrated, and even men who are trying to keep their presence secret cannot do so for a long time. Especially not when the Society is looking for them. Several were taken. Then they were questioned, not without pain. One of them gave up the ghost in the process. Another finally let pass the words, “Shiwan Khan”, from his lips.
Hung Fat wondered how to get word to the Shadow. But the phone shortly rang in his safe house, and the now-familiar voice said, “I am on my way.” Then the connection was broken.
Truly, this Shadow was better to have as an ally than an enemy.
The two living members of Khan’s men and the one dead one were tied to chairs, side by side, and bore the marks of burns and piercing. The Society men who were with them were instructed to go no further, before the arrival of their ally, who would question them.
In the cellar where the questioning was being done, the lights dimmed without anybody being near the switch. The guards went on alert, but Hung Fat held out a restraining hand. “Peace,” he said. “I think it is our ally.”
A now-familiar voice came to them. “In this you are correct, Hung Fat Lee,” he said. “Take yourself and your guards to the other side of the room.”
“I would hear what they have to say,” said Hung Fat.
“And so you will,” promised the Shadow. “But my methods are my own.”
The crimelord nodded his head, and the gunsels went with him to the opposite side. They felt a presence pass them, rather than saw him. The eyes of one of the living captives were swollen shut. A slight glimmer of red, as if from a strange light source, danced before his face. If there were questions from the Shadow, none of the gangsters heard them.
But the soldier of Shiwan Khan began to speak. “We came in...on the Hwang Ho,” he said, haltingly. The Chinese dialect he spoke was understood both by the Shadow and Hung Fat. “The Master...directed us. Said we were to come to Chinatown...and wait for orders.”
There was a pause, then he said, “We knew not where the woman was taken. Our forces were divided. Only the Master knows where all are located.”
Another pause. “Those of us in my group are housed in the home of Po Chin Ling. There are only five of us. Two died in battle. One died here. We are the last two.”
Finally, he said, “I know not the Master’s plans. I am a soldier.”
Hung Fat thought of seeing if he could flip the lights on to a greater illumination. But the Shadow was getting results. Best to leave him to his own way of doing things. What they could make out of the dark figure went to the other living man, who stared unmovingly at the ceiling. The red glow passed before his face.
In a few seconds he, too, spoke. “The Master told us nothing. But he told me one thing. That was...that was...”
The man seemed to struggle. If a secret was buried deep enough to resist torture, it must be a secret indeed. Hung Fat leaned forward to hear what he could.
The scarlet glow seemed to intensify. The man struggled, then went calm. “I was told that the Shadow’s men were to be trapped. They will be lured to the fireworks factory on Lo Chin street by the voice of the Shadow and captured, to lure the Shadow into a trap. This will be done...”
Blood began to seep from the man’s nose. The Shadow’s red Girasol ring glowed more faintly, then went out. The Asiatic seemed to sleep, now, with closed eyes.
“The fireworks factory,” remarked Hung Fat. “We shall go there at once.”
The eyes of the Shadow turned to him quickly. “At once will be too late,” said the strange voice.
Then the eyes seemed to wink out, and, seconds later, the light came up. The Shadow was nowhere in the room.
One of the guards said, “What are we to do now, sir?”
Hung Fat said, “He has not asked for assistance. On the other hand, if we provide it, we may find ourselves with a lever in hand. We go to the factory.”
Cliff Marsland and Harry Vincent approached the three-story fireworks factory, which covered almost half a block of Chinatown real estate. About them, the street life went on as usual, but the factory looked deserted. Not even a night watchman was on hand.
“It’s a trap,” said Vincent.
Cliff Marsland scoffed. “Sure it’s a trap. But the Boss told us to come here. You said you heard him, and you’ve heard him enough to tell that it’s him.”
Harry adjusted his hat. “I heard. But Shiwan Khan is tougher than just about anyone else we’ve taken on. Even the Boss never put him away. And that’s over four times.”
“So. You want to cop out?”
“Nary a chance, Marsland. We go in.”
“What I was waiting for,” said Cliff. He checked his .45, put it back in its shoulder holster, and crossed the street ahead of Harry.
The service door was locked, as expected. Harry Vincent put on gloves, took a set of pick tools from his pocket, and opened the lock. He stood to one side of the door, Cliff stood to the other. Then he reached out his arm, grasped the doorknob, twisted it, and pulled the door wide open.
Cliff went to a barred window on the left and broke it in with the barrel of his gun. Then he darted to a window on the right and did the same. No noise was heard from inside.
“Into the belly of the beast,” murmured Harry.
“Like you said,” agreed Marsland.
Guns out, the two of them rushed into the factory through the door. They moved to right and left individually, scanning the room before them, the tables, the equipment, the places that could and no doubt did conceal hidden men. The lighting was flourescent, but even that suggested there were some things it would not reveal.
Harry shot Cliff an inquisitive look. Marsland shook his head. He had seen nothing. After so long in the service of the Shadow, both of them could communicate without speaking almost as well as with it.
There were rooms beyond this factory area where fireworks were sorted and packed into crates. Both of them were conscious of what conflagration could be set off by errant gunfire. Vincent and Marsland moved cautiously around the room, not separating too far or losing sight of one another.
Two doors led into adjoinng rooms. There were garage doors leading to a small loading dock facing the alley. Cliff moved towards one of the doors in the opposite wall, while Harry stayed with him and kept his eyes and gun trained in the direction of the garage doors.
Neither of them saw the man who threw the object from near the ceiling. Chances are, it wouldn’t have made much difference anyway. It made no noise until, in mid-air, it burst.
A blast of white light seared Harry and Cliff’s retinas. Both of them squeezed their eyes shut an instant too late. Instinctively, they dropped to the floor, still holding tight to their weapons.
“Harry,” called Cliff. “Harry!”
“I’m over here, Cliff,” he said. “I’m damned well blind.”
A door which they could not see burst open. An unknown number of men poured into the room. Cliff took a chance and shot twice in the direction he remembered the door occupying, but hit no one. Within seconds, both of them were disarmed captives. Their hands were cuffed behind them and both were shoved roughly to the wall, in a sitting position. As their vision improved, they saw that a semicircle of Chinese men with guns were standing around them, facing outward.
“Well, you were right about one thing, Harry,” said Cliff. “It was a trap.”
“That really brightens my day,” said Harry Vincent, glumly.
“You,” said one of the men, turning his head. “Shut mouth.”
“Go to hell,” said Marsland. That earned him a crack across the face. He tried to stand up, but a gun muzzle shoved his way disabused him of that idea.
Vincent seethed at the sight of what had been done to his friend. But if he had learned one thing over the past twenty years, it was to husband his anger until such a time as it could be harnessed most effectively.
Margo was, most likely, not here. But she had been his partner and friend for so long that the choice of not following up this lead was nonexistent. But Harry was beginning to have doubts about the voice he had heard on the telephone. It had sounded like his master, to a T. But was there a chance someone could impersonate that uncanny voice so well?
Someone such as Shiwan Khan?
As those thoughts went through his mind, the lights in the factory went off. The only illumination that came in was from the street lights filtering through the windows.
The guards, despite themselves, gave out cries of astonishment. Harry smiled, and saw that Cliff was smiling, too.
The sound of the chilling laugh that came to their ears a second later, Harry felt, was not an imitation.
And a second after that, the shooting started.