The soldiers of Shiwan Khan only knew that they had to do something, so they shot in the direction from which the laughing came.
The problem was that the sound shifted to an opposite corner of the room. They couldn’t see anything there, either, but they pumped bullets in that direction. Then it came from a section of the catwalk above them. One gunsel fired shots up there, as well.
One of the crew, apparently in charge, hit the shooter in the side of the head. “Fool!” he snapped. “He throws his voice. Don’t waste your fire.”
“Oh, that’s okay by us,” said Cliff, amiably. “Waste it all you want to. He doesn’t mind.”
“Silence!” said one of the guards, and bent as if to strike him. But the look from Harry’s eyes made him hesitate. He saved face by saying, “We’ll teach you later.”
“Doubt it,” said Harry.
The other gunmen were fanning out around the room. “Be wary,” said their commander. “Fire the wrong way, and the entire place could go—“
A single shot dropped him in his tracks.
“The Boss,” said Harry, approvingly. “The Boss is here.”
There were at least thirteen of Shiwan Khan’s men in the room, besides the five who acted as guards to Harry Vincent and Cliff Marsland. All had guns, and all knew that there was enough flammable material in the area to send the lot of them to Kingdom Come. One of the soldiers went to the fallen commander. “He isn’t dead,” said the man. “He—“
Another shot. This time, it hit the speaker. He was dead, by the time he hit the floor.
“He’s picking us off!” said the commander, holding his wounded side. “Watch yourselves!”
But the problem was not with watching themselves. It was with watching the most effective sniper in the known world.
Two more shots came from the Shadow’s twin .45's. Two more of Shiwan Khan’s men died before them. The gunsels pumped lead in the direction the gunfire came from, but hit nothing. Blood was beginning to cover the floor. When it came to justice, the Shadow only secondarily left things to a jury.
The guards around Harry and Cliff were visibly frightened, and both their captives could tell why. “You’re sitting ducks, ain’t you?” remarked Cliff. “The Boss can pick you off anytime he wants.”
“Not if we kill you first!” shouted one, and shoved his gun in Cliff’s direction.
Another one of the men banged him over the head with the barrel of his revolver. “Stop, you idiot! Kill one of them and the Shadow will surely kill us. Have a care!”
“Right,” said Harry. “Never forget: we’re valuable.”
The man smacked Harry with the same revolver and cut his cheek. Harry decided he’d be discreet till the battle was over.
Two more shots came from the Shadow’s guns and caught their targets in the head. It was messy.
One of the gunsels’ nerves broke. He cried out, “The Golden Master has deserted us. Shiwan Khan has sent us here to die!”
The shot that killed him did not come from the Shadow. The commander held a smoking pistol and said, “Die at the Shadow’s hands, or mine, or kill him. Make your choice now.”
That was when more of the windows shattered, and more Asian hoods began pouring into the room, shooting first and looking second.
“Good god,” said Cliff Marsland. “Who the hell are they?”
The Shadow, from his vantage point, looked upon the newcomers with silent rage. Hung Fat’s men. This operation demanded the precision of surgery, and they were here to do butcher work.
His gaze went to the men surrounding Cliff and Harry. They would have to be taken out immediately, to save his agents. Furthermore, they must not be given the chance to react, and kill their two captives. The Shadow raised his guns.
As he was doing so, the commander of Shiwan Khan’s men emptied his revolver into a stack of fireworks crates.
A flash of eye-blinding green, yellow, and white fire, the noise of over a hundred cheap fireworks going off at once, and what little control was left over chaos was quickly shattered.
Curses in various Chinese dialects went up to the skies, and the Shadow’s presence was briefly revealed in the blaze of light. The spewing flame set at least one man’s clothes on fire and forced him to roll, screaming, on the floor. Hung Fat’s voice rang out, commanding his men not to fire on their own in the confusion.
One of the guards covering Harry and Cliff saw the Shadow in the instant that he was revealed, and aimed his gun at him. Harry leaned forward and bit the back of his calf as hard as he could. The gunman shouted in pain and pulled his shot just enough to miss. The Shadow, wheeling, wasn’t that inaccurate. The shooter dropped dead beside Harry.
“Kill them!” shouted one of the four remaining guards, as he turned to point his weapon at the two captives.
Gunfire flashed against the backdrop of the exploding fireworks. Three men dropped before the Shadow’s big weapons. The fourth was taken out by another man’s shot. The Shadow wheeled in that direction.
Hung Fat stood there with a smoking gun. “You owe me one, Shadow.”
The Shadow turned and dragged his men to their feet. Cliff and Harry were still cuffed, and there was no time to free them. “Stay behind me,” he said. “We’re getting you out.”
“You said it, boss,” Cliff responded.
Khan’s commander was in agony on the floor. One of Hung Fat’s hoods was near him with a levelled gun. “Stop!” said the Shadow, in a voice that carried over the blasting fireworks, and which the gunman knew, somehow, was directed to him alone. He paused to look up at the Shadow, training a .45 at him across the room. The man in black was illuminated against the blasts of burning Roman candles.
“We need this man,” he said. “He has information. Do not kill him. Bring him outside.”
The sound of fire engines was heard in the not-far distance. All the men still alive in the factory heard it. The Shadow turned to Hung Fat Lee. “Get your men and our captive out of here,” he said. “I will see to my own. Soon, I will be in contact.”
“As you say,” said Hung Fat.
The Shadow hesitated, and said, “You have aided me. But we must have words, before the next time.”
Hung Fat said, “You know where to reach me.” He wondered if he had been too bold in saying that. But the Shadow only looked at him once again, and then moved towards his men. The fireworks were still going off and fire was spreading. The gangboss called out, “Disperse. The police are coming.”
The men of the Society were funneling out through the doorway. A few shots were exchanged. None of his own died, but a few more of Shiwan Khan’s men remained. Either the police would take them, or they would return in dishonor to their master, or they would simply run. Hung Fat neared Khan’s commander, and then looked in the direction where the Shadow and his two men had been.
They were no longer there.
Hung Fat nodded, and grabbed the man underneath his arms.
Commissioner Weston took the front section of the Graphic and crumpled it. Then he tossed it in the trash. “Tell me how you got it, Burke.”
Clyde Burke, the Graphic’s star reporter, smiled and spread his hands. “Don’t know what you mean, Commish. I’m just another Front Page Farrell.”
“Uh huh. And I’m Mr. District Attorney.” Weston stalked from his desk, looking like he wanted to lift Burke off his feet by his collar. “How the hell were you near Chinatown when all this went down? That’s not your beat.”
“Hell, Commish, my beat is wherever news happens,” said Burke, trying to be pleasant. “That’s why they call us reporters. Remember?”
Weston sighed. “In all my forty years on the force, Burke, I’m damned if I can remember a time I’ve felt more like chucking a man out my window. Over ten men are dead. A fire breaks out in the Hop Sing Fireworks Company and guts the thing from the inside. I smell more than fire in this one, Burke. I smell Shadow all over it.”
“What do you want me to say, Commissioner? Did anybody see the Shadow there? If they did, tell me who. I could use an interview for a follow-up.”
This time, Weston did grab Burke and lift him right out of his chair by his arms. “I want you to tell me that you know the Shadow. And I want to know how.”
Burke didn’t speak for a few seconds. It was wise to give the Commissioner a chance to cool down. “I’ve told you before, sir. I only know the Shadow as you know him. He’s just a legend, mostly. People claim to have seen him, hoods claim he killed some of them, but we’ve got no proof.”
“You’ve got more proof than you’re talking about, Burke,” said Weston, still holding onto him. “I’ve been a cop about as long as you’ve been alive. Every one of my instincts tells me you’re lying about the Shadow.”
“Okay,” said Burke. “In that case, throw me in the tank on the basis of instinct, let me make my one call to my editor, and see where it gets you. Believe me, sir, I’m on your side. But the law...well, it’ll be on my side.”
Weston let him down into the chair again, turned, and went to the window. Clasping his hands behind him, he spoke again. “I’ve got a kidnapped woman, Burke. One of my personal friends. Margo Lane. I’ve got dead people in Chinatown, and a doctor there whose home was invaded. I’ve got damn near the whole force on the case, and I don’t know anything more than I did when I first learned about it. Except that more people are dead.”
Burke straightened his coat. “Well, those Tong wars are tough.”
“I don’t think this is a Tong war,” said Weston. “But I don’t know what it is. If you find out, I want to know. Immediately.”
Clyde Burke, about to take his fedora off the hat rack, paused. Not turning around, Weston said, “That’s all.”
The reporter took his hat, put it on his head, and left. On the way out, Fritz the janitor, who had been at Headquarters longer than anybody could remember, gave him a knowing look. Burke didn’t see it.
He proceeded down to a cab stand, took a taxi to a greasy spoon with a phone booth in it, and made sure he was facing outward as he dialed a number.
“Burbank,” said the voice on the other end.
“This is Burke,” said Clyde. “Just talked with the commissioner. We didn’t tell each other anything, but he’s on the trail. That’s all I’ve got.”
“Your message will be passed on,” said Burbank, and hung up.
Clyde Burke emerged from the booth and gathered courage to order lunch.
Margo Lane didn’t know how long she was asleep, but she awoke to see Shiwan Khan outside the bars again.
She wiped the sleep out of her eyes. “Haven’t you been here often enough?”
The Chinese mastermind shrugged. “Sometimes it is difficult to find suitable persons for conversation, Miss Lane. Feel privileged.”
“I’ll feel that way once the Shadow saves me and does you in,” Margo retorted, sitting up on her bench. She had slept in her dress and was feeling positively grungy. But there wasn’t enough water to bathe in, and she supposed that was the least of her worries.
“An encouraging scenario for you, but not very likely,” Khan replied. “Could you tell me something about yourself, Miss Lane? It is well said that the persons one usually knows best are the ones one opposes.”
“All right, I’ll tell you something,” she said. “I’ve got a baby growing inside me. He or she will never see the light of day if you do what you propose.”
He shook his head. “I knew that already, Miss Lane. It is regrettable your child must die. But he will never know life, or pain. You will deliver him on the other side, if there is such a place. You and his father will be united with him as a family. So you see? I am not entirely unmerciful.”
Margo had to laugh. “You really are unbelievable, Khan. You really are something. But I’m a lady, so I can’t say what that something is.”
“Just so,” said Khan. “Do not feel hatred towards me, though. Your death will not be a matter of vengeance. The only one I wish that upon will be the Shadow.”
“And all the other millions you’re going to kill are only casualties on the side?”
“Indeed. As were those of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. I say that in all sincerity, by the way. Had China possessed the atomic bomb, it would undoubtedly have used it. It would have used it many more times than the United States did. I would have used it, myself. But I would not have hit mere population centers or industrial towns. No, Miss Lane, I would have dropped the bomb directly on Tokyo.”
Margo didn’t say anything. She just clasped one knee in her hands and stared at him.
“You Americans think you know war,” said Khan. “You only knew it from afar. The closest they got to the United States was sinking transport ships outside your harbors, or the Pearl Harbor incident. You lost your warriors, but not yourselves.”
“Somebody had to win,” said Margo.
“Others had to lose,” Khan answered. “My homeland, attacked by the Japanese, fallen to Communism. That took away most of my power, then and there. Britain, bombed almost flat, losing its colonies one by one. The British sun has set. Germany, humiliated once again, forced to face up to their crime of genocide, never to rise in pride or power anew. The Arabs and Jews at each other’s throats again, so soon after the death of the six million. America won, Miss Lane. The rest of the world lost. It is time America lost, as well.”
“No, Khan,” she said. “You’ll lose. Like you always do, when you go against the Shadow. He’ll kill you this time, unless you set me free and abandon your plan. If you’re lucky.”
“I have not lost, Miss Lane. I have only suffered setbacks. You know nothing of my victories, because I did not cross your master’s path. In the long view, as I have said before, the battle means little if it contributes to the success of a war. And though my victory be Pyrrhic...it will be a victory.”
With that, Shiwan Khan left. But Margo felt a bit of triumph, nonetheless.
She hadn’t told him anything about herself, and he hadn’t managed to make her.
Now, if she could just find a way out.
The sailor on the starboard deck of the Hwang Ho, a ship just in from China, could have sworn he heard sucking sounds coming from the side of the ship.
That was insanity itself. But such things, even if insane, had to be checked out. He leaned over the rail in the direction of the sounds and looked over, carefully.
He imagined he saw two gleaming points of light shortly before a puff of air was heard and something buried its point in his neck. The sailor tried to cry out, tried to pull the dart from his neck, and only succeeded in falling back unconscious.
Enabled by his suction cups, the Shadow kept crawling up the side of the ship.
None managed to find the sailor in time to see the man in black clambering over the railing. Hardly any noticed a figure which might have blended into the shadows, like the legendary Ninja of the Japanese. Some aboard felt a presence that made them uneasy, but saw nothing when they turned around.
This was undoubtedly the case with the man who was on duty at the ship’s brig. He felt a sting in his neck, and awoke shortly afterward to find nothing out of place. He supposed that he had just fallen asleep, and hoped like hell that nobody had discovered his dereliction of duty.
A few minutes later, the same sucking sounds could be heard on the side of the ship, if any had been there to hear them. The stricken sailor had been taken away and guards were posted, but the figure in black had picked his route well. Two other guards had been put to sleep. A small rowboat was beneath him as he neared the waterline. He leapt into it with only a small sound, manned the oars, and was away.
Harry Vincent and Cliff Marsland were standing on the docks, smoking cigarettes and wondering if this was the time the boss wouldn’t surprise them when he came back. It wasn’t. A voice came from behind them. “He is not on board,” it said.
The two of them wheeled to face the man in the slouch hat. “Uh,” said Harry, marshalling his thoughts. “Shiwan Khan?”
“Neither he nor his men nor Margo,” said the Shadow, standing before them. “I suspected such, but it had to be checked.”
Cliff tried to stifle a yawn. “So where does that leave us, Boss?”
“Get some sleep, both of you,” advised the Shadow. “I will call for you in four hours.”
“Four hours?” said Marsland. “Boss, that ain’t time enough for...”
“I will wake you,” said the Shadow, and was gone.
Hung Fat, as the Shadow had requested, had left Shiwan Khan’s field commander unharmed, but tied to a chair. A crude attempt at bandaging his side had been made. Blood still leaked through the dressing. The man was in pain.
Nobody seemed to care very much.
The gangboss was doing his books to kill the time. The guards looked on impassively, covering their captive. Occasionally he groaned. When that happened, Hung Fat would look up in mild annoyance.
“How one can be expected to perform bookkeeping when that racket is going on is a mystery for the ages,” he pronounced.
The wounded man sucked in a breath. “The Golden One will show mercy to those who treat his lieutenants well, even in battle.”
“The Golden One would show nothing but death to me,” said Hung Fat. “Be glad you have been allowed to live, unfortunate one.”
“Then allow me to die,” said the man. “The pain is beyond endurance.”
“The matter is out of my hands,” Hung Fat replied. “We wait for our guest.”
“Kill me first!”
“Gag him,” directed Hung Fat, and two guards moved to obey.
“Stop.” A new voice, one they had all heard before. The captive reacted with terror, the rest with only slightly restrained fear.
“Kill me now!” said the minion of Shiwan Khan.
None would have believed there was enough darkness in the room to conceal the Shadow. But he stood there before him, and none could detect the door having opened or shut. The guards relaxed, but only slightly.
“Welcome,” said Hung Fat.
The Shadow ignored him. He stood before the wounded enemy. “You are Wo Fat,” he said. “I am the Shadow.”
“I know who you are, Ying Ko,” said Wo Fat. “Do not make me dishonor myself.”
“This is not a matter of honor or dishonor, Wo Fat,” said the man in black. “This is a matter, I fear, of danger to the entire human race. Oriental as well as Occidental. You will help us find your master.”
“I will not!”
“In doing so, you will be delivered to a place where your wound will be treated, and you will survive,” the Shadow continued. “Then you will take yourself far from these shores, and you will not return. I will give you your life, in return for your information. Is that clear?”
“I dare not betray the Golden One!”
The Shadow raised his hand, and his Girasol ring began to glow, picking out the lights in his eyes.
Before long, Wo Fat began to speak in low tones, too softly for Hung Fat to make anything out. He continued for a good while. Then he stopped. After a pause, the Shadow spoke again.
“I will take you to a place of healing,” he said. “After you are released, you will return to your homeland. You will never again serve the Golden Master. The Shadow has spoken.”
With that, the Shadow produced a knife and cut Wo Fat’s bonds.
Hung Fat was out of his chair in a moment. “This is improper,” he said, indignantly. “He has crossed the path of the Society. He must pay!”
The Shadow, taking Wo Fat’s entranced form in his arms as if it were a baby, turned to Hung Fat Lee. “He has paid already, with his information. I have made a bargain and I will honor it, Hung Fat. Never more will he trouble you, or me. But one thing I must tell you. Never again interfere in my fight without my foreknowledge. We barely averted disaster in the last battle. I thank you for your help, but a wise general does not surprise his allies.”
The crime lord looked upon his dark partner for a long moment. “You have surprised me more than once, Ying Ko.”
“Not in that manner,” said the Shadow. “Be ready for action tonight. I will call you.”
The master of darkness turned with his human burden and walked to the door. The guards looked to Hung Fat for direction. He sighed and said, “Let him out.” The man nearest the door opened it for the Shadow, and shut it behind him.
After his visitor was gone, Hung Fat remarked, “Some partnerships, while necessary, are almost as taxing as enemies. We will be well off once our business is concluded.”
Nobody there felt like contradicting him.
There was a banging on the door of the cheap hotel where Harry and Cliff were sleeping, or trying to. Cliff opened his eyes, cursed, and stretched. The banging went on. He put on his shoulder holster and shoes, calling out, “All right, already! Stop that crap! I’m coming.” Harry woke, yawned, and stretched. Passwords were exchanged through the door. Nonetheless, Cliff had his gun out as he opened the door.
Moe Shrevnitz was standing on the other side. “We got a job to do,” he said.
“Before breakfast? Hell,” grumbled Harry, running his hands through his hair.
“The boss got you some steak sandwiches and coffee in bags in the back seat,” said Shrevvy. “You can eat on the way.”
“Where we headed?” asked Cliff, reholstering his gun.
“Where the boss told me to go,” shot back Shrevvy.
Harry reached for his shirt, put it on, and hoped the sandwiches would be worth it.