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THE spring bell on the carved door of the Joss House tinkled. A slender youth, his shoulders bowed as though he carried a burden, entered and stood staring at the incense-wreathed gods ranged about the room.

Mark Fat tucked his chubby hands in the sleeves of his gown, leaned against the wall and watched in silence. Hunting had been poor this past week.

Perhaps this too was a chicken the gods had sent to be plucked.

The white-robed priest shuffled from his alcove and banged the huge brass gong to wake up the gods. He held out a handful of long rolls of rice-paper "prayers" and "money." The youth drew a shining gold coin from the pouch at his belt.

Mark Fat smiled. That was a heavy pouch. He watched the strips of red and yellow paper curl to ashes on the altars and then stepped forward. "Are you a stranger in San Francisco, little brother?" he asked gently.

The youth turned, his eyes lingering on the apparel of the older man: the square-crowned derby, the quilted coat of heavy gray silk, the dove-gray trousers and black-pointed shoes such as the barbarians wore. He glanced down briefly at his own baggy blouse and pantaloons of rough blue cotton.

"I bear the unworthy name of Lin Yang, honored sir," he said slowly. "This day I arrived from the Golden Mountains." He touched the pouch at his belt. "I have passage on a ship, but now...." His voice trailed and halted.

Mark Fat's smile widened. "Now you do not wish to go back to China?"

"That is true." Lin Yang bowed his head, a slow flush deepening the sunburn on his cheeks. "I planned to return to my village and prepare for the examinations. I was a scholar though a poor and stupid one."

"A most worthy ambition," Mark Fat said gravely. "But there is opportunity to become wealthy here in San Francisco. A wealthy man has leisure to study and increase his wisdom."

Lin Yang's fingers found the pouch at his belt again. "I have wealth," he said. "Three thousand dollars in gold pieces."

Mark Fat studied the lean young face. "Is it a girl?"

Lin Yang lowered his eyes. "That is true," he said. "I took my gold dust to the merchant Kee Hoo Sek in exchange for these gold pieces. There I saw..."

"There you saw Ah Kee, the eldest daughter of Kee Hoo Sek," Mark Fat said quickly. "She is sixteen years old and ripe for marriage." This chicken was ripe for plucking, also, he thought contentedly. He went on, a faint mockery in his smooth words: "Three thousand dollars is a fortune to a rice-paddy farmer in Kwang-tung, but a small sum to a great merchant like Kee Hoo Sek. Now if you had ten times three thousand ..."

Lin Yang's head came up, he scowled. "And if I were the Emperor's son, I would be a prince."

Mark Fat spoke gently: "You are a worthy young man. You would make a fine husband for Ah Kee. Perhaps I can help you. Let us go to my house and discuss this matter."

THE residence of Mark Fat was a single large room over a tea-house. Lin Yang stared at the blue and red silken drapes on the wall, the deep-piled rose carpet on the floor. He sat down at the lacquered table and accepted a steaming bowl of tea from his host. He waited, his dark eyes puzzled.

Mark Fat lifted his bowl in both hands and sipped his tea in silence for a moment. There were still a few things to be learned about this simple chicken. "I suppose you belong to one of the family associations," he said casually.

Lin Yang shook his head. "No. I came to this land all alone. There are no people of my clan or my district here."

Mark Fat expelled his breath in a small sigh of relief. There would be no indignant relatives to deal with when this chicken was plucked. He placed his bowl gently on the table and leaned forward. "I must come to a decision, Lin Yang," he said slowly. "You are about to witness a great wonder." He crossed the room to a cabinet and returned, laying a square box of polished rosewood on the table. He extended his hand. "Give me one of your gold pieces."

Lin Yang's eyes moved in puzzlement from the round face of his host to the box on the table. He reached to the pouch at his belt and laid a gold coin in Mark Fat's hand.

Mark Fat opened the box. Gleaming wheels and cogs of brass and steel filled nearly all of the space inside. He dropped the coin into a small funnel at the top of the machine and touched a lever. The mechanism whirred briefly and then settled to a steady, clock-like ticking.

Mark Fat settled back in his chair and closed the lid on the box. In a few minutes he would have that pouch at his own belt. He would take the train to Sacramento tonight. His wife and five sons would all have new coats. He would stay with his family until Lin Yang ceased searching and returned to the mines.

The ticking ceased. Mark Fat reached for the lid of the box and smiled at Lin Yang. "It is finished. Now you will see this wonder." He opened the box and pushed it across the table.

Lin Yang's jaw dropped. He stared at the ten shining gold pieces spread at the bottom of the box. He turned to his host, fear in his dark eyes. "I do not understand."

Mark Fat laughed briefly. "There is nothing to fear. The machine is not evil, but good." He reached into the box and put the gold pieces into Lin Yang's hand. "These are your property." He watched slow comprehension, excitement dawn on the younger man's face. The hand that held the gold pieces shook suddenly.

"These gold pieces were born from the one I gave to you?"

Mark Fat nodded. "There are but three machines like this in all the world. I am entrusted with this one to use for the benefit of deserving young men. The machine will produce nine gold pieces for every one dropped into it. However, a gold coin may be used but once, and coins made by the machine may not be put back into it. They are sterile and will not produce others."

Lin Yang reached to his belt, his eyes dazed. He placed the heavy pouch on the table. His voice was thick, the words slurring as though he had taken wine. "Then you will produce ten times three thousand dollars for me?"

Mark Fat nodded and rose to his feet. "Return at this time tomorrow, Lin Yang. You will be a man of real wealth, fit to negotiate a marriage with the daughter of Kee Hoo Sek." He watched the youth pass through the curtained doorway, his slim figure straight, his eyes still dazed. He took a nickeled watch from his pocket and smiled. The train for Sacramento departed from the Oakland Pier in three hours. He would have time for a good dinner.

THE restaurant of the Tipsy Moon served the finest roast duck in Chinatown. Mark Fat picked his way through the buckets of bones, scraps and entrails on the kitchen floor and entered the dining room. A corner booth was empty, the curtains open. He seated himself and leaned back against the thin partition with a sigh of satisfaction.

A low rumble of voices sounded from the next booth. Mark Fat sat up suddenly, placed his ear against the partition. The name was spoken again. "Kee Hoo Sek," the speaker said clearly. "That one will pay ten or fifteen thousand dollars for the return of his daughter."

Another voice, harsh and grating, broke in with a question. "The bargain is concluded with Chin Jung?"

The first speaker laughed. "It is arranged. Chin Jung has been commanded to accompany the girl to a feast at the house of her father's brother tonight. Chin Jung will take her to a place we know of. Chin Jung will receive two thousand dollars and then he will be placed on a ship before morning."

Mark Fat got to his feet. He had heard enough. He slid silently out of the booth. In the alley behind the kitchen he stood quietly until the pounding of his heart subsided. He knew those two men in the booth, tong brothers of the swaggering professional bully, Chin Jung, hired by Kee Hoo Sek as a bodyguard for members of his household.

Mark Fat touched the pouch of gold at his belt and smiled. He would not take the train to Sacramento tonight, but when he took the train tomorrow morning, the pouch would be twice as heavy. He started down the alley at a brisk trot. It was of great importance to speak with Chin Jung within the hour. There were also other arrangements to be made.

THE room was damp and cold, almost a dungeon except for the narrow window opening to the alley. Water oozed through the hard-packed clay and lay in thin puddles on the floor. Mark Fat stood quietly in a corner. His palms were damp with cool sweat but he noted with satisfaction that his breath came smoothly and the beat of his heart was steady.

He had waited an hour now and the rats squeaking and scuttling in the walls had grown bold, venturing across the floor and scurrying to safety when he moved a foot. Heavy footsteps sounded in the corridor outside, footsteps that moved in slow cadence. Mark Fat stepped to the door, opened it an inch and then wider.

Chin Jung's thick shoulders filled the doorway. He carried the girl on his hip as easily as if she were a sack of rice. He tossed her into a heavy chair, the only furnishing in the room except the table that held the lamp, and wound rope around her slim body. The girl's eyes were big, frightened in the dim light, her lips flattened by the handkerchief wound around her jaws.

Chin Jung knotted the rope and grunted. "She will be quiet now." He crossed to the table, his breath rasping in his throat. "The gold," he said hoarsely.

Mark Fat opened the pouch and poured the gold pieces on the table. "Three thousand dollars, as we agreed." He kept his voice low. The girl must not know the exact amount.

Chin Jung stacked the coins, his lips moving. He looked up and grinned. "It is correct." He moved to the window and swung a leg over the sill, a metallic clatter betraying the weapons in his belt. "It is a good bargain," he said and laughed. His stocky body disappeared into the night.

Mark Fat waited, listening. There was no sound. He drew his robe across his face and walked to the chair. "You are Ah Kee, the daughter of Kee Hoo Sek?"

The girl nodded. Mark Fat leaned closer. "Listen to me. Chin Jung agreed to sell you to brothers of his tong. They offered him five thousand dollars. I gave him six thousand. I will not harm you and you will be returned to your father's house in a few minutes, but Kee Hoo Sek must repay the money I gave to Chin Jung. Do you understand? Your father must pay me six thousand dollars."

The girl nodded again, vigorously, her dark eyes bright with quick tears. Mark Fat smiled, let the robe drop from his face and reached for the gag binding her jaws. There was sudden, thunderous knocking on the door. A gruff voice shouted.

Mark Fat whirled and dove through the window. He rolled to his feet as the door crashed inside the room. The voice shouted again and two bullets split the night behind him as he turned the corner of the alley. He slowed to a walk and sidled to the center of the throng on Dupont Gai, the street called Grant Avenue by the barbarians. Fifty persons had seen him run from the alleyway, but not an eye turned in his direction.

At the corner, he halted and looked down the street. A knot of blue-clad figures stood in front of the entrance to the building he had just left. The street light glistened on the coats of the bay horses who pulled the patrol-wagon. It was the barbarian police who had broken down the door. Mark Fat walked slowly. This was a matter that was not easy to explain.

THE low tapping at the door was insistent. Mark Fat got to his feet and crossed the room. "Who is there?" A low voice rumbled. He drew the bolt and Chin Jung glided into the room. Mark Fat looked at him coldly. "Why do you come to my house? There is peril for us both in your presence here."

Chin Jung sat on a bench and rested his face in his hands. He spoke slowly, sucking in his breath after each labored word. "I could not get to a ship. The brothers of my tong and the barbarian police seek to capture me. They are everywhere." He drew knuckles across his sweating forehead, reached to his belt and dropped the pouch on the table. "Wealth is a heavy burden."

Mark Fat studied the hatchet-man in silence. "You were stupid and clumsy, Chin Jung," he said at last. "The barbarian police came to the room and fired bullets at my person."

"I know that. The people are all talking about it." Chin Jung sighed heavily. "The police were led to the room by a young miner named Lin Yang. I have heard that Kee Hoo Sek has taken this young man into his own house. Lin Yang is a great hero today." Chin Jung scowled at the floor. "I swear that I will sink my axe in the skull of this Lin Yang."

Mark Fat snorted. "You will find an axe in your own thick skull if you continue to be stupid." He fell silent. So Lin Yang had followed the girl, like any loveā€”sick swain. Lin Yang had seen Chin Jung drag the girl to the room and then he had called the police. It was all clear now and he, Mark Fat, had been the stupid one. He should have anticipated this.

He glanced from the pouch of gold on the table to the bowed head of Chin Jung. There was but one course to follow. He moved softly across the carpet, lifted the heavy pouch and struck.

THE house of Kee Hoo Sek reflected the wealth and taste of its owner. The room where guests were received was long, with a high ceiling. Delicate paintings panelled the walls and the gilt chairs and heavy teakwood benches were set on rugs of a dozen hues.

Mark Fat stood quietly before the merchant, his round face grave, his eyes steady. Kee Hoo Sek moved in the gilded chair and cast a look at the young man seated beside him. "Do you believe this story, Lin Yang? Do you think this man speaks the truth?"

Mark Fat shifted his gaze to the face of Lin Yang. This was a different person from the dejected youth who had entered the temple a few short hours ago. The baggy blouse and trousers of cotton had been replaced with a robe of silk as fine as that worn by Kee Hoo Sek himself. Lin Yang's eyes were calm, his bearing confident. The chicken had turned into a rooster with sharp spurs. Lin Yang leaned forward.

"Did you bring my thirty thousand dollars, Mark Fat?"

Mark Fat drew his face into careful lines of sorrow. "It is a sad thing," he said slowly. "The machine was destroyed during my struggle to overcome the wicked Chin Jung." He drew the pouch from his belt. "Here is your money, just as I took it from the person of Chin Jung."

Lin Yang set the pouch on the floor at his feet. "You say that you used my money and another three thousand dollars to buy Ah Kee from Chin Jung. That may he true. But if your intentions were honorable, why did you run away when I arrived with the police?"

"I did not know who was at the door," Mark Fat said. "I thought it might be the tong brothers of Chin Jung."

Lin Yang turned to the merchant. "Ah Kee saw the face of the man in the room. She has told us that the man promised to return her to your house. She also mentioned the sum of six thousand dollars."

Kee Hoo Sek nodded. "My daughter shall look upon this man." He struck the palms of his hands together. A servant appeared in the doorway. "Bring my daughter to this room."

Ah Kee leaned on the arm of the servant, her slender form swaying on the stilted lily shoes. She swept her long lashes at the youth seated beside her father and halted, her eyes modestly downcast.

Kee Hoo Sek spoke slowly: "This person says that he was in the room with you and that he gave the money to Chin Jung. Is this true?"

The dark lashes flicked upward. Ah Kee studied the face of Mark Fat for a long moment. She lowered her eyes, her voice was soft. "This is the man."

Kee Hoo Sek nodded and lifted a hand in dismissal. He turned to the plump little man standing before him. "You have saved my house from bitter disgrace," he said slowly. "If my daughter had fallen into the hands of the tong brothers of Chin Jung..." He paused for a moment and went on, his lip curling slightly. "Lin Yang has told me of your money-making machine. I am glad it has been destroyed. Such a machine contains the seed of evil."

THE merchant rose to his feet. "You say that you paid six thousand dollars to Chin Jung, and that he has hidden the other three thousand and refuses to tell the place where it is concealed. Very well, I will accept your story. Wait here. I will bring you three thousand dollars." He turned toward the doorway.

Mark Fat looked at Lin Yang, a faint smile on his lips. "The sun of good fortune shines upon you, little brother," he said.

Lin Yang smiled. "I am grateful to you, Mark Fat, but I suspect that you also have prospered beyond your deserts." He leaned forward. "You said that you bound Chin Jung and left him on the floor of your house. What will be his fate?"

Mark Fat's smile broadened. "I sent word to certain tong brothers of Chin Jung. They will take him away. His tong brothers will arrange his future."

Lin Yang nodded. Silence fell in the richly furnished room. Mark Fat waited for the footstep of Kee Hoo Sek. He would have a tale to tell his five sons in Sacramento tonight. He stood quietly, the glow of a virtuous deed warming his veins.