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The Danger Trail, June 1929

The Box of the Ivory Dragon

A Story of Shanghai

By James L. Aton

SHANGHAI... February... Clammy morning...

The great city where East meets West shivered in damp and foggy cold. Sikh policemen muffled in greatcoats hummed manfully as they breasted the frosty air. White men of affairs whirled along to work in closed cars; lesser white men damned fate in rickshaws. Chattering coolies in quilted winter coats lurched along the Bund in vain search of warmth.

The strip of garden between Bund and harbor that in summer had sheltered the choice loafers of Asia was now abandoned to the cold—and to Kelley.

Quite unmindful was Kelley of the air's wintry sting. He had no greatcoat and no gloves; yet he lolled on a bench, facing the chill from the harbor, and did not shiver. Part of his inner warmth came from an overdose of hootch; more of it came from the marrow of the man, grown mighty on winter seas.

From the misty harbor came a raucous medley of fog-horns. The lone man on the bench ignored them expertly; he was otherwise busy. Deep from his pants pocket he had pulled the handful of small coins that made up his available cash assets, and was looking them over—appraisingly, yet not cheerlessly.

"Heck!" he meditated. "Guess I'll have to hunt for a job!"

He was a big man, was Kelley—too big for speed. There was a military erectness to his shoulders; a hint of the stevedore in his huge hands, the roll of the sea in his legs, the devil-may- care glint of the soldier of fortune in his steel-blue eyes. With more fire than wisdom he had adventured to the ends of the earth—and had now no more than a jingle of small change to show for all that he had fought and dared.

Of the coins in his palm, many were pocket pieces, rich with associations, but poor in purchasing power. The pennies were from dirty Singapore . . . the eight-sided annas from red-and- yellow Bombay . . . the copper sens from the toy streets of Tokyo . . . the smart yellow franc from a wine-shop in Marseilles . . . the quarter from singing New Orleans. The few Shanghai dimes and coppers that topped the heap were reminders of the five hundred dollars that he had squandered in four glorious days on shore.

The thought came that he might walk up Broadway to a native money-changer and swap his assortment of alien coins for a Shanghai big dollar; but——

"Nix!" he muttered. "I won't do it— I'll hunt for a job."

From his coat-pocket he took the paper he had picked up that morning off the street, and began awkardly to seek the column that told of help wanted. He was no reader; it would have been more in keeping with his genius to have prowled along the water-front, seeking a berth on an outbound steamer. But he had been on salt water steadily for a long year; he had it in mind now to stay on shore and see somewhat of this land of China.

The want ads, when he found them, were few in number, as becomes a land where the man- supply exceeds the demand: "Number one office coolie, able to speak French, English and Mandarin". . . "Experienced compradore by established house in Tientsin" . . . "Chinese student will exchange letters with American man for mutual self-improvement-----—" . . . "Russian Countess travelling to France wishes companion who will act also as nurse-maid" . . . "Missionary family will employ trained amah—call mornings only" . . .

"Nothing for me," reflected Kelley. Already his huge hands were crumpling the paper when a line in the lower right-hand corner caught his eye:

American with military training for special service. Apply at once, top floor, 600 N. Szechuen Road.

Kelley started. Across the wide sweep of the traffic-congested Bund he dodged his way, and stopped in front of a stately Sikh policeman who held the head of a narrow cross-street.

"Hey, Bud, where's this location?" The American put his finger on the ad.

The bearded Sikh read the name, then pointed—a vague gesture indicating some far-off indefinite spot in the teeming city back from the harbor. Kelley went his way along the narrow cross-street, keeping his eye out for some fellow white man from whom he might seek more explicit direction.

In the middle of the third square back from the Bund, he first saw the Lank Man with the Brown Beard, bargaining with a Chinese peddler who had spread his wares of polished brass out on the narrow walk.

"It's worth five dollars." The Lank Man held a brass bowl in his hand. "I'll give you that—no more."

"No can do," the peddler was saying. "Eight dollars best price. I tell you true."

Kelley forgot his objective for a moment and stopped to stare.

Indeed, the Lank Man with the Brown Beard would have won many stares on any street in any city. Some would have gaped at his abnormally lank tallness, some at the outsprouting luxuriance of his whiskers, some at ...

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