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Scourge of the Silver Dragon

Federal Detective Novelette

by E. Hoffmann Price

For weary days, Flint, Department of Justice manhunter, trudged the murky streets of Frisco's Chinatown.
He was searching for the hell-tracks of the Silver Dragon. And when he crossed them he found a frozen-
faced Oriental and a beautiful woman with the eyes of Satan

"THAT'S funny," muttered Gilbert Flint to the silence of his dingy, furnished room; but there was no mirth in his frosty gray eyes, as he watched a touring sedan emerge from the swirling mists of Chinatown and pull to the curbing of Jackson Street.

His craggy, sun-tanned face tightened into angles that were accentuated by the sudden grimness of his mouth. Crouched beside the sill of the fly-specked window that gave him a view from Stockton Street down to the Embarcadero, Gilbert Flint of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for a moment seemed to be a lurking tiger. It was time to strike. Twice during his endless prowlings as a shabby drifter in Chinatown he had seen that six- wheel job pull up at the mouth of the alley that led to the rear of Yut Lee's "Abode of Felicitous Fraternal Association." And the third time confirmed his hunch that the Silver Dragon came to San Francisco by motor.

The same car, and the same driver: a hawk- nosed, swarthy man whose thin face, for a moment illuminated by the yellowish glow of the nearby electrolier, was deeply lined and haggard from hard driving. He stretched his lean, rangy body, then stepped to the side door of Yut Lee's place. He rang, and was at once admitted.

Flint reached for a wreck of a hat, slipped into a shapeless, tattered topcoat, and resumed the role he had for a moment cast off. He bit off a chew of Rattle Axe and shambled down the two flights of creaking stairs. If a Chinaman emerged from the alley to remove the spare wheels from the fender wells, Flint wanted to be within arm's reach. Those tires—unless his hunch was wrong—would be filled with more than air.

He wondered how many five-tael tins of opium each inner tube could conceal. He wondered also what master smuggler was flooding San Francisco with Silver Dragon, the new brand that was forcing the old ones out of the market.

Flint slouched upgrade, crossed Jackson, and ducked into an intersecting alley not far from the parked sedan. He entered a gloomy doorway and ascended a flight of stairs. On the second floor hall he lifted a window, cleared the sill, and emerged on a balcony that overhung the court in the rear of Yut Lee's place.

While the Abode of Felicitous Fraternal Association was the center of the local opium traffic, Flint had larger game in view—the smuggling ring that supplied Yut Lee. The Chinatown squad, complying with a request from federal headquarters, arrested just enough peddlers and hop heads to avoid a suspicion-arousing lull.

Across the court was a window, a blot of yellow glow in the gloom. Flint was looking into the inside of Chinatown. Lean, grizzled Yut Lee was earnestly conversing with a girl whose loveliness caught Flint's breath. She was not Chinese; and he doubted that she was Eurasian. Her blue-black hair was drawn sleekly back and caught in a lustrous cluster at the nape of her neck. Cream-colored skin, and dark eyes perilously smouldering behind curled lashes; just a glimpse, but an unforgettable one.

This was the home of the Silver Dragon that had invaded San Francisco despite the airtight cordon of FBI men guarding the Embarcadero and searching every ship that came from the Orient.

A door silently swung into the murky gloom below. A Chinaman emerged. His felt slippers swish-swished as he shuffled across the flagstones. Same old routine. Haul the spares in, one at a time; then later, come out with other tires.

THE Chinaman fumbled with keys.

A latch click—but as the door to the street opened, the Chinaman froze for an instant. Then his hand darted forward, sending a silvery streak zipping on ahead of him. Screeching wrathfully, he drew another knife and bounded toward the street. That opened the show.

Flint, clearing the balcony railing, heard the tinkle of steel and the answering yell. He dropped to the shadows of the court, rocked for an instant on the balls of his feet to regain his balance. But instead of rising, he rolled back and to the shelter of a pilaster. The Abode of Felicitous Fraternal Association was waking up.

The hawk-nosed driver of the parked car came plunging into the court. As he reached the street, a pistol crackled. Lead thudded into the door. Wild shots spattered to whining fragments against the brick wall at the rear. A yell, and the sodden thud of a man dropping to the paving.

Hawk-nose, ducking to the shelter of the jamb, cursed wrathfully and snapped an automatic into line. The blast of his heavy pistol drowned the spiteful rattle that came from beyond his parked car, but flame still streaked over the hood.

Flint caught it at a glance. Rival opium dealers were rising in revolt against the monopoly of Silver Dragon. One spare wheel lay on the sidewalk where the hijacker had dropped it to take cover as the Chinaman emerged from the court.

"Cabron!" roared Hawk-nose above the thunder of his .45, then shifted to get a better line of fire.

His maneuver was good. Another shot, and the enemy's fusillade ceased. Hawk-nose bounded from cover. Sirens were screaming in the distance, and in another few moments the Chinatown squad would appear to mop up the disturbance. The iron gratings of windows opening into the court of Yut Lee's place were slamming shut; and when the police appeared, bland faced Orientals would be insisting: "No savvee...."

Wisely enough, Yut Lee's highbinders were not taking a hand. There was no use. The car parked at the curb was Hawk-nose's funeral, not theirs.

Hawk-nose was losing no time. Even as the wounded hijacker dropped gurgling and groaning to the street, the opium runner leaped to the wheel.

Flint emerged from cover. Getting the license plate number was not enough. That would be changed; but by riding the rear bumper he could flag some traffic cop to tail the machine. But both Flint and the opium runner miscalculated.

Before Hawk-nose could jab the starter, a dark form jerked up from behind the front seat to meet him. A hand snaked up, striking aside his automatic, and a curved blade lashed upward. There had been two hijackers, one working on each fender well. And the one at the left had played a cunning game.

The interior of the car became a tangle of writhing bodies and grappling hands, and a relentlessly flickering blade that darted in and out of the confusion. Hawk-nose sagged to the floorboards.

Flint bounded to the running board. The hijacker, a short; stocky Chinaman, kicked clear of his wounded adversary and lunged to meet him. Flint ploughed in, his left hand catching the highbinder's wrist and deflecting his dripping blade, his first popping home. The Chinaman dazed but still kicking, sagged across the steering column.

Before Flint could regain his balance, the parked car began rolling down grade. The emergency had been disengaged in the tussle. He jerked back, but the highbinder blocked his attempt to leap clear. The knife descended. Flint wriggled clear. Its red length stabbed the upholstery.

Flint drew his knee up to his stomach to boot the highbinder through the windshield—but gravity and the steep grade had been at work. The now swiftly, erratically descending car backed over the low curbing, and crashed into an entrance a door from Grant Avenue. The impact pitched the highbinder and Flint to the paving. They came up fighting. A blade raked Flint from shoulder to hip. He jerked aside, struggled to his feet. Another vicious jab. Flint feinted, ducked inside the highbinder's guard, planting him squarely on the jaw.

Hawk-nose, aroused by the shock that flung him from the floorboards, lashed out blindly with both arms.

The riot ended with a savage yell, a gurgle and a gasp. Flint saw that the highbinder had impaled himself on his own blade....

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