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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.

Hawk-nose was still alive, though the ever widening pool of blood through which he was trying to crawl left his chances in the balance.

"Take it easy, Jack," cautioned Flint, kneeling beside the wounded man. "You got them both. I'll give you a lift—which way?"

Hawk-nose muttered, gestured vaguely as Flint lifted him from the paving. The car, despite its rear end crash, was worth a trial.

And then the Chinatown squad came pounding into action. Flint swallowed an oath, and obeyed the brusque command to surrender.

"Jeez, chief," he whined, resuming his pose as a drifter, "I don't know nuthin' about this. I was just helpin' this guy to his feet—"

"You look like it," growled the sergeant, eyeing Flint's knife-tattered coat and battered face. "Now shut up, or do I have to sock you?"

"Take it easy, cap," countered Flint. "Can't you give a fellow a break? I didn't have nuthin' to do with this, but the Chinks'll be waiting for me when I get out of the jug—"

"They'll be old men before you get out," barked the sergeant. "Now get into that wagon." Flint risked a whisper as the police hustled him toward the department car. "Grab that spare tire halfway up the block!"

The sergeant glanced up Jackson Street.

"Spare tire!" he growled. "Try another one, fella!"

It was gone, but one still remained in the left fender well.

"Get that—"

But the Chinatown squad is hardened to artful dodges. Flint, now that his investigation had blown up, would have to start all over again, and he dared not continue the argument.

The next instant justified him. A blot of whiteness appeared from a second story window; then a pale, slender, jewel-sparkling hand swept out. A burning cigarette lighter landed in the pool of gasoline collecting under the crushed tank. A roar, a fierce wave of heat, and a surging gust of flame enveloped Hawk-nose's car.

Flint cursed wrathfully as the police machine pulled out. Before that blaze was extinguished, not a scrap of evidence would be left.

AT police headquarters Flint identified himself.

"Who is that hook-nosed guy, and will he live?" he asked.

"Henrique Robles, according to his driver's license," answered the sergeant. Then, after a moment on the telephone, he added: "They tell me he coughed himself to death on the operating table. The rest were cold meat before we got to headquarters. Three highbinders. Yut Lee, of course, claims he never saw the Chink that went out to get the spare tires—or the others that tried to beat him to it. Which is pure baloney. If there's not a tong war before morning, my name's not McDermott!"

"Worse than a tong war," grumbled Flint. "Damn sight worse! Anyone big enough to crowd the other brands off the market is not going to confine himself to opium.

"Hitting the pipe is comparatively harmless, especially for a Chink. The damnable thing about it is that this Silver Dragon won't stick to smoking opium. Deadlier drugs will follow. The kind that get at the white population."

McDermott's ruddy face lengthened. Flint's view had made a murderous tong war seem trivial in comparison.

While waiting for news of the exotic girl he had glimpsed at Yut Lee's place—the one he was certain had ignited Robles' car—Flint proposed inspecting the wreck.

They went. "Hawk-nose" Robles' machine was in the pound. The blackened remains mocked Flint. The blast of the half-emptied tank had sprayed it with blazing gasoline. He drew a jackknife and moved toward the still smoking wreck.

The hijackers had been interrupted before they could break the lock of the tire in the Left fender well. A slash, and the blistered rubber yielded. Flint's hunch was confirmed when he tore into the tube: it was filled with five-tael tins of Silver Dragon, each held in place with a rubber band vulcanized to the interior. But that confirmation was thus far useless.

The serial number had long been filed from the engine block, and no body number plate remained. The gutted interior was a total blank. Flame and the fire department had destroyed the ownership papers on the steering column.

"At the speed this guy was driving," said McDermott eyeing the insect-caked radiator, "he'd have to gas up about every hundred seventy-five miles. Watch towns that distance—"

"This is better!" interrupted Flint, abruptly checking his examination of the interior of the car. He pried a small metal plate from above the right corner of the windshield, "Somebody slipped!"

It was a greasing rack "tickler" with blank spaces for the speedometer reading at which oil should be changed and the chassis relubricated. The top of the plate was marked in red enamel Timothy's Service Station—Yuma.

"Bullseye!" exclaimed McDermott. "That short circuits the guesswork. Now we know where to inquire. First stop for gas, Fresno, hundred and eighty miles south. Then the all-night filling station at Mojave, three fifty-five. And Yuma—"

"Is headquarters," Flint broke in. "Close to the Mexican border. This tickler's never been marked. Probably not even Robles knew it was there. He'd grease up each round trip. Routine."

Flint then briskly ordered: "Get some mechanics to work on this heap. Fix it up with a used body the same color. I'm driving it south."

"Hell!" muttered McDermott. "You can't get away with impersonating Hawk-nose Robles! And the big shot—the Silver Dragon—ten to one knows by this time what's happened."

Flint's mouth relaxed almost to a smile. "McDermott, if it's got you guessing, this gag may catch some one else off guard. But unlesa I hit fast, I'll pile right into a buzz-saw. Shake it up. This is big stuff."

Flint, while waiting for the police to have Robles' sedan restored, listened to the radio network enveloping the Peninsula: but the incoming reports were a succession of blanks.

He returned to the pound. The mechanics were checking up the restoration.

"Put some bullet holes into the hood," he ordered, approvingly eyeing the second-hand replacement body. "Radio the highway patrols down the San Joaquin to give me a clear block, and tell the small town speed traps to lay off, I'm going through.

"And while you're waiting for the radio in Yuma, find that black-haired jane with a quart of diamonds on her fingers and hell in her eyes. Just maintain contact, under cover. But don't grab her. She's been loose too long for a pinch to be any good. The beans must be spilled by now. She'll be worth more on the hoof than in the jug."

HALF an hour later the revamped car was hoisted bodily into a waiting truck. In a side street just short of the South San Francisco bottle neck, Flint took the wheel and nosed the powerful machine down the tail gate ramp and to the paving.

YUMA is sprawled on the east bank of the sluggish Colorado. Its dobe shacks and broad, dusty streets were replaced by granite and marble and asphalt when the Chamber of Commerce used the winter sunshine as tourist bait; hence the modern hotels, schools like Moorish palaces, and a post office that covers a quarter of the city. Yuma is the biggest small town in the country—or maybe it's the smallest big town.

Flint headed for Timothy's Filling Station. Six hundred and seventy miles in a little over ten hours, and the car looked it.

"Give her the works, doc," Flint ordered.

Despite his careless tone and the amiable grin that cracked the alkali dust coating of his craggy face, he was tensely watching the effect of his appearance.

The sandy-haired attendant's blue eyes narrowed as his glance shifted from Flint to the car, and the bullet holes in the hood. No doubt that the machine was familiar; but there was little chance that the attendant would know enough about Robles' business to be on guard.

"Robles got hurt," Flint remarked. "He tried to tell me who to get in touch with, but he passed out before I could get it. Know any of his friends?"

"Don't know anything about him, cap," was the answer. "But there's a fellow that drives up here with him, once in a while. Perfesser Kane— the fortune teller. Maybe you could find him in the phone directory."

Flint found that Alexander Kane was listed. That was something to work on.

"'I'll be back for the grease job later," said Flint, resuming the wheel.

But just in case the man at the filling station knew more than he seemed to, Flint rounded the corner, pulled up at a drug store, and called the telephone supervisor.

"Watch all calls going out of Timothy's Service Station," he ordered. "And report Alexander Kane's phone out of order. Police business."

Then he hastened to police headquarters. He arrived just in time to hear the sergeant at the desk rasp into the transmitter: "We don't know anything about that order—"

"You do now, sergeant," Flint cut in, flashing a federal badge. "Tell the phone supervisor to go ahead with it, and I'll explain a few things."

The order was confirmed; and presently he was conferring with Chief Fergus McDonald, lean and erect as the desert sahuaros, and just about as thorny.

"What's the dirt on this fortune teller, Kane?" he asked, after sketching the trail of the Silver Dragon.

"As far as we've had any occasion to know," answered McDonald, "he's just one of those pests that stay inside the law. He came to town six months ago, and there haven't been any complaints."

"I'm going to look him up," announced Flint.

ALEXANDER KANE'S squat, thick-walled, old-fashioned dobe house was a brown cube surrounded by an uncultivated grove of grapefruit trees. Though not far from the southern limits of the city, it was aloof, and isolated from the neighboring places. A dusty drive, winding in and out among the trees, led to a sunbaked yard fringed by flame-crested ocatillas and tall, towering sahuaros. At the right of the flat-roofed dobe was a stack of fire wood, lying as though just unloaded from a truck whose tire tracks were still plain in the yard.

Flint jabbed the pushbutton just below the brass plate that was etched, Alexander Kane, Psychic. No answer.

He circled the house. The professor's car was in the open garage. He returned to the stone slab at the threshold. Another futile ring. Then Flint went in. For a moment the cool dimness of the spacious room was too much for eyes dazzled by the outdoor glare. It was not until Flint had passed the table at the center that he perceived the thin, sallow-faced man who lay sprawled on the Spanish tiles. He had fallen, struggled to his knees, then slumped to his right. Life had ended with that last effort.

The flow from the dark splash on his gray coat, just below the shoulder, had made little progress across the tiles. His thin, pain-racked face was a mask of futile wrath, made grotesque by the froth that had drooled from his lips as he gasped out his life. Dried, blackened blood—he had been dead for hours.

Flint knelt beside the body, deftly probed an inside coat pocket and found a wallet. A glance at the contents identified the corpse as Alexander Kane.

"He might have been psychic," muttered Flint, "but not enough to keep from turning his back to the wrong guy."

Death had sought Kane with a smile and a knife. No mistaking that vengeful grimace; and the table runner, jerked awry, confirmed Flint's opinion. The psychic had died trying to reach his telephone. Another step, another moment of life, and he would have lived to speak a familiar name into the transmitter.

None of the living-room furniture had been disturbed. Then Flint noted that the trail of blood led to the rear. He followed it down the hallway. At his right was a door that opened into a room whose stucco walls were hung with astrological charts. In the center was a broad, flat-topped walnut desk on which were set, between brazen sphinxes, half a dozen occult books.

Without entering, Flint continued tracking the blood splashes in the hallway. They led to the kitchen, and came from a trapdoor opening into a cellar. He descended a short flight of wooden stairs, found and snapped a switch.

"Hell's bells!" he exclaimed, noting the open door of a wall cabinet.

On one shelf were ten five-tael tins of Silver Dragon. On a table were several inner tubes, slit to receive their cargo.

FLINT, examining the hot-patch kit used in vulcanizing the cans of opium to the inner tubes, saw that the psychic had been preparing to conceal fifty five-tael containers. Forty were missing; and if it was hijacking, why leave ten?

"Flint retraced his steps, but this time he paused in the kitchen. It was large, neat, but scantily furnished—a shelf stocked with canned goods; a refrigerator and a gas plate. In an alcove were two chairs, and a dinette table.

The latter had not been cleared. There were two plates, both coated with a greasy, congealed, reddish brown gravy; and cups that contained coffee dregs. A bowl at the center was a third filled with frijoles and chili con carne. Beside it lay a heel of bread and a square of butter.

He sniffed the chili. Home made. The real article.

But before he could look for some definite trace left by the unknown guest. Flint heard a muffled groan, as though some one, handicapped by a gag, were making an effort to call for help. He turned. It was repeated, choked and gurgling.

It must come from the mystic's study, but he could not be certain. No—it originated in the basement. The silence of the thick walled dobe had an uncanny trick of distorting sound.

He paused, waiting for a recurrence of that deceptive cry of distress. He heard a sharp click as though a latch had either opened or engaged. No doubt about its origin. Regardless of prisoners, some one was on the prowl. Flint, pistol in hand, stretched long, stealthy strides toward the study door. Weapon leveled, he halted, peeped warily into the room.

It was empty. Nevertheless he sensed that he was by no means alone in that sinister dobe. The groan was repeated. Flint was certain now that some one must be beyond the door which opened from the study into an adjoining room.

Pistol still ready, he cleared the threshold; but as he bounded forward to reach the knob of the interior door, it jerked open to meet him. Simultaneously, something tripped him in midstride and a stick cracked down across his right forearm. His automatic slipped from numb fingers; yet swift as his headlong plunge was, he caught a glimpse of the short, moonfaced Chinaman who had lurked at the blind side of Kane's desk.

Only a flickering glimpse, as he desperately struggled to regain his balance: an unnaturally stolid, immobile face whose only animated features were the eyes, black fires that blazed in that frozen, yellowish mask.

Then, slipping on the tiles, Flint's efforts to regain his feet sent him plunging headlong across the threshold and into the darkness from which the choking sounds had come.

A dobe wall checked his lunge. Rebounding, he whirled to a crouch. But the door slammed, and a bolt snicked home. The solid panels fairly crushed his shoulder as he hurled himself against them.

Silence, except for his own hoarse breathing. He struck a match. He was caged in a cramped, dusty closet. The Chinaman, crouched at the blind side of Kane's desk, had by simple ventriloquism thrown his voice so that it seemed to come from beyond the door. And Flint had taken the bait.

His hands were slick and greasy, and so were his knees.

Butter! Taken from the square in the kitchenette.

No wonder he had floundered on those tiles. And peeping through the keyhole, he caught a glimpse of a strand of wire on the floor of the study. That was what had tripped him.

He shifted and saw that blank face averted as yellow hands opened desk drawers and probed the contents. Without waiting to see what the raider was taking, Flint turned his back to the door. He braced himself against the knob, planted his feet against the closet wall, and heaved.

The panels creaked as he slowly straightened his arched body. He heard a soft, mocking laugh. Another heave, and then Flint settled to the floor. There, lying on his side, he could apply pressure.

But the groan of the wood was followed by the slip-slip-swish, of shuffling feet and the locking of the outer door. And when the tongue of the lock finally tore the socket from the jamb, Flint, was alone in a littered office. Escape was blocked by an iron-barred window and a door as strong as the first.

His gun was on the desk, every cartridge removed.

As he snatched a chair and began belabouring the remaining barrier, he wondered at the insane inconsistency of it all. Why such an elaborate trap when the Chinaman could have stabbed or brained him as he responded to ventriloquist's bait?

FLINT finally shouldered his way through the shattered panel. Although he knew that his captor had made good his escape, he nevertheless dashed to the front.

Robles' touring sedan was still there; but the top of the trunk at the rear was now braced open. Three prints of felt-soled slippers had registered before the emerging stowaway had reached the harder ground at the house. There were no tracks to show what direction the Chinaman had taken in flight from the dobe.

"That Chink followed me from 'Frisco!" muttered Flint.

In trying to outwit the enemy, he had carried one of the Silver Dragon's men with him for nearly seven hundred miles. Flint grimaced wryly and gave the sinking sensation at the pit of his stomach a chance to subside. Then he cursed wrathfully and strode back into the house.

"Funny," he pondered, stepping to the telephone to call the police, "that Kane didn't have this instrument in his office instead of out here."

He mentioned only having found the dead soothsayer. But as he started to the rear to resume his interrupted search, he heard a car coming up the driveway.

Flint turned again to the front. A tall, swarthy man with a waxed black mustache emerged; a Spaniard or a Mexican. He carried a black leather bag.

Flint met him at the door.

"I am looking for Professor Kane," the caller announced. He was sleek and well groomed, and his purposeful dark eyes regarded Flint with sharp, querying scrutiny as he added: "Tell him that Dr. Alvarez is here."

"Did he call you?"

"Does it matter?" the doctor countered.

Flint suddenly stepped aside and gestured. He sharply watched Alvarez to note his reaction when his eyes accommodated themselves to the abrupt change from outdoor glare to indoor shadows.

Alvarez stared for a moment, then exclaimed and recoiled. He fixedly regarded the gray huddle just beyond the table, and the blood that blackened the tiles. Then, voice level and unwavering, he queried: "You found him this way?"

"How long has he been dead?" Flint asked.

Alvarez knelt, frowned and muttered under his breath. Finally, he arose, fumbled with his watch, stroked his mustache, and announced: "One couldn't say except roughly, without an autopsy. But—" he glanced again at his watch—"I'd judge he was killed around six o'clock last night."

"Thanks, doc," acknowledged Flint. "Stick around until the sergeant gets here. He'll want to ask you a few things—"

"I'm afraid," deplored. Alvarez, "that I won't be able to help much."

"We'll worry about that," said Flint.

Alvarez seated himself, fumbled for a match; then without hesitation strode to the far corner of the room to get a smoking stand. He evidently knew his way about the house.

McDonald, accompanied by the homicide squad, presently arrived; and as the medical examiner and fingerprint man set to work, the chief questioned Alvarez.

"Professor Kane," began the doctor, "has been my patient for the past six months. I called on him at irregular hours most adaptable to my time. Either around noon, or in the evening. I live right next door, you know." His gesture indicated the northern side of the citrus grove.

"Did you see anyone call here last night, around six-seven?"

"Naturally not," answered Alvarez. "The grove doesn't permit me a view from my windows. Furthermore, Simon Carter—of Carter, Quentin and Carter—was dining with me. Thus, I'd not notice who approached the place."

McDonald nodded, asked a few routine questions as to the late Professor Kane's domestic arrangements, and habits, then added: "That's all, Dr. Alvarez. The coroner will want a statement later."

"Another blank!" grumbled Flint as Alvarez returned to his car. "Remarkable how little that guy knows about his patient! But let's look the joint over. I'm still wondering who was eating chili with Kane."

His second survey of the house yielded no new information; but the fingerprint man's findings gave significance to Flint's last question.

"Kane's prints are all over," he announced. "Except on the spoon next to that bowl on the other side of the table. And it's blank—wiped clean."

"How about the desk and that door knob?" Flint cut in. "Where the Chinaman was pawing around?"

"Wiped clean," was the answer.

McDONALD nodded, for a moment watched his men carry on with their routine, then said: "Flint, that drive of yours, following a busy day in San Francisco, isn't going to help a lot with what's ahead of you. Get yourself a nap, and this evening I'll have all the dope sorted out for you."

McDonald was right. Flint took the wheel of Robles' car. And as he passed Alvarez's house, which adjoined the abandoned grapefruit grove that surrounded Kane's place, he saw that the doctor could scarcely have noticed the psychic's callers.

That evening Flint reviewed the evidence McDonald presented.

Alvarez' story checked perfectly. The coroner confirmed the Spanish doctor's opinion as to the time of Kane's death.

"The old Mexican woman who comes in several times a week to clean the house," said McDonald, "made that batch of chili. Kane liked it. And he always ate early, around six. Rarely left the dobe—naturally not, with the line he was running! Prepared his own meals. And according to the autopsy—based on undigested frijoles and chili— Kane was knocked off not long after he ate."

"That," growled Flint, "is damn helpful. But who wiped the spoon handles clean? And did that prowling Chink leave any marks?"

"Wait a minute!" McDonald broke in. "Till I tell you the rest. A Spick—Ramon Guevara—did odd jobs of gardening for Kane. Supplied him with cordwood for the fireplace. And peddled garden truck here and there in town.

"One of the neighbors saw Guevara in his Model-T truck heading down toward Kane's place with a load of wood. That was around six. And not long after he came out, empty."

"Have you located Guevara?"

"No," admitted McDonald. "He comes from San Cristobal, right across the Mexican line. The customs inspectors tell me he hasn't crossed today."

"And from now on he won't!" declared Flint, "So I'm going over to get him."

SAN CRISTOBAL was a collection of squat dobe shacks centering about Estrella Blanca: the White Star, now agleam with light, blatant with music and laughter and the tinkle of glass.

Some one would know Ramon Guevara, and by now Flint had obtained a fairly good description of him.

Flint plunged into the smoke banded air, picked his way among the dancers, and found himself a booth where he could observe the White Star and its patrons. The bar was to his left. To the right was a side door opening into the desert night. It afforded a ready approach to the dobe shacks facing on the side street.

He eyed the crowd as he waited for his drink. He heard a woman in the booth behind him saying in Spanish: "Ramon, you're so unreasonably jealous! That pendant isn't a present. I bought it myself in San Francisco."

A wrathful muttering; and then, still tinged with suspicion, came Ramon's warning: "Oh, all right, you bought it! But listen, Valencia—if I ever find out you're lying to me, I'll take you to pieces by hand!"

Ramon and San Francisco were decidedly intriguing. Flint moved to another booth. That cut off his eavesdropping but it put him in line with a back-bar mirror which reflected the speakers. He saw more than he expected.

The man was tall and rangy. The heaviness of his swarthy, Indian features was relieved by a quartering of Latin blood. He was not much over thirty, and with his prominent nose and grim mouth he checked closely with the customs inspector's description of Ramon Guevara; but it was his companion who clinched it.

Valencia was the girl from Yut Lee's. She wore an acacia yellow sports ensemble, and entirely too many jewels, including a ruby pendant that blazed redly against her cream colored skin. But Flint, as he caught the reflection of those dark eyes and the heart stirring loveliness of her face and figure, noticed no clash in her costuming. It sufficed that this was the woman who had been conferring with the grizzled Chinaman who was the Silver Dragon's vicar in San Francisco.

But which of the two was really the most important: Valencia, or Ramon Guevara? Murder and tins of opium linked them both to Kane.

ANOTHER half hour of bickering, and they emerged from the booth to step toward the side door.

Flint headed for the main entrance and from the veranda watched them cross the side street that intersected the main stem of San Cristobal. Their destination was one of the dobe shacks in the center of the block; and if the wrangling became heated, it would be worth listening to. Flint strode toward the barbed-wire International fence, then swung south to approach Valencia's house from the rear.

The quarrel directed Flint to a listening post at an open window of the living room. It was illuminated by a kerosene lamp. Valencia's colorful length was draped in a chair. Guevara, turned to step into the adjoining room. He thrust aside Valencia's detaining hand. Before she could follow, there was a wrathful growl and he came bounding back.

His powerful hand gripped a plush-lined cardboard box.

"San Francisco!" he growled, thrusting it before her eyes. "I knew you were lying. This came from a jeweler in Yuma!"

Valencia ducked, but not quickly enough. Guevara's free hand sent her sprawling, a tangle of silken legs and acacia yellow skirt. And then the Mexican dodged a flashing sliver of steel that Valencia plucked from a calf sheath.

Flint cleared the sill. Knife work had already thrown too many obstacles in his way.

"Basta!" he snapped. "Hold it!"

Guevara whirled, but his hand dropped from his hip as Flint's automatic jerked into line with his stomach.

"Que hay?" growled the Mexican.

"Back up to the wall, both of you!" commanded Flint. "Why did you kill Kane after you dumped that load of wood in his back yard?"

"I did not kill him!" flared Guevara.

Valencia's color perceptibly receded, but her eyes narrowed venomously. He was risking a parlay solely on the chance that his surprise attack, coming on the heels of an interrupted quarrel, might result in an unguarded admission.

"Why did you go into the basement?" demanded Flint.

"I went to the office." Guevara started at the F.B.I. man's mention of the opium storage room, "where he paid me for the wood."

"And you knifed him."

"I did not. I will prove it. While he was taking the money from the desk, some wan call heem and he reach for the telephone—"

"He did what?" Kane must have an unusually long arm.

"Reach for the telephone," repeated Guevara. Valencia stabbed him with a glance, but the Mexican continued: "He was expect' some wan to see heem later. He write something on the desk blotter."

"What does that prove?"

"That he was expect some wan later. Find out who it was! That weel prove he was alive w'en I leave. Verdad?"

Valencia's face had frozen.

"Maybe it will," admitted Flint. "But the both of you take a walk with me. One on each side. And act natural. First sign of trouble from the White Star and you both get the works."

With arms folded, his left concealing the pistol that his right hand thrust against one prisoner, Flint could march them past the Mexican sentries at the International Line.

"All right, Valencia! On my left. Guevara, better be nice or you'll need a new girl friend. This is ladies' night."

The grimness of Flint's face warned Guevara that the American would make good his threat.


"Si," breathed the Mexican.

'"Sta 'ueno!" Flint's clipped finality was steel hard.

He gestured for his prisoners to advance from the wall, but as they moved, he was warned by the perceptible shift of the Mexican's eyes. Instead of stepping into line with the door of Valencia's bedroom, he jerked back and risked a glance to his left.

The Chinaman who had trailed him from San Francisco was lunging from the doorway.

As Flint whirled to drop the Chinaman, Guevara snatched a smoking stand and struck the pistol from his grasp. The American, sidestepping the highbinder's charge, lashed out with his foot. The Chinaman tripped, crashing headlong against the leg of a table.

THAT gave Guevara time to close in with his smoking stand. The weapon smashed down on Flint's shoulder as he turned, but it landed an instant too late. Though momentarily paralyzed with pain, he had weight behind his fist. The impact froze the Mexican in his tracks.

Valencia, scrambling for Flint's pistol, reached it as Guevara's legs sagged. But before she could jerk the weapon into line, Flint booted the Mexican against her. They pitched over the threshold and into the bedroom. Flint followed through.

Valencia was knocked breathless by the impact. Guevara was out cold, but the blank-faced Chinaman was stirring. And then the front door crashed open. Two bouncers from La Estrella Blanca bounded into the room.

Flint's pistol cracked twice. One dropped kicking, the other was howling for help.

Guevara was too heavy to haul; and Valencia seemed more important than the highbinder. Before she recovered her breath, Flint rolled her up in a blanket, caught her in both arms, and dashed toward the back door.

A crowd was pouring from the side entrance of La Estrella, but being directed by the shouts of the bouncer who had escaped Flint's fire, they did not perceive his direction until he was close to the International fence.

One arm squeezed his slender captive into submission as he halted and leveled his pistol. His erratically spattering slugs checked the pursuit long enough for him to slide his captive through the wire and dive after her.

He made it, with a length to spare. And once in a dry creek bed, he was out of sight. The customs guards on both sides, now aroused by the riot, would effectively block any pursuit.

Flint gagged his prisoner with a strip of his shirt, snapped a pair of handcuffs about her ankles, and left her where the dirt road dipped into the arroyo. That done, he dashed back to get his parked car.

Forty-five minutes later, Flint pulled up at the police station with his captive; but a patrol car had arrived just ahead of him. Two men in uniform were dragging a Mexican out of the wagon and carrying him to the desk. He was far beyond walking under his own power—dead drunk.

McDonald, still on the job, watched them search the prisoner.

"What have you got there?" Flint greeted.

"Too much sotol," explained a patrolman. "Making a good job of ganging up on the town and then it paralyzed him."

"Miguel Smith's the name," announced the other patrolman, digging a crumpled letter, a handful of change, and a pint bottle from the half breed's pockets.

"You'll like it here," Flint jibed as he saw Valencia's perceptible moué. "Better change your mind and talk."

"At that, it's better than your company!" she flared.

Finally they booked Valencia on suspicion.

"Last chance," Flint reminded her.

BUT the slam of the cell door drowned her retort. Flint turned to McDonald and gave his account of the raid.

"If I knew when she got here from Frisco," Flint concluded, "I might dope out how she figures in this jam. But—"

"I've already covered that," interrupted McDonald. "We've been checking up the trains, bus stations, and airport while you were in San Cristobal. Just to find out how much more of Chinatown traveled south.

"A girl checking up with Valencia'a description landed at the airport about one A. M.— about four hours after the riot broke out in Frisco. Her car was waiting. She'd parked it there when she flew north a couple days ago. And the inspector at San Cristobal says she didn't cross the line until nearly three A. M."

"That leaves an hour or so unaccounted for," Flint said. "If there's anything to Guevara's suspicions, she must have a number two boy friend in Yuma—which might account for the missing hour."

"You mean Kane?"

"She might have found him dead," admitted Flint. "Valencia and Guevara didn't even pretend to be surprised when I sprung it on them. But neither of them seemed to know that that dead-pan Chinaman was prowling around in San Cristobal. Guevara's startled look is what saved my hide, and--"

"But where does that lead you?" frowned McDonald.

"First the Chinaman was at Kane's place," explained Flint. "Then he pops up in Mexico, in her shack. As though he was checking up on Valencia and Guevara in connection with Kane's death. It's a cinch he couldn't have known I was going to be there."

McDonald conceded the significance of the mysterious lurker. Then, as Flint reached for his hat: "Calling it a day?"

"Hell, no! I'm going back to Kane's place. Guevara's gag about Kame being at his desk and reaching for a phone is so damn impossible that there must be something in it."

TEN minutes later Flint arrived at Kane's study. Drawer by drawer he examined the desk but found no hidden compartments. There were no dummy books in the cases; and after over an hour of thumping and measuring, he was convinced that the walls were solid. No chance of a concealed instrument.

The blank-faced Chinaman could have removed the desk blotter Guevara had mentioned, but he certainly could not have made away with an extension set.

From the living room came the tinkle of the telephone. Flint hastened to the front. McDonald was on the wire.

"Your prisoner checked out."


"Yes. A bar sawed through. Miguel Smith— the bird we thought was paralyzed—is gone, too."

Flint swore. Valencia's disappearance confirmed his hunch as to her importance in the tangle.

"Why the hell call to tell me that?"

"So you won't be caught off guard," explained McDonald. "Remember, that fake drunk was picked up before you brought Valencia to the station. That dead-pan Chink worked fast to have her sprung.

"What luck you having?"

"Just like yours!" growled Flint and slammed the receiver.

He turned to Kane's study to think it out. He finally shook his head, slumped back in the swivel chair, and swung away from the desk. His gesture of disgust ended in a jerk. There was something odd about the finish of that little patch of baseboard between the ends of the two book cases along the left wall. A squarish blot showed beneath the varnish.

In an instant he was on his knees. A fixture had been removed from the baseboard of the lathe- and-plaster partition that now subdivided the original rooms of the old dobe into a more modern arrangement.

Then he found puttied screw holes, and one through which wires could have been run.

Flint dashed to the front. Flashlight in hand, he skirted the dobe. He traced the wires of the telephone still in service. There was no sign of tampering.

A trip to the cellar gave him the next lead.

Wedged in between the original dirt floor of the house and the wooden floor that had been installed in modernizing it he found three dry cells with wires that rose to the wooden floor above. They led to the left wall of the study. Then he distinguished, further back, almost beyond the reach of his flash light beam, a weatherproof cable which, leaving that same partition, sank at an easy angle into the thick foundation of sun-baked bricks.

No doubt that that was what remained of a telephone set up: a private, local circuit of the kind used between the apartments of a building, or between house and garage.

He now understood the removal of the telephone. It had been a connecting link between Kane,'s study and the chief of the opium smuggling ring.

The Silver Dragon could not be far away; three dry cells would not carry for more than two thousand feet. Flint returned to the surface. He circled the house, inch by inch, scrutinizing the hard packed earth. Whoever had buried that line could not at the time have anticipated the necessity of removing it to block an investigation; and Kane's residence at the dobe had not been long enough for time to conceal the trench.

Yet the flashlight glow revealed not a trace.

Flint's jaw set stubbornly. You can't bury a cable without leaving a trace. The damn thing was there. It must lead to the Silver Dragon.

Then a white blot in the gloom at the edge of the grove caught his eye. It was the concrete lip of the underground irrigation tiles that honeycombed the citrus grove. Far down the dusky aisle his flash beam picked up another outlet that once had gushed an eight inch stream of water.

"Got it!"

FLINT bounded toward the nearest outlet. But the tongue of light he flashed down the tube touched only a bare bottom.

He looked again. The wall of the vertical riser had been pierced near the bottom. An obliquely drilled hole, not a trench, had led the line to the long unused aqueduct.

Whoever had cut and pulled the cable cauld not have foreseen that Ramon Guevara's efforts to clear himself would uncover the trick.

"North—toward Alvarez' place," muttered Flint as he regained his feet.

Flint set out on foot for Alvarez' house. Despite the hour, the lights were on. The doctor himself came to the door. His greeting was suave, but his dark eyes expressed his unspoken query.

"Sorry to bother you, doctor," beamed Flint as he crossed the threshold, "but I'd like to use your phone. Yeah, I've been switched to the Kane case. The company disconnected the wire next door."

"A pleasure to oblige you," assured Alvarez.

Flint followed him through a vestibule and into an ornately furnished living room. A cigarette was fuming from the edge of a smoking stand at the arm of a chair just in front of an all-wave radio.

"In the next room, Mr. Flint," directed Alvarez. But Flint's pause had been long enough for him to note that the radio dial was set for police wave lengths.

On the mahogany desk of the doctor's residence office was a single telephone. Flint had not expected to find two; but his stall would give him a chance to look for the marks left by a recently removed instrument.

"Make yourself at home," Alvarez continued. "There's a directory—and let me give you some more light."

As he spoke, he stepped forward to reach for the chain of the desk lamp. It blazed to life. Flint, picking the telephone handset from its cradle, saw the doctor pluck an oversize fountain pen from the blotting pad.

Too late, he caught the meaning of the left handed gesture. A blinding, choking jet of vapor hissed from the black cylinder. Tear gas.

Something had warned Alvarez.

BEFORE Flint could reach for his pistol, an uncontrollable cough and a devastating sneeze racked his entire body. He could not force his hand to his weapon. The involuntary catch of breath that followed drew in a gulp of the hissing vapor.

It was more than tear gas. It was a searing and corrosive narcotic. His head was already spinning, and his legs were sagging. One more gulp of that deadly vapor and he would be out. For an age-long instant, he fought the spasm that would have drawn in the finishing breath of the drugging mixture. He flung himself aside—anything to get clear of that hissing poison.

As he plunged out of that venomous cloud, a racking sneeze jerked every fibre of his body. Somehow, he forced his hand to his pistol butt. The effort was wasted. Before the weapon cleared the holster, an attack from his right knocked him from his feet.

A curved knife, and a blank, yellow face identified Alvarez' ally. There would be no betraying pistol fire to make the execution conspicuous.

The blade swept down. But that last inhalation of diluted gas stirred Flint's muscles to a spasm that no conscious effort could have equaled. The descending point nailed his arm instead of sinking hilt-deep into his chest. The shock of that biting steel prodded his whirling senses.

The knife rose again—but Flint's free hand jerked his pistol clear.

The blast was muffled by the yellow flesh it riddled. The Chinaman jerked back, then slumped forward. His wild thrust stabbed the floor. His dead weight pinioned Flint.

Flinging aside the now emptied gas tube, Alvarez closed in before Flint could extricate himself or disengage his pistol. The doctor knocked the weapon from his hand, but as they grappled, the concentration of oily fumes thinned into an agonizing mist that leveled off the odds.

The office became a hazy nightmare. Tear- blinded, sneezing, gasping, racked by coughs and seared by lung-corroding gulps of tainted air, they rolled and kicked and slugged.

Flint, almost overwhelmed during those first instants, saw red spots dance before his eyes, and steel-bright flashes that became raking cuts. The doctor must have seized the Chinaman's knife. He was no longer certain, but that warm flood that ran down his ribs and legs must be blood.

Voice in that murderous maze—Alvarez yelling—and then a droning, dry voice, like pebbles rattling in a gourd.

"Calling all cars! Miguel Smith—Mexican Mike—wanted for the murder of Ramon Guevara —heading for Telegraph Pass in a blue sedan...."

McDonald broadcasting to the prowl cars and highway patrol. Miguel Smith—engineered Valencia'a jailbreak and—

Another slash. That one didn't hurt. Nothing hurt. He found a man's throat and hung on. His fingers were weakening. So was Alvarez. Maybe his teeth would do the trick—got to get a look at that Chink's blank face.

Then a shriek. A low, tigerish feminine cry vibrant with wrath.

Some woman was helping Alvarez. But another stab wouldn't hurt. Let her help— He felt Alvarez' sagging muscles perk taut and become iron. Flint lost his grip. Then he heard a strangled, gurgling cry. As he struggled to regain his hold, the doctor slumped to the floor, still clutching a knife.

WHAT followed was a hazy confusion seen through streaming eyes. Flint crawled toward the droning radio. A woman was weeping with rage and grief.

And as Flint gulped in clean air, he saw her lying in a huddled heap on the divan near the radio. A dripping stiletto was clenched in her red hand.


Flint slowly began to understand why she had not stabbed him. It wasn't a mistake, knifing the doctor.

"Yes. I came to help him, that dirty—" The next few words choked her. "Then I heard that police call. Miguel was one of Alvarez' crowd. Got me out of jail and brought me here. So I knew that Alvarez had tricked Ramon back across the line to give him the works."

"Afraid that Ramon Guevara might be tripped up and spill some beans?"

"Maybe," said Valencia. "But mainly jealousy. That rat over there probably told him how Ramon and I stood. I didn't care for Alvarez.

"And I don't care what you do with me. Ramon's dead."

"How'd he fit into things?"

"He smuggled the stuff across the line to Kane's place, concealed in loads of vegetables and firewood."

The arrangement was characteristic. Guevara, Kane, and Robles ran the risks of actual handling, Alvarez supervised by remote control. And Valencia, when not in Mexico, maintained contact with Yut Lee in San Francisco.

Then Flint remembered the blank-faced Chinaman. He turned back to the office, flung open a window, and as the lingering fumes thinned, he knelt beside the Asiatic hoodoo. A moment's intent scrutiny explained the facial immobility—a snugly fitting, life-like rubber mask.

He jerked it clear, exposing the face of lean, grizzled Yut Lee—the Silver Dragon, who had come to Yuma to take charge.

"Who killed Kane?" Flint demanded.

She gestured toward Alvarez.

"He's got forty tins of Silver Dragon. He never kept the stuff in his house before. Figure it out yourself."

And that did not take long. Flint remembered the two bowls of chili and began to see their possibilities. He stepped to the telephone and called McDonald.

"I've got it, Mac." Then, after covering his discovery of the private wire, he continued, "Alvarez killed Kane after Valencia arrived from 'Frisco.... I don't give a damn about the autopsy. Suppose Alvarez dropped in to see Kane about two A.M. to talk shop and have some coffee and a plate of home made chili. Then knife Kane.

"The autopsy would show he died shortly after eating. And with everyone taking it for granted Kane always ate around six, the alibi was holeproof.

"Why kill Kane? Nobody could be sure Robles died in Frisco before he had a chance to mutter while coming out of the ether. Knifing Kane and leaving ten cans of hop for us to find would make us think we had cleaned up the mob. And it would have worked if Guevara hadn't tried to prove he didn't kill Kane."

And then McDonald wondered why Yut Lee had not used his first chance to dispose of Flint.

"Simple, Mac. Bum play, blotting me out before he had a chance to find out just how much the D.J. really did know. Having Alvarez to drop in was like getting a ringside seat."

He listened a moment, and as McDonald's voice burred over the wire, Flint eyed Valencia. Finally he answered: "The girl got away during the riot. We've got nothing on her. She was never caught smuggling hop anyway. The Silver Dragon is cold meat."