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By Robert Leslie Bellem

CLIFF DOWNEY, ace operative of the Consolidated Detective Agency, strode down the thick-carpeted hallway of the fifth floor of the Hotel Cosmopole in Shanghai on the heels of a soft-footed Cantonese bellhop.

Cliff s hairy right fist was thrust deep into the pocket of his coat, the capable fingers clenched around the comforting butt of a service .38 automatic. In the breast pocket of that same coat reposed a yellow cablegram. Every time Cliff Downey thought of that cablegram his square jaw jutted, his icy gray eyes narrowed and his mouth became a grim slit in the hard granite of his face.

The Chink bellhop stopped before a closed door at the end of the corridor and raised his saffron knuckles to knock. Cliff Downey's left hand shot out, catching the yellow boy's fingers in a steel grip. "No!" the American grunted. Then he slipped a coin into the servant's startled palm. "Beat it— scat—get out! Savvee?"

The other nodded, grinned in silent Oriental fashion, and pad-padded away. While Cliff Downey waited for the clang of the elevator gates around a bend in the corridor, signifying the departure of the bellhop, he thought once more of that cablegram.

It was from the home office of the Consolidated, back in Chicago, and it had reached him here in Shanghai just the day before. "Argus Agency has operative on Muller's trail. Watch your step," the message read.

Muller was the man Cliff Downey was after; the man he had trailed over three continents; the man he had finally run to earth here in the Hotel Cosmopole, Shanghai. Muller was in the room behind that closed door.

Downey hunched his broad shoulders. That was the end of a long trail—a trail that had led from Chicago to New York, from New York to Europe, from Europe to China. Muller was a jewel thief. Muller had stolen diamonds valued at three quarters of a million from the Vandervort mansion in Chicago. Old Man Vandervort had offered a reward of ten thousand dollars for the return of the missing jewels. Cliff Downey was after that ten grand reward and had his mind made up to get it.

There was just one hitch: the cablegram from Chicago. Downey realized its full significance, and the short red hairs around the nape of his neck bristled combatively. The Argus Agency was a blackleg crowd who wouldn't hesitate to wait until Cliff Downey had recovered the stolen plunder, then slip a knife between his ribs, make away with the retrieved diamonds, return them to Old Man Vandervort and claim the reward for themselves.

HE STARED INTO the piquant, youthful features of a girl—a slender, elfin person whose tawny yellow hair tumbled in a glorious cascade over bare and intriguing shoulders, whose hazel eyes were demurely fringed with gentian lashes, whose bee- stung lips were parted to reveal two rows of tiny, even teeth. Her boyish body was clad in a negligee that had fallen open at the throat to disclose creamy expanses of smooth girl-flesh swelling into twin firm half-globes of breasts straining beneath the soft silken restraint of a diaphanous brassiere.

With his free hand Cliff Downey swept the Stetson from his crisply-curling red hair. "I beg your pardon. I was looking for Mr. Muller—" he murmured. Inwardly he cursed the suavely perfidious Chink bellhop for leading him to the wrong room.

Astonishingly, the girl nodded and stepped aside for him to enter. "Come in. I'll call my father," she said. Then, observing his eyes centered upon her partially-exposed form, she blushed slightly and drew the negligee more tightly around her.

Warily the Consolidated operative entered the room. The girl left him standing there, went through a door into an adjoining chamber. Cliff Downey heard her clear, low voice. "A man to see you, Daddy."

Cliff tensed his muscles. A man appeared in the doorway of the next room. It was Muller.

Downey faced him. "Well, Muller, here I am. It's been a long chase."

The jewel thief ran nervous fingers through his heavy shock of iron-gray hair. He shot a warning glance at the detective. "You're—"

"Downey of Consolidated." Cliff s right fist bulged through the pocket of his coat, training the muzzle of his automatic on Muller's broad chest.

The older man shook his head almost beseechingly. He forced a smile. "Glad to see you, Downey. You'll be wanting to talk about that deal—"

"The Vandervort deal," Downey interposed grimly.

"Sh-h!" Muller gestured toward the room where the girl had gone. "I—can't we wait until my daughter goes out?" he begged in a low tone.

Downey grinned sardonically. "And let her get away with what I've come after?"

"She—she doesn't know about that, Downey." He lowered his voice almost to a whisper. "I've got the diamonds on me." He reached toward a pocket.

"None of that!" Downey spat sharply. His right hand rose inside his coat pocket. "I'm warning you!"

Muller smiled wanly. He still spoke in tones too low to carry into the next room. "I've no gun. You've got the drop on me. See for yourself."

Downey approached the jewel thief. He ran expert hands over Muller's body. Then he fished a chamois bag from the older man's pocket. "Are these—?"

Muller nodded. "Now will you let her go out while we talk?"

Downey grunted assent. Muller raised his voice. "Babs!" he called into the next room. "Babs, honey, suppose you go downstairs and have your luncheon? Mr. Downey and I have an important business deal we want to discuss."

The girl appeared from the adjoining chamber. She had donned a simple, effective afternoon frock that revealed every graceful line of her lithe young body. From tiny, high-arched shoes and chiffon- encased, provocative legs to the crown of her tawny coiffure she was all feminine perfection. "Of course, Daddy," she smiled graciously. She went lightly out of the suite. Downey watched her speculatively as she departed.

Then he whirled toward Muller. "Well, the jig's up. The bulls in Chi will be glad to see you, Muller. And Old Man Vandervort will be glad to see these." His right hand still clenching the automatic in his pocket, Downey flipped open the chamois bag with his left and spilled a cascading heap of brilliance into his open palm. The Vandervort diamonds—a veritable king's ransom in jewels! The Consolidated operative recognized every single stone. They checked minutely with the paste replicas he had been given when he had set out on Muller's trail—replicas he had carried and studied until he knew every gem, every facet. He poured the diamonds back into the chamois bag and pocketed it.

Muller turned haggard eyes upon the hard features of Cliff Downey. "Listen, Downey!" he pleaded. "You—you're not going to take me back to the States?"

"I am. Why not?"

"But—but you've got what you came for! I've known you were on my trail. I knew you'd catch up with me sooner or later. I've handed over the diamonds without a struggle. That's what you were after. It won't do you any good to take me back to Chicago! The reward's for the recovery of the diamonds—not for my arrest. You've got the stones. Why don't you give me a chance? Listen, Downey—it's not for me; it's for my daughter's sake! She doesn't know her old dad's a—a thief! She's been motherless since she was three. She was raised in a convent. I want a chance to go straight—for her! Give me that chance, won't you?" he pleaded desperately.

DOWNEY SHRUGGED. "You should have thought of all this before you stole Vandervort's rocks, Muller."

A sudden idea entered Downey's consciousness. It was worth the gamble. He faced the man he had pursued across three continents. "All right, Muller. We'll have it your way—this time. Goodbye—and good luck!" Abruptly he turned and walked out.

With long strides he covered the distance down the hallway to the bend that led to the elevators. Once around the corner he stopped short. From his pocket he drew a tiny sliver of mirror. This he poked, periscope fashion, imperceptibly into the hallway he had just quitted. Hidden, he yet was able to see the corridor he had left.

In a moment he was rewarded. Muller's door opened cautiously. The jewel thief peered out. Evidently satisfied that Downey had really gone, Muller drew back into his room. The door closed.

Like a wraith, Downey crept back towards Muller's door. He stopped at the room next to Muller's suite. With swift, sure fingers he tried the knob. It was locked. He extracted a ring of skeleton keys from his pocket and cautiously, soundlessly tried first one, then another. At last he found a key that operated the simple lock. Breathing a silent hope that the room was unoccupied, he forced a quiet entry and closed the door behind him.

A brief, searching glance revealed the room to be empty. Outside, a gray sky had suddenly turned to steady, pouring rain. Downey walked softly to the thin partitioning wall separating him from Muller's adjoining suite. He applied his ear to the wall. He listened. His jaw jutted grimly and his mouth formed a narrow line.

It was the girl's voice he heard. "You—you actually gave him the diamonds?"

"Yes. It was a desperate play—the only thing I could do in a tight corner. He fell hard for that story about you being my daughter, and he swallowed it when I told him I wanted to go straight for your sake. Now listen to me. I want you to get over to his hotel. Make a big play for him. Get him drunk if you can. Then slip this into his whiskey. There's enough cyanide in that capsule to kill a dozen flat- footed private dicks. When he passes out, glom onto the rocks and scram back here to me. We'll blow for Moscow or some place. It'll be the last time he'll ever bother us. And nobody can ever pin the job on either of us, see? It's a lot safer than it would have been to bump him off here in our rooms. I could have done it when he first came to the door, but it was too risky."

His eyes narrowed and glinting, the red hairs at the nape of his neck bristling, Cliff Downey waited for no more. Silently he crept to the door of the room he had entered. Equally quietly he slipped out into the corridor. He strode down the hallway to the elevator and savagely pressed the signal button. Once in the dripping street he hailed a rickshaw and was pulled swiftly to his own hotel.

SAFELY IN HIS room, he pulled off his rain- saturated clothing, changed into dry pajamas and dressing gown. The chamois bag he had taken from Muller he now tucked into a corner of his Gladstone. He locked the grip. Then abruptly he unlocked it again, delved deep, extracted the chamois container, examined its contents and thrust it into the pocket of his dressing gown. He sat down to wait.

And then there came a soft tap at his door.

He sprang to his feet. As he crossed the room he picked up his automatic from the bureau, thrust it into his pocket where he could feel its grim butt and the soft chamois of the Vandervort jewel-bag. Then he opened the door.

"Miss Muller! " he murmured in a tone of well- simulated astonishment. "Why—you're drenched! Come in!"

The girl entered. Her wispy frock clung to her soft curves with wetly revealing candor. She shivered a little.

"You—you must think I'm terribly foolish—" she quavered, looking at him mistily through fringing lashes.

"That's absurd. Here—I'll mix you a drink while you go into the bathroom and get those wet clothes off. I'll throw you a robe to wear while they're drying."

She laughed shortly. "I suppose I ought to be highly indignant over such a suggestion. But, frankly, I'm not. And soon enough you'll know why." She shot him an odd, provocative look and moved into the bathroom. He could hear her moving about behind the half-open door. Shortly she reappeared, clad only in a bathrobe he had handed to her.

His eyes drank in her beauty. The robe had slipped down over her shoulders, revealing more than a glimpse of the firm contours of her bare and jutting breasts. Her unclad legs and creamy thighs peered forth boldly from the robe as she walked toward him.

He handed her a stiff drink of whiskey. She accepted it with a smile and a lifted eyebrow. "Aren't you joining me?"

He grinned. "I rarely drink—on duty."

She sat down opposite him and crossed her knees with a flaunting gesture that disclosed smooth areas of flesh. She faced him boldly. "You're a detective, aren't you, Mr. Downey?"

He contrived to look startled. "How did you know that?"

"I—I didn't go down to luncheon when Muller sent me away while you were in our suite. I stayed outside the door and listened. I heard everything. I'm not Muller's daughter, Mr. Downey. I'm just his—I guess you'd call me his mistress." She made the confession with a grimace of distaste.

Cliff Downey peered at her. "You—mean that?"

"Yes. But I didn't know he was a thief. Please believe that, Mr. Downey. I—he picked me up in Canton. I was a chorus-girl in a stranded American road show. I was broke and hungry. The American consul had refused to help me. I was faced with two things—suicide or—something else. I chose— something else. Muller came along. I went with him."

"But why do you come here to tell me this?"

"Be-because I l-like you. It seems as though I could trust you. And I—I can't bear to stay with Muller, now that I know he's a criminal. Please, Mr. Downey—don't send me away! Take me back with you to America!" She got up, came toward him where he sat on the bed. The robe, unheeded, fell open, showing her smooth body, her perfect breasts, firm and pink-tipped and provocative.

IT WAS DARK when they arose. The girl smiled at him through the gloom. "You'll drink with me now, won't you, Cliff? And—you'll take me back to the States with you?"

"Yes—to both questions," he replied. His momentary madness behind him, he was on his guard completely.

She went to the bureau, found two glasses and the whiskey bottle, poured two drinks. One she handed to him. The other she downed swiftly herself.

The wall-telephone jangled harshly, suddenly. The girl turned, startled. In that brief instant, Downey emptied his glass in the rumpled covers of the bed. When the girl turned to him again he was just lowering the empty tumbler from his lips. "Don't bother to answer the phone," he said. Then he permitted the glass to drop from his fingers to the floor. "Funny," he mumbled drowsily. "I—feel sort of—sleepy—"

He slumped backward on the bed, covering the wet spot where he had drained his drink over the covers.

The girl stood listening to his stertorous breathing. Then she came toward him. Through his narrowed slits of eyes as he feigned sleep, he saw her in the darkening gloom, leaning over him, peering into his features, her breasts downward- apexed, luscious cones swaying slightly as she moved over him. Then she grinned a hard little grin. "So much for you, Mr. Consolidated Agency dick! And it's lucky for you that I didn't have the heart to slip you that cyanide capsule. Well, the sleeping-powder will do just as well—as far as I am concerned." He watched her as she straightened up, still smiling. She went to his discarded lounging robe at the foot of the bed and delved into his pockets. He could hear her deep sigh of satisfaction as she found the chamois bag.

Cliff Downey waited five minutes after he heard the click of the latch on the closing door. Then, cautiously, he got up from the bed and climbed swiftly into his clothes. He went to the telephone and lifted the receiver.

"Did you ring a while ago?"

"A cablegram for you at the desk, Mr. Downey."

He dashed downstairs. The cablegram was from Consolidated in Chicago. He tore open the yellow envelope and read the message hastily. "Argus has Operative Slade on Muller case. Dangerous antagonist. Watch carefully."

Downey shrugged. "To hell with Operative Slade!" he grunted. "To hell with the whole damned Argus outfit! I've got 'em licked now!" He strode into the street and hailed a rickshaw. He tossed a coin to the coolie. "Hotel Cosmopole— chop-chop! Fast! Quick! Savvee?"

DREXEL, president and general manager of the Consolidated in Chicago, looked up sourly at Cliff Downey. "A helluva fine private dick you turned out to be!" he said ironically. "Who cares whether you brought Muller back to the bulls? We were after Vandervort's diamonds—and an Argus Agency operative beat you to 'em! I just heard that Argus has turned the stones over to Vandervort. They're going to collect that ten grand reward in the morning."

"Oh, no they aren't!" Downey grinned and ran a hand through his crisp red hair. "We— Consolidated—are gonna collect that ten grand. You see, I knew from the start that Muller never had a daughter. So I figured that he'd picked up this yellow-haired dame somewhere. But she was too classy-looking a skirt to play traveling companion to anybody; therefore, I reasoned, she must have had a reason for hanging up with Muller.

"The only reason I could see was the Vandervort diamonds. But who'd know he had 'em? Nobody but the cops—or a private dick. And when you cabled me that Argus had an operative on the job, I pegged this dame right away. She was the Argus operative. She'd been laying up with Muller, waiting for a chance to grab the Vandervort ice. I broke in before she had a chance to get them from him.

"Muller was a sap. He thought the dame was just another pickup—he never realized she might be a private detective. So, when he handed the ice to me to throw me off his trail, he sent her out to get the swag back from me. She certainly put on a good act, too," Downey added softly.

"Yeah. And she got the rocks off you, too."

"Like hell. What she got was the paste replicas! I pretended to fall for her line and let her get away with the booty—"

"But why should you take a chance like that?"

"Because I know the Argus crowd. If they thought I had the stuff, they'd have bumped me off in a minute and stolen it from me. By allowing this dame to swipe the paste jewels, I was sure I wouldn't be bothered by any of the Argus outfit on the way back to the States. As long as they thought they had the diamonds, they didn't give a damn if I had Muller. So I got safely back to Chi. And here"—he dumped a chamois bag on Drexel's desk—"here are the Vandervort gaudy-gaudies. Now go out and glom onto that ten grand reward." He paused, then grinned. "And if you see a yellow- haired skirt looking forlorn around the Argus office, that'll be Operative Slade. Just give her my address and tell her to come up an' see me some time!"