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Shanghai Sue


A HUGE HONOLULU moon was climbing slowly into the sky; snow-white beach sands spread along the coastline, like a strip of a beautiful, and yet, seemingly endless desert; tall, stately coco palms were dipping; wavelets tiptoed quietly up on the sands and then rolled back down, unintruding. And somewhere, resting on the sands, amid this romantic tropical setting, were two forms—one of a girl, one of a man.

The girl, small, white-faced, blonde wavy hair, deep-set blue eyes, lay on the arm of her companion, breathing in the soft wafting breezes of this balmy equatorial air. She had her eyes half- closed and seemed hardly aware of his presence.

The man, round, red-faced, with coal-black hair, garbed in an immaculate white uniform of a Naval lieutenant-commander, also seemed held by the magic spell of this enchanting Hawaiian night. But he was more aware of his companion's presence, for he seemed to move, quietly, gently now and then, attempting to master the unique technique of courting her flower-decked, perfumy favors.

He spoke and she moved, half-startled, half- awakening, and the soft, hushed spell was broken. "Do you love me?" he asked, in smooth, low tones, his black eyes focussing down on her beautifully molded white face.

She whispered a laugh, half-serious. "Hawaii is wonderful, Tom," she answered in a soft, chanting voice; "but remember you are forty-two and have a wife in the States."

He uttered a gutteral sound from his throat. Then came words: "What difference does age make, darling, or wives or ties of honor or anything? That big yellow moon, a Hawaiian beach—it banishes all that!"

She arched her thin eyebrows a bit and pushed slightly forward. "Goodness, all this, and we've just met!"

"That doesn't mean anything, either," he went on. "When you finally accepted my invitation to go out, I told you all about myself, was honest with you and told you that I adored you." He broke off, then went on, pleadingly: "Night after night I sat there in the theatre watching your act, watching you lead the chorus in the musical numbers, and each time I saw nothing but your baby face, your blue eyes and—"

She pushed her fists down in the sand and straightened herself up. "I know," she interrupted, "you love me. At least you want to love me."

He placed his arm around her. His red face was still redder now. "Darling, can't you see? Don't you know how I feel?"

She outstretched her arms and yawned, slowly, defiantly. "Yes, I know, Tom. I also know I have to be at rehearsal at ten in the morning, and in this hot climate that's something! Guess we'd better get going."

He grasped her with both arms. "No, Sue, no—"

Gently, firmly, she disengaged herself from his eager hands and rose to her feet, shaking some of the sand from her white linen dress. He got to his feet.

"But, darling, Sue, we haven't—"

She touched a tiny finger to his forehead and cocked her blonde head to one side. "I know, we haven't loved yet—but there are lots of other nights and I suppose I'll be here forever. I haven't enough money to go back to the States." She sighed.

He glanced at her suspiciously.

"Oh, don't worry," she told him, "I'm not asking you for anything."

"If there is anything I can do"—weakly.

"Send me to the States."

"Anything, dear," he hastened, "but not that. Sending you away from me is the last thing I would do."

"That's what I was afraid of," she sighed jestingly. "In that case, you can take me home."

They started walking down the beach. "But you will let me see you tomorrow," he pleaded; "you aren't—?"

She laughed lightly, surveyed him amusedly, his heavy, slightly overweight body, his chunky hands and his round leather-like neck. "Of course I'm not sore at you," she said; "please don't judge by my conversation that I'm trying to 'gold-dig' you—all showgirls aren't that way, you know."

He wiped his beady brow, smiled. "Of course not. It was very good of you to let me bring you here. I did, so much, want to have a talk with you, and now—"

"Yes," she said; "and now I suppose we shall be very good friends."

"At least," he hastened.

ONCE IN HER hotel room, clad in a pair of thin, silky white pajamas, Sue lay back on her bed and held the card Tom had given her, reading it.

"Lieutenant-Commander Thomas Burnett, Jr.," it read, "Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor—Executive Officer."

She read the name for the second time, then the third time she muttered it, softly, her mind searching frantically to recall where she had heard it.

Suddenly she sprang from the bed, a new gleam in her eyes. She ran to her steamer trunk, threw open the lid and presently clothes of all descriptions commenced flying about, remaining wherever they landed on the floor.

Then Sue clutched a tiny, yellowed piece of paper. She matched it with the card.

"Lieutenant-Commander Burnett," she whispered to herself; "Ensign Tom Burnett—there IS a God!"

She dug further in the trunk, bringing forth an old and worn handkerchief. Quickly she opened it, a tiny diamond-studded pin fell out. She clasped it in her hand, then closed her fist, tightly. There was a strange gleam in her deep-set blue eyes.

TO SAY THAT Lieutenant-Commander Thomas Burnett, Jr., was surprised to see the lithe, golden- haired Sue enter his quarters at the Submarine Base would be putting it mildly. He was astounded!

"Sue," he greeted her, "what prompts this visit?"

She stood wavering in the doorway. In her hand was the worn handkerchief, in her eyes there was a danger warning. Tom's black eyes glanced down at the handkerchief, again suspiciously; his fat hand moved over his brow, his short fingers combed restlessly through his stringy black hair.

She stepped further into the narrow room, without speaking. There was a small couch by one wall; she sat on it. Tom moved toward a wooden rocking chair; he placed his heavy body in it, uneasily.

"I have made an important discovery," she said, icily.

He squirmed in his chair, guiltily; eyed her squarely.

"Prepare yourself for a shock," she went on, earnestly.

He leaned forward. "Go on, go on, what is it?"

"Do you remember when you were stationed in China?"

She watched his eyes as they blazed, as his red face seemed suddenly to grow tense, then dead. "That," he mumbled, "was twenty years ago."

She was sure of herself now. She dug her tiny fingers into the white covering on the couch, bracing herself. The words slipped out between gritted teeth. "Nineteen years to be exact," she said. He leapt to his feet. His black eyes pleaded frantically. "What are you driving at? Explain yourself!"

"Do you remember Blanche Conroy?" she shot at him.

He moved backward a little as if cringing from a whip flicking him suddenly out of the past. "Of course," he echoed, "of course," he went on hoarsely. "Blanche Conroy was my wife!"

"A wife would be named Burnett, wouldn't she?"

"Well, Blanche Burnett then," sullenly. He was speechless.

"She was the girl you married in Shanghai! The white girl you claimed to love. When you were ordered back to the States you left her with a baby on the way!"

Tom moved closer to her, dumbly, mechanically; his mouth hung slightly agape. "How—how did you know?"

"You left her to die," Sue went on, relentlessly, ironically.

"But we fought," Tom blurted hopelessly. "She wanted to leave me, I tell you. She wanted to. She's dead now." The last words fell like lead from his lips.

She rose from the couch, faced him. "Yes," she agreed, dully, "she died when the baby was born."

"But you," he blubbered, "where do you come in?"

"I come in, all right." Her eyes were as cold as steel.

"Blackmail?" he whispered.

"Don't be a stupid fool," she answered sharply.

A still more horrified look came into his eyes. "You—you aren't—?"

"Yes, I am. I am Sue Conroy. Funny you didn't ask me my last name last night, isn't it? You might have had the pleasure of knowing you were taking your own daughter to a lonely beach."

"No, no, you can't be—. She died—the baby died—"

"No, the baby didn't die."

"But, but—" He sank to the couch, holding his head in his hands, beating fruitlessly on his black mass of hair, tearing it, suffering a thousand agonies.

Sue softened. "There's nothing to worry about. You were young, Tom. Mother's gone now. We all make mistakes when we're young. All I'm asking is five hundred dollars to get me out of this Hell-hit 'rock'—I can't stand the heat any longer."

He looked up, hopefully.

"Five hundred dollars," she repeated. "Can you get it?"

He stared at her dumbly, nodding. "Of course, of course."

THE SCREAMING, shrill whistle of the S.S. Makoko blasted for the last time, and the boat slowly commenced moving away from the dock.

Crowds crammed the rail of the ship, crowds jammed the dock, leis were strewn everywhere, a band was playing the "Song of the Islands," red, green, yellow, orange streamers wavered in the breeze. There were shouts of "Aloha"—"Come back again"—cries, laughter, excitement.

Amidst all this a worn handkerchief was thrown from the deck of the ship into the hands of Lieutenant-Commander Thomas Burnett. He pocketed it and continued waving at the gorgeous little blonde showgirl who was standing on deck, laughing and waving.

TOM REMAINED on the dock after most of the people had left and the boat was well out in the channel. He stood, standing, wondering if he had done the right thing; then the handkerchief came to his mind. He pulled it from his pocket.

Slowly he unfolded it; a diamond studded pin fell to the concrete floor of the dock shed. He picked it up, stared at it; then he found a note also folded in the handkerchief:

"Tom, dearest," it read, "I wouldn't have done it, but I was frantic to get back to the States. You were right. Your wife and baby both died in Shanghai years ago. A woman who was her nurse told me the story in New York, trying to sell the diamond pin. I thought it was an interesting story, so wrote down your name and kept it with the pin in my trunk. My name is not Conroy. I am going to New York. When I get working I'll send you back your money. In the meantime just cheer up. The chorus girls say, They're never too old to fool—a man is always a sucker—and I've met bigger ones than you. Until we meet again—Aloha Nui. SUE SMYTHE"

Tom swore violently. "Aloha Nui—BAH!"