Magick7's Moonlight Stories Index

 

 

 

 

Adventure's End

Robert Leslie Bellem

 

 

 

Spicy Adventure , April, 1935

Tate Shevlin pits himself against mighty powers— smashes through incredible oriental horrors—in his last magnificent adventure with the Golden Girl

I

UP AHEAD, high wheeled drivers crashed thunderously over a dark draw. Back through the night floated the shrill wail of the locomotive's whistle—eery, ominous foreboding. Like a hurtling comet the Linchow Limited sped through the impenetrable darkness of the Asiatic night.

Tate Shevlin, American soldier of fortune, stared out through the window of his first-class compartment, stared out grimly into nothingness. Again there came to him the wailing moan of the locomotive's whistle, like the rising shriek of a soul in torment. Shevlin shuddered. And then, abruptly, his muscles bunched under his linen coat.

Someone had knocked on the closed door of his compartment.

Tate Shevlin's hard right hand dropped imperceptibly toward the cold butt of the Webley automatic in his coat pocket. His grim eyes narrowed. “Come in!” he rasped.

The door opened. A man entered.

The American stared at the newcomer. He saw a tall, broad-shouldered, slant-eyed Manchurian. A Manchurian who bore in his outstretched hand a tiny object—

It was a mask of yellow silk.

That was all. Yet it was enough to send Tate Shevlin's blood pounding hotly through his veins. He had been awaiting that fragile silk token for three days, ever since he had boarded the Linchow Limited back in Shanghai seventy-two hours before. Now it had come; and the sight of that yellow domino brought him a pulse-stirring mental image of the Golden Girl....

The Golden Girl, with her bright yellow hair and her mysterious, enigmatic blue eyes! Tate Shevlin's heart pounded at the very thought of her. Once more, in imagination, he clasped her seductive young feminine body close to him, smelled the faint fragrance of her hair, felt the sweet firmness of her rounded breasts against his chest.... He stared into the slanted almond eyes of the broad-shouldered Manchurian. “Who are you?” Shevlin demanded quietly.

“I am a messenger in the service of Chen Tsing Gat,” the Manchurian responded in flawless Mandarin dialect.

TATE SHEVLIN'S hand still rested upon the hard butt of his Webley. His voice was still cold with suspicion as he said, “What has that to do with me?”

The Manchurian smiled faintly. “You are Tate Shevlin,” he answered. “Months ago, you entered the service of a mysterious American woman known only as the Golden Girl. She, in turn, served an ancient Chinese whose name is Chen Tsing Gat.”

“Go on,” Tate Shevlin spoke brusquely. “Chen Tsing Gat plans to overthrow the present corrupt government of Linchow Province,” the Manchurian continued his calm recital. “There were five famous jewels of fabulous value called the Claws of the Dragon. These jewels Chen Tsing Gat planned to sell in order to get money with which to equip a revolutionary army.”

Tate Shevlin said, “And then—?”

“And then Chen Tsing Gat's enemies captured you and the Golden Girl. To rescue her, you were forced to part with the jeweled Claws. Since then, Tate Shevlin, you have succeeded in recovering four of those five lost jewels. And now you are on your way to a meeting- place, where you are to see the Golden Girl and lay plans for the recovery of the final Claw.” The Manchurian smiled. “I am Chen Tsing Gat's messenger, assigned to the task of guiding you to the place where the Golden Girl awaits you.”

Satisfied at last, Tate Shevlin's fist emerged empty from his coat pocket. He did not notice the glitter that leaped into the Manchurian's hooded eyes. Instead, he said, “It is well. You have proven yourself to be what you claim. Now tell me where I am to meet the Golden Girl.”

The Manchurian shrugged. “Not yet,” he said slowly. “Not until you have satisfied me as to your identity, even as I have satisfied you as to mine.”

“What proof do you want?” Shevlin spoke with some surprise.

“Give me a glimpse of the four Claws which are in your possession. They alone can prove that you are the real Tate Shevlin.”

The American's eyes narrowed; he felt a throbbing sense of impending danger leap into his chest. He stared at the Manchurian—and abruptly he knew that the man was an imposter, a spy. Because Tate Shevlin did not have the four Claws; they were in the possession of Chen Tsing Gat himself ! And Chen Tsing Gat, having the Claws, would not have instructed his messenger to request them of Shevlin!

The soldier of fortune got slowly to his feet, braced himself against the swaying of the hurtling Limited. His steel-hard muscles tensed. “You've been lying to me, you dog!” he rasped. “You're not Chen Tsing Gat's emissary—”

The words died in his throat as the Manchurian leaped at him with an upraised, glittering knife!

Shevlin's hand dived for his Webley. Before he could draw the weapon, the burly Manchurian was upon him. The American grunted a snarling oath as his attacker's knife descended—

Grunted an oath, and swept aside the Manchurian's arm with a crashing sweep of his left fist. The two men smashed together, locked in savage embrace. Shevlin felt the steel tip of the deflected blade slice through the shoulder of his linen coat, graze his skin. He grabbed for his adversary's wrist, twisted with all the strength of his sinewy muscles. The Manchurian gasped in sudden pain; the knife clattered to the floor.

“Now, you louse!” Tate Shevlin rasped out. His right fist thudded viciously against the other's mouth, splintering teeth under the terrific impact of his iron- hard knuckles. The Manchurian swayed, spat bloody froth from between puffed lips. The American leaped in, fists flailing like steel pistons....

The Manchurian staggered backward. Shevlin followed grimly. Followed—and stepped into a cunning Oriental trap!

HIS adversary leaped forward with unexpected suddenness. The man's hard arms encircled Tate Shevlin's panting body. He lifted, grunted—and flung the soldier of fortune backward against the wall of the compartment. Shevlin's head smashed against a steel bracket; a blinding cascade of pain coursed through his skull. For an instant, everything went blurry-black before his eyes. He pitched forward to his knees blindly, numbly—

The Manchurian grinned bloodily and sprang for his dropped dagger. He grasped the weapon, poised it, sprang at Tate Shevlin with an animal snarl of triumph.

The soldier of fortune pitched side-wise just as the glittering blade slashed downward. The knife missed him by the merest fraction of an inch. Shevlin went white. His hand darted to his coat pocket, snatched at the Webley. He fired through his coat, blindly, instinctively.

The weapon's barking roar was drowned out in a wailing blast of the whistle from the locomotive up ahead. The Manchurian stopped dead in his tracks, an expression of frantic amazement on his brutish Asiatic features. A dark, ever-spreading stain appeared on the center of his gray jacket. Abruptly the yellow man toppled and collapsed at Tate Shevlin's feet. He gasped once; his huge body quivered sickeningly. Then he lay still.

Shevlin stared down at the man he had killed. He shook his head to clear it of the raging pain where his skull had brought up against that steel bracket. Then be said, “By God—!”

A thought had come to him. If this Manchurian had been a spy, an imposter—then how had he come into possession of the Golden Girl's yellow silken mask? The answer leaped into his brain with stunning abruptness: the Golden Girl's real messenger must have been somewhere on the train! And this Manchurian had, in some way, overpowered the true emissary, stolen the yellow mask—

Tate Shevlin gathered his muscles under him, leaped for the door of the compartment, flung himself out into the swaying, dimly-lighted corridor that ran the full length of the first-class compartment-carriage.

He staggered toward the front of the lurching car. And then, suddenly, he froze.

From beneath the closed door of a compartment in the center of the corridor, he saw a trickle of crimson!

Tate Shevlin backed off three paces. Then he launched himself at that closed door. It smashed inward under the rocketing impact of his hard shoulder. He stared.

The compartment was similar to his own. The lights were on. A woman's limp form sagged on the couch- berth before him.

She was young, and she was Chinese. Her rounded body was clad in Oriental pajamas of flowered silk. Her face was flower-like, wistful, lovely with an arresting Asiatic loveliness. Her eyes were closed; and the haft of a knife protruded from her side!

Shevlin leaped toward that still, exquisite form. He grasped at the knife, wrenched it out of the girl's quivering body. Then he ripped away the coat of her pajamas, disclosing the naked beauty of her swelling, virginal breasts. With a handkerchief he stanched the sudden gush of blood that flowed from the gaping wound in her ivory side.

His hand went to her left breast pressed against the mollescent ivory flesh. The girl's heart fluttered faintly. Shevlin leaped for the wash-stand in one corner of the stateroom, doused a towel in cold water. Gently he held it against the Chinese girl's forehead.

SHE drew a sharp, painful breath; her long, curving black lashes trembled open. She stared up at Tate Shevlin. Her almond eyes widened. “You—Shevlin!” she gasped faintly.

“Yes. I'm Tate Shevlin. What happened?”

“A—a man—an enemy—a Manchurian—stabbed me. Then he stole the yellow mask which I was to have brought to you as—as a token—from the Golden— Girl—” Her voice trailed off weakly.

“You were the Golden Girl's messenger?”

“Yes. But—but now there—is danger—from this Manchurian—”

“Not any more!” Tate Shevlin answered grimly. “He's dead. I killed him!”

The Oriental girl sighed with sudden relief. “It— is good!” she whispered. Then she tried to struggle to a sitting posture. “Where—where are we?”

Shevlin glanced swiftly at his wrist-watch. “We should be approaching Fungow-Lin, about two hundred miles this side of Linchow.”

The Chinese girl clutched weakly at his sleeve. “We—must leave this train—at—Fungow-Lin!”

Shevlin stared at her. “But—I thought I was to meet the Golden Girl at Linchow?”

“No. The plans—were changed. That—was why— I was to come to you—and tell you—of the new meeting-place.” She swayed to her feet, clung to him for support. Her face was corpse-pale.

Shevlin tried to push her back on the couch-berth. “You're in no shape to get off the train!” he whispered harshly. That wound in your side—”

“It—does not—matter. My hours are—numbered. But before I—go to my ancestors—I must finish my— mission! I must—take you to—Chen Tsing Gat and— the Golden Girl!” Her pale features were contorted with sudden agony; she clutched at the wound in her side.

And at that instant, the locomotive up ahead whistled for the station-stop at Fungow-Lin. Shevlin heard the hiss of escaping air as the brakes bit into the car wheels. The train slackened speed.

The American leaned forward, swept the Chinese girl into his brawny arms, lifted her. “I'll carry you,” he whispered. “We'll get off the blind side of the train; nobody will see us.” He held her close to him, gently, protectively. Her firm ivory breasts were bare and warm against his chest; she closed her eyes wearily, content to relax in his arms....

The train panted to a halt at the tiny Fungow-Lin station. Shevlin stepped out into the deserted car corridor with his feminine burden. He came to the vestibule of the carriage, unfastened the door on the wrong side of the tracks. He leaped forward into the black and sinister shadows of the night.

IN the protecting gloom of a freight-car on a siding he crouched, waiting. In three minutes the Limited ground forward, away from the little station. Shevlin watched as the train sped westward into the distance like a many-eyed dragon. Then he lifted the Chinese girl once more into his arms.

She opened her eyes mistily. “Go forward along that road, Tate Shevlin,” she whispered faintly. “At a distance of about two English miles you will come to a series of ancient royal tombs—” Her voice caught in her throat; she choked wetly.

“The Golden Girl's hiding-place is among those tombs?” Shevlin whipped out.

“Yes. She—and Chen Tsing Gat—await you—in the middle tomb—“ Abruptly the girl quivered, drew a deep, sobbing breath. And then she grew still and ominously silent.

Tate Shevlin cursed, felt for her heart. No flutter answered his questing fingers as his palm flattened against her naked breast. “Dead!” he rasped....

Very gently he laid the Chinese girl's body by the side of the road. The shadows of the night were to be her shroud; the soft earth her death-couch.

Shevlin's jaw was grim, his eyes smoky, as he left her and strode forward toward his meeting with Chen Tsing Gat and the Golden Girl....

II

BLACKNESS enshrouded the crumbling stone tombs as Tate Shevlin approached them. Sinister and silent, they loomed before him like ancient symbols of death. Great carven pillars of marble jutted upward to support pagoda roofs worn and chipped with the erosion of centuries.

Cautiously, silently, the soldier of fortune went forward toward the middle tomb. He gained the crumbling stone entrance, hesitated. He heard a sound.

Footsteps!

He clenched his Webley in his right fist, crouched in the shadows. And then, suddenly, his heart leaped into his throat. Through the gloom of the night he saw a figure—

The well-remembered figure of the Golden Girl! Wraith-like, she had approached from within the dark interior of the tomb. Now he saw her; saw the lilting curves of her virginal body beneath her clinging robe of golden-yellow silk, the cascading gold of her soft hair as it tumbled about her warm shoulders.... “Beloved!” he whispered, and went to her. She met him with a glad cry, melted into his arms, fused her soft body against him. His lips descended toward her waiting mouth, clung there for a long time. His hand sought and found her breast beneath the clinging folds of her silken robe. His fingers caressed her firmly-resilient flesh hungrily, avidly.

At last she broke free of his embrace. “I have been waiting for you a long time, Tate Shevlin,” her bell- like voice was husky, warm, passion-stirring.

“It has seemed ages,” he answered her slowly. And then he caught her, held her tightly in his arms. “Beloved!” he whispered. “Why can't we put all this waiting behind us? Why can't we go now—back to America ? Back to safety? All China swarms with your enemies; and I have a premonition that danger lies in wait, unless we leave at once!”

Slowly she shook her head. “It cannot be, Tate Shevlin—until my task is finished,” she answered gently. “As you know, Chen Tsing Gat once saved my father's life. My father died before he could repay the debt. And to discharge the obligation, I vowed a year of my own life to Chen Tsing Gat's service. That year is nearly over; but until its end, I must go on.” Her hand crept into Tate Shevlin's hard palm. “You will stay with me until my work is finished, won't you?”

“Until the end of time!” Shevlin whispered tensely. “Then come. Chen Tsing Gat awaits us.”

The soldier of fortune followed her into the dank, musty tomb. Downward they stumbled through the blackness, down a long series of broken stone steps. And at last they came to an open door. Faint light gleamed from within that subterranean chamber.

The American blinked as his eyes grew accustomed to the illumination. An ancient, wrinkled yellow man came toward him. It was Chen Tsing Gat.

“Welcome, my son,” he held out his gnarled hand to Tate Shevlin. “You are in time to learn of my plans— plans which must bear fruit within the next four days.”

“You mean—you've located the fifth Claw?” Chen Tsing Gat shook his head. “No. I have decided that there is not time to attempt the recovery of the final jewel. Instead, I shall dispose of the four I already have. An army must be recruited and equipped immediately. Linchow Province grows restless under the iron hand of its corrupt military governor, Wu Shang. The time has come to strike. Wu Shang must be removed, and an honest government installed. No more days can be lost.”

“Then you plan to—” Tate Shevlin's question died on his lips as the Golden Girl suddenly cried out. Her voice held a note of horror, of abrupt fear—

The soldier of fortune whirled, whipped out his Webley in unconsciously-reflex action. He was a split- second too late.

SILENTLY, unheard and unperceived by Shevlin, Chen Tsing Gat or the Golden Girl, a band of uniformed soldiers had crept to the doorway of the underground tomb-chamber. Now they smashed into the room with savage snarls, their rifles upraised!

“Wu Shang's men!” the Golden Girl cried out. And then two yellow soldiers grabbed her, pinioned her struggling form!

Tate Shevlin's lips drew back in a snarl of sheer fury. Lust of combat flared into his eyes as he launched himself head-first toward the Golden Girl's attackers. His Webley vomited flame as he sent a crashing volley full into the faces of the advancing men of Wu Shang. Then the weapon's hammer snapped down on an empty clip. Shevlin hurled himself full into the midst of the lunging soldiery.

Arms flailing, fists knotted, he crashed against the hard body of an officer. The man grunted, staggered backward. Shevlin raised his clubbed Webley, brought it smashing down full into the slant-eyed features of his adversary. The man's face disappeared in a gory welter of blood-ooze. He slumped to the floor.

The soldier of fortune pivoted on his heel. He saw Chen Tsing Gat go down under the bludgeoning blow of a rifle-butt. Shevlin leaned forward, grabbed at the sword from the lifeless hand of the officer he had smashed down. He raised the blade, flung it—

It whistled through the air, buried itself in the uniformed back of the soldier who had battered Chen Tsing Gat into unconsciousness. The man shrieked wildly, clawed at the point of the blade where it protruded from his chest. He pitched forward.

The Golden Girl screamed as clutching yellow hands tore at the silk of her robe, ripped it from her perfect body. She was lifted in strong, buffeting arms—

Tate Shevlin saw red as a surging anger mounted to his temples. Caution tossed to the winds, he lashed himself ahead in great, leaping strides. A yellow visage loomed before him. He smashed at it with his bare fists, battered the man to death. And then two other soldiers of Wu Shang catapulted into him, bore him backward. A rifle-muzzle smashed down against his skull; fists beat into his face. He staggered, stumbled, went to his knees. A heavy boot thudded into his groin, and a raging inferno of agony cramped at his muscles, sickened him.

The blunt snout of an automatic was thrust against his temple. Weakly, ineffectually, he tried to smash it aside. A yellow finger tightened on the trigger—

And then a commanding voice said “No! Do not shoot him! Wu Shang desires all three of these plotters—desires them alive!” Then Shevlin felt a crashing blow at the base of his skull and black unconsciousness engulfed him.

WHEN next he opened his eyes, he was in a softly- lighted room. His hands and ankles were roped; his body was a torturing hell of aching pain. Dully he stared about him. Similarly gyved and helpless, Chen Tsing Gat's ancient form was stretched out alongside him on the floor. Just beyond Chen Tsing Gat, the soldier of fortune beheld the breath-taking nakedness of the Golden Girl.

Her yellow silken robe hung in pathetic tatters about her virginal white body. She was fettered, hand and foot; and in her deep blue eyes Shevlin saw frantic fear. Her revealed, pink-centered breasts rose and fell sharply under the stress of her terror-stricken breathing.

There was a desk at the far end of the room. Behind it sat a man, huge, almond-eyed, leering. He was clad in the field uniform of a general in the Chinese army; and his slanted eyes glittered with an unholy satisfaction.

He spoke, and his voice was like the harsh rasp of a saw biting through living bone. “I am General Wu Shang, governor of Linchow Province!” he snarled. His lips drew back, baring yellow, fang-like teeth. “This is my headquarters; and my soldiers have accomplished a splendid task in capturing you three!”

It was Chen Tsing Gat who answered him. “Yes, Wu Shang,” he said wearily, bitterly. “You have triumphed.”

“Aie, dog! Verily I have triumphed. And I shall take great delight in watching you die—all three of you!”

Chen Tsing Gat went pale. “One moment, General Wu Shang! It is fitting that you should kill me, because I have plotted to overthrow your government. But these other two—these Americans—they have had no actual hand in my scheming. They merely aided me in the recovery of certain jewels which had been lost—

“Yes. The Claws of the Dragon!” Wu Shang interposed swiftly. “l know all about that. Because I myself happen to possess one of the Claws!” He reached into a pocket of his tunic, withdrew a glittering coruscating diamond-and-emerald jewel of pulse- stirring beauty; a jewel whose diamonds glistened iridescently with imprisoned fire, ,whose emeralds were like congealed green flames. Wu Shang grinned. “I have had this a long time, oh Chen Tsing Gat; and long have I desired its four mates. And now I shall have them! Now I shall possess all five Claws!” He turned to one of his men; his harsh voice rose. “Search him! Bring me the four Claws he possesses!”

Chen Tsing Gat spoke quickly. “Search me if you wish. But you will not find the Claws. The jewels are not with me, Wu Shang!”

Wu Shang's yellow face darkened thunderously. “Then where are they, son of an unmentionable tortoise?” he rasped.

Desperately, craftily, Chen Tsing Gat's eyes narrowed. “The time has not yet come to me to tell you that secret, Wu Shang,” he said softly.

“No? Then perhaps I have a means of hastening that time!” Wu Shang barked. “When you have witnessed a little scene in my private torture-dungeon, your lips perhaps will unlock! Or it may be that you prefer to taste some of the torture yourself!” He turned to his men. “Take all three of these dogs down below, into the torture-chamber!”

TATE SHEVLIN felt himself being lifted, carried out into a corridor, down a long flight of stairs into the bowels of the earth below the house. Then, at last, as he flung callously, brutally, into a corner of an underground chamber—a dungeon that smelled sickeningly of carrion, of putrescent flesh, of death....

The Golden Girl and Chen Tsing Gat were brought into the dungeon, propped in the corner beside the soldier of fortune. Flaring, flickering torches illumined the place with ghastly, ghoulish light. At the far end of the room there was a torture-rack; nearer, Shevlin perceived other weird and diabolic engines for producing exquisite agony upon human flesh. He shuddered.

Wu Shang strode, grinning, into the dungeon. “Now I shall stage an entertainment for you!” he grated. “Two others who had the temerity to plot against my regime fell into my hands this morning. Now I shall demonstrate what happens to those who dare rebel against me!”

He clapped his hands. A group of uniformed men belched into the underground room, shoving two prisoners before them. Shevlin stared. One of the two captives was a woman—a Chinese. Her clothing had been ripped from her cringing body, and her eyes were wide with fear. Her companion was a man—a huge, muscular Asiatic whose bare torso was like that of a wrestler. Both were bound with strong ropes.

“Now bring my torture-woman!” Wu Shang commanded.

In a moment a girl entered. She was a half-caste, and she was naked to the waist. Smooth, rippling muscles writhed in her bare shoulders and arms; and she moved with feline, pantherish grace. There was a savage, sadistic gleam in her eyes; a lustful glitter that brought cold chills to Tate Shevlin's marrow as he watched her. Her firm breasts undulated slightly as she stepped forward.

“Begin!” Wu Shang snarled.

The half-caste torturess smiled grimly. Tate Shevlin quivered as she approached the athletic figure of the yellow man who was to be her victim. She gestured; and the prisoner was strapped upright to a stanchion.

Then the pantherish torture-woman picked up a long, snake-like lash and stepped back four paces. She raised the whip, poised it—

The singing lash hissed through the air with a sharp crackling noise. The bound man screamed out in sudden agony. Tate Shevlin winced as he saw what had happened. The end of the lash had flicked forward across the prisoner's face...had plucked out his right eye by the roots, leaving a gory, bleeding hole....

The soldier of fortune felt a nausea welling into his belly as the lash ripped forward again and again. Now the prisoner's face was a bleeding shambles of lacerated flesh.... The man collapsed, hung limply against his fetters.

The torturess leaped toward him, pressed her bare breasts against his naked, muscular chest, undulated in a wild frenzy of passion-crazed excitement. Her long fingers caressed the crimson-dripping flesh of her victim's features; her face contorted in orgiastic pleasure. She withdrew a knife from her breech-clout, slashed at her prisoner's bonds. He toppled forward at her feet.

She leaned over him, lifted him with amazing strength. She dragged him to a dangling rope, knotted his wrists to the hanging loop. Again she undulated her bare body against the victim's muscular torso, as though the contact brought her sensual gratification.... Then she leaped toward a winch, began turning its huge wooden crank—

THE Asiatic prisoner's unconscious form was lifted high into the air as the dangling rope tightened in its overhead pulley. Then Tate Shevlin, watching, felt his scalp prickle. The torture-woman's victim hung suspended over a huge open vat. Beneath the vat a red fire raged. Shevlin stared. The vat was full to the brim with boiling, bubbling, silver-colored liquid....

The American's eyes widened with horror. That huge iron vat contained molten lead! And the Asiatic prisoner was being lowered slowly, inexorably, toward the seething surface of the cauldron!

The man's bare feet plunged into the white-hot metal with a hissing, frying sound. Consciousness returned to him. He screamed once, horribly...and then his entire, writhing form plunged downward into the molten metal!

Wu Shang laughed insanely. “Thus do I end the lives of my enemies!” he exulted. Then he grabbed for the other prisoner—the unclad Chinese girl. “Now it is your turn, little passion-flower!” he gritted. “But first, before you taste the torture-whip, I shall enjoy the beauty of your young breasts, slake my desire with your feminine charms—!” He lifted her, carried her through a doorway.

Wu Shang's men leaped aside to let him pass. Then they scrambled toward chinks in the wooden partition separating the dungeon from the adjoining room into which Wu Shang had carried his feminine victim. Chuckling fiendishly, the soldiers peered through the cracks, watching the scene that was taking place. Tate Shevlin heard the girl cry out in sudden fear, in abrupt agony....

Five minutes later Wu Shang emerged from the next room. In his arms he bore the limp, lifeless figure of the girl he had assaulted. There was a knife thrust into her quivering left breast. She was dead. Callously, brutishly, he tossed her body into that seething vat of molten lead!

Wu Shang turned to Chen Tsing Gat. “Now will you tell me where you have secreted those four jewels? Or do you wish a taste of the lash—and the torture- vat?” he snarled.

Chen Tsing Gat's voice trembled as he answered. “I—I would bargain with you, oh Wu Shang!” he pleaded. “Spare the lives of this American girl and her companion, Tate Shevlin; and in return I will lead you to the four Claws of the Dragon!”

Wu Shang hesitated. Then he grinned. “It is well. It shall be as you wish. But they will not be released until I have the Claws!”

Chen Tsing Gat nodded silently.

III

IT was late that night, and the torture-dungeon was solidly dark. Tate Shevlin sat propped in his corner, staring out into the blackness that surrounded him. By his side, the Golden Girl breathed softly, sobbingly.

Shevlin spoke in a whisper. “Chen Tsing Gat has been gone a long while,” he said. “Do you suppose he actually intends to lead Wu Shang's men to the hiding- place of the jewels?”

“Yes,” the Golden Girl answered bitterly. “He will do it in order to gain your freedom and mine, Tate Shevlin, I—” Abruptly she fell into startled silence. Footsteps sounded in the corridor outside the dungeon!

Shevlin tensed. And then he saw a figure enter the dungeon—a figure bearing a flickering, smoking torch. He stared. It was the half-caste woman—Wu Shang's torturess!

Her slanted eyes gleamed oddly as she thrust the torch into a niche in the wall of the chamber. Then she approached Tate Shevlin, leaned over him. She was still clad only in a breech-clout, and her hard breasts became inverted cones as she stooped forward. She had a short-bladed dagger in her hand!

The American's flesh quivered in anticipation of her knife-thrust. But it did not come. Instead, the half- caste woman spoke sibilantly. “Listen, American!” she whispered. “Chen Tsing Gat has returned here with his guards. He has turned over the Claws of the Dragon to Wu Shang. But Wu Shang does net intend to keep his promise. Instead, be plans to kill Chen Tsing Gat, you and the yellow-haired woman!”

Shevlin's eyes narrowed. He had feared some such treachery on Wu Shang's part. But why did the half- caste woman tell him all this?

The torturess seemed to read his question in his eyes. She smiled.

“You wonder why I tell this to you?” Abruptly her hands went out, pawed at his muscular shoulders. “It is because I like you! And now I make you an offer. I shall release you, and together we will go away from this place. You will belong to me; we will lose ourselves in passionate drunkenness! Let Wu Shang be satisfied with killing Chen Tsing Gat and this slender yellow- haired woman”—she gestured toward the Golden Girl. “But you and I will escape....” She leaned far forward, so that the quivering tips of her breasts stirred the air near Shevlin's lean cheek....

The soldier of fortune was silent.

The torturess stared at him, her eyes narrowing. “You do not think me desirable, oh American?” she hissed. Her hands went to her naked bosoms, cupped those twin resilient mounds suggestively. Her palms traveled slowly downward over her bare body, voluptuously, sinuously. She undulated.... “You do not think my passion better than...death?” Again Tate Shevlin was silent. The half-caste grinned sardonically. “Perhaps you will change your mind when you see the woman you love being put to torture!” she whispered. She flung aside her dagger, stepped over to the cringing form of the Golden Girl, lifted her up.

The Golden Girl gasped in sudden terror as her savage feminine captor carried her toward the torture- rack at the far end of the chamber. Shevlin cursed, strained at his bonds. And then his eyes lighted savagely as he saw the knife which the torturess had dropped....

DESPERATELY he struggled forward. His bound hands reached forth, touched the handle of the dagger, grasped it—

Now the Golden Girl was being bound to the rack with leather thongs. “Your white breasts will not be so beautiful when they have tasted the fire of my branding- irons!” the half-caste torture-woman chuckled evilly.

“And when your beauty has been utterly destroyed, your American sweetheart will turn to me—!”

Silently, with bitter desperation, Tate Shevlin sawed at his hempen gyves. Strand after strand parted. Sweat stood out on his pale features as he saw the half-caste woman draw a glowing iron from a charcoal brazier and approach the Golden Girl—

Shevlin's last fetter parted. With a wild cry he leaped to his feet, flung himself forward. The knife glittered in his clenched fist as he sprang.

The half-caste woman whirled as she heard him. She raised the glowing branding-iron, flung it—flung it straight at Tate Shevlin's face. He leaped aside, and the red-hot iron smashed into his shoulder. He felt the searing, fiery agony dart through his flesh. Then the iron clattered to the floor amid a shower of sparks. Unmindful of pain, the soldier of fortune closed in.

The torture-woman backed away, her features suddenly pale. Shevlin sprang at her. She leaped backward—

Leaped backward, and crashed full against the vat of molten lead! It overturned on its stand. The half- caste woman shrieked in sudden agony as the liquid, white-hot metal cascaded over the sides of the tottering vat and ate into her yellow flesh.... She swayed, staggered, grasped at the sides of the vat to steady herself. Then, as she toppled to the floor, she pulled the huge pot of molten metal crashing over on her.

Bubbling molten lead streamed thickly over the woman's unclad body in a fiery Niagara of death!

But Tate Shevlin was not looking. He had flung himself toward the rack upon which the Golden Girl was bound. Now he slashed at her bonds with his knife. The leather thongs parted. He started to lift her—

“One more move and I'll shoot you where you stand, dog!” a harsh voice snarled from the doorway.

Shevlin whirled—and stared into the muzzle of an automatic in the hands of General Wu Shang!

THE soldier of fortune hesitated a brief instant. Then, desperately, savagely, he launched himself forward in a vicious flying tackle. Wu Shang's automatic barked a staccato stream of lead; but Shevlin's sudden dive had spoiled the Chinese general's aim. With the impact of a hurtling meteor, Tate Shevlin's hard shoulders crashed into Wu Shang's knees. The man smashed backward to the floor. Shevlin raised his knife and brought it plunging downward—full into Wu Shang's constricted throat. Wu Shang choked, gurgled; a crimson gush of blood spewed from his snarling lips. He went limp.

And then Tate Shevlin heard footsteps coming down the long stairs from above. “Trapped!” he gasped.

And then a fantastic, tenuous plan leaped into his seething brain. He grabbed at Wu Shang's body, carried it into the next room—the room into which Wu Shang had dragged that screaming Chinese girl victim hours before. Swiftly, with the speed of desperation, he stripped Wu Shang's uniform from the yellow man's limp body, donned it himself. He flung the undressed corpse into a dark corner, behind a couch. Then he leaped back into the torture-chamber, snatched the Golden Girl from the rack.

“It's our only chance!” he whispered into her ear, pantingly, bitterly. And as he spoke, a band of Wu Shang's soldiers eddied into the dungeon.

Shevlin's back was toward them as he bore the Golden Girl toward the next room. He raised his voice in harsh simulation of Wu Shang's tones. “Stay where you are, my braves! I take this woman in here to taste her sweet beauty! Afterward, she is yours—she will be your plaything until you tire of her!” He leaped into the adjoining chamber, slammed the door behind him with a kick of his foot.

“What—what do you plan to do, Tate Shevlin?” the Golden Girl whispered silently, fearfully.

The American soldier of fortune kept his back toward the door through which he had come. Gently he laid the Golden Girl on the couch at the far end of the chamber. His pulses raced strangely as he beheld her undraped loveliness.... “They're watching us through the chinks in the wall!” he answered grimly.

“They think I'm Wu Shang. For the moment, we're safe from attack.” Then he raised his voice once more in a rasping counterfeit of Wu Shang's tones. “Aie, white passion-flower! Now I shall drink my fill of your charms!”

The Golden Girl blanched as his hands went out, pawed at her naked breasts. “Tate—Tate Shevlin!” she gasped.

“We've got to go through with it! It's our only chance!” he answered in a silent whisper. His head lowered; his mouth clamped to her parted lips. She panted, struggled weakly in his grasp. He kissed her eyes, her shoulders, the sweet hollow of her flawless throat.... His hands touched her breast, pressed gently into the firmly-pliant flesh....

“Tate—beloved!” the Golden Girl trembled as her slim arms crushed him to her.

His hands strayed over the smooth perfection of her naked curves. “At last...!” he whispered hoarsely. “After all these months—you are to be mine...my darling! And even though we die, at least we shall have had our love...!”

Over the throbbing in his temples, the surging pound of his heart, he could hear the ribald chuckling of Wu Shang's soldiers in the next room as they watched....

MOMENTS later Shevlin thrust himself up from the couch, sprang toward a torch that flickered in a niche in the wall. He grabbed it, plunged it against the floor to extinguish its guttering light. The chamber was immersed suddenly in darkness marked only by the faint illumination filtering through cracks in the partition which separated the room from the adjoining torture-dungeon. He raised his voice, once more imitated the harsh tones of the dead Wu Shang. “Now, my men!” he called out. “It is your turn!”

Then he leaped for the couch, pulled Wu Shang's stripped corpse from behind it. He grabbed at the Golden Girl in the darkness, pulled her toward the door; together they crouched in the shadows.

The door punched open. Wu Shang's soldiers burst ribaldly into the room. One bore a torch. He held it high—

Abruptly the soldiers saw Wu Shang's stripped body lying on the floor in a far corner. “What is this?” the torch-bearer cried out. He lunged toward Wu Shang's body, with his companions at his heels.

And in that brief instant, Tate Shevlin grabbed the Golden Girl, lifted her in his arms and leaped out of the room, into the torture-dungeon!

With plunging, racing strides he crossed the dungeon, smashed out into the dark corridor beyond. He gained the stairs that led upward. He vaulted at them, took them three at a time. His shoulder thudded against a closed door at the top, splintered it open.

HE stared about him. He was in Wu Shang's headquarters—and on the floor beside Wu Shang's desk lay the trussed form of Chen Tsing Gat!

The American leaned forward. His knife licked out, slashed at the fetters which bound the ancient Chinese. Chen Tsing Gat staggered weakly to his feet. “Tate— Tate Shevlin! What—?”

“Come on! No time for talk!” the soldier of fortune rasped. Already he could hear the thudding footsteps of Wu Shang's men as they plunged upward along the stairs from the subterranean torture-dungeon; already he could hear their savage, vengeful cries. He grabbed Chen Tsing Gat's arm. “Let's get going!”

Then, bearing the Golden Girl in his arms, with Chen Tsing Gat trailing behind him, Shevlin raced through the house to a rear door and plunged outward into the night.

“But—but the Claws of the Dragon!” Chen Tsing Gat panted.

“I have them. All five of them. They were in Wu Shang's tunic—and I've got it on!” Shevlin barked.

“And Wu Shang—?”

“Dead! Your revolution won't have him to cope with when you start it!” Shevlin answered grimly. His hand plunged into a pocket of the uniform he wore. He extracted the five glittering Claws, passed them to the ancient Chinese.

Then, in the darkness before them, Shevlin saw a sleek, speedy-looking automobile. “Wu Shang's armored sedan!” Chen Tsing Gat wheezed harshly, triumphantly.

Shevlin leaped for it, flung open its doors. The Golden Girl sped into the tonneau; Shevlin and Chen Tsing Gat flung themselves into the front seat. The American crouched behind the steering wheel, stepped on the starter, clashed the gears. The sedan plummeted forward into the night—toward safety!

IV

FANWISE, the steamer's wake spread backward on the blue surface of the Pacific. At the aft rail, Tate Shevlin and the Golden Girl stared backward toward Shanghai Harbor receding in the dim distance.

The soldier of fortune turned to the girl at his side, captured her tiny hand. It fluttered in his palm, like a captive bird's wing. Her blue eyes grew misty. She smiled tremulously....

Tate Shevlin spoke. “Then—you have forgiven me for...what took place in that underground room?”

She pressed her vibrant body close to his. “There is...nothing to forgive, Tate Shevlin,” she whispered shyly. “I am yours, body and soul. Always and forever!”

The soldier of fortune caught her in his arms. “Beloved!” he said. And as the steamer nosed eastward on its long run toward San Francisco, Tate Shevlin knew that adventuring was done—and that at the end of adventure he had found happiness....


EText from pulpgen.com  / 2005 Blackmask Online.