Bruce Davis

Tales From the OR
Chain Story
The Quality of Mercy
Benthic Rhapsody

Master Blaster and the Tiger of Chinatown

Part of:



I set down my glass of excellent single malt and cleared my throat, drawing the attention of the small crowd gathered around the sideboard.

"I want to thank Mr. Reginald Asteroth-Phipps for that fascinating account. 'Working Stiffs' indeed.

But, with all respect to Reggie's fortitude in fighting vampires, his walking dead are not the strangest  forms of unnatural life that I have encountered. My own experience on and under the streets of San Francisco is as fantastic and if I may say, more immediate in its implications of danger to us all. I am still at risk from the events of a few years ago, which is why my visits to the Wanderer's Club have been so rare. I call my story:


The Master Blaster and the Tiger of Chinatown



Waking up with one's face pressed into the rough grain of a pine board does not bode well for the rest of the day. When the first movement of one's head results in a throbbing that rivals the beat of a steam piston, one can assume that things will get steadily worse as the morning unfolds. I have been drunk before, occasionally spectacularly so. But I have never been so intemperate that I lost track of time or my surroundings. On this particular morning, however, I had no idea where I was or how I had come to be there.

I lay still, contemplating the rough grain of my rude bed with my left eye. My right eye was sealed shut by some hard crusted substance that resisted my feeble efforts at opening the eyelid. I groaned and tried to sit up, but knocked the top of my already aching head on a hard wooden surface above it. I managed to roll onto my back and rubbed at my right eye with the back of a hand. I gently pried the lid open and was surprised when my fingertips came away covered in congealed blood. A gentle exploration of my forehead revealed a two inch wound that stung mightily when I touched it but did not seem to be actively bleeding. My condition wasn't due to drink, then, but something more sinister.

My head began to clear and I looked about me. I lay on a wooden pallet about four feet above a stone floor. The room that enclosed me was barely twice the width of my bunk and perhaps a foot longer. I rolled to my right and dropped to the floor, only to be seized by a fit of nausea and dizziness. The floor seemed to heave under me, as if I were still aboard the Evangeline, inbound to San Francisco from Hong Kong.

I gripped the edge of the pallet and remembered. I had arrived in San Francisco on the morning of the tenth and after the formalities of disembarking, had checked into a second class hotel on the edge of the city's Chinatown area. Second class because until I could cash a bank draft, that was all my finances would allow. Chinatown because after years in the Far East, it felt more comfortable than the commercial district south of Market Street. Despite having to flee Peking in the aftermath of the Boxer Uprising, I still had an affinity for China. The prospect of a steaming bowl of sai fun after the monotony of shipboard food was enough to lure me into the streets of Chinatown.

A few blocks from my hotel. I had asked a young Chinese where to get a good bowl of noodles. He'd looked surprised at my command of Mandarin, but had smiled and directed me to a shop in the next block. I remembered a stir of movement to my right as I passed a darkened doorway, then a heavy blow to my forehead that stunned me. I felt the bite of a needle in my arm and that was all until I awoke in my hard wooden bunk. A glance at my arm showed a small bruise over the vein in the crease of my elbow.

I rubbed my eyes and tried to think clearly. I'd been assaulted and drugged on the street and imprisoned for some purpose. The situation was ridiculous, like something out of a bad romance novel. Drugged and Shanghaied on the streets of San Francisco? That sort of thing may have gone on fifty years ago, but not in 1902.

A quick survey of the room revealed little that could tell me where I was. Nor was there anything that could be used as a weapon, unless I could pry a board from the bunks that rose three high against the wall. I approached the stacked pallets to see if that was possible. A low moan from the top bunk stopped me. I peered cautiously over the edge of the bunk. A young man with a large bruise discoloring his left eye lay on his back, breathing softly and evenly, unconscious or asleep. It was the Chinese I had asked for directions. Somehow, I was glad that he hadn't been responsible for assisting in my abduction. I didn't attempt to awaken him.

I moved to the door and listened. I didn't want to reveal to my captors that I was awake until I had some idea of where I was and why I'd been taken. The door was solid and heavy. It fitted tightly into the jamb and the hinges were on the outside. A small grate was set in the center at about eye level, closed by a sliding metal plate. I pressed my ear to the grate and could make out the sounds of a conversation on the other side. After a few seconds, I realized the words were Chinese, a Cantonese dialect that I couldn't understand. Then I made out two words in Mandarin that chilled my blood: zhadou shifu.

I leaned my back against the door and cursed silently. Half a world away from the horrors of Peking, nearly three quarters of the way around the globe from my home, and I was a prisoner of the Yihetuan, the Harmonious Fists or Boxers. My abduction had not been a random attack on a hapless tourist. This had been carefully planned to capture the Zhadou Shifu; the Master of Explosives; me.


I had never intended to circumnavigate the globe. When I sailed from England as a newly minted Engineer, fresh from University College, Oxford, my plans did not extend beyond the gold fields of South Africa. I left Southampton armed only with a letter of introduction from my old professor at University who cited me, William Trimble, as a likely young man with a firm grasp of the Science of Engineering and a knowledge of explosives. The former was a mild exaggeration, the latter a bit of understatement.

Ever since my childhood experiments with black powder which had terrorized the quiet Manchester street where my father maintained his tiny book shop, I had been fascinated with the art of making things explode. I graduated from home-made black powder to dynamite and TNT by the time I reached University and continued my researches into the physics of explosions. With the proper materials, I could blast a single brick from the Great Hall and not disturb the facade nor disrupt the Grace being said at evening meal.

I had heard that the gold in the South African fields was from deep, hard rock mines and expected my talents would be in demand there. I arrived in Johannesburg in the summer of 1889, an utlander in the parlance of the local Dutch-Afrikaans people. Political foment was in the air and British immigrants were not openly welcomed. I found immediate employment, however, and for the next two years applied myself to the science of blasting in the deep goldmines of the JCI, the richest British holding in the Witwatersrand.

I labored for two years in the mines, learning the technique of rock face mining and improving my mastery of dynamite and various other energetic substances. But gold mining was not to my liking. It was hot, dirty and dangerous work and the treatment of the black laborers under my supervision appalled me. My politics have never been radical, but I refuse to treat men who sweat and bleed the same as I do as anything less than men. The friction between the Afrikaans and British had reached a state of near open warfare and the streets were unsafe for lone individuals of either nation.

By the fall of 1891, I was ready for a change. When an offer to replace an engineer on the construction of a new railway between Bombay and Bangalore presented itself, I made for India with all haste. The next few years were spent learning the intricacies of railway construction and perfecting a mixture of nitrates and petroleum extract that could be molded into paste or poured like thick custard into natural cracks and holes in rock faces. Such shaped charges resulted in stable fractures in the rock and often eliminated the need for external bracing in tunnel walls.

My reputation as a steady hand with explosives grew and I was offered the position as Chief Engineer in Charge of Construction with the Royal Mandalay Railway Company in Burma. Both the job and the company turned out to be something less than their grand titles suggested. I found myself the sole European in charge of a large gang of native laborers and semi-educated Bengali overseers in the back country of the Irrawaddy headwaters. Still, the engineering problems were challenging and absorbed much of my attention. I also came to appreciate the value of learning the local language. What started as an effort to negotiate with local merchants for my crew's sustenance became an invaluable skill when the Bengalis all either died of fever or deserted their duties. I was left to fend for myself in the supervision of the laborers and negotiations with the local headmen for rights-of-way.

By 1895, we had completed the roadbed between Mandalay and Rangoon and laid a little over a hundred miles of track. Then the money stopped. My own earnings had been paid in a lump sum at the start of the year and deposited with the Asiatic Bank. Had I not been in charge of the payroll for the labor gang as a consequence of the Bengali desertion, I might not have noticed before the situation became ugly. As it was, when the regular payroll was late, my labor bosses came to me with their complaints.

I immediately traveled up the line to Mandalay, only to find the company office deserted. A wire to Rangoon brought no reply. With my laborers on the verge of mutiny, I paid them a week's wages from my own resources and left my major-domo in charge while I proceeded to Rangoon to investigate. I found the main office also deserted and a notice of bankruptcy posted on the door. My employers had sold off the few remaining company assets and returned to England, leaving me to fend for myself.

I settled what remained of the company's affairs as best I could, having little authority and less money with which to do so. After a week of soothing the recriminations of the local authorities, I managed to extricate myself and made my way down river and across the Andaman Sea to Singapore. My intention was to meet with the manager of the Asiatic Bank in that port and arrange for transfer of my funds back to England. Instead I was offered an opportunity that I felt was too good to ignore.

As I sat in the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel waiting for the bank to open, I was approached by an old classmate, James Furlong. We had been at University together but had parted ways after graduation. He had taken a position with the East India Railway Company and had heard my name in connection with the construction of the Bangalore line. He also knew of my difficulties in Rangoon. He offered to buy me breakfast and presented me with an opportunity for making a large profit.

"What I wanted to say to you, William," he explained as we talked over cups of strong Chinese tea. "Was that if you have a mind to remain here in the East and want to be part of a new venture as a shareholder, my colleagues and I would be delighted to have you on board."

The venture in question was a new railroad between Shanghai and Peking, a direct route for which his group had received a commission from the Emperor. The construction would be done by Chinese workers under English supervision. Operation of the line would be done by the Emperor's own people. Our venture was purely concerned with construction of the line. The costs would be borne by the Imperial Purse and we were to be paid a handsome advance which alone would be sufficient to set a man up for life. The balance of the pay would come at the completion of construction, either in cash or stock in the new railroad.

I had by then been nearly ten years away from England. I had lived frugally and had more than enough to fund a full share in the venture. I had no ties, no living family and little to draw me back to the Mother Country. I resolved then and there to make my life here in the far East, in China if that was where opportunity took me. I readily agreed to Furlong's proposal and we went together to the Asiatic Bank to complete the deal.

Within the month we were in Shanghai. Work started immediately and I threw myself once again into the business of blasting a roadbed through rugged terrain. After my experience in Burma, I also undertook to learn Chinese, specifically Mandarin, as it was the language of the Emperor's court and the bureaucracy. By the end of 1899, we had completed the road from Shanghai to Tianjin where we linked it to the line running from the port of Takou to Peking. We routed our rails north of the city and crossed the Pei-Ho River as it ran through a high narrow gorge. The Pei-Ho bridge was, at the time, the longest iron cantilever bridge in China and the pride of the Northern Provinces. And when I destroyed it, I became one of the most infamous men in the Far East.

That the destruction of the Pei-Ho bridge halted a Boxer assault on the only remaining rail link to Peking, a railroad that ensured the safety of hundreds of European workers and missionaries, is often overlooked. I was the Zhadou Shifu, the Master of Explosions, who sent the bridge crashing into the muddy waters along with a hundred and fifty souls. The bridge can be rebuilt. The lives lost haunt my sleep every night.


A low moan from the top bunk pulled me back to the present. My cellmate lifted his head and tried to climb out of his perch. I half caught, half helped him down and leaned him against the wall.

"Don't try to move," I said in Mandarin. "The light head will pass shortly."

He nodded, then winced with pain. After a second he pushed himself upright using a hand to keep his balance. "Thank you," he said in English. "Why did those men attack you?"

"You saw what happened?"

"I saw. After you asked directions, I remembered that the noodle shop was closed for the night. I followed you to tell you so and saw the big man strike you. There was a second man, smaller but very quick, like a cat. He stuck a needle into your arm. I shouted to them to stop. Then something hit me and I fell to the ground. The big man kicked me in the face and I remember nothing else."

I shook my head. "I am sorry. Your good deed has involved you in a personal bao fu. A retaliation against me."

He looked puzzled. "Why would the tongs wish you harm?"

I turned to the door and listened again at the grate. Without looking at him, I said, "Not the tongs. They are the Yihetuan. They have followed me from China, but why they have not just killed me outright, I cannot say."

He laughed. "No. The men who took us had lao shu tattoos. They are Rat tong. Cutthroats and thieves. Mercenary soldiers to the highest bidder."

"The Harmonious Fist has a long reach. They would bid much for my death. The Rats may have taken us but the Yihetuan is paying the bill." It occurred to me that I was still alive because the tong had been hired to capture me, not simply assassinate me. That implied a future that I shuddered to imagine.

I turned back to my cellmate. "Sorry to be so stark. My name is Trimble, by the way. William Trimble."

He bowed slightly in my direction. "I am Zhou Li Fan. If what you say is true, then we should consider how to escape before the Fists come to take you."

"I don't see much we can use as weapons here. Perhaps the wood from the beds, but clubs are little use against guns."

"There may be other ways," he said.

Before I could ask what he meant, shouts and running feet outside our cell interrupted me. A loud bang and a rattle against the thick oak door were followed by two gunshots, a heavy pistol or carbine by the sound. Li Fan pressed himself against the wall next to the door. It was a poor place to wait in ambush, but the best the small room could offer. I wrenched a board free from the top bunk and hefted it. It was too light to be an effective club but a pair of nails stuck in one end might deal some damage. I stood a couple of paces back from the door clutching the board like a cricket bat.

The shouts and thuds outside stopped with the gunshots. The lock on the door rattled and clanked. The door swung outward and Li Fan tensed for an attack. A huge shadow filled the doorway, black and menacing. The shadow resolved into a giant black man who ducked his head under the lintel as he entered the cell. I charged, swinging the board in a wide arc at his head. He batted my arm aside and drove a fist into my chest slamming me into the far wall. I struggled in his grip but his forearm was hard as steel. His other hand rose above my head, a balled fist ready to crush my skull.

"John, no!" A female voice shouted from near the door.

The black man's fist lowered but his grip on my chest didn't ease. He stared into my eyes, his expression impassive but not hostile. His skin was very dark, almost coal black. His face was lined and weathered and his eyes were slightly yellowed with age. The short kinky hair on his head was still thick, but streaked with gray. I put his age at about sixty. Despite that, his physique was that of a much younger man, heavily muscled and firm.

He cocked his head and studied me, then smiled showing a mouthful of even white teeth. "He ain't much of a fighter, Miss, but he's got some sand I reckon," he said as he lowered me to the ground.

"Leave him," the woman said. I couldn't see her around the bulk of the black man, but her voice was that of a young woman. Her accent was Chinese but overlaid with American English. "Are you all right, Brother?" she asked, addressing Li Fan.

"Yes," my cellmate replied. The black giant, John, shifted his stance and I could see Li Fan embracing a slender Chinese woman. She wore loose cotton trousers and a quilted jacket like a laborer or a coolie. A worn brown belt cinched the jacket tight around her slim waist. It would have been quite fetching but for the black Mauser C96 pistol tucked into the small of her back.

Li Fan turned to me. "This is my sister, William. Zhou An Ling, this is William Trimble."

She looked me up and down, her brown eyes bright and hard. "You don't look like a mass murderer," she said. She turned back to her brother. "We need to hurry, Li. The Rats know we're here and will come swarming out of their holes to get us."

"We must take William with us. We need to get him to the Lao Hu."

"We can't trust an outsider, Li. We have to go now."

"I won't betray any trust," I said, eyeing the Mauser. "Just get me out of here and I'll make my own way out of Chinatown."

She laughed harshly. "You won't get three blocks." She looked at her brother. "You're sure?" He nodded. She turned back to me, drawing the Mauser. "Follow Li and John. I will be behind you. I will shoot you if you don't do exactly as I say, understood?"

I nodded and fell in behind John. Li rushed forward, leading us through a series of twisting tunnels and dark open spaces that I took to be the basements of buildings. Li clearly knew the way as we moved quickly despite near total darkness. John's broad back was all I could see as we hurried along. When Li stopped suddenly, I crashed into John before I could halt. I might as well have run into a wall. The impact knocked the breath out of me for a second. The low grinding sound of stone moving on stone filled the tunnel around me as I shook my head to clear it.

We moved again, this time at a right angle to our previous track, through a door in the tunnel wall where previously there had been nothing but solid rock. The grinding noise announced the closure of the door behind An Ling. We walked on, the path sloping sharply downward. After a time, perhaps a quarter of an hour, the path widened and ran straight and level. Looking past John's bulk, I made out a glimmer of light ahead. The glimmer grew to a round opening wide enough for us to pass through four abreast. Li's pace slowed to a leisurely walk and we left the dark tunnel behind.

I stopped and stared around me. We stood in a huge domed space, wide enough for a cricket pitch and over eighty feet high. Lights gleamed everywhere, some high near the domed roof, others strung across the open space. Many were covered lanterns in the Chinese style that suffused the lower level with a soft golden glow. Others, especially those high up near the roof, were intensely bright electric arc lights.

The level floor was covered with small tent-like structures laid out in neat rows. Some were simple awnings supported by wooden poles. Others were square frames across which were stretched swaths of brightly colored fabric creating small huts or buildings, complete with light bamboo doors.

An Ling prodded me in the back with the Mauser. "Keep moving," she said. "Lao Hu will know what we are to do with you."

John turned to Li and said, "Good to be home, Mr. Li. If it ain't a bother to you, I'm gonna get me some food and check on Mai Wu. I'll come if'n the Lao Hu need me."

"No need, John. You stay with Mai. An Ling and I will take Mr. Trimble to Lao."

John nodded, sketched a slight bow toward An Ling and grinned at me. "Don't fret none," he said softly. "Mr. Lao's a good sort. He only look fearsome."

We walked down a broad lane lined on either side with wood and fabric constructions that looked to be shops or vendor stall. Foodstuffs and tools were set out on trays and near each stood a man or woman who eyed me suspiciously as we passed. Most were Chinese, although I recognized some Malay's and a couple of Levantine types. Many bore the facial scars that marked them as outcasts in the Chinese community.

We reached the far side of the huge cavern and stopped at a wooden door set into the wall. Li Fan knocked twice and a strong male voice bade us enter. The room beyond was a small space carved out of solid rock. A single lamp illuminated the interior, shaded on the far side so that it cast a swath of light on the door and left the depths of the room in darkness.

A rich Tientsin carpet covered the floor, but the rest of the room was Spartan in the extreme. The lamp sat on a rough wooden table. A cane back chair faced it, set sideways. In the shadows beyond I made out the dark shape of a large man. At least it appeared to be a man. Something about the shadow was wrong, at odds with the voice, but I couldn't say what it was. The light in my eyes concealed any details.

"You are William Trimble, known as the Zhadou Shifu?” The voice I'd heard through the door asked.

"I am he," I answered.

"You are the man who brought down the Pei-Ho River bridge?"

I sighed. "Those fuses were precisely timed. Once they were lit, there was no way to stop them. We didn't know the Yihetuan would drive women and children ahead of them as human shields. I never intended for anyone to die. Nevertheless, their blood is on my hands."

"Peace, William Trimble," he said quietly. "No one here wishes you harm. I ask only to be certain that I am addressing the right man. Li Fan wasn't sure when you first disembarked, so I asked him to follow you. Unfortunately, the Rat tong took you both before Li could report to me."

"Follow me? Why? Who are you people?"

"We are a colony of outcasts. Surely you noticed the scarred faces as you came in. You've enough experience in China to know what they mean. Former prostitutes and beggars; the lame, the defective. All of them lost to their families and community. We give them shelter and purpose. Some of them have scars that are not visible; scars on the soul and the spirit. Here they can find healing."

"And you? You are their master?" I asked, an edge of scorn in my voice. "I should be grateful for my deliverance, but it appears I'm a prisoner again."

"No, a guest," he said. "And I am not master here. Advisor perhaps. Protector at times. They call me the Lao Hu."

"The Tiger? A great warrior hiding in a cave and following expatriate Englishmen?"

"The reason for my name will be made clear to you shortly," he said, a bit more harshly. "If you wish to return to the Rats, that can be arranged."

"No," I said, my umbrage deflated by his clear assessment of my options. "But I don't understand why the tongs would want me. The Harmonious Fists want to purge China of western power. The tongs seek to use that power to profit at the expense of their own people. The Yihetuan hate them with as much vehemence as they hate the white man. They would never hire the Rats to kidnap me."

"The Fists didn't hire them. The Si-Fan paid the Rats to capture you, and they are less fastidious about who they work with."

I felt the blood drain from my face and I stepped forward to hold onto the back of the cane chair before I fell. "The Si-Fan is a myth; a legend used to scare ignorant peasants."

"They are no myth," Lao Hu said. "Your reaction gives the lie to your words. You know who they are and what they can do."

Shadow assassins, invisible killers according to their own legend, the Si-Fan were sworn enemies of the West. In that, they shared the goals of the Harmonious Fist. But they worked in secret, killing those they deemed enemies of China, leaving no trace of their coming and going. They were rumored to see all, to have spies everywhere, even in the highest circles of Chinese and Western governments.

"I barely avoided a gunman on the Bundt in Shanghai," I said. "And when I was boarding the ship in Hong Kong, a cargo pallet fell from a crane, barely missing me. I assumed it was the Yihetuan. But why would the Si-Fan hire the Rats to capture me? Why not simply kill me?"

"A good question, Mr. Trimble. We heard through our spies in the tongs that you were in San Francisco and that the Si-Fan had targeted you. It seems that one of their own had family killed at the Pei-Ho bridge. What is not clear to me is why they didn't simply kill you or hire the Rats to do it. For some reason, the Si-Fan wants you alive."

"And why would that interest you?" I asked. "Why would you care about the notorious Zhadou Shifu?"

"I told you, no one here blames you for the deaths at Pei-Ho."

"No one? An Ling didn't seem very happy to see me."

"Well, perhaps not everyone was in favor of rescuing you," he said in a wry tone. "But she doesn't wish you harm. She distrusts outsiders."

"And you? What do you want with me?" I asked.

There was a long pause, then he said, "I wish to engage your services. You have skills with explosives; I need to move a large volume of rock in a very short period of time."

"Why me? There must be dozens of engineers in San Francisco who you could hire."

"To answer that, I must tell you a story," he said. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Have you ever heard of Doctor Moreau?"

"Of course. I read the novel by H.G. Wells. A fanciful story; exciting in its own way."

"The account of Edward Prendick was true and accurate. Moreau saved my life, after a fashion, and made me what I am today."

"Don't be ridiculous," I scoffed. "Wells told a story, nothing more. Moreau is a fictional character."

He laughed, a harsh sound, almost an animal growl from deep in his throat. "And what of this, Mr. Trimble? Is this fiction as well?"

I saw his shadow lean forward and lift the shade from the lantern. Bright light flooded the rear of the room, revealing his face. His yellow eyes had vertical slashes of black for pupils. He pulled back his lips in what I took to be a grin revealing long canine teeth, sharp and gleaming white. His ears were pointed and covered in fine yellow fur. His nose and jaw line jutted forward, not quite an animal snout but more prominent than normal. And those eyes. Deep set, golden yellow and feral.

"What are you," I whispered.

"A man, like yourself. I was a simple sailor, nearly twenty years ago now, when we put in at Moreau's island. Montgomery had hired our ship to deliver supplies and a cargo of swine to the place. I had the misfortune to wander away from the beach and was attacked by one of Moreau's creations, a horrible footless thing, all teeth and claws. I was reported dead and my ship left without me. Instead, Moreau used me as material for his experiments. He fused what was left of me with a great cat, perhaps a tiger, more likely a leopard."

"I thought all of Moreau's creations degenerated into bestiality," I said.

"They began as beasts and so returned to their natures. I began as a man and am able to fight the bestial nature within me. The cat's strength, hearing and sight are mine, but my soul is still the same."

A polite cough from Li Fan interrupted him. "Forgive me, Lao Hu, but there is not much time. We must assume the Rats will find their way here."

Lao Hu nodded. "Forgive me, Mr. Trimble, but Li is correct. You will be safe in here. I must see to our defenses. The Rats may arrive any minute; certainly within a matter of hours. Food and water will be delivered shortly. I expect you are quite hungry, if you missed your dinner last night."

He stood and started to move past me to the door. I reached out and touched his arm. The bunched muscles under his woolen shirt were hard as the rock walls around me. "I'd like to help," I said. "I'm not much of a fighter, but John thought I had 'sand' as he called it."

Lao Hu chuckled. "High praise from John. All right, William Trimble. What do you think you can offer us?"

I thought for a second. "You said you wished to use my services. I assume you have explosives?"

He nodded and motioned toward Li. "Help Mr. Trimble find what he needs."

Lao Hu led the way as we left the small room and crossed the large open cavern. Li tugged at my sleeve and led me to the right. He stopped next to a pile of crates stacked against the rocky wall and covered with oilcloth.

I pulled back the cover an examined one of the boxes. "Aetna Dynamite" read the label. "California Powder Works-Penniman Process ammonium nitrate."

I nodded. Ounce for ounce, Penniman's process nitrates had about 85% of the power of nitroglycerin process dynamite, but were safer to produce and handle. For what I had in mind, the 15% reduction would be irrelevant.

"I need three flat metal plates about six inches across and about a quarter inch thick," I said to Li.

He thought for a second. "Would the tops from an iron stove do?"

"Perfectly," I said. "And three bags of metal scrap, or rocks or broken pottery--anything hard and sharp."

He ran off to find those things and I set to work on the dynamite. I took three sticks and scored the paper wrapping around the clay center with a nail from the crate. This allowed me to break each in half cleanly.

Li returned with the round tops from a cook stove and three bags of nails. I sent him off again for rice paper and string. I lay the metal discs on the ground and squeezed and rolled the open ends of the dynamite sticks over them, piling the loose explosive in the center of each one. I pressed it down into flat cakes and set a bag of nails on each one. Rummaging through the crates I found a handful of percussion caps. Each was a thin tube containing a spring loaded striker and a fulminate of mercury cap. Pulling on the spring armed it, a pull on a long lanyard attached to the spring triggered it, igniting the fulminate.

Li returned with a sheaf of paper and a ball of twine. I pressed a percussion cap into each cake of explosive and wrapped the whole assembly with the paper and twine, leaving the long trigger lanyard trailing out of the wrapper.

"Is that the only tunnel into this area?" I asked Li, pointing to the wide entrance.

"No, there are several small openings for ventilation and a long narrow stairway near Lao Hu's room. But they are too small to admit more than one person at a time. The Rats wouldn't use them for an attack."

I nodded. "So we can expect them to come through the main entrance. Good." I picked up the wrapped packages carefully, even though the percussion caps were not yet armed.

Li and I walked quickly to the tunnel mouth. Lao Hu was supervising the construction of a barricade across it, as well as two redoubts about ten yards into the main cavern from the tunnel itself.

I nodded to Lao Hu as I handed the packages to Li and clambered over the barricade. I took the bundles from Li and he climbed over after me. I took one of the bundles from him and walked to the right side of the tunnel. I set it down at a forty-five degree angle near the base of the barricade, backed by the tunnel wall and a large rock. I crossed to the other side and set a second package there in the same fashion.

Li looked puzzled. "Won't those destroy the barricade as well?" he asked.

I smiled. "No, trust me. I'm the zhadou shifu, remember? Now take that last package down the tunnel about thirty feet, the length of the trigger lanyard. Set it like these, pointing straight across the width of the tunnel. Arm the cap and unroll the lanyard as you come back to me." He nodded and started up the tunnel. "Li," I said, stopping him. "Be careful."

He returned a minute later, holding the lanyard as if it were a poisonous snake. I took it and tied a piece of twine to the end, taking up the slack very carefully. We climbed back over the barricade, leading all three lanyards through a chink in the tunnel wall.

Lao Hu gave me a curious look but said nothing as I separated the lanyards and made sure they ran smoothly through the barricade. Then I settled down to wait.

Lao Hu approached me. "What have you prepared for the Rats, zhadou shifu?"

"A trap," I said. "Have one of your people tell me when the first Rats are within an arm's reach of the barricade."

He nodded but didn't question me further. He spoke to a woman near me who responded with slight bow and positioned herself just above me so that she could see over the barricade. We didn't have long to wait.

The first hint that they were coming was a dull murmuring and scraping sound from the tunnel. It grew louder and resolved itself into the sound of running feet. I took up a little more slack on my lanyards.

The woman above me spoke softly in Mandarin, "Coming fast. Almost here." I tensed. She held up a hand, beating time with the running feet. Then she dropped her arm and shouted, "Now, shifu."

I pulled hard on the twine attached to the first bomb, the one Li had set. It went off with a thud that echoed down the tunnel. Nails cut down the Rats still in the narrow part of the tunnel. Those who survived surged forward, further bunching up their companions at the barricade. I pulled the remaining two lanyards. The blast was deafening as the sound reverberated up and down the rocky walls.

From where I crouched behind the defensive wall, I couldn't see the immediate effect of my work. But as the sound of the explosions died, I heard the screams. I stood and looked over the rough parapet. Despite Li's fears, the rudely constructed barricade held firm, as I knew it would. The tunnel was a slaughter house, filled with dead and dying men. The nails had ripped through flesh and bone with terrible force, severing limbs and pinioning a few of the Rats to the walls. The few survivors of the triple blast retreated back up the tunnel.

Li stood next to me, stunned. "Truly, you are the zhadou shifu," he whispered.

I turned away, my stomach churning. The woman who had signaled the Rats' approach touched my hand and offered a mug of water which I drank greedily. Lao Hu approached as I handed the mug back to the woman with a soft, "Gan xei." Thanks.

"It is I who should thank you, William Trimble," said Lao Hu. "Although why we were not all blown to pieces is a mystery."

"No mystery," I said, shaking my head. "Any explosion follows the path of least resistance. Even a small amount of resistance at the source of the detonation directs the force of the blast away. A quarter inch of iron and a few rocks were more than sufficient blast the nails toward the Rats and not disrupt your barricade."

Lao Hu nodded thoughtfully. "Could you use this knowledge to blast a hole in a rock face without bringing down the roof of a tunnel?"

"The principle is the same. I learned tunnel blasting in the mines of South Africa. Much depends on the rock itself and the integrity of the roof, but yes, given the right equipment and explosives, I can do such a job." I looked him in the eye, challenging him to reveal more.

His green cat's eyes held mine for a long minute, then he nodded again, as if I had passed some test. "We will speak again, Mr. Trimble. Now I must see that the wounded Rats are treated properly."

As he turned away a runner dashed up and chattered in Mandarin, something about more Rats and the rear tunnels. Lao Hu shouted orders to the defenders and ten of them grabbed their weapons and set off at a run toward the rear of the cavern.

Li started after them, but I grasped his arm and asked, "What is happening?"

He pulled me along and we ran after the larger party. "A small group of Rats snuck in through one of the smaller tunnels," he said. "They attacked the living quarters. Some of the women have been taken."

We increased our pace and soon reached the scene of the attack. Several Rats lay on the stone floor, obviously dead with gunshot wounds. Another writhed on the floor clutching at a long slash in his belly. A dao sword with a broken blade lay next to him and a foot or so away lay a Mauser C96 pistol.

"An Ling," Li shouted. "Where is An Ling?"

"They took her, Mr. Li." John spoke from behind us, his voice filled with pain and anger. "She was protecting Mai Wu and the children. The young 'uns say she killed some of the Rats until that one hit her gun hand with a sword. She took it away from him and cut him good, but then they knocked her in the head and dragged her and Mai Wu away." He stood with his head down wringing his hands. "I was at the barricade. I shoulda been here, 'stead of watchin' them Rats get blowed up. I might'a stopped this."

"And you might be dead, just like the Rats," I said. "They obviously wanted hostages. Otherwise they'd have killed An Ling and the children. They took her and this Mai woman for a reason."

"She ain't just a woman," said John. "She's my wife."

"I'm sorry, John," I said as gently as I could. "But if they took An Ling and Mai alive, they have some use for them. That will keep them alive until we can find out where they are and get them back."

"William is right, John," said Li. "We must tell Lao Hu and find out what the Rats want with them."

John looked up, his eyes blazing. "When I left Alabama, I swore I'd never harm another livin' soul again. But if'n they hurt Mai or Miss An, I'll kill 'em all. I swear I will."

A quarter hour later, Li and I sat in rough cane chairs around the small table in Lao Hu's quarters. John stood by the door, silent and brooding. Lao Hu poured rice wine from a tall flask into shallow bowls and passed one to Li and another me. I drank a little, then set the bowl on the table.

"I think it is time for truth, Lao Hu," I said. "You know more than you have told me about the Rat tong and the Si-Fan."

"Do I?" His tone was neutral.

"You do," I said. "What does the Si-Fan want with me, besides my death? I suspect it is the same thing caused you to have Li follow me. And why do you want to know about blasting a controlled opening in a tunnel wall? Do the Si-Fan want the same thing?"

"You are right. Mr. Trimble. It's time we were honest with you. Tell me, what do you know of black orchids?"

I blinked, nonplussed for a moment. "Nothing. I wasn't aware they even existed."

"Oh, they are real," said Lao Hu. "The blossom grows only on certain islands in the Pacific. Moreau's island was one of them. There are a few others. The orchid is prized by the ancients as the main ingredient in an elixir with unusual healing powers. Moreau discovered that a form of the elixir will allow the grafted parts of one animal to coexist with another. Without the elixir, the grafted parts wither and die, rejected by their host."

"And you need this elixir for your own survival," I said.

"Yes. Without a regular, though very tiny dose, the human part of me will cast off the animal and I will die."

"But what has this to do with me, or the Si-Fan for that matter?" I asked.

"To answer the second question, the man behind the Si-Fan's interest in you is their most skilled assassin. We don't know his true name, no one does. He is rumored to be the son of an old Imperial family that was on the losing side in the recent uprising fomented by the Yihetuan. He has a personal desire to possess the elixir. Legend says that if it is distilled properly, it will cure all ills, even aging itself. The one who possesses it can live forever, or at least for so long that it is the same thing. This is what he desires above all else, even to the point of betraying his masters in the Si-Fan.

"But what does this have to do with me?" I asked. "I know nothing of the black orchid, much less this fantastic elixir."

"The only remaining black orchid plant known to exist is currently housed in a vault under the old California Academy of Sciences museum on Dupont Street. The entrance to the vault is in the basement of the museum, but the walls themselves are carved from the native stone beneath the foundation. We have tunneled to the limit of the stone surrounding the vault, but cannot breach the wall without blasting. The orchid itself is very delicate. We dare not risk damage to the plant that might kill it."

"And this is what you expected me to do for you," I asked skeptically. "Blast a way into the vault like a common burglar? What makes you think I would consider such a thing?"

"I hoped that if we prevented your death at the hands of the tongs, and you had a chance to see our way of life here, to see the dignity that we return to the dregs of Chinatown, that you might be persuaded to help," Lao Hu said with a small shrug. "Believe me when I say that no one here would have forced you to do anything."

"It's true, William," Li said in answer to my doubtful glance. "We are not above defending ourselves, but we have renounced violence as a means of enforcing our will. If you refuse, we will see you safely out of San Francisco and deal with the Si-Fan on our own."

I sat silent for a long minute. Then I asked, "Do you believe that the Si-Fan will trade Mai and An Ling for this orchid?"

"I believe that is the trade they will propose." Lao Hu smiled. "But I'd be a fool if I didn't expect treachery."

"All right then," I said. "Let's burgle the vault." I paused to consider the problem. "Do you have any electric blasting caps to go with those crates of dynamite?"

"Yes," answered Li. "And a battery."

"That's only part of the problem. I wish I had my trunk. In it, there is something that would simplify this problem."

"Oh, your trunk is here, William," Li said proudly. "All of your things were retrieved from your hotel before An Ling came to rescue us. What is it you need?"

I didn't ask how they had accomplished that bit of magic. Clearly there was little in Chinatown that escaped their notice. Instead I said, "In my trunk there's a box about ten inches square and twelve high with a pair of electrical terminals at the top and a metal dial set in the front. It's full of some rather sophisticated gearing and machinery so treat it delicately."

Li nodded. "I'll bring it immediately."

"No need, as long as I have it when the time comes to set the charges. I'll also need a drill of some kind, steam or electrical, with a one inch by two foot bit, and at least two thousand foot-pounds of torque."

Li's face fell. "We have nothing like that here," he said.

"Don't need no steam drill," said John. "I reckon I can still drill fast as any machine. An' a damn site quieter, too." I looked at him. Disbelief must have showed in my face because he grinned and said, "Don't you worry none, Mr. Will. I'm still strong enuf to be a steel drivin' man, even if'n my head's a bit gray."

I turned back to Lao Hu. "Can I inspect the drill site?"

"Li will take you."

"How much time do I have?"

He shook his head. "I don't know. The Rats should make contact soon and propose the trade. I can negotiate for whatever time you need."

"John, I'll need fourteen one inch by two foot borings. How long will that take you?"

"Eight hour, maybe. Depend on the rock and my shaker. You ever been a shaker?"

I shook my head. "Twelve hours," I said to Lao Hu. He nodded.

Li and I went to sort and load the dynamite. John went to retrieve his drilling gear and Lao Hu sent a man to retrieve my trunk. By the time I had selected a crate of dynamite and twenty electric detonation caps, the man returned with my trunk. I opened it and took out my blasting machine. Unlike the simple bar and plunger design used throughout most of the world, my machine used a spring driven rotor and a current distributor to set off multiple charges in sequence. By varying the spring tension and the spacing of the contact points on the rotor, I could set off up to twenty charges at timed intervals as short as one one-hundredth of a second.

I lifted the machine from its case and checked the rotor spring. Everything appeared in order. I nodded to Li and replaced the machine in the case. "We'll need about a hundred feet of wire and that battery," I said.

An hour later, I stood in front of a rock face about twelve feet high and twenty wide. The tunnel leading to this place had been cut through the hardened clay and compacted gravel that lay under most of Chinatown. This hard rocky face was granite and schist, the deep bones of Nob Hill. Piled a few feet away were the dynamite, wire and blasting caps. John stood at my side holding a six foot steel rod and an eighteen pound sledge hammer.

Li stood behind me, holding a street map and an outline of the building above us. "The vault is here," he said, indicating the center of the wall. "If the building plan is correct, the rock is about four feet thick at this point."

John held the rod out and I measured three feet, four inches from the drill head at the sharp end of the rod. I marked the spot with a splash of black paint. John nodded and stepped up to the wall, running his hands over the rough surface.

"Right here," he said indicating a point about four feet off the floor.

"How do you know?" asked Li.

"You got's to feel the rock. Get you hands on it and feel out the soft spots. This here is the place to start drillin'."

I marked the point he indicated with the paint, then measured out a one foot square around that center point. I marked the corners of the square. I repeated the process at four feet around the first square and marked those corners as well. I drew more marks at the midpoints of the sides of the outer square and finally, two more along the bottom dividing the lowest side into quarters-fourteen marks in all.

I turned to John. "Now we drill," I said.

"Hold that drill steady, Mr. Will, an' give it a good shake after I hits it. An' don't look back at me. If'n you look back, you'll move the steel an' I might miss. Then I'd drive this hammer right into you head and that ain't good for you."

I turned my face to the wall and held the cold steel. The first blow caught me by surprise. The steel rang like a bell and drove a full inch into the rock. I shook and twisted the bit the way John had showed me and it rang again with another blow. By the fifth blow, we established a rhythm and I relaxed as it became clear that John's aim never wavered.

"You see the marks, Li," I said as we drilled. I spoke to calm myself and to distract my thoughts from the eighteen pounds of destruction swinging just behind my head. "Each will be a bore hole three feet four inches deep. We'll pack them with dynamite and set the charges off in a precise sequence. Remember the bombs in the tunnel? How the resistance of the iron forced the blast outward? The principle here is the same. We set off the first charge in the center hole to fracture the rock and reduce resistance in the center. We then set off the corners of the first square, driving the rock toward the center. The second square comes next, and finally the charges on the bottom."

"So each set of charges forces the rock toward the areas that have already been loosened," he said.

"Exactly. And the final charge lifts the whole mass of rock and dumps it into the tunnel, away from the vault."

"Less talk, more shakin'," said John as he drove the rod into the rock up to the black paint. One bore down, thirteen to go.

We finished the bore holes six hours later. John was lathered in sweat, but didn't even seem to be breathing hard as he drove the steel the last few inches into the rock. I extracted the drill and began mating the blasting caps and wires to the dynamite. We then packed the armed sticks into the holes, using the blunt end of the drill to press the dynamite home. I took care to separate the wires for each set of charges. Once all the explosives were in place, I opened the front face of my blasting machine. With Li's help, I connected each set of wires to a contact point on the rotor. I showed Li how to set the timing intervals. I planned to set off the charges at two one-hundredths of a second intervals, center first, then each square and finally the base. After we set the intervals, I wound the spring and closed the face. Li wired the battery to the top of the machine and along with John, we moved a few yards up the tunnel, around a slight bend.

I set the machine on the floor, kneeling down next to it. I armed the spring's trigger and then motioned John and Li back against the wall.

"Fire in the hole," I said, the traditional warning of all blasters. Then I twisted the trigger and released the spring. The rotor spun, sending current from the battery through the wires to the explosives.

The detonations merged into a single palpable thud, felt in the chest and the gut as much as heard with the ears. It was the same every time I triggered a charge. I felt the concussion with my body and reveled in the controlled violence of it; all that destructive power channeled to my will. Chaos under my command.

"I'll be dogged," whispered John as the dust cleared.

I carefully disconnected the battery in case there was an unexploded cap in the rubble. I stood and surveyed the results of our efforts with a critical eye. The hole created by our blast was smaller than I had planned with more loose rock overhead than I would consider safe for a mining tunnel. But we only needed to get in and out of the vault, and for that purpose, it would serve. I ducked under the lip of the hole and stepped into the room beyond.

A heavy steel door dominated the far end. Orderly stacks of crates and locked chests lined the walls. Li stepped in after me and walked quickly through the room. About halfway to the door he stopped and motioned to John.

"This one," he said, pointing to a bundle wrapped in brown burlap and tied with heavy twine.

John lifted it easily, sending a small shower of black dirt to the floor. A larger shower of rock from our informal entrance answered it.

"We need to leave," I said. "The roof isn't stable."

John ducked through the opening, followed by Li. I started after them when I noticed a dark spot on the floor of the vault near where the burlaped bundle had lain. I stepped over and picked it up. It was a large orchid blossom, black as coal and soft as velvet. I tucked it into my pocket and followed John and Li out into the tunnel.

Lao Hu met us as we returned to the colony. "The Si-Fan has sent us a message," he said, holding up a folded scrap of heavy paper. "They will exchange An Ling and Mai Wu for the orchid. We are to bring the orchid to the subbasement of the Pacific Mercantile Company on Powell Street at ten this evening. They insist that I come in person and that I bring the zhadou shifu."

"The Mercantile is in Rat territory. They mean to take both of you when you make the exchange," Li said. "It is a trap, Lao Hu."

Lao Hu nodded. "Recognizing the trap is the first step in avoiding it." He smiled at me. "Don't worry, William. We won't give you up to them."

"I'm not worried," I said. "But they'll be expecting to see me, so I must be there. Now, what is your plan to get the women out of there?"


There was a tunnel, long used by various tongs for smuggling, that ran next to the subbasement of the Pacific Mercantile with a door giving access to the space itself. The Rats controlled that area of the city and used the basement for staging raids on other tong territories. Generous bribes paid to the company's managers kept the idle curious out of the basement and ensured privacy.

We arrived, Lao Hu, John and I, at the appointed time. The door to the Mercantile basement stood open, the room on the other side cloaked in darkness.

John hefted his big 18-pound sledge onto his shoulder. "It's black as a slaver's heart in there, Mr. Lao," he said. "You sure 'bout this?"

"Go on in, John," I said.

He ducked his head under the lintel and felt his way into the room with his left hand. His right tightened on the handle of the sledge. I followed, Lao Hu at my back. The faint light from the torch lit tunnel shone through the open door, but did little to illuminate the large space around us. I sensed rather than saw a high ceiling above the stone floor. We felt our way along the nearest wall, keeping it to our backs for security. Then the door slammed behind us.

"Our agreement was for you and the Zhadou Shifu to come alone," said a deep, sonorous voice from somewhere above us.

"Mai Wu is John's wife," said Lao Hu, speaking to the darkness. "I could not compel him to remain behind."

A dry laugh, free of any mirth, echoed around us. "So be it," said the voice. Sudden actinic light flooded the room as arc lights set in the high in the ceiling flared to life.

I blinked until my eyes adjusted to the brightness. The basement floor was littered with stacks of packing boxes and bales of silk and cotton fabrics. A rough wooden wall near the far wall formed a room that may have served as an office or secure storage area. A catwalk ran across the far wall, high above the basement with a narrow stair leading down to the floor where we stood. At the other end of the catwalk was a heavy doorway to the upper levels of the building.

In the middle of the catwalk stood a tall Oriental. His face was cold, his expression disdainful. He appeared about forty years of age until I noticed his eyes. They were emerald green, unusual for a Chinese, but I'd heard that some of the Manchu nobles had such eyes. These eyes were deep and old, far older than the face they occupied. Flanking him were a pair of huge guards holding heavy caliber rifles. Bandoliers criss-crossed their chests and long knives hung from wide leather belts around their waists. Mai Wu and An Ling stood in front of the guards looking small and vulnerable. Or so it appeared at first. Then I saw the fierce look on An Ling's face and the serene calm on that of Mai Wu. They were a study in contrasts but neither looked frightened or helpless. I wondered if those big guards realized the danger they were in.

"I have the orchid," said Lao Hu. "Send the women down and I will leave it here on the floor."

"No," said the sinister looking tall man. "I will send your women down and the Zhadou Shifu will bring the orchid to me."

Lao Hu started to protest but I cut him off. "Agreed! Send An Ling and Mai Wu down." I turned to Lao Hu. "Just get them out of here."

Meanwhile, the guards escorted the women to the top of the stairs and indicated that they should start down. One of the guards remained at the head of the stairs, the second descended behind the two women. They reached the floor and An Ling took Mai by the arm and escorted her quickly to John's side.

"Give me the orchid," I said to Lao Hu. He handed me the burlap wrapped bundle and I cradled it under my left arm.

An Ling stepped up to me and held my arm. "Don't," she whispered. "They mean to kill you."

"Then I mustn't let them do that," I said, gently removing her hand. "Stay close to John, and don't touch the wall." I turned so my back was to the catwalk and pulled her Mauser from my jacket, pressing it into her hand. Her eyes widened, but she quickly thrust the pistol under her loose shirt.

"The orchid, Mr. Trimble," said the tall Oriental. I turned back to face him and walked toward the stairs. The guard stood to one side and allowed me to start climbing before he fell in behind me. The guard at the top of the stairs had already moved back along the catwalk to rejoin his master.

I approached with the orchid clutched under my left arm, my right hand of the railing of the narrow catwalk. I am not fond of heights. My fear of high places was quickly overridden as the tall man turned to face me. He was lean and supple in his movements, feline and menacing. His face was narrow with a high forehead and thin dark eyebrows. His green eyes bored through me from under heavy oriental lids. A thin moustache with long trailing ends hanging to his pointed chin framed cruel bloodless lips. He looked satanic and far more frightening than any mere apprehension about the height of the catwalk.

"Hand the orchid to Chang," he said, indicating the guard at his side.

I did as he asked and the guard turned and carried it to the door at the far end of the catwalk. I turn and found myself facing the guard who had followed me up the stairway.

"Leaving so soon, Mr. Trimble?" said the sonorous voice behind me.

"It would seem not," I said, facing him. "You have the disadvantage of me, sir. Who are you?"

He made a dismissive gesture with his hand. "My true name would mean nothing to you. I have not used it in many years. You may call me the Manchu, if you wish. It is the label the Si-Fan has given me."

"The Manchu dynasty is weak and ineffectual. Is that how your masters regard you?"

He smiled. "Do you think it wise to bait me? Ping will kill you without hesitation if I give him the command."

"You plan to kill me anyway. What does it matter?"

"Perhaps I have other plans for you," he said. "The Si-Fan may want your death as payment for those killed at Pei-Ho, but I have other priorities beyond mere vengeance. You may prove useful to me."

"Go to hell, Manchu. I'll never work for the likes of you."

His face never lost the smug, confident smile. He placed two fingers in his mouth and blew a sharp whistle. "Forgive me. A vulgar signal, I know. But quite effective."

Below us, the door to the makeshift storage room slammed open and a dozen men, all armed with knives and clubs rushed out to surround Lao Hu, John and the women.

"You may think you are resigned to your own death, but what about your friends? Work for me and they will leave this room alive."

I looked down at the armed men. An Ling had her hand behind her back, no doubt holding the Mauser. Lao Hu's upper lip was curled in a half snarl. Mai Wu stood calm and serene, one hand resting on John's arm as he whispered something in her ear. He caught my eye and I nodded once.

John gently removed Mai's hand from his arm and swung the eighteen pound sledge from his shoulder. He let the momentum of the falling hammer swing it back until it slammed into the wall. He swung a second time, a little harder. Then a third.

"Do stop that," the Manchu said to John. "The wall is quite solid."

"I knows it," John replied, shifting Mai away from the wall and gripping his hammer with two hands.

Even though I was expecting it, the explosion made me jump. I gripped the railing of the catwalk and lashed out toward the Manchu with my foot trying to sweep his feet out from under him. He danced lightly out of the way.

Down below, the wall behind John crumbled under the shaped charges we had set two hours earlier. With a roar, John rushed forward swinging his hammer. Behind him Li jumped through the gap in the wall with a pistol in his hand. A dozen of our own men crowded through after him.

I heard a rattle behind me as Ping swung the rifle from his shoulder. A pistol shot rang out and Ping dropped the rifle to the catwalk and clutched at the hole in the center of his chest. An Ling lowered the Mauser and nodded to me.

I didn't pause to thank her, but swept up the rifle and rose to my feet. I swung the rifle toward the Manchu, but he had already reached the door at the end of the catwalk. Before I could fire, he disappeared through the door. I almost gave chase but a shout from below drew me back. Lao Hu roared and lifted two of the Rats high above his head before hurling them to the stone floor. Another shot from An Ling's Mauser dropped a huge Rat advancing on John's blind side with a long knife. I brought the rifle to my shoulder and shot a man wielding a huge sword who rushed at Mai Wu. He spun as the bullet hit him and his stroke went wide. I worked the bolt and chambered another round.

Lao Hu roared again. He leapt over the head of an attacking Rat and fell on the man behind him, tearing at him with hands that now sported long black claws. John's hammer smashed a pair of men to the ground. Lao Hu swept through the mob of Rats, all fangs and terrible claws.

And then it was over. A few Rats remained standing, cowering against the wooden wall as far from John and Lao Hu as possible. Li held up his hands and shouted for the other men to stop. I stepped carefully over Ping's body and made my way to the stairway.

"Are you hurt, William?" Li shouted up to me as I reached the head of the stairs.

"No," I said. "But the Manchu got away with the orchid. We must follow him."

"Let him go." Lao Hu waved a hand to me. I noticed the claws were no longer exposed. "I will not risk any more of our people."

"But the orchid . . .”

"Leave it," roared Lao Hu, some of the ferocity of the fight returning to his voice. In a calmer tone he continued. "We do not have enough people to chase him into Rat tong territory. We will only lose more lives. Now come down and help us with our wounded."

I opened the bolt and slung the rifle over my shoulder before descending the stairs. Li and An Ling stood next to the breach in the wall. John stood nearby, holding Mai Wu in a gentle embrace, his blood stained hammer on the ground at his feet.

Li grasped my shoulder warmly. "It worked, William, just as you said. The charges opened the wall for us."

An Ling turned to me. "You did this?"

"John drilled the holes, I set the charges, but Li Fan triggered them at the right time."


"We knew when and where the meeting would take place. If the Rats had bothered to place guards in the outer tunnel, we'd have had a difficult time of it. As it was, we were ready at least an hour before the exchange. When it was clear that the Rats intended to kill us, John gave the signal by striking the wall with his hammer."

Li said, "And it worked. The blast took the wall down without harming anyone inside."

"Is my blasting machine safe?" I asked.

Li laughed. "Yes. And I remembered to disconnect the battery, just like you taught me."

I clapped him warmly on the shoulder. "We'll make a blaster of you yet."

"We don't have time for talk," said An Ling. "The Rats will be back, whatever the Manchu chooses to do with the orchid. They have no loyalty to him but I overheard them talking. They fear him and will do as he tells them."

"You're right," I said, remembering his cold green eyes. I shuddered. We moved quickly to help Lao Hu with the wounded. Fortunately, only two of our own people had serious injuries. A half dozen Rats were not so lucky. Most were already dead. The rest we put in the partitioned room and blocked the door with a large crate. John and Lao Hu each lifted one of our wounded and we retired through the main door into the outer tunnel. With An Ling and her Mauser as back up, I covered our retreat to the colony with the rifle. No one followed us.

By the time we reached the colony with the wounded, word of the fight and rescue of the hostages had spread through the whole settlement. The injured were quickly hustled away for treatment and I found myself surrounded by a throng of cheering people. An Ling stood at my side and linked her arm through mine.

"Thank you for helping my people," she said in my ear so that she could be heard above the cheering.

"You're welcome," I said. "But I failed to hold on to the orchid. I'm afraid for Lao Hu."

"You could have been killed yourself," she said. "Lao Hu will know what to do next. He always does."

I wished I had her faith, but from what Lao Hu had said about the elixir, I feared for his health and for his future with the orchid in the hands of the Manchu.

We eased our way through the crowd of well wishers and crossed the cavern to Lao Hu's room. He stood with his back to the door, bent over the table in the middle of the room. He straightened and turned as we entered. He held a small vial of black liquid in his hand.

"This is the last of it," he said, holding up the vial. "Enough for one more dose. Then my animal half will begin the slow process of dying."

"I'm sorry, Lao Hu," I said. "I tried to stop him, but he slipped away. Perhaps if I'd chased him . . ."

"No, William. You would have failed and died, and our expedition would have been for nothing. You have done more than you know here. Not just for yourself, but for John and Li and An Ling. For this whole community. The stain of Pei-Ho is gone. The name of the Zhadou Shifu will be remembered with honor."

"But now the Manchu has the orchid. He will live on and you will die. There is no justice in that."

He smiled. "The Manchu? That is what he calls himself?"

I shrugged. "It's what the Si-Fan calls him. I chided him for it, reminding him that the Manchu Dynasty is weak and corrupt."

"Ah, but they were not always so," said Lao Hu. "Perhaps he is like the Manchu warriors of old, a Fu Manchu."

"Whatever name he gives himself, he is the same evil that moves the Si-Fan and the Harmonious Fists."

"Evil can only survive in the shadows," said Lao Hu. "As long as good men shine light into those shadows, Evil cannot win."

"And what about you?" I asked.

He held up the vial of inky liquid. "I have this, enough for a few weeks. Perhaps we can find another source for the orchids. If not, I will do what I can for the time I have left." He lifted the vial to his lips and drank the sip of liquid.

I was about to turn away rather than let him see my distress. I felt I had failed him and it saddened me. Then I remembered the black flower in my pocket. I drew it out and held it in the palm of my hand.

"Is this of any help?" I asked.

His eyes lit up. "Yes, it is. The elixir is distilled from the flower and is very potent. This will allow us to make enough for six months, perhaps more."

"Enough time to obtain more orchids?"

"Maybe, if they are out there to be found. But at least there is hope."

I nodded. "Good. I will help if I can."

"No, William," he said, laying a hand gently on my shoulder. "You have done enough. The Si-Fan will not rest until you are dead. San Francisco is not safe for you and you endanger the rest of us if you remain here."

"But where am I to go?" I asked, distressed at the thought of leaving these people.

"We will see you safely out of the city. Go back to England. I don't know if the Si-Fan can reach you there, but it is your best option."

I looked at Li and he nodded. "It's for the best, William."

An Ling touched my arm to lead me out of the room. I turned toward her and impulsively pulled her close to me. She didn't resist. I drew her into my arms and kissed her. She responded fiercely, wrapping her arms around me and returning my kiss with a wild passion. We clung to each other for a long while. Neither Li nor Lao Hu spoke.

When my reason returned to me, I drew my head back enough to look into her eyes. "Come with me," I said. "Otherwise I shall have to stay."

She nodded and kissed me again.


We were married that evening in the outcast colony under the foundations of San Francisco. An Ling and I caught a train from Union Station to New York, arriving three days later in time to board a steamer bound for Liverpool. I have never regretted my sudden impulse to marry. I don't believe An has either, although she retains enough mystery about her to keep me intrigued. We have made a comfortable life in Salisbury far from London and its noise and bustle. And far from anything that hints of the Si-Fan.

We heard of the great San Francisco earthquake and were quite concerned for several weeks until Li Fan sent a cable assuring us of his good health. Li does not mention Lao Hu in his cables, which we all had agreed was for the best before we left San Francisco. I often wonder if he found his way back to Dr. Moreau's island and the source of the black orchids.

Of the Fu Manchu, I have had no word from any source, either in the East or in San Francisco. But occasionally an item in the newspapers will catch my eye - an unexpected death or a sudden change in government somewhere in the world - and I wonder. While we do not live in fear, An Ling keeps the loaded Mauser strapped to the head board of our bed. And I have prepared a number of nasty surprises for any unwelcome intruder who tries to enter the house at night. I expect the Manchu will come calling someday and we will be ready for him.






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