Story type: Literature
As we hurried into Chinatown from Chatham Square we could see that the district was celebrating its holidays with long ropes of firecrackers, and was feasting to reed discords from the pipes of its most famous musicians, and was gay with the hanging out of many sunflags, red with an eighteen-rayed white sun in the blue union. Both the new tong truce and the anniversary were more than cause for rejoicing.
Hurried though it was, the raid on the Hep Sing joint had been carefully prepared by O’Connor. The house we were after was one of the oldest of the rookeries, with a gaudy restaurant on the second floor, a curio shop on the street level, while in the basement all that was visible was a view of a huge and orderly pile of tea chests. A moment before the windows of the dwellings above the restaurant had been full of people. All had faded away even before the axes began to swing on the basement door which had the appearance of a storeroom for the shop above.
The flimsy outside door went down quickly. But it was only a blind. Another door greeted the raiders. The axes swung noisily and the crowbars tore at the fortified, iron-clad, “ice box” door inside. After breaking it down they had to claw their way through another just like it. The thick doors and tea chests piled up showed why no sounds of gambling and other practices ever were heard outside.
Pushing aside a curtain we were in the main room. The scene was one of confusion showing the hasty departure of the occupants.
Kennedy did not stop here. Within was still another room, for smokers, anything but like the fashionable place we had seen uptown. It was low, common, disgusting. The odour everywhere was offensive; everywhere was filth that should naturally breed disease. It was an inferno reeking with unwholesome sweat and still obscured with dense fumes of smoke.
Three tiers of bunks of hardwood were built along the walls. There was no glamour here; all was sordid. Several Chinamen in various stages of dazed indolence were jabbering in incoherent oblivion, a state I suppose of “Oriental calm.”
There, in a bunk, lay Clendenin. His slow and uncertain breathing told of his being under the influence of the drug, and he lay on his back beside a “layout” with a half-cooked pill still in the bowl of his pipe.
The question was to wake him up. Craig began slapping him with a wet towel, directing us how to keep him roused. We walked him about, up and down, dazed, less than half sensible, dreaming, muttering, raving.
A hasty exclamation from O’Connor followed as he drew from the scant cushions of the bunk a long-barreled pistol, a .44 such as the tong leaders used, the same make as had shot Bertha Curtis and Nichi. Craig seized it and stuck it into his pocket.
All the gamblers had fled, all except those too drugged to escape. Where they had gone was indicated by a door leading up to the kitchen of the restaurant. Craig did not stop but leaped upstairs and then down again into a little back court by means of a fire- escape. Through a sort of short alley we groped our way, or rather through an intricate maze of alleys and a labyrinth of blind recesses. We were apparently back of a store on Pell Street.
It was the work of only a moment to go through another door and into another room, filled with smoky, dirty, unpleasant, fetid air. This room, too, seemed to be piled with tea chests. Craig opened one. There lay piles and piles of opium tins, a veritable fortune in the drug.
Mysterious pots and pans, strainers, wooden vessels, and testing instruments were about. The odour of opium in the manufacture was unmistakable, for smoking opium is different from the medicinal drug. There it appeared the supplies of thousands of smokers all over the country were stored and prepared. In a corner a mass of the finished product lay weltering in a basin like treacle. In another corner was the apparatus for remaking yen-shee or once- smoked opium. This I felt was at last the home of the “dope trust,” as O’Connor had once called it, the secret realm of a real opium king, the American end of the rich Shanghai syndicate.
A door opened and there stood a Chinaman, stoical, secretive, indifferent, with all the Oriental cunning and cruelty hall-marked on his face. Yet there was a fascination and air of Eastern culture about him in spite of that strange and typical Oriental depth of intrigue and cunning that shone through, great characteristics of the East.
No one said a word as Kennedy continued to ransack the place. At last under a rubbish heap he found a revolver wrapped up loosely in an old sweater. Quickly, under the bright light, Craig drew Clendenin’s pistol, fitted a cartridge into it and fired at the wall. Again into the second gun he fitted another and a second shot rang out.
Out of his pocket came next the small magnifying glass and two unmounted microphotographs. He bent down over the exploded shells.
“There it is,” cried Craig scarcely able to restrain himself with the keenness of his chase, “there it is–the mark like an ‘L.’ This cartridge bears the one mark, distinct, not possible to have been made by any other pistol in the world. None of the Hep Sings, all with the same make of weapons, none of the gunmen in their employ, could duplicate that mark.”
“Some bullets,” reported a policeman who had been rummaging further in the rubbish.
“Be careful, man,” cautioned Craig. “They are doped. Lay them down. Yes, this is the same gun that fired the shot at Bertha Curtis and Nichi Moto–fired narcotic bullets in order to stop any one who interfered with the opium smuggling, without killing the victim.”
“What’s the matter?” asked O’Connor, arriving breathless from the gambling room after hearing the shots. The Chinaman stood, still silent, impassive. At sight of him O’Connor gasped out, “Chin Jung!”
“Real tong leader,” added Craig, “and the murderer of the white girl to whom he was engaged. This is the goggled chauffeur of the red car that met the smuggling boat, and in which Bertha Curtis rode, unsuspecting, to her death.”
“And Clendenin?” asked Walker Curtis, not comprehending.
“A tool–poor wretch. So keen had the hunt for him become that he had to hide in the only safe place, with the coolies of his employer. He must have been in such abject terror that he has almost smoked himself to death.”
“But why should the Chinaman shoot my sister?” asked Walker Curtis amazed at the turn of events.
“Your sister,” replied Craig, almost reverently, “wrecked though she was by the drug, was at last conscience stricken when she saw the vast plot to debauch thousands of others. It was from her that the Japanese detective in the revenue service got his information- -and both of them have paid the price. But they have smashed the new opium ring–we have captured the ring-leaders of the gang.”
Out of the maze of streets, on Chatham Square again, we lost no time in mounting to the safety of the elevated station before some murderous tong member might seek revenge on us.
The celebration in Chinatown was stilled. It was as though the nerves of the place had been paralysed by our sudden, sharp blow.
A downtown train took me to the office to write a “beat,” for the Star always made a special feature of the picturesque in Chinatown news. Kennedy went uptown.
Except for a few moments in the morning, I did not see Kennedy again until the following afternoon, for the tong war proved to be such an interesting feature that I had to help lay out and direct the assignments covering its various details.
I managed to get away again as soon as possible, however, for I knew that it would not be long before some one else in trouble would commandeer Kennedy to untangle a mystery, and I wanted to be on the spot when it started.
Sure enough, it turned out that I was right. Seated with him in our living room, when I came in from my hasty journey uptown in the subway, was a man, tall, thick-set, with a crop of closely curling dark hair, a sharp, pointed nose, ferret eyes, and a reddish moustache, curled at the ends. I had no difficulty in deciding what he was, if not who he was. He was the typical detective who, for the very reason that he looked the part, destroyed much of his own usefulness.
“We have lost so much lately at Trimble’s,” he was saying, “that it is long past the stage of being merely interesting. It is downright serious–for me, at least. I’ve got to make good or lose my job. And I’m up against one of the cleverest shoplifters that ever entered a department-store, apparently. Only Heaven knows how much she has got away with in various departments so far, but when it comes to lifting valuable things like pieces of jewelry which run into the thousands, that is too much.”
At the mention of the name of the big Trimble store I had recognised at once what the man was, and it did not need Kennedy’s rapid-fire introduction of Michael Donnelly to tell me that he was a department store detective.
“Have you no clue, no suspicions?” inquired Kennedy.
“Well, yes, suspicions,” measured Donnelly slowly. “For instance, one day not long ago a beautifully dressed and refined-looking woman called at the jewellery department and asked to see a diamond necklace which we had just imported from Paris. She seemed to admire it very much, studied it, tried it on, but finally went away without making up her mind. A couple of days later she returned and asked to see it again. This time there happened to be another woman beside her who was looking at some pendants. The two fell to talking about the necklace, according to the best recollection of the clerk, and the second woman began to examine it critically. Again the prospective buyer went away. But this time after she had gone, and when he was putting the things back into the safe, the clerk examined the necklace, thinking that perhaps a flaw had been discovered in it which had decided the woman against it. It was a replica in paste; probably substituted by one of these clever and smartly dressed women for the real necklace.”
Before Craig had a chance to put another question, the buzzer on our door sounded, and I admitted a dapper, soft-spoken man of middle size, who might have been a travelling salesman or a bookkeeper. He pulled a card from his case and stood facing us, evidently in doubt how to proceed.
“Professor Kennedy?” he asked at length, balancing the pasteboard between his fingers.
“Yes,” answered Craig. “What can I do for you?”
“I am from Shorham, the Fifth Avenue jeweller, you know,” he began brusquely, as he handed the card to Kennedy. “I thought I’d drop in to consult you about a peculiar thing that happened at the store recently, but if you are engaged, I can wait. You see, we had on exhibition a very handsome pearl dogcollar, and a few days ago two women came to–“
“Say,” interrupted Kennedy, glancing from the card to the face of Joseph Bentley, and then at Donnelly. “What is this–a gathering of the clans? There seems to be an epidemic of shoplifting. How much were you stung for?”
“About twenty thousand altogether,” replied Bentley with rueful frankness. “Why? Has some one else been victimised, too?”
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