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The nattily dressed man slipped through the warehouse door in the dimness of the foggy night. He moved quickly from box to box, glancing in them as he passed. Coming to one that was locked, he pulled a set of picks from his pocket and set to work.

Behind him a shadow moved. A shaft of light fell across the horrible mask of an ancient Chinese set of armor, or a warrior inhabiting that armor! A sword was raised, the natty man turned just as the blade flashed down.

The Night of the Terror-cotta

Part 1

"We've lost a man in San Franciso," said the Major. "Really lost him. We don't know where he is, but we haven't heard from him in over a week. He was investigating opium smuggling in the area and we're afraid one of the gangs there, one of the 'tongs' may have him, and if they do ... it doesn't look good."

Sean glanced over to the map that sat on the Major's wall, bookended by the heads of a bull moose and enormous mountain lion. In many ways San Francisco was like a different country, so different that a man could literally disappear without much trouble.

"There isn't much that can be done from here," Sean said rising to his feet. " While I wait for the train, fill me in on everything you know about our man, and where he was the last time we heard from him."

"Here's the briefing." The Major slid a folder across the desk. "You'll be liasing with Aloyisous MacAllister, an agent of ours who was working with Sam Miller - that's the missing man. Aloyisous can fill in the details for you. And Lincoln, be careful ..."

"Now where's the fun in that?" he answered with a smile reaching for the folder.

The train pulled into the San Francisco station and even before the car had been moved onto the siding where it would remain for the duration of their stay, there was a knock on the door. Max went to answer it and returned to announce, "Mr. Aloyisous MacAllister."

"Call me Al or Ally or Mac, but not Aloyisous," said the short and wiry man who followed Max into the room. He took off his hat, revealing a prematurely balding head and smiled at the Sean. "Mr. Lincoln, I'm glad to have you here. This one's a bit tricky."

"Sit down and tell me what's new, then," said Sean.

"Sam's still missing, so no change there. Here's the problem: opium's illegal now. The opium dens were getting out of hand and opium was spreading out from Chinatown into the larger community. Quite frankly, as long as it was just the Chinese using it, no one cared much. Once it spread, though it became a problem. That's all probably in your files, though. Once it was illegal, it went underground and the tongs took over the traffic. You know what happens next, the main sources dry up, the police come to a sort of accomodation that keeps the opium to an acceptable level and things settle down. But lately a lot more opium is coming in, we don't know how exactly. The tongs are slugging it out more, and the level is no longer acceptable.

"Sam talked to the law here, while I kept a lower profile and poked around. I didn't talk to the law, so I wouldn't scare the crooks. It didn't do me a lot of good, though, since I'm too occidental for the Chinese to talk to. Sam seemed to have better luck. I got a message from him saying he thought had a line on one part of the chain that was getting the opium into the country and he was going to check it out. That's the last anyone has seen or heard of him."

"Did he say what the line was?" asked Sean.

"Well, we'd been looking at two tongs, the Man Li and the Gong Chow," Mac said. "We'd been trying to find out who might be fronting for them. He made it sound like he might have had a breakthrough there. I went through his room and found a few notes that might give us an idea." He spread out some papers.

"There's an opium den that the stuff ends up in, but we couldn't think of a good way to backtrack it. There are these six warehouses that might be mixed up, they all belong to Chinese sounding import and export companies. These are some other Chinese owned businesses that might be involved. Here are the ones that look most promising - Sam put a little mark by them." Mac pointed, "The Jade Pagoda is a house of ill repute. The Number Six Chinese Goods is a store that sells decorative items, calligraphy, statuary and that sort of thing."

Sean tapped the Jade Pagoda, "I've always found that repute is never helpful unless it is ill. Let's begin here. Mac, you know the city, is there any jargon we need to know to blend in around the opium trade?"

"Not really. Unless you speak Chinese, that is," said Mac.

Sean frowned, "looks like I'll be playing the none-too-knowledgeable man from back east." He brushed off his lapels, "A role I was born to play." Sean began to pace, detailing his intention to portray himself as a businessman of questionable practices from Boston who was interested in entering the opium trade, for a price.

"Hopefully this will get our foot in the door, without getting us carried out the back in a pine box."

The Jade Pagoda was a relatively inconspicuous two story building on the edge of Chinatown. The decor and color scheme certainly suggested its function, and the Asian touches lent it an exotic air. A rough looking customer, well-dressed but with a hint of danger, strolled through the early evening dimness and approached the door. With a last glance, he entered.

A beautiful Chinese woman swept through the silk-garlanded entry room toward him. Behind her, dimly seen female figures moved from nook to nook. "Hello, sir," said the woman bowing. "I am Miss Jade, welcome to the Jade Pagoda. How may we serve you?" She clapped her hands and two lovely young women came forward to stand nearby submissively and yet, somehow, suggestively.

Sean eyed the ladies with a sly smile, "I can see why this place comes highly recommended. Such hospitality speaks highly of its proprietor. Miss Jade, pleasure never precedes business even when they are one and the same." Slowly he walked around the foyer glancing briefly here and there as if he were a prospective buyer of real estate. "Very nice, indeed."

"My employers back east have sent me to talk to someone who is in exports, shall we say."

"Exports? We provide a service in house only, sir," she smiled. "Perhaps you like a girl?"

"Maybe later," he leered at lady on the right,"definitely later." Snapping himself out of the brief mental journey to lechery he addressed Miss Jade, "As intoxicating as these fetching lassies are, I have been sent to procure intoxicants of a different kind."

"Tell me now, where can a gentleman acquire a bit of the smoking pleasures of opium?"

"Some of our rooms have pipes, sir. To complement the girls," she smiled.

Flashing a smile of his own, "That's fine and dandy for one man, and a lady," nodding to the smiling girl to her right," but I'm more interested in a quantity that can satisfy the city of Boston!"

"Ah. I think I know what you need, then, Mister?" she raised an eyebrow and awaited a name.

"O'Malley, Sean O'Malley," he said with a grin and bow.

"Then this way, Mr. O'Malley." She bowed and turned to lead Sean back into the Jade Pagoda. They passed through the silk draped lobby and through a door into a hallway. On each side doors presumably opened onto chambers of delight, but they passed quickly through the hall and around a corner. "A moment, Mr. O'Malley," said Miss Jade reaching behind an exquisite vase. She manipulated something and a panel in the wall swung open, revealing a low passage. "That way, sir."

Sean peeked into the hallway and turned, "What, no escort?"

The small room on the other side of the panel was empty and dimly lit by a single gaslight. Miss Jade bowed, "No escort. You wait here while I fetch the one to whom you must speak."

The panel clicked shut behind him. There was no mechanism on the inside that he could see to open it. The room was four or five feet wide and perhaps nine feet long with no furnishings. Sean paced for a moment, then a ratcheting sound began. The long wall parted in the middle and slid quickly open. Where there had been a wall there was now a low barrier. Across the barrier was a luxurious room, the centerpiece of which was a beautifully carved throne. On the throne sat an enormously fat Chinese man robed in silks, standing by his side was Miss Jade. They were not alone. At the corners of the barrier and the wall were two shaven-headed Chinese men pointing long spears at Sean.

Night of the Terror-cotta, Part 2
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