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The Night of the Terror-cotta

Part 3

The door burst open and the Chinese guards hustled AJ down a short flight of stairs and onto a chair fitted with straps. It was next to a similar chair containing Sean. They quickly strapped AJ into the chair at wrists, ankles and chest and left the room.

"I ordered a private room!" Sean shouted at the leaving men. "Let me guess, Miss Jade and a Fat Man," he said to AJ.

"And about a dozen others." AJ said. "I see your evening went well." He was already looking over the straps to figure out a way out of them.

"I've had better, and with much better looking company," Shaw quipped. "I did g et to crack Mr. Lee one though." Sean continued to struggle and tug at his res traints, finally deciding to stand up and launch himself back into a wall hoping to break the chair.

"Gentlemen, please do not carry on so, you will harm yourselves," Gong Lee appeared at the door. He gestured to his escorts who picked up Sean's chair carried over to position it underneath a keg which had been hung from the ceiling. A similar operation was performed with AJ's chair. Looking up, each man saw that they were staring into the tap of their respective barrels. A guard brought a chair for Lee who sat down some ten feet away. "You have heard of the Chinese water torture? An exquisite process by which water dripped onto the head slowly drives the victim insane? This is a refinement which I regret to say you have forced me to employ. In the kegs above you is a weak acid solution. It will drip down and slowly eat through your flesh and then bone. Not as elegant as the original," he sighed, "but time is short."

"Of course, it can be avoided quite simply if you answer a few questions for me. For whom do you work and what is their operation in San Francisco? You must understand that the opium trade in San Francisco must be destroyed and not extended, so you must also tell me all you know about the operation at Number Six Chinese Goods. Are you prepared to tell me what I wish to know?"

"I told you that I work for Shamus Doyle of Boston. He was interested in getting in on the opium trade and taking it back east. I see now that it is a closed operation. Number Six was just a curiosity stop while I was killing time. I had a toothache and hoped he could give me something," Sean lied with feigned panic in his voice. "That's it!"

"Besides, don't tell me you're not involved. You've got your hands into everything else, opium would be the icing on the cake for you." AJ interjected.

"You animals. You, Arliss, say I have no honour, you who are not content to peddle this poison to my people but wish to spread it even to your own! Rats do not foul their own nests this way. You and your Doyle of Boston are vermin. I hope I shall be able to deal with him in the future. I will need names of his contacts here and everything else you can tell me. I will give you some time to consider." He waved and his men came over and turned the taps ever so slightly. "It begins with pure water. In twenty minutes or so these bags," he tossed two bags to the men dropped them into the kegs, "will soak through and the water will begin to acidify. Perhaps in ten minutes or so you will feel like speaking." He and his men rose and left the room.

AJ watched as he left the room. "Oddly, I believe him. That he's not involved in the opium."

"That quote will look good on our tombstones," Sean commented while craning his neck to see how far out of the way he could avoid the drops of water.

"Can you tip forward? Towards my feet?" AJ said quietly. He then attempted to trigger the mechanism in his foot that caused the blade inside his boot to spring out of his toes.

AJ managed to slide his boot around the leg of the chair to the point where he could tap the side of the toe against a cross-bar. A three inch blade popped out of the toe and locked into place.

Sean rocked his chair back and forth and managed to tip it. For a moment the chair looked like it would tip over backward, but then it rolled forward and landed near where the knife was sticking out of AJ's boot. With a little wiggling, Sean was able to get a strap hooked around the blade and AJ began to work his foot back and forth to cut through the leather. The water dripped on AJ's head, drop by drop, as he cut. Then with a strong yank, Sean burst the strap. From there it was the work of seconds to undo the other straps holding him to the chair and another few seconds to get AJ out from under the water and out of his straps.

While AJ reloaded his derringer sleeve rig, Sean pulled the bags out of the oak barrels and hid them in a corner. The pair reset their chairs and waited for Gong Lee's return.

They didn't have long to wait. A minute or so later, the door opened and Lee and four guards came into the room. The guards moved out to either side while Lee addressed the agents. "Gentlemen, at the moment you are merely damp. Would you care to save yourself pain and provide me with the details of your Boston organization, beginning with any other operatives here?"

Sean whispered, seeming to fall into and out of madness. "Yes, yes," he struggled, "we are.." he began to speak softly in hopes to draw Lee closer.

"Good, I do not relish inflicting pain," he waved out the door and one of the girls came in with a pad. Lee stepped a few steps closer as the girl prepared to make notes.

"Who else does your employer have placed in San Francisco?" he asked.

"Mr., Mr...." Sean got softer and softer, tensing himself to spring on Lee as soon as he took another step.

"Speak!" commanded Lee taking that one more step.

AJ bolted out of his chair into a two-handed strike upward on one of the suprised Chinese guards. The man flipped backwards and his falling body slammed the door shut. The guard next to the now-missing one shoulder blockeded AJ back toward the chair. AJ brought both hands down hard on the back of the man, who dropped to the ground.

Sean surged upwards and launched two quick punches at Lee, spinning the fat man around and sending him staggering toward the door. Lee shouted to the remaining guards, "Get them!" as he lurched toward the door and began to roll the unconscious body clear of the doorway. The girl moved to help him. The two guards closed on Sean but he was able to duck between them. Lee got the body clear and wedged his bulk through the door.

AJ popped his sleeve derringer and ran after Lee, leaping lightly across the fallen body and out the door.

Sean reached out, grabbed the two guards and banged their heads together. Stepping between them he punched one then the other, getting a full body twist between each punch. They dropped like sacks of tea.

In the hall, AJ saw Lee moving as fast as his bulk would allow towards a door down at the end.

Lee heard an audible and familiar "click" from behind him. "That's far enough, Lee. Trust me, you're a bigger target than most, I won't miss. We need to talk." Lee noticed a more pronounced Southern accent than he heard before from the man...one very NOT Bostonian.

Lee raised his hands. "You and your companion are most formidable, Mr. Arliss." He turned. "The advantage seems to be yours. Of course, a talk was all I wanted all along."

"Actually, the name's Strebs." AJ said. "You want truth, Lee-san, we're not here to buy opium. We believe whoever's running it has a comrade of ours, and we want him back. Now, you're not sinless by a longshot in general, but give me reason to believe you're not who we're looking for."

Sean joined them in the hall, girl in tow.

Lee looked back and forth, "May I lower my hands? Thank you. If I may turn your question back on you, why would you believe that I am? I asked you that when our positions were reversed. I am a simple purveyor of simple pleasures. Well ... " he chuckled, "perhaps a bit more. But have you a shred of evidence linking me to the opium trade? Of course not, since no evidence exists. But you gentlemen, if you do not represent a 'Doyle' wanting opium, who do you represent and what do you want?"

Sean lightly shoved the lady over to Lee and leaned against the wall. "We're looking for a friend that is missing after he was investigating the opium trade. All we got was this place and Number Six, guess you can call yourself lucky we dropped in here first."

"Simply put, we want our friend, first and foremost. Disruptin' the opium trade would be a good bonus. Y'said in there you want the same thing. So let me turn your question back on you...what do YOU know about #6 that kin help us?"

"Two things, gentlemen, if I may." Lee steepled his fingers. "Who do you work for and who was your friend?"

Sean glanced at AJ and decided to tell him. "We work for the United States government, and we're looking for our buddy Sam," and gave a brief description.

Lee looked back and forth at the two men. "We have much to discuss. Your 'Sam' I think has probably gone to meet his ancestors at the hands of the Man Li tong, who use Number Six as a front. Come, let us be more comfortable.

A table and extra chairs had been set in the luxurious room they had seen before. Miss Jade served exotic dishes to them as they conversed. "Your Sam was know to me as Sam Malone," said Lee. "He was nosing around in Chinatown and learned of the Man Li and Number Six Chinese Goods. If he pushed them too far, they would have no hesitation in killing him."

Sean held up his cup, "Cheers. Do you know where the Man Li gets their opium?"

"No, not precisely. I think it comes in by ship somehow, but your navy has never found anything. They have some way of smuggling it in, but I do not know what it is," he said.

"Is the Man Li your town rival, Lee-san?" AJ asked.

"Not as such. I have no real rival. Whether or not you believe me my interest is two-fold: to protect my people from opium as much as possible and to protect them from the backlash that would result if the opium spreads too much into your people. The Man Li are at war with another tong, the Chung Wang. The Chung Wang are nearly destroyed at this point, which is good for ending the war, but bad since it will give the Man Li a free hand."

"Since we have similar goals, what do you suggest?" Sean asked Mr. Lee

Lee spread his hands, indicating the food, the Jade Pagoda and Miss Jade, "I am a humble purveyor of simple pleasures. You are men of action and representatives of the highest power in the land. The questio is what can this one do to aid you?"

Sean chuckled at Mr. Lee's act, "What can you tell us about the Man Li? We need to either bring it down hard from the outside or try to get inside and see where all this leads."

"The Man Li," he said, "use Number Six as a front and distribution point. They have several warehouses along the waterfront and I suspect the opium moves from the warehouses to the storefront. How it gets to the warehouse or where they store it, I do not know."

Looking over at AJ, Sean commented, "Looks like we have some warehouses to inspect."

"Can you help us to identify the warehouses that belong to the Man Li?" AJ asked.

Of course!" Mr. Lee beamed

The fog rolled in early that night, lending a surreal touch to the approach of the federal agents to the main warehouse of Number Six Chinese Goods. The building itself was a simple rectangle with two doors facing the street, a large door for loading carts next to a small door for people. It was built out over the water, so although they couldn't see it, they assumed there was a loading door on the water side as well.

In the fog, no eyes could pry very much, so he went for the small door as being easier to open and close quietly. The lock yielded quickly to his expert ministrations. They slipped through and closed the door behind them. They were in pitch darkness in the warehouse. No windows let in the light and in the fog there wasn't much light to be let in, in any case.

Sean felt around near the door on the wall for a lantern and nearby for matches.A lantern was set on a hook just inside the door, he struck a match and lit it. The warehouse was a large open expanse. A loft had been built across the supporting beams creating a second story to the building with access by ladder about midway down the warehouse on each side. There would probably be a crane or pulley at the far end, over the water. Even from here they could dimly make out cargo doors at the other end of the warehouse. Between them and the other end of the warehouse were rows and stacks of boxes and crates, and along the right side a small army of full-size terracotta warriors. A faint smell of fish permeated the air.

"Nothing stands out," said Sean softly, "except those," he gestured to the warriors. "I saw some of them in Number Six, those crates have any markings on them?"

AJ took the lantern and wandered over, not just to look at the writing on the crates, but also to see if he could find any traces of opiate or byproducts nearby.

Nothing specifically opiate-ish came to his attention as he examined the crates. They were labelled in an unremarkable fashion; some claimed to hold dried fish or herbs, some silks, and so on down the line of typical Chinese imports. He then turned to inspect the warriors...was there a way to open them? Were they hollow or solid? Why would they be made in such mass quantities?

Tapping the first few, they gave off a decidely hollow sound. The fourth, however, had a bit of dull thud. Looking closely at that one, it looked like a piece had been removed from the back and then replaced and somehow reattached.

Sean withdrew his knife and carefully pried around the seam of the reattached piece.At first it didn't want to give, but then suddenly the piece popped loose, however the whole side of the warrior also collapsed as it did so. A man's body slumped out of the gap onto the floor of the warehouse. The corpse fit the description of the missing agent and a deep chest wound was the obvious cause of death.

Solemnly Sean removed his hat and said a quiet prayer, "Looks like we're dealing with murderers now," he said to AJ. Rising, Sean surveyed the warehouse "If some of these statues are holding the opium it tells us how they transport it from here, but we still don't have enough to tell us where it comes from or how they get it here under our noses. Maybe there's an office or some books around."

"We kin take a look. I'm wondrin' more about the way into he-ahr from the sea, m'self." AJ replied.

Something struck them as a little odd about the way the terra cotta had broken. Rather than jagged as one would expect from broken baked clay, it was smooth.

AJ picked a piece of it up and looked it over closely, then sniffed it."It gets better." AJ remarked, then handed the piece he was inspecting to Sean. "That's not pure clay. Somehow something really not right's been mixed in with it...betting it's the opium."

"Must be making these statues around here, then they ship them out where folks c an harvest the opium. If we can find a ledger or kiln we may be able to put tog ether the remaining pieces of the puzzle." Sean looked around for office.

He didn't see and office, but he did see figures moving stealthily down the ladders from the loft above.

"Looks like we've got company," he said to AJ setting the lantern down on the floor and taking cover away from the light." AJ followed suit, taking cover in a different direction than Sean.

As they did so, another few lanterns were lit along the walls casting the whole warehouse into a dim, shadowy light. By that light they say a full-sized terracotta warrior, with a terrifying mask and carrying a large sword, moving down the warehouse toward them from the far end.

AJ went on the assault, charging the nearest goon who was rushing at him, grabbing but slipping on the terra cotta fragments as he did so. The goon crowed with delight as one of his buddies blind-sided AJ and sent him crashing into a crate which splintered sending dried fish all over the floor.

The terra cotta warrior closed the distance toward the agents, deciding that perhaps Sean would be a better target since the goons had AJ tied up.

Seeing AJ take his tumble and get quickly overwhelmed, Sean climbed atop a crate and dove onto the pile of brute throwing rights and lefts. The initial impact sent one headfirst into a wall and flurry of punches and ax-handle hammer blows to the back cleared a space around them to breathe.

The remaining three goons circled the pair warily as their heavier companion closed in. Sean decided that didn't look good and feinted left then dove right at the pair on that side. Another few punches and those men dropped as well.

AJ took advantage of that to leap left and cut the legs out of the last goon. As the goon tried to rise, a quick knee to the face put him back down.

Sean turned his attention toward the plodding warrior and caught AJ's eye with a nod and disappeared off into the surrounding crate jungle.

He worked his way up to the top of a stack of crates as the warrior closed on AJ who was finishing up the last of the thugs. The warrior took a backhanded swing at AJ cutting his jacket and leaving a neat line of blood across his ribs.

AJ staggered back, clawed his pistol free and fired, the bullet slammed into the man tearing a chunk of the armour free but having little other effect.

Sean put a shoulder to the crates and launched them toward the warrior The crataes piled into the warrior, knocking him from his feet. The warrior rose from the wreckage tossing the wood to the left and right before either agent could capitalize on his fall

"Interestin'" AJ said simply. He brought the gun bear into the same area he shot the first time, trying to take off enough of the armor to get a clear shot to whoever was inside.

His bullet slammed home in much the same spot, tearing more armour loose but also spinning the warrior around. For the first time, he made a noise a grunt of pain, followed by a roar of rage as he swung again at AJ. The warrior's chop landed flat and rather than cutting AJ knocked him back a step. In doing so, he exposed the weak spot in his armour to Sean, who drew quickly and fired. The warrior flipped over backward and lay still.

"Careful," Sean warned AJ, "I'm not sure how to say 'playing possum' in Chinese." Slowly he jumped off the crates keeping his pistol training on the downed figure.

AJ followed suit. "<Playing Possum>" he rattled off deadpan.

Their care was not needed, Sean's bullet had gone in the hole in the armour that AJ had made the man inside was dead.

back at the train ...

Sean lit up a pipe and stared at the miniature terracotta warrior figuring they found in Chinatown. "You know," he began plopping his booted feet atop the desk, "it's a shame about Sam, to think everything was out in the open. He deserved better."

"He didn't die in vain, at least." AJ said. "Now that the customs officals and the authorities know what they're looking for, Number 6 is going to have some problems for awhile. It'd be foolishness to think we've stopped the opium trade, but it's gonna be messed for quite awhile."

AJ poured himself a drink and looked back at Sean. "One person we haven't seen the last of, I'm sure, is Gong Lee. He may not be in the opium trade, but that doesn't mean we're not going to cross paths agin."

Sean tossed the figure to Max who calmly placed it on the mantle as he continue d polishing. "Ah yes, Mr. Lee. Before we know it, he'll be mayor of San Franci sco. That man has politician written all over him."

A knock on the door caused Sean and AJ to simultaneously call out "Come in." T wo lovely ladies from the Jade Pagoda bowed in with smiles, "and he'll get my vo te," Sean added with a wink.

AJ grinned. "Truly a San Francisco treat." He then bowed to the ladies. "<You honor us with your...>" His speech faded out as the ladies approached.

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