HEART OF CHINA
I don't mean to complain, but some guys get all the luck, know what I mean?
I'm sitting in the Metro Bar up in Paree after hauling a hold full of ivory
up from Africa, nursing an absinthe and feeling lonely as hell when in walks
ol' Jake Masters. You remember Jake, him and me was in the same squadron dur-
ing the Big One. He got away from the Krauts and came away with a chest full
of medals. I came away with this bum leg that pains me every time I kick the
rudder left and just enough money to hit a swell joint like this once a run.
Maybe that's why they call him "Lucky."
Anyway, in walks Lucky Jake with this beautiful dame on his arm and a rock
the size of Madagascar on her finger. "Geez," I think, "does she belong to
LUCKY?" Well, I watch till he gets up to go to the can and walk up behind him.
"Hello, you ancient pelican," says I. He spins around, white as a sheet.
"Hunter, you flippin' air pirate!" he says. "Why you want to go sneaking up
on a man like that?"
"Easy, easy," I say. "No harm done. Hey, is that slick dame out front yours
to keep? If not, mind loaning her out?"
"That's no dame, that's my wife. Long story," says Lucky. "Meet me back here
tonight and I'll lay it all out for you."
Well, I hit another bar or two during the day, so I'm feeling no pain by the
time that night when Jake plonks himself down in my booth and orders up two
fingers of Scotch. Some things don't change, anyway.
"All right, Hunter," he says. "You want the story, you got it."
"You probably heard about my air charter service out in Hong Kong. Got pretty
big out there, ten planes altogether, freight and passenger business booming.
Then, one day I get a call from my biggest creditor, another Yank named E.A.
Lomax, new money, into the black market and all kinds of other free enter-
prise, know what I mean?" I nod.
"This Lomax tells me that his daughter Kate, some kind of do-gooder in Cheng-
du out in Szechuan Province has been hoisted by a local warlord, Li Deng, as
the latest addition to his stables. He tells me that he wants me to go get her
back from this Li Deng, and he don't much care how I do it.
"'Not interested. Ain't exactly in my business line,' I tell him. 'We'll
see,' he says. 'Not if I can help it,' say I.
"Yeah, I know, talking to my biggest creditor that way ain't smart, but I
always had trouble with my mouth, even in the old days. Anyway, it ain't but
a few days before my partner takes a powder with the company treasury and my
girl friend. Pretty soon after that, the sampan I live on gets blown up.
Interesting coincidences, eh?" Masters pauses to light a Havana cigar that'd
buy a case of my Egyptian cigs.
"So here I am, looking out at the harbor, watching a damn seagull while
what's left of my sampan goes floating out with the tide. I get the hint. I
grab a rickshaw and head out to Lomax's place.
"This time Lomax is real cool in his rotten-tempered sorta way. He offers me
two hundred grand to get his brat, twenty grand up front and the rest on
delivery. Catch is, he'll deduct twenty thousand bucks for every day after
today that I take to get her. He also tells me to contact a Chinese ex-ninja
called Zhao Chi who's a good man in a pinch in case I need a little help.
Don't that beat all?
"So I wander down to Ho's Bar...local watering hole for the best folks out in
Hong Kong. First, though, I stop by the shop next door that sells herbs or
something. Old Chinese dame in there is uppity, though. Ignores me at first,
then won't talk American to me. Some people out there just don't appreciate
good American stock.
"Anyway, I go into Ho's and head left into the bar. I try talking to a drunk
and a...er...professional escort, but I figure Ho's the one to see for info.
Everybody knows Ho, and Ho knows everybody. So I ask him about my friend Chi.
Now I don't KNOW Chi, but I figure that it can't hurt. Ho beats around the
bush for a bit and finally gives me the bum's rush.
"I'm on my way out, minding my own business, when I get stopped by three
goons. Real tough guys...they think. Ask me why I want to see this Chi. We
dance around a bit, but I finally tell 'em that I'm tired of playing with the
baboons and deck the biggest of the lot. Suddenly, this little guy in black
comes outta nowhere and mixes in.
"Turns out the guy in black is Chi himself. I get in good with him by men-
tioning Kate Lomax's name -- I told you she was a do-gooder nurse out in
China, right? Anyway, Chi tells me I fight pretty good, but that I'm a reck-
less cuss. I tell him that I only get reckless when I don't see any other way,
and he relaxes a bit. I offer him five grand and grub, and he agrees to come
"Trouble is, turns out he doesn't believe in aeroplanes! Yeah, you heard me
right -- in this day and age! I wished I had our old C.O. Colonel Mitchell
with me that day, I can tell you! Anyway, I leave the bar feeling pretty down
in the dumps. How the hell am I supposed to convince the guy that flying
ain't a myth? Then a piece of paper gets picked up by a gust of wind and
dropped at my feet, and a light bulb goes on over my head.
"I fold the paper into an airplane. (NOTE: by moving the picture of the
paper onto Lucky's picture and moving the airplane back out when it's done.)
Then I go back in the bar and just sail the thing at Chi after a few pleasant-
ries. Now Chi may be a lotta things, but he ain't dumb; he gets the idea in
jig time, and leaves the bar with me.
"Turns out the old lady next door sells healing herbs and other useful stuff,
so we stop in there again. HIM she'll talk to, and he convinces her to talk
American to me after they jabber along in Chinese for a while. She ends up by
promising to give us some stuff if we get her some -- yuck! -- fresh seagull
droppings. Now I remember the seagull down by the dock, so Chi and me hop a
rickshaw and run back down there.
"Well, there's lots of seagull droppings around but nothing fresh. I'm poking
around the seagull trying to get it to...er... drop when Chi mentions he has a
prune. Now THIS is a piece of news for me. I mean, I knew prunes worked for
me, but for dumb birds too? (On the other hand, I didn't ever care much
either.) Anyway, I figure, 'What the hell...can't hurt!'
"So we give the prune to the flippin' bird, and what do you know? It does its
business right then and there. Chi refuses to pick the stuff up, so it's up
to our hero to do it, and we boogie back to old lady Wu's shop. She tells me
to put in in her bowl, chortling about how she got a dumb American to do her
dirty work, and then bends enough to offer us some stuff: healing herbs, a
fake passport made out to some Chinese, and a map to Li Deng's place over in
Chengdu. I got some misgivings, but I take 'em anyway and give 'em to Chi.
"So off we go to the airport. Everything's jake till we try to board my
personal bird, the Yankee Eagle. Then some British immigration twit stops and
demands my papers. Now I got a choice: I can either give the phony passport
to this guy or pretend mine's misplaced. Well, I didn't entirely trust the old
dame, so I decided not to use the fake papers. Damn good thing, too -- turns
out the Chinese guy was wanted for Murder One. Anyway, I wear the immigration
guy down with my silver tongue, and off we fly to Chengdu."
"After a day in the air, we make it to Chengdu. There are landing spots all
over the place, but Chi is picky and won't let me land till I find an area
that suits him near the river. Before we leave the Eagle, we grab some stuff
-- a crowbar from the port side and a rope and grappling hook from the star-
board. This sounds like ninja stuff, so I give it to Chi. He leaves the rope
and grapple separate for the time being, which is a damn good thing. Don't
like untying knots.
"We leave the 'plane, and take a looksee around. Pretty dull stuff, just a
cow grazing a ways away. A peasant wanders by in a few minutes, and Chi gets
on his good side by offering him some smokes and mentioning Kate Lomax's
name. Turns out that girl is real popular in these parts. Chi talks the guy
right out of his clothes (wish I could do that, but not for guys, know what I
mean?) Then he changes into 'em, for a disguise.
"Chi thinks the cow would make a good part of the disguise too, so I show him
how to rope it, and off we go -- me, Chi, and our hoofy friend -- toward the
warlord's place, an old fortress.
"Now the map we got from old lady Wu shows two ways into the place -- through
the main gate and through a sewer drain off to the left. While me and Chi are
sitting in cover near the main gate and discussing how to get in, a peasant
wanders by and yells up to the walls that he's bringing a cow for the
evening's barbeque. They let him right in.
"Just when it hits me that the crowbar for the plane would probably get us
into the sewer, especially if Chi waits till the guards are out of sight, he
pipes up and says 'They let him right in. Maybe that'll work twice,' or
something like that. So off he walks, bold as brass, up to the gate, shows
the cow, and they let HIM in too. Stupid jerks.
"Chi tells me later that he realizes he can't go wandering around inside in
his peasant stuff, so he strips down to his black ninja gear and puts on his
hood. He decides to do a little recon of the compound while I cool my heels
outside the walls, blast him. There's an old tank in one direction, but that
looks to be guarded, so he decides to take on the main building.
"There's guards lounging around the main stairs, so Chi heads left into the
dining hall when he nips in, waiting till the guards' backs are turned. The
place is lit by a rickety lamp, which Chi decides not to fool with. He DOES
boost a bottle of wine from the main table, probably hoping for a nice picnic
on the grass later. Likes his tucker, does our Chi."
Masters orders another two fingers of Scotch from a waiter, takes another
puff on his cheroot, and goes on, "Damn lucky thing he got that wine. Next
room off to the left is the kitchen, guarded by a large, extremely mean, man-
eating mutt. Chi tries to buy it off with some chickens he found hanging
around with no luck. Then he has a cute idea: put the wine in the doggie dish.
Dumb dog laps it up and passes right out. Remember THAT the next time you
order Chinese wine.
"Chi heads to the back and right of the kitchen, which turns out, by the
carving knife lying there, to be the cook's room. He grabs the knife and
swings the room's other door open, only to see a guard's back. Not good.
Time to twinkle toe it back to the main hall.
"Now Chi, being of the ninja persuasion, can get away with a lot that you and
I can't, good as we are. So he waits till the guards disappear and checks the
room on the right upstairs. What does he find but this Kate Lomax, on a
platform guarded by a couple of cobras! This, he thinks, is out of his
league, so he nips out for me. Get ol' Lucky for the REALLY hairy stuff --
that's what they all do.
"He ties the rope to the grappling hook and boosts it across the left-hand
wall -- gets it over after a couple of tries. I climb over, and we're BOTH in
the soup. We decide to check out the old gatehouse on the left before going
in. Good thing we did -- I see a key hanging above the dusty desk and grab it
just in case. You'll see where it comes in later.
"In we go through the front window. Now here we have a problem: there's NO
chance of getting me up the stairs without being spotted. A ninja I ain't.
What we need is a diversion to pull the guards away. Then Chi remembers the
rickety lamp in the dining room and suggests starting a fire. Sounds like a
damn good idea to me. We wait till the guard's back is turned to sneak into
the dining room, push the lamp over and run left through the kitchen into the
cook's room where we can see if the guards have left. When we get there, sure
enough they have.
"We sprint for the room where Kate is trapped and bar the door behind us.
Meanwhile, gongs and stuff like that are going off all over the place. I size
up the situation at a glance: I don't have a choice. I blow off the snakes'
heads with my Army .45. 'Course Kate gets bit by the second one, but you
can't win 'em all. I pick up Kate and boogie for the terrace at the far end
of the room.
"Trouble is, I can't jump off carrying her. Looking around wildly, we see the
curtain cord hanging at the left, slash it free, and tie it to the rail. Chi
fights em off while I get the dame down, then jumps down himself. We head for
the old tank, which is unguarded by now because of the fire.
"Now you and I both know how I spent the War. A tanker I ain't. Even so, the
empty ignition keyhole reminds me of the key I grabbed in the gatehouse. I
plug the key in and push the button above the keyhole, and the baby roars to
"Gawd, was that a wild ride! I have to make a hairpin left turn and blow away
another tank coming uphill, then turn near as sharp to the right. I acceler-
ate down a straightaway and turn left as a reservoir looms up in front of me.
I know there's another tank back there somewhere, so I veer off to the left
into the hills, then locate the road between the bushes off the the right. An
enemy truck looms up ahead, and I blow it away by firing twice. Then I see a
lane between bushes at about 10 o'clock, and follow the road to the Eagle.
"I carry Kate in, and Chi looks her over with a face like a storm cloud.
Tells me she'll never make it back to Hong Kong and that we'd better head for
Kathmandu out in Nepal to get her some special help for that snakebite. Swell.
Just what I wanted to do, fly the wrong way like that Corrigan guy. Even so,
she strikes me as a spunky kid, and I can let old Lomax know I got her from
"Riiiiiiiiiiight. Only one hitch: I didn't QUITE have the petrol to make it
to Kathmandu -- headwinds and too many climbouts, I guess. So down we go in
the meanest weather 'tween here and Great Falls, Montana, on the very edge of
a glacier or something."
"Now Kate's dying, and if she does there goes the whole ball of wax.
SOMEBODY's gotta walk out for help and, blast it all, Chi is better trained to
take care of her. So away slog I, fat dumb and happy. Lucky to the rescue
"While I'm away, Chi ransacks the Eagle and finds a tarp and a blanket
spilled out of broken crates on the floor. There's food up front too, but it's
too risky for him to get it, and Kate don't need it right then anyway. He rigs
the tarp up to shelter her from the wind, wraps her in the blanket, and gives
her la Wu's healing herbs and some special ninja ones he had.
"Meanwhile, I'm out there freezing my...er...freezing to death and thinking
that this time my luck HAS run out for good and all. I get real sleepy, like,
and decide to lie down for a little nap. As I fade out, I see this grinning
THING above me, big furry monster, like. I remember thinking about hearing
Abominable Snowman stories from out Nepal way. Never believed 'em till then,
"Next thing I know, I wake up in a dark, smelly hut. Chi and Kate are there
too, along with a sharp-tongued old crone called Ama. This Ama, who turns out
in the end to be a good egg, tells me I was found by a kid named Kubla and
dragged in by her and the kid. I try to tell her about the big monster, but
she ticks me off with her attitude, so me and Chi go sit by the fire for a
spell. Chi, the silver-tongued devil, talks me into giving the old dame a
break, which turns out to be a good thing later.
"Ama orders me and Chi out so's she can pay attention to nursing Kate. She
tells us to find the local Lama. Since we got nothing but time, we decide
what the hell and do it. Now I know from my time in the East that Lamas usual-
ly hang out on mountain tops and such. Me and Chi see a house up a mountain,
so we decide to start there. We notice a telegraph office along the way and
get a wire off to Lomax, bless his black heart, to tell him I got his precious
daughter in tow. There's an Indian dame in the office that shows me a paper
-- and damned if this Li Deng didn't go off the deep end and attack Hong Kong
after we took off with Kate. Now THIS is a problem. Since I can't go back, I
gotta go west to Istanbul. Trouble is, you remember my name is mud there for
foolin' around with the Nabob's daughter a few years back. Ah, well, where's
the fun in life without a gamble now and again?"
I look around and the bar is nearly empty now. Masters beckons a waiter over
and orders another scotch. It's his sixth, and I start to wonder if he's long
for this world. He lights up another stogie and goes on.
"Pay attention, Hunter! The door is answered by a baldheaded guy in a robe,
who wants to know our business. I tell him we're official mucketymucks from
the Lama's Guild of South High Boojalum and he lets us in to see the
Walama...er, Wallala...the Wally Lama. And whaddya know, when I go in, this
Wally guy calls me and Chi by name. I tell him Ama sent us to collect the
favor he owes her, but he just goes back to singing to himself. I begin to
wonder if I shoulda lied about that favor I say he owes Ama.
"So we walk back down the mountain and check out the town. Chi smells the air
and tells me a storm is coming, and we only got till tomorrow afternoon to get
the Eagle off the cliff before it's wrecked. Even so, I want to stop by Ama's
to check on Kate. She seems like a pretty spunky little broad, that one, and
I think Chi's blowing smoke about the storm anyway. Sure enough, Kate's
sitting up. She thanks me and I lay it on thick -- knight in shining armor
and that kinda stuff. She don't buy it and I sorta back off a bit. No point
in browning off the boss's daughter. Anyway, she's kinda cute if you ignore
the mouth. She starts feeling woozy again, and me and Chi decide to get out
and really give the town a once over.
"We get lucky at a junkyard at the edge of town -- there's a barrel of petrol
there. Trouble is, this ten-year old kid Kubla tells me I can't have it
unless I fly him outta there. Now that's all I need, another anchor around my
neck. Anyway, ten is too young to be bumming around the world away from your
folks. I tell the kid so, and he tells me to get lost. I shrug, and Chi and
I move on. Luckily, I notice an empty cigar box on the ground before I leave
and grab it. Turns out to be important later, believe it or not.
"We climb the hill to the local pub. What a dump! The barkeep serves me some
godawful scotch. I demand a free meal to make up for the lousy scotch, but he
tricks me into buying a round for the bar instead. He points me at a plug
ugly caravan master named Sardar when I ask about help.
"Now this Sardar is in his cups, and I'm his favorite lad for buying a round.
I actually offer the guy fifty bucks a head to take us outta there when it
comes out that his caravan ain't leaving town for weeks. This don't play, o'
course. I try to get the jerk to budge, but he's got an agenda of his own --
wants us to overthrow a local boss named Bojon or Vogon or whatever. I figure
what the hell and we head on over to see this whatever his name is.
"Turns out the guy is a puffed up jerk. He don't take kindly to some side
remarks I make to Chi and threatens to throw us in the slammer. I make humble
with him and offer to leave, but he tells us the hoosegow is waiting if we
bother him again anyway.
"Now this is getting us nowhere fast. I'm beginning to think there ain't any
way out of Kathmandu for us at all. Since we've done what passes for the town,
we head back to Ama's place. The kid Kubla is there, and she makes me APOLO-
GIZE of all things, for making him stay with his folks! Kid still won't give
me the gas, though. Wants to know what I have to barter with! What do I have
that a ten-year old boy would want? He can forget about my .45 and my light-
"Suddenly old Lucky gets a brainstorm. He asks Chi for his chopsticks and
some of those coins with the holes in the middle. Between those and the cigar
box, he has all the parts for a toy wagon! Turns out the kid likes it, and
gives us a nozzle to siphon the petrol with. Smart thinking, eh?" I nod.
"OK, then, so now we got the gas. Since Kate ain't a talkative mood, I decide
to see if Wally's finished his solo yet, so me and Chi head back up the moun-
tain. Damn good thing we're in prime shape. This time the geezer is feeling
more like talking. Turns out this Vogon, uh, Bojon, guy bullies the village
people with guns and some kinda stolen sacred scroll that he threatens to burn
if they step outta line. Sounds like a lot of mumbo-jumbo to me, but you know
how these Orientals can be. I wander back on down and I try to bluff the jerk
to lighten up by faking big connections in the States, but he throws me in
the slammer! As luck would have it, Chi gets away, using his ninja stuff.
"Chi heads back for Ama's and gets a surprise. Just by happenstance, the
feisty old dame is Bojon's aunt. She gets my tail outta the brig in record
time, but I don't like the way Bojon looks at me when we leave. Kinda like a
cobra eyeing a mouse. I start to get my dander up. Enough is enough. Me and
Chi decide to see if we can get those yellowbellies back in the tavern off the
"Sardar starts to bellyache about how Bojon has a gun and how he'll torch
this holy scroll if they take him on. I tell him ain't got nothing to fear but
fear by its lonesome, but he's really hung up on ths gun thing. I figger what
the hell and give him my gun. Lucky Jake Masters don't need no stinking gun
to take on the likes of Vojon and his soldier.
"Whaddya know? This is all they need to have the guts to throw the bum out!
We storm the place, get back the sacred scroll, and stick Bogon in his own
lockup. All right! The whole town turns out to help us with the gas and get
the Eagle off the glacier. We're airborne again!"
About this time, the Metro Bar closes and Masters and I get the bum's rush.
It's started to drizzle a little, so I get us a late taxi to take us to our
hotels. I light up one of my Egyptian smokes are stare out at the rain run-
ning in little streams down the window. I figure Masters must not feel like
talking any more, 'cause he clams up completely. It ain't till we get nearly
to his hotel that I hear the snoring and it hits me that the jerk's passed
out. Swell. I pay the cabbie -- my hotel ain't far -- and maneuver ol' Lucky
upstairs to his room. Gawd, seems to me like he's put on weight since the old
days, and it ain't an easy job.
We stagger upstairs to his room after a little fisheye from the night clerk,
and I knock at the door of the room that goes with the key I find in his
pocket. One knock is all it takes. The door flies open, and there stands
Masters's wife in a dressing gown. Gawd, is she a looker! Ol' Lucky's luck
was working overtime when he found her!
We get Jake into the sack with all his duds on and pull off his shoes. He's
gonna be in la-la-lan for hours, looks to me. "Sorry, Mrs. Masters," I mumble.
"Jake always did figure he could hold his booze better than he could."
"Call me Kate," she says with a smile that'd bowl over a charging rhino.
"Thank you for bringing Lucky home, Mr....Hunter, isn't it?"
"Yes, ma'am. Happy to help. Good night," I say, edging toward the door. I
always was nervous around beautiful dames, and this one...hooboy! Then it
hits me. "Kate? The Kate Lucky saved from Chengdu? He started to tell me
about it before we got heaved out of the Metro. He just got to the part where
you were flying out for Istanbul."
"Yes, I am that Kate, Mr. Hunter. It seems my Jake has left you hanging in
mid-story. Perhaps you'd like to join me in coffee while I finish it for him?
I can have some sent up, and I'm a bit on edge. It'd help to talk for a while
All right, I admit it. I just HATE to only hear half a story and I'm headed
back for Africa in the A.M., so I let Kate Masters twist my arm. Not that I
need much excuse to look at her for awhile longer. She has this strawberry
blonde hair...but enough already! She sits back, sips her coffee prettily,
and launches into the yarn.
"You must understand, Mr. Hunter, that Lucky had been in Istanbul some years
earlier. I eventually learned from a palace guard that during that time, Jake
had met and...er...compromised the favorite daughter of the local ruler, the
Nabob. I think you can understand that this did not especially endear my
Lucky to the Turk." I nod enthusiastically, thinking what gorgeous eyes she
has, then mentally slap myself on the wrists. This is an old war buddy's
wife, for cripe's sake!
"As we left the aeroplane in Istanbul, Lucky forced some money into my hand.
I was quite incensed at first, but he explained that it was simply an emergen-
cy precaution, so I reluctantly accepted. It is quite fortunate that I did,
as you will soon hear. Chi elected to stay with Jake's aeroplane, the Yankee
"Jake interviewed a young man at the airport, and learned that more fuel was
not be to had at...er, an acceptable price. We had no choice but to enter the
city, look for gasoline, and possibly contact Daddy by telephone. We were
told there was one of the latter at the local British Officers' Club.
"So Lucky and I entered Istanbul by one of its many gates; a right turn
through the gate brought us in sight of the British Officers' Club. Apparent-
ly, the Club is still one of those tradition-bound, male-only establishments,
so I was compelled to wait outside while Jake used the telephone. Much later,
he told me that he pressured Daddy into promising him $150 thousand, clear
title to all his aeroplanes, and some other concessions. It bothered me at
the time, but if the truth be known I realize my father is a bit of a black-
guard at heart, and one reason I followed my calling in China was to get away
"In any case, while Lucky was in the Club I heard the tramp of marching feet,
and a detachment of the Nabob's guards surrounded the building. I was curi-
ous, of course, but I didn't realize at the time that it was connected with
Jake at all. Even so, when he emerged from the Club they took him into custo-
"Now there was a depressing turn of events if I'd ever seen one! Oh, please
don't misunderstand, Mr. Hunter -- I'm very self-sufficient. Nevertheless,
I'd become rather grudgingly fond of the big lug over the last day or so, and
besides, he was still my fastest transportation out of Turkey. I decided
after some thought to locate the palace and find out why Jake had been arrest-
"The Nabob's palace turned out to be straight ahead from the gate we'd en-
tered. I approached one of the guards, and he obligingly related the whole
ugly story of Jake's philandering to me. The more he warned me off Jake, the
more convinced I became to try to save him. For one thing, I didn't fancy
owing my life to the jerk. And for another, I had a few choice words to say
to Mr. Lucky Jake-bloody-Masters before being quit of him!
"So I walked down a side street to the left, thinking to stroll around the
palace and suss out a way in. Seeking information, I struck up a conversation
with a Turkish woman arranging some flowers in the bed of an open wagon. She
hinted that she could help me get in, suggested that I get something to cut
bars and some transportation for the 'getaway,' I believe it's called. She
wouldn't take my money. What could I give her to get her assistance?
"Her words echoing in my mind, I returned to the main gate, where I had seen
a railroad station sign earlier. Sure enough, the famous Orient Express was
waiting at the station. The trouble started at the ticket booth: 'Oh, yes,
mademoiselle, you may certainly buy a ticket. Oh, no, mademoiselle, regula-
tions require that you not travel alone.' Simply wonderful. It seemed that I
needed Masters after all if I could not find another way out of Istanbul. I
decided to put the matter of a ticket aside for the moment.
"Hmmm...'getaway' transportation. Perhaps a camel from the lot in front of
the main gate would suffice. The trouble was that the money *MR.* Masters had
given me was American, and Acayib, the camel merchant, demanded 200 sheckels,
the local currency, for all purchases. I was so preoccupied on my way back
into the city to find a currency exchange bank that I accidentally bumped into
a fruit cart from which a charming young boy was vending fresh oranges, spill-
ing them into the street.
"Far from allowing me to help him clean up the mess, or even to buy something
for his trouble, the boy Hakim displayed the unusual gallantry of the young
by writing the whole incident off to 'the will of Allah,' and presenting me
with an unusual and very lovely red flower, which I gratefully tucked into my
blouse before continuing on.
"Sheckels -- where could I go to get sheckels? Perhaps the merchant I'd
noticed across from the British club could exchange some dollars for me. As
soon as I entered his shop, my eyes lit on part of the answer to my quandary:
hanging near the door was a hacksaw, exactly the tool I needed to get through
Jake's prison bars!
"The merchant Kasim, though, proved a tough nut to crack. He wouldn't talk of
exchanging money, nor would he accept American dollars for merchandise. I was
about to leave in frustration when I suddenly remembered my jeweled antique
locket. I weighed it sadly in my hand, thinking back on its long history in
my family. Ah, well, no help for it -- I showed it to the merchant, and his
eyes lit up.
"In the East, of course, they expect you to haggle. His opening ploy was to
tell me that the market was flooded with lockets like mine. I told him that
I'd hold on to it for a while, then. He promptly offered 75 sheckels. I
countered with 150. We finally settled on 105, the best I think I could have
gotten but still well short of the 200 Acayib wanted for his camels.
"Reluctant to spend any money until I could exchange more, I returned to the
main street. A small, dark man beckoned me over from the kerbside. It was a
street gambler. Could this be my only chance to get more sheckels? I agreed
to one game of find-the-pea, betting a small amount. I won! Several games
later, I had over 300 sheckels. (NOTE: those of us who are not as sharp-eyed
as Kate Masters might consider saving after every winning game and restoring
after every losing game. You don't really need as much as Kate won.)
"Since I had enough money to get all the things I needed to set Jake free, I
confidently returned to the train station for a ticket on the Orient Express,
which I bought with the dollars Jake had given me. Then I returned to Kasim's
for the hacksaw. At Acayib's, I was able to bargain him down to 100 sheckels
for the camel. Thus prepared, I returned to the alley beside to palace to
seek out the old Turkish woman, Almira, again. You see, Mr. Hunter, I had
noticed her holding flowers on my earlier stop, and realized that the exotic
flower given me by Hakim might be what I needed to get her to help me.
"Almira sniffed about my preparations, especially the camel, but in the end
she helped me move the cart under Jake's window. I sawed through the bars
with the hacksaw and set him free. Not, mind you, that I was much in the mood
for pleasantries about then -- the big stiff had caused me a lot of trouble by
his woman-chasing ways.
"We headed for the airport to collect Chi, only stopping along the way to
give the camel to the sweet young boy Hakim who had given me the flower. Jake
kept trying to be nice, but I told him to keep his mouth shut. He finally
thanked me for saving his life through Hakim. I felt slightly, but only
slight, mollified by his bumbling efforts.
"Just as we arrived at the Eagle, it blew up with a terrible blast, and Li
Deng's men appeared out of nowhere! They'd pursued us all the way from Cheng-
du! Poor Chi -- we'd seen his body fly away from the Eagle when it blew up.
What a sad end for a good friend!
"Lucky and I had little time to mourn our friend with Li Deng's men in hot
pursuit. We fled to the Orient Express, boarding the train just before it
pulled away from the station. We'd escaped, but just barely -- I saw the
Nabob's guards rush up to the platform, rifles in hand, just as the Express
pulled away from the station.
"With the threat behind us -- or so we thought -- Jake and I were left with
time on our hands, time to do nothing but talk. My anger flared up again.
Had it been worth it to him? Was the time he spent romping with the Nabob's
daughter worth Chi's life? As Jake struggled for words, I could see that he
felt very bad about what had happened. I taunted him: maybe if that was all
he cared about, he'd like to return to the compartment and enjoy MY favors!
My Jake didn't surprise me -- he blushed and turned me down. A that moment I
was sure he DID love me, and I'd been crazy about him since Kathmandu.
"Suddenly Li Deng's lieutenant, Tong, burst into the car brandishing a sword.
I looked on breathlessly as they fought across the tops of the cars. Jake
would attack ferociously, then retreat to conserve energy, ducking just in
time to avoid tunnels along the way. Finally, Tong began to tire and fall
back -- one car, two, to the caboose. Then I saw it -- the coupling to the
caboose was beginning to slip! I threw my body across the gap, trying to keep
the caboose from pulling free and screaming a warning to Jake.
"Thank God he heard me and made a mighty leap to the last car as the coupling
finally gave completely and the caboose began to fall behind! I was teetering
precariously over the failed coupling when Jake swung down and pulled me back.
The caboose, free to roll back, must have missed a curve down the tracks,
because Jake and I saw an explosion from that direction as the train rushed
onward. I pulled the big lug's face down to mine and we kissed long and hard.
"You can imagine how we spent the hours from there to Paris," says Kate Mas-
ters, blushing kinda prettily.
Yeah, I could. I thank Kate for the coffee and the yarn, tip my hat, and
meander into the lonesome Paris night, leaving Masters snoring peacefully.
Was it my imagination, or was that a sympathetic smile on her face as I left?
Naw, couldn't be.
Well, that's about all there is to tell. Everything from here on in is the
usual happy ending stuff. Kate bullies her Daddy into keeping his half of the
bargain, and she and Lucky go off and get hitched. Cinder-flippin'-rella,
only in reverse.
I never see Lucky Jake Masters or Kate again, except in the papers. Jake's
still a big wheel out Hong Kong way, so I hear. Li Deng makes trouble till
Chiang Kai-shek fixes his wagon permanently a year or two later. Lomax has a
heart attack about the same time, gets religion and heads back to the States
to help the poor, endow universities, and the like.
And me? I haul my tail outta the sack where I'm sleeping alone and fly off to
Africa in the a.m.
What did you expect? I told you some OTHER guys get all the luck.
HEART OF CHINA is published by Dynamix and distributed by Sierra On-Line, Inc.
This walkthru is copyright (c) 1991 by A. E. Williams. All rights reserved.