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Title: The Caves of Fear
Author: Goodwin, Harold L. (Harold Leland), 1914-1990
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Caves of Fear" ***

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  Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the
  U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.



                           THE CAVES OF FEAR

                  A RICK BRANT SCIENCE-ADVENTURE STORY

                            BY JOHN BLAINE


GROSSET & DUNLAP  PUBLISHERS
NEW YORK, N.Y.

COPYRIGHT, 1951, BY
GROSSET & DUNLAP, INC.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


_Printed in the United States of America_



[Illustration: At the base of the Black Buddha, a section of the floor
had swung upward.]



Contents


       I CHANGES AT SPINDRIFT

      II THE CIPHER MESSAGE

     III HEAVY WATER

      IV PROJECT X

       V HONG KONG

      VI THE GOLDEN MOUSE

     VII THE JUNK WITH PURPLE SAILS

    VIII LONG SHADOW

      IX THE TRAIL TO KORSE LENKEN

       X THE AMBUSH AT LLHAN HUANG

      XI THE GOATSKIN WATER BAG

     XII THE BUDDHIST MONK

    XIII THE BLACK BUDDHA

     XIV THE CAVES OF FEAR

      XV THE LABYRINTH

     XVI THE LAKE OF DARKNESS

    XVII THROUGH A PAIR OF DARK GLASSES

   XVIII THE HOSTAGES

     XIX CANTON CHARLIE'S

      XX HOME FLIGHT



THE CAVES OF FEAR



CHAPTER I

Changes at Spindrift


The sounds of hammer and saw had disturbed Spindrift Island for several
days, and Rick Brant was having a hard time getting used to it. The
noise didn't bother him. It was the idea behind the noise--the idea that
the close fellowship of the famous island was about to be intruded upon
by strangers.

He sat in a comfortable chair on the front porch of the big Brant house
and stared morosely at the Atlantic. He was a tall, athletic boy with
brown hair and eyes and a face that was usually pleasant.

"What's it going to be like with a mob of strangers galloping all over
the place?" he demanded.

Don Scott grinned lazily from the depths of his armchair. He was a husky
youth, perhaps an inch taller than Rick, with black hair and dark eyes.
"Since when do five people make a mob?" he inquired. "Besides, I think
adding more scientists to the staff is a good thing. So does Dad."

"I know it," Rick returned gloomily. "The others do, too. I'm a
downtrodden minority. No one sympathizes with me."

Scotty shook his head sadly. "Poor old Rick. Seriously, I don't get it.
You should be cheering the loudest. Think of what it means, pal! More
fields of science to explore, including one I never heard of before.
Maybe more expeditions, of different kinds than the ones we've been on
up to now."

"That's what I'm thinking about," Rick returned.

"Then why the gloom?"

"Because..." Rick stopped as the phone rang in the house.

Scotty got to his feet quickly. "I'll get it. Mom and Dad are down
watching the builders."

Rick smiled as Scotty went into the house. It pleased him to have Scotty
call Mr. and Mrs. Brant "Mom and Dad." It was a symbol of Scotty's
permanence in the family. No one had ever questioned Scotty's membership
in the Spindrift tribe since the day when the scrappy ex-Marine had
rescued Rick from a gang of thugs bent on destroying the Island
Foundation's moon rocket, and it was pleasant to think of Scotty as a
permanent brother. The two of them had been through some tight places
together and they were closer friends than brothers usually are. Like
Rick, Scotty was listed on the membership rolls of the Spindrift
Foundation as a junior technician.

Hartson W. Brant was listed as president, but it was Rick's pride that
he and Scotty had earned places because of their own worth, and not
because of their relationship with the scientist. However, their
abilities were not the same. Because of Rick's interest in science,
particularly electronics, he had become expert in intricate wiring and
he was rapidly learning about the design of equipment. Scotty's talent
was in the mechanical field. He could repair machinery and he was a whiz
with engines.

Thinking about work in the lab reminded Rick that he had an unfinished
project of his own on his workbench upstairs. He was half out of his
chair, determined to go upstairs and put the rest of the afternoon to
good use, when Scotty called.

"Rick! Hurry up."

He ran into the library and found Scotty holding the phone. "Here's a
funny one, Rick. The Whiteside telegraph office has a cable for you, but
they won't read it over the phone because it's all numbers. And it's
from Chahda."

Chahda, the Hindu boy who had been like a member of the family since he
joined a Spindrift expedition in Bombay, was back home in India. He had
left the boys in New Caledonia after a recent adventure in order to
visit his family.

"I'd better talk to them," Rick said. "Who's on the wire?"

"Bill Martin."

Rick took the phone. "Bill? This is Rick. What's up?"

"Got a cable addressed to you," Bill answered. "I'd rather not try to
read it over the phone because it's all numbers. Can you or Scotty pick
it up?"

"Where's it from?" Rick asked.

"Singapore. And it's signed by your Indian friend."

Singapore! What on earth was Chahda doing in Singapore? Rick couldn't
guess. "Bill, what kind of numbers are they?"

"Groups. Seven figures in each group. If you ask me, it's some kind of
code."

Rick thought quickly. "Barby's in Whiteside, Bill. She went over to a
movie right after lunch, and she should just about be getting out. You
can get her next door at the Sugar Shop, because she always stops in
there for a fudge sundae after the show. If she's already gone, phone
the boat landing. You ought to catch her one place or the other."

"I'll try," Bill promised. "If I don't catch her, I'll call you back."

"Thanks a million." Rick restored the phone to its cradle and looked at
Scotty. "What do you make of that?"

Scotty shrugged. "It beats me. I didn't know Chahda was planning to
leave Bombay. If it comes to that, I didn't know he knew anything about
codes."

"Neither did I," Rick agreed. "Remember he said something about a job in
his last letter? There was something secret about it he couldn't tell
us. Maybe that's why he's in Singapore."

"Could be. Anyway, we won't know for sure until we get the cable and
decipher it. If we _can_ decipher it, that is."

"We'll be able to," Rick said confidently. "He wouldn't send us one we
couldn't break."

Scotty nodded. "I hope you're right. Well, let's go back and get lazy
again."

"Not me." Rick started for the stairs. "I'm going to stop loafing and
get busy. The lenses for the camera arrived a week ago and I haven't
even looked at them."

"I'll go with you. I got some questions about these new people maybe you
can answer."

Upstairs in Rick's bedroom, Scotty sat down in the old leather armchair
while Rick opened up the doors that concealed his workbench. On the
bench was a camera with an odd-looking searchlight and telescope
attached. The searchlight gave off invisible infrared rays instead of
ordinary light, and the telescope was equipped with special lenses in
order to pick up the infrared. When the camera was loaded with special
film, it could take pictures in total darkness, provided the subject was
within range of the infrared light rays.

The camera had played a major part in solving the mystery of _Smugglers'
Reef_. With the evidence collected from Rick's pictures, the police had
broken up a ring of gunrunners. But Rick still was not satisfied with
the camera. He was always striving to find the simplest way of doing a
thing.

This time, he was planning to eliminate both the spring-driven dynamo
that powered the searchlight, and the infrared telescope. A new-type
battery in a small metal case already had been mounted under the camera,
far enough to one side so it wouldn't interfere with the tripod mount.
The battery would give ten hours of service, and it could be replaced in
a moment with a spare carried in the pocket.

To take the place of the telescope, Rick had ordered lenses made of the
special glass that could "see" infrared. He intended to put the lenses
in ordinary sunglasses frames, restore the regular view finder to the
camera, and turn the telescope over to Scotty. By using the eyeglasses
with special lenses he could see whatever the infrared searchlight was
lighting up without the need of looking through the special telescope.
Using the glasses and searchlight on the camera together, he could see
perfectly in the darkness, and he could take movies, too, if he wanted
to.

He went to work removing the telescope.

"I've checked," Scotty said. "That 'scope will fit the mount on my rifle
with no changes."

Scotty already had a telescopic sight on his rifle, and the telescope
from the infrared unit could be put in its place with a simple turn of a
screw. The infrared 'scope and light originally had been designed for a
rifle to be used by soldiers at night. Rick had simply adapted the unit
to his own needs.

"We can get in some night skunk hunting," Scotty said. "You put the
infrared on 'em and take their pictures and I'll sight in through the
special 'scope and shoot 'em."

Rick slipped the telescope out of its mount and handed it to Scotty. "If
there's one thing I don't need," he said, "it's a dead skunk. Couldn't
we hunt prairie moose instead?"

"What's a prairie moose?" Scotty demanded.

"A field mouse with horns."

Scotty groaned. "All right, scientist. Let's get serious and see if you
can answer this one. We have an archeologist, a naturalist, and a
cyberneticist coming. I think I know what the first two are, but what in
the name of a blue baboon is a cyberneticist?"

Rick put the camera view finder into place and began to adjust it. "A
specialist in cybernetics," he said.

Scotty waved his arms. "Now I know!" he exclaimed triumphantly. "Any
idiot knows what cybernetics is. Or what they are. Ten cents apiece at
any hardware counter. No family should be without a handy-dandy
cybernetic!"

Rick chuckled. "All right. Cybernetics is a combined study of machines
and the human nervous system. It's trying to figure out how machines and
humans are related. I don't know much about it myself, but I do know
this: the big electronic calculators that do problems in a few hours
that it would take humans hundreds of years to finish were the result of
cybernetics."

"The big brains!" Scotty looked awed. "I've read about them. And to
think we're going to have that kind of expert here!"

"With his wife and two kids," Rick added. "I wonder how Huggins will
like a crowd of kids trampling through his garden!"

Scotty laughed outright. "Here we go again! Listen, Rick, start making
sense. How can twins less than a year old trample anyone's garden?"

Rick didn't try to answer. He finished the adjustment on the camera and
put it back on the shelf, then started to work replacing the lenses in
an old pair of sunglasses with the special ones he had ordered. After a
moment, he asked, "Scotty, how would you like it if an expedition left
Spindrift and we weren't with it?"

Scotty stared. "My sainted aunt! Is that's what's been bothering you?"

Rick admitted it. He knew where he stood with the old gang, Hartson
Brant, Hobart Zircon, Julius Weiss, and John Gordon. He was far from
sure of how the new staff members would look on him and Scotty. He had
learned that some scientists had little patience with people who were
unfamiliar with their special fields, and he and Scotty were pretty
ignorant about the new sciences that would be represented. That was his
only reason for objecting when his father had decided to enlarge the
staff.

"I can see it now," he said. "The Foundation will be planning an
expedition, maybe to be headed by this new naturalist, and we'll be on
the outside looking in. And why? Because Dr. Howard Shannon prefers not
to be bothered by a couple of kids who wouldn't know one bug from
another."

"You're crossing bridges before you come to 'em," Scotty pointed out.
"For all you know, all three of these new scientists might be perfectly
swell gents, like Zircon, Weiss, and Gordon. Why borrow trouble in
advance?"

"I suppose you're right," Rick had to agree. "But I still can't help
thinking about it."

"Think all you like," Scotty said generously. "Me, I'm going to put my
little gray brain cells to work on Chahda's cable. Aren't you all fired
up with curiosity?"

Rick started to say he was, but no reply was necessary because just then
he heard the sound of the motorboat engine for which his ears had been
attuned. He put down the sunglasses and ran for the door. Scotty had
heard the engine, too, and was halfway down the hall.

It had to be Barby, Rick was sure. The other motorboat--the island had
two--was tied up at the pier, and they weren't expecting any visitors.
The builders had their own boat, a powered barge, anchored off Pirate's
Field.

The boys ran out on the front porch and around the house, then down the
long flight of stairs that led to the cove where the motorboat landing
was located.

It was Barby, sure enough, and she had the cable! She waved it wildly,
then gunned the boat around neatly so that it slid into the dock. Scotty
grabbed the bow line and made fast while Rick jumped for the stern line
and slipped it around a cleat on the landing.

Barby cut the engine and jumped to the dock, a slim, pretty girl, her
face flushed with excitement. "It's from Chahda," she said breathlessly,
"and it's in code!"

"We know," Scotty said. "Here, let's take a look at it."

Barby handed it to him. He scanned it wordlessly, then handed it to
Rick. "Son, we'll be doing right well if we make any sense out of that!"

"He wouldn't send us anything in a code we couldn't read," Rick
objected. "Let's see it. It can't be too hard."

But in the next moment he changed his mind. His lips pursed in a low
whistle. This was the cable:

    RICK BRANT
    SPINDRIFT ISLAND
    NEW JERSEY, U.S.A.

    5213039  6231581  1219456  2768612  2144644  9123299
    3970731  6017747  1044914  3327116  6074193  4399693
    0531612  1330552  3047171  3193986  8128912  7011716
    0762878  3377335  3831075  5371011  3552684  3012963
    3532456  8337373  9104476  1605588  2540551  2826677
    9513148  3189710  4811223  5202998  5912492  3432174
    3302710  7072010  1510108  4423007  3331954  7893623

    L. CHAHDA



CHAPTER II

The Cipher Message


Barby, Rick, and Scotty were in the library when Hartson Brant walked
in. They were reduced to the point of staring at each other helplessly
because of the magnitude of the task that confronted them.

The famous scientist, who looked like an older version of his son,
greeted them with a smile. "What is this, a meeting of the Silent Three?
I can't ever remember finding you all together when one of you wasn't
talking."

Rick handed him the cable. "What do you make of that, Dad?"

Hartson Brant scanned it quickly. "From Chahda, in Singapore, and in
cipher. Am I supposed to gather that you don't have the key to the
cipher?"

"That's right," Scotty said. He held up a heavy volume called
_Cryptography for the Student_. It was the only book on the subject in
the scientist's library. "We've been going through this, trying to find
some kind of clue. Honest, it's impossible."

"There are so many codes and ciphers," Barby added. "Dozens. And it says
some of them can only be broken by days of work, by experts."

"There's not an expert in the house, either," Rick concluded. "I didn't
think, when Bill called us up about it, that Chahda would use a code we
couldn't figure out, but I didn't expect a page like that."

Hartson Brant read through the cable again. "How do you know you can't
figure it out? Perhaps a little reasoning will clear the air. Chahda
must have put a key in the message somewhere. How about this 'L' in
front of his name?"

"That's right," Barby said excitedly. "That must mean something, because
his name is Chahda Sundararaman. There isn't an L in it anywhere."

The scientist handed the cable back to Rick. "I'm about as curious as I
can get," he said, "but I refuse to think any more about it until you
hand me the clear version. I agree that Chahda wouldn't send a code you
couldn't solve, so my advice is put the code book away. You won't need
it, I'm sure. This isn't any code you'll find in there."

He started out of the room, then paused at the door, his eyes twinkling.
"Will you have dinner at the table with us, or shall I ask mother to
break out some emergency rations so you can stay on the job?"

"We'll eat with the family," Scotty replied. "We can keep on thinking
while we eat, can't we?"

Rick watched his father wink at Barby, then walk toward the kitchen.
"Dad's right," he announced. "He must be. So let's put the book back and
start figuring this out. The answer probably is easy as pie once we find
the key."

"How about starting with that odd letter?" Scotty asked. "That has to
mean something."

"L is the twelfth letter in the alphabet," Barby offered. "Does that
mean anything?"

Rick shook his head. "Not to me. But let's start from there, anyway.
Maybe the twelfth group of numbers has a clue."

He counted rapidly across the number groups. "That group is 4399693. Now
what?"

Scotty suggested, "Substitute letters for the numbers. That would make
it DCIIFIC. That doesn't mean anything."

"Maybe you counted the wrong way," Barby said thoughtfully. "Count down
the columns instead of across."

Rick did so. "That's 8337373. Substitute and it comes out ... let's
see ... HCCGCGC. Nothing there, either."

Scotty had a pad of paper and a pencil and was making idle doodles. "I'm
trying to recall. When did Chahda learn anything about codes?"

Rick thought for a moment. "He never did, that I know of," he said
finally.

Barby stood up. "Well, I'm going to shower and change before dinner,"
she announced. "But I'll keep thinking. I have an idea that talking
about it won't help much. If Dad and Rick are right about his using a
code we're sure to know, it must be staring us in the face and we're too
blind to see it."

"Good idea," Rick agreed. "Let's break this up and each think about it.
If we each search our memories, maybe we'll come up with a clue."

Barby went upstairs and Scotty retired to his favorite seat on the
porch. But Rick felt that he could think better on his feet. A glance at
his watch told him he had over an hour and a half before dinner. He
waved at Scotty and walked across the grass toward the gray stone
laboratory buildings. Professor Weiss was in his office working on some
mathematical theory he was developing. It was away over Rick's head. For
a moment he thought of posing the problem to the little professor, then
thought better of it and passed by the lab on the south side. He skirted
the woods and crossed Pirate's Field, so called because local legend
said the famed woman pirate, Anne Bonney, had once landed there with her
gang of cutthroats. He paused for a moment and studied the fused sand
left by the terrific heat when the first moon rocket was launched, but
the barren patch gave him no inspiration.

Staying on the shore path, he walked slowly toward the back of the
island and presently came out at the tidal flats. The tide was out,
leaving the rocks exposed. He sat down at the edge of the low bluff
above the flats and stared into the patches of water.

It was a hard job, trying to recall every detail of his friendship with
the little Hindu boy, but he tried. It had started in Bombay when Rick
and Scotty were on their way to Tibet with Weiss and Zircon to set up
the radar relay station for message transmission via the moon. When
their equipment was stolen, it was Chahda who took the lead in finding
it again. They had been amused by the beggar boy who had educated
himself with an old copy of _The World Almanac_. His ability to quote
anything from the "Alm-in-ack," as he called it, in English that was
sometimes pretty funny, was really astonishing. Then, at the Lost City,
he had more than proved his courage and loyalty, and the Spindrifters
had sponsored his visit to America as a reward.

For a while Chahda had attended school in America, then he had gone to
the Pacific with the Spindrift expedition to Kwangara Island. After
salvaging the remains of an ancient temple from one hundred fathoms of
water--not to mention the treasure that was found--the Spindrifters had
returned home. But Chahda had elected to remain in Hawaii with Professor
Warren of the Pacific Ethnographic Society. Later, he had gone with the
Warren scientific expedition to the South Seas, and Barby, Rick, and
Scotty had joined the party in New Caledonia. After completing part of
the expedition's work, the trawler _Tarpon_ had returned to New
Caledonia where the young people had solved the mystery of _The Phantom
Shark_. When the three Spindrifters returned home, Chahda had taken air
passage to Bombay to see his family.

"I can't remember all we talked about," Rick muttered to himself. "We
talked about everything and anything. Except codes. I can't remember
that we ever talked about codes."

He got up, noticing that the crew of builders were in their barge,
returning to the mainland for the night. They were trucking materials to
a point on the shore near Spindrift, using an old wood road, then taking
the stuff the rest of the way by barge.

It was getting on to dinnertime. He took the woods path back, passing by
the new cottages. They were nearing completion, the outsides already
finished. Beyond the cottages was the farm run by the Huggins family.
Mr. Huggins was just herding the island's milk cows into the barn for
milking.

Rick kicked at a near-by tree. "Either I'm dumb or it isn't as simple as
we think it ought to be," he said aloud, then went on into the house.

       *       *       *       *       *

Scotty and Barby had done no better. They gathered at the family table
with long faces and Barby placed the disturbing cable in the middle of
the table as a centerpiece.

"If we look at it long enough, maybe we'll get inspiration," she said.

Professor Julius Weiss, the only one of the three staff scientists who
was at home at the moment, picked up the cable and examined it.

"A cipher, eh?" He adjusted his glasses. "It certainly looks
complicated."

"Any ideas?" Rick asked hopefully.

The little mathematician shook his head. "No, Rick. I could give you the
cube root of the square of the sum of the numbers, or anything like
that, but I'm afraid I wouldn't even know how to start breaking the
code." He added, "John probably could. He had some experience with codes
while in the Navy, I believe."

John was Professor John Gordon. He was on an extended trip to New
Mexico, serving as a consultant to the Navy's guided missiles projects.
The third scientist, Professor Hobart Zircon, was giving a five-week
series of lectures in nuclear physics at Yale.

"I'm afraid Professor Gordon is too far away to help us on this," Rick
said.

Mrs. Brant came in, bringing a heavily laden dish of fresh corn on the
cob. Behind her trotted a shaggy little dog.

Rick snapped his fingers. "Here, Diz."

Dismal ran over and barked at his young master, then he rolled over on
his back and played dead, his only trick. Rick grinned. "Did you bring
him along as an adviser, Mom? I'll bet he'd be as good at solving this
as any of us."

Mrs. Brant smiled. "From what your father told me, I think he might at
that. But why all the long faces? I think it's exciting getting a code
message from Chahda. Why, this is the first time we've had a code
problem on the island since the moon rocket."

Mrs. Brant couldn't have caused a more sudden reaction had she tossed a
lighted firecracker into the middle of the roast.

Barby knocked over her water glass.

Scotty gasped, "Great grasshoppers! A book code!"

Rick strangled on a sip of milk, and when he could get his breath again,
he ran around the table to his mother, kissed her soundly and lifted her
hand high in token of victory. "The new champ," he proclaimed. "Mom,
you're a genius!"

"But, Rick, I didn't say anything except...."

"You said just enough, dear," Hartson Brant replied. "We all had the
answer right in that second, because you gave us a clue. Do you remember
the code our former friend used when he was sending messages off the
island?"

The "former friend" Hartson Brant referred to was a member of the staff
who had turned renegade and helped Manfred Wessel's gang in their
efforts to build a moon rocket, using the Spindrift design, in order to
win the Stoneridge Grant of two million dollars. The traitor scientist
had used code messages to keep the gang informed of new developments on
Spindrift while he had used the cloak of false friendship to slow up the
building of the Spindrift rocket.

"He used a double code," Rick explained. "Part of it was a regular
cipher, but the first step was a book code."

"I do remember!" Mrs. Brant exclaimed. "He used a copy of that book
Hartson's friend wrote. What was it? _Psychiatry Simplified._ The code
was numbers that gave the page of the book, and the position of the word
on the page, and unless you found the book, as Rick and Scotty did, you
couldn't break the code!"

Barby jumped up in her excitement. "And I know what book Chahda was
using!"

The rest of the group spoke as one. "_The World Almanac!_"

Scotty ran for the library, Rick on his heels.

"We told him about that code," Scotty said. "Now I remember when, too.
It was right after we got back from India, when we were showing him
around the lab."

"I remember, too," Rick agreed. "We were telling him how the gang used
my plane, with me flying it, to smuggle their coded messages, and he
asked us about it because he had never heard of codes before!"

They reached the shelf that held the _Almanac_ and stopped short.
Because of the year-to-year news summaries in the famous annual, Hartson
Brant had kept each edition as a reference source. There were over a
dozen of them on the shelf.

"They're all different," Rick said. "The pages change each year. Which
one did he use?"

Scotty's forehead furrowed. "Which one did he memorize? It was an old
one, but I can't remember the date."

"Got it," Rick said. "Remember the letter L? The twelfth letter of the
alphabet. It must be the 1912 edition."

Scotty surveyed the shelf. "Which we don't have," he said.

Rick groaned. "No!"

Hartson Brant called from the dining room. "Haven't you solved that
cipher yet?"

The boys walked dejectedly back to join the others. Rick explained that
the right volume was missing. The Spindrift files just didn't go back
that far.

"Sit down and eat your dinner," Hartson Brant said. He sliced roast for
them, his eyes thoughtful. "Something's wrong with your reasoning," he
said, as he filled Rick's plate. "Would Chahda have a 1912 edition with
him in Singapore? I doubt it. More likely he'd have a more recent one."

"But the letter L has to mean something," Barby protested.

"What could it mean but twelve?" Rick asked, and the answer struck him
before the words were out. He shouted, "I know! It could mean fifty! L
is the Roman numeral fifty."

Barby clapped her hands. Scotty reached over and pounded Rick on the
back.

"That's it," Hartson Brant said approvingly. "I'll make a wager on it.
Chahda used the 1950 edition."

Rick pushed back his chair, but the scientist's voice stopped him.

"Let's rest on our laurels, Rick. Finish dinner first, then we'll all
retire to the library and work it out."

Because they were burning with impatience, the three younger members of
the Spindrift family did not enjoy the meal, but they made a pretense of
eating. Then, an eternity later, Hartson Brant took the last sip of his
coffee and grinned at Rick. "Shall we get to it?"

"Shall we!" Barby led the way, holding the cable high.

The first part was easy. Since most pages in the _Almanac_ had three
numbers, they assumed that the first three numbers in each code group
referred to the page. Similarly, they assumed that the second two
numbers referred to the line. That left two numbers for the position of
the word on the line.

With nervous fingers Rick turned to Page 521 of the 1950 edition and
counted down 30 lines. He hesitated over the subtitles, then decided to
count them too. At the proper line, he looked up at Scotty and Barby who
were watching over his shoulder.

"But there are two columns."

"Don't worry about the columns," Scotty advised. "I don't think Chahda
would pay any attention to the columns, because it would mean extra
numbers in each group. Count right across and don't pay any attention to
the dividing line."

Rick did so. "It doesn't come out right," he complained. "The number is
39, but there are only 17 words on the whole line."

Barby sighed. "Maybe we're wrong all the way around."

"I don't think so," Hartson Brant said. He was sitting in a comfortable
chair, smoking an after-dinner pipe. "The logic of the thing appeals to
me. Do you suppose Chahda would know about nulls?"

"What's a null?" Scotty asked.

"In cryptography it's a number, or letter, thrown in for the sake of
appearance, or to confuse."

"Chahda might know," Rick said. "That brown head of his is crammed full
of more odd chunks of information than you could imagine. But if there's
a null in this, which figure is it?"

"Try it both ways," Barby urged. "Here, I'll do it." She counted across
the line. "The third word is 'seventeen.'" She wrote it down. "The ninth
word is 'come.'"

"Could be either," Scotty mused. "But 'come' sounds more likely. Let's
try the next group."

That was 6231581. Rick turned to Page 623 and counted down 15 lines,
including the title. However, he didn't count the page heading. The
heading was on the same line as the page number. Both were above a line
drawn across the top of the page, and it seemed sensible to start below
the line.

"There aren't 81 words on the lines," he said. "So that means another
null, maybe. The first word is 'both' and the eighth word is 'may.'"

Barby wrote them down. "It all makes sense," she pointed out. "It could
be, 'Seventeen may,' or 'come both.'"

"Keep going," Scotty urged. "Try another one."

The third group gave them a choice of "Cheyenne," which seemed unlikely,
or "bad."

"He couldn't be talking about Cheyenne," Rick said. "The word must be
'bad.' That means the first figure of the pair is the null, because it's
the second figure that stands for 'bad.'"

"Sounds reasonable," Scotty agreed. "Keep plugging."

So far, the probable words were: _Come both bad._

Page 276 in the fourth group turned out to be a table of atomic weights.
Line 86 was the element tantalum. If the first figure of the last pair
was assumed to be a null, the word was the symbol for tantalum: "Ta."

Rick stared at it. "Something's wrong. This doesn't make sense."

Barby asked impatiently, "How do we know?"

Rick yielded and moved to the next group. It gave the word "rubles."
"That's Russian money," he said.

The trio looked at it in bewilderment, then Scotty suddenly let out a
yell of laughter. "I've got it! Can't you see? 'Ta' and 'rubles' go
together! 'Tarubles.' Troubles!"

Then they were all howling with joy. Leave it to Chahda to dream up
something like that, Rick thought. So far, the message made sense. _Come
both, bad troubles._

He turned the pages and counted feverishly. The sixth group gave "am,"
the seventh "in."

The eighth group gave the message an ominous tone.

_Come both. Bad troubles. Am in danger._

The scientists and Mrs. Brant were looking over Rick's shoulder now,
too.

The ninth group stopped them for a moment because the pair of figures
standing for the word was 14. If the figure 1 was a null, the word was
"the." But there were more than 14 words in the line, and the 14th was
"my."

Rick looked at the faces around him. "I think it's 'my' because he must
have had a reason for using nulls. If I were making up the code, I'd use
them because sometimes there are enough words in a line so you need two
figures and sometimes not. But you always have to put down two figures
so the groups will be even."

"Good thinking," Rick's father complimented him. "Go ahead on that
basis. But hurry up. The suspense is awful."

There was a chorus of agreements.

The next word was "boss."

"He was working, then," Scotty guessed. "That must be it, if he has a
boss."

Rick hurried to the next group. It produced "Carl." Page 439, the 96th
line, gave "Bradley." Then the boss's name was Carl Bradley.

Hartson Brant gave a muffled exclamation. Scotty turned quickly. "Do you
know that name, Dad?"

"Yes. But let's get the rest of the message. Quickly, Rick."

The words appeared in rapid succession, with a pause now and then to
solve a new difficulty. Once, the lines across the columns were not even
and a ruler had to be laid across to find the word. Again, a null
appeared as the first number in the page group. Chahda had used it
because the page was 51 and he needed a third figure to round out the
group. That was easy to spot because the group read 951 and the book had
only 912 pages.

In the last series of groups Rick came across another double word like
"tarubles." This time, "be" and "ware" combined to make "beware." Then,
the very last word stopped them for a moment. It was "umbra."

"What's that?" Scotty asked.

"The shadow cast by the moon during an eclipse of the sun," Julius Weiss
answered. "Or part of it, rather. There are two shadows. The umbra and
the penumbra."

Barby ran for a dictionary and leafed through the pages quickly. "I have
it," she said. "Listen. It's from the Latin for 'shadow,' and it means
'a shade or shadow.'"

"Shadow it is," Rick said, and wrote it down. Then, slowly, he read the
full message to the serious group around him.

     COME BOTH. BAD TROUBLES. AM IN DANGER. MY BOSS, CARL BRADLEY,
     DISAPPEARED. GOVERNMENT WILL ASK SCIENTIFIC FATHER DO SPECIAL WORK.
     MUST TAKE. GET JOBS, MEET ME HONG KONG GOLDEN MOUSE. WATCH CHINESE
     WITH GLASS EYE, HE DANGEROUS. AND BEWARE LONG SHADOW.



CHAPTER III

Heavy Water


Hartson Brant walked swiftly to the telephone and picked it up.

"What's the matter, Dad?" Rick asked quickly. The scientist had a
strange look on his face.

"Give me the telegraph office," Hartson Brant said. He put his hand over
the mouthpiece. "I'll tell you in a moment. I want to get a wire off
immediately." He spoke into the phone again. "Western Union? This is
Spindrift, Brant speaking. I want to send a straight telegram. Yes. To
Steven Ames."

Rick gasped. Steve Ames was the young intelligence officer of JANIG, the
secret Army-Navy group charged with protecting the security of American
government secrets. The Spindrift group of scientists had worked with
Steve in solving _The Whispering Box Mystery_.

Scotty's fingers bit into Rick's arm.

Hartson Brant gave the address. "Here's the message. 'Have reconsidered
your request basis of new information just received here. Urge you come
or phone at once.' That's it. Sign it 'Brant, Spindrift.' Yes. Charge to
this number."

He waited until the telegraph office had read back the message, then
hung up and turned to the waiting group.

"Three days ago I had a phone call from Steve Ames. He asked if I could
undertake a special job for the government that would require me to go
overseas at once for an indefinite time. I was forced to decline because
obviously I can't leave now with these staff changes about to take
place."

The scientist knocked the ashes out of his pipe, his face thoughtful.

"Steve wouldn't take no for an answer. He insisted that the job was of
the utmost importance, and he added that it concerned an old college
chum of mine." He paused. "His name is Carl Bradley."

Rick's eyes met Scotty's.

"He said it was an urgent job, but that he would give me a few days to
think it over, to see if I couldn't rearrange my affairs in some way. I
assured him it was no use, that I couldn't possibly leave, but he said
to take until Saturday to consider it. That's tomorrow."

Rick whistled. "Some timing."

"It's a lot more than mere coincidence," Hartson Brant said. "But I
don't know any more about it than what I've told you."

"Who is Carl Bradley?" Weiss asked.

"I'm surprised you haven't heard of him, Julius. He has a considerable
reputation as an ethnologist. He and Paul Warren and I were in school
together. We lost track of him for a while, then he wrote from China. He
had spent several years inland, living with the Chinese, as one of them.
He produced some immensely valuable studies. Those, and his rather
remarkable ability to speak and act like a Chinese earned him the
nickname of 'Chinese Bradley.' He had lived most of his life since
school in one part of Asia or another. But I'm sure I can't guess what
his connection is with this special job of Steve's, or how he happened
to become Chahda's boss."

"Or why he's missing," Barby added.

The cable had created a mystery that demanded a solution, but no amount
of discussion answered the questions it raised. Finally, Mrs. Brant
broke up the debate by pointedly remarking on the lateness of the hour.
Reluctantly, the family started for bed.

As Rick undressed, he continued the discussion through the door
connecting his room and Scotty's. "Chahda's pretty sure we'll hurry to
Hong Kong."

"Is he wrong?" Scotty demanded.

"I don't know," Rick said. "It depends on a lot of things. We can't go
unless we get jobs, and Steve evidently didn't say anything to Dad about
the rest of the staff, including us."

"Dad hasn't even said he'll go," Scotty reminded.

"Doesn't saying he has reconsidered mean that he'll go?"

"Could be. Or maybe it just means he's willing to talk some more about
it. We should have pinned him down."

"We will," Rick said. "In the morning."

He lay awake for long hours, staring into the darkness and trying to
piece together Chahda's references to a golden mouse, a Chinese with a
glass eye, and a long shadow. It was no use. But there was no mistaking
the urgency of his friend's plea.

Where was Chahda now? At a guess, somewhere between Singapore and Hong
Kong. But whether by land or sea or air, Rick couldn't imagine. Nor
could he even venture a wild guess at what kind of danger Chahda faced.

After a long time he fell asleep, but it was fitful sleep broken by
frequent awakenings.

In the morning, the discussion resumed over breakfast, bringing forth
wild speculations from Barby. Rick had to grin at her flights of fancy.

"One thing seems sure," Scotty offered. "Chahda was in a big hurry."

"What makes you think so?" Mrs. Brant asked. "Barby! Please stop feeding
Dismal at the table."

Dismal turned beseeching eyes to Rick in a plea for moral support, but
his young master was listening to Scotty.

"The words he used. Like putting together an atomic symbol and Russian
money to make 'troubles,' and using 'umbra' instead of shadow. I'm sure
in a big book like _The World Almanac_ troubles and shadows are
mentioned somewhere. But he didn't have time to search. He took the
first possibilities that came along."

Rick nodded approval. "That figures. But why didn't he have time?"

Scotty shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe better."

Julius Weiss, who had tired of the discussion and started to the lab,
ran back into the house. "There's a plane heading this way," he
announced. "I'm sure it's coming here, because it's down pretty low."

The conversation ended abruptly. Rick and Scotty were first out on the
lawn. The engine noise of the plane was loud.

Rick saw it first, a sleek, four-place cabin job, circling wide out over
the water, losing altitude. In a few moments it banked sharply behind
the lab building, straightened out, and cut the gun. Rick was running
toward the end of the grass strip even before the plane settled smoothly
to the ground.

"Steve Ames," he said to himself. "I'll bet it is." The JANIG officer
had wasted no time!

Sure enough, Steve was the first out of the plane. Rick saw that he was
the only passenger. The pilot got out then, and Rick recognized him as
one of the JANIG operatives who had chased the Whispering Box gang
across Washington.

Steve and Rick shook hands, grinning at each other, then Rick greeted
Mike, the pilot.

"Didn't think we'd be needing Spindrift again so soon," Steve said. He
walked to meet the others and shook hands all around. "Let's get busy,"
he said to Hartson Brant.

Rick, Scotty, and Barby followed the two into the library. Mrs. Brant
took the pilot into the dining room for coffee while Professor Weiss
excused himself and went on to the laboratory. His apparent lack of
interest would have amazed anyone who didn't know him, but Rick knew
that when Julius Weiss was wrapped up in one of his theoretical math
problems, nothing else on earth could find room in his mind.

Steve looked at the scientist. "What caused you to reconsider?"

"This." Hartson Brant handed him the translation of Chahda's cable, then
the original. "We broke the code last night. It was a book code, using
_The World Almanac_. Chahda knew we'd be able to puzzle it out."

Steve scanned the number groups briefly. "Clever," he commented. He read
through the clear copy twice, and his jaw tightened. "This explains
something that has puzzled me."

"A good thing," Rick said. "Because all we got was the puzzlement. No
explanations."

Steve tapped the cable thoughtfully. "I hate to ask you to tackle this
job, but you must have some ideas about it or you wouldn't have sent
that wire."

Hartson Brant nodded. "I explained my situation to you on the phone when
you called a few days ago. The situation hasn't changed, but I must
admit this cable from Chahda puts a new light on the matter. That boy is
a member of the family."

"Then you'll go?"

"I don't want to, quite frankly. I will if there is no alternative. I
lost a lot of sleep last night making that decision. But first, I want
to propose that some member of my staff go in my stead."

Steve walked to the desk and perched on its edge. "Which one?"

"You know them all. You also know their specialties. Which of them would
fit your requirements best?"

"Zircon. He's a nuclear physicist."

Rick held his breath. Steve was continuing:

"Chahda urges Rick and Scotty to get jobs, too. I hadn't considered
that, but it's not a bad idea."

Rick closed his eyes and let out his breath in a sigh of relief. Scotty
nudged him.

Hartson Brant asked, "Then you will consider Zircon as my substitute?
Always on condition that he will go, of course."

Steve nodded. "I'd prefer you, but I'll take Zircon, if I can make a
condition of my own, and that is that you'll fly to the Far East on a
moment's notice if he and the boys can't handle it."

Rick looked at his father anxiously. Hartson Brant had not given his
permission for them to make a trip, but evidently it was all right. The
scientist nodded.

"I'll agree to that." He went to the telephone and picked up the
instrument. "Operator, I want to place a long-distance call."

Steve winked at the boys. Then, as Hartson Brant placed the call to
Zircon in New Haven, Connecticut, the JANIG man said, "Going to be a
couple of tourists at government expense, huh? Pretty soft."

"Maybe," Rick said, grinning. "That cable doesn't sound like anything
soft."

Steve got serious. "You two proved yourselves in Washington, so far as
I'm concerned. You can make yourselves useful, and you'll provide a good
cover for Zircon."

"What kind of cover?" Barby asked.

Steve smiled at her. "Women can't keep secrets, I'm told."

"I can," Barby retorted swiftly.

Steve held up his hand for silence. Hartson Brant had Zircon on the
line. The scientist outlined Steve's proposal in a few words, and gave
Zircon the contents of Chahda's cable. Then he listened to Zircon while
Rick fidgeted anxiously. Finally, Hartson Brant said, "All right,
Hobart. Tell your people up there that I'll take your lectures. We'll
see you later today." He hung up and nodded at Steve.

"Hobart had lectures scheduled for next week, but I can take them for
him. He'll be down this afternoon, and, he says, he'll be ready to leave
in the morning if necessary."

"Good!" Steve nodded at Barby. "Even if you can't go on the trip, you
can make yourself useful. Want to place a call to Washington for me?"

"Yes," Barby said eagerly. "Where to?"

Steve gave her the number. Then, while she was placing the call, he
said, "Now, I'll tell you what I know."

Rick's heart beat faster. Now he would learn what was behind Chahda's
cable!

"The day before I phoned here," Steve began, "my office received a
message from Carl Bradley. It was a top secret message sent to us via
the American consulate general's channels from Singapore. I'd better
explain first that Carl is a JANIG man. His knowledge of that part of
the world has made him invaluable, and he works for us secretly while
doing his routine work as an ethnologist. That is top secret information
that must never be repeated outside this room."

"You can depend on us," Hartson Brant assured him.

"I know it. To go on. His job is gathering information about persons who
show too much interest in operations within our embassies and
consulates. However, the cable we got from him wasn't quite in that
line."

Steve paused to see how Barby was getting along. She was trying to
listen to him and the operator at the same time.

"This cable," Steve continued, "said he had accidentally made a
discovery of something potentially dangerous to America. He asked for a
competent nuclear physicist, and he named you, Hartson, to be sent to
Singapore at once to check on his finding, and to locate, if possible,
the source of the stuff he had discovered. We haven't heard from him
since. From Chahda's cable, it's evident something has happened to him.
And on the basis of the cable, I think we'll send Zircon and you boys to
Hong Kong first."

Scotty put into words the question that was in Rick's mind. "What was it
that he discovered?"

Steve's lips tightened, then he said: "_Heavy water!_"



CHAPTER IV

Project X


"Heavy water!" Hartson Brant exclaimed softly.

Rick and Scotty looked at each other blankly.

And at that moment, Barby completed the connection and called to Steve.
He strode to the phone and picked it up. "Who's this? All right. Steve
Ames here. Take down these names. Hobart Zircon. Richard Brant. Donald
Scott. You'll find full data on them in the files. Prepare travel orders
and get tickets for all three to Hong Kong via the first plane leaving
New York after 7:00 p.m. tomorrow night. Arrange for a letter of credit
in the usual amount on the National City Bank of Washington, and have
the bank make arrangements with all their Far East branches. Put all
three on the pay roll at the same grades they held before. Get passports
for them with visitor's visas for the Philippines, Hong Kong,
Indo-China, Indonesia, Siam, and China. We don't know where they'll end
up. Then put all that stuff in an envelope and get it to me here at
Spindrift by special messenger ... wait, never mind that. I'll send Mike
back right away, and he can bring it to me. Now read those instructions
back."

Steve listened for a moment. "Right. Get going. What? Oh, charge the
whole thing to a new case file. Mark it Project X."

He disconnected and turned to the group. "Now," he said grimly, "let's
talk turkey."

He nodded at Rick and Scotty. "Zircon said he could leave in the
morning, if necessary. That's rushing you a little too much. So I've
given you until tomorrow night."

Rick grinned. Once things started to move with Steve Ames, they moved
strictly jet-propelled.

"What are we supposed to do?" Scotty asked.

"Find Bradley. If you can. But don't spend too much time searching.
Getting all the dope--and I mean _all_--on that heavy water is the
reason for your going out there. If you find Bradley, he can help. Maybe
Chahda can help, too. But never forget for a minute that tracking down
that heavy water is your mission."

"If we don't find Bradley, we won't know how to get started," Rick
pointed out.

Steve grunted. "No? If I believed that, I'd have gone somewhere else for
help. I came here because I knew Spindrift could give me ingenuity as
well as scientific knowledge. And you hadn't better let me down!"

"We won't let you down," Scotty assured him.

Barby chimed in indignantly, "Of course they won't."

Steve smiled. "Don't worry. I'm not afraid of their falling down on the
job. But it's a big one. I'll tell Zircon this when he comes, but you
can be thinking it over in the meantime. You're to find out who is
bringing heavy water to the Asia coast and what they're doing with it.
You're to find out where it comes from, and why it is being made. You're
to get samples and send them back here. And most important of all,
you're to locate and pinpoint for us any industrial plants you find."

Scotty scratched his head. "Fine. Only let's get back to the beginning.
What is heavy water? And why are you so excited about it?"

"I don't know, either," Barby added.

Hartson Brant looked at his son. "You do, don't you, Rick?"

"I know what it is, but I don't know why it's so important to Steve,"
Rick said. He had read a great deal about heavy water in studying
elementary physics. It had many uses in physics experiments.

"Let's see how much you know," Steve directed. "Sound off."

Rick searched his memory, trying to marshal all the facts he knew.
"Well," he began, "ordinary water is composed of oxygen and hydrogen. In
every water molecule there are two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen.
The important part, for what we're talking about, are the hydrogen
atoms. Hydrogen is the lightest element, and it has the simplest atom.
There's just one proton and one electron."

He looked at his father, waiting for a nod to tell him he was on the
right track. When the scientist nodded approval, he went on.

"That kind of hydrogen atom has a mass of one, as the scientists say.
But there are other kinds of hydrogen atoms, and they are pretty rare,
called isotopes. An isotope is just a different variety of the ordinary
kind of atom in each element. The thing that makes it different is a
change in the nucleus. Well, hydrogen has two isotopes. One kind, which
has a mass of two, is found in nature. It is called deuterium. Its
nucleus is called a deuteron. Another kind, which can be made in a
nuclear reactor, is called tritium. A little of it is found naturally
but not enough to count for much."

He took a deep breath. "I hope I know what I'm talking about."

"You're doing fine," Hartson Brant said. "Go on."

"All right. Well, heavy water is made of one atom of oxygen plus two
atoms of deuterium, which is the first isotope of hydrogen. In
chemistry, there's no difference in the way heavy water acts. You can
even drink it. In fact, people do drink it every day, because in
ordinary water there is some heavy water. I forget the exact figures,
but I think that, by weight, there are five thousand parts of ordinary
hydrogen in water and only one part of deuterium."

"That's right." Steve Ames nodded. "Five thousand to one. Now tell us
what is peculiar about all isotopes?"

Rick thought furiously and came up with what he hoped was the answer. "I
think it's that isotopes aren't as stable as the basic elements. Some
are pretty stable, but some are pretty shaky. That's why some of the
isotopes of uranium can be split wide open in a chain reaction to make
an atomic bomb, and ..."

A chill ran through him. His mouth opened. He knew! He knew why heavy
water had Steve Ames all excited. He choked:

"Hydrogen bombs!"

Scotty and Barby gasped. Steve Ames and Hartson Brant smiled.

"It's true that one of the possibilities in building a hydrogen bomb
concerns deuterium," the scientist said. "But I scarcely think that's
the case here. How about it, Steve?"

"Possible, but extremely improbable," Steve agreed. "What I'm most
interested in is a use for heavy water Rick hasn't mentioned. Know what
a nuclear reactor is, Rick?"

Rick nodded. "It's what the newspapers usually call an 'atomic pile.' We
have quite a few in this country, I think. The Atomic Energy Commission
said quite a while ago that they used a nuclear reactor with uranium as
a fuel to make plutonium, which is the artificial element that can be
used in atomic bombs. Besides uranium itself, that is."

"That's right. What I'm interested in is the fact that heavy water can
be used as a neutron moderator in a reactor."

Rick looked blank. Steve was talking way over his head. Hartson Brant
saw his son's bewilderment and explained: "You've probably heard that
the uranium in a reactor is encased in blocks of graphite, which is
simply carbon, Rick. It prevents the neutrons from the uranium from
simply running wild. Well, heavy water can be used for the same
purpose."

"Exactly," Steve said. "So you see, I'm not afraid of the possibility of
hydrogen bombs as much as I am of the possibility that somewhere in Asia
is a nuclear reactor. Until we get international agreement on atomic
weapons, we simply have to keep track of atomic developments everywhere
for our own protection. If there's a new country going in for atomic
research, and it can build a reactor, it might also be able to build an
atomic bomb. Now, don't forget I said heavy water is a legitimate
industrial product. We certainly can't object to a nation's
manufacturing it. We wouldn't want to. But when it turns up in an odd
corner of the world, I think we'd better find out why. If it's a
peaceful reason, we'll mark it down and then forget it. If not, we'll
make a report to the United Nations."

"Why not report it right now?" Barby asked.

"Good question. The answer is, we're not sure. Remember Carl Bradley was
unsure enough to ask for help. If we got up before the UN and started
hollering and it turned out to be plain water, we'd look pretty
foolish."

"I don't even know how we'd begin," Scotty muttered. "How do you start
on a job like this?"

"You'll start by being innocent tourists," Steve said. "You and Rick are
students on a holiday, with Zircon, your uncle, as guide and tutor.
You'll be interested in a number of things, including hunting. That will
give you a good excuse for barging around the country if you have to.
But you won't be able to decide what you want to hunt." Steve grinned.
"You'll decide after you find out where you have to go. And you'd better
learn about Asiatic game animals. For instance, if the trail takes you
to Indonesia, you may want to hunt the hairy Sumatran rhinoceros. In the
Philippines, you'll hunt timarau, which are a special breed of wild
water buffalo. In China, around the coast, you can hunt tigers. In
Malaya, if the trail does take you down to Singapore, you can hunt
tapir. Same for Siam. In Indo-China you can hunt tigers. Inland in
China, toward the Tibetan border, you'd better be hunting bharals."

"That's a wonderful name," Barby said quickly. "What are they?"

"Another name for them is blue sheep," Steve told her. "They're
bluish-gray, shading to white in the under parts. The horns are unusual,
because they curve outward from the sides of the head, then down and
backward."

Hartson Brant paused in the act of filling his pipe and asked curiously,
"How do you know so much about Asiatic animals, Steve?"

Steve laughed. "Because I used the same gag once myself." He started for
the door. "Talk it over, and think up any questions you can. I won't
promise to know the answers, but I'll try. I've got to get Mike started
back to Washington to pick up that stuff."

When he had gone, Barby looked enviously at the two boys. "In my next
reincarnation," she announced, "I'm going to be a boy. I don't see why I
couldn't go, too. A girl would make the group look even less suspicious,
wouldn't it?" She scanned the three faces eagerly, then sighed. "All
right. I knew it wasn't any use."

"Never mind, towhead," Rick said. He always hated to see Barby's wistful
expression when he and Scotty were going somewhere. "Maybe next time."

"Not if next time is another job like this," Hartson Brant disagreed. He
studied his pipe stem, his forehead wrinkled thoughtfully. "I'm not
quite sure why I didn't object to Rick and Scotty going."

Rick demanded swiftly, "You're not going to object, are you, Dad?"

"No, Rick. If we hadn't been on other expeditions and in some tough
spots together, I surely would. But I know you two are able to take care
of yourselves. And so is Zircon. Only keep in mind that you may be
dealing with an entirely new breed of cats, unscrupulous men who
wouldn't hesitate to put you out of the way without a moment's
hesitation. So be careful. Be very careful. Don't take risks that aren't
essential to your job. And do what Zircon tells you to without
hesitation. He's knocked around in some pretty rough corners of the
world, and I don't know a man who is better equipped for this kind of
job, unless it's Carl Bradley."

The warning sobered Rick even more. Apart from what his father had said,
he knew it was also what the information could mean to the security of
the country that had prevented the scientist from making a single
objection to their going.

"We'll take no risks we don't have to," he promised. "We'll move as if
we were walking on eggs, Dad."

And Scotty echoed the promise.

       *       *       *       *       *

Nothing remained but to wait for Zircon and make definite plans. Steve,
who had risen early in order to get to Spindrift first thing, walked out
to the orchard with Dismal for company and stretched out under a tree
for a nap.

Rick and Scotty couldn't possibly have napped, so they went up to Rick's
room and began to pack. That took little time, since they would travel
by air. Scotty took his rifle out of its protective case and cleaned it,
then tried on the infrared telescope. He removed from the 'scope the
masking bits of cardboard Rick had used to convert it to a camera view
finder, thus making it a telescopic rifle sight once more. It fitted
perfectly.

"You taking the movie camera along?" he asked.

Rick thought it over. "Guess I will," he said finally. "Tourists are
supposed to have cameras. I'll take the movie instead of the speed
graphic. And I can take along infrared film as well as regular color
film. If anyone asks, I can say I want movies of the animals you and
Zircon shoot. Then all three of us won't have to take guns."

"Better finish putting the lenses into those sunglasses frames then,"
Scotty said.

"I'll do it right now. It won't take long." A thought struck Rick. "What
will Zircon do for a rifle?"

"He'll have to borrow one, and an ordinary one won't do, either. If
we're supposed to be hunting big game, he'll need one bigger than
my .303." Scotty frowned thoughtfully. "How about Captain Douglas? He
used to be quite a hunter. You've seen the African trophies in his
office at the barracks."

Captain Douglas was commanding officer of the Whiteside State Police
Barracks, and a good friend of the boys. He and his officers had
co-operated with them in rounding up the Smugglers' Reef gang.

"Give him a phone call while I finish putting these lenses in," Rick
suggested.

"Good idea." Scotty went to phone.

More and more Rick was realizing the magnitude of the job they had
undertaken. He hoped fervently that Chahda would know something useful
in case they failed to locate Bradley.

In a moment Scotty stuck his head in the door. "I've got the captain on
the phone," he said. "He's got a .45-90 we can borrow, and, bless his
heart, he didn't ask where we were going. When can we pick it up?"

Rick thought it over. "I'll have to fly to the airport and pick up
Zircon in a little while. Tell Captain Douglas I'll buzz the barracks on
the way over. Ask if he can possibly deliver it to me at the airport. I
hate to bother him, but I won't have a car to go get it." Rick's little
cub airplane was the island's fast messenger-passenger service.

"Okay." Scotty disappeared down the hall again for a few moments and
then returned. He took a seat in the leather armchair. "He finally did
get curious. Wanted to know if we needed that caliber rifle to shoot
Jersey mosquitoes. I told him we were going on a trip and that I
couldn't say anything more about it. So he said he'd lend us the gun
only on condition that we tell him the story when we got back. I said we
would, if we could."

"He's the best," Rick said. "But he knows we've done some hush-hush work
for the government, and don't forget he's an ex-Marine. He wouldn't
embarrass us by asking too many questions."

Scotty nodded. "Wait until you see this rifle. A .45-90 is a regular
cannon. It'll knock down anything smaller than an elephant, and it'll
knock down one of those, if it hits the right spot."

"That's just Zircon's size," Rick said, grinning. The scientist was a
huge man who towered over the rest of the staff.

       *       *       *       *       *

Later, Zircon dominated the library as Steve issued final instructions.
The scientist's booming voice had phrased questions for an hour, until
even Steve looked weary.

"This winds up what I have to say," he told them. "Mike should be back
with your tickets, passports, and letter of credit in another hour. I'll
go back to Washington and issue instructions via the State Department to
all of our ambassadors and consuls in the area. They'll know what's
happening and why you're there, but no one else on their staffs will. Go
in to see each one whose country you enter. Make a lot of noise. Insist
on seeing the chief. Hell know your names and he'll do everything he
can. Bradley is supposed to check in with each embassy or consulate in
the same way. They'll be your points of contact in case he shows up
again. File reports when you can. Hand them to the ambassador or consul
of the country and no one else."

Steve stopped for a moment, then his warm grin flashed. "This is going
to be tougher than beating the Whispering Box gang. I know you'll come
back with the answers, but be sure you have whole skins when you do!"



CHAPTER V

Hong Kong


The four-engine transport had been letting down from its cruising
altitude for what seemed like an hour. Rick was watching through the
circular window for the first sign of land, and he was getting
impatient.

The trip had been a long one. It seemed to Rick that he had been sitting
in a plane for most of his life, even though they had been gone from
Spindrift for less than four days. That was because they were making no
stop-overs. At San Francisco, Honolulu, Guam, and Manila they had
stopped only long enough to refuel, or to change planes.

Scotty, in the seat next to Rick, was sound asleep. Zircon, across the
aisle, was engrossed in a book.

Rick looked up as the stewardess walked past him. She smiled and pointed
through the window on the opposite side. He caught a glimpse of
mountainous country below. Then, in a few seconds, a small island passed
underneath on his own side. They were getting close to the ground now.
He estimated their altitude at less than two thousand feet. He poked
Scotty in the ribs.

"Rise and shine, mighty hunter. We're getting ready to land."

Scotty was wide awake instantly. "About time," he muttered. "Show me
this famous Hong Kong."

"Can't yet," Rick replied. "But we've passed a couple of islands. Look,
there's another."

They were dropping rapidly now. The big plane suddenly banked, leveled,
then banked again. As they rocked up, Rick looked down into a cove,
crowded with Chinese junks. The brief glimpse sent a thrill through him,
as new scenes always did. They were the first junks he had seen outside
of pictures.

The plane banked again, the other way. Rick realized with a sudden
feeling of discomfort that they were actually weaving their way through
mountain peaks! He had heard that the approach to Hong Kong was crooked
as a corkscrew; now he knew the reports didn't exaggerate.

Zircon was leaning across the aisle. He pointed to a strip of curved
beach. "Repulse Bay," he boomed. "We're almost in." The scientist had
been to the Far East before, and he knew Hong Kong.

They were close to the top of abrupt hills. Rick saw a road curving
through the hills and valleys, then they were over water again, and the
water was dotted with modern ships as well as junks. The plane rocked
far over in a tight bank, and there was a howl as the flaps were
lowered. Rick and Scotty buckled safety belts and sat back as the plane
leveled off.

In a few moments they were collecting their luggage and walking across a
concrete apron to the customs building. Inside, a Chinese clerk, under
the supervision of a British officer, gave their effects a cursory
glance, stamped their passports, and handed them police forms to fill
out. They did so as rapidly as possible, turned them in, and left the
customs room. Outside, they picked up the bags they had checked, gave
them to a Chinese coolie, who appeared from nowhere, and followed him to
a taxi.

It was a small car of English make. Zircon looked at it with
disapproval. "Am I supposed to fit into that thing?" he demanded.

Rick hid a grin. The car wasn't much bigger than the scientist. Zircon
squeezed in gingerly, Scotty behind him. Rick got into the front seat
with the driver.

"Peninsular Hotel," Zircon directed.

"Funny," Scotty said. "I never expected to find an airport on Hong Kong.
All the pictures I've seen of it show mountains. It doesn't look as
though there were room for an airport."

"There isn't," Zircon said. "We're not on Hong Kong. This is Kowloon.
It's a peninsula jutting out from the mainland of China. However, it's a
part of the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong. We'll get to the island
itself, and to Victoria, which is the main city, by ferry-boat or
walla-walla."

"What's that?" Rick asked curiously.

"Local name for a water taxi," Zircon explained.

The taxi was leaving the airport now, but there was nothing in sight at
the moment to show that this was the Orient. The modern buildings were
of stone, brick, and concrete, and the streets were wide and clean. As
they got closer to downtown Kowloon, however, Chinese predominated, with
only a sprinkling of what were evidently Englishmen. In a short time
they pulled up in front of the Peninsular, one of the world's famous
hotels. It was an imposing structure, the lobby as vast as an auditorium
but broken up by numerous pillars, potted plants, and dusty-looking
furniture. They registered and were shown to a very large and
comfortable room with a window that opened on a fire escape.

As Zircon tipped the Chinese bearers, Rick asked them, "What time is
it?"

The chief "boy" answered, "Maybe thlee time, sor," and closed the door.

"About three?" Rick looked at Zircon and Scotty. "It's early. Let's get
started right away. I'd like to find out where and what the Golden Mouse
is."

"Good idea," Zircon agreed. He tossed a suitcase on one of the three
beds in the big room. "Let's clean up and change quickly. We'll have
time to see the consul this afternoon, too. I doubt that the consulate
closes before five o'clock."

In less than a half-hour the three of them were walking from the hotel
toward the water front. Zircon led the way. "We'll take the ferry," he
said. "It's very fast."

The ferry slip was less than a three-minute walk from the hotel, but
when they started to get tickets, they remembered that changing money
had completely slipped their minds. A scholarly looking Chinese
gentleman saw their plight and spoke to Zircon in faultless English with
a distinct Oxford accent.

"Perhaps I can be of service, sir? If you have an American dollar bill,
I can change it for you. You will need only a little money for tickets,
and there is a bank close by the ferry slip on the other side."

"You're very kind," Zircon said. "We'll accept your offer, sir. I do
have a dollar bill, I believe."

He found it and handed it to the Chinese, who counted out six Hong Kong
dollars and a few tiny paper bills that represented change. "The rate
today is six and a fraction to one," he explained.

Rick and Scotty added their thanks to Zircon's. The Chinese bowed. "A
pleasure to have been of even such small service." He smiled and
continued on his way.

"The Chinese are without a doubt the most polite of all the Eastern
peoples," Zircon said. He pushed a Hong Kong dollar through the ticket
window, got three tickets and some change in return. They pushed through
the gate and walked across the dock to the ferry.

As they did so, Rick got his first look at Hong Kong. He stared, amazed,
his mental image of an oriental city vanishing like a burst bubble.

Across the bay, a green mountain stretched like a jagged knife-edge
against the sky line. Here and there, far above the bay, were white
blocks, like granite chips, marking houses. Lower down, the city of
Victoria began. It was like marble slabs piled in an orderly array,
thinning out toward the upper side of the mountain. Down at sea level,
the buildings were thickly clustered. But they were modern buildings,
not a trace of the oriental in them.

Between the ferry and Hong Kong, the bay was crowded with water traffic.
Junks with gay sails sped noiselessly between puffing little tugs. Great
deep-water freighters were anchored, lighters at their sides taking off
cargo. Slightly to one side, the sleek line of a British cruiser was
visible, and beyond it a trio of lean, wolfish destroyers.

The ferry moved away from the pier and picked up speed. Rick and Scotty
watched the colorful panorama of vessels. Hong Kong was beautiful, Rick
thought. And it was clean, though cities of the Orient were
traditionally dirty.

Nor was his first impression changed when they reached the opposite
shore. The ferry landed them before tall, concrete buildings that shaded
clean streets. A block away they stopped to watch a three-story trolley
pass by.

"Good gosh, a skyscraper on wheels," Scotty exclaimed.

And that was just the impression it gave.

Zircon stopped to ask directions of a passing Englishman, then told the
boys, "The American Consulate is only a block away. Suppose we change
some money, then pay the consul a visit."

Rick thought quickly. "We'll need money, but why do all of us have to go
see the consul? We could split up. Scotty and I could start locating the
Golden Mouse while you're talking to him."

"He probably knows all about it," Zircon pointed out. "It must be a
prominent landmark, although I've never heard of it. Otherwise, Chahda
wouldn't have known about it."

"Unless it was a place Bradley had told him about," Scotty said.

"That's possible. At any rate, we've nothing to lose by separating for a
while. I'll go see the consul and find out what he knows. You two start
asking questions and I'll meet you in an hour right here ... no, better
still, since we'll want to eat here, I'll meet you in front of
Whiteaway-Laidlaw's Department Store. It's only a few blocks from here
and there's a good restaurant close by."

Rick's memory rang a bell. "Isn't Whiteaway-Laidlaw in Bombay?"

"Yes. But it's also here, and in most major English cities in the Far
East." The big scientist smiled. "I picked it because I was sure you'd
remember the name. I wasn't so sure you'd remember Huan Yuan See's
Restaurant."

"You were right," Scotty replied with a grin. "Well, let's get going. I
see a bank across the street. We can get our money changed there."

It took only a few moments to exchange some of their American currency
for Hong Kong dollars. The boys folded the bills, which like all English
paper money were bigger than American bills, and tucked them into their
wallets. Zircon started for the consulate with a wave of the hand and a
reminder that they would get together in an hour.

"Now what?" Scotty asked.

"Now we start asking questions," Rick told him. They had paused at the
entrance to the bank and the guard was standing near by. His turban and
neatly curled beard proclaimed him to be a Sikh, a member of the warrior
Indian caste that is scattered throughout the Far East.

"We're looking for something called the Golden Mouse," Rick said. "Can
you tell us where it is?"

The Sikh considered. Then he shook his head. "Not know of that one, sir.
Not hear."

"Maybe one of the bank officers would know," Scotty suggested. They
stepped back inside the bank and approached a thin young Britisher who
wore tweeds in spite of the heat of the day.

Rick put the question to him. The Englishman looked blank. "Golden
Mouse, you say? Dashed if I ever heard of it. Is it supposed to be a
tourist place do you know?"

"We don't know," Rick answered. "We've no idea."

The young man's face expanded in a pleased smile. "Don't suppose you'd
consider substituting a pink rabbit? We have a restaurant of that name.
Haw!"

Rick hid a grin. "Very kind of you," he said. "I'm afraid my friend and
I are allergic to rabbit fur."

With a perfectly straight face, Scotty added, "Haw!"

The young Englishman shook with laughter. "You know, that's really very
good," he said. "Allergic to rabbit fur! Very good! I'm sorry, fellows,
but I'm afraid I can't help locate your Golden Mouse. Why not try a
bobby?"

"Bobby sox or bobby pin?" Scotty asked.

The bank officer's eyebrows went up, then he smiled. "Oh, I see what you
mean. No, it's not a joke this time. Bobby is what we call policemen.
You know?"

"Thank you very much," Rick said.

"Not a bit. By the way, I can make a few inquiries of the chaps who have
been here for some time. They may know. If you have no luck, drop back."
He offered his hand. "My name is Keaton-Yeats. Ronald Keaton-Yeats."

Rick and Scotty offered their names in exchange. "We'll come back if we
can't locate it," Rick assured him.

Outside, Scotty laughed. "Haw!" he said.

Rick grinned. "That's the famous English sense of humor, I guess. He's a
good scout."

Scotty nodded his agreement. "Funny thing about these English. They do
things that seem silly to us, like wearing tweeds in bathing-suit
weather and cracking bad jokes. But when the chips are down, they can
fight like wildcats." Suddenly he pointed. "There's a policeman."

"Let's tackle him," Rick said, and led the way across the street.

The officer was evidently a lieutenant or something of the sort, because
he had impressive-looking shoulder tabs on his uniform. As they came up,
he was inspecting the papers of a small, hard-bitten character who wore
greasy dungarees and a cap black with grease and grime. Evidently the
papers were in order, for he handed them back and said curtly, "All
right, my man. But remember we'll have no doings from you or your like
in Hong Kong. If you're smart, you'll stick close to your ship."

The man muttered, "Aye aye, Orficer. That I will." He moved away.

The officer was a tall, erect man with a cropped, gray military
mustache. He saw the two boys and nodded. "Can I help you, lads?"

"Perhaps you can, sir," Rick said. "We're looking for something called
the Golden Mouse."

The officer's eyes narrowed. "Are you now?" he inquired. "And what would
you want with the Golden Mouse, if I may inquire?"

"We're to meet a friend there," Scotty said.

The tone of the officer's voice told Rick that something was wrong. He
asked, "Is something wrong with the Golden Mouse? We don't even know
what it is."

"A good thing for you not to know," the officer retorted. "You're
Americans?"

"Yes, sir," Scotty said.

"Then the Hong Kong force is responsible for seeing that you have a
pleasant and safe visit. I warn you. Keep away from the Golden Mouse."

He turned on his heel and walked off. Rick and Scotty stared after his
retreating figure, and then at each other.

"How about that?" Scotty wanted to know.

Rick frowned. "There must be something fishy about this Golden Mouse.
From the way he talks, it's a place. I wonder what kind?"

A cockney voice spoke from behind them. "Now, that's a thing I could
tell you lads, always providin' you was willin' to part with 'arf a quid
or so."

It was the man the officer had warned to stick close to his ship. He
winked at them. "Come over 'ere where that blinkin' peeler cawn't see
us." He motioned to the shadow of a hallway.

Inside, he grinned at them. "I 'eard the line o' garbage the copper was
'andin' you and I says, 'ere's a chance to do a bit o' fyvor fer a
couple o' rich Yanks. And, I says, likely they'll part with a few bob to
buy ol' Bert a bit o' tea."

Rick pulled out a couple of Hong Kong dollars. "We'll pay you. Now tell
us what the Golden Mouse is, and where it is."

Bert pocketed the notes. "As to what it is, it's a kind o' restaurant,
you might say. It 'as entertainment and food and drink, and you'll find
a few o' the lads there for company most any night. Aye, it's a fair
popular place, is the Golden Mouse." He grinned, and there was a gap
where his two front teeth should have been. "As to where it is, that's
not so easy to tell a pair what don't know 'ow to get around. But you
just get a couple rickshaws, and you say to the coolies to take you to
Canton Charlie's place. They know it, right enough."

He spat expertly at a cockroach that scuttled past. "But take a tip from
ol' Bert and don't go. Stay clear o' Canton Charlie's."

"Why?" Rick demanded.

"Never you mind why. Just stay clear. Bert's warnin' you."

"We want to know why," Scotty insisted.

Bert grinned evilly. "Right-o. The lads wants to know, and Bert's an
obligin' gent. You go to Canton Charlie's and I'll make a bet, I will.
I'll bet you'll be outside again in 'arf an hour, or maybe less."

His grin widened. "But will you know yer outside? Not you. And why? On
account of you'll be layin' in a ditch somewheres with yer throats cut.
That's why."

He pushed past and left them standing in the doorway, staring at each
other.



CHAPTER VI

The Golden Mouse


Hobart Zircon listened to Rick's report on the boys' findings, then made
an abrupt change of plans. Instead of eating in Hong Kong, they took the
ferry back to the hotel and took from their suitcases the old clothes
each had brought to wear on the trail, and to give them the look of
experienced hunters. As Steve had pointed out, only amateurs go in for
fancy togs as a rule. The experienced prefer tough, ordinary clothes
like dungarees and denim shirts.

As they unpacked, Scotty asked, "Is it safe to leave our rifles, and
Rick's camera and that scientific stuff you brought?"

He referred to some delicate equipment packed in a special case that
Zircon had brought from the Spindrift lab for investigating the heavy
water they hoped to find.

"Perfectly safe," Zircon assured him. "In reputable hotels of this sort,
the Chinese help is scrupulously honest. You could leave money lying
about and it would never be touched."

He had already reported on his conversation with the consul general.
There had been no word from Bradley, although Steve's instructions to
co-operate with the Spindrift party had arrived. The American official
had promised to get in touch with them if Bradley turned up. He had
never heard of the Golden Mouse.

"I think we had better try to get in touch with Chahda right away," the
scientist said. "So let's have a bite to eat here, then go have a look
at this Golden Mouse, or Canton Charlie's. From the description, I'd say
it is typical of a certain kind of place where toughs hang out. Each
city in the Orient has several. If we wear these old clothes, we'll be
less conspicuous."

In a short time they were in Hong Kong again. Zircon hailed three
rickshaws and they got in. "Canton Charlie's," the scientist commanded.
"Chop chop."

The rickshaw boys started off at a trot. The way led along the bay
shore, past wharves and piers, until they were out of the central part
of the city and moving into a section that was more as Rick had imagined
an oriental city to be. The streets were wide, but lined with
board-front buildings. The signs were all in Chinese, and usually
painted in gaudy colors. There were no Englishmen in sight now, nor did
they see any policemen.

It was a long way. They had left their hotel in full daylight, but dusk
had settled before the coolies finally turned off the main road. They
went into a narrow street, then turned down another and still another.
With each turn the streets narrowed and the light grew dimmer. How had
Chahda heard of a place in such a poor quarter of the city? Rick
wondered.

Presently the rickshaws drew up in a dismal corner of what was little
more than an alleyway. They were in front of a low wooden building with
windows that hadn't been cleaned in years. Above the double door was a
faded painting, illumined by a single electric light bulb. The painting
probably was supposed to represent a mouse. Once, long ago, it had
evidently been yellow. Now it was so glazed with grime that it was hard
to tell.

Rick stepped down from his rickshaw, sniffing the combined odors of
garlic, pungent sauces, filth, and stale beer. Scotty joined him, and
they waited for the scientist to take the lead.

Zircon handed some money to the coolies and ordered them to wait. Then
he motioned to the boys and led the way to the door. It opened on a
large room dimly lighted by faded Chinese lanterns that hung over
low-power bulbs. The walls were covered with a grimy paper of faded
yellow on which unskilled drawings of mice at play were clustered. The
floor was crowded with tables, each table covered with a
yellow-checkered tablecloth. So far as Rick could see, there wasn't a
clean cloth in the lot.

In front of the room was a long bar of scarred teak-wood. Behind it were
row after row of ordinary ten-cent-store water tumblers. Rick guessed
Canton Charlie's clients weren't fussy about drinking from fine crystal.

Next to one wall, a white man in rumpled, dirty dungarees was sleeping
with head down on the table. His snores were not musical. At one of the
tables near the opposite wall, a dark-skinned man in a seaman's woolen
cap sat paring his nails with a knife easily a foot long.

Zircon motioned to the boys and they sat down at one of the tables.
"It's too early for many customers, I suppose. But someone in charge
must be here." He banged on the table, then lowered his voice. "How do
you like the customer over there? A Portuguese sailor, from the look of
him."

In a moment dingy curtains parted next to the bar and a man emerged. At
a guess, he was Spanish.

"Bet he's got a knife a foot long, too, under that apron," Scotty
whispered. "He's the type."

Rick nodded. Scotty was so right! The man's heavy-lidded eyes were set
in a swarthy face whose most prominent feature was a broken nose,
flattened probably with some weapon like a hard-swung bottle. A white
scar across his chin indicated that it might have been a broken bottle.
He was medium tall, and he wore a cap that might have been white once.
An apron covered loose black Chinese shirt and trousers. Rick was glad
big Hobart Zircon was sitting next to him.

The man walked to the table and greeted them in a surprisingly soft
voice in which there was an accent Rick couldn't identify.

"You're a little early, gents. But I can take care of you. What'll you
have?"

"Chahda," Zircon said flatly.

The man's eyes narrowed. "You better have a drink and sit tight."

"Why?" Zircon asked.

"You'll see. What'll you drink?"

Zircon ignored the question. "Who are you?"

"Canton Charlie. What'll you drink?"

"What have you got?"

There was a ghost of a smile on the scarred face. "I'll fix you up." He
clapped his hands. An elderly Chinese in dirty whites shuffled out.
Canton Charlie spoke a few words of singsong Cantonese and the old man
nodded.

"Sit tight," Charlie said again, and walked away.

"Lot of fine, useful information we're getting out of this," Scotty
grumbled. "I wonder how long we'll have to sit in this flea bag?"

"Hard to say," Zircon replied. "But Charlie seemed friendly enough."

The old Chinese was shuffling across the floor with a tray that held
three tumblers of dark liquid. "Wonder what he's going to give us?" Rick
said. "Probably dragon blood."

The Chinese put the glasses down in front of them and padded off again.
Scotty picked up his glass and sniffed, and a grin split his face.
"Dragon blood, huh? Ten thousand miles from home, in the worst dive in
Hong Kong, and what do we drink? Coke!"

Rick laughed. "American civilization and the mysterious East. But it
suits me. Coke is probably the only thing in the house fit to drink."

The Portuguese finished the drink that had been in front of him, gave
his nails a last inspection, stowed his knife in a leg sheath, and left.
He hadn't even looked at them.

"He's probably gone to find a blowtorch to shave with," Zircon rumbled.
He motioned toward the door. "New customers coming."

They were the first of many. Within a half-hour the room was filled with
a strange assortment. There were British, American, French, Dutch,
Portuguese, and Filipino sailors, and men of uncertain profession who
ranged in complexion from pure Chinese to pure black. Many were
Eurasians, and of the Eurasians, a large percentage were of mixed
Chinese and Portuguese blood. Zircon reminded the boys that the
Portuguese colony of Macao was only half an afternoon's boat trip south
of Hong Kong.

By and large, Rick decided, Canton Charlie's customers were as tough a
looking bunch of pirates as he had ever seen. They applauded noisily by
banging glasses on the table as a disreputable lot of musicians appeared
and began to make the night hideous with what seemed to be a Chinese
version of a Strauss waltz. By this time, the room was so blue with
cigar and cigarette smoke and so noisy with coarse chatter in a
half-dozen tongues that it was hard to see or hear one's neighbor.

Again Rick wondered. How had Chahda ever heard of this place? He sipped
on his third coke and leaned over toward Scotty and Zircon. "Wonder
what's keeping Canton Charlie?"

Zircon shrugged expressively. "Can't do a thing but wait, Rick."

Fortunately, the wait was not much longer. A Chinese shuffled past and
dropped a folded note on the table. Before they could question him, he
had made his way among the tables and was gone.

Zircon picked up the note, glanced through it, and handed it to Scotty.
Rick read over his friend's shoulder. The note was scrawled in pencil,
as though written in haste.

"_To find the one you want, go to the end of the Street of the Three
Blind Fishermen. Go to the junk with the purple sails._"

"Let's get started," Rick said. He rose to his feet. Zircon tossed some
money on the table. The three of them made their way through the noisy
mob of rough-necks and out the door. Rick breathed deeply when they were
out in the narrow street again.

"Even with the garlic, this air smells better than what we left inside,"
Scotty said. "Why do you think Canton Charlie didn't deliver the message
himself?"

"Maybe he's not mixed up in it," Rick suggested. "Maybe he just had
orders to let someone know when we showed up."

"We'll soon know," Zircon predicted.

As the three rickshaw coolies materialized from the darkness where they
had been waiting, the Americans climbed in. Zircon asked, "You know
street called Three Blind Fishermen?"

One of the rickshaw boys nodded. "Not far. We go?"

"Yes."

The rickshaws lurched forward.

       *       *       *       *       *

Inside the Golden Mouse, Canton Charlie started for the table where the
three had been waiting. He stopped short as he saw they were no longer
there, turned on his heel, and hurried into an inner room. He spoke
quick words to a slim Chinese-Portuguese half-caste who immediately
hurried out the back door. Once in the open, the slim man ran as though
devils were after him.



CHAPTER VII

The Junk with Purple Sails


For perhaps ten minutes Rick, Scotty, and Zircon sat in the rickshaws
while the coolies pulled them through dark streets with no more noise
than the occasional creaking of a wheel or the slapping of bare feet on
the pavement.

There were houses on both sides of the streets, but only now and then
did a light show through the impenetrable darkness. Rick finally sensed
that they were near the water by a feeling of greater space around him
rather than by anything he could see. A moment later he heard the
lapping of water against a pier.

He was tense with excitement now. The first part of the journey was
coming to an end. In a few minutes they would be hearing Chahda's story.

The rickshaws drew to a stop and the coolies dropped the shafts so their
passengers could climb out. The coolie who spoke the best English asked,
hesitantly, "You pay now, sor? We no wait here, yes?"

"Very well." Zircon paid the boys' fare and his own. "I don't suppose
there's any reason to have them wait, since this is our destination.
Chahda's friends doubtless will provide a ride for the return journey."

"I don't like this," Scotty whispered. "There's something funny about
the whole business. I feel it."

"Where's the junk?" Rick demanded softly. "I can't see a thing."

"We'll wait for a bit," Zircon said quietly. "And we'll be on our guard,
just in case Scotty's intuition is right."

They waited quietly, leaning against what seemed to be a warehouse, for
what felt like five minutes but was probably only two. Then Rick heard
the mutter of voices and the splash of something moving in the water.
The sounds were followed by a bumping and scraping against the pier that
jutted into the water.

"Be ready," Zircon commanded in a whisper.

As he said it, a bull's-eye lantern made circles in the night, outlining
the high stern and bow of a junk. The lantern swung upward, revealing
the junk's sails. They were purple.

Zircon led the way down the pier to the junk. "Chahda?" he called
softly.

An accented voice answered, "Come aboard." The lantern played on the
pier's edge to guide them. Following its light, they jumped from the
pier into the litter of rope, boxes, and gear in the middle of the
uneven deck. The stench that smote their nostrils was terrible. Probably
the vessel hadn't been cleaned since it was built. Rick coughed from the
foul odor and then raised his voice. "Chahda? Where are you?"

From somewhere the same accented voice replied, "We take you to him. Sit
down and wait."

Rick turned in the direction from which the voice had come. He guessed
that the speaker was in the stern, although it was hard to tell which
was which. Then he saw a few lights along the shore change position and
knew they were moving.

For no reason, he had a sudden impulse to jump back on the pier. He took
Scotty's arm. "We're moving!"

"I know it. And I don't like it." Scotty's voice sounded grim.

Zircon, a huge bulk in the darkness, leaned close to them. His usually
booming voice was barely audible. "Stand back to back, the three of us
making a triangle. Then feel around on deck and try to find something to
use as a club. I agree with Scotty. Something is very fishy here. If
Chahda's anywhere within reach, he could have come himself. He wouldn't
just send someone."

The boys whispered agreement. They turned, so that Rick felt Scotty's
arm on his left side and Zircon's on his right. He stooped and pawed
through the clutter on the deck. His groping hand found a slender piece
of wood that he rejected at first. Then, when he failed to find anything
else, he groped around and found it again. At best, it was a poor
weapon.

They settled down to wait. The junk was just barely making headway, and
as they stood waiting, their vision cleared a little. Or perhaps distant
lights on the shore provided faint illumination. Rick could make out two
men poling the junk from the stern.

Far out on the water came the sound of a fast-moving craft of some sort,
then a searchlight probed the water briefly. From aft came a muttered
exclamation, then rapid orders in liquid Cantonese.

Scotty's elbow dug into Rick's back. "They're coming," he said tensely.

Dark figures hurtled at the three.

A flying body slammed into Rick, smashing him to the deck. He lost his
stick, but struck out with his fists. He heard Zircon roar like a
wounded bull.

Rick fought valiantly. Two men were on him, struggling to tie him with
lengths of rope. Once he felt the rope pulled across his cheek, leaving
a burning sensation. He sensed rather than heard the crashing and
shouting around him. Then he wriggled out from under his assailants and
staggered to his feet. Instantly one of the men was upon him again.

"Fall flat!" Zircon bellowed.

Rick did so, on the instant. There was the sound as of a baseball bat
smacking a steer and for an instant the deck was miraculously clear.
Zircon had found a piece of two-by-four lumber about eight feet long,
and he was swinging it like a flail.

The accented voice called, "Drop it or we shoot!"

A figure swung upright next to Rick and threw something. There was a
grunt and a crash as the man who had called went down.

"Got him," Scotty said with satisfaction.

A voice rattled orders in Cantonese. The polers from the stern advanced,
their long poles held out like lances. Zircon was their target.

Scotty whispered, "Let 'em get close. You take the left and I'll take
the right. Go under the poles."

For a heartbeat there was quiet. Rick divined the strategy. The polemen
would lunge at Zircon, then the rest would leap. He didn't know how many
there were of the enemy. He thought there must be at least seven. He
flattened out, eyes on the left poleman, ready to spring. The poles came
nearer, one was over him.

"Now," Scotty hissed.

Rick went forward, scrambling, legs driving. It was football, but
easier. His shoulder caught the poleman in the stomach, and he lifted.
The man went flying. Next to him he heard a dull thud, then he saw
Scotty stand up, looming large in the darkness.

But the rest of the crew had charged. For a moment Zircon's lumber
wreaked havoc, then he struck a part of the junk and the two-by-four
splintered. He let out a yell of rage and flung himself on the nearest
man, lifted him bodily and threw him at the others.

Yellow light pierced the darkness from the direction of the shore. A
voice screamed, "Yanks! Over the side! Swim here!"

"Get going," Zircon howled. "I'll cover you!"

Rick took heart. He ran to the side and jumped feet first. Scotty came
within a hair of landing on top of him. From overhead came cries of
rage, then another bellow from Zircon. In the next instant the scientist
plunged into the water with them.

"Swim for it," he commanded. He rose high out of the water and yelled,
"Out with those lights!"

The automobile lights that had illumined the scene blinked out. The
voice called back, "Hurry! The junk is putting about!"

Rick was swimming at his best speed, head down in a powerful crawl, but
he took time to look back over his shoulder. The junk was turning! He
knew with despair that it could run them down easily. The shore was a
long distance away. "Spread out," he called. "Then they can't get all of
us." He put his head down and cut through the water like a fish. If only
there were time to undress! But he didn't dare pause even long enough to
untie his shoes.

The swim was a nightmare. Every few moments the auto lights blinked
briefly as their unknown friend gave them a course to steer by. Rick
looked back once and the junk had straightened out and was gaining on
them. He redoubled his efforts. Scotty was even with him, but Zircon was
pulling ahead.

He heard voices close behind and cast a glance back. The junk with the
purple sails was perilously close. He drew new strength from somewhere
and forged ahead.

The swimmers had closed the distance rapidly. The next time the lights
blinked Rick could make out two figures standing next to the car. He
could hear the creaking of gear on the junk and the grunts of the
polemen, and the sounds were close! He lifted his voice in a cry for
help. "They're on top of us!"

The car lights blinked on, and held the junk in their glare. A gun fired
once from the shore. Rick saw the orange spurt. Then he heard a cry from
almost overhead and the junk veered sharply.

"Angle right," Scotty called, and Rick saw that they were almost at the
tip of the pier. He put on a last spurt, caught a pile, and pulled
himself up by its lashings. In a moment all three of them were running
down the pier toward the waiting car.

The lights came on and a British voice called, "In the car. Hurry!"

"It's the bank clerk!" Scotty gasped.

It was. Ronald Keaton-Yeats ran to meet them. "Do hurry!" he exclaimed.
"We think someone from this end has gone for reinforcements for your
friends yonder." The three followed him to the car, a touring sedan of
British make. Rick sensed that someone was behind him and started to
turn, but a soft voice whispered in his ear.

"Keep looking ahead. Get to your hotel and wait there for a phone call."

They piled into the car, wet clothes and all. Keaton-Yeats ran around to
the driver's seat, then stopped. "I say! Where did that other chap go
to?"

"What other?" Zircon asked.

"A Eurasian. He's the one who led me here, and who fired that shot.
Dashed uncivilized, but I guess it saved your bacon, rather. No matter.
He's vanished and that's an end to it." The young Englishman had been
peering into the shadows. "We'll hie on our merry way and leave him to
his own devices."

Rick started to mention the message that had been whispered in his ear,
then decided not to, although he couldn't have explained why.

The car roared into life. Keaton-Yeats spun the wheel and they raced up
the street, the buildings magnifying the sound of their passing into
thunder. Not until they were on the main street was there quiet enough
for conversation, then Zircon demanded, "Would you mind giving us an
explanation? Naturally, we're interested."

"Rather!" Keaton-Yeats said. "I met Brant and Scott this afternoon when
they inquired from me the way to a Golden Mouse. I'd never heard of the
creature, as I told them, and they rejected my offer of some other sort
of animal. Haw! But after they had gone, I made inquiries. I learned
that this Golden Mouse was a dive of the most unsavory character."

He steered around a group of rickshaws and Rick clutched the back of the
front seat. He was having a fine case of jitters, because the Englishman
was driving on what appeared to Rick to be the wrong side of the road.
Even when he realized that left-hand driving was the rule in Hong Kong,
dodging cars on the wrong side left him rattled!

"I worried a bit," Keaton-Yeats went on. "Even made a phone call or two.
Discovered Brant and Scott were registered at the Peninsular Hotel. But
by the time I phoned there, they had gone out. Having no engagements, I
decided to look up this Golden Mouse place and at least add another soul
to the party for safety's sake, so to speak. However, I never got in,
for just as I turned into the proper alley, after a bit of searching,
this Eurasian chap jumped on my running board. He asked did I care to
help out three Americans who were in trouble. I assured him that it
would be a pleasure, but I was already committed to two Americans, in a
manner of speaking. He demanded names. I gave him the two I knew. He
said you were mixed up in this affair in which he was taking a hand. I
told him to get aboard and he did so. We tore around odd streets for
some time. My nose is insulted from the things I've smelled tonight, I
assure you. We were about to throw in our cards, then, as luck would
have it, we spotted three rickshaw coolies, and blessed if they didn't
turn out to be yours. We sped down that Blind Fisherman Street just in
time to hear the most infernal commotion out in the bay. The rest you
know."

There was no adequate way of thanking Keaton-Yeats. Without his kindly
interest in two strangers, they would doubtless have lost their lives.
But when they told him as much, he laughed it off.

"Oh, I'm sure that's overdoing it a bit. What that crew was probably
after was a bit of ransom. Pirates are still something of a problem
around here, you know. We've had regular ocean-going craft picked off by
them and held. I've enjoyed it immensely, and if thanks are due, I'll
give them to you. Life was getting to be a bit of a bore."

And that settled it, so far as Keaton-Yeats was concerned. He drove them
to the Kowloon ferry, but suggested that they take a walla-walla in view
of their disreputable appearance. As they shook hands all around, he
said, "Oddest thing. To me, the most curious business was that chap who
watched us. Not the Eurasian. Another one. It was because of him that we
suspected new recruits for our pirate friends were on the way."

"What did he look like?" Rick asked.

"Can't say. We never did see his face. Or any of him, for that matter.
Somewhere up the alley was an open door, and he was standing in it,
against the light. At least I believe that was the case, for all we saw
was his shadow. A most unusual shadow, at that. It was so long and thin
that it looked like a pole with a head and limbs. Our Eurasian friend
was a bit disturbed by it, too, for he mumbled something about blowing
the creature's head off if he stepped out of his doorway."

"But you didn't see anything except the shadow?" Scotty asked.

"Not a blessed thing. There was just that form, outlined in light,
stretching clear across the alley. It was uncanny, because to cast a
shadow such as that the bloke must have been ten feet high and no
thicker than a pencil!"

They had found the Golden Mouse. Now another bit of Chahda's cable had
come to life. Rick's lips formed the words.

"Long Shadow!"



CHAPTER VIII

Long Shadow


"Wheels within wheels and all of them turning merrily," Zircon said. "I
am absolutely appalled at how little we know of what is going on."

The three of them, refreshed by showers, were in the hotel dining room
having a late snack.

"Anyway, we have friends working for us," Scotty pointed out. "I think
our British pal did just as he said. He found out that the Golden Mouse
was not the sort of place for a couple of American tourists and decided
to go there in case we needed help."

Rick agreed. "And thank heaven he did. But I have a couple of questions,
besides the biggest one of all."

"The biggest one being: Where is Chahda?" Scotty added.

"Right. Also, I want to know why that motorboat appearing on the scene
and flashing a searchlight made the junk gang jump us."

"I'm only speculating," Zircon replied, "but mightn't that have been a
police boat on regular patrol? The junk gang would know it, I presume,
and they might decide to get us tied up and under cover, just in case
the police came too close."

"That's reasonable," Rick agreed. "We'll probably never know for sure,
and that's as good an answer as any. Now, my next question is: Who was
the Eurasian who got together with Keaton-Yeats?"

"You don't suppose it was Chahda?" Scotty suggested.

"Couldn't have been," Zircon replied. "Chahda wouldn't have faded away
as soon as we got to shore. I can't imagine who the stranger was, except
that he apparently was a friend. Also, I think it's clear that Canton
Charlie certainly is not a friend, since our asking for Chahda resulted
in our being kidnaped, or close to it."

Rick nodded. "Clear as air. Anyway, Bert's prediction was wrong. We
didn't get our throats cut in Charlie's."

"He could have been only too right," Scotty reminded. "If we had gone
there alone and hung around until the mob got wilder, it could have
happened. What a wonderful crew of cutthroats! And they were on the way
to getting set for a few fights among themselves when we left."

Rick glanced at big Hobart Zircon. "Having the professor along probably
helped, too. Even the toughest thug would think twice before tackling
him."

Zircon chuckled. "I must admit I've found it some advantage to be so
sizable. What do you boys think of this strange shadow?"

"Strange is right." Rick stifled a yawn. "Keaton-Yeats thought he was
unfriendly, and so did the Eurasian. But he didn't do anything very
unfriendly, I guess. He just stood in a doorway."

"Chahda's cable said to beware of the long shadow," Scotty remembered.

"Which is a good reason to think that the man who cast the shadow is an
enemy who now knows of our presence in Hong Kong," Zircon added. He
glanced at his watch. "It's getting late. If the phone call our unknown
friend mentioned to Rick doesn't come soon, it'll find me asleep when it
does."

"Same here," Rick agreed. "Let's go up to bed."

Zircon paid the check and they took the elevator. As they walked down
the long corridor to their room, Scotty scratched his head. "Mighty
funny how everything was arranged for us at Canton Charlie's, wasn't it?
We drop in, ask for Chahda, wait a while, get a note, and walk right
into the arms of a reception committee. That's mighty good
organization."

"They had plenty of time to get the junk ready for us," Rick pointed
out. "We sat in Charlie's and cooled our heels for a long while."

"We should have had knives a foot long." Zircon smiled. "Then we could
have given ourselves a manicure, like the Portuguese who left right
after we arrived." He put his key in the lock and pushed the door open.

Rick had a confused impression of wild sounds, then something crashed
into him and he landed flat on his back. As he scrambled to his feet,
plaster showered down on him, and his ear separated the sounds. From
within their room, a voice screamed, "Watch out! Take cover!" There was
a blurred racket, as though a giant was running a stick along a monster
picket fence at jet speed. Scotty was yelling something and Zircon was
bellowing with rage. Then the thunderous stitching noise stopped.

All three of them started into the room at the same time, and Rick
reached the door first. It was dark in the room, but in the faint light
from the hallway he saw two figures struggling. He acted without
thought. On a dresser just inside the door he had left a big flashlight.
He grabbed it, jumped into the fray, and brought it down on the head of
the man on top. The man slumped.

With a catlike twist the man who had been underneath wriggled free. Rick
started to say, "What's going..." Then an open hand drove into his face
and pushed him backward into Scotty and Zircon. The three of them fought
for balance as Rick's assailant ran to the window, leaped out on to the
fire escape, and was gone.

Scotty snapped on the light just as the man Rick had slugged staggered
to his feet, blinking. He was of medium height, with a thin, dark face.
He was dressed like a seaman, and apparently he was a Eurasian. Black
eyes blazed at the three of them.

"Shut that blasted door! And bolt it!" the man commanded.

Zircon bellowed, "Don't be giving us orders! Explain..."

"I'm Carl Bradley," the man said.

Rick swallowed. Of the two men in the room, he had lowered the boom on
the wrong one!

Scotty shut the door and threw the bolt.

"I've got to talk fast," Bradley said. "The hotel people will be up here
in a few seconds and I don't want them to find me. It would mean too
many explanations, and the police would want a statement I'd rather not
have to give."

He straddled a chair. "I suppose you've guessed that I was the Eurasian
with the young Englishman. It was just luck I picked him up, and more
luck that we found your rickshaw coolies. Long Shadow's men had you, and
Long Shadow was watching. That's why I faded when you got ashore. I
intended following him, for once, instead of being followed myself.
About the only thing I don't know about him is his secret headquarters.
I didn't think I'd be able to get here, so I whispered to one of you
that I'd phone. Well, Long Shadow led me here, up the fire escape. We
came by a rather roundabout route, stopping while he ate. I suspected it
was your room, but I didn't know for sure. He came in. I crouched on the
fire escape. Didn't know what would happen, of course. Then we heard
voices. I say we--he didn't know I was here, of course. He hauled a
Schmeisser machine pistol from under his coat and slipped a clip in.
There was just enough light for me to see the outline. It's
distinctive."

A queer little shudder zipped down Rick's spine. A Schmeisser! It was
the pistol known as the "burp gun," that sprayed slugs like a hose. No
wonder he hadn't recognized the sound! He kept his eyes on Bradley,
intent on what the slender JANIG man had to say.

"I yelled out a warning," Bradley went on, "and jumped through the
window at him. Didn't dare take time to draw my gun. I kept yelling,
hoping one of you would give me a hand. He's wiry as a thuggee bandit.
Only I got a lump on the head instead."

"I'm sorry," Rick muttered.

"The damage is done and he's gone. Now I'll have to locate him again, if
I can. Meanwhile, write this down. Quickly. I think I hear voices coming
down the hall."

Scotty whipped a pencil and an envelope from an inside pocket.

"See the consul general. I've talked with him. He will give you a rubber
boat and a Nansen bottle I've picked up. Outfit for the trail, and have
plenty of weapons. Fly to Chungking and check in with the consul there.
Ask him to give you a reliable guide. You're going to Korse Lenken.
That's in Tibet." He spelled the name. "Chahda has gone on ahead. I'll
follow. That's where the heavy water is coming from, I'm pretty sure.
Chahda will check up. You can help him, then make tests to be sure it's
really heavy water. Maybe you can do something about the source of the
stuff. You'll have to see when you get there. I've got part of the story
about what's being done with the water, but not all of it."

There definitely were voices outside now. The burp gun had brought the
hotel people. In a moment there was a hammering on the door.

Bradley walked to the window. "You can let them in after I've gone. Any
questions? Quickly!"

"What's the Nansen bottle for?" Zircon demanded.

"I don't know. I only know that Long Shadow bought five of them."
Bradley threw a leg over the window sill and grinned at them. "Leave me
out of any story you tell. I need a free hand for the next few days. And
the less the police know about me the better for all of us." He
hesitated as the pounding on the door grew louder, then a key grated in
the lock. "I can tell you this," he said softly. "You can forget about
an industrial plant. This is something else we're up against."

Then he was gone.

"Open the door," Zircon said. For the first time, Rick saw that the big
scientist gripped his right arm just below the elbow, a red, sodden
handkerchief balled in his left hand.

"You're wounded!" He jumped to the scientist's side.

"A scratch," Zircon said. "But it saved our lives. Tell you about it
later. Open up, Scotty."

Scotty threw the door open and the English night clerk, three Chinese
policemen, and half a dozen coolies piled in.

"What's going on here?" the clerk demanded. "What happened?"

"Nothing serious," Zircon said calmly. "There was evidently a bandit in
our room. We opened the door and he fired with his submachine gun. Then,
when he saw he hadn't killed us, he fled."

It wasn't a very convincing story. Rick saw suspicion in the faces of
the hotel people. He threw in his nickel's worth. "What kept you so
long? We've been trying to phone." He had a hunch the switchboard coolie
was one of those in the room. Probably everyone on duty had raced up.

"We heard nothing downstairs," the night clerk said. "The floor coolie
came down to get us. He took his time about it. Why was your door
locked?"

Zircon tried hard to look sheepish. "I guess we must have bolted it in
the confusion. Then, when you knocked, we tried to open it. It was a few
seconds before we realized the bolt had been thrown and the door
couldn't be opened unless the bolt was withdrawn. And the confounded
thing stuck."

"Why didn't you yell?" one of the policemen demanded.

"Possibly you were yelling so loud yourselves you didn't hear us,"
Zircon said mildly. "You were making considerable noise."

The clerk frowned. "The manager will have to hear about this," he
stated. "I doubt that he will believe your story. You may even be asked
to pay damages."

Zircon drew himself up to his full height. "The day we pay damages for
the privilege of being shot at in this disreputable dive you fatuously
call a hotel will be the day Hong Kong sinks beneath the sea like
Atlantis. Now have the goodness to clear out and let us get some sleep."

The clerk's face was scarlet. Rick tried to hide a grin.

"You'll have to make a formal statement to the police," the clerk
snapped.

"In the morning," Zircon said. "In the morning we intend to see the
American consul. You will hear more about this incident than you expect,
my dear sir. Now clear out. We need our sleep. This has been most
unsettling."

One of the policemen pointed to Zircon's bloodstained sleeve. "But you
need medical attention, sir."

"I happen to be a doctor," Zircon said. That was true enough, but he was
a doctor of science, not of medicine.

"You expect to treat yourself?" the clerk asked incredulously.

"Nothing to it," Zircon boomed. "A trifle. Why, once, when hunting in
Africa, I had my back clawed by a lion. I stitched the wounds up
myself."

The clerk was on the verge of a stroke. "You couldn't treat your own
back," he almost screamed. "Impossible! How could you?"

"He turned around so he could see what he was doing," Scotty said. "Good
night, all." He shepherded them through the door and closed it.

For a moment there was excited conversation from outside, then the
clerk, the policemen, and the coolies retreated down the hall.

"They'll be back," Zircon said wearily, "but not before morning, I
hope."

Rick looked at Scotty. "He turned around so he could see what he was
doing," he repeated. "My sainted aunt!"

"Sewed up his own back," Scotty gibed. "Professor! You told that nice
man a fib!"

"Great big juicy fib," Zircon said gravely. "Do I wash out my mouth with
soap or do I get a medal?"

"Medal," the boys said, and laughed heartily.

"Whatever got into you?" Rick asked the scientist.

Zircon stripped off his coat and rolled up his sleeve. "He was so
pompous and so serious that I just couldn't resist. Besides, if I had
been serious, we never would have gotten rid of them. Here, Rick. I'll
need antiseptic and a gauze compress for this."

The boys looked at the wound. As Zircon had said, it was trivial. The
slug had made a neat furrow across the surface of the skin, just deep
enough to cause a good flow of blood. The wound already was clotting.

As Rick bandaged the scientist's brawny arm, Zircon said, "I recoiled
instinctively when Bradley yelled. But not far enough. One slug just
nicked me. But those heavy caliber weapons, like our service .45, will
knock a man down anywhere they hit him. This one spun me around and I
piled into you two. I think that is what saved us all."

"I didn't know what was happening," Rick said.

"Neither did I," Scotty agreed. "I've seen Schmeissers before, but I've
never heard one fired until now."

"And let us hope we don't have to hear it again," Zircon added. When
Rick finished bandaging his arm, the professor went to a suitcase and
opened it, drawing out a folded map. "I'm curious about Korse Lenken,"
he said. "It's a new name to me. This map covers China and a part of
Tibet. We may find it."

After a long search, Scotty whistled. "Here it is. And look where it
is!"

Korse Lenken was a tiny dot in the vastness of the mountains just beyond
the Chinese border at about 95° east longitude and 32° north latitude.
No other town was noted on the map in the area, but high mountains were,
and so were rivers. And Chahda was there, alone! At least Bradley had
not mentioned any companion who traveled with the Hindu boy.

"We'll need to outfit completely," Zircon said. "Food, warm clothing,
sleeping bags, and all the rest. And we'll need a rifle for Rick. We can
get American rifles here. Also, I think we had better put in a small
supply of ammunition beyond what we brought."

For a short while they speculated on the trip, and on the many things
Bradley had left unsaid. It was unfortunate that they couldn't have had
a few moments longer. But Rick could see that his presence in the room
would have needed explaining, since he hadn't traveled up on the
elevator. It was better for him to disappear.

Before getting into bed, they went to the door and opened it. Across the
hall, Long Shadow's burp gun had made a fine mess. Plaster hung in
patches and the laths behind were broken and splintered. Fortunately,
the room opposite was a storage closet, so no one else had been in the
line of fire. Rick looked at the dozens of holes and shook his head.

"If we'd been right in the doorway," he said, "we would now be so full
of holes they could use us for mosquito netting--if the holes weren't so
big." He looked at the other two and added, "I'm beginning to think Long
Shadow doesn't like us."



CHAPTER IX

The Trail to Korse Lenken


Sing Lam-chiong dug heels into the flanks of his mule and trotted back
to where Zircon, Scotty, and Rick were jogging along on their respective
mounts.

"Good place to make lunch, in about ten minutes."

"Fine, Sing," Zircon said. "We could use lunch." The scientist looked
down with distaste at his horse, a big hammerheaded black with the lines
of a plow beast. "This creature is about as comfortable as a wooden
sled."

Rick sympathized. His own nag, a pin-eared Chinese pony of a peculiar
mouse-gray color, had no particular gait. He just waddled along, swaying
from side to side and making his rider saddle sore.

Sing saluted and went back to the head of the column, which was made up
of pack mules, each led by a Chinese bearer. There were four of the pack
animals, each laden with the party's gear.

"He certainly knows this trail," Scotty commented.

"A good thing," Rick said. "The camping places are few and far between.
I wish Korse Lenken were nearer."

The party was ten days out of Hong Kong, high in the mountain ranges
that formed the backbone of south Asia. Since leaving the more civilized
part of China they had trekked through alternate valleys and mountain
passes, making good time in the valleys, but slowing to a snail's pace
in the mountains. Sometimes the trail was wide enough for the three of
them to ride abreast. Sometimes it clung to the mountainside with
scarcely room for a single horse or mule. But Sing, leading the way, had
a knack of picking the easiest route.

The Chinese guide was a gift from heaven. The Spindrifters had checked
in at the American Consulate at Chungking, as Bradley had instructed
them, and the consul had offered the loan of one of his own staff. Sing,
normally a clerk at the consulate, had been born and brought up in the
western reaches of outer Sinkiang Province, and he knew the area from
wide travels with his father, a Chinese border police officer. Although
he had never been to Korse Lenken, he had been close to it.

In a short while Sing called out in Chinese to the bearers and they
followed him into a sort of pocket in the mountainside. Scotty, who was
slightly ahead of Rick and Zircon, turned. "We've got company for lunch.
There's another party already here."

In a moment the three Americans were greeting a portly Chinese who rose
to greet them.

"Howdy, Mr. Ko," Rick said cordially. "We were wondering when we would
catch up with you again."

Worthington Ko smiled and bowed. "We will doubtless meet many times
until our paths separate. Please dismount and join me. My bearers have a
good cooking fire you are welcome to use."

Ko was a textile merchant they had overtaken on the trail a short
distance out of Chungking. Since then the two parties had passed and
repassed each other several times. Ko had three mules, in addition to
the one he rode, and two bearers. The mules carried only light packs. On
the return trip, he had told them, they would be laden with Tibetan
textiles. He was heading for the famous monastery of Rangan Lo to buy
embroidery from the Buddhist monks. Eventually, the embroidery would
find a market in Europe.

The three Spindrifters got down stiffly from their horses and found
seats among the rocks next to the merchant. He smiled sympathetically.
"You are stiff? These trails are very poor and one must travel them many
times before one gets used to them." He took off his thick, horn-rimmed
glasses and polished them on a scrap of silk. "After twenty years of it,
I still find myself bent with weariness at the end of the day."

Sing busied himself with getting food ready. The Spindrift bearers
unpacked utensils and their own rations of rice and dried meat.

Ko rose from his rocky seat and rearranged the long, flowing silk coat
he wore. "I must be off. With your permission, I will proceed slowly,
however, so that you will overtake me before nightfall."

"Of course," Zircon said. "But may I ask why?"

Ko's nearsighted eyes peered at the rifles carried in saddle sheaths on
each of the three horses, and at Sing's shotgun. "I hope to take
advantage of your weapons," he explained. "By nightfall we should reach
Llhan Huang, which is a sort of crossroad. It marks the start of the
Lenken country. The Lenkens are unlikely to attack a well-armed party of
eight. But they delight in robbing a small party such as mine. For that
reason, I usually manage to find a larger group to which to attach
myself when entering the Llhan region." He smiled. "The armament you
carry for hunting bharals will serve admirably to keep the Lenkens at a
distance."

The Spindrift party had been warned that the tribe known as Lenkens were
dangerous to travelers.

"We'll be delighted to have you join us," Zircon assured him.

Rick was about to suggest that the portly Chinese merchant wait until
after the Spindrifters had eaten so they could all travel together, but
he thought better of it. Ko had been cordial, but he had shown little
interest in the American "hunting" party and Rick thought he probably
preferred to travel at his own speed and in his own way.

Sing called that lunch was ready and they took mess kits to the fire and
loaded them up with rice covered with a savory sauce, canned beef, and
hot, crisp water chestnuts. As Rick sighed with gratitude over the first
tasty mouthful, Scotty looked at the vanishing Ko party and mused,
"Wonder how come he speaks English so perfectly?"

Sing overheard. He grinned. "No reason for surprise. Many Chinese are
educated in American and English colleges both in China and in other
countries. Like myself. I am a graduate of Oberlin."

"Guess that's right," Scotty admitted.

"Worthington is a rather strange name for a Chinese, Sing," Rick
remarked.

The guide nodded. "It is. But I don't think it is his real one. Many
Chinese take western first names, especially those who trade with
westerners. That is because our own names are often too hard to say or
remember."

"Have you ever met Ko before?" Zircon asked. "Since you've traveled
widely in this region, I thought you might have come across him before."

"I don't think so," Sing replied. "But this is a very big country and
there are many travelers like him."

Sing was certainly right in saying that there were many travelers,
although the merchants like Ko were a minority. There were families of
Tibetans walking along the trail, laden with their possessions, heading
for goodness knew where. There were groups of horsemen, dressed in the
quilted clothes of the mountain country and with peaked felt hats. Such
men usually were armed with old-fashioned muskets and carried forked
rests in which to lay the musket barrels for support while firing. There
were parties of Chinese, sometimes on foot and sometimes with trains of
mules or yaks, the oxlike Tibetan beasts of burden.

Frequently, especially in valley country, small villages lay near the
trail. Often there were herders with their large flocks of sheep.

Although the trail slanted up and down, from valley to mountain pass and
back down again, the way led constantly higher toward the white-capped
peaks that have been called "The Backbone of the World." Beyond them,
many hundreds of miles away, lay Nepal and India.

It was always cool now, and the Americans and Sing wore windbreakers and
woolen sweaters. The bearers donned padded long coats. At night, the
sleeping bags were comfortable; without them the Americans would have
been chilled through and through.

"Make a guess, Sing," Rick requested. "How many more days to Korse
Lenken?"

Sing counted on his fingers. "With fortune, maybe we'll get there late
day after tomorrow. Depends on the trails."

Zircon sipped steaming tea standing up. He was too saddle sore to sit
down. "Where do we camp tonight?"

"A mile or two past Llhan Huang. I know a good water supply there."

The bearers were standing around waiting patiently, already finished
with cleaning up and packing, except for the Americans' teacups. They
downed the last swallows of tea and handed the cups to Sing, then swung
into the saddle again.

"I hope Sing is right about getting there day after tomorrow," Rick said
as he shifted uncomfortably in the "chafing seat," as he called it.
"This hay-burner is no luxury liner."

"Ditto," Scotty agreed. "Besides, I'm anxious to see Chahda."

Hobart Zircon nodded. "I hope whatever we find is worth the discomfort
of this trip." He grinned. "At any rate, it's a new experience for all
of us."

"I don't think I'll thank Bradley for it, though," Rick added. "Well,
let's get moving."

He dug his heels into the pony's flanks and moved into position behind
Sing. Scotty and Zircon fell back to bring up the rear. Although they
were reasonably sure no one would attack them, Zircon felt it was best
to have a rear guard and they had taken turns at the end of the column.

In spite of saddle soreness, Rick looked at the view with appreciation
as the trail suddenly topped a rise. Far below spread a lush valley.
Beyond were the last peaks they would have to cross before they came to
Korse Lenken.



CHAPTER X

The Ambush at Llhan Huang


It was late afternoon before the Spindrift caravan left the rocks of the
mountain pass and reached better ground. They paused on top of a small,
pyramid-shaped hill while one of the bearers retied the pack on his
mule.

Zircon looked at the formation with interest. "An old volcanic cone," he
pointed out. "Notice the regularity of the slope? And we're in a kind of
saucer that once was a live crater."

Rick could see it clearly once the scientist mentioned its volcanic
origin. The saucer was perhaps a dozen yards across, and its edge was
marked by a definite rim. Whoever first made the trail apparently had
decided to go right up and across the hill instead of pushing through
the dense underbrush at its base.

In a moment they started again, the mules picking their way carefully
down the hillside. At the bottom of the hill was a rather dense forest,
and beyond it the valley.

Sing called back over his shoulder. "Llhan Huang is just past the woods.
We'll meet Ko there, I think. I just saw the last of his mules going
into the woods."

Rick stood up in his stirrups and rubbed his raw and aching thighs. The
three had ridden horseback before, but not to any great extent, and the
long trail was a hard initiation.

He noted that the sun was dropping behind the western peaks, and he knew
from experience that it would be dark in a few minutes. The great
western range was so high in the air that it brought night by blocking
out the sunlight surprisingly early in the afternoon.

Then he rode into the forest and gloom closed in around him. It was
cold. He zipped up his windbreaker and reached for his gloves. He saw
that the trail through the forest twisted and turned to miss the big
hardwood trees, so that sometimes he could see only the mule in front of
him. Zircon and Scotty, at the rear of the column, were out of sight
most of the time.

It grew darker rapidly. Rick reached into his saddlebag and drew out a
flashlight, tucking it into his jacket pocket where it would be handy.
When he could see the sky overhead, it was dark gray and he knew night
was close at hand.

Presently he found himself peering through the gloom even to see the
mule directly in front. When they got out of the woods it would be
lighter, he hoped.

Then, as he stood up again to ease his saddle burns, the woods around
them were suddenly alive with gunfire! His pony reared and would have
bolted if he had not gripped the reins tight and jerked him to a stop.
He caught a glimpse of orange flashes in the gloom, and from ahead he
heard a sudden scream from one of the mules.

Scotty's voice rose in a yell. "Turn around! Turn! Get back out of the
woods to the hilltop!"

Rick saw his friend's strategy at once. On the hilltop, they could fight
off almost a battalion. He pulled his quivering pony around on the
narrow trail and yelled at Sing.

The guide's voice came in answer. "Coming! We're coming!"

A slug whined past Rick's ear and slapped into a tree trunk. He tried
desperately to get the rifle out of his saddle sheath while controlling
his fear-crazed pony. Then he heard the roar of Sing's shotgun. There
was no sound of firing from Scotty and Zircon, and he guessed they were
having trouble with their mounts, too. None of them was horseman enough
to fire from the saddle.

Rick stopped trying to get the rifle free and bent low, urging his pony
on. Behind him, he heard the pound of mule hoofs, and in the woods on
both sides the rustle of underbrush as the attackers tried to keep up.
The shots were fewer now, thank goodness!

In a few moments the racing column broke out of the woods into better
light. Ahead, Rick saw Zircon and Scotty go over the rim of the volcanic
hill, and within seconds saw them reappear again on foot, rifles in
hand.

"Come on," Scotty yelled. "We'll cover you!"

Zircon's big .45-90 spoke with a decisive slam and Rick heard the heavy
slug crash through the brush. Then the mules ahead of him topped the
hill and in a moment he was out of the saddle, too, rifle in hand.

He joined Scotty and Zircon in time to see Sing and the other two
bearers race up the hill. One mule was missing.

"Hold your fire," Scotty said. "There's nothing to shoot at unless you
see a muzzle flash."

Sing jumped from his mule's saddle and took command. He spoke rapidly to
the bearers, who at once forced the mules to their knees and then over
on their sides. "So they won't get hit," Sing explained. "We lost one
mule." He reloaded his shotgun, his face worried.

"Did you see anyone?" Rick asked.

"No. But I'm afraid for Ko. We had almost caught up when they started
shooting. I saw one of his mules right ahead of me."

"Let's hope he found some sort of cover," Zircon said. He glanced at the
sky. "It will be completely dark within a few minutes. Sing, scatter
your men around the rim. They can keep watch, even if they have no
rifles. The rest of us can take up positions at equal distances from
each other around the rim."

Scotty adjusted his rifle sights. "Afraid of an attack after dark,
professor?"

"I am. This attack probably was timed to catch us in the woods in the
darkness. We're fortunate that Scotty's memory is good. Suggesting the
hill was a wonderful idea."

"I knew we'd be cut to pieces in the woods," Scotty said.

Rick surveyed the terrain anxiously. Sing was posting his men. "A good
thing they're not very expert shots," Rick said. "They took us
completely by surprise."

Scotty walked to the rim and found a position that suited him. "Not much
danger of their hitting us except at point-blank range, if their guns
are like some of those we've seen."

Zircon found a position, too, and Rick searched for one that he liked.
He finally chose a place where a broken rock pile would give him cover.
It was so dark now that he could scarcely see.

There were plenty of noises down the hill, but no firing. Rick waited,
rifle thrust out before him. Were they gathering for a rush? And who
were they? Then he heard the noise of a dislodged pebble on the hillside
below him. He strained to see, but it was too dark. He thought: If only
I had the infrared light and the glasses! They were in one of the packs.
Stupid not to have thought of them at once, he berated himself. Now he
didn't dare leave his position until he found out what was below.

There was the sound of a body sliding over low brush almost directly
beneath him. He tensed, then as an afterthought, he reached into his
pocket and brought out the flashlight. With it, he thought, he could
blind the attacker and at the same time get a shot at him. He put his
thumb on the button and waited.

In a moment a figure loomed out of the darkness only a few feet away.
Rick sucked in his breath and half lifted his rifle for a one-hand shot.
At the same moment, he pressed the flashlight button.

The beam shot squarely into the face of Worthington Ko!

Rick put down his rifle quickly to extend a helping hand to the
merchant. And then he noticed something.

Shoot a light into the eyes of a man whose pupils are dilated by
darkness and there is a definite reaction. If the eyes are normal, the
pupils contract sharply.

One of Ko's did. Rick saw them, magnified by the thick glasses. The
other pupil didn't change at all.

And as the fact registered, Rick saw something else. In one of Ko's
hands was a grenade!

In the instant that Rick grabbed up his rifle and swung it like a club,
he guessed the answer.

_Ko was the Chinese with the glass eye!_



CHAPTER XI

The Goatskin Water Bag


Several things happened almost at the same time. The attackers awoke to
the fact that Rick's light made a good target and started shooting. Rick
dropped the flashlight as his rifle, swung with one hand, barrel
forward, connected solidly with the top of Ko's head. Scotty jumped to
see what was happening.

The grenade rolled from Ko's hand, and as it did, the safety handle flew
off! Ko already had pulled the pin!

A musket slug cracked into the rock inches from Rick's face and sent
chips of stone into his face. He felt a sudden pain above one eye. But
before he had time to realize what had happened, he was hauled back
bodily into the crater by the guide.

Scotty, who had recognized Ko in the beam of the fallen flashlight,
grabbed the merchant by the collar and dragged him into the saucer with
them.

There was a five-second fuse on the grenade, but things had happened so
fast there was a second to spare before it went off. Then for an instant
there was a dull flash and the _cruuuump_ of the grenade. Shrapnel
sliced through the woods below, bringing yells of fright.

"The camera," Rick gasped. He got to his hands and knees, shaking his
head. There was wetness across one eye that he thought was blood.

Scotty got his meaning instantly. He snapped, "Sing. Keep an eye on Ko,"
and ran to the pack animals. It took him only a moment to find the
camera and lift it from its case, then he handed Zircon the special
glasses and quickly fitted his infrared telescopic sight onto his own
rifle.

Rick got to his feet, keeping the injured eye closed, and fumbled
through the gear until he found his tripod. He set it up quickly and
mounted the camera on it. Then he carried the unit to the edge of the
saucer and pushed the button that lit up the infrared light. He couldn't
see to shoot, but he could operate the camera unit. Through the special
glasses, Zircon would be able to see anything the infrared beam hit.
Scotty would be able to see, too, through his special telescopic rifle
sight. Rick panned the light across the woods below. It wasn't light
that could be seen, of course. Only the dull glow of the filament, too
dim to be seen more than a few feet away, told him that the camera was
operating.

"I see one," Zircon bellowed suddenly, and the words were echoed by the
dull, authoritative slap of the .45-90. The heavy slug drove through the
brush below. "Missed," the scientist said in disgust.

Scotty's rifle cracked sharply. Scotty didn't miss. There was a yell
from below, then the noise of many men running through the underbrush.
Rick guessed that the attackers didn't like the weird sharpshooting in
the darkness.

In a few moments there was quiet, and the infrared light found nothing
but the silent woods. Sing, who had been crouching over Ko, ready frying
pan in hand, said, "They've gone, I think. These hill people don't like
night fights, anyway."

"That's my guess, too," Scotty agreed.

Zircon found his own flashlight, and, ducking low, shot it over the
saucer's edge. He waited long moments, but nothing happened. Had the men
who attacked them still been in the woods below, they certainly would
have fired at the tempting target.

"Bring that light here, will you, professor?" Rick called. "Something
hit me in the eye awhile back." He tried to keep the concern out of his
voice. Had he been blinded in that eye?

Scotty and the professor hurried to him in some concern. Zircon shot the
light into his face and he blinked with his good eye.

"Good heavens," Zircon said softly. Then, on closer examination, he
sighed with relief. "A scratch, just below the eyebrow. The eye itself
isn't damaged. Scotty, find the first-aid kit, please? We'll have this
cleaned up in a jiffy."

While Scotty held the light, Zircon cleaned the wound and washed the
blood from Rick's eye. Then, in the midst of the operation, there was a
metallic clang from where Sing stood guard.

Scotty flashed the light over in time for them to see Worthington Ko
stretch limply on the ground. Sing's smile flashed. "He was waking up. I
didn't want to bother you, so I made him sleep some more."

Rick had to chuckle. Their efficient guide had bashed Ko with his frying
pan.

Zircon completed giving Rick first aid. "That's clotting nicely, Rick."
He cut a tiny piece of sterile gauze and affixed it with a bit of tape.
"There you are. Good as new by morning. I suspect that a chip of stone
must have struck you."

Rick tested the action of his eyelid on that side. The gauze felt ten
times as big as it actually was, but it was all right. "Thanks,
professor," he said. "Now, let's take a look at our captive."

Worthington Ko's slumber, induced by Sing's mighty frying pan, was not
very deep. A cupful of water in the face brought him around readily
enough and he peered up at the Americans. He had lost his glasses in the
shuffle, and without them there was no doubt that he had one glass eye.
He peered balefully from the good one.

"What," he demanded, "is the meaning of this?"

"We might ask the same," Zircon stated, "except that we can assume that
you sponsored the attack on us. What we want to know is, why?"

Ko snorted indignantly. "Nonsense! I was coming to your aid, having made
my way through that mob of Tibetan bandits." He rubbed his head. "And
then someone struck me."

"Were you going to use that grenade as a calling card?" Rick asked
caustically.

Ko opened his mouth to speak, but Rick continued, "Don't try to tell us
you were going to use it in our defense. Men don't pull the pins on
grenades until they're ready to toss them. That one had our name on it."

Ko shrugged. "I see you've convinced yourselves. It's useless for me to
say anything further." He shut his mouth obstinately, nor could they get
anything further out of him.

Zircon motioned to Sing. "Tie him up. Then post guards. We'll stay here
for the night." He turned to the boys. "I think it's safe to make a
fire. We can have some supper and then turn in. I'll take first watch
with one of the bearers. Scotty will take the second, Rick the third,
and Sing the last." He opened the chamber of his rifle and extracted the
shell, then put the rifle down. "I'm hungry," he said, grinning.
"Nothing like a good fight to work up an appetite."

Scotty laughed. "You talk like a Marine," he said admiringly.

The night passed without incident, and the entire party was awake at
dawn. Over breakfast, they discussed the affair again. Like the
discussion of the night before, it proved futile. There were simply too
many questions that had no answers.

Rick summed it up. "We've found Long Shadow and the Chinese with the
glass eye. Or rather they've found us. And it's obvious they're out for
blood. It scares me to think of what would have happened on the junk if
the Englishman and Bradley hadn't taken a hand."

"I'd like to know how they knew we were coming," Scotty said.

Zircon drained the last of his coffee. "I don't think they did know. We
walked into Canton Charlie's and asked for Chahda. We put the finger on
ourselves, so to speak. They probably assumed that anyone asking for
Chahda was an enemy. Obviously, they had some sort of contact with
Chahda, otherwise he wouldn't have cabled the descriptions after stating
that he was in danger."

"That sounds right," Rick agreed. He looked over to where Worthington Ko
was having a cup of tea under the watchful eye of Sing. "What do we do
with our fat chum?"

"Keep him for a hostage," Scotty suggested.

Zircon shook his head. "A good idea, but not practical. It would require
that we guard him constantly and that would be a nuisance. No, I think
we had better leave him and push on for Korse Lenken as rapidly as
possible. Now that we know our danger is from Chahda's enemies and not
from casual bandits, we are forewarned."

"Then what do we do with him?" Rick asked.

"Leave him here, afoot. His friends probably will find him, but I don't
think that matters. Now that we know him, he's less dangerous. We can
treat him like any other bandit."

Rick and Scotty agreed. As they drew nearer the goal, both of them were
increasingly anxious to get to Chahda, to hear from him some of the
answers to their questions, and finally to get down to the business of
finding the heavy water that was the reason for their quest.

Although they hadn't discussed it, Rick was worried about Chahda.
Normally, he had full confidence in the Hindu boy's ability to take care
of himself. But this time Chahda was far from the kind of people he
knew, among unfriendly strangers. Was his friend hiding somewhere in the
mountains around Korse Lenken? Or had he found a hide-out in the village
itself?

They would soon know.

After breakfast, Rick, Scotty, and Sing surveyed the scene of the
ambush, leaving Zircon to guard the Chinese and to direct the repacking
of their gear.

There were definite signs of the enemy's presence in the woods below.
One area was pretty well trampled, indicating to Scotty's trained eye
that the ambushers had departed in a big hurry. The Chinese guide
pointed to where ants were swarming around a section of ground.

"Someone was hit there," he said. "Ants find bloodstains fast in this
country."

"We were aiming low," Scotty said. "Probably a leg wound. Sing, where do
you suppose Ko's mules are?"

The guide shrugged. "Pretty sure to be far away. The men who attacked us
wouldn't leave mules behind. They're too valuable."

Scotty led the way down the trail to where the first shots had been
fired. The three moved cautiously, just in case the attackers were
waiting a little distance away. Scotty's rifle was ready for instant
use.

"I was right here," Sing said. "Ko's mules were ahead of me, just a few
yards away. Let's go ahead some and take a look."

The trail wound through the woods for a little distance and then broke
into a clearing. Rick saw gear littered over the ground and pointed to
it. "Looks as if they left something behind!"

In a moment they were looking through what was evidently Ko's entire
luggage. Sing kicked at a pile of cooking utensils. "They took the mules
but left everything else."

"Funny they'd do that," Rick said thoughtfully. "After all, Ko was the
boss. He must have arranged the ambush. Unless we're wrong about him."

"I don't think we're wrong," Scotty denied. "You hit it on the nose when
you said a man doesn't pull the pin on a grenade unless he's ready to
toss it. Ko must be the boss."

Sing examined a richly embroidered robe. "My guess is that Ko hired a
few Tibetan bandits. They wouldn't worry about him or his belongings
after being met by heavy resistance. And his bearers would be afraid to
stay and face him. Or maybe they thought he was killed while attacking
us. There was a lot of noise, and it was dark."

Rick thought Sing was probably right. He walked over to a pile of furs.
"What are these?" he asked. "Ko must have been a fur trader."

Sing looked up. "Water bags. Goatskin. Very common in China." He dropped
the robe and came to look, his face wrinkling into a frown. "But usually
a man doesn't carry so many. Very funny."

Rick and Scotty examined one with interest. It was a whole skin, except
for head and feet. Even the tail was still attached. The ends of the
legs had been sewed up, but the neck was left open. Attached to the neck
opening was a rawhide thong that could be used to bind the opening tight
when the skin was filled with water.

"These are good bags," Sing said. "Better than most."

"Perhaps he planned to sell them," Rick suggested.

"Don't think so." The Chinese guide shook his head. "People here make
their own. Every time they kill a goat for meat, that's a new goatskin.
The Buddhist Tibetans, who don't kill anything, even flies, use pottery
jugs."

Scotty had started counting the bags. He paused at the ninth and held it
up. "This one is split open. Looks like the seam gave way. There's a
sort of funny lining."

Rick took the skin and turned it inside out. It was smooth and glassy on
the inside, and the substance was completely transparent because he
could see the skin underneath.

Sing felt of it. "Never saw anything like that before."

Rick held it to his nose and sniffed. It was odorless. He took his
pocketknife and scraped at it while the others watched. A tiny flake
shaved off. He tested it between his fingers, and it was flexible as
rubber. An idea was growing in his head.

"It's crazy," he said. "But you know what I think this is? I think it's
plastic!"

"The professor can tell us," Scotty suggested. "Come on. Let's take it
to him."

They ran back up the trail, Rick leading with the skin. If the stuff
were plastic, it could mean only one thing. He lengthened his stride.

Zircon looked up from his notebook as they topped the hill and ran
toward him. He dropped the book and jumped to his feet, reaching for his
rifle.

"It's not another ambush," Rick panted. He held out the skin. "It's
this. Professor, what is this transparent stuff inside?"

Zircon took the skin and ran his finger tips over the lining. He held it
up so that it caught the light, then looked at Rick curiously. "That's
odd," he muttered. "This is certainly a goatskin. And almost surely,
this is a plastic lining. I can't be sure, of course, but I've never
seen anything like this in nature."

"It's a goatskin water bag," Rick said excitedly. He pointed to Ko. "He
had a dozen of them."

Zircon bellowed, "So! Then if this is plastic...."

"It was a clever stunt," Rick finished. "No one would suspect coolies
toting goatskin water bags. And even if anyone did suspect, he wouldn't
be able to tell anything by a casual examination."

Sing scratched his head. "Forgive my stupidity," he said. "The
suspicious one wouldn't be able to tell what? If this lining is plastic,
it is a senseless waste. Water keeps cool in a goatskin bag because of
evaporation through the pores. It certainly couldn't evaporate through
plastic."

"No," Zircon agreed. "That is the idea. They don't want evaporation.
Also, the plastic guarantees the water's purity."

Sing said no more, but he was obviously puzzled. Nor could the Americans
tell him what had excited them, that they had found the means by which
the substance they sought was carried to the coast.

Rick had a quick vision of Chinese coolies making their slow way through
the countryside, unnoticed because water-bearers were so commonplace.
But the coolies in this case carried bags lined with plastic, and the
stuff that made the legs thrust out stiffly and that swelled the bag was
not ordinary water! It was the stuff which had brought them halfway
across the world.



CHAPTER XII

The Buddhist Monk


The party topped a high rise and stopped, spellbound at the scene that
spread before them. They were on the rim of a great valley. Far on the
other side of the valley stood the high peaks of the Himalayas, a mighty
screen between them and India.

Below, a lush green path marked the course of a wide river. On either
side of it, sloping up to the mountains, was the lighter green of
grasslands.

Sing pointed. "There is Korse Lenken."

Rick had to look hard before he saw it. Then he began to make it out.
The monastery was built under a great cliff on one side of the valley.
At first glance it seemed like part of the cliff itself. It was huge,
with tier after tier of gray stone buildings rising in piled masses from
the valley floor. Around it, like tiny mounds of earth, were the hair
tents of the Tibetans.

"Magnificent," Zircon rumbled. "Well worth coming to see, even if we
find nothing at the end of the trail."

"We'll find Chahda," Scotty said. "I'm sure we will. And the sooner the
better."

Rick felt the same way. Now that the end of the trail was in sight,
excitement was rising within him. He was anxious to find his Hindu
friend and to find at the same time answers to some of the mysteries
they had encountered.

"Let's hurry," he said impatiently.

Sing shouted at the bearers and the party took a narrow trail that
dipped into the valley. Scotty rode ahead with Sing, and his rifle was
ready for instant use. Rick and Zircon brought up the rear, their own
rifles held ready. They had taken no chances since the fight on the
hilltop. Worthington Ko had been left afoot far behind them, but there
was no assurance his friends hadn't come to the rescue with horses. Rick
kept glancing behind him, just in case of an attack from the rear.

They had reached the rim of the valley by midmorning. All through the
day they made their way down the mountain, reaching the valley floor
about three in the afternoon. Another two hours of steady travel took
them past the yurts of Tibetan herders--conical tents made of horsehair
felt. The stolid Tibetans watched them pass, no interest in their beady
eyes.

Then, as darkness began to set in, they reached the monastery. Korse
Lenken towered above them, already shaded in twilight. From somewhere
within the great pile they heard the tinkle of bells, then the deep
tones of a mighty gong. Lamas, priests in yellow robes, walked past with
bowed heads. Some of them spun their prayer wheels and intoned the
Buddhist ritual.

_Om Mani Padme Hum. Hail, the jewel in the lotus!_

The jewel, of course, was the Lord Buddha.

They watched the pageant for a few moments, enthralled. Then Zircon
commanded Sing. "Find someone you can talk to. We'll want to see the
High Lama."

Sing nodded. "I will go into the monastery. The bearers will find a
place to camp." He issued orders in Chinese.

The bearers scattered at once, searching for a suitable place to pitch
camp. The three Americans sat their horses and watched the activities
around the great monastery, too interested even to talk.

Rick saw countless yellow robes on the various balconies. There must be
thousands of monks, he thought. And there were an equal number of
Tibetans, many of them already busy at cooking fires near the base of
the gray stone buildings. He smelled mutton cooking, and the acrid,
unpleasant odor he had learned to identify with yak butter. Hot buttered
tea was a Tibetan staple. He had tried it on the trail, because he was
interested in everything, even yak butter. But he didn't think it would
ever take the place of ice cream in his affections.

One of the bearers came back and motioned to them. They followed as he
led the pack mules to a place in the shelter of a great rock. The other
bearers were foraging for wood. In a few moments a fire was going and
camp was being set up.

Sing returned. "No one may see the High Lama," he reported. "He is in
the middle of some kind of ceremony that takes a month. But I talked
with an important priest. He was friendly. He said he would send one of
the lamas to be our guide and to help us find your friend."

"Good," Zircon said. "Now, let's have some dinner. I'm famished."

The boys echoed his sentiments.

It was fully dark before they ended their meal. They were squatting
around the fire, sipping coffee and listening to Zircon's description of
the Buddhist ritual when one of the bearers suddenly called out. The
three Americans and Sing reached for their weapons as a yellow-robed
lama shuffled out of the darkness.

This, evidently, was their guide. He was of less than medium height, but
that was all Rick could tell about him. His loose robe draped around his
body and his cowl was pulled up, hiding his face.

"Welcome," Zircon boomed. "Sing, speak to him and tell him we are
grateful for his coming."

Sing spoke to the monk in Chinese.

The robed lama stood immobile, just within range of the firelight. The
yellow flames made shadows across his cowled figure. Rick felt a little
shudder run through him. The quiet figure was somehow weird.

Sing shifted to another language, but the lama made no reply. Then,
slowly, he brought his hands up level, outstretched toward them. He
chanted slowly, his voice muffled under the cowl. Then the chant died
and his hands were lowered once more.

Sing turned to the group. "I don't know what he said. It's not in a
language I understand." He spoke to the apparition. The monk stood
motionless.

"Wish they'd sent us someone we could talk with," Scotty grumbled. "A
lot of use this joker will be!"

The monk's cowl turned slowly toward Scotty. The figure moved
majestically toward the boy, then the hands lifted again. From under the
cowl a sepulchral voice issued.

"Could be more use than you think, muttonhead."

For an instant there was stunned silence, then Rick and Scotty leaped
for the robed figure with yells of delight. Rick hit him high and Scotty
hit him low. They held him down and pulled the cowl from him, then
pommeled him unmercifully, while Zircon cheered them on.

Only when the monk begged for mercy did they let him up. He tossed the
robe aside and grinned at them.

"Okay," Chahda said. "You win. But it took you plenty time to get here!
Why you take so long?"

The slim Hindu boy hugged them solemnly, one at a time, and shook hands
with Sing. "Now," he announced, "I eat. Got plenty sick of sheep meat,
you bet!"

Then they were all laughing and talking at once while the cook hastened
to prepare a meal. In a few moments Chahda was attacking a high-piled
plate and talking between bites.

"Good you came now," he said. "I got plenty worry. You find Bradley?"

Zircon told him of the meeting in the hotel.

Chahda nodded. "Good. I think he show up soon."

"Start at the beginning," Rick demanded. "There's a whole lot we don't
know. In fact, if you come right down to it, we don't know anything."

"Okay." Chahda took a sip of coffee. "I start at start. In Bombay."

Chahda had been visiting with his family in Bombay when Bradley arrived
in the Indian city. The two had met by accident. Chahda had gone to the
Taj Mahal Hotel to write a letter to the boys, because there was no
paper or ink at home. Bradley, who happened to be in the lobby, had
noticed the address on the envelope as Chahda handed it to the desk
clerk.

Once the scientist discovered that Chahda knew the Spindrift group and
had been on expeditions with them, the rest followed naturally. Bradley,
realizing that the clever little Hindu boy would be of great value in
his undercover work, had hired him. Chahda didn't say so, but Rick could
understand that such was the case.

Chahda's duties had been those of general assistant. He had cared for
baggage, run errands, acted as secretary, and on a few occasions had
been assigned to follow people in whose destinations Bradley was
interested. The two had gone from Bombay to New Delhi and Calcutta, then
to Singapore. At Singapore, while following up another matter, Bradley
accidentally had discovered that heavy water was being sold.

"He was much excited," Chahda said. "I did not know why. Heavy water? I
asked myself what is heavy water. I knew about ice, which is frozen
water and which is heavy. But who would have much excitement about ice?
The Sahib Bradley hurried to the Consulate of America and he sent a
cable to Washington."

Then the scientist had assigned Chahda to watch a certain house in
Singapore, the place from which the heavy water was being taken to
unknown destinations. Chahda had watched for three days without relief,
and he had seen Worthington Ko. Then, since Bradley had not come for
him, he deserted his post long enough to return to their quarters, a
room in an obscure Chinese hotel in Singapore. There he had found
evidence of a fight and bloodstains on the floor. There was no sign of
Bradley.

It was then, Chahda guessed, that Long Shadow had found him. He saw the
shadow several times while he hunted for Bradley. Then, while searching
for his boss in the Tamil quarter, he had been attacked by Chinese thugs
led by Worthington Ko. They had beaten him into insensibility, hustled
him into a taxi, and were carrying him somewhere into the inland of
Malaya when he regained consciousness. He escaped by going headlong
through a window while the car was traveling and then taking cover in
the jungle alongside the road. Going by a roundabout route, he reached
Singapore again. There he found that their luggage was held by the hotel
and the room had been rented to someone else.

Chahda polished his plate with a biscuit and groaned expressively. "I
say to myself then, Chahda, now is time to think real hard. What to do?"

He knew that the cable Bradley had sent asked for Hartson Brant to be
assigned to the job. And he knew also that from Singapore they were to
head for Hong Kong. He knew nothing about Hong Kong, but he did know
that Bradley was acquainted at a place called the Golden Mouse because
he had heard him mention it to a Chinese the scientist used for
undercover work now and then.

"The Long Shadow came again while I was thinking," Chahda continued. "I
saw it in front of the hotel. So I went quick-fast out the back, and ran
through many places until I was sure he could not find me. I went to
where many Indians live in Singapore, and I found a friend."

The friend, another Indian, had gone to the United States Information
Library in Singapore and borrowed a copy of _The World Almanac_. Chahda
already had decided he would cable the boys, and how he would do it. He
knew, because of what they had told him, that they would be able to
figure out a book code and that they would realize his choice naturally
would be the _Almanac_. Knowing the annual by heart, he naturally also
knew the table that converted Roman numerals to Arabic numbers and had
used the letter L as a clue to the right volume.

"But how did you know about nulls?" Rick asked.

"Oh, that was very lucky. I learned how to put Sahib Bradley's messages
in code, and there were many nulls." He grinned impishly. "Of course I
did not know if you also knew what are nulls. I was thinking, they are
two who are good with science. But are they also good with code? Maybe
not. But, anyway, they are plenty smart to read a book. That will tell
them about nulls."

"We didn't have to read a book," Scotty said. "Dad told us about them."

"Scientist father also plenty smart even without books," Chahda agreed.
"Anyway, I make the message and I send cable."

Rick interrupted again. "How did you know Ko had a glass eye?"

Chahda smiled. "When they capture me, I fight like maybe ten wild
elephants. I kick honorable Mr. Ko in the face. And what happens? His
glasses fall off and one of his eyes falls out! Also, it breaks when it
falls and I see it is glass. I am so surprised I forget to fight and
someone hits me from the back of my neck, and then all is dark. I did
not know Mr. Ko's name then. My boss tells me it later."

"No more questions for the moment," Zircon ordered. "I want to hear the
rest of this. Go ahead, Chahda."

The Hindu boy had used his friend as a go-between and had arranged for
the consul general to advance him funds. Since the official knew he
worked for Bradley, that was not difficult. Then he had arranged for
their baggage to be shipped and held at the airport in Hong Kong, and
had taken a plane there himself.

At the Golden Mouse, Canton Charlie had given him quarters. In another
day, Bradley showed up. The scientist had been caught in the Singapore
hotel room by Ko and company, but had fought his way clear. There wasn't
time to leave a note for Chahda at the hotel and he didn't dare return
to the room for fear of having the enemy locate him again. So he had
depended on Chahda's wits to tell him the next step and had gone ahead
to Hong Kong, hoping to find more information about the heavy water.

At Hong Kong, Long Shadow had shown up again.

Bradley, in the meanwhile, had not been idle. Through his various
sources of information he had determined that the source of the heavy
water was in the neighborhood of Korse Lenken. Chahda was instructed to
go there at once and start reconnoitering while they waited for the
party from the States. Bradley deliberately dropped the disguise he had
been using, that of a Portuguese seaman, and let Long Shadow locate him.
Then he had started out, hoping to draw the enemy away from Chahda long
enough for the boy to get clear and start for Korse Lenken. Bradley was
to shake the enemy when he could and resume his investigation. Finding
the source of the water was not enough, he had said. It also was
necessary to find out how it was reaching Singapore, and what its
ultimate destination might be.

Chahda had experience with Buddhist monasteries dating back to the time
when he had worked in Nepal. Also, many Indians were Buddhists. There
were some in almost every monastery, and of that number a few could be
depended on to speak Hindi, or Hindustani as it was called, which was
Chahda's language. He also knew a little Tibetan from his years in
Nepal.

"I came here easy," Chahda finished. "There was a big lot of pilgrims
and they took me in." He grinned. "They thought I was a monk. And I
found Indians, like I had thought. They hid me, so I do not think Long
Shadow knows I am here. And now I know where the heavy water comes
from."

Zircon gave an exclamation. "Chahda, you're a marvel! Where does it come
from?"

"Tomorrow I show you," Chahda promised.

"Who is Long Shadow?" Rick demanded.

Chahda shrugged. "Not knowing. We never see him. Only the shadow."

Scotty stirred up the fire a little. "How come Canton Charlie didn't
turn you over to the enemy as he did us?"

"What?" Chahda was astonished.

Scotty quickly outlined their adventures while Chahda listened
thoughtfully. When he had finished, the Indian boy shook his head.
"Something bad wrong. Charlie is one of Bradley's men. My boss pays him,
and he is friendly. You say Charlie told you to go to this junk?"

Rick thought back. Charlie himself actually had not told them. They had
not seen Charlie when the note was dropped on their table.

"Charlie himself didn't tell us," he stated. "It could have been one of
Long Shadow's men. Or one of Ko's. And that Portuguese with the knife
could have been one of Long Shadow's men, too. I'll bet he was the one
who put the finger on us. He must have heard us ask for Chahda. Long
Shadow and his men knew Chahda, of course, and they would certainly try
to get rid of reinforcements like us."

"Right," Zircon agreed. "Perhaps the fault was ours in not waiting for
Charlie to tell us himself, although I don't see how we could have
known."

"I think that is it," Chahda said. "Charlie is a friend. So the men on
the junk with purple sails were Long Shadow's, and you plenty lucky you
get out with your skins, believe me."

Zircon rubbed his chin. "Chahda, our instructions from Bradley were to
bring a rubber boat and a Nansen bottle. That must mean the heavy water
source has something to do with a lake or river. Is that true?"

"Don't know about those things," Chahda said. "I know only that the
heavy water comes from a place near here. I know how to get there and I
will take you. I do not think we will like this place much. It has a bad
name."

"What kind of bad name?" Scotty asked.

"In English," Chahda said, "it is 'The Caves of Fear'!"



CHAPTER XIII

The Black Buddha


Long ago, according to the tale Chahda had heard from his Indian
Buddhist friends in the monastery, a High Lama and some of the chief
priests of Korse Lenken forsook their vows and went in for piracy with
the monastery as headquarters.

For years they flourished, robbing travelers and even swooping down on
Chinese cities across the border. The name of Korse Lenken was known
throughout the East as a place of terror. Between attacks, the High Lama
and his priests made mockery of the religion of Buddhism that they were
sworn to uphold, and they built a huge caricature of Buddha, all in
black and with the face of a demon.

Then, went the legend, as they dedicated the great statue to the hordes
of the mountain underworld, the Lord Buddha himself appeared in the sky
and stretched his hands over them. The vast multitude of robbers fell to
their knees and lifted their hands for mercy. And Lord Buddha, the
gentle and merciful, gave them mercy. His voice rang through the
mountains like the winds of heaven: "Live! Live unharmed. But live in
fear! It is written."

Buddha, so went the legend, then vanished. A great wind sighed through
the valley, and bolts of light flashed from heaven. It grew black, black
as the darkest night. And when the blackness cleared and the wind died,
new mountains stood where the High Lama and the multitude had been.

The lamas who had remained faithful to the teachings of Buddha labored
to build a new monastery, and as the years passed they heard mutterings
in the earth. Then one day a repentant lama, who had been one of the
multitude, came forth, an old man. The High Lama and the robbers still
lived, he said. But they lived in the blackness under the new mountain,
in vast caverns where no light ever came. And there were _things_ in the
darkness. Things they could not see, but of which they were terribly
afraid. As Lord Buddha had said, they lived in fear.

The little group was silent as Chahda finished reciting the legend. Then
the Hindu boy added, "Of course this is long ago. So very long. Maybe it
is only a story. And maybe not. The monks of Korse Lenken do know there
are big caverns, and they know of this Black Buddha. I know of it
myself. But more than that I do not know."

"And it is from the Caves of Fear that the heavy water is presumed to
come," Zircon finished. "That is quite a tale, Chahda. But how do we get
to the Caves of Fear?"

"The entrance is somewhere in the Cave of the Black Buddha," Chahda
said. "At least, that is what the monks have told me. Also, they showed
me how to get there. But I did not go in." He shuddered a little. "Who
knows if the old High Lama might not be waiting? I thought better I wait
for you."

Rick felt the weirdness of the tale, too, but he made a joke. "I didn't
think hobgoblins would frighten you away, Chahda."

Chahda didn't smile. "People who live in the East do not laugh at
hub-gubbles, Rick."

"I was just trying to be funny," Rick apologized. "Well, what do we do
now?"

"We look in the caverns for the source of the heavy water," Zircon
stated. "And the sooner we start, the better. Chahda, have you seen men
with water bags heading out of here? Men with anything at all suspicious
about them?"

The Hindu boy nodded. "I have seen such men. Once I saw ten men going up
the trail to the outside with such bags. The bags were all they had. I
am sure the bags had heavy water. If not, why so many?"

Zircon told him of the plastic-lined bags they had found and of their
suspicions.

Chahda saw the implications instantly. He grinned. "We find out plenty
more about these water bags, you bet! I think I go right now and find
out if any more men with bags go by today." He hurried off, getting into
his monk's costume as he went.

Rick watched him go, shaking his head with admiration. "He's a wonder,"
he said. "I'll bet Bradley thinks so, too."

"Anyone would," Scotty agreed. "He gets things done. Wish I could say
the same for us. All we've done so far is travel while he did the work.
Why don't we get busy?"

"Busy how?" the scientist asked.

"Couldn't we look into this cave tonight? I don't see that waiting until
morning will help much. If it's a big cave, there won't be light in it,
anyway."

Rick thought Scotty had something there. He pointed out that plenty of
lights were in their packs, and that they had the dark-light camera
besides.

Hobart Zircon thought it over, then agreed. "There's another advantage,"
he added. "Starting out tonight, we'll attract less attention. We got
here about dark, so the people of the area don't know we're here.
They'll know in the morning, though, and we'll have a thousand
sight-seers hanging around, unless they're greatly different from the
other Eastern people I've met. And the less anyone knows about our
interests, the better."

Sing nodded agreement. "That is right. By morning many people will come
to see the strangers. I doubt if they have seen very many white men
before." The Chinese guide paused. "But I don't know if I like the idea
of going into strange caves while it's dark. As your little friend says,
anything is possible in this part of the world. Even hobgoblins."

"We wouldn't want you to come, anyway, Sing," Rick said. He looked at
Zircon for agreement. "It would be better if you took care of our
equipment and sort of acted as rear guard. We'll need someone to stand
by in case we don't come out of the cave again."

"Afraid the hobgoblins will kidnap us?" Scotty asked.

"Not hobgoblins. But if the heavy water is there, some of Long Shadow's
men will be, too. We probably can take care of ourselves. Only suppose
they catch us by surprise?"

Zircon agreed. "Rick is right. And even if there is no one in the cave,
there remains the possibility of accident. I think we'll do well to
leave Sing here. Then, if we're not out in twenty-four hours, he can
take steps to get us out."

"That's wise," Sing nodded.

They were debating what to take with them when Chahda returned. He
reported that some of the lamas had seen men with goatskin water bags
late in the day, men that they knew to come from outside the valley,
traveling from the general direction of the Cave of the Black Buddha. It
was such water-carrying groups that had made Chahda sure that the cave
was the source. There was no other near-by place that was possible.

"That settles it," Rick said. He told Chahda what they had in mind.

Chahda glanced at the sky. "Moon in a little while," he said. "With no
moon, we could not even get there. Too rough. But if no clouds come, we
can go."

Rick was a little surprised that Chahda hadn't objected in view of his
apparent dislike of the whole idea. Then he realized that the little
Hindu boy wasn't made that way. He might be afraid, but he would go.
That was true bravery.

After some discussion, they decided not to take their full equipment,
but merely to use the trip to locate the entrance to the Caves of Fear.
Once the way was found, they could return and load up with gear and
provisions. However, each of them took a few emergency rations, a full
canteen of water, their weapons, and flashlights. Chahda was given a big
electric lamp to carry. Rick slung the dark-light camera over his
shoulder while Scotty changed his rifle sight for the infrared
telescope.

The moon was up by the time they were ready. They shook hands with Sing
and started off, Chahda leading.

The way led across the valley at a slight angle, heading toward the
river. At first it was smooth going, with only high grass underfoot.
Rick was enjoying himself. The moon gave light to the valley center, but
the sides, under the sheer mountain walls, were shrouded in shadow. The
peaks themselves, snow-capped to the west, were bright.

Then Chahda cut back away from the river toward the nearest mountain
wall. The way began to get rougher, with hillocks to climb and rocky
outcroppings to skirt.

Soon they were out of the grassland entirely, walking through rock
masses. Now and then they went from the moonlight into dense shadow and
had to use their flashlights. Except for their flashlights, no man-made
light disturbed the wild scene. They had been traveling for some time.
It was late and not even a fire in front of a herder's tent could be
seen. By Rick's watch, it was almost eleven.

It was closer to midnight when Chahda stopped. He pointed to a rocky
defile. "This is as far as I went before. My friend who showed me said
the cave is there."

Zircon took the lead. Behind him, Rick put his own flashlight away and
held his rifle ready for use. Scotty, too, was ready. Chahda, crowding
Rick's steps, had the big light ready to turn on.

Zircon's beam picked out rocky walls that rose for a hundred feet. He
picked his way over tumbled rock, the others following. The way took a
sharp turn, then came to a dead end.

"Nothing here." Zircon's light covered the area a foot at a time. There
was no opening.

"Maybe we missed it," Scotty suggested. "Let's go back, and examine
everything on the way."

They reversed their steps. All of them used lights now, and the combined
beams illumined the steep walls brightly.

"Take a look at that," Scotty said suddenly. His light was on a pinnacle
of rock that appeared to have some sort of opening behind it. He moved
in, cautiously, the others close behind. There was an opening, sure
enough, where the pinnacle leaned against the main rock wall. There was
just barely room to squeeze through. Zircon almost got stuck.

Once past the opening, a new trail seemed to open up. And at its end an
aperture in the rock wall loomed black before them.

"That must be it," Rick said, and his voice echoed hollowly.

Scotty moved ahead to the entrance and flashed his light inside. The
beam was lost in the blackness beyond. "It's big," he said, and the
words rolled around in the emptiness.

Rick felt a shiver run down his back. "What are we waiting for?" he
demanded roughly. "Let's get inside."

The opening wasn't large. Zircon had to duck going in. Rick was right
behind him, Chahda bringing up the rear. Just inside, they stopped, all
lights going.

The cave was tremendous. The level rock floor stretched away from them,
and when they shot their lights upward, a vaulted dome reflected the
beams a good hundred feet overhead. Slowly they moved away from the
entrance, lights busy searching the cave. There was nothing near the
entrance but rock, solid and smooth. And it was so quiet Rick thought he
could hear his own heartbeat. Then his light beam picked up a green
reflection on the far side of the cave.

"There's something there," he exclaimed. In spite of himself, his voice
shook.

"We'll soon see," Scotty said. Their voices rumbled through the cave,
echoing and re-echoing.

Zircon gave a sudden exclamation. "Chahda! Where's the big light?"

The Hindu boy had been playing the bright beam on the walls to one side.
Now he swung it squarely ahead, and Rick gasped.

The Black Buddha!

It seemed to crouch against the far wall, a giant, loathsome thing of
dead black with live green eyes.

They went toward it, all lights on the thing, and as they made out more
details, Rick shuddered. The Buddha was completely the opposite of every
other Buddha he had seen. Instead of the bland, quiet look of peace,
this thing had its mouth open, showing sharp ebony teeth. It leered over
a nose like a pig's, and its body was gross and misshapen. It was, Rick
thought, toad-like. It quite frankly gave him the willies. His
imagination gave it life, so that the obscene lips smirked, and almost
seemed to drool.

Something white at the base caught the light beams. In a moment they
stood before a pile of bones, heaped against the statue's left side.

Zircon's light swept them. "Human," he said.

Rick's scalp tightened.

Next to him, Chahda let out his breath in a sigh that was nearly a moan.

In the second that they stood silently looking at the pile of bones,
there came a slight sound from somewhere behind the Black Buddha.
Instantly their lights swept in the direction of the sound, until Scotty
hissed, "Put 'em out!"

Blackness flooded in on them. Rick strained his eyes to see, his ears to
hear. He tried to control his breathing, sure that its sound could be
heard forty feet away.

Then he saw a horizontal thread of light about three feet long against
the wall behind the statue. It spread upward slowly, forming a
rectangle. Rick watched it, his palms wet on the rifle as he tucked the
flashlight away and gripped the weapon tightly.

It was yellow light, eerie as a will-o'-the-wisp and scarcely stronger.
Then, as Rick watched, a shadow rose up in a black narrow path from the
bottom of the rectangle. It rose and rose until it almost filled the
frame, and the blackness was in the form of a man, almost, except that
it was too long, too thin.

The four stood as though hypnotized for a dozen heartbeats, then Zircon
came to life. He jumped forward with a great roar.

"Long Shadow!"

The light vanished and again blackness closed around them.



CHAPTER XIV

The Caves of Fear


Instantly all lights were directed at the back of the cave. Zircon
rushed around the statue and stopped short as his light found only rock
walls.

"He has to be here somewhere," the scientist bellowed. "Hunt for him!"

Rick stood for a moment estimating the direction from which the light
had come. He walked to the part of the wall on which they had seen the
shadow, and stood with his back to it. He flashed his light straight
ahead, and it fell on the broad back of the Black Buddha.

The others had followed his line of thought and were watching.

"Look for a door," Scotty said. He hurried to the back of the statue and
began examining it with his light. Rick joined him. Zircon got out a
jackknife and began to probe into cracks. Chahda got down on hands and
knees and felt along the base.

The back of the statue was seamed with cracks, but they ran
helter-skelter without apparent order. The illumination against which
the shadow was cast had been rectangular.

"There isn't a straight line in the bunch," Rick said, disappointed.
"What now?"

"There must be a way to open the door, wherever it is," Zircon stated.
"That's what we must look for, I think. It may be on the statue itself,
on the floor, or on a wall near by. Rick, you and Scotty take the
statue. Chahda and I will take the walls and floor."

"What are we hunting for?" Scotty asked.

"I don't know. Perhaps a knob, perhaps a keyhole. Look for anything
unusual."

Rick and Scotty began at opposite sides of the statue's back and started
working toward each other, examining every inch of the black stone
minutely. Zircon and Chahda started side by side on the wall behind the
statue and worked away from each other. Rick used his jackknife to probe
every suspicious crack or chip, but without success. He and Scotty
covered the back as high up as they could reach without finding a thing.
Zircon and Chahda worked along the wall until they were thirty feet
apart, then the scientist called a halt on the theory that the secret
lock wouldn't be that far from the door. The door was either in the
statue's back or near its base.

While Zircon and Chahda started examining the floor, Rick and Scotty
started on the statue's sides. There was more decoration along the
sides, so they had to go more slowly and carefully.

After a while, Chahda called, "Something here."

The others stopped what they were doing and hurried to him. The Hindu
boy's light was on a tiny slot in the floor. It seemed shallow. Rick
pointed out that the floor in the area was checkered, almost like a tile
floor.

"There must be a reason for that," Zircon said. He knelt by the slot and
peered into it. "Nothing in the slot, however. Rick, isn't yours a scout
knife?"

"Yes, sir." Rick handed it to him.

Zircon opened the screwdriver blade and pushed it into the slot. Nothing
happened. He moved it from side to side, with no effect.

"There must be some reason for that slot," Scotty said. "Try again,
professor. Push harder."

Zircon shoved the blade down into the hole and pushed. "There must be a
special key of some kind," he said finally. "That is, if the slot has
anything to do with the door. I suggest we continue the search until
we're satisfied that this is the only possibility."

Rick nodded, disappointed. He turned back to the statue and took a step
forward into space!

A wild yell burst from him as he felt himself falling, then Scotty had
him by the jacket and was hauling him back. Rick collapsed on the stone
floor, his heart pounding The others shot their flashlights into the
place where he had stepped.

A section of the floor had swung upward, right at the base of the
statue. It yawned open, and from its lip a flight of steps led downward.

"It worked," Chahda said. "But was so silent we never hear it!"

Scotty gripped his rifle and snapped off the safety catch, then holding
the weapon in one hand like a pistol, he took his flashlight in the
other hand and started down. Zircon was right behind him.

Rick got to his feet and felt for the dark-light camera. It hadn't been
jarred because his body had cushioned it. But he wanted to be sure the
strap was still secure on his shoulder. Satisfied that all was well, he
started down the steps after Zircon. He didn't fancy going into the
underground part of the cave, but there was no choice. This was what
they had come for.

There were ten broad stone steps carved from the rock. Rick shot his
light around and saw that a heavy beam ran from the underside of the
trap door down to the bottom of the stairs where it ended in a stone
block. It was a counterbalance, the weight of the stone evidently just
enough heavier than the door so that moving the latch would let it swing
open. The latch itself was a piece of metal, probably bronze, that slid
in a channel carved in the underside of the door. Rick guessed that the
sideways pressure of the blade in the slot had let the door open rather
than the downward shove Zircon had given. A cord of leather ran from the
latch back along the corridor so that anyone entering the rock tunnel
could tug on it and open the door without climbing the stairs.

Rick joined Zircon and Scotty at the bottom of the steps. Chahda was
right behind him. The stairs ended in a long, low passage, just high and
wide enough for a man to pass. It was perhaps fifty feet long, and it
ended in blackness that indicated a bigger passage, or another cave,
beyond. Rick touched the walls and noted the marks of ancient chisels.
The passage had been cut in the living rock.

"Have your rifles ready," Zircon directed. "Chahda, you have the big
light. Lead the way and we'll cover you."

Chahda switched on his big light and took the lead. The others, rifles
ready for instant use, followed close behind. Big Zircon held his weapon
over Chahda's shoulder as the Hindu boy walked slowly down the passage.

In a moment they were at the entrance to the next passage or cave.
Chahda peered in, turning his light from side to side. Zircon, looking
over his head, said, "A large cave beyond. Very large. Chahda, do you
see anything?"

Chahda shook his head. "Only rock. Nothing inside I can see."

"All right. Go ahead."

The Hindu boy stepped into the cave, the rest following. Rick saw that
Zircon hadn't exaggerated. The cave was even larger than the one that
held the Black Buddha. Chahda's big light picked out the opposite wall
dimly.

The scientist brought his own light into play, turning it on the walls
nearest them. "Odd," he muttered. "The character of the rock changes
completely. This is almost surely limestone."

Rick had to grin. Even chasing Long Shadow through an underground cavern
couldn't quiet Zircon's scientific curiosity. "What do we do now,
professor?" he asked.

Zircon looked up from his examination of the whitish rock. "Eh? Oh.
Sorry, Rick. Why, I suppose we explore a bit more. I don't think we'd
better go far, however. Now that we know that Long Shadow is here, we
had better return to camp and get extra food, batteries, and ammunition.
However, I would like a look at the opposite side. There must be further
passages, because this cave obviously doesn't contain our friend."

"Suppose...." Scotty started to say.

Rick never found out what Scotty was going to say, for at that moment
the four whirled as something grated behind them. They were in time to
see metal rods slam home across the entrance through which they had
come!

Rick and Scotty reached the entrance first. Each of the boys grabbed one
of the rods and tugged. They were rigid.

"We're locked in!" Rick's voice was harsh.

"Let me look," Zircon said quietly.

The boys stood back while he made a careful inspection. From floor to
top of the passage entrance the metal bars blocked the way. They were
about an inch thick, spaced only six inches apart. They had shot out of
holes in one side of the passage and lodged in corresponding holes on
the opposite side.

None of them had noticed the holes. They had been too curious about what
lay beyond the passage.

Zircon put his massive strength against one of the bars. It didn't move.
He tried to slide it either way. There wasn't even a fraction of an inch
of slack.

He turned, and at the expression on his face a shiver slid down Rick's
spine. Long Shadow had caught them neatly.

They were trapped in the Caves of Fear!



CHAPTER XV

The Labyrinth


Zircon led the three boys to the center of the big cave, then spoke in a
whisper. "I see no need in advertising our plans to the enemy. Keep your
voices down. Now, what are we to do?"

"Long Shadow must be watching us from somewhere," Scotty said uneasily.
"But from where?"

"The walls are uneven," Rick pointed out. "There could be peepholes
anywhere. But what I'd like to find is the place with the controls for
that gate! It can't be far from the entrance."

"Is true," Chahda agreed. He turned the big light on the barred
entrance, then played it back and forth across the walls on that side of
the cave. There was no break anywhere.

"Turn it on the other side," Zircon ordered.

Chahda did so. Now that they were closer to the far wall, openings could
be seen. There were two, both of them door size. Except for the entrance
through which they had come, they were the only openings in the cave.

Rick spoke up, and he was surprised that there was no shakiness in his
voice. "Look, gang. If we stay here waiting for Long Shadow to open up,
we might stay forever. I'd rather push on, at least for a little way."

Zircon looked at Scotty. "You're the military expert. What chance have
we in a fight?"

Scotty shrugged. "In an open fight, we have a good chance. Our rifles
are better than any I've seen around here, and we can fire a lot faster.
But if they start potting at us from around corners and through holes in
the rock...." He didn't have to finish.

"Better we go ahead," Chahda said.

Zircon hesitated. "If this is the only entrance to the caverns, as seems
quite likely, Long Shadow has trapped himself as well as us. He'll have
to open up to get out."

Rick didn't think so. "There's no opening under the Black Buddha except
the one we came through. But we didn't look around the passage very
thoroughly, so there might be a door of some kind."

"You're right," Zircon agreed. "Very well. Let's try going on. Rick, you
bring up the rear, and keep looking back."

Rick objected. "Wouldn't it be better for me to go ahead and use the
infrared beam with the glasses? Then I could see perfectly."

The scientist considered. "It would be better if the caves ahead are
large, yes. If they are not, our flashlights will do just as well. I
think we'd better save the infrared battery as long as possible.
Incidentally, do you have a spare?"

"At camp," Rick said. It had been planned as a brief trip of
exploration. He hadn't thought spare batteries would be necessary. Now
he blamed himself for being so shortsighted. It was always best to be
prepared for anything.

"Can't be helped now," Scotty said. "And speaking of batteries, we'd
better use only two flashlights at a time, one in front and one in
back."

"Excellent idea," Zircon approved. "I'll take the lead. Scotty next,
then Chahda, with Rick as rear guard. Now, which of the entrances do we
try first? I vote for the one on the right."

The scientist strode toward the deeper darkness of the entrance and shot
his light inside. The others took up the positions he had assigned. Rick
kept his flashlight beam moving around the big cave, watching for any
sign of an enemy.

"Another passage," Zircon said, and his voice echoed hollowly. "Cover
our rear, Rick." They went into it single file, Rick walking sideways in
order to keep looking back for a possible enemy. Then, as the others
stopped suddenly, he fell over Chahda. He heard the scientist say, "Dead
end. Nothing but a blank wall. Rick, lead the way out. We'll try the
other."

The second passage gave better results. It wound through the limestone
for a short distance, then opened into a small cave filled with
wonderful white rock formations.

"Stalactites and stalagmites," Zircon boomed. "I suspect we are getting
into the deeper caverns, those hollowed out by water and not by man. The
question is, which way do we go now?"

Rick took his eyes from the way they had come long enough to look
around. The cave was like a junction room, openings branching off in all
directions.

Scotty switched on his flashlight and began examining the cave floor.
"Look for signs," he directed. "If men have come this way, they must
have left some traces."

Chahda hurried to look, too. Rick stood where he was, light and eyes
going from one opening to another. He didn't intend to be caught off
guard.

Scotty gave a grunt of satisfaction and stood up. "Candle wax," he
announced. "And it leads through here." He pointed to a gap between two
fluted columns, made by centuries of dripping water that had deposited
countless grains of limestone.

Zircon immediately walked to the gap and peered through. "Come on," he
said. "There's another cave beyond."

The next cave was larger, and nowhere in it was there evidence that man
had occupied it. Rick looked around him, awed by the bizarre beauty of
the place. From ceiling and floor limestone icicles strained toward each
other. They were the stalactites and stalagmites Zircon had mentioned,
formed over the centuries by slow drops of water, each of which left its
tiny trace of limestone to help build up the formation. On one wall of
the cave the water deposits had carved a waterfall, so perfect that it
might have been frozen into white rock only moments before. And from
every grain of stone their flashlight beams twinkled and reflected until
it seemed the walls were crusted with jewels.

"More wax," Chahda called. He had found it near an irregular low opening
in the cave wall, a tiny drop left by someone carrying a tallow candle.

Zircon went through the opening an inch at a time, on hands and knees.
The others followed, to find themselves in a cave almost identical to
the one they had left, except for the stone waterfall. This cave, too,
had walls broken in a number of places.

Rick and Zircon flashed their lights around, seeking the next step. Then
Rick caught a quick glimpse of something red that moved! Quick as a
flash he shifted his hand on the stock of his rifle, pointed it like a
pistol, and fired. The red object vanished!

The thunderous echo of the shot reverberating through the cave drowned
out his yell. He sprang through the entrance where he had seen the flash
of red and found himself in still another cave. Scotty was right behind
him.

"What is it?" Scotty demanded.

"I think it was a man," Rick said quickly. "He was wearing something
red. Come on, he can't be very far from here."

"Which way?"

There was no way of telling which way the man had gone. There were a
half dozen openings in the cave walls. Rick pointed at the two biggest.
"You take that one and I'll take this." Rifle ready and flashlight held
in front of him, he ran through the break in the wall he had indicated.
Scotty hurried to the other.

If only they could get their hands on even one man, Rick thought, they
might force him to serve as their guide! He passed through another cave,
choosing the biggest entrance on the opposite wall. As he went through
it, he was certain he saw a movement, as though the quarry had just
rounded a corner. He let out a yell and lengthened his stride. In a
second he reached the corner, rounded it, and found himself in an odd
cave with countless pillars, formed when stalactites from the ceiling
and stalagmites from the floor had joined together. It was a veritable
labyrinth. He started through it, got perhaps fifty feet, and stopped.
The man he had chased surely knew his way around the caves. There was no
hope of overtaking him now. Better rejoin the others, Rick thought. It
was senseless to get too far away from his companions.

He turned and started back, then hesitated, not sure of the way he had
come. The corridors formed by the limestone pillars led in all
directions.

"I must have come this way," he muttered, and started off. Then he
stopped again, playing his light around. He couldn't be sure. Suddenly
worried, he ran forward and was brought to a halt by a solid wall. He
turned and hurried along it, seeking an opening. He found one, but
smaller than the one through which he had come. He plunged on, found a
big opening, and went through it into an irregular cave unlike any he
had seen before. He turned to retrace his steps, and his eyes met a wall
where the openings were separated only by glistening partitions of
limestone. He couldn't even be sure of the one through which he had just
entered.

He licked lips that were suddenly dry. "I can't lose my head," he told
himself sternly. "I've got to stay calm."

But in spite of his warnings to himself, he felt panic rising within
him.

He was completely, hopelessly lost!



CHAPTER XVI

The Lake of Darkness


Rick sat with his back against the cold surface of a stalagmite column.
His head drooped with weariness and his throat ached from yelling. He
had retraced his steps a dozen times or more. He had lost count. But
none of the passages took him back to his friends, nor had his yelling
of their names brought a response.

He forced himself into a semblance of calmness and tried to think. What
was he to do? He eyed the beam of his flashlight and realized that he
ought to conserve the batteries. He turned it off, and dead, silent
blackness closed in about him.

True blackness is rare. It cannot be found by closing shutters or
curtains in a room, even at night. Some light always penetrates man-made
rooms unless they are designed, as very few are, for total darkness.
Rick never had experienced it before, and it was frightening. He had to
take a firm grip on himself to keep from getting panicky.

But if the underground caverns were completely without light, they were
not completely without sound. As Rick sat quietly he began to hear the
slow drip of water. It was the slow drip of centuries that had produced
the weird limestone formations of the caves.

He began to talk quietly to himself, and the sound of his own voice was
better than listening to the slow dripping of water.

"I can't stay here. The others wouldn't have any more chance of finding
me than I have of finding them. But if I leave here, I'm taking a
chance. I might go so deep into the caves that I'd never find my way out
again, or see any of the others again."

He had visited some of the limestone caverns of Virginia, and he had
read of the New York and Kentucky caverns. He knew that even in America
there were endless series of caves that never had been fully explored.
This fabled Tibetan place might extend on forever.

"On the other hand," he continued to himself, "if I keep moving, I might
stumble on the big cave under the Black Buddha again. It's less than a
fifty-fifty chance. A whole lot less. But it's a chance and I'd better
take it."

He didn't let himself think of what would happen if he failed to find
his way back. He got to his feet and switched on his light again. By
contrast with the total darkness, the reflection of the beam on the
limestone walls was brilliant sunlight. He had to wait while his eyes
adjusted themselves to the light. Then he flashed the beam around. There
were passages going in every direction.

"Which way do I go?" he asked himself.

It was a tossup. He remembered an old trick and spat into the palm of
his hand. Then, with the forefinger of his other hand, he slapped the
spittle sharply. The biggest drop flew between two limestone
hour-glasses that formed one passage. He hitched up the camera case on
his shoulder, picked up his rifle, and started forward.

The caverns were endless. Walking slowly, to conserve his strength, he
wandered through countless incredible rooms of gleaming stone. The
dripping water had formed all manner of things. He saw animals, ships,
mountain scenes, waterfalls, and cataracts, fairy grottoes, fish,
distant houses ... all carved of shining stone by millions upon
countless millions of water drops over centuries past number. He was so
completely enthralled by the unearthly beauty of the place that he even
forgot his predicament for a few moments.

And then he noticed that his flashlight was growing so weak that it no
longer threw a clearly defined beam. It must have been getting weaker
for some time, he thought, but his eyes had adjusted themselves to the
failing light.

He looked at his watch, wondering that the flashlight batteries had run
down so soon. The watch had run down, too, and had stopped. He couldn't
remember. Had he wound it before coming to the cave? He was chilled now.
It was cold and damp in the limestone passages. He shivered and pulled
up his collar.

The panic rose up again. He didn't know how long he had been in the
cave. Had it been only a short while, or so many hours that his watch
had run down? He said to himself as calmly as he was able, "I'll have to
get where I'm going before the light fails altogether."

He began to run.

The illusion grew that he was trying to overtake the end of the
flashlight's beam. When he did catch up with it, that would be the end.
He had completely forgotten the infrared light on the camera, even
though the case banged against his side as he ran. He had been carrying
it for so long it had become a part of him.

He dodged through passages, rounded turns, leaped over stalagmites. Once
he had to crawl on his hands and knees under water-smooth limestone,
pushing his rifle ahead of him.

And all the time he was catching up to the end of the light. The radius
of illumination narrowed as the batteries failed, increasing the danger
of stumbling into a sudden crevice. Outside, the flashlight would have
been rejected long ago as a source of light. But far underground, with
no other light of any kind, it was still useful.

Running more slowly now, at a stumbling dogtrot, he broke into a cave
larger than any he had seen since the first one, at the end of the
passage from the Black Buddha. The feeble light failed to reach the
opposite wall.

Rick stopped, panting for breath. He knew he had to rest. He found a
natural seat next to a twisted pillar of limestone and sat down.

The light slowly faded until there was only the dimmest of red tints to
the bulb, and then that vanished too, and he was again in total
darkness. As he watched the light fade, he remembered the infrared. Now
he got the glasses from the case and put them on. He took the camera out
and adjusted the handstrap so it could be carried like a satchel. But he
didn't turn on the light just yet. The battery had to be conserved at
all costs. Because....

He swallowed hard. Because when the battery for the infrared light ran
down, there would be nothing but darkness. Darkness would mean feeling
his way through the limestone tangle, and he realized fully that he
would not get far before death claimed him in the form of a yawning
canyon in the limestone rock. He had passed many of them.

He set his jaw. That was ten hours away, because the battery would last
that long. Ten hours was a long time if used wisely.

He closed his eyes and leaned back, dead tired. He dozed off.

       *       *       *       *       *

Rick was never sure what awakened him, because there was no noise. It
may have been the light on eyes made sensitive by ultimate blackness.
But could a single candle have that much effect?

The candle was carried by a man. A Tibetan. The candle was in a tin
container, punched full of holes. That was to keep it from being blown
out in case of a draft, although there was little or no draft in the
caverns.

When Rick opened his eyes the man was walking straight across the floor
of the big cave, noiseless as a cat in feet wrapped in quilted cloth.
The miracle was that Rick didn't cry out on seeing another human.

He sat frozen, watching the man. Then, as the stranger reached the far
side of the cave, Rick came to life. If he lost this man, who obviously
knew his way around, he was finished! Working at top speed he untied his
shoelaces and slipped off his shoes. Then, in stocking feet, he padded
silently across the floor.

The candle was his guide. He didn't need the infrared beam yet. He would
follow the candle, and if it led him right into the hands of the enemy,
that was better than perishing alone of hunger in the blackness of the
inner caves.

As he went, wary of a backward look by his quarry, he put his rifle
under his arm and fumbled to tie a knot in his laces. It took time,
since he was carrying the camera in one hand now. When he finally
managed, he draped the shoes around his neck.

A dozen times he had been on the verge of abandoning the rifle as
useless extra weight. Now he was glad he had held onto it.

Ahead, the candlelight bobbed and turned as the Tibetan, unaware that he
was being followed, made his way through the caverns. Rick followed at a
safe distance, close enough to avoid being left behind by a sudden turn.

There was a new feeling in the air suddenly, a feeling of space and of
wetness. Rick sniffed. There was an odor, too, like decaying leaves,
although much weaker. His hopes brightened. Was the Tibetan leading him
out of the caves?

Then, so suddenly that he almost slipped from the edge, the path took
him to a narrow ledge above a body of water of some kind.

The Tibetan was making his way along the ledge, candle held high in a
search for something. When Rick switched on the infrared light for a
moment, the incredible scene leaped to his eyes from the darkness. From
under his feet a lake stretched away, its farther shore beyond the
eight-hundred-yard range of the infrared light. He turned the light back
and forth, seeking the end of the amazing body of water. But there was
nothing except the shore on which he stood.

The water was dead calm. Not a ripple disturbed the glassy surface. He
shot the invisible light straight down, and the water was so deep it
looked black.

With a sudden start he realized he might lose the Tibetan candle bearer.
He hurried after him, using the infrared light because the candle was
too far away now to show him the path. With the glasses on, using the
infrared light was just like using a powerful searchlight.

Far ahead, the candle stopped moving. Rick now proceeded more
cautiously, and he switched off the infrared light in case the Tibetan
should look back and possibly spy the glowing filament of the lamp.

The man was stooping over something, the candle resting on the stone
next to him. Rick switched the light on, then off again. And he broke
into a silent run. During the second the light had been on he had seen
that the Tibetan was untying a boat!

He had an instant to make a decision. He reached a spot a few feet
behind the preoccupied stranger, who was having trouble with the rope
knot, and put the infrared camera down on the stone. Then, gripping the
rifle firmly, he walked right up to the man.

"Hands up," he growled.

The Tibetan screamed.

He whirled, eyes wide with astonished fright, and he didn't even see the
rifle. He swept an enormous knife from his belt and leaped!

Rick stumbled backward, and as he did, he realized that he couldn't
shoot. He still needed the man for a guide. He swung the rifle, barrel
first.

It was just as effective as it had been when he swung on Worthington Ko.
The barrel connected with an audible _thunk_. The Tibetan fell forward
on his face.

Frightened out of his wits, Rick rolled him over, pulled aside the
sheepskin coat he wore and put his ear on the man's chest. Then he
sighed with relief. He hadn't swung too hard. For a moment he had feared
that the blow had killed the man. And that would have been almost as
effective as holding the rifle barrel to his own head, because he still
had no idea of where to go without the guide.

He debated for a moment, then lifted the Tibetan, dragged him to the
boat and dumped him in. It was a flat-bottomed craft with blunt ends and
primitive oar-locks. The oars were poles with round disks of wood on the
ends.

He collected the candle and the camera, placed them on a thwart, and
went to work on the rope. It was reeved through an iron ring that jutted
from the stone. The sight gave him heart. Where there was iron, men came
often. At least he was sure that held true in this case. But his victory
had spurred him on and he didn't want to sit quietly and wait. He wanted
to keep going.

He untied the knot, blew out the candle, shipped the oars and pushed
off. Something was on the other side of this Lake of Darkness. He
couldn't imagine what, but he intended to find out!



CHAPTER XVII

Through a Pair of Dark Glasses


Somewhere, perhaps, beyond the Lake of Darkness, was Long Shadow.

Rick felt certain of it. The Tibetan who lay unconscious at his feet had
been going somewhere. He had walked steadily and purposefully, with some
definite destination in mind. What was more logical than to assume that
the Tibetan had been heading for the hidden plant where heavy water was
being produced?

Once the plant was found, Long Shadow would be found there, also. Even
if he were not there at the moment, he would come. And when he did, Rick
intended to do something about it. He had no definite plans. He only
knew that somehow he would force Long Shadow to unlock the gate to the
outer world.

His oars dipped rhythmically as he pulled out into the lake. The
infrared light was directed toward a jutting edge of limestone on the
shore he had just left. He was using the rock formation as a marker so
he could steer a straight course.

He wondered about his friends. Were they lost, too? Or had they managed
to keep to the right trail by following the tiny drops of candle wax?
The odd tin candleholder explained why there wasn't more wax to follow.
The holder caught most, but not all of the drippings.

The rocky shore of the underground lake receded rapidly. Rick stopped
rowing and turned, switching the infrared light toward the direction in
which he was heading. He could see the opposite shore now, but dimly.
Knowing that the infrared light was effective at eight hundred yards, he
estimated the lake to be about twelve hundred yards wide. That was over
three-fifths of a mile.

When he shot the light up and down the lake, he saw nothing but the
black water. That meant the lake was more than sixteen hundred yards
long. He turned the light upward and surveyed the ceiling. It was
irregular, varying in height from a dozen feet to over two hundred. In
one place, the ceiling came down to within a few feet of the black
water.

It was an eerie place. Rick's quick imagination turned him into the
mythical Charon, who ferried the dead across the River Styx into Hades.
He grinned mirthlessly. The limp figure of the Tibetan gave substance to
the picture.

He bent over the man, reaching for his wrist. The pulse was weak but
steady. He had given the Tibetan a healthy belt. There was no sign of
returning consciousness. But Rick wasn't worried. If he had hurt the man
badly, the pulse would have been thready and unsteady. He would wake up
presently, and his head would feel like a pillow stuffed with rocks, but
otherwise he would be all right. Rick knew. He had been knocked out
himself a couple of times.

He resumed rowing, and his steady strokes brought him closer to the
opposite shore. He turned to examine it and saw that a rocky ledge rose
gradually out of the water. In a short time he felt the boat grind
against the limestone.

He got out and pulled the craft up on the shore, which was worn smooth
by the water. The ledge varied from ten to fifty feet in width. Beyond
it, the roof of the cavern came down sharply to form a curving wall
broken in countless places. He could see into the broken places nearest
him. They were the beginnings of more cave labyrinths.

Now that he had reached the opposite shore, what was he to do? Again he
leaned over the Tibetan. The man showed no signs of returning
consciousness.

Rick cast his invisible light up and down the shore. Nothing indicated
that humans ever had been there before him. He realized that the wisest
thing would be to wait until his guide returned to consciousness and
then force him to lead the way once more. But he was impatient.
Somewhere along the shore there must be signs he could follow.

He pulled the boat up as high as he could, then used strips torn from
the Tibetan's own clothes to bind and gag him. That done, he picked up
the infrared camera and his rifle and stood a moment in indecision.
Which way?

It was a tossup. Finally he decided to keep going in the general
direction the Tibetan had led him. He paused long enough to inspect his
rifle. After firing, he had failed to lever another cartridge into the
chamber. He did so now, then put the hammer on half cock so it couldn't
fire accidentally, and started off.

It was easy going in most places. But now and then he came to a point
where the shore ledge narrowed and he had to crawl. Once he skirted an
outcropping by walking in the water, feeling his way carefully so he
wouldn't step off a ledge into the depths.

After a while he began to think he hadn't been very smart. He was
getting exactly nowhere. As far ahead as the infrared beam could
penetrate, there was nothing but the curving shore. In some places the
lake narrowed to a channel less than a hundred feet wide, then it
broadened again until he could no longer see the opposite shore. He
couldn't guess how far he had walked from the boat. He thought it must
be at least a quarter mile.

Presently he found a place where a limestone pillar made a comfortable
back rest and sat down. He switched off the infrared light, and
instantly all light was blotted out. It was startling, even more so than
when he had switched off the flashlight, because the infrared beam gave
the illusion of a sort of gray daylight.

He sat quietly, waiting for some of the weariness to leave his legs, his
eyes closed. After a while he opened them again, more from habit than
with the intention of seeing anything. He couldn't see even the tip of
his nose it was so dark. Then suddenly he realized it wasn't as dark as
he had expected!

There was a faint luminous quality that outlined the shore of the lake.
He studied the line of demarkation, then guessed that the faint
luminosity must come from microscopic plant or animal life that clung to
the rock underwater. Sea water had a phosphorescence sometimes for the
same reason.

His eyes followed the faint line up the shore in the direction he had
been traveling. The silver phosphorescence turned a faint yellow. Almost
out of the range of his vision the yellow was picked up by the water,
like the dimmest moonlight.

He studied it for long minutes, trying to figure out the reason for the
phenomenon, then he almost leaped out of his skin. The water was
reflecting the yellow light! It didn't come from the water the way the
luminous silver did!

He got to his feet. Reflection meant man-made light!

It was hard to follow the faint yellow light. When he switched on the
infrared, the light vanished completely. When the infrared was off, he
couldn't find his way.

He compromised, going a hundred feet or so with the infrared on, then
turning it off and sitting quietly until his eyes adjusted themselves
and he could see the yellow glow once more. After he did this a few
times he could see that the light was growing slightly stronger.

Then, as he progressed, he realized why he couldn't see the source of
the light. It was around a corner of the rock wall.

After several minutes of alternate walking and waiting he reached the
corner. It dropped sharply into the water, and when he flashed the
infrared down, he saw that the water was black. No shelf here to walk
on. He debated for a moment. He could swim around, or he could try to
find another way. There were plenty of cave openings. One of them might
go through.

He had been lost once, and he didn't intend to let that happen again. He
tore open the packet of emergency rations he had brought, searching for
something with which to lay a trail.

Inside the waxed container were little cans of food and a packet of hard
crackers. The crackers would do.

But looking at the food reminded him that he hadn't eaten in a long
time. He didn't know if it was hours, or days. He had lost all track of
time. He took the can key and unwound the narrow sealing strip on a
container of cheese. It tasted wonderful. He devoured every bit of it,
including the crumbs left in the can. Then he opened a can of meat and
ate that, too. He had been sipping at his canteen at various times, but
it was still more than half full. He detached the canteen cup and filled
it from the lake, tasting it cautiously. The water had a flat taste,
like boiled water, but it was all right. He drank deeply, then filled
the canteen.

His hunger and thirst satisfied, he surveyed the various openings around
him, then chose the one nearest the corner he wished to get around. At
the very entrance, he placed the empty cheese tin. Inside the cave, he
turned to be sure it was clearly visible, then walked across to an
opening that seemed likely to lead him in the right direction. He placed
the second can at that opening and went into the passage formed by a
series of stalagmite columns. It was a dead end. He returned to the cave
where he had left the cans, picked up the empty meat can, and tried
another entry.

He was completely calm now. He knew that humans, even though enemies,
were not far away. And he was quite sure that his friends were all
right. They would take steps to leave a trail so they would not get lost
as he had done.

The second passage was better. He wound in and out through the limestone
formations, leaving a trail of broken cracker crumbs. Every now and then
he turned to see that the trail was plain. He grinned. Hadn't he read a
story when he was a kid about some children who had left a trail of
crumbs only to have the birds eat them?

No danger of that here. No self-respecting bird would get near the
place.

It wasn't long before he ran out of crumbs. Then he tore his
handkerchief into tiny bits and used that. When he reached the end of
the cloth scraps, he sat down to rest, turning off the infrared light
while he carefully shredded a big piece of his shirttail.

As his eyes adjusted themselves to the darkness, he saw the yellow light
again, only stronger this time! Carefully, his heart beating excitedly,
he turned the infrared light in the direction of the yellow glow and
switched it on. Before him was a big opening in the limestone. He
surveyed the floor carefully and saw that there was nothing over which
to trip. He turned off the infrared light, and, leaving a trail of torn
cloth behind him, he crawled toward the source of the light.

He came out on the shore of the lake once more. Before him stretched the
black water, the yellow light dancing across its surface. And the source
of the light was not from candles, but from torches!

Across the water, perhaps a hundred yards away, a half dozen torches
burned, their light lost in the emptiness of the great lake cave. Near
the torches he could see figures moving and knew with sudden relief that
he had found the enemy camp.

He turned on the infrared light, aiming it at the torches, and through
his special glasses he saw the scene light up.

Where the torches blazed was a great shelf of rock, stretching back
several hundred feet to where the rock wall began once more. On the
shelf were a dozen men, sitting around a tiny cooking fire much paler
than the torches themselves. They were Tibetans, like the one he had
captured.

He saw an odd structure at the water line and after a little study
realized that it was a barge of some kind, perhaps a floating pier. It
had odd derricklike wooden ladders on it. There were four of them,
perhaps three feet high. Beyond the barge he made out at least two
flat-bottomed boats.

Further back, against the limestone wall, he could see tents or lean-tos
made of some kind of cloth. He couldn't see clearly, but thought the
cloth might be felt. This, then, was a permanent camp! The tents must be
there to offer some protection against the cold and dampness.

He inspected the men again. They were all short. None of them could be
Long Shadow.

"Now what?" Rick asked himself.

It was certain that Long Shadow would come to the camp sooner or later.
It was almost as certain that Scotty, Zircon, and Chahda, if they
followed the trail of the wax candles carefully, would arrive sooner or
later at the boat landing to which the Tibetan had led him. Always
provided they hadn't been ambushed. He shivered at the thought. The cave
formations would make it easy for the enemy to lie in wait. Then, even
with their old-fashioned muskets and lack of shooting ability, they
could pick off the little party.

But they wouldn't do it without cost! Scotty was deadly with a rifle.
Zircon was a better than average shot.

Rick debated. It was no good to make his presence known. Far better to
lie in wait until Long Shadow came. Then, if he could take the camp by
surprise, his rifle would do the rest for him.

But how to take it by surprise?

He scanned the shore around the camp. In several places between him and
the camp shelf, the rock wall came right down to the lake's edge. Unless
he wanted to search for a way through the caves, he would have to swim.
Or use a boat.

Beyond the last sheer place, the camp shelf started. Its edge curved and
twisted for a little distance. If he could get to the starting point, he
could keep undercover easily enough. Then, making his way along the
wall, he could probably escape being seen until he was almost at the
tents. With luck, a sudden dash would bring him right to the enemy
without being seen first.

That was how he would do it. He would go back and get the boat, then lie
in wait in this very place until the time came. He withdrew from the
entrance, then paused suddenly. The men around the fire were getting to
their feet and walking toward the water. He watched as they peered into
the darkness in the direction he thought of as "down lake." One of them
ran to a torch, pulled it out of its holder, ran back to the water's
edge, and waved it.

A signal! To whom?

Two of the men were kneeling just beyond the barge, and a moment later
they proceeded to get into the two flat-bottomed boats he had seen. What
they had been doing was untying the boats. He watched as they rowed out
onto the black lake.

They must be going after someone!

Rick hurried back the way he had come, following the path of torn cloth,
then the broken cracker crumbs. He would have to hurry. The Tibetans
might have gone after Long Shadow!

He retraced his steps at a pace that was half-walking, half-running. The
trail he had left showed clearly in the infrared light. In a few moments
he came out of the caves onto the lake shore once more, and he saw the
signal that had summoned the boats. A red light was now clearly visible.
He thought it was right at the point from which he had pushed off in the
Tibetan's boat.

A sudden thought struck him. Wouldn't they miss the Tibetan and the
boat? He hurried faster. Now and then he stopped to listen, and he could
hear the sound of oars in the water.

It didn't take long to reach his boat. When he leaned over the Tibetan,
frightened black eyes peered up at him. He tested the man's bonds. They
were tight enough to be effective, but not so tight they cut off his
circulation. He knew the gag was uncomfortable, but he didn't dare
remove it. As assurance that he meant no harm, he patted the man on the
shoulder. Some of the wild fright went out of the beady eyes.

Working quietly, Rick pushed the boat out into the water. He wasn't
afraid of being seen. Candles or torches didn't cast enough light to
penetrate the blackness as the infrared beam did. But he might be heard.
He had to be as quiet as possible.

He used only one oar, kneeling in the stern and paddling the
flat-bottomed craft like a canoe. The infrared camera, placed on the
seat with the beam directed ahead of him, gave him plenty of light to
see. Once in a while he turned the beam around. The two boats were
making good progress toward the red signal. The beam of the infrared
camera didn't penetrate far enough for him to see what or who was under
the red light.

He rounded the corner that had blocked his way and paddled silently
along the rocky wall. The two boats were out of sight now.

Rounding the corner gave him a clear view of the torches, but he knew
the men around them couldn't see him.

The way was longer than he had thought. He paddled in and out of coves,
past grottoes in the rocky wall. Then, at last, he saw the little pile
of torn cloth he had left on the shore at the end of his cave trail. He
had put all the cloth not needed for marking trail in one place, not
because he had been foresighted, but because he hadn't needed it any
more. He was glad now of the accident that marked the right place,
otherwise he couldn't have identified it from the rest of the openings
in the wall.

He pulled the boat up to it and anchored it by the rope to a convenient
stalagmite. Then he half-lifted, half-dragged the trussed Tibetan into
the cave and out of sight of the lake.

Rick searched the water for some sign of the boats, and thought he heard
them coming. He went back to the Tibetan, took his canteen, unscrewed
the top, and placed it on the rock. Then, kneeling over his captive, he
took the man's throat in one hand. With the other he undid the rag that
held the gag in place. Pressure of his fingers warned the Tibetan he
would be strangled if he so much as squeaked. Then Rick pulled the torn
rags he had used as a gag from the man's mouth, lifted him to a sitting
position, and held the canteen to his lips with his free hand.

The Tibetan drank greedily. Rick let him rest for a moment, then held
the canteen again. The man drank his fill, then nodded his thanks. Rick
quickly replaced the gag and bound it in place, then used another piece
of cloth torn from the man's clothing to lash one leg to a stalagmite.
He didn't want to risk having the man wriggle to the entrance at the
wrong time, and sound an alarm.

Rick was exultant. High excitement was rising in him, because he thought
it was only a matter of time now before Long Shadow would come, even if
his enemy was not already in one of the boats that were making their way
back to the camp.

He switched out the infrared light, placing the camera on the ground,
pointing toward the boat landing. Then he lay down on his stomach, rifle
thrust out in front of him and handy to his hand. He could wait. He
could wait days, if necessary. Because once Long Shadow came, he would
force him to show the way to the outside, and he would force him to
locate the others.

If Long Shadow refused to co-operate ... Rick's lips tightened. Then at
least he wouldn't be lonesome in the Caves of Fear. His enemy would be
his company until the end.



CHAPTER XVIII

The Hostages


A faint splashing warned Rick that the boats were approaching. In a few
moments they were opposite his position. He swung the infrared light
around toward them and snapped it on.

There were two men in the lead boat, one rowing and the other taking his
ease in the stern. Rick's heart leaped as he saw that the passenger was
of very slender build. Was it Long Shadow? He couldn't see his face
clearly. He looked at the second boat, and a sudden grin split his lips.

Worthington Ko!

The Chinese merchant was sitting at ease, and there was no mistaking his
portly figure. Besides, he twisted on the wooden seat, making himself
more comfortable, and for an instant his face was toward Rick.

"Good," Rick muttered to himself. If the slender man wasn't Long Shadow,
at least he would have Ko to deal with. The Chinese with the glass eye
could, he knew, speak English, although it was probable that Long Shadow
could, too.

He watched as the boats reached the barge. Ko and the slender man got
out. Rick studied the stranger, noting that he was taller than Ko, and
so thin that, compared with the portly merchant, he looked like an
animated bean pole.

"He surely must be Long Shadow," Rick told himself. As soon as the
excitement of their arrival had died down among the Tibetans, he
intended to get into his boat and start toward the camp.

Ko and the stranger talked together for a moment, then the latter
gestured toward the Tibetans. The Tibetans ran toward the tents while
the two newcomers waited.

Rick watched the Tibetans, his brow furrowed. Surely they weren't going
to strike camp! He revised his plans hastily. If they did start to take
down the tents, he would dump his prisoner back in the boat. Then he
would follow wherever they went.

The Tibetans vanished into the tents, and in a moment they came out
again.

And they were leading Scotty, Zircon, and Chahda!

Rick gasped.

His friends had been in the camp all the time, prisoners! He groaned
softly. If he had only known, he might have gotten to them while the
boats were gone and the number of guards was temporarily reduced. He got
to his knees, determined to start for them right away. Then he paused as
his three friends were led before the two strangers. They were all
erect, their hands tied behind them.

Anyway, prisoners or not, they were evidently none the worse for their
captivity. Again he started for the boat, and again he paused. What if
Long Shadow and Ko intended loading them in the boats? It might be wiser
to wait. He sank down to a sitting position, caressing the cold metal of
his rifle. The next few moments would tell the story.

Worthington Ko stepped forward, confronting Zircon. The Chinese nodded
his head, then deliberately slapped the scientist across the face.

Zircon couldn't strike back. But his legs were free. One massive leg
swung in a giant punt that caught the Chinese squarely in the stomach.
Worthington Ko flew backward like a rag doll and slid along the
limestone floor. Rick watched the tableau, spellbound.

The Tibetans ran forward.

Rick put the camera down, light pointing at the group across the way.
Then he raised his rifle and sighted in. He'd get some of them before
they could harm his friends. His finger tightened slowly on the trigger.

And then the Tibetans fell back as Long Shadow barked an order.

Worthington Ko got to his feet, bent over, both hands on his stomach. He
weaved a little. The breath had been knocked right out of him, Rick
thought.

The Tibetans and Long Shadow watched as Ko straightened up, very slowly.
He ran his hands gingerly over his big stomach. Then, walking
unsteadily, he moved back to within a few feet of Zircon. He called out
something and one of the Tibetans ran forward.

Rick's throat clogged as the torchlight reflected from a shiny blade. Ko
took the blade and swished it through the air. Then, drawing it back, he
stepped forward.

The Chinese was squarely in Rick's sights. He squeezed the trigger and
the rifle recoiled against his shoulder. The shot thundered through the
echoing cave.

Ko staggered. He dropped the blade, took a couple of hesitant steps
backward, and then sat down hard.

There was sudden chaos in the camp across the way. The Tibetans ran back
and forth aimlessly like sheep. Long Shadow bellowed orders. Then he ran
to a torch, pulled it out of the socket, and heaved it into the water.
The Tibetans got the idea. The torches flashed through the air and then
hissed out in the water.

Long Shadow felt his way toward the three Spindrifters, calling out
orders to the Tibetans. Rick suddenly realized that, of all in sight,
only he could see! Long Shadow and his men thought they were safe in the
darkness.

He watched, rifle at his shoulder, as Long Shadow collected the
Tibetans. Then he realized that the enemy intended herding Scotty,
Zircon, and Chahda into the caves. Probably they were certain that in
the caves they would be safe from whoever had fired from the darkness.

Ko was still sitting. He had one hand pressed to his side.

The Tibetans were groping for their prisoners. Rick grinned. He aimed at
the stone under their feet and fired. There was a chorus of yells. He
levered another cartridge into the chamber and fired again.

The Tibetans fled, charging blindly toward the cave openings beyond the
tents.

Long Shadow kept yelling orders, groping around in the blackness, but
the Tibetans paid no attention. They reached the back wall of the cave.
Two of them went headlong into openings. Others crashed into the walls,
fell, crawled sideways, scrambling until they found the openings they so
frantically sought.

Long Shadow's voice could be heard screaming in fury for his men to come
back.

He couldn't see, as Rick could, that they were all now in the caves
behind their leader.

Finally, giving up, Long Shadow started for safety himself.

It would never do to allow the thin man to get away, Rick thought. He
wanted Long Shadow. He and his companions had questions to ask him, and
they needed him to get them out of the Caves of Fear. He sighted
carefully at the long legs that were feeling their way toward the back
wall. He fired.

Long Shadow stumbled headlong, then he started to crawl. Rick stood up
and yelled. "Gang! Get Long Shadow!"

His words echoed eerily through the cave.

Zircon understood and bellowed. "Where is he?"

Rick thought quickly. The three were still standing in a line. He
shouted orders.

"Right face. Forward march!"

Like a well-trained machine, his friends obeyed. They marched forward
steadily. But they were slightly off. He remembered the correct command.

"Left oblique! March!"

Scotty swung a quarter left, bumped into Zircon. Chahda stood still, not
understanding. Neither had Zircon comprehended the command. Rick yelled,
"Scotty! Turn right just a fraction."

Scotty did so. "Now," Rick called. "He's about ten feet in front of
you."

Scotty moved forward, feeling his way a step at a time. When he was
almost on Long Shadow, Rick yelled, "You're there!"

Long Shadow turned over on his back and clawed in his pockets.

"Watch out!" Rick screamed. "He's got a gun!"

Scotty jumped, feet first. He missed Long Shadow by a fraction, landing
next to his chest.

"Fall to the left!" Rick yelled.

Scotty crashed down across the man, calling to Zircon and Chahda. Guided
by their friend's voice, the two reached his side quickly. Rick couldn't
hear what Scotty said, but the big scientist suddenly sat down, his back
to Long Shadow. A moment later he writhed away, and he had the pistol
between his bound hands.

Rick sighed his relief. "Wait!" he yelled. "I'll be right there!"

He didn't dare take his eyes off the scene long enough to pick up his
prisoner. Time enough for that later. He untied the boat and got in. He
knelt, placing the rifle on the seat in front of him next to the
infrared camera. Then, using the oar as a paddle once more, he started
straight across to the camp.

It wasn't a far journey. But as he reached the halfway mark, two of the
Tibetans looked cautiously out of their hiding place. Rick put the oar
across the gunwales, picked up his rifle, and sighted carefully.
Fortunately, there wasn't so much as a ripple on the water. The boat was
perfectly steady.

He squeezed the trigger, and the stalactite directly over their heads
shattered into a thousand pieces, showering them with limestone. They
didn't wait for a second shot. He could hear their yells even after they
had ducked back into the caves. They weren't used to sharpshooting in
total darkness.

Rick smiled as he resumed paddling. He could understand how they felt.
He wasn't used to it, either.

In a few moments he was at the barge. He tied the boat to one of the odd
derrick affairs and scrambled out. Then, picking up the camera and
rifle, he hurried to his friends.

Scotty and Chahda were using Long Shadow as a bench. Zircon sat a little
distance apart, trying to peer toward Rick through the darkness.

"Dark in here, isn't it?" Rick inquired pleasantly.

"Rick! You old muttonhead!" Scotty exclaimed.

"Thank God you're safe," Zircon said.

Chahda grinned the widest grin ever and said, "Also giving much thanks
that friend Rick has eyes like cat which see in dark!" The Hindu boy
didn't know about the infrared camera, unless the others had explained
it to him. There hadn't been time back at camp, and Rick hadn't thought
of it, anyway.

In a moment the three were untied, rubbing circulation back into their
wrists.

"Let's get a light!" Zircon said. "I think we had better see to the
wounded. I assume there are wounded? I know Ko was hit. And just as he
was about to carve my head from my shoulders, too."

"He's sitting over there," Rick said.

"Where's there?" Scotty asked.

He kept forgetting that only he could see. "Where he dropped. Long
Shadow is hit, too. I don't know how badly."

For the first time, they heard their enemy's voice. It was rather high,
but cultured and pleasant. "Not badly. Although I believe my ankle may
be broken. I have felt, and I don't believe I am bleeding much."

Rick knelt quickly and put the infrared light on the wound. Long Shadow
was right. It hadn't bled much, and Zircon, looking the wound over after
borrowing the glasses, told him, "I doubt that the ankle is broken. The
wound is clean."

"Stay where you are," Rick warned him. "We'll bandage you after we look
at Ko."

"I have no intention of going anywhere," Long Shadow said. "Not when
some magic I don't understand permits you to see in complete darkness."

Rick took the glasses from Zircon's hand. In the interval during which
the scientist was wearing them, he had understood how the others felt.
The darkness was absolute. He put the glasses on again and walked over
to Ko, talking so his friends could follow the sound of his voice.

"Well, Mr. Ko," he said, "you got a little surprise, didn't you?"

The Chinese with the glass eye groaned. "You have won," he complained
weakly. "Now have the kindness to let me go to my ancestors in peace."

"Better let me take a look at him," Zircon said.

Rick walked to the scientist's side and took one of his hands. Then he
took off the glasses and pressed them into the hand he was holding. That
done, he stood in the blackness and waited.

"Lie flat," presently Zircon said.

"Please go away," Ko groaned.

"Lie flat," Zircon ordered.

There was the sound of ripping cloth. Zircon grunted. "Hmmmm."

Ko moaned. "I wish to go to my ancestors alone."

"You're not going to your ancestors," Zircon replied scornfully. "I
doubt that they'd have you. In case you're interested, Rick's bullet
merely plowed a nice, round hole through some of the fat on your right
side. You haven't even lost enough blood to make the wound interesting."

Ko's voice was suddenly animated. "Are you sure?"

"Quite sure. No, don't try to get up. Stay where you are. If you try to
run I'll order our seeing-eye marksman to finish the job." Zircon
continued, "Rick, Scotty, Chahda. Stay where you are. I saw some torches
stacked in one of the tents. I'll get them and be right back."

The three boys assured him that they wouldn't move. Rick, for one, had
no intention of prowling about in the blackness.

While they waited, Scotty asked, "What happened to you, Rick?"

Rick hesitated. He couldn't give an adequate account of what he had
experienced during the recent hours. Or was it weeks? He summed it up.
"After we got separated, I couldn't find you again. I wandered around.
Then I sat down in a big cave and fell asleep. When I woke, there was a
Tibetan with a candle. I followed him to a boat landing, slugged him,
and rowed across the lake. He's waiting, tied up, across the lake at the
spot from where I fired. How about you?"

"We look for you," Chahda said. "We look a long time, and almost get
lost ourself."

"Finally we decided we'd better push on and find Long Shadow," Scotty
continued. "We tracked the drippings from the candles for hours. It was
slow work. Then, while we were resting, we got jumped from behind. They
didn't even have to bother about lights, because one of our flashlights
was on, and it was getting so weak we couldn't see more than ten feet.
They came out of the darkness with a rush and there we were. They made
us walk to the boat landing, called the boats from here, and brought us
over. We've been sitting in one of those tents for hours. You know the
rest."

How rapidly they could cover the tortured hours of travel in a few
words, Rick thought. But he said only, "I'm glad we're all together
again."

"How you see in dark?" Chahda asked.

Rick explained briefly. The Hindu boy chuckled. "Plenty mystery for one
who not know, you bet! I scared myself, like the men who ran."

Then Zircon came back. He brought out matches and in a moment torches
were blazing again. They bandaged the two enemies as best they could,
using clean handkerchiefs which Chahda and Scotty carried. And Rick got
his first good look at Long Shadow's face.

The man was incredibly thin. His skin was stretched over the bones of
his face like parchment, and it had a sallow ivory tinge even in the
ruddy torchlight. His eyes were black, with just the faintest hint of a
Mongoloid fold.

"Are you a Eurasian?" Rick asked bluntly.

"Yes." Long Shadow smiled. "I'm one quarter Burmese. The other
three-quarters doesn't matter."

"You know our names," Rick said. "I'm sure you do. But we don't know
yours."

Long Shadow laughed. "You could never pronounce my Burmese name and the
other name I use is of no importance."

Zircon and the others had been listening. Now the scientist said, "We'll
have plenty of chance to talk, Rick. At the moment I'm concerned with
getting out of here. After a bit of exploration of course. It's almost
certain that the heavy water comes from here. Although I don't know the
source."

Scotty motioned toward the Lake of Darkness. "Bradley said to bring a
Nansen bottle and a rubber boat. He must have known about this. Why
would he say to bring a Nansen bottle if not to take a sample from the
lake?"

Zircon flashed a look at Long Shadow. The Eurasian smiled gently.
"That's a good question Mr. Scott asked," he told them. "But don't look
to me for the answer."

"Search the tents," Zircon ordered. "Chahda, keep an eye on our two
friends."

The three Americans walked to the felt tents and began searching through
them. Zircon used the infrared camera. Rick and Scotty took torches.

Rick was feeling through a pile of furs when Zircon called, "Here are
the flashlights!"

Zircon's had run down, but Scotty's, and Chahda's big lights were still
useful. They made the search much easier. Rick went back to the pile of
skins and found that they were plastic-lined water bags, similar to the
ones they had found on the way to Korse Lenken. Then, stacked in a
corner of the tent, he found some Nansen bottles!

At the same moment, Scotty called from the next tent. "Look what I
found!"

He had located the ammunition supply. There was powder and ball for the
old muskets the Tibetans used, two boxes of machine pistol cartridges,
and a small case of grenades!

"Now we know where Ko got the one he tried to use on us," Rick said.
"But where did they come from in the first place?"

"The war," Scotty guessed. "There must be tons of ammo and ordnance of
all kinds floating around China. What makes me wonder is why the
Tibetans don't have modern rifles."

"I suspect the answer is their natural conservatism," Zircon suggested.
"They are slow to change. And such guns as they use are handed down from
father to son. I don't doubt that modern rifles were offered them and
that they refused."

Rick knew something of the Oriental mind, although not much, and he
realized that Zircon was probably right. In a land of ancestor worship,
change was resisted.

Scotty stuffed grenades in each pocket. "Just in case we get into a
fight on the way out," he explained.

Rick was glad to leave the deadly things to his friend. Scotty knew
about grenades from his tour of duty in the Marines; he had thrown more
than a few himself.

"Nansen bottles in the next tent, professor," Rick said. "There must be
something to this business of getting stuff out of the lake. But golly,
you don't get heavy water out of natural water, do you?"

"I don't know," Zircon said. "There is only one precedent I can think
of. Have you ever heard of Lake Baikal?"

Neither boy had.

"It's a very large lake in Siberia, just above Mongolia," the scientist
told them. "It is also very deep. A few years ago, before the Iron
Curtain closed down, word came out of Russia that some scientists had
succeeded in getting heavy water samples out of Baikal. That is the only
precedent that I know.

"It is true," he continued, "that heavy water has a tendency to sink.
Naturally enough, since it is heavier. But for enough to form on the
bottom of a body of water, there would have to be great depth and
complete calm. Any current would stir the water up and the heavy water
would merge with the normal once more."

"In other words, you need a lake like this one," Rick concluded.

"I must admit it fits the requirements," Zircon agreed. "And we've seen
no sign of an industrial plant. These caverns certainly would be no
place for one."

"We can soon tell," Scotty suggested. "Let's take a sample. When we get
out, you can test it."

"Quite right," Zircon said. "And let's be quick about it."

It didn't take long to discover the reason for the odd little derricks
on the barge. Each was equipped with a pulley and a reel of wire.
Obviously, it was from here that the Nansen bottles were lowered.

While Chahda and Scotty remained on shore, Zircon and Rick pushed the
barge out into the lake. Rick got a Nansen bottle ready.

The bottle was made of metal, each end equipped with a spring cap. The
bottle was lowered on a wire with the ends open, permitting water to
flow through it freely. When it reached the desired depth, a metal
weight called a "messenger" was attached to the wire and dropped. The
weight of the messenger released devices that closed the caps, thus
trapping the water sample inside. A brass spigot on the side permitted
the sample to be taken out easily when the bottle was hauled up again.

They had brought four bottles from Long Shadow's stores. The first one
was lowered to the very bottom, and it took a long time getting there.
The reel of wire with which the barge was equipped ran out and out until
a full seven hundred feet of it had disappeared into the dark depths of
the lake. Rick was glad the reel of wire had a geared handle. Pulling
that weight up would be no fun.

Once the slackening of the wire told them that bottom had been reached,
Zircon put the messenger on the wire and let it go. Seconds later, a tug
on the wire told them it had struck and Rick reeled in.

Other samples were taken at five, ten, and fifteen feet from the bottom.
Zircon marked the bottles, then they paddled back to shore.

Long Shadow spoke up. "Of course you have testing equipment?"

"At our camp near Korse Lenken," Zircon assured him.

"You'll find what you expect," the Eurasian said.

"Thank you. And now, we'll also thank you to lead us out of here."

"No," Long Shadow said.

"You're beaten," Zircon said reasonably. "Why not admit it and
co-operate? We've nothing against you even if there were law in Tibet.
See us to the outside and open the barred gate and you're at liberty to
go."

Rick started to protest, then he realized Zircon was right. Law in this
part of the world was the law of the rifle. There was nothing they could
do to Long Shadow or Ko.

Long Shadow considered. "I suppose you're right. My little business deal
is over, at least for the time being." He raised his voice and yelled in
Tibetan.

The boys grabbed up their rifles as Tibetan heads showed from the caves,
black eyes blinking in fear.

"They will carry me and Ko," Long Shadow said calmly. "Now let us be on
our way." He smiled. "I must admit I have a selfish interest in all this
worry about getting to the outside. This ankle is beginning to hurt, and
I won't mind having one of the lamas with medical skill take a look at
it."

"How about letting a Hong Kong police doctor take a look at it?" Rick
asked. Long Shadow's cheerfulness was getting on his nerves. The man
acted more like a guest than a prisoner.

"I don't think we need go that far," Long Shadow replied. "The lamas are
quite capable."

"I wasn't concerned about your ankle," Rick corrected. "I was thinking
that the Hong Kong police might like to get their hands on the kind of
citizen who goes around shooting up hotels with a Schmeisser machine
pistol."

Long Shadow stopped smiling abruptly. "You couldn't prove that," he said
swiftly.

"Why not?" Scotty asked, "We'll let the police see if the slugs from
your machine pistol don't match those in the hotel wall. By the way,
where is the Schmeisser? I haven't seen it around."

Long Shadow recovered his grin. "You'll never see it again. I took the
precaution of disposing of it, in case the police in the hotel area had
been alerted. Don't bother to ask me how I got rid of it."

"We won't," Zircon replied. "Obviously, you wouldn't tell us. However,
perhaps you will tell us how long it will take to get out of here?"

"About ten minutes."

At their evident surprise, Long Shadow added, "I should have said once
we cross the lake it will take about ten minutes. You came a very long
way around, you see. I realize you followed the candle droppings, but
I'm afraid those were left some time ago, when I first explored the
cave. The first entrance you tried was the correct one, even though you
didn't suspect the presence of a door. When you took the open way, you
approached by a very twisting path."

"Just to satisfy my curiosity," Scotty asked, "why did your men capture
us, then bundle us into the boats and bring us here? And where were you
all that time?"

Long Shadow shrugged. "I knew your guide and bearers were outside, at
Korse Lenken, of course. My men have kept an eye on you. I also felt
they probably would start a search after you failed to return. It was
almost certain they would find the entrance to the caverns behind the
Black Buddha, and, like you, they would probably follow the candle
drippings. The drippings would lead them nowhere. Unless they found the
secret door, there would be no chance of them finding you here in our
permanent camp. Hence, I had you brought here. Ko and I were waiting in
the cave I use for an office. When we thought time enough had elapsed
for my orders to be carried out, we came here. Meanwhile, we took a nap.
Are you satisfied?"

"You never intended that we should see daylight again," Rick stated. He
winked at his friends. "Suppose we tie a few stalactites to your feet,
and Ko's, and see how long it takes for you to get down to where the
heavy water is?" He looked meaningly at the lake.

Ko groaned, but Long Shadow only smiled. "If that's the way you want
it," he said, "it will at least be quick. Both of us are done for,
whether you know it or not. Your Mr. Bradley will see to that."

       *       *       *       *       *

As Long Shadow had said, it was little more than ten minutes after
crossing the lake before the party reached the cave under the Black
Buddha. They had passed through the cave where Rick had found the
Tibetan. Again he realized how lucky he had been. Some good angel had
led him to the main route. Had he fallen asleep in some other cave, he
might still be wandering through the labyrinth.

The rifles taken from Scotty and Zircon by Long Shadow's men had been
found in one of the tents. With Rick's rifle, they were insurance
against treachery. But Long Shadow seemed resigned, for some reason Rick
couldn't fathom, and Ko did nothing but curse the bearers who carried
him.

Before reaching the great cave they stopped at a blank wall. At a signal
from Long Shadow, one of the Tibetans reached behind a stalagmite and
pulled a lever. A section of the wall swung open, disclosing the passage
they had thought stopped in a dead end.

In a few moments they were crossing the outer cave, and Rick saw at once
that the bars across the entrance passage were gone.

"When the inner door opens from the inside, the bars also open," Long
Shadow said. "There is another cave under this one where the mechanism
is located. No, I am not responsible. The ancient ones who made the
Black Buddha also made the doors and the mechanism."

Rick ran ahead through the passage. He found the leather thong that
controlled the door and pulled. The metal tongue came out of its slot
permitting the counterbalance to swing the trap door upward. The others
were behind him with their lights, and Rick saw his shadow loom large on
the wall behind the Black Buddha. In the same way, the Long Shadow had
been projected upward, probably by the light from a candle in the hands
of a Tibetan bearer. He experimented, backing down a few steps. His
shadow seemed to fold downward into the oblong box of light cast by the
flashlights. When he walked up the stairs again, the shadow grew out of
the bottom of the projected oblong of light.

As Rick reached floor level, he froze suddenly, his finger slipping the
hammer of his rifle to full cock. There were lights in the cave! As he
turned to call a warning, yellow-robed lamas, who had seen the reflected
light on the rear wall, poured around the statue with wild yells, their
torches held high.

"Something's up," Rick called to the others. "Watch it!"

Under the threat of Rick's rifle, then Scotty's and Zircon's, the lamas
fell back until the group stood alongside the Black Buddha, looking into
the cave. There were torches everywhere! And cooking fires. Rick's first
thought was that they had returned in the midst of a religious
celebration.

And then he saw Sing. The Chinese guide ran to them, his face split by a
wide grin.

"You came," he exclaimed happily. "We were about to tear the mountain
down, stone by stone! Where is the Indian boy?"

Chahda came from behind the statue, herding the Tibetans who carried
Long Shadow, Ko, and the Nansen bottles. Sing turned and yelled.

The lamas broke into cries of approval at the sight of Chahda. Several
of them ran to him and pressed his hand. He was a favorite, obviously.

"They came to help when I told them the Indian boy was in danger," Sing
explained. "We were ready to start digging holes to find the caverns,
because we couldn't find the door." He eyed Long Shadow curiously and
grinned at the sight of Ko. "Should I get my frying pan again?" he
asked.

"Might be a good idea," Rick said.

"My boss not come yet?" Chahda asked.

Sing clapped hands to his head in a gesture of self-annoyance. "I
forgot. A letter came. One of the consulate guards, a Chinese who knows
this part of the world, brought it from Chungking. It may be from Mr.
Bradley, because it came originally from Hong Kong."

Zircon took the envelope while Rick, Scotty, and Chahda looked over his
shoulder. The envelope was marked for delivery from Hong Kong to
Chungking via diplomatic pouch. It was addressed to Zircon, with the
note, "Urgent. Forward by messenger." Bradley's initials were signed to
it.

The scientist ripped the envelope open and, looking around to be sure
Long Shadow and Ko were out of earshot, he read:

"'Have all the answers except the source. When you find it, destroy it
if possible. If you get Long Shadow or Worthington Ko, don't bother
bringing them back to Hong Kong, if they're still alive. Leave them at
Korse Lenken. Cable me from Chungking when you return.'"

It was signed "Bradley."

"I like his confidence in us," Zircon remarked. "Not 'if,' but 'when.'"

"My boss does not know what it means to fail," Chahda said.

"I can see one failure," Zircon remarked. "How does one destroy a body
of water?"

Scotty's forehead wrinkled thoughtfully. "Couldn't we stir it up? The
heavy water is all at the bottom. If we could give it a stir, the heavy
stuff would mix with the rest."

"But would maybe settle right back," Chahda objected.

"Not for a few thousand years," Zircon said. "A good idea, Scotty. Do
you happen to have a spoon seven hundred feet long?"

Scotty grinned. "Yes. Mr. Ko supplied one." He reached into his pocket
and pulled out a grenade. "These will do the best job of stirring that
black cup of tea that you've ever seen."

"Capital!" Zircon exclaimed. "They'll do perfectly, Scotty." He looked
at the boys. "Who wants to go back?"

Sing spoke up. "I will go, and some of the lamas should, too. The
monastery should know all about these caves, in case something like this
ever happens again." He spoke to the lamas in Tibetan. They consulted
briefly, then nodded assent. Five of them stepped forward.

"And Scotty and I will go," Rick volunteered. "I want to see how this
spoon works." He looked at Long Shadow and Ko. "Maybe they ought to go
back and see the end of their racket, whatever it is."

"No need," Zircon said. "They know it's the end, and Bradley does too.
Which is more than we know, I must say. But we'll find out from Bradley
very soon."

Rick hefted his rifle. "Incidentally, there's one thing I want to do
before we go back."

"And that is?"

He grinned at the scientist. "I want to go hunting blue sheep."

"Me, too," Scotty chimed in.

Zircon chuckled. "Very well. One day for sheep before we hit the trail.
Since Bradley prohibits our taking revenge on the enemy, we'll take it
out on the local livestock. Now get going. And do a thorough job."



CHAPTER XIX

Canton Charlie's


"You've come a long way, lads," Keaton-Yeats said. "From golden mice to
blue sheep and back to golden mice again. I must say, you should be
thoroughly familiar with the animal kingdom by now."

"They very familiar with animal world," Chahda agreed. "Also, sometimes
become part of that world by making jackasses of their selves. Like when
shooting blue sheep."

The boys had each bagged a blue sheep, but at considerable risk to life
and limb. In the process, they had gotten themselves marooned on a rock
ledge high above Korse Lenken, from which Sing, with the help of the
bearers, had managed to rescue them.

"Never mind," Carl Bradley said. "They got their sheep, even if it
almost took their necks to do it. Those heads will make nice trophies by
the time the taxidermist is through with them."

The heads were in a Hong Kong shop, being mounted. Bradley had promised
to ship them back to Spindrift by sea.

Canton Charlie made his way through the empty tables, followed by a
Chinese who carried a tray laden with glasses.

"More dragon's blood, meaning coke," Zircon said with a smile. "I
suggest we drink a toast to success and then get down to business. Carl,
you've kept us waiting long enough to hear your story."

"It's the sort of tale that should be heard on a full stomach," the
ethnologist said. "That's why I've made you wait. Now that we've filled
up on Charlie's excellent chow, we'll talk. We have a little while
before the mob gathers."

Bradley had insisted that all of them, including Keaton-Yeats, dine with
him at the Golden Mouse before swapping experiences and completing the
story of the heavy water. They had eaten real Cantonese food, each using
chopsticks, and they were full to the ears.

Scotty grinned at Canton Charlie. "We owe you an apology," he said.

The proprietor of the Golden Mouse shook his head. "The other way
around. Carl and Chahda told me you would come. If I'd kept a better
lookout while waiting for Carl to come after I sent him a message, that
Portuguese would never have had a chance to tip off Long Shadow, and the
Chinese who dropped the message would have been caught in the act."

After talking it over, they had decided that the Portuguese seaman who
had been giving himself a manicure with a dagger probably had been the
one who tipped off Long Shadow about three Americans who had asked for
Chahda. Of course Long Shadow knew of Chahda's connection with Bradley
because of the incidents in Singapore.

Canton Charlie grinned evilly. "That Portuguese won't do any more spyin'
for Long Shadow."

His meaning was clear. Rick's eyes met Scotty's.

"Pull up a chair, Charlie," Carl Bradley said. "We'll drink a toast in
coke to our former pals. Long Shadow and Worthington Ko."

Zircon lifted his glass, then took a sip. "Long Shadow said he and Ko
were finished," he recalled. "And you said as much in your note, or
implied it. But I'm hanged if I know why they're finished. They were
healthy enough when we left them at Korse Lenken."

Bradley smiled without mirth. "To understand their punishment, you must
understand what has happened. Suppose I start at the beginning?"

"Best place," Chahda said. "Better start at Singapore, boss. Plenty I
don't know, too."

"All right, Chahda. To begin with, I first heard about heavy water in
Singapore from an informant with whom I deal. I'm no physicist, of
course. I wouldn't know heavy water if I were served coffee made with
the stuff. But I saw the implications right away and I sent a cable to
Washington. You know about that because Steve Ames contacted Hartson
Brant, if I'm right."

"You're right," Rick agreed.

"At the time I knew nothing except that heavy water had appeared in
Singapore. I continued investigations at top speed. I managed to locate
the house which was headquarters for the heavy-water dealers, again with
the aid of an informant. At first I thought the stuff was coming
overland, down the Malay Peninsula. Then I learned it was being shipped
in by boat from Hong Kong."

Customers were starting to come into the Golden Mouse. Bradley lowered
his voice so as not to be overheard. "At the same time, the dealers
spotted Chahda and me. It wasn't hard to do for an expert such as we
were up against. I walked into our hotel room and was jumped by
Worthington Ko and some Chinese thugs. We had it hot and heavy for a
while and some blood was shed." He grinned. "Not mine, I'm happy to say.
I managed to get clear and decided I'd better drop out of sight. So I
became a Eurasian seaman. It's a disguise I've used before, and it's
quite safe."

Rick studied Bradley's face. He had a bone-deep tan, and his face,
although pleasant, had no really distinguishing features. It was easy to
see how he could become a Eurasian. Disguise, after all, was just
putting yourself into a part. It wasn't a matter of make-up.

"I hurried to Hong Kong," Bradley went on, "sure that Chahda would piece
together the story enough to follow me. I stopped at Saigon on the way
and contacted our legation there. The minister had received the cable
sent to all missions in the Far East giving your names, descriptions,
and time of arrival in Hong Kong."

"The timing must have been close," Scotty said.

"It was. The legation had received the cable only hours before my
arrival. It probably was the day you left New York."

"Also I think it was day I left Singapore," Chahda said.

"I got to Hong Kong and contacted Charlie," Bradley continued. "Tell us
what you found out, Charlie."

Charlie shrugged. "No trouble. I got in touch with a pal in the Chinese
Beggar's Guild. He checked up and found out that a lot of coolies
carrying goatskin water bags were crossing from China to Kowloon and
from Kowloon to the island. Of course a lot of that goes on, anyway. But
some of the coolies weren't selling their water. I got my hands on one
of the coolies and we sort of told him he ought to sing us a song about
where the water came from." Charlie grinned. "He sang all right. He
yodeled real good, about Korse Lenken. He also said Long Shadow had been
at the monastery."

"Do you know Long Shadow?" Rick asked Bradley.

"Yes. I'd never met him, but I knew him by reputation."

Charlie stood up. "Got to take care of the customers. See you later."

As he left, Bradley continued, "Next step was to get a line on the
source of the heavy water. We had the name of Korse Lenken, but that was
all. I assumed it was being produced industrially somewhere on the
Tibetan border. But that would take equipment, of course, so I put the
consulate commercial section to work finding out if Long Shadow had been
dabbling in industrial equipment. That's routine for a consulate. Well,
he hadn't. But what turned up but the fact that he had imported some
Nansen bottles."

"I begin to see how it shaped up," Zircon said.

"It wasn't difficult, really," Bradley admitted. "Just took plugging. At
that time, Chahda arrived from Singapore, bringing Long Shadow with him,
although he didn't know it."

"Unhappy me," Chahda complained.

Bradley smiled at the Hindu boy. "Don't be unhappy. Long Shadow is the
best in the business. Well, I told Chahda to go to Korse Lenken, then
dropped my disguise. As I had hoped, Long Shadow started following me,
dropping Chahda. Once Chahda was on his way, I ditched Long Shadow and
became the Eurasian once more. We had given Charlie instructions about
you. He got in touch with me the moment you showed up, but I was
delayed. Meanwhile, you had been spotted, probably when you asked for
Chahda. Long Shadow must have figured the odds were piling up. He'd lost
me, so he probably decided to keep the odds down by removing all of
you."

He nodded at Keaton-Yeats. "Thanks to our young British friend, we found
you before you'd been knocked in the head. Then I took off after Long
Shadow, as you know. Somewhere between times I'd gotten the consul to
get a Nansen bottle, a rubber boat, and that other stuff for you. I
didn't know why you'd need the rubber boat, but I figured a Nansen
bottle meant water and you'd better be prepared."

"If we hadn't been trapped in the caverns, we could have used the rubber
boat," Rick said. "But it was at camp with Sing when we needed it."

"Fortunes of war," Bradley said. "Well, while you were sneaking around
through the caves, I kept busy. You probably know that the Far East is
the happiest spying ground in the world. There are so many spies they
have to spy on each other." He turned suddenly to Keaton-Yeats. "Isn't
that right, colleague?"

The young Englishman's expression never changed. "And some are almighty
good," he said calmly. "Like Bradley. Soon as I knew he was on the case,
I reported to my superiors and we dropped the thing like a hot potato,
just to avoid being at cross-purposes. We knew that the Americans would
tip us off as soon as they had a definite answer."

The boys stared at Keaton-Yeats. "But you're a bank clerk!" Rick
exclaimed.

"He's also a British intelligence agent," Bradley said, grinning.
"That's why I insisted he come tonight. We've already informed the
British, through channels, that the heavy-water menace no longer exists.
Keaton-Yeats is here tonight to get the details."

"You chaps would be simply amazed at how much valuable information one
picks up in a bank," Keaton-Yeats said. "Astounding. Although I must say
having lads ask for golden mice is a bit unusual."

Scotty shook his head. "And you looked so innocent," he complained. "We
believed everything you said."

The young Englishman grinned. "I am innocent," he replied. "No woolly
little lamb could be more so. And I did tell you the blessed truth, you
know, even though I didn't mention I had a bit of a job to do as well as
having an interest in your welfare. Our own chaps had discovered heavy
water was coming into Hong Kong, too, so naturally we were interested.
But since Bradley was already on the job, and we co-operate with you
Americans on matters atomic, we sat back and waited."

"I'm astonished," Zircon admitted. "But get on with your story, Carl."

"Right. As I said, spies spy on each other. I contacted a French agent I
know, and in the course of having lunch with him I casually asked how
much he had paid for the information about an atomic pile. I was just
fishing, of course. Well, he took the bait. He leaped at it like a
striking tuna. I knew I had something then. From there on, it wasn't
hard to uncover the whole business, just by making contact with the
espionage agents of various countries."

The JANIG man wet his throat with another sip of coke. "And business is
just what it was. I can't say how long ago Long Shadow found out there
was heavy water in the Caves of Fear. I did find out that in his younger
days he was something of a scientist and that he explored the Korse
Lenken region thoroughly. That was shortly before the discovery of heavy
water in Lake Baikal. I think we can assume that he pieced the story
together and realized that the lake in the caverns had the same
possibilities. It would have been only a matter of scientific curiosity
then, but with recent developments in the atomic field, the
possibilities took on a new light."

He paused as a Filipino brushed by, then resumed, lowering his voice so
only those at the table could hear. "He's a smart one. I've known about
him for a long time, as one of the best free-lance agents in the Far
East. He has a good reputation for accuracy, and he sells--or
sold--information to the highest bidder. He was riding on his reputation
in this deal, because as soon as the facts became known, as they had to
sooner or later, he was all washed up as a spy."

"I don't get it," Rick complained.

"I'll explain. He was selling a story to every country that was
interested. He would contact the embassy, consulate, or chief espionage
agent of, say, country X. He would report that country Y had a secret
atomic pile--nuclear reactor, that is--in the mountains of West China.
You can imagine the excitement. He would sell that information for a
reasonable price. Then, for a considerably higher price, he would
undertake to collect a sample of the deuterium they were using. Once he
collected the sample, which of course came from Korse Lenken, he would
contract to give them the location of the reactor for a very high price
indeed. He made the rounds country by country, changing his story as
needed. Of course he collected in advance for the location, which was to
be delivered later, after he had risked his life getting it. That was
the story he used--and some of the best agents in the Orient fell for
it."

The daring ingenuity of the thing made Rick shake his head. "But they
were certain to catch up with him!"

"Of course. He knew it. But he intended to stall in giving them the
final location until he had tapped every possible source. Then I believe
he intended handing them some phony location in West China, after which
he would disappear and live on the proceeds. He collected enough to make
him very wealthy. He hadn't reached us yet, but you can bet that if I
hadn't stumbled on the story, he would have made a sale to one of our
embassies or consulates."

"Ours, too," Keaton-Yeats said. "He took advantage of all the interest
in atomic weapons. And of his reputation, of course."

"What about Ko?" Scotty asked.

"Ko had a side line," Bradley explained. "He was selling heavy water to
various institutions and schools all over Asia for normal experimental
purposes. He claimed to be importing it from England. That was why they
were bringing so much out."

"That is also how we got interested," Keaton-Yeats said. "We got queries
about more heavy water at a lower price from one of the schools that had
bought Ko's product. Naturally, we knew no heavy water was coming from
England, so we got interested very quickly."

"We sure dropped a monkey wrench in a gold mine," Rick said.

"Evidently," Zircon agreed. "But you haven't explained why Long Shadow
and Ko are finished."

Keaton-Yeats laughed grimly.

Bradley stretched his legs out. "Easy. The story had already spread
about heavy water at Korse Lenken. Ronnie and I got the good word
circulating right after we received your cable from Chungking. By now
all the countries he sold his story to--and that is most countries--know
they've been done in the eye, as our British friend would say. Do you
know the penalty for a double cross in the espionage racket?"

"A bullet, a knife, or a blunt instrument," Keaton-Yeats said. "It's as
certain as tomorrow's dawn."

Bradley nodded. "Also, the lamas won't permit the two of them to remain
after their wounds are healed. They are evil men, and the lamas know it.
Sooner or later, they'll have to leave the mountains and enter
civilization. I know their type. They might survive if they wanted to
live alone in the mountains like two wolves. But they won't."

Rick shuddered. He knew from experience what it was like to be hunted.
Ko and Long Shadow would be hunted by agents of a dozen countries or
more once they set foot in civilization. After that, it was only a
matter of time. The two couldn't escape for long.

"Now," Bradley said, "let's have the details of your trip."

A burly English seaman brushed past.

"I'll be quick," Zircon said. "You know...."

Bradley let out a yelp as the seaman stepped squarely on his foot.
"Watch out where you're going, you big ox!" he exclaimed.

The seaman stopped short. "Who you callin' a ruddy ox, you little
blighter?" He grabbed Bradley by the collar.

The JANIG man's hands moved in a blur of speed. One struck the seaman's
hand away. The second caught him just above the solar plexus. The seaman
rocked backward, stumbled over a table occupied by three Portuguese, and
crashed to the floor, taking the table with him. One Portuguese clubbed
the seaman over the head with a bottle. The second threw a glass at
Bradley. The third picked up a chair.

"Look out!" Scotty yelled. He flung his coke into the face of the chair
wielder, then jumped to grab the chair. The Portuguese, who had swung
the bottle, threw it at Scotty, missed, and knocked the glass out of the
hand of a Sikh seated at a near-by table. The Sikh rose with a battle
yell and leaped.

Rick lost track after that. For a moment he stood amazed, then jumped to
help Chahda, who was being tackled from behind by one of the Portuguese.
Canton Charlie's was in an uproar. The fight had spread like fire in
dead leaves. Rick hadn't been aware of the place filling up, but it was
definitely full. Bottles and glasses flew.

He ducked a wild swing with a chair, then as he stood up he brought the
table with him, dumping it over on three Chinese who were struggling
with Scotty. A fist caught him behind the ear. He kicked backward, then
whirled, his elbow catching a Filipino sailor in the chest. The Filipino
sprawled backward.

A bottle whizzed past Rick's ear. He ducked, then rushed to Zircon. The
big scientist was holding a British seaman in each hand, busily knocking
their heads together. Scotty rose out of his path, swinging. A Eurasian
who had been about to swing with a bottle stopped short, swaying, as
Scotty's fist connected. The bottle dropped on Chahda, who was crawling
out from under a table.

An American sailor rushed past, one arm catching Rick and sending him
sprawling. Rick swung wildly, and pulled his punch just in time to keep
from bashing Keaton-Yeats, who was busy with a swarthy man with gold
rings in his ears. The place was a madhouse. Bradley went headlong at
Rick's feet, jumped up again like a rubber ball, and plunged into the
fray. Rick saw with amazement that he was grinning from ear to ear.

A Portuguese rose from nowhere and aimed a roundhouse swing at Rick's
head. He ducked, then put all his weight into an overhand chop, missed,
and fell against the Portuguese. The man threw him off and caught him
behind the ear with a short hook. Rick shook his head, dazed. Another
punch caught him on the cheek. He lost his temper then and flailed out.
One fist connected solidly. The Portuguese vanished, to be replaced by
someone else. Rick swung until his arms were leaden. Then, in the midst
of the turmoil, came a stentorian bellow.

"Here! Listen!"

He turned. Canton Charlie was standing on the bar, and a sawed-off
shotgun roamed impartially over the crowd. "The first man who pulls a
knife gets this!" he shouted.

There was a roar from the mob, and the instant of silence dissolved into
a melee again. Rick turned back to see how his friends were doing and
saw a fist coming at him. He tried to bring his hands up, but he was too
slow. The fist got bigger and bigger and bigger and exploded into bright
lights. His knees buckled. He drifted off into peace and quiet.



CHAPTER XX

Home Flight


"The Golden Mouse," Keaton-Yeats said judiciously, "is rapidly becoming
a purple mouse." He tilted Rick's face to the light. "I also see other
colors. By the time you get home, a rainbow will be rather pale and dull
by comparison."

"I got a mouse hung on me all right," Rick said. "And I didn't even see
who did it."

"I did," Scotty volunteered. "It was a British seaman. Chahda polished
him off with a bottle before you even hit the floor."

Zircon wrapped gauze around Bradley's knuckles. "For an ethnologist,
which is a peaceful profession, you are mighty quick to take offense,"
he stated.

"My boss is a sudden man," Chahda said from the bed where he lay with a
wet cloth on his head.

They were in their room at the Peninsular Hotel. Rick had recovered
under the urging of a bucket of water in the hands of Canton Charlie. He
was still wet. He stripped off his shirt and grinned as he looked around
him. All of them bore souvenirs. His own probably was the most colorful,
consisting of a black eye that covered nearly half of his face. Scotty
had a welt across his forehead that would last several days. Bradley had
lost most of the skin off the knuckles of his right hand. Zircon moved
gingerly, favoring his bruised ribs. Chahda and Keaton-Yeats bore
painful egg-shaped lumps from swung bottles.

"Happens at Charlie's every night," Bradley said. "Can't disappoint the
customers. Only a question of who starts it. Tonight I happened to be
the one. You get so you rather enjoy it after a while."

"As a sport, it will never replace checkers," Scotty said. He winced as
his fingers explored the welt on his forehead.

Rick chuckled. He could see what Bradley meant. As long as Canton
Charlie's shotgun ensured fair play, to the extent of no knives, it was
just a free-for-all such as might happen anywhere--at least where seamen
gathered.

"It's like swimming in cold water," he said. "Getting in is tough, but
it's kind of fun once you've made the plunge."

Bradley flexed his bandaged hand. "That's right. Now, it's getting late
and I still want to hear about your experiences. Hobart, want to pick up
where we left off?"

They found seats on the beds and in the wicker chairs while the big
scientist told of their adventures in Korse Lenken, with assists from
the boys. When he had finished, Keaton-Yeats sighed. "I wish now I'd
gone with you," he said. "Nothing dull where you Americans go. While you
were barging around caves, I was making change at the bank. Very dull."

"I guess that ties up all the loose ends," Bradley said. "And it makes
quite a package."

"Even without a nuclear reactor or any potential atom bombs," Rick
added. "Anyway, we couldn't know until we investigated that there wasn't
some kind of atomic menace in the offing."

"Right," Zircon agreed. "I must say, however, that I have a fine story
for one of the scientific journals. My analysis of the water samples
shows a layer almost a foot deep of nearly pure deuterium. It's an
amazing phenomenon which will require more of a theory than just the
heavy water settling. Settling wouldn't produce a fraction of the
amount. I'm taking the samples home for further analysis, along with
some samples of limestone from the caves. Who knows? This may produce a
scientific finding of some significance."

"It may," Bradley agreed. "I hope it does, because then the trip will
have made some contribution to the sum total of our knowledge besides
contributing information to the JANIG files."

"And the files of our office," Keaton-Yeats added.

Rick looked at Chahda. "What now for you? Going to stay in the Far East
for a while?"

The Hindu boy smiled. "Not so very long. I think now I go back to
Bombay, see my family for a while, then I will come to Spindrift."

"Swell!" Scotty exclaimed. "We've missed you, half pint."

Zircon and Rick echoed the sentiment.

"No point in our staying on," the scientist said. "If we can get space,
we'll take off on tomorrow's flight." He smiled. "It will be good to get
back to our peaceful lab, eh, lads?"

"Yes," Scotty agreed.

"Definitely," Rick said.

And even as they spoke, halfway across the world hammer strokes
completed a structure that would mean anything but peace, a story to be
told in the next volume:

    STAIRWAY TO DANGER



_The_ RICK BRANT SCIENCE-ADVENTURE _Stories_

BY JOHN BLAINE


    THE ROCKET'S SHADOW
    THE LOST CITY
    SEA GOLD
    100 FATHOMS UNDER
    THE WHISPERING BOX MYSTERY
    THE PHANTOM SHARK
    SMUGGLERS' REEF
    THE CAVES OF FEAR
    STAIRWAY TO DANGER
    THE GOLDEN SKULL
    THE WAILING OCTOPUS
    THE ELECTRONIC MIND READER
    THE SCARLET LAKE MYSTERY





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