"Battling" Barney Calhoun in

The Bat-Men of the Yinga River!

An 8-Chapter Two-Fister in the South China Sea!

by "Doc" R.B. Danby

Chapter One - Horror in Jade

1933, Moyalai, Maroon, in the South China Sea.

BARNEY CALHOUN REARED UP AND KICKED aside the table, sending bar patrons scattering. "Is that the best you can do, you damn slimey bastard?" he sneered, blood smeared across the lower half of his face, glistening evilly off his stubble. Then he laid into his opponent with both fists.

His opponent was a head taller than Barney, and since Barney was counted a big man, that made the other man a veritable giant. He was also the captain of the tramp steamer Evangeline that had just moored in the harbor that afternoon. Barney was part of her crew. At least, he had been. No matter which way the fight went, it didn't take a genius to realize Barney was out of a job.

Barney's fists were legends in the less-reputable quarters through out the Asiatic coast, which had earned him the nickname "Battling" Barney. A big, broad-shouldered Cape Bretoner, his rock hard hands had gotten him into, and out of, more spots of trouble than he could remember. As he drove his right into the belly of Captain Morgan, then crossed his jaw with his left, Barney had a sinking feeling this was one of those former cases.

He danced back on nimble heels and waited. Morgan stood like a great bear reared up on its hind legs, ready to bellow and charge. He took one steady, uncompromising step forward...then the muscles seemed to leech out of him altogether and he ended up in a puddle on the floor.

Barney dragged the back of his hand across his bloody mouth, trying to decide if Morgan was playing possum. Satisfied that the man wasn't, he looked dizzily about, barely able to keep his own feet.

Cheers from his mates on the Evangeline erupted in a gusty chorus and Barney managed a weak grin. Then, slowly, his grin faded as he remembered the genesis of the altercation. He glanced about, focusing on the Chinese girl huddled under a table. "Come on out, princess," he muttered. "Hurry it up," he barked impatiently. The pain was starting to assert itself and Morgan might not be out for very long.

Timidly, the girl crawled out into the light and rose, smoothing her flower-patterned dress. It was a dress that had probably cost more than she made in a month.

His fingers feeling thick and enflammed, he dragged out a few dirty bills and stuffed them into her soft, delicate hand. He stopped, momentarily aware of her skin, warm and silky against his. Then he pulled back. "You stay away from here," he said. "You understand? He bad man." He looked around, and grinned humourlessly. "They all bad men here. Go on -- get!" he said, waving her toward the exit.

Eyes wide, lip trembling, the girl gave a fumbled bow and turned and ran away.

"You think that'll do any good?" asked Harry Cohn, clamping him around the shoulder and easing Barney's listing frame against the bar for support. He smiled good naturedly, showing off his crooked teeth. "You think a week of your wages is going to keep her out of trouble for the rest of her life? If not here, somewhere else. If not him," Harry glanced at the prostrate captain, drunken sailors doing their best to step over him as they moved back to their tables, "someone else."

"Then let it be someone else," Barney growled. "Not that Satan-spawn."

Harry laughed. "Aye. There's not a man here who wouldn't have gladly given his right arm to see you brain the old bugger. That doesn't change the fact that you'd better not be here when he wakes up."

Barney looked at him unsteadily. Then he grinned a bloody grin. "I reckon not, eh? Still, this may be an island nation, but Moyalai is a port town. There's bound to be a ship booked for Shanghai or Calcutta. And from there, I can land another position. Maybe I'll even see about wrangling a job on a Clipper ship."

"Hah! That I'd like to see."

Taking the jibe good-naturedly, Barney staggered for the door, a friendly clap on the back sending him on his way.

He stumbled out into the sultry night, the stones of the road in the narrow, crooked street seeming to have been set unevenly beneath him on purpose. Though he was in the heart of a city, the jungle was not too far off, and in the steaming darkness of the night he could hear the cries of strange birds and beasts echoing in the distance. A boxy Model-T honked suddenly as he was limned in its lights, and he staggered back, letting it rumble by, no doubt the property of an Englishman -- the British basically being the power here. It was late, and he staggered off to find a place to stay.

He didn't take two steps before something cracked him across the head and he entered a darkness deeper than the night.

* * *
BARNEY WOKE WITH AN UGLY CURSE ON HIS LIPS as a shock of ice water slapped his face.

He lurched up on a cot and shook his head like a dazed bull, droplets of water spraying left and right. A Chinese fellow stepped back warily, still holding the glass jug that had contained water but moments before. Barney's head throbbed angrily, but he had enough of his wits about him to realize that he was untied and, in fact, he appeared to be in no more an ominous environ than a cheap hotel room. It was still night, but not too late since he could still hear the chatter of voices and the clopping feet of rickshaw drivers through the drawn blinds.

He squinted around him, dragging images out of the stifling, dimly lit room, the sole lamp a weak-bulbed affair on the table beside the cot. There were two stocky Chinese, counting the man with the jug. Thickly muscled men in dirty T-shirts with scarred faces. Professional scrapers he guessed. Hired muscle. The third man was in the darkness closest to the door. Barney couldn't make him out just yet.

"What the hell's going on here, eh?" Barney growled.

"Steady on, old fruit," purred a soft, cultured voice. British. The man in the shadows stepped lazily into the weak glare of the lamp. He was tall and thin, immaculately dressed in a white suit with a white, Panama-style hat on his head. Even his gloves were white. He held a walking cane that he didn't seem to need for walking, and puffed languidly on a cigarette in a narrow black filter. He smiled, revealing the twinkle of a gold tooth. His toothy grin had all the warmth of a crocodile's. "My name's Daimon Farnsworth -- the third," he added, as if he didn't want Barney to get him confused with the first or second in his line.

"Bully for you. Why'd you kayo me, and why shouldn't I return the favour?"

"Tut tut," said the Englishman. "It was not I who left you in an insensate state, my dear man. You know how wild the streets of Moyalai can be, particularly if you stray too far into the Asian quarters. I merely found you and had you conveyed here...for your own good."

Barney stared at him. He didn't want to believe the man, but for some reason, he found that he did. But if it was not the Englishman and his goons who had waylaid him...then who? He could still feel the the bulge of what remained of his money in his pocket, so it had not been a robbery. Clearly this night was presenting a wealth of mysteries.

"You're out of work, and stuck here at the hind end of His Majesty's influence -- not an enviable situation, to be sure. Fortunately, we may be of mutual service to each other. You need work, I need some work done. And I'll pay -- Canadian dollars, if you like."

"You know I'm out of a job and that I'm Canadian -- you seem to know a lot about a mug you just found on a street, eh?"

The Englishman shrugged. "I asked around for a suitable name."

Barney stared darkly at the man for a moment, working his lips over his strong teeth. There were too many men like Daimon Farnsworth in Maroon, he knew. The British oversaw a motely population of expatriates from up and down the Asiatic coast, while the main inhabitants of the island nation's coastal cities were Chinese descended from immigrants who had landed here centuries before. The dank, jungle interior meanwhile was home to headhunters, cannibals, and worse. Under the auspices of the British governor, who claimed some measure of respectability, crept in men like Farnsworth, who used their passports like a shield, engaging in all sorts of nefarious shenanigans while the authorities turned a blissfully blind eye.

Farnsworth continued. "I need a man at home on the water and good with his fists. It'll be dangerous, I won't deny that. But rewards, both temporal and spiritual, will more than compensate."

All Barney could think to say was: "Huh?"

Farnsworth grinned and opened the door to the hotel room. Hall light flooded into the dimly lit chamber, causing Barney to put a big hand up before his face. Something fluttered through the light. Then the door was closed and Barney lowered his hand...and inhaled sharply.

"Allow me to present Miss Arlene Wentworth. Miss Wentworth, Mr. Barney Calhoun."

Beside Farnsworth stood a beautiful young woman -- scarcely more than a girl, really. She was dressed demurely in a yellow, cotton dress, a dainty hat on her head with a gossamer veil. She had blonde hair that shimmered about her head in delicate curls.

"I don't get it?" Barney said at last, when he trusted himself to speak.

"Miss Wentworth needs to journey up the Yinga river into the interior, Mr. Calhoun. It's a hard, dangerous trek, and she'll need someone to protect her."

Barney gawked. "You want me to take that -- take her -- into the interior? Are you crazy? You don't know what she'd face. Hell, I don't know what we'd have to face."

"Please, Mr. Calhoun," spoke Arlene Wentworth for the first time. "This is no idle whim or debutante's flightly adventure. This is deadly serious and of utmost urgency. And we'll pay handsomely."

Once again the mention of payment had been made. The bulge of money in his pants felt smaller every time it was. "Just what would a girl like you want in the jungle, miss?"

She glanced diffidently at Farnsworth; the Englishman gave an almost imperceptible nod in response. After a moment, Arlene opened up her hand bag and drew something forth. She held it out to Barney, who took it grudgingly. It was wrapped tightly in dirty oil-skin. He weighed it cautiously for a moment, feeling the hardness of the thing inside. Then he glanced at the two British, and then quickly unwrapped it.

"God," he mumbled at last, as a verdant shimmer gleamed in his palm. He held it up better to the dim lamp. It was a carving, pure jade if he was any judge. "Ugly cuss, isn't he?" he said, trying to sound unimpressed but not really succeeding. But it was -- undeniably ugly.

The carving was vaguely in the shape of a man when considered one way, but very much reminiscent of a bat when considered another, with arms that were like wings. The face was grotesquely distorted in such a way as to give even a grown man nightmares.

"It is a relic of a people in the interior that are known as the Bat-Men," Arlene said in little more than a whisper.

"The Bat-Men?" Barney exclaimed. "They're a myth. Hell, lady, the way the stories go, they ain't even human."

"As you say," purred Farnsworth, "doubtless the people themselves are a myth. But there are cults in the interior who believe in them. To them, that little ugly figurine is priceless while, to us, it could fetch five thousand pounds, easily."

Barney slowly began to rewrap the grotesque little effigy. At last, he was beginning to fathom a motive for all of this, and for Arlene Wentworth's desire to travel inland. Greed. "And you want to see if there's more where this came from?"

"No, Mr. Calhoun," said Arlene quietly. "I want to return it."

Barney gawked.

Next episode: Attack in the Dark

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The Bat-Men of the Yinga River is copyright 2001, D.K.Latta.