Who Knows What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men? Take a journey back to the desperate days of America post the Great Depression, when the country turned to the pulp novels for relief, for hope and for heroes. Meet Walter Gibson, the mind behind The Shadow, and Lester Dent, creator of Doc Savage, as they challenge one another to discover what is real and what is pulp. From the palaces and battlefields of warlord-plagued China to the seedy waterfronts of Rhode Island; from frozen seas and cursed islands to the labyrinthine tunnels and secret temples of New York's Chinatown, Dent and Gibson will find themselves in a dangerous race to stop a madman destined to create a new empire of pure evil. Together with the young pulp writer L. Ron Hubbard, a mysterious stranger, and a sexy psychic with a chicken, they will finally step out from behind their creations to take part in a heroic journey far greater than any story they have imagined. The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril is a breathtaking epic of magic and love, marriage and fatherhood, ambition and loss, and writers who never forget their deadlines, even when facing the end of the world.
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Paul Malmont works in advertising. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
"You think life can't be like the pulps?" Walter Gibson asked the other man. "Let me tell you a story. You tell me where real ends and pulp begins." The cigarette in his left hand suddenly disappeared.
The young man, whose most distinguishing characteristic, in spite of his stocky build and shock of red hair, was his powerfully forward-thrusted jaw, blinked in mild surprise at the magic trick, then nodded agreeably. "All right," Ron Hubbard said.
The cigarette, a filterless Chesterfield, reappeared in Gibson's right hand. He took a long sip from his whiskey and washed it down with a sip of beer and an involuntary shudder. He was getting drunk and it was too early. He knew it. He didn't even want to be here tonight. Well, he did want to be in the White Horse Tavern drinking. But he didn't want to be here drinking with the youthful and ambitious president of the American Fiction Guild, who had been hectoring him relentlessly to speak about his writing at the weekly gathering of pulp mag writers in the Grand Salon of the old Hotel Knickerbocker. John Nanovic, his ed at Street & Smith, had begged, pleaded, and in the end agreed to pay for a few of this evening's drinks if he would agree to do it. Nanovic had told Gibson that it was important for him, as the number one bestselling mag writer in America, to take an interest in the new writers, the young writers. To help groom them. Gibson felt that what Nanovic really wanted him to do was to find his successor in case he stumbled in front of a trolley car some drunken evening. Ultimately he had to admit that it was a fair concern for an editor to have about him.
So, here he was having drinks with Lafayette Ron Hubbard, a writer of moderately popular but pedestrian (in Gibson's opinion) westerns, and at twenty-five, fifteen years younger than he. One of the new writers. One of the young ones. They were seated at a small table next to the bar and treating themselves to waiter service. Hubbard was one of those writers who acted like they really cared about writing and had launched into a theory that the sort of adventure pulp Gibson wrote was somehow less valid than the westerns and two-fisted tales he wrote because at least his stories were based on history or reality.
Gibson knew the kid was impressed by him. Hubbard had practically been begging him for a sit-down for weeks. Every now and then Gibson would see Hubbard looking around the saloon as if he could recognize somebody he knew who might come over and interrupt the conversation. If that had happened, he might then have the opportunity to say to them, "Excuse me, but can't you see I'm having drinks with Walter Gibson? That's right, the guy who writes The Shadow Magazine. Well, I know The Shadow byline is Maxwell Grant, but that's a company name, a Street & Smith name. Trust me. Walter Gibson is Maxwell Grant. Walter Gibson writes The Shadow Magazine. We're just talking about writing." But he recognized no one and no one recognized him.
Gibson had seen several writers that he knew come through already; the Street & Smith building was just up the road at Fifteenth and Seventh, and the tavern was popular with writers who had just been roughed up by eds and by the eds who had applied the beating. George Bruce, the air-ace writer, had been and gone; Elmer Smith, the rocket jock, and Norvell Page, the fright guy, were still drinking in a corner. But he hadn't invited either to join them. As a rule Gibson didn't like other mag writers; he found them too self-denigrating yet self-important at the same time. He much preferred the company of the magicians whose books and articles he often ghosted.
He kind of liked Hubbard, though. The kid was eager and acted like he thought his shit smelled like roses, a confidence most other writers lacked. In a one-draft world a man had to believe that every word he wrote was right. Gibson knew he had quickly muscled out old Arthur Brooks, a man Gibson had no use for whatsoever, who as head of the Guild had run the organization as a lazy gentlemen's social club. Hubbard had plans for the Guild, but Gibson didn't really care to know what they were. He knew that Hubbard had lived in New York for several years a while back with a wife and a daughter, and that they had all moved back to Washington State for a while, and that he had left them behind in Washington and come back to New York alone just a few months ago. Gibson could only venture a guess why; the Depression had made it so that sometimes a man couldn't afford to bring his family with him when he went looking for work. But the last thing Gibson wanted to do was ask another man why he had left his wife and child.
"What's real? What's pulp? Right, Ron?" He unbuttoned his collar and loosened his tie knot. "Okay. Here's a story. For the sake of argument, let's call it the Tale of the Sweet Flower War. This is a story filled with blood and cruelty and fear and mystery and love and passion and vengeance and villains," he said. "It began with the arrival of a strange mist which rolled in from the harbor and seemed to fill the streets of Chinatown. Those who were superstitious felt it was the cloak of death. Those who weren't superstitious, and their numbers were few, only felt it was another reason to hate living here." Walter spoke rapidly; the hard emphasis of his consonants tended to resemble a staccato drumbeat, and his fingers twitched mildly as he spoke, involuntarily typing his words onto the table or against his leg or into the air as fast as he spoke them. Gibson's energy always seemed to keep him in motion. His friend Harry Houdini had once told him he seemed to vibrate, even when he was standing still.
"Here Chinatown? Or San Francisco's?" Hubbard asked with a vaguely worldly air that implied he had traveled some in his time and knew both intimately: a warning to Gibson that he'd better have his facts straight.
"New York. Here." The tone of Gibson's voice let Hubbard know not to interrupt the storytelling again unless it was something important. "The deadly fog rolled over the tiny enclave thirty years ago during the great tong wars, when the red flag of war flew over the tallest building in Chinatown."
"Tong?" Hubbard made the same mistake again and winced a little, knowing that Gibson's next breath would have explained it.
"Ancient organizations with mysterious roots going way back in Chinese history. Brutal, cruel, and sadistic. Mostly they imported opium, slave girls, and indentured workers from China.
"In 1909, the year of the menacing mist, the biggest tong in America was the On Leong group. They controlled everything in the matter of things Chinese from Frisco to New York. There were other tongs around at the time, but the only serious rivals were the Hip Sing. Their boss was a fella about your age, everyone knew him as Mock Duck, and he had a habit, when he got into a brawl, of whipping out two pistols, closing his eyes, and firing blindly until everyone was dead or running for their lives. You can laugh if you want, but legend had it that this was a very effective street-fighting technique.
"Well, those that said that something sinister would emerge from the shadow which had fallen over Chinatown were right. One day Sweet Flower came to town. Now she was, by all accounts, a beautiful and delicate virgin. She had remarkable long, slender fingers and could play a variety of Chinese instruments with skill and grace. A slave, of course, smuggled in by a slaver and probably destined for a life of prostitution. But one of the On Leong leaders saw her, fell in love with her, and he had his men steal her from the slaver. Or rescue her, if you prefer. And, he married her. She was sixteen, and on her wedding night he possessed her in every way that a man can possess a woman. And she was happy with her station in life.
"At first, all the slaver wanted was proper restitution for his loss. But the On Leong man refused to pay for what he considered to be true love. He told the slaver to go to hell. The slaver went to another tong, the Hip Sing. A truce was declared and the two parties sat down for formal negotiations. Now this was at a time when the tong fighters, the hatchet men, the boo how doy, were killing each other at the rate of two or three a week. So for these two tongs to actually sit down together in the same room and hold a peaceful discussion..." He made a futile gesture. "Chinatown did not hold its collective breath."
"The negotiations did not go well for the Hip Sing. Once again, they were told in no uncertain terms where they and their demands could go. All things considered, it's pretty remarkable that any man walked out of the tearoom alive that day. That night, however, was a different story. While her husband slept, someone broke into their house and cut off each and every one of Sweet Flower's slender and delicate little fingers."
The White Horse Tavern served its own blend of scotch, and each bottle was topped by a cork with a white tin horse rearing up. There was a cork on their table now; it was usually given to the customer who had put the polish on a bottle, and he had, several drinks ago. Gibson picked it up now, idly playing with it.
"Maybe. It was probably the vile slaver. And, in fact, Mock Duck delivered him over to the On Leong for whatever justice they chose to administer. But it wasn't enough and over the next couple of months, over fifty men from both sides were killed, and hundreds more were crippled or maimed in the fighting. Now what's really incredible about this is that we're talking about a neighborhood that takes up maybe a square mile and is made up of only a dozen or so streets. So relatively, it's a truly gruesome amount of men carving each other up."
"Hundreds! C'mon! That's pulp."
Gibson cleared his throat. "In those days the center of Chinese social life was the old Chinese Theater. It's still there; you can go down and see it for yourself. It's all boarded up now.
"At the time of the Sweet Flower War there was a famous comedian named Ah Hoon. Famous ...
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