Winner take all - Robert E. Howard - E-Book

Winner take all E-Book

Robert E. Howard

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"Winner take all" is a Sailor Steve Costigan short story by Robert E. Howard.

It is also known as  Sucker Fight after being published under that name in the Winter 1939-1940 issue of  Fight Stories, with the authorship attributed to the pseudonym Mark Adams.

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ME AND BILL O'Brien was flat broke when we come out of Jerry Rourke's American Bar. Yes, sir—half a hour ashore, and cleaned along by of a land shark with a pair of educated dice. Not having the coin to pay his fine in case my white bulldog Mike followed his usual custom of tearing off some cop's pants leg, I left him with Jerry till I could raise some dough.

Well, me and Bill sallied forth into the night looking for anything that might mean money, experience having told us that you can find mighty near anything in the wharf-side streets of Singapore. Well, what we did find was the last thing we'd of expected.

We was passing a dark alley in the native quarters when we heard a woman screaming: "Help! Help! Help!"

We dashed into the alley immediately, and in the faint light we seen a girl struggling with a big Chinee. I seen the flash of a knife and I yelled and dived for him, but he dropped the frail and scooted down the alley like a scared rabbit, ducking the cobble-stone Bill heaved after him.

"Are you hurt, Miss?" I asked with my usual courtesy, lifting her to her feet.

"No, but I'm scared stiff," she answered. "That was a close call—let's get out of here before the big Chinee comes back with a mob."

So we legged it out into the street. Under the light of the street lamps we saw she was a white girl—American by her accent, and not hard to look at either, with her big grey eyes and wavy black hair.

"Where at shall we take you to, Miss?" asked Bill.

"I dance at the Bristol Cabaret," said she. "But let's go into the saloon—the bar-keep's a friend of mine and I want to buy you men a drink. It's the least I can do, for saving my life."

"Don't mention it, Miss," said I with a courtly bow. "We was glad to be of service. Howthesomever, if it will give you any pleasure to buy us a drink, we would not think of refusin'."

"More especially as we have just lost all our jack in a crap game, and are slowly but surely perishin' of thirst," said Bill, who ain't got my natural tact.

So we went in and got a back room to ourselves, and while we was downing our liquor—me and Bill, that is, because the girl said she never even tasted the stuff—she cupped her chin in her hands and rested her elbows on the table and gazing deep in my eyes, she sighed deeply.

"If I had a big strong man like you to protect me," she said in open admiration, "I wouldn't have to work in joints like the Bristol, and be abused by such swipes as tried to slit my gullet tonight."

I involuntarily expanded my enormous chest and said: "Well, lady, as long as Steve Costigan, A.B. mariner, can stand on his feet and hit with either maulie, you got no call to be afraid of anybody. The best thing, next to fightin', that me and Bill O'Brien here do is aid ladies in distress."

She shook her head wistfully. "You've been very kind to me, but you sailors are all alike—a girl in every port. But—I haven't even introduced myself—my name is Joan Wells, and I'm from Philadelphia."

"We're mighty glad to meet somebody from the States," said Bill. "But why was that slant-eye tryin' to knife you?"

"I—I really shouldn't tell," said she, looking kind of frightened.

"We ain't tryin' to intrude in your private affairs none," I hastened to add.

"I couldn't keep a secret from a man like you," said she with a languishing glance that made my heart skip a beat, "so I'll tell you. Take a look out the door to see that nobody's listening at the key-hole."

Nobody wasn't, so she went on.

"Did you ever hear of the No Sen Tong?" We shook our heads. We knowed in a general way about the big tongs, or merchant houses, which just about controls the Orient, but we hadn't had no experience with them.

"Well," said she, "it's the richest, most secret tong in the world. When I first came here I worked as private secretary for old To Ying, who's one of its highest secret officials. He fired me because I wouldn't let him get fresh with me—the old slant-eyed snake—and I went to work at the Bristol. But once you've been on the inside of an organization like that, you have ways of knowing things that other people don't."