Chinaman's Chance by sourdough
Rating: 90%, Read 14000 times, Posted Jan 16, 2015
My name is Jennifer Yang. I was your typical Asian-American princess born and raised in southern California. I was attending UCLA majoring in business, intent on professional success and marrying well. But then I fell in with a bad crowd (according to my parents) and everything changed. They were Hollywood types; stuntmen to be specific.
A stuntman stands in for the actor when the script calls for a risky or dangerous action: fights, falls, car crashes, the whole bit. They taught me a lot and helped me get my first jobs, which qualified me for my SAG-AFTRA card. My years of ballet, gymnastics and martial arts lessons were paying off. I had excellent balance and I was unafraid of heights. Also I was stage struck. I guess I'd always had a secret hankering for show business. I took drama and joined the chorus in high school. I studied music and could play the piano and violin decently. I even took up tap and step dancing in college to keep in shape.
Because of my small stature (4’9” and 85 lbs.) as well as an almost nonexistent bust line, I stood in for child actors; nothing spectacular but it gave me great experience. I quit school. My family and friends were scandalized and my parents were threatening to disown me, but I wouldn’t be intimidated.
After a few months of being persistent and knocking on doors, I gradually expanded my contacts within the industry. On one of the jobs, I was hired to go to the Alabama Hills for some location work with a second unit team. The Alabama Hills aren’t in Alabama. They’re not even named after the state of Alabama. They were named for the CSS Alabama, a British-built Confederate warship, by local miners who sympathized with the Confederate cause. The CSS Alabama captured or sank dozens of Union military and civilian ships from 1862 until 1864, when it was itself sunk in a battle off the coast of France.
The Hills lie alongside the eastern edge of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range near the town of Lone Pine, just off US route 395. This area has been used as a film location for almost as long as the film industry has been in Hollywood. This area has seen tons of feature films and television episodes shot here, mostly westerns but has also substituted for other parts of the world and even other planets. My so-called stunt consisted of clambering up a couple of large rocks and running into a cave entrance. It wasn’t any big deal, but the director was pleased and it was a lot of fun.
My next job for the same production sent me to San Francisco, one of my favorite cities in the whole world. Founded in 1776 by Spanish settlers, it is pretty small compared to the other great cities of the world. Still, San Francisco is first class all the way. We were filming some scenes at a vacant and abandoned hotel that was scheduled to be torn down and replaced with an office building.
I was rehearsing my stunt with a couple of the other crew-members when the floor where I was standing collapsed with a thunderous crack. The next thing I knew, I was falling. I squeaked in surprise and tried to grab onto something solid, but the only thing I grabbed was air.
I heard a woman's scream when I hit bottom, but then lost consciousness from the impact. When I came to, this middle-aged man started speaking Chinese to me in a dialect I didn't understand. Then this older woman started yelling, "You speakee English? You speakee English?"
"I speak English," I finally said and tried to clear my head. I was sore all over, but I didn't think I had broken anything. That definitely was not the stunt I was hired to perform. "Where am I?"
"You are in Madame Bordeaux's, the most exclusive parlor house in San Francisco and most probably anywhere west of the Mississippi in these United States. I am Madame Bordeaux. I want to know how you got in here and why you attacked one of my girls."
"I didn't attack anyone." I began to wonder where my fellow crew-members were. I didn't know these people. I was lying on a bed in a small room lighted by a gas lamp surrounded by men and women dressed in period costume, late 19th century was my guess. There weren't any location shoots scheduled that day so I couldn't understand why they were dressed that way. There were even more people peering through the open doorway, all strangers.
"That's not what Sarah said," Madame Bordeaux responded.
"Sarah also said it was a seven foot tall Chinese giant with fangs, claws and armed with a hatchet. It looks like the only thing she got right was that she is Chinese all right," another man said. The woman nodded.
"Did you check her for weapons?"
"I checked every square inch of her body for weapons," he said. "At first I thought it was a boy with her short hair and wearin' trousers and all, but she is all girl." The man grinned and leered at me. I felt my face burning from the shame and humiliation from having been told I'd been groped while I was unconscious. I was going to go straight to the police once I got out of this place and swear out a sexual assault complaint against this bastard.
"I still want to know how you got in here."
"I was on an upper floor when it gave away and I fell," I explained. Everyone looked up so I looked, too. There was a solid ceiling above me.
"There is no upper floor above us, only the roof. There is no hole either."
"I don't understand," I whispered.
"I don't either," the woman said, "but I intend to."
"She's probably a runaway from one of the Chinatown crib houses," someone else said. "She's cute for a China girl. I wouldn't mind trying her out." My anger and confusion was giving way to just plain fear. Did these people think I was a prostitute?
"Look," I said. "I'm sorry I trespassed. It was unintentional and there doesn't appear to have been any damage done. If you think I've done something wrong, you can call the police and have me arrested." I'd feel safer in the hands of the police than with this group of people. I could call my boss and he would bail me out of jail.
"We need a little variety around here," the woman said. "I think we'll keep you around for a while."
"Will someone please call the police for me?" My request only got a laugh from the assembled crowd. I didn't understand what was so funny.
"Did someone call for the police?" A well-dressed middle aged man stepped forward. "Sergeant Sam Butler of the San Francisco Police Department at your service." the man declared. He wasn't in uniform, but I had to assume he was telling the truth.
"Please take me out of here," I begged.
"Certainly, my dear," he responded. "All in good time. Let's get acquainted first." He handed the woman a coin. She smiled and nodded. I realized I had just been sold to this so-called officer of the law.
"I'm not going to do anything with you," I shouted.
"I took his token so you don't have any choice," said the bitch.
"You took his token so why don't you do whatever he wants with him?" Madame Bordeaux slapped me in the face. I pulled my leg back to kick her in the throat, but the Chinese man grabbed me from behind and pulled me back. I was helpless, so I spat at her landing some spittle on her chin. She slapped me again. The ring she was wearing cut my cheek that time. It stung like crazy and my own tears made it feel like a burning acid was being poured onto the wound.
"They will beat you if you continue to resist," the Chinese man whispered in my ear. "Let them do as they will." I ignored him and still struggled.
"I can give her a little something to calm her down a bit," the madam told the cop.
"No, I like my whores to have a little spirit," Sergeant Butler said. "Of course, if she gets too spirited, I'll just beat the shit out of her until she starts cooperating. Do we understand each other little China girl?" I gave him the evil eye stare, willing him to collapse right there and die in excruciating pain. Unfortunately he still lived, but I must have communicated something because he said, "Maybe your boy should continue restraining her or perhaps you can chain her to the bed. Hey, better yet Mike, George? Stay here and we'll make a party out of it. One of you take the Chinaman’s place."
"That will be two more tokens if you please," said the brothel keeper.
"I am sorry," the Asian man whispered as he relinquished his grip on me to another man who took his place. Yeah, someday I'd make sure he was as sorry as the rest of them were going to be. I just wasn't sure how I was going to do that.
I shook my head and tried another tack. "Please don't do this," I begged. My tears were flowing freely. I prayed that this was just a nightmare and I would wake up safe and sound in my own bed. It all seemed so real, but it couldn't be, could it? Maybe my brain had been scrambled in the fall and I was hallucinating being trapped in a nineteenth century bordello. Where were my crew-mates? Why hadn't they come to rescue me?
"Strip her," Madame Bordeaux ordered.
"Don't!" I cried as two women started grabbing and pulling off my jeans and top. I tried flailing my arms and legs, but it didn't even slow them down. The crowd watching was a bunch of grinning idiots.
"She hardly has any pussy hair," one of them said. "Hardly any teats neither."
"That doesn't matter to me," said Butler. "The rest of you are welcome to watch, but it'll cost you."
"I just want to make sure I get my turn at her," said someone.
"Me too," said someone else.
"Come see me downstairs," said the brothel owner. "You can all have a turn." She turned to me. "I'm now kind of glad that you dropped in on us." People around her thought that remark was clever and laughed.
"I'll make sure you live to regret it," I hissed with as much venom as I could generate. "I swear it. That goes for anyone who so much as touches me."
The bitch yawned theatrically. "I can't tell you how many times I've heard that same phrase before." She exited the room with the crowd following her. I was now alone with the cop and his two buddies.
"I hope for your sake that you have calmed down a bit. Biting, scratching, kicking, hitting, spitting or other such thing will just get you hurt or killed." The cop might have been talking about the weather for all the emotion he put into his warning, but I could tell he meant every word. "Are you a virgin?" I closed my eyes and shook my head. The only man I had been intimate with was the man I thought I was going to marry. We broke up when I quit school. I was resigned now to being raped. There wouldn't be any cavalry riding in to rescue me at the last moment. I could hear the rustle of clothes as the man disrobed. The man holding me started playing with my boobs. I was actually grateful because that always started me lubricating down there. I'd been afraid I'd be dry when he penetrated me.
"Well, that is a disappointment, but we can't have everything, can we?" Butler's weight made the bed creak as he got on and I whimpered when he touched me. He thrust into me without protection and I was filled. Pain and discomfort followed.
I lay as passive as I could, hoping he wouldn't be getting any pleasure from raping me. He didn't seem to mind. The bastards started chatting with each other as if this was something they did routinely. I prayed I wouldn't become pregnant. I was on the pill, but that isn't 100% effective. Another worry was the possibility of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Lying there like a lump was just prolonging things so I decided to try to hurry things along if I could. I could fake an orgasm as well as any woman. I also had excellent muscle control. I started grunting, "Unh! Unh! Unh!" -and then, "Oh yeah! Oh yeah! Oh yeah! You're fucking me good! You're fucking me so good! Keep it up!"
I chanced a peek at his face and Butler looked very pleased with himself. I let out a screech and clamped my vaginal muscles down on his dick. It worked. The man grunted and spewed his seed into me. I was so disgusted, I wanted to puke. Instead I smiled for him.
"That was a lot better than it started out," said Butler. "I think you have found your calling in life." Butler was immediately replaced by George and then by Mike. I followed the same game plan as best I could even though I felt nothing, but pain and humiliation. That trio left and not more than a few minutes had passed before another man walked in. They were not going to give me a break. I stifled a sob and spread my legs, resigning myself to servicing him also. I had two more "customers" after that guy before I finally got a break. A woman came in with a bucket of water and dumped some into a basin. She gave me a cloth and I was allowed to clean up some. She didn't look too happy with me so I had an idea who my chamber maid might be.
"Are you Sarah?" I asked.
She looked surprised and said, "That's right."
"I can't say it's a pleasure," Sarah responded. "First you just about scare the life out of me and now you're stopping me from earning a living. This is my room."
"I'm sorry," I said and meaning it. "You can have whatever I earned. I'm getting the hell out of here anyway."
The woman giggled like a little girl. "For one thing, Madame Bordeaux thinks of you as found money. You or I won't be seeing a penny of it. For another thing, the only way you're getting out of here is when you're dead and then they'll just dump your body in the bay. That can be sooner or later depending on how well you behave and how much money you're earning for the house."
"Help me escape from here, Sarah. Please," I begged.
Sarah shook her head, looking scared. "I don't want to wind up at the bottom of the bay with you. Sorry."
"I understand," I said. Sarah handed me a thin cotton shift that hid absolutely nothing and told me there was a chamber pot underneath the bed. She also told me the door locked from the outside plus there was a guard on duty. The guard also acted as a bouncer for unruly customers. I would be moved to my own room in the morning. The young prostitute seemed ready to leave.
"May I ask you one more question, Sarah?"
"I'll answer it if I can," the woman responded.
"What year is it?"
"That's a strange question," Sarah said, "but easy enough to answer. The year is 1882. March is the month."
"Thank you." Sarah nodded and left. I briefly saw the guard at the door before it closed. He was the same man who said he had groped me. Being groped didn't seem so bad now after everything else that had happened to me in the last hours. I heard the door lock engaged and sat down to ponder what I had just been told. I had been thrown back in time 131 years before I started. No wonder no one I knew had come to my rescue after I had fallen. They hadn't even been born yet. For that matter neither had I. This was impossible!
Okay, I told myself. None of this real. You're lying unconscious on a hospital bed. This is just a weird dream caused by injuries suffered in your fall. When you wake up you're going to be surrounded by family members with your parents saying things like, "We told you so. We knew this would happen. Have you learned your lesson?" The trouble was that everything felt real right then. I was especially sore between my legs. A small hand mirror showed the cut I suffered just below my left eye was going to scar. There wasn't a lot of swelling.
The window had bars on it that I wouldn't be able to slip between even with my small frame. Yelling for help or screaming was probably a waste of time. I'd probably just attract the guard. It was dark out and a cold fog was rolling in. I was scared, lonely and tired. I needed some sleep. I would be able to think better and plan my escape. But where would I go even if I did escape? I didn't have any friends or family to rely on. I knew from personal experience I couldn't depend on the police. And who would believe my story? Excuse me, I'm from the future, the year 2013 to be specific. I need to get back to my own time. Can you help me? Yeah, they'd help me, right into a loony bin. It didn't seem like I was going to get any more customers they wanted me to service so I decided to try to get some sleep. I did fall asleep, but not without shedding a lot more tears.
I was awakened by knocking at the door and the sound of sing-song pidgin English. The door opened and the middle aged Chinese guy from the night before walked in holding a tray and wearing a big grin. "You eat," he said. "You have big day today."
"I'm not hungry," I responded. Actually I was starving. I wanted so badly to smash my fist into that guy's teeth. I noted the difference from the way he spoke the night before and this morning. He spoke fluently when he was whispering to me. This morning he sounded like he had only an elementary grasp of English. I wondered why he was putting on an act. He asked me something in that Chinese dialect I didn't understand. I responded in the Mandarin dialect that his mother was a dog turd.
"You must eat," he insisted loudly while shaking his head 'no'. He dropped something from beneath his tunic and kicked it underneath the bed. I almost didn't see him do it.
"Your ugly face is spoiling my appetite, whatever your name is," I responded just as loudly. "I'll eat after you leave. Now get the hell out of here, you slant-eyed motherfucker." I heard a muffled guffaw from somewhere and I knew we were being spied on. The man frowned and then returned to grinning.
"My name Sammy, but okey dokey," the man replied. "I go." He knocked on the door and someone let him out. I examined my breakfast tray. It was a bowl of mush, a dry piece of toast and a cup of water. A wooden spoon was my sole dining implement, nothing I could use as a weapon. The meal looked pretty unappetizing, but I was ravenous. On the other hand, I had been warned against eating any of it, hadn't I?
I pulled out the chamber pot and started to piddle. While I was doing that, I tried to examine whatever the man left behind as surreptitiously as I could manage. It was some rolled up clothing with a short note wedged beneath string holding the pack together. 'Food and water drugged. Madame sold you to tong. Pretend to eat then sleep. When you hear tower clock bell strike nine times, change clothes. Two bars on left side of window move easily from bottom. Not too far to drop. Be brave.' I shuddered when I read that I had been sold to a tong. Tongs were organizations in the United States and Canada that were associated with the Chinese criminal underworld. What did they want with me? Duh! The answer was obvious. I was a commodity. Madame Bordeaux sold me to one of them for some quick money. They would most probably be selling my body in a Chinatown brothel.
I rinsed my hands in the water still in the basin and then walked to the window. I took a look at the bars, but nothing seemed different about them. I didn't want to try moving them in case I was still under observation. I imagined that this might be a cruel joke, but what did I have to lose? I had to trust Sammy. I returned to my breakfast tray and pretended to eat and drink. Most all of it wound up in the chamber pot. I stretched and yawned. Then I lay down and feigned sleep. That was difficult to do with my nerves on edge just waiting for the signal to move. My body twitched involuntarily when I heard a bell begin to toll and I cursed myself. Nine bells, I thought, or was it only eight? Fuck it! I couldn't even count anymore.
My shift was off in one motion. The clothes consisted of black pants, black tunic, black cap and a pair of sandals. I was dressed like a coolie, a Chinese laborer. The cap even had a fake queue, the pigtail hairstyle Chinese men were required to have as a sign of loyalty to the Qing dynasty emperors. I crept to the window and peered out. There was no one in sight. I took a deep breath and tried to move the loose bars. There was some play in the bars, but moving them wasn't nearly as easy as Sammy let on. After a few seconds or so of resistance, the bars began to move, but more noisily than I would have liked. I slipped through. So far so good. I wanted to create confusion as to how I escaped so I moved the loose bars back into place while hanging onto a stable window bar, not a problem given my physical conditioning. There was an old cushion below me; small, but adequate to break my fall. The height wasn't a problem. A second after I was on the ground, I was stashing the cushion under a pile of leaves.
"Good thinking," a voice said behind me. I whirled and assumed a defensive stance. It was Sammy. "You are more athletic than I had hoped. Let's go. I know a safe place nearby." I nodded and followed. We turned a corner and ran straight into Sarah, apparently out for a stroll. We all gasped and stared at each other. I about peed in my pants.
"How did you-" Sarah began then said, "Never mind. I don't want to know. I just hope I don't get any of the blame."
"Blame me," said Sammy. "Sammy not go back."
Sarah nodded and smiled. "They'll be looking for you both. Just don't get caught. Good luck."
"Thank you, Sarah," I said. "I won't forget your kindness."
"Just don't get caught," the young prostitute repeated and then walked on without looking back.
"Stop gawking," Sammy urged me. "We are in a hurry. Our lives are in danger." I nodded, but continued gawking. The San Francisco I knew was gone. No skyscrapers. No Golden Gate Bridge. The fog had cleared so I could see the harbor: three-masted schooners, steamships blasting black smoke out of their stacks, side paddle wheelers. Most of the streets were dirt, or mud I should say, since it had recently rained. Still, the streets were crowded with people on foot, horseback and horse drawn carriages. Freight wagons with workmen loading and unloading goods added to the chaos around us. I was hopeful I could get lost and forgotten in this chaos. I was less hopeful of ever returning home to my own time. We ducked into a narrow alley behind a livery stable and entered a barn through some loosened boards in the back. Once I got used to the dim light, I could tell it was used to store a couple of carriages. There was a small pile of hay with a sleeping mat on it.
"We'll be safe here and then we'll have to move again after dark," Sammy said.
"What happens after that?"
"I get you out of San Francisco and then you get yourself as far away from here as possible, preferably where there are no tongs."
"No thanks," I said. "I have unfinished business here."
"May I ask what unfinished business you have that is so important you would risk your freedom and possibly your life?"
"I am going to kill Madame Bordeaux and those men who raped me." Sammy stared at me goggled-eyed and uttered something in Chinese.
"A little girl is going to kill a brothel owner, three policemen, a judge and two prominent businessmen." He shook his head in disbelief. "Not that you do not have reason to seek vengeance, but I think it's more likely you will get yourself killed going after just one of them."
"It's possible," I conceded. "But I'll do it or die trying."
"I risked my life and ruined my plans for a lunatic."
"You don't even know the half of it," I responded. "I am from the twenty-first century, the year 2013 to be exact. I don't know how, but I got sent back in time to 1882. I was in an old hotel that was scheduled to be demolished. I believe the hotel is or will be in the exact location where that brothel now stands. The floor collapsed and I fell. Apparently, there was a time anomaly that I fell through and I landed in Sarah's bed."
Sammy stared hard at me. I think he was tired of shaking his head. "You belong in an asylum."
"You think so? You might be right. I'm finding it hard to believe. I certainly don't expect you to believe any of it." I fully expected the man to cut his losses and walk away. He started pacing up and down the small space we were in.
"Perhaps the fall injured your brain and you are imagining all this."
"I have thought of that," I said. "I have also thought that I might be experiencing a vivid nightmare. But the nightmare part is being 131 years in the past, not knowing how it happened and not knowing how to get back."
"I don't like being in your nightmare."
"I don't blame you," I responded and giggled. Sammy responded with his own smile.
"Would you agree that you and I are in the present?"
"I do agree with you."
"Would you also agree the future is yet to be seen and unforeseeable?"
"That's true as far as I know."
"Then you would have to agree that no one can travel to the future and take a look around." Sammy nodded his head as if prompting me to agree with him.
"Except your present is my past and my present is your future," I said.
"That statement makes absolutely no sense."
"You're right and I know I can't prove it to you. I'm still going to kill that bitch and those rapists." Sammy was back to shaking his head. I was afraid he was going to strain his neck muscles if he kept on doing that.
"Very well, miss."
"My name is Jennifer. Please call me Jennifer. Please don't call me Jenny. I don't like that name. May I call you Sammy?"
The man shook his head. "Sammy must disappear forever. I must choose a different English name soon. My Chinese name is Lee Chen. Please call me Chen when we are alone."
"Chen," I said. I liked his name.
"Very well, Jennifer. Let's assume I accept everything you just told me. You're from some time in the future. You were thrust into the past by unknown means and you have no idea how to get back. For all you know, you're going to be staying in this time period for the rest of your life. Am I correct so far?"
"It's fair to say that," I responded. Contemplating that possibility made me feel sad that I wouldn't be seeing my family and friends any more.
"Given that possibility, shouldn't you learn how to live in this present?"
"You're absolutely right, Chen," I declared.
"Yes, I am right." Chen put on a big grin. I think he was happy because I was agreeing with him.
"I'll do that just as soon as those bastards are dead." He stopped grinning.
"Jennifer, I don't know where you come from, but in California it is a very bad idea for a Chinese to even defend himself much less seek revenge for wrongs done to him. It is impossible for a Chinese to obtain justice in either the criminal or civil courts when the adversary is a white man. You will only succeed in getting yourself hanged if you insist on carrying through with your plans. You will also give people an excuse to retaliate against other Chinese people. Is that what you want?"
"Of course I don't want that," I responded. "That just means I'll have to be very careful to not get caught and make sure there are no witnesses."
Chen started mumbling in Chinese again. He sounded exasperated. "Why don't you listen to the advice I give you? It is very good advice. It will help to keep you safe and among the living."
"I have been listening to your advice," I said. "And I agree that it's very good advice. You have given me much food for thought. And speaking of food, it has been about 24 hours since I last ate, give or take 131 years. I'm very hungry and thirsty. Is there any place nearby where we can grab something to eat?"
"It will be safer to wait until after dark," Chen said. I nodded. I had been thinking with my stomach and not my brain. I didn't think it was even noon yet. I don't think I had ever missed a meal in my entire life before yesterday. My stomach growled, or rather roared, in complaint causing the man to smile.
"I need to go out and listen to gossip and rumors. Some of that idle talk might be about us. I need to find out how badly we are wanted. I suppose I could purchase a small meal for you while I am out."
"You said it won't be safe until after dark," I protested. "You might be recognized if you go out now." All of a sudden I was feeling rather foolish and guilty for asking this man to risk his life so that I might not miss another meal.
"You are right, of course." He pulled aside a loose board, reached in and pulled out a small carpet bag. He applied a fluid from a bottle he had uncorked to a rag and began removing makeup from his face? He was wearing a disguise! It was fascinating to watch as Chen removed lines and years from his face. His mustache came off, and even the pockmarks on his cheeks disappeared. He removed a bit of padding from around his waist and his paunch disappeared. He even seemed to gain a couple inches in height even though still being short at around 5'5". That still towered over me.
"How do I look?"
"I'm impressed," I said. Even his tone of voice was different. I realized he wasn't much older than me and handsome to boot.
"Pretty good for a slant-eyed motherfucker?"
I felt my cheeks heat up. "When I called you that, you were on my list of people I was going to do horrible things to like break your arms off or something like that. You're safe from me now."
"I feel relieved," he responded with a smile. It was such a charming smile, I felt myself moistening up between my legs. Yeah, I can think slutty thoughts just as much as any woman. I just don't like sex forced on me, okay?
"I’m also sorry I messed up your plans, whatever those were." That was an invitation for him to tell me what those plans were, but he ignored it.
"It doesn't matter." He told me to stay put and he was gone in the next minute promising only that he would be back as soon as possible and he would have something for me to eat.
There wasn't anything to do hiding in the dim light of my 'den' except think. I spent the time waiting for Chen by doing exactly that. Mostly my thoughts were about the talk I just had with my new friend. I decided he was right and I was wrong. I mean, what did I have to gain by risking my life by seeking revenge? I would most likely get caught or killed. When Chen returned, he brought with him a couple of metal containers full of rice and tea. He handed me a pair of chopsticks and I started gobbling the rice down without so much as a thank you to him.
"It is as I feared," the man said after watching me eat for a bit. "Madame Bordeaux wants me dead and she wants you returned to her. She has backed up her words with money. The tongs know about your escape and any one of them would love to get their hands on you without having to pay the Madame anything. They are also offering money for you to be delivered to one of them."
I sipped some tea. "How many tongs are there in San Francisco?"
"There are four main tongs in the city plus several minor ones," Chen said. "All of them have their eyes and ears open both day and night so now you understand the necessity of getting you out of the city."
"So, I leave San Francisco," I said. "What then? I don't have family or friends. I don't have any money. I would rather take my chances here with you. The city is plenty large. I think I could get lost here quite easy."
"The city is indeed large," the man said. "In fact, it is one of the largest cities in the United States with about a quarter million inhabitants. But the Chinese make up only about 10% of that total with the vast majority of them males. U.S. authorities suspended Chinese immigration a couple of years ago and the only ones getting in are smuggled in at great expense. Can you see why a young and pretty Chinese girl generates so much interest?"
"I guess so," I allowed.
"I am not certain when legal immigration will be resumed."
"It won't be," I said remembering the Chinese experience in the U.S. from a history text I read. "The Chinese Exclusion Act was...uh...will be passed by Congress and signed into law this year, I think." I had to remind myself I was speaking of future history.
"You know this for certain?" Chen seemed skeptical.
"Uh huh." I took another sip of tea. "The Chinese Exclusion Act is supposed to be effective for ten years. But it will be renewed in 1892 and made permanent in 1902. It won't be repealed until World War Two when the U.S. and China are allies in a war against Japan and her allies."
Anti-Chinese feelings among the white settlers were very strong in California from their first arrival during gold rush days. Various laws were passed aimed directly against the Chinese immigrant. They were forced from their mining claims, their homes and businesses. Those who chose to remain in California were required to live in specified areas of the city otherwise known as ghettos. The ghettos eventually came to be known as Chinatowns, the largest being in San Francisco. Comparisons could be made with the persecution of the Jews in Europe and the freed slaves with the Jim Crow laws in the former Confederate states.
Big business had no problem tapping this labor source when it was to their advantage. The Chinese were a source of cheap labor during the building of the transcontinental railroad and were blamed for taking away jobs from more deserving white people and for holding wages down during a post Civil War economic recession.
"World War Two? There will be a World War One?"
"Yes," I said. "That will last from 1914 to 1918. The people at the time will call it the 'Great War' or 'The war to end all wars'. They didn't know what they were talking about. Millions will die and just set the stage for an even bigger war twenty years later."
"I find myself starting to believe your story," Chen said, "even as the rational part of my mind says I should not. And yet, nothing you say can help me protect you from those who would prey upon you. I have a little money saved, but it won't last long if I remain jobless."
"I'll get a job and help contribute," I offered.
"Jobs are not easy to come by even if you're not Chinese," Chen said. "Also, you would be spotted in a matter of minutes by a tong agent or one of the madame's people."
"I guess I'll just have to become a boy."
"That's right. I've done plenty of acting, as boys as well as girls." That was an outright lie, but I didn't want the man to abandon me. "A little of your makeup magic and no one will recognize me and everyone will think I'm a boy. I can even pee standing up."
Chen laughed and then looked long and hard at me. He started frowning.
"What? Is there a problem?"
"Your hair," Chen said. "It's too feminine even cut short as it is."
"Let's cut it off," I responded.
"We might have to shave it off."
"Not a problem." I'm not without vanity, but that would have to take a back seat to survival.
Chen told me he was from a coastal Chinese city and the dialect he spoke was closely related to Cantonese. His father had purchased passage to San Francisco, but he died suddenly and Chen took his place even though he was just twelve years old. Much to his surprise, the job Chen was counting on didn't exist. It was just a scam to collect fees without getting anything in return. Eventually he got a job as 'Monkey Boy' in a traveling carnival. That's where he learned makeup. He already knew English from a missionary school he attended in China, but one of the carnies helped him improve his reading and writing in English. The carnival folded a couple of years later somewhere near Sacramento and that was the end of that career. Chen worked his way back to San Francisco and had been doing various odd jobs over the years, which he admitted included some criminal activity, but never wanted to get involved with the tongs.
"I'm glad for that!"
"I'm glad, too," Chen responded. I found myself being more and more attracted to this man, but he was nothing if not traditional. I shouldn't have been surprised by that observation with me being in the 19th century. But this 21st century woman wanted to let him know I wanted him without pussyfooting around. I wasn't interested in acting shy and demure and just hoped he might feel the same way about me. But I was afraid of showing my feelings for fear of seeming too forward, which would definitely scare him away or make him think I was a loose woman. Well, I guess I was a loose woman by 19th century standards.
I told him about my job as a stunt double, which he found amusing, but I had the hardest time explaining motion pictures. Those hadn't been invented yet.
"I knew you were very athletic from the way you climbed out of the window," Chen said. "You didn't show a bit of apprehension when you dropped to the ground. I did many of the same things you describe learning how to become a decent 'Monkey Boy'."
"Perhaps we can team up and become a monkey duo?"
"Perhaps," Chen responded. "It is dark enough now with the fog rolling in. It is time to leave." We made our way to the Chinatown area, giving everyone along our path a wide berth while trying not to be obvious about it. Chen's room was a small room attached to a restaurant. It had a measure of privacy for which he paid a little higher rent to the landlord. It hosted a small bed, table and chair. It was lighted with a kerosene lamp.
"I am afraid I only have this small bed. I don't recommend sleeping on the floor. A rodent and a cockroach or two might crawl in with you during the night. At least I don't have bedbugs." I think Chen blushed when he told me this, but I couldn't really tell because of the poor light. He must not have been certain on how I would react.
I smiled and bowed low. "If that is the case, I hope you don't mind me sharing your bed with you. I'm bigger than a bed bug, but at least I won't bite. I pray that I will be pleasing to you tonight and for many nights to come." That statement took Chen by surprise. I wasn't being shy or reticent. I was offering to be the man's fuck buddy in return for his protection; a stone age marriage proposal so to speak. Chen didn't speak right away and I was beginning to wonder if I'd blown it. I think he was weighing the risks and benefits of having me around on a permanent basis. I only thing I had to offer was my body. Was it enough? I didn't want to be an albatross around the man's neck and I did have some bad people looking for me. Looking for him, too, for that matter. I sighed with relief when Chen smiled and nodded.
I was conscious of our gender roles and waited passively while Chen straightened the bed. It didn't need straightening, but I think he was as nervous as I was. The lamp was turned down and we were plunged into darkness. I could hear the rustle of clothing and so I stripped down to my birthday suit.
"Are you ready?" Chen was trying to be considerate and I loved him for it.
"Yes, my husband," I responded. I was trying to play on Chen's emotions. I was sending the message that I was fully committed to him and I wanted him fully committed to me. He stepped forward and we embraced. I heard a small gasp when he felt my nakedness against his. I felt myself getting excited and I'm afraid I tried to hurry things along, stepping past the man and lying down on the thin mattress. I was on my back with my legs spread in presentation position. If he didn't like missionary style, I was more than willing to adjust to his preferences. The bed groaned with the extra weight, but it held.
"Yes!" I gasped as I felt Chen enter me. I wrapped my arms and legs around him and held him tight. I was still a little sore from being raped the night before and Chen was being gentle with me, but I wanted some measure of control without seeming obvious. Once I was comfortable, I relaxed my grip on my man and he took it as a signal to begin fucking me.
"My darling," I cooed as he claimed me. I relaxed completely and let him have his way with me. Chen didn't last more than a couple of minutes the first time, but he stayed hard inside me and I squeaked with pleasure the second time he sprayed my womb with his seed. I realized I was risking pregnancy now that I no longer had access to my birth control pills and I had to accept that possibility. "I am yours forever."
"I love you, dearest Jennifer," Chen whispered. "I will protect you with my very life."
"My Chinese name is Lihua." (It's pronounced like 'leewaa', dear reader.)
"Lihua," Chen repeated and kissed me. We made love once more before falling asleep in each other's arms. I felt safe and slept soundly.
I awoke refreshed. Chen was already moving around. He looked different and I realized he was already assuming a new disguise. "Good morning, husband," I said. It felt natural saying that, not strange at all considering he was a man I met less than two days before.
"Good morning, wife," he responded with a grin. "I always thought I would have to return to China in order to obtain a wife. I feel very lucky."
"I'm the lucky one," I declared. I got up and hugged him. Chen showed me where the jakes were and where to clean up. I longed for a hot shower, but that wasn't in the cards. I cleaned up as best I could. Breakfast was rice and tea again. I would have to get used to that, too.
"Are you still willing to be disguised as a boy?" Chen asked.
I nodded. "I don't think we have any choice," I said. We had already discussed the need to hide from the bad guys and doing it in plain sight seemed the best way to do it. We also needed money. Rent was costing Chen a dollar a week. San Francisco was an expensive place to live even in 1882.
"Perhaps I can get work in the restaurant," I suggested.
Chen shook his head. "You not knowing the Cantonese dialect will cause people to ask questions, cause gossip and raise suspicion. I was thinking along the lines of a stable boy for a white owned business." Well, I liked horses, but I never before considered mucking out stalls as a career choice.
"That makes sense," I said. "Let's get started." Thirty minutes later I was as bald as the proverbial cue ball with the exception of a bit at the back which became a short queue. Makeup covered my cut somewhat and still allowed it to breathe. More makeup thinned my lips. Lots of dirt would keep people from looking at me too close. I was a passable twelve-year-old youth. At least I hoped so. Chen wanted to stay with me so I would be protected.
"We need to separate so we can cover more territory, husband," I told him. "I promise I won't take any chances." He liked it when I called him husband.
"I will worry about you every moment we are apart," he said.
"And I for you," I responded. "Be safe. I love you."
It didn't take me long to feel unwelcome. Wherever I went, I was greeted with shouts of "No Chinese!" before I got a word out of my mouth. Others just shook their heads when I approached. I knew enough not to push things. Still, I was determined to be persistent. A person has to get used to constant rejection in the film industry real fast or he'll get discouraged in no time at all. I decided I had to be persistent here, too. The more doors I knocked on, the closer I'd be getting to my first job offer.
I found myself wandering into an area filled with numerous saloons. I also saw numerous signs touting various types of entertainment. I realized I was getting into the Barbary Coast district, notorious for being a haven for the lowest elements of San Francisco society: thieves, murderers and other criminal types. This wasn't where I wanted to be. It really wasn't any worse than some of Chinatown, but at least I had Chen to rely on. I made an about face. That was when I saw a policeman walking in my direction. He wasn't one of the rapists, but I was kind of shy of the police just then so I ducked just inside an alleyway door that was ajar.
"Can I help you?" a woman's voice said from behind me.
"Uh, no ma'am," I responded without seeing her. It was dim inside and took a few seconds to get used to the gloom. I was inside a saloon. "But perhaps I can help you," I added. "It looks like your cleanup crew forgot to show up." The place looked like the aftermath of a frat party.
"My swamper didn't show up," the woman said, "if that's what you mean by my cleanup crew. He's either dead drunk or dead. I guess it doesn't matter which it is."
"I'll be your swamper." The woman looked at me for a moment.
"I guess beggars can't be choosers," she said. "I'll pay you two bits if you can have this place looking presentable when we open."
Hmm! That didn't seem like very much. "Make it four bits."
"Two bits," the woman insisted. "I'd like to see if you're worth even that."
"Fine," I said. "Where's the cleaning gear?" I spent the morning wiping tables, washing glassware, sweeping and mopping floors. The place reeked of stale beer and smoke. Nothing could be done there. The worst of it was mopping up spills of unknown origin. I found myself wishing I had access to a hazmat suit. If there was a health department in the city in this era, they certainly weren't doing their jobs. Chen told me stories of having worked sixteen straight hours and then being stiffed on his pay. I hoped that didn't happen to me.
"What do people call you?" the saloon owner Mrs. Crabtree asked. She had begun to relax as the room started to look decent. The woman told me she was a widow and had inherited the saloon from her late husband. They were childless.
I thought for a moment and raised my cap, exposing my bald pate. "The name is Curly, ma'am, if you please." That made her laugh and I smiled in return.
"I like how you work, Curly," the woman responded. "You have earned your two bits already. I just wish you weren't...Chinese." I wasn't going to take offense. I had already seen the man who delivered a huge beer keg and the saloon bartender giving me disapproving looks. Was it good business to be rid of me?
"I can't help that my parents were Chinese," I said, "just as I am sure you couldn't help that you were born female." Mrs. Crabtree blushed a bit and nodded. I'm sure she had suffered her share of gender discrimination in this male dominated society.
"You're wise beyond your years, Curly."
"I’ve had to grow up pretty fast, Mrs. Crabtree."
The saloon opened up and the customers came drifting in. I ignored the stares and just busied myself washing mugs and shot glasses so the bartender could keep pouring. In return the customers, all men, started to ignore me. I realized from overhearing snatches of conversation that these men were Irish laborers. The Irish were politically powerful in San Francisco politics, composing about a third of the entire population at this time. Their politicians were instrumental in introducing anti-Chinese legislation in California and getting it passed in the legislature. The antipathy mainly stemmed from the post Civil War recession when not only the Chinese, but the Irish also suffered from high unemployment. There was no getting on their good side. No wonder Mrs. Crabtree wished I wasn't Chinese.
"This place is going to the dogs fast," a huge man said, his voice booming. He was a new arrival and seemed to be the leader among this group. "Where's Joe?" I assumed Joe was the no-show swamper.
"I'm Joe's temporary replacement," I said, "until he returns from his holiday in the south of France." That got a laugh from the room.
"The south of France, eh? That means he'll be gone a bit. Perhaps we should take our custom elsewhere until his return or the saloon gets a real Irishman to employ and not some cheap China boy." There were murmurs of agreement. Oh shit! This guy was a real hard ass. I glanced over at Mrs. Crabtree, who was giving me her own sideways glance. She wasn't about to keep me around if that meant losing customers. Should I just ask her to pay me off and walk out? She already said I had earned my two bits.
"I'm as Irish as anyone in this room," I shouted in bravado and bit of desperation. "I can't help it if my dear mother ran afoul of one of the little people while I was still in her womb and got cursed as a result." There were some gasps and more laughter, even from Mr. Hard Ass this time. The little people were of course the leprechauns of Irish myth.
"What did she do to get you cursed by one of the little people?" someone else asked. He sounded like he was in awe and a bit frightened. Perhaps he was a true believer.
"He came by my mother's door begging for something to drink, claiming to be dying of thirst. Unfortunately she thought he meant water when it was good Irish whiskey he wanted." That got another laugh. The crowd was warming to me...I hoped. I still had to convince their leader. "Out I come from the womb looking like a heathen Chinese. The midwife fainted. My mother fainted. I had to chew through the umbilical cord myself and me with no teeth yet. Do you realize how difficult that was? The first time my father saw me, he kicked my mother's bum right up between her shoulders. She still walks funny to this very day." There was a cheer and some applause. I knew the Irish appreciated a good story telling.
"Well," my antagonist said, "it sure sounds like you have kissed the Blarney Stone, but if you're an Irishman then I'm a Hottentot." In fact, I did kiss the Blarney Stone as a twelve-year-old tourist with my parents.
"What? Do I have to dance a jig to convince you? Does anyone here have a fiddle?"
"How about a tin whistle?" someone yelled.
"Fine," I yelled back. "Play something." I knew some Irish step dancing, although I was pretty rusty at it. It was hard enough wearing sandals, but I didn't make a complete fool of myself. When the music ended I almost curtseyed, but I covered it up with a little stumble and bowed. The audience was appreciative.
"I'll be damned if you ain't Irish and if anyone wants to dispute it they'll have to deal with Brian O'Hara. I'm buying this lad here a drink!" My new friend slapped me on the shoulder and I almost collapsed.
"I can't drink on the job, but I'll have a sarsaparilla with you, if you please."
"It does not please me," Brian declared. "Bring out the good stuff." Geez Louise! This must be a test of honor or Irishness or something like that. I looked to Mrs. Crabtree seeking help, but she just shrugged her shoulders. My boss was already walking toward us with a bottle and two shot glasses. She set the glasses on a table and then poured.
"I have lived to see Hell itself freeze over," the woman said. "The house is buying this round." I was no teetotaler. I had done plenty of shots at frat parties, but it was always on a full stomach. I was running on empty again.
"Erin go Bragh!" I shouted and downed my drink. It was good stuff.
"Erin go Bragh!" Brian and everyone else chorused and cheered.
"Curly here has some chores to do now and I imagine you lads have to get back to work," Mrs. Crabtree announced. There were some grumbles, but no one disagreed. I was glad for the rescue and the saloon owner led me back to a cubbyhole she used as an office. We sat down and I was glad to take a load off my feet.
"Things could have gone wrong again if you had refused that drink with Brian," my boss said. "I'm glad you were up to it."
"I kind of figured it was something like that," I replied. "I'm just glad that there wasn't a follow up round. That would have done me in for sure."
"I don't know how you did it, but you made friends of that bunch. Brian O'Hara is more likely to break a Chinaman’s skull with a cudgel as look at him. He's such a nice man otherwise." That last part sounded like Mrs. Crabtree liked Brian a whole lot.
"I guess I better teach Irish jigs to the Chinese around here." We both laughed. I was covering up my fright. I didn't realize Brian was that dangerous. The bartender walked back and handed me a plate of fried chicken.
"Thank you, Tim." Tim smiled and left. I guessed I made a friend of the bartender, too.
"If you continue doing that for the boys, maybe we had better make sure those boobies of yours don't bounce so much. Small as they are, someone else is bound to notice them eventually." I just about choked on the piece of chicken I was
chewing. I guess I didn't make a very convincing boy after all.
"Does that mean you want me back tomorrow?"
"What if Joe comes back?"
"I'll keep him on," said the proprietor. "He's as worthless as teats on a boar, but I can't afford to have people think I prefer a Chinaman over an Irishman."
"Okay, boss," I responded. "I can understand that. Say, this is pretty good chicken. I'm going to save it and share it with my friend. He'll be glad to hear the good news about my job, too."
"Go ahead and eat. I've got lots more. I'll wrap some up and you can take it home to your friend."
"Thanks, Mrs. Crabtree."
"Call me Emma when we're alone."
"I'm Jennifer when we're alone," I responded.
Emma gave me a dollar and told me keep quiet about how much she gave me. I had to remind myself that a dollar was probably a pretty good day's wage for a lot of people in the era I was now living. She then allowed me to go home early because my friend was probably worried about where I was.
I was right about Chen being worried. I could see an almost frantic expression on his face from half a block away. I waved and caught his attention. He closed his eyes and I imagined he was going through a calming exercise.
"I have some good news," I said. Instead of asking what the news was, Chen launched into an angry sounding tirade. I didn't understand a word of it because it was all in Cantonese. He motioned me to follow him. I started to ask him what was wrong, but he became even angrier and louder, drowning me out. I wondered what it was that I had done wrong. It wasn't until we were back in our room with the door closed that he embraced me.
"We are under observation," he whispered and then yelled some more. I was both frightened and relieved. Frightened that the bad guys might have found us and relieved that I wasn't in trouble with Chen. It was an act to mislead whoever was watching us. My husband walked outside and then came back a few minutes later.
"I think they have lost interest in us for now," Chen said. "You are now my worthless good-for-nothing newly-arrived nephew that I would send back to China immediately if I had any money."
"Hold me," was the only thing I could think to say. We held each other without saying anything for over a minute.
Chen said, "I believe they were tong agents. You are a new face in the neighborhood and I wanted to establish your identity for the curious. What is your news?"
I didn't give Chen the full story on what happened for fear of upsetting him for real, only that I met Emma and did some work for her. She liked my work and wanted me back for a full shift the next day. I gave him the dollar I earned and thought he would be pleased. He frowned instead. He was upset anyway. "What's wrong?"
"I am the husband," Chen said. "I should be the one earning for our household."
"You know what, Chen," I responded. "I feel like smacking you right now."
He looked surprised. "Why would you wish to smack me?"
"Because you're not thinking right. We're a team now, equals as far as earning money is concerned, and we should be cheering each other on, not feeling down just because the other one scored first. It all goes in the same pot, right?"
"You're right of course," my husband said. "I apologize for my wrong attitude." I couldn't blame Chen for his wrong attitude after hearing about his day. His search for work had been fruitless so far. When he returned home he was met by the landlord, who said that he found out Chen now had a roommate and the rent would be increased effective immediately. Then the suspected tong agents showed up.
"How much does the landlord want?"
"He wanted to double the rent to two dollars a week, but I talked him down to one and a half dollars."
"Our landlord is a blood sucking bastard," I said. Chen agreed with me. We shredded up the chicken and ate it with our rice. I decided to track down a greengrocer soon. I was missing my fruits and vegetables. We talked through the evening.
"What province are you from," Chen asked.
"I was born in L.A."
"L.A. -as in short for Los Angeles? Here in California?"
"Ah, I have heard of Los Angeles. It's a small town south of here, isn't it?"
"That's right," I answered and giggled. "It will soon become a huge metropolis much bigger than San Francisco." I launched into my version of history, or in Chen's case, events yet to happen. We talked about local future history this time including the great earthquake and fire which would destroy most of San Francisco in April, 1906.
"If we live that long, let's make sure to be out of the city during that month, all right?"
"I totally agree," I said. Gosh! We were doing some long term planning already with the earthquake being 24 years in the future. We'd be middle-aged by then. Suddenly I didn't want to talk anymore. "Let's go to bed."
"Yes, you must be very tired," Chen said.
"I wasn't thinking about sleeping," I replied. I think I wore out the poor man that night.
"Does the saloon do anything special for St. Patrick's Day, Emma?" That was a week away and I was thinking about what I had learned in a marketing class while still in university.
"We sell more drinks, but nothing special. Why?"
"I was just thinking we would get a lot more customers on that day if we told everyone we were the place to be on St. Patrick's Day."
"Honey, we are just one saloon in an area where there are hundreds," Emma said. "We mostly all sell the same drinks and at the same prices. Some have brothels connected to them. Otherwise there's not a penny's worth of difference between us. We depend on word of mouth that our customers won't have their drinks watered down and that they can drink in peace. Of course, there's no guarantee they won't get shot, stabbed or bludgeoned once they step out into the street, but that's a hazard anywhere you're likely to go in this city. From my experience, advertising for the saloon is a waste of money."
"Word of mouth is exactly what I'm talking about, Emma. We just give it a little help. Will you listen to my idea?"
Basically the idea was to pin a green ribbon on the lapel of every customer who walked through the door on March 16, the day before St. Patrick's. When the customer went home or back to work, he would be asked about it and refer the curious to Emma's saloon. They would have to walk into the saloon to get the ribbon and then they might feel obligated to stick around and buy a few drinks. It would promote good will and perhaps get the new customers as returning customers. The promotion could be done on the cheap. The only upfront costs would be the ribbon and pins. Emma thought the idea had merit. We decided to run with it.
It almost didn't happen. In my 21st century mind, I thought we would just go to a supplier and buy a bunch of cheap ribbon. The trouble was the only ribbon available in all of the Bay Area was made out of cloth for dressmaking. That cost a lot more than Emma was willing to spend. But then someone contacted her, someone who knew of a supplier who was stuck with a load of green cloth that he would be willing to part with cheaply just to get it out of his warehouse. It wasn't ribbon, but we thought we could make something similar out of it.
Chen was able to help with the next step. He talked to the owner of a Chinatown clothing factory who was glad to get the extra work and willing to meet our price and deadline. I never did tell Emma her St. Patrick's Day ribbons were manufactured in Chinatown by Buddhists. Some information should never see the light of day. My husband was even able to pocket a couple of bucks from the deal to add to our savings.
Of course, no nice girl would be caught dead working in a saloon, so my boss hired a young pretty prostitute with red hair and blue eyes, dressed in a traditional Irish costume. Her job was to pin the ribbon on the lapel of every customer leaving the premises, smile pretty and invite them back for the next day's festivities. Emma hired a music trio that knew a bunch of Irish drinking songs as well as bawdy tunes that went well in a saloon.
The ribbons were a successful promotion and the saloon did record sales. Emma had to bring in couple of relief bartenders to help out Tim. A lot of first time customers visited just because they saw someone wearing the ribbon and asked the wearer where they could get one, too. Some of our regular customers complained that his wife or daughter or sweetheart claimed the ribbon for themselves so they didn't have a chance to wear it around town. We were happy to keep handing them out until they were all gone. I got my period and was thankful I wasn't pregnant.
"Shall we start planning an Easter promotion, Emma?"
"It'll have to be something different than ribbons," Emma responded. "I've heard rumors that a dozen different saloons plan to copy the ribbon thing. There are probably several more that I haven't yet heard about." I never got a chance to plan another promotion.
I walked into work early the following Monday morning and came face to face with George, one of the cop rapists. He was talking to Emma, who was the only other person there. I think we recognized each other at the same time. I spun around and took off.
"Stop!" he yelled. I ran to the corner and chanced a look behind me. The bastard was right on my tail. I ducked into an alley hoping to lose him and ran right into a dead end. There was a ladder nearby and I scampered up that intending to escape via the rooftops. I shoved the ladder off in an effort to delay him and looked for an escape route. There was some scaffolding erected in a small open-air courtyard. The only doors below me had huge padlocks on them. I climbed the scaffold, edged to the other side and looked for another foothold. Shit! There weren't any. I was trapped. I saw the top of the ladder back up and then George's face peering over the edge of the roof. He was wearing a huge smile on his face.
"I know these streets like the back of my hand," George said. "I knew you couldn't escape this way. I'm also pretty good with faces. It will take more than a shaved skull and some dirt for you to escape my notice. Come along now. Madame Bordeaux is going to be very glad to see you."
"Go fuck yourself," I replied. I wasn't going to make it easy for him. He didn't like my response. At least he wasn't smiling any more.
"You know, I can just shoot you right here."
"You can," I allowed. "Except I don't think a dead body will be worth anything to that bitch, so there won't be any reward money. In fact, she might be upset enough take it out on you somehow, maybe even kill you."
"You're right," said George. "I guess we'll have to wait for one of my colleagues to show up. One should be along in a few minutes."
"But then you'll have to share the reward money. Too bad! So sad! You know what? I think you're too much of a fucking coward to handle me yourself, too cowardly to handle an unarmed little girl half your size. Wait until that story gets around."
"Watch your mouth, girly," George warned. He was turning red in the face.
"I'm sure you'd be acting real brave if you had your two pals backing you up. But alone, you're just a chicken." I made some clucking sounds and he turned even redder. I didn't have a hope of escape. I just wanted him to get close enough to me so I could kick him in the nuts. Maybe he'd shoot me then. That would be doing me a favor. I just knew I wasn't going to return to that brothel alive. I finally realized that George was a bit nervous with heights even though we couldn't be more than ten or twelve feet up. I continued taunting him.
"You know what, Georgie? I think you could do really well at Madame Bordeaux's because from behind you look like you have womanly hips. Gosh! Do your pals already use you like a woman, Georgina?" George roared in anger and started across the planking. I waited until he was halfway across before I kicked out at him. I missed, but it startled him. He squawked, flinched, lost his balance, over-corrected and then tumbled head first into the courtyard below. He tried to break his fall with his hands. That saved him from cracking his skull wide open, but it couldn't save his neck. I heard it snap from where I was standing. I was now a murderer. I didn't get any satisfaction for getting revenge on one of my rapists, but I didn't suffer any regret either. I didn't hear anyone screaming or yelling, so there were no witnesses so far.
I jumped down beside the body and felt for a pulse just to make sure. He was dead all right. I began to strip it of valuables. I was going to be hanged for murder if they caught me so it didn't matter how many other crimes I committed. And they can only hang me once I thought. I hit the jackpot. George had a large leather bag filled with gold coins. He must have been collecting bribes or protection money, something like that. He had a notebook with various notations written in with pencil. His wallet was in the waistband of his trousers.
The man's pistol was a Colt revolver called a Peacemaker, a single action six shooter. A fellow stuntman I was dating used one for his quick draw exhibitions. It was big for my small hands. I still took it. George also carried a double-barreled derringer in his pocket and a smaller Colt in his boot. A knife, blackjack and billy club rounded out his arsenal. The knife was an Arkansas toothpick. I didn't take the billy club because there was no more room in the bag.
"Thanks for the goodies, George," I said and then spat on the corpse's face.
There wasn't any problem climbing back up the scaffolding and then down the ladder. I imagined the cop's body would soon be discovered and I had to get out of the area more or less on a permanent basis. That meant leaving Emma's employment. I walked back to the saloon as casually as I could, acting like I had nothing to hide. Emma grabbed my hand and walked me back to the office the moment she saw me.
"Why was that policeman chasing you? You know he'll be back looking for you, don't you?"
I nodded my head. "I know he'll be back," I said. "I can't go into why he was chasing me, but please believe me that I did nothing wrong."
"I do believe you, darling," Emma responded. "Oh I hate that bastard so. I wish something bad would happen to him. He was here to collect for the so-called police widows and orphans fund, but in reality it's just an extra tax on the business owners so the police can line their own pockets. They make it rough on us if we don't contribute, but I suppose it's just a cost of doing business."
"I just came back to say goodbye."
"I understand." She reached into a bag and handed me an eagle coin, ten dollars gold.
"I can't take this," I protested.
"Yes you can. It's your bonus. Everyone got a bonus, even Joe. Your bonus is a bit larger because it was your idea. And when that awful policeman comes back around asking about you, I'll just tell him I don't know a thing." He won't be back around. Trust me on that, Emma.
"Thanks, Emma. I'll miss you."
"And I'll miss you, darling," Emma responded. "More than you could know." We hugged each other. I felt like crying.
"If anyone asks me about me tell him I went back to Ireland. Erin go Bragh!"
"You're home early," Chen said when he found me waiting for him in our room. I had been waiting there for hours, afraid to go anywhere else.
"I killed George the policeman," I said.
"That was you?" He sat down beside me and put his arm around my shoulder. "Tell me everything." Chen's reaction told me that the body had been found and the news had spread. I told him everything that had happened. He listened without interruption.
"You didn't murder anyone," my husband said. "The man fell and broke his neck. He got what he deserved." He gave me a reassuring smile.
"You still love me?"
"More than ever," Chen responded. "However the authorities probably have a different opinion. We must leave the city."
"Maybe we could stay. I don't believe there were any witnesses," I said. "So no one else knows how that swine died except you and me. Mrs. Crabtree said she would just claim ignorance if anyone asked about me."
"What you say is true," Chen responded. "However the police will be very energetic in their investigation since it was one of their own who died. They will be questioning many people and one of the saloon customers may remark on your absence since the incident occurred. That will prompt more questions and perhaps an effort to find you in furtherance of the investigation. Two of the police looking for you might include the dead man's two colleagues who know you and may also be able to see through your disguise."
I nodded my head. "I'm glad you're the one doing the thinking for us."
Chen was astounded when I showed him the loot I collected. I knew there was over a thousand dollars because I had plenty of time to count it. "You have quite a windfall here," he said.
"You mean we have quite a windfall here," I responded. "What shall we do with the money?"
"Nothing for now. Sudden prosperity will attract unwanted attention wherever we go. At least we won't have to worry about everyday expenses." Chen's mantras always seemed to be security first. Don't attract attention. If you have to attract attention, use it to mislead real and potential enemies. Others would try to take what we had by hook or by crook. I hated having to live by that attitude, but I deferred to Chen on that. He had the experience to go by. I was still a lamb surrounded by packs of hungry wolves.
We did have one area of disagreement on which I remained adamant. That concerned what to do with the firearms I looted from George. Chen wanted me to get rid of them right away.
"If you have a gun, you might be tempted to use it," he said.
"If I use a gun, it will only be for protection," I responded. "I'm tired of being unable to defend myself."
"I will always do my best to protect you, Lihua."
"I know you will, husband. But I would have been in the hands of Madame Bordeaux or one of the tongs today except by pure luck. I would prefer not relying on luck any longer. From now on, if anybody attacks us I'm going to fill his belly with lead."
"A Chinese with--"
"I am not Chinese. My ancestors were Chinese. I happen to be a red-blooded American born and raised in the USA and I will defend my constitutional rights against anyone who tries to fuck with me without regard to race, color, creed, national origin or gender to my last dying breath. Give me liberty or give me death. E Pluribus Unum. Stand your ground. Don't tread on me." I picked up the large Colt. "From my cold dead hands," I declared.
Chen looked at me like I'd lost my mind and maybe I had. Or maybe not. I was tired of being scared because I was a woman, because I was the wrong race or a combination of the two. I wasn't going to be easy prey anymore. If anyone tried to screw with me or mine, he was going to get a very unpleasant surprise. If I was back in the 21st century, I would be hiring an attorney to defend my rights. In this century, I'd be using a gun, a knife or whatever lethal weapon I could get my hands on at the time. Chen was smart enough not to argue further. I think he realized I wasn't going to budge on that issue.
There wasn't much to take with us so we didn't attract any attention leaving our room for the final time. We didn't intend to return, but neglected to tell our landlord. We crossed the bay by ferry to Oakland. We were directed to a section of the boat reserved for 'Negroes, Mulattoes, Malays and Mongolians'. I guess we were included in that bunch somewhere. I was relieved to be leaving San Francisco and sad at the same time. I expected Chen felt the same way, but I wasn't sure. He seemed distracted and I couldn't get him to talk about it.
"We will discuss it later," was all Chen said so I just shut my mouth. I knew he had his reasons. As we were approaching the Oakland docks, Chen jumped up and grabbed my hand. He hurried me through the section reserved for whites and then down a maze of corridors. I was completely mystified.
"Hey! You two can't be down here," a man yelled and blocked our way.
"So sorry. Got lost," Chen said in a servile tone of voice and bowed repeatedly. "Boy sick." I immediately put my hand to my mouth and acted woozy. The man jumped out of our way and pointed down a corridor. No more than five seconds passed before we heard the man shouting again. Chen opened a maintenance hatch and gave me some quick instructions. I just nodded and didn't ask any questions. I knew the man had spotted another threat and our lives were at risk.
Following Chen's instructions was pretty easy. I just had to let our pursuer spot me, act frightened and duck through the maintenance hatch. I didn't have to act. I really was frightened. We spotted each other at the same time. He was a grim looking Chinese man much larger than average. I braced myself against the far bulkhead on top of a crate and got ready to defend myself with a large wrench.
My pursuer wasn't stupid. The man was cautious as he entered the small room, wielding a hatchet and checking likely places where Chen might be lying in wait to ambush him. He spoke to me in Cantonese. I raised the wrench above my head, threatening to brain him if he got near enough. He laughed and then grabbed the wrench away from me before I had a chance to use it. He let the wrench drop and I squeaked in terror as the man grabbed me and hugged me to his chest. He turned back toward the hatch, but then got a surprised and puzzled look on his face. I felt his grip loosen and I pushed away from his body to avoid being crushed as he collapsed. Over half of the blade of my Arkansas toothpick was sticking out of his back. Chen stood over the body and smiled.
"I was not certain this would work," Chen said.
"Me neither," I said. Chen was hiding behind the crate and I provided the distraction so our assailant wouldn't think to look in such an obvious place. Chen yanked the knife out of the man's body and then slit his throat to make sure he was dead.
Chen told me that one of our fellow passengers was a well-known tong honcho who went by the name of Louie Fung. He suspected that Fung had recognized us and that we would be waylaid soon after we left the docks. The only way to test his suspicion was to make a run for it. The armed henchman chasing us proved Chen wasn't being paranoid.
"Besides being an immediate threat to us, I also have a personal vendetta against Louie Fung. I would like to see him dead, but I will need your assistance," Chen said. "Will you help me?"
"Your enemies are my enemies," I responded. "Of course I will do it."
"You're a mad-woman. But I'm glad we are on the same side. Otherwise, I would be very nervous."
"You're learning," I said. On the voyage from China to San Francisco, Chen had befriended a boy a little older than him. They were met at the dock by Louie Fung, who offered them both good-paying jobs. Chen was warned away by another recent immigrant who said Louie Fung was nothing more than a pimp who forced young men into prostitution for clients who were into abusing young boys anally. Chen tried to warn his friend also, but was too late. The young man was dead less than two months later, a suicide. Chen vowed revenge, but never thought he would get the chance.
The plan was to lure him away to a less frequented area. Without his bodyguard, Louie would be an easy target for murder. I disembarked with the other passengers at the Oakland ferry terminal and stood around like I was waiting for Chen. A well-dressed middle-aged Chinese gentleman seemed to be waiting also. He was our quarry, Louie Fung. As the disembarking crowd cleared out and others boarded for the return crossing the man spoke to me in Cantonese. I responded in Mandarin that I didn't understand him.
"Do you speak English?" he asked.
"Yes I do," I responded.
"We both seem to have misplaced our companions."
"He will be here soon. He just has to." I made sure I displayed a certain amount of anxiety. "My uncle told me to hide until he came for me. He didn't explain why, but I'm sure he didn't want me to take the ferry alone back to San Francisco." Even as I spoke, the ferry was signaling for its return trip across the bay. It seemed that the dead man's body was yet to be discovered. "What shall I do?"
"Wait here with me," the man suggested. "We can keep each other company until either your uncle or my associate returns. At least we won't be alone. I am sure they were both unavoidably detained."
"You're very kind."
"May I ask what your plans are here in Oakland?"
"Jobs are hard to come by in San Francisco so my uncle thought that perhaps we should try our luck elsewhere."
"Jobs are hard to come by everywhere, but this is a fortuitous meeting. I am a businessman here in Oakland and I just happen to have a couple of openings which you and your uncle might be interested in."
"That is good news indeed. We are both hard workers. I'm certain we won't disappoint you."
"I am certain you won't either."
There is some old adage about plans going to hell the moment they're put into action. Two men showed up who appeared to be more of Louie Fung's henchmen. We didn't count on that. What was I going to do now?
"I think it may now be safe for us to leave," Louie Fung said.
"I cannot," I protested. "If I leave now I may miss my uncle. He won't know where I've gone."
"One of my associates will stay here to alert your uncle when he appears."
"We can dispense with this charade now," the tong boss said. His tone of voice had gone from jovial to sinister. "I know who you are and I know who your so-called uncle is or more likely was. If he somehow lived and got the better of my man, he will not be able to savor that victory for long. Now don't try to make a scene and just come along quietly. We'll share a pot of tea and talk about your new duties. You may even call me Uncle Louie."
"Uncle Louie," I muttered and shrugged my shoulders. I didn't have any choice but to cooperate, being surrounded by three men. I hoped Chen had his act together. "Don't worry, Uncle Louie. I'm tired of running." I bowed in submission. I glanced up and Louie was smiling.
"That is the correct attitude to take," Louie said. "Come along now." I fell in next to Louie Fung as we left the ferry landing. One of his 'associates' was just a step behind me. I didn't think I'd be successful in making a dash for it, but that wasn't the plan anyway. As we had hoped, my captors failed to check me for weapons. To them I was just a weak little girl. I still had the two shot derringer on me. It was to be used as a last resort in case things went wrong. Things were already wrong, but I wouldn't have time to use the derringer on more than one of these thugs if it came to that. Chen was supposed to have set up an ambush where he could kill Louie Fung with the Arkansas toothpick. He also had the Colt, but guns were noisy and attracted attention. Heck! I didn't know the where and when of the ambush or if Chen was in position and he didn't know that Louie had reinforcements.
"Did you know that Madame Bordeaux's real name is Sally Collins? She was a newly arrived young prostitute from a city called Cleveland in the U.S. state of Ohio when I first met her."
"No I didn't know that," I replied. "I wonder why she changed her name."
"She thought the new name gave her some class."
"A pig is still a pig no matter what she decides to call herself."
"You and I agree on that," my new uncle said. "I heard she was livid when she had to return the money she was paid for you. I think I will take some pleasure in informing her that you are now in my service."
"Be sure to send her my lowest possible regards when you see her."
I saw a sign in Chinese and I started to sweat. I had a feeling we were almost at our destination and then only the gods knew if I could escape. As we crossed a darkened alley, I heard the man behind me cry out and then slump to the ground. I was as startled as Louie, but he reacted quicker than I could. He pulled a gun and started firing blindly into the dark. Shit! So much for a quiet ambush.
"Behind you Uncle Louie!" I shrieked in an effort to distract him. It worked. I stuck my foot out as he spun around and the crime boss tripped. He sprawled to the ground. I didn't waste any more time. I had my derringer out by then. I pressed the dual barreled pistol against Louie's neck and pulled both triggers. Blood spurted out of the man's neck when I fired. I felt my face sprayed with it. I resisted the urge to puke.
"Chen?" I was frantic. Was he hurt? Was he dead? My ears were ringing from the gunfire.
"Lihua?" I crawled toward the sound of my man's voice and found him lying face down near the mouth of the alley.
"Where are you hurt?"
"I don't think I am hurt," Chen said. "Where is Louie Fung?"
"He is dead."
"You killed him?"
"We must leave now. The curious will be here soon." I helped Chen stand and I noted a pronounced limp when he walked.
"I think I just skinned my knee when I stumbled and fell. I'm a fool for putting you in peril when I can't even put one foot in front of the other without stumbling." My husband sounded disgusted with himself, but I breathed a sigh of relief. Chen didn't realize it, but that stumble probably kept him from being struck by one or more of Louie Fung's bullets. I knew telling him that wouldn't make him feel any better so I just kept my mouth shut.
We left without looting the bodies. There wasn't time to do that. We could already hear voices and lighted lamps were cutting through the darkness. I did retrieve the hatchet buried in the back of the dead henchman and also Uncle Louie's firearm. A quick stop at a water trough and I was able to wash off most of Louie's blood from my face and hands. We walked straight to the train station and purchased one way tickets to Sacramento. We didn't climb aboard the train until the last possible moment and then watched for any passengers boarding after us. We appeared to have made a clean getaway. I started to relax.
"When do we get to Sacramento?"
"We are not going to Sacramento." My heart fell. Chen had another plan to mislead our pursuers. I knew it was necessary, but I was already feeling weary. When would it all stop?
"The man who remained dockside will be able to describe you," Chen explained. "Louie Fung's successor will be searching for you and I don't think it will be too long before they learn a person fitting your description was seen accompanying a man who purchased two tickets to Sacramento. They will wire associates to meet the train there. We will be off the train before its arrival there."
"What is our eventual destination?"
"I will tell you that tomorrow."
We got off the train when it pulled onto a siding to let by a train that was heading in the opposite direction. Again, we waited until the last possible moment before climbing down and then watching for any other passengers who might have had the same idea. We walked silently and didn't stop until we were well away from the tracks. It was a moonless night and we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. We climbed down a gully out of sight of any civilization and slept there until dawn. We washed up in a nearby creek and ate what little food we had with us.
"I changed my mind again," I said. "I've decided I'm through with killing. I hope I never have to do that again."
"What about Madame Bordeaux and the others?" Chen asked.
"I am not going to go hunting for them. I hope they all suffer gruesome deaths, but someone else will have to do the job. It won't be me."
"That is very good to hear. I am also sickened by the violence we inflicted. Yet, I cannot help feeling very pleased that Louie Fung is finally dead."
"He deserved it. Also, I don't think we would have made it out of Oakland otherwise." I sincerely hoped we would never have to kill again. That didn't mean we weren't willing to defend ourselves from any bad guys we ran up against. I had plans to trade in some of our arsenal, purchase more ammunition and a cleaning kit.
"You were going to tell me where we're bound for today?"
"We are going to San Francisco, of course."
"You're joking! Won't going there be too dangerous?"
"It will certainly be dangerous, but no more so than any other destination we might choose."
"Um, could you explain your reasoning? I mean, I know you have a perfectly logical plan."
"But it doesn't sound logical, does it?" Chen said.
"Exactly," I responded. I was glad my husband didn't sound offended for me doubting him.
"I'm hoping our pursuers, whether it's the tong, Madame Bordeaux or the San Francisco authorities, will think logically while we do the exact opposite," Chen explained. "The logical thing for us to do is to flee the area, journey to a city with another Chinatown and blend in with other Chinese. They will spend their time and energy looking for us where we are not."
"There's still the risk of accidental discovery. I mean with all the tong agents and the police around, we'll have to dig a big hole and cover ourselves up."
"We won't actually be in Chinatown or the city proper at all," Chen responded. "I have a friend who owns a farm a few miles south of the city. It's even in a different county off the main road and very few people have reason to go there. I have stayed with her a couple of times."
"She's an older woman and not Chinese," Chen said with a smile. "I have no past with her. Actually, I think you two will like each other. We can give her some income and help out at the farm. If we stay out of sight long enough, I think other events or crises will distract our enemies and end any active efforts to find us. In the meantime, you can go back to being a full time woman and let your hair grow out. Did I mention she has a real bath tub?"
"You've convinced me," I said. "I'm looking forward to meeting your friend."
Being safe was first and foremost in my book. Being able to bathe in a real tub was an extra-added bonus and I was definitely tired of being a skinhead. We still had to get there first in one piece. Walking straight back would have taken us all day. Instead, it took us three days. We stayed off the main roads and mostly avoided people whenever we could. Sometimes we hid behind bushes while traffic passed. Chen ventured into a town only once to buy food and drink from the general store.
It was while at the store that Chen overheard men gossiping about the news of the bodies of Chinese men discovered on the streets of Oakland and on the ferry-boat. The authorities believed this was the opening salvo of a tong war.
"Let the tongs go at it with each other," I said. "I hope those crooks wipe each other out."
My husband nodded. "I am not so certain it will come to that, but Louie Fung's tong has been humiliated and they must respond or they will appear weak. They will need someone to blame and retaliate against. The tong will probably dust off an old grudge and go from there."
Chen finally told me of the plans that had been derailed when I came into his life. "I was going to rob Madame Bordeaux. It had taken about two years to learn the combination to the office safe when I was cleaning her office on occasions when she was there also. I was waiting for the opportunity to open the safe, take the receipts and disappear. I was going to sail back to China from Seattle or Vancouver."
"And I messed up your plans," I said.
"It's the best thing that could have happened to me," Chen responded. I blushed and remained quiet. I loved that man so much.
We approached the farm that belonged to Chen's friend late at night to avoid any possibility of being observed. Chen said it would be wise to stay just outside the property until daylight so we wouldn't take her by surprise. He said she kept a loaded shotgun at her bedside. We sheltered under a tree and fell asleep in each other's arms.
I felt a presence nearby the following morning. I opened my eyes and saw a tall angular woman studying us. She was holding a pitchfork, but not in a threatening manner. I nudged Chen and he awoke with a groan.
"Maggie," he said.
"Chen?" the woman responded. "Is that you?"
"It's me all right."
"You come by for a visit?"
"It might be for an extended visit if you can tolerate us," Chen said.
"Are you in some sort of trouble?"
"We are in trouble with the law, the tongs, my former employer and probably numerous others that I can't think of right now. There is even a price on our heads." I looked at my husband uncertainly. I was wary of Chen telling this woman all our troubles and putting us at her mercy. I sure hoped she could be trusted. We could be turned away or even turned in for the reward.
"Well, in that case you can stay for as long as you like," the woman declared. "Get up and give me a hug." I breathed a sigh of relief as Chen helped me up and then embraced his friend.
"Who's your companion?" Chen stepped back and placed his arm around my shoulder.
Miss Maggie Hooper, I would like to introduce my dear wife the former Miss Jennifer Yang." The woman gasped.
"You dog! You sailed to China to bring back a wife and you never told me your plans?"
"Nothing like that, Maggie," Chen said. "Jennifer and I met here in San Francisco under the strangest of circumstances."
"It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Hooper," I said.
"Oh great! You speak English. None of that Miss Hooper stuff for me. The name is Maggie. I hope you let me call you Jennifer. You know, I'm sort of relieved. At first I thought you were a boy and I was surprised Chen had that preference, but then I don't wear my spectacles outside. Still, you look kind of boyish with all your hair shaved off."
"I was trying to pass as a boy."
"Of course you were," Maggie responded. "You were doing a good job, too, I might add. Say, you two look like something even the cat wouldn't bother with. I bet you both could use a hot meal, a bath and a real bed so, come on in. I want to hear the story about how you two met and how you wound up in your current mess. You wouldn't mind if I gave you a hug, would you?"
"I'd love a hug from you, Maggie."
From what Chen told me beforehand, Maggie Hooper could best be described as a free spirit. Financed by a small inheritance after graduating college in New York, she traveled in Europe and studied painting in Paris. Returning to the U.S., Maggie traveled around the country and took up with various lovers, both male and female, along the way. Finally weary of traveling, she purchased the property south of San Francisco. The house was on two acres so it really couldn't be called a farm. She did grow fruits and vegetables for her own use and sold the excess for a small income. Her current pastime was photography. I found her fascinating.
We spent the morning getting acquainted and resting up after our journey. I got to soak in a tub full of hot water. It was heavenly after weeks of sponge baths with cold water. I knew Maggie was interested in getting the full story on me, but I didn't know how to edit it so she didn't think I was a total nut and kick us out.
"She will want to know everything," Chen said.
"Everything? She'll think I'm an escapee from a looney bin. She'll start having second thoughts about you too."
Chen shrugged his shoulders. "I trust her. Also, I think she deserves to know the risks she is taking by shielding us."
"Yeah, but...okay. Don't say I didn't warn you though."
Maggie didn't push us to hear our story and we had a pleasant supper and shared a bottle of wine that evening. I kind of lost my nerve when I did begin my story. I started with telling her that Madame Bordeaux had forced me into prostitution, the rapes, my escape with Chen's aid, and everything that happened after that.
"That is quite an adventure you two have had so far," Maggie said after she opened a second bottle of wine. "I have read the newspaper account of the policeman's death. They made him sound very heroic. Fortunately, there was no mention of any possible Chinese suspects. In fact, the only witness describes the person the policeman was chasing as a white man and his age was impossible to estimate."
"That witness must have been Mrs. Crabtree," I said. "She told me she wasn't going to cooperate with the police investigation."
"Frankly, I can't think of anything that I would have done differently. Still, I can't help feeling that you're holding back on something." She lifted her wineglass as if in a toast and smiled before taking a sip. I flushed and looked over at my husband.
"Maggie is a very good judge of character," Chen said.
"I won't insist you tell me if it's upsetting to you, Jennifer," Maggie said.
"It's only upsetting because I know you won't believe me," I responded. "I told Chen and the next words out of his mouth were 'You belong in an asylum'."
Maggie glared at Chen. "I can't believe you said that to the woman you love."
"It was a natural and expected reaction, Maggie," I said. "I think you'll probably say something similar. If you don't say it you'll probably think it."
"Try me," our hostess said.
"I'm a time traveler," I responded. Maggie's eyes widened.
"I'm not sure I understand."
"Somehow I was sent back to 1882 from the year 2013."
"But that's impossible," Maggie exclaimed. She took a gulp from her wineglass.
"I know it's impossible. I concede that. And I know it's something I can't prove, but I swear it's the truth. The most logical explanation I can come up with is that I'm having this strange dream sort of like 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' by Lewis Carroll."
"I read that book," Maggie said. "It's a wonderful story."
"The only thing I haven't figured out is how I've roped Chen and now you into my dream."
"Maybe we're all dreaming the same dream," Chen said.
"Perhaps that's it," Maggie responded. "It's getting a little late, but I wouldn't mind hearing what the future has in store for the world. Maybe tomorrow?"
Over breakfast the following morning, we talked about some of the same predictions I discussed with Chen. Maggie said she probably wouldn't be around for the San Francisco earthquake and fire. She knew about the efforts to limit Chinese immigrants led by Senator John Franklin Miller of California, but she didn't think the proposed legislation would ever become law. It was opposed by big business. A similar measure had passed the Senate, but had been vetoed by President James Garfield. After Garfield's assassination, the legislation had again been vetoed by his successor, President Chester Arthur.
"We'll see," I replied. I still thought I'd be proven right.
There was a small barn on the property. Chen had converted part of it to living quarters on a previous stay. This was where we would live during our stay. There was no livestock with the exception of some chickens and two mules for the buckboard. We paid rent for room and board even though Maggie kept insisting she didn't want or need our money. Chen also worked in the garden and I helped out with the cooking and housekeeping. The work wasn't strenuous for either of us and it was therapeutic, relieving all the stress we had recently been through. It also gave Maggie a break and allowed her to pursue more of her photography hobby. She even had her own dark room in a shed she had built on the property.
The first thing Maggie wanted to do was purchase clothes for us. It was a good idea because we didn't have much more than the clothing on our backs and they were worn out. Since we couldn't go to town, she took our measurements and became our personal shopper. I expected to get a replacement for my black coolie outfit and a new pair of sandals. I got that, but also dresses with matching bonnets and aprons. I got so excited, I tried on each dress and modeled them for Chen and Maggie.
"I'm beginning to feel like a woman again."
Speaking of modeling, Maggie started using Chen and me as models, both for sketching and photography. Her previous works had been mostly landscapes and very little portraiture.
"I could stay here forever," I told Chen. "Why did you ever want to leave here in the first place?"
"Why did you leave your privileged existence for the uncertainties of show business?" Chen responded.
"Point taken," I said. "How did you two meet?"
"Maggie caught me stealing a box of her apples."
"Oh my gosh!"
"She had me covered with her shotgun," Chen continued. "She made me keep picking apples until the wagon was loaded and then unload them when we got to town. I thought I was going to die from exhaustion."
"What happened next?"
"She paid me for my work and asked if I'd like to continue working for her. That was the beginning of our friendship."
With Chen and I taking care of things on the farm, Maggie was able to make more frequent trips to San Francisco. She became our eyes and ears in the city and always made a point of picking up copies of the local newspapers, mainly the San Francisco Examiner. As we had hoped, other crimes and crises made the front page. The murder of a San Francisco cop faded from the headlines. Chinese men were murdered, but that seemed like it was almost a daily occurrence and wasn't blamed on any tong war.
We had been staying with Maggie for a little over six weeks when she came back from a trip to the city and showed us the newspaper headline. The Chinese Exclusion Act had been signed into law. From the tone of the article it appeared the entire populace of California was celebrating. Perhaps they were, with a few exceptions.
"I'm beginning to believe your time travel story," Maggie said. It didn't matter to me any more. I had met the love of my life and was adjusting quite nicely to living in that era.
A couple of weeks later, Chen asked me to marry him and be his wife.
"But we're already married," I responded with a giggle.
"I would like us to do it properly." He opened a small velvet-lined box containing a beautiful gold wedding ring.
"Where did you get this ring?" I gasped. "It's lovely."
"Maggie shopped for me in San Francisco. I hope you like it."
"I love it. Of course I'll marry you." I burst into happy tears and hugged Chen to me. I embarrassed the poor man because Maggie was standing nearby with a Cheshire Cat grin on her face. I thought, that will show him for springing surprises like that on me. San Francisco was still too dangerous for us so we got married in front of a San Mateo County judge. Maggie acted as our witness. As a wedding present, Maggie presented us with matching gold lockets with our portraits painted in miniature, done by herself.
We had a celebratory dinner back at the farm and then spent the next three days in our quarters fucking like bunnies. The only times we took breaks were for eating or sleeping. It was an ideal honeymoon as far as I was concerned.
Life at the farm was lovely, but Chen and I started to get restless. It was time to move on. George's murder had long faded from the headlines and the tongs were unusually quiet. Chinese community activists had filed suit against the United Sates government claiming the Exclusion Act was discriminatory and unconstitutional. I knew the federal courts would be unsympathetic. We started making exploratory trips back to San Francisco after dark and heavily disguised. It was a long, but pleasant walk. Entering the city was like coming home to Chen and me. Despite the dangers, we wanted to find a way to go back to living here. We still had quite a bit of money so we could even afford a small house. Unfortunately, it had become unlawful to sell real estate to anyone of Chinese descent.
We made several visits without incident and started to relax. More to the point we got careless, unarmed and thinly disguised. We were sightseeing at the end of one of the busy wharfs when we heard a familiar and chilling voice behind us. "What luck! I knew I would meet up with you two again sooner or later," Madame Bordeaux said. "Kill him and take her."
"Get ready to run," Chen whispered before we turned around. I nodded. The brothel madam was standing about ten yards away with an armed thug on either side of her. We were pretty much trapped on the narrow wharf. Chen pushed me away from him and lunged toward one of the men. The thug fired. The bullet's impact drove my husband backwards, over the end of the wharf and into the water.
"Chen!" I screamed in despair. The other man made a grab for me. I dodged and kicked him in the nuts. He grunted and doubled over. I didn't wait to inflict any more injury. My only thought was to save my husband. I jumped into the water where I saw him fall.
I knew the water would be ice cold, but it was still a shock to my system. Besides that, a heavy current was pulling me away from the wharf and I was wearing a heavy woolen skirt that was pulling me down. I stripped out of the skirt as fast as I could. I broke the water's surface and took a look around for any sign of Chen. Nothing. I could hear that murdering bitch ordering her minions to jump in and bring me back. Apparently, they couldn't swim and were not anxious to obey her. I pulled off my shoes and swam.
I figured the current was pulling Chen the same as it was pulling me so I didn't try to fight it. Even so, after a short time, I started to feel fatigued and sluggish. If the cold bay water was doing that to me, it had to be doing the same thing to Chen especially with him being wounded. Wounded? Was I kidding myself? I had to accept that he was probably already dead from his bullet wound, or drowned. If that was the case, did I even want to continue living? It would be so easy to allow myself to succumb to exposure and hypothermia. It was happening anyway. Did I have the strength to make it back to shore even if I had the desire to live? Probably not from the way I was feeling, not just mentally, but physically too. I grabbed hold of a rope hanging from a small boat anchored in the bay. I rested a bit, delaying the inevitable. I expected to die that night. I didn't care.
"Come on aboard," a man's voice said. I was startled and didn't say anything. I could see his silhouette, but none of his features. He sounded elderly. "Suit yourself," he said when I didn't respond. "If you change your mind, here's a Jacob's ladder you can use." He dropped a rope ladder over the side. I found myself climbing it and flopping over onto the deck. I was handed a blanket and I wrapped myself up in it.
"Thank you," I said and the man nodded his head in acknowledgment.
"Are you hungry?"
"No, um...is there any way you could get me back ashore?" I no longer wanted to die...at least not yet. There were some other people who were going to die before me. There weren't going to be any hesitation or regrets on my part either.
"Certainly, but you might want to wait until whoever took a shot at you decides you're not coming back." I wasn't surprised he heard the gunshot. Sound travels quite far over water.
"It was my husband they shot," I said and choked back a sob. "He fell into the water. I jumped in after him hoping to save him, but...." I fell silent trying to get control of my emotions. I didn't want to break down completely in front of this stranger. He handed me a bottle. The contents smelled like cheap whiskey. I took a swallow anyway. It tasted like cheap whiskey. "Thanks," I said and handed the bottle back.
"You're welcome. Is there any point in bringing in the authorities?"
"I don't think so. My husband was Chinese. You probably know how that would go."
"My condolences for your loss, ma'am. If you don't mind me saying so, you don't look the type to just accept things."
"I'm not," I responded.
We finally introduced ourselves. The man's name was Tom Logan. He had started his working life as a sailor. He jumped ship in San Francisco to try his luck in the gold fields. Not having much luck there, he returned to the sea as a merchant sailor until pushed aside by younger and stronger men. Winding up back in San Francisco, he turned to beach combing for spending money. His boat wasn't seaworthy, but still safe enough to live aboard. It was anchored off shore to discourage casual thieves. He ate what he could catch with his fishing rod. He never married, but he knew he had fathered at least two children overseas.
After a couple of hours, Tom rowed me to shore in a tiny dinghy. "What do I owe you?" I asked.
"Nothing," the man responded. "You're the best company I have had in years, Jennifer. I just wish it had been under better circumstances."
"Me, too," I said. I reached inside a money belt I had buckled to my waist and handed him a double eagle, 20 dollars gold. "This is for saving my life, Tom. Buy some better whiskey." He let me keep the blanket to cover myself.
I don't know how I did it, but I held myself together until getting back to Maggie's farm. There was a rainstorm on the walk back which made me all the more miserable. She must have been waiting up because the door opened the moment I knocked, her shotgun at the ready. Maggie knew something was wrong when she saw me.
"What happened? Where's Chen?"
"They killed him," I cried before collapsing into her arms and sobbing my heart out. I tried, but I couldn't get the story out without more crying. Maggie gave me a glass of water that must have contained a sedative because the next thing I knew it was daylight and I was lying in Maggie's bed. She was dozing in a chair beside me, but became alert when I moved.
"Chen was like a son to me," Maggie said. I could tell she had been crying.
"I'm sorry," I replied and started tearing up again.
"I want to know what happened, but only when you think you're ready."
I nodded and was able to get the full story out this time, from being confronted by the brothel bitch and her two thugs, my attempt to save my husband after he was shot and finally being rowed back to shore by Tom.
"So I almost lost both of you," Maggie said when I finished.
I shrugged my shoulders. "I wish it had been me instead of Chen."
"And I wish it was me instead of either one of you, but these are the cards we were dealt. Let's decide what we're going to do now instead of wishing we had a better result."
"I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to catch that bitch alone and torture her to death. Only I'm going to do it so slowly that it might take over a week for her to die."
Maggie volunteered to help in any way she could, including participating in the actual executions. That was my term. My deep hatred and need for revenge was so strong that I knew I needed to do any killing on my own. It was very personal. My hostess understood my reasons and agreed with me. The thin hope I had that Chen might have survived faded as the days passed with no word from him. No news of a Chinese man's body being discovered in the bay came to our attention either. I couldn't bear to sleep alone, so Maggie and I shared her bed. We didn't become lovers. It was too soon to even consider that. We were both in mourning.
Chen's locket portrait was ruined from my swim in the bay. Maggie was able to replace it. Chen and I had so many plans. Now I would have only memories.
I started training with small firearms and bladed weapons while Maggie paid visits to San Francisco to gather information on my targets. It wasn't just Madame Bordeaux and her thugs that I wanted to kill. There were also the two cops and the other men who raped me that first evening I was in the nineteenth century.
Finding out where the men lived was surprisingly easy. Maggie obtained their names because San Francisco published an excellent city directory for all businesses and residents. No telephone necessary. That was fortunate because in 1882 there were less than a thousand telephone subscribers in the entire city of more than 250,000 population. Most of those subscribers were businesses and professionals.
I was still in excellent physical condition. I just needed to brush up on the skills I trained for as a stunt performer, the better to visit death on these bastards. I had no second thoughts about killing now. The executions were merely tasks to carry out. I hadn't given much thought of what I would do after that if I survived. I had no illusions of invincibility because I knew my cause was just. The gods were not on my side. More likely they had cursed me and were now having a good laugh together on my account wherever the gods liked to hang out.
The intelligence Maggie gathered was useful, but tracking the targets' movements proved more difficult than we counted on. Most of those bastards tended to hang about the Barbary Coast and frequent establishments where it was unsafe for any woman to enter. I needed a man's help, but I didn't know any. Or did I? More importantly, could I rely on him? He knew of my situation. One night Maggie rented a dinghy and I rowed out to meet him after dark.
"Ahoy the boat," I called when I was about 20 yards out.
"Aye, Captain," I responded. "Permission to come aboard?"
"Granted and welcome." As soon as I was aboard, Tom handed me a glass. "It's a much better whiskey than the last time we shared a drink, thanks to you." We clinked glasses and I swallowed. Yeah, it was a much better whiskey.
"What can I do for you? Have you begun your campaign of revenge?"
"I'm working on it, but I could use some help."
"From me?" Tom responded. "I don't know that I could. I'm just a washed up old seaman."
"It shouldn't be too hard," I said. "I need a pair of eyes and ears in places where a woman can't go without being propositioned or molested. It'll require drinking in saloons and consorting with prostitutes, but keeping alert all the same. I'll cover your expenses and pay you for your time. Do you think you can handle it?"
"I'm your man," Tom replied and saluted. I returned his salute. I half expected him to treat my offer as some kind of joke. He didn't even crack a smile. I felt a little more confident of my decision. I made sure Tom knew how to read and write. Then I gave him details on who I wanted followed and where they might be found. I also made sure he understood he wasn't to take action against any of these individuals. If anyone was going to get hurt or killed it was going to be me.
"You can depend on me, Jennifer. I'll follow those landlubbers into the jakes if I have to so you can get the information you need."
"Thanks, Tom. Just don't take any risks. They are dangerous men." I gave the man money, arranged a way to exchange messages and set up meetings, wished him luck and rowed myself back to shore. About a week later, I received a message for a face to face meeting. Tom handed me a report with their names, the addresses where they stayed, their usual haunts and the routes they took between home and work. He even listed his expenses.
"I cleaned myself up a bit and then checked into the seaman's hotel," Tom said. "That made it easier to get around."
"Good idea," I responded. He looked younger cleaned up.
"It was easier than I thought it would be. Men like to drink and when they drink they like to talk. They talk about things they should probably keep their mouths shut about. You're right. Those men are crooks and murderers and especially the lawmen. Did you know that police sergeant has a nice house in a nice neighborhood with a wife and family? He didn't get all that on a policeman's pay."
"I guess he has other sources of income," I observed. Being a crooked cop did have its benefits. I read through the report. It was short and thorough. I was very pleased. "You're good. You should become a private detective."
"Do you think so? I'll think about it. It sure pays better than anything I've ever done before."
"That reminds me. I owe you some more money."
"You don't owe me a thing," Tom said. "I mean it, too. Consider it a favor for saving my life."
"I didn't save your life," I responded. "You saved mine. Don't you remember?"
"A friend told me that last night one of those big steamships collided with my boat, smashing it to splinters. I don't think they even realized what happened because they didn't even slow down. I would have been aboard if you hadn't hired me."
"Oh my gosh!" I exclaimed. "I'm certainly glad you were not aboard, but now you're homeless."
"Don't worry about me, my dear. I'm a survivor."
"But I will worry." I replied, "and I will check on you often." Tom nodded and smiled. I smiled in return. I think it was the first time I felt like smiling since I lost Chen. I asked Tom to continue his investigation in case something new or unexpected came up. I thought I had enough information, but it was an excuse to give him more money. He accepted the additional funds reluctantly.
My first target's name was Abe Slocum. He was a local tough and provided muscle to anyone who needed his services. The word was that Madame Bordeaux had fired him because she blamed him for letting me get away. He was the one I kicked in the nuts. He was small fry as far as I was concerned, but I wanted to go after the big targets last. He lived in a rooming house near the Barbary Coast. He spent a lot of his evening hours in a nearby saloon before walking home. I picked a vacant lot where I knew he would walk by.
I spotted him walking my way, a little unsteady on his feet from too much drink. Well, I wasn't going to let that bother me. Who said this had to be a fair fight? Fortunately, there was no one else nearby. I was dressed in black like a movie ninja.
I called to him. "They're laughing at you, Abe. Did you know that?" He stopped and backed away, a little startled. He pulled a gun, but I was taking the risk that he wouldn't use it. I was money to him after all.
"Huh? They better not! Who's there? You don't know what you're talkin' about."
"They're saying you let a little Chinese girl kick you in the nuts and get away with it." He stepped forward, trying to spot me in the darkness.
"That's a dirty lie," he said raising his voice. "There's only two people coulda told you that, and I'll take care of both of them sooner or later."
"What about me?" I stepped into a patch of light briefly and let him see my face before stepping back out. The man staggered back a couple of steps.
"You drowned, didn't you?"
"Does it look like I drowned?" Did people think I was dead? There were certain advantages to people thinking I was dead.
"Well," he said, sounding pleased now. "It looks like that bitch will have to take back those words she said when I take you back to that whore's den." He holstered his weapon.
"I'm not so sure about that," I said. "It's more likely you'll get your nuts kicked in again." I could see Abe trying to survey the darkness, checking for traps or an ambush.
"You try that again and I just might forget there's a reward out there for you and just kill you."
"Well, that's not very nice," I replied. "See if I ever talk to you again." The galoot made a rush for me. I was counting on that. I braced myself against a large rock and raised a five-foot long wooden pole sharpened on the end. Essentially, it was my version of a medieval pike. Abe could not see it in the darkness or at least not in time to stop. His momentum allowed the pike to impale the man in the gut to about a third of the weapon's length. I smiled as Abe tried to speak. I wanted to hear his last words, but he just made some moaning sounds and then a wheeze as his last breath left him.
I had a little difficulty removing the pike from Abe's body, but I didn't want to leave it behind. I might want to use it again since it worked so well. Looting the body didn't yield anything worthwhile except his weapon and ammunition. I met Maggie at a prearranged place, jumped into the back of the buckboard and covered myself with a tarpaulin for the trip home.
I had to be a little more elaborate in preparing for Gus Brandt. He was the son of a bitch who shot Chen. He was still working for Madame Bordeaux and had a reputation for being trigger-happy so I wasn't going to take any chances. My only decent ambush site was a narrow blind alley in a well-traveled area of the Barbary Coast and it would have to be in the daytime. I would be seen departing the scene of my planned crime so I had to lay a false trail first. Working late at night, I had set up a camouflaged blind where I could watch the street. The camouflage was Maggie's artwork. Dressed as a workman, my friend surveyed the site and then painted a large canvas to blend in with the clapboard siding of the building. I propped an old ladder against one of the buildings, hoping to make the police think I had made my escape over the rooftops. In reality I wasn't going anywhere. Maggie painted some more camouflage. It looked like part of the building where the alley ended. I could hide there until everything calmed down. It was going to be very cramped, but I could fit in tiny spaces anyway. A bloodhound could find me. A human would have to know where to look. Maggie knew how to do that from painting stage sets for amateur productions as a student.
I took up my position before dawn broke and settled down to wait. Fortunately, Gus was a creature of habit. I was going to give him the same type of mercy he gave Chen, which was none at all. Gus might have caught the movement of a shotgun barrel drawing down on him out of nowhere because he flinched and started to draw his weapon. I pulled the trigger and the man's head disintegrated into bits of red goo and bone fragments. Double aught buckshot tends to have that type of effect. I knew I had some seconds before the curious got brave enough and came out from behind the cover they had taken to investigate. I tossed the shotgun down the alley toward the ladder I had propped up. I didn't know what kind of investigative techniques the police had in that era, but I was certain the shotgun was untraceable. I wedged my body into the hiding place and prepared to wait it out. My only regret was that Gus didn't know why he died.
Things went as I hoped. There was a lot of cursing and questions being asked. I imagined there was some amateur detecting going on because the shotgun was discovered and then someone deduced the ladder had been used as the perpetrator's means of escape because no one had been seen leaving the alley. At the same time, nobody had been seen escaping via the rooftops. They were doing a good job of messing up the crime scene. That was good for me. The police showed up and I recognized two of the voices. One of them belonged to Sergeant Sam Butler and the other belonged to Officer Mike Peters. Shit! It was fortunate that I wasn't able to draw my gun at the time because I would have come out of hiding just to finish them off, too. That would have finished me off also with all the witnesses around. The motherfuckers!
Even though Gus didn't have a face anymore, he did have some identification on him so that wasn't a problem for the police. They figured it was some kind of revenge killing instead of a robbery since he still had money on him. They knew he was a hired killer and anyone could have a motive for killing him. No shit? I didn't learn anything else because they moved out of my hearing range. They finally hauled off the body and things quieted down. I wasn't going to come out of hiding too soon though. I relaxed as well as I could manage and took a nap. It was well after dark before I cautiously emerged from my hiding place. It was a job well done as far as I was concerned. Still, there's no rest for the wicked as the saying goes. I had more murders to plan.
Late at night, I cased Sergeant Butler's home. Tom was right. It was located in a prosperous neighborhood of merchants and other businessmen. The area wasn't suitable for an ambush on him unless it was long range with a sniper rifle and I wanted to do something more up close and personal. I knew Butler wasn't at home at that time so I decided to get as close to the house as I could. I wondered if the cop was carousing over at Madame Bordeaux's at that moment. Did his wife know about her husband's vices? Did she care even if she did know? The house was dark and the family was probably asleep, the wife and two children. My goodness! One of the windows was unlatched. Didn't this family know about home security? If I wanted, I could have murdered the man's family as they slept. They were lucky I didn't have anything personal against them. I reached inside and grabbed a small picture frame off a side table. It looked like a family photograph, the proud parents and their children. I had an idea for its use. I went home after that.
I mailed the photograph back anonymously to Sergeant Butler in care of the San Francisco Police Department. I had painted a red letter x on the images of his wife and children. The result was that Sam Butler's family left town for parts unknown. I'm not sure what else happened as a result of my post, but I'm sure it put a scare into the bastard.
"Maybe I made a mistake," I told Maggie. "Now that pig Butler is on alert that somebody has a grudge against him."
"Lots of people have grudges against lawmen," Maggie responded. "I'm sure he has no idea you were behind this. For all he knows, you're dead. I'm also sure he's nervous now and nervous people tend to make more mistakes. Butler is probably jumping at shadows now."
"You're right," I said. "I shouldn't worry."
"You know, damaging reputations and relationships can be almost as devastating to the victim as being murdered."
Maggie wasn't the type to say something for no reason. "Do you have something in mind?" Maggie did indeed have an idea and I agreed to it immediately. The three men that used me after the cops left that first night were each going to receive an anonymous letter advising them that they had possibly contracted a venereal disease during one of their last visits to Madame Bordeaux's and they should get checked by their physicians. In the meantime, they should refrain from further carnal relations with their wives and/or daughters. We knew that the men were married with families. Maggie had fancy stationery and elegant handwriting. She perfumed the envelopes and wrote Madame Bordeaux's return address on them. My friend also made it very easy for the envelopes to be unsealed. No man's wife was going to pass up the opportunity to steam open that type of letter and read the contents.
I didn't feel the same hostility toward those men as I did for the others who victimized me so perhaps damaging their marriages was appropriate punishment. I could get on with plans to murder the brothel bitch and the two cops. I had no way of finding out what effect those letters had on those marital relationships. There was, however, one side effect I did hear about. Tom reported a rumor that Madame Bordeaux suffered an immediate drop in business from her moneyed clientele. I guess word got around that Madame Bordeaux couldn't be relied on to be discreet. I couldn't have been more pleased.
"Those two landlubbers don't leave each others sights now," Tom said. "It's like they are joined at the hip." My friend was speaking of the two cops on my kill list, Sam Butler and Mike Peters.
"That's my fault," I said. It was most probably a consequence of that marked up photograph of his family I sent to Sergeant Butler. I wouldn't be able to deal with the pair one at a time now that they were on alert. Butler's house was now for sale and he was boarding in the same house as Peters. They seemed to be acting as each other's bodyguards. "I guess I should go after Madame Bordeaux now."
"She doesn't go out very much anymore," Tom said. "Also, the bitch has hired a couple of professional gunslingers as bodyguards."
"How did you find that out?"
"I, uh...rented the companionship of one of Madam Bordeaux's girls for the evening. She liked to gossip."
"Heh! I hope you added that outing to your expense report."
"I did," Tom responded. "I feel guilty about it, too."
"Why is that?"
"That girl was the most money I ever paid for a prostitute by far. She was nice, but nothing special."
"Don't worry about it," I responded. "It's a valid expense. Besides, you gathered some valuable information." The bitch must have connected the dots and figured out she was a target also. I wasn't anxious to go through a couple of professional killers to get to Madame Bordeaux. A delay in seeking vengeance might be necessary.
"The two landlubbers are still out and about. They seem to be making a point of visiting every business in the Barbary Coast and Chinatown."
"I think they're collecting for the police widows' and orphans' fund otherwise known as extorting the businessmen for 'so-called' contributions."
"Come to think of it, right after they left I overheard one of the saloon keepers complain that the police were getting greedy. Do you think they're gathering cash for a getaway fund?"
"I think you may be right," I said.
"Too bad we can't just take that money away from them two bilge-rats."
"It's most probably too well hidden," I responded. "I'll be satisfied if those bilge rats don't live long enough to spend a dime of that money. I think it's time I made my move. I don't want those two to get away."
"Give me a couple of more days," Tom responded. "They are not depositing that money in any bank and I would like to know where they are stashing it. I have plans for some of that loot if you do not mind sharing."
I smiled. "I don't mind at all. A couple of more days shouldn't hurt. Just be careful." We arranged for another meeting and wished each other luck.
I wasn't worried when Tom didn't show up at our agreed upon rendezvous site at the appointed time two days later. He was only a little late. An hour later, I was very worried. I didn't dare leave my hiding place for fear of missing him. It was beneath a pier behind a pile of rocks. Late at night it was totally dark. There could be a thousand valid reasons why he would be late or prevented from coming and all of them harmless, but we hadn't planned for this contingency. Someone finally did show up, but it wasn't Tom. He looked like a young boy. I wondered why a boy his age would be out this late. Damn it! He knew the password I used with Tom. He whistled the Popeye the Sailor Man cartoon theme music.
"What is Popeye's favorite snack?" I called without showing myself. If he named anything but spinach I'd know Tom hadn't sent him. Was my friend in trouble?
"Uh, spinach? Are you Olive Oyl?" Shit! Tom must have sent him.
"I'm Olive Oyl. Where's Popeye?" I urged.
"The police got him," he said. "I think they beat him to death." My heart broke. Another person I cared about was gone from my life and I was responsible for sending him on this mission. Another death on my conscience. Another reason to seek vengeance.
The boy's name was Bobby and he was ten years old. Bobby ran occasional errands for Tom and my friend had recently hired the boy at a rate of ten cents a day to hang around Sam Butler's old neighborhood and listen out for gossip. There was a two-bit bonus for any useful information. Bobby had returned from his assignment to report to his employer just in time to see one of the policemen crack open Tom's skull with a billy club. From the boy's description of the cop, the killer was Mike Peters.
"They had somebody take the body away," Bobby said. "I heard one of the lawmen say Tom was already like that when they found him."
"Do you know for sure that Tom is dead? Where did they take him? Do you think you were spotted?" I now felt responsible for the safety of this child. He shook his head.
"I don't know for sure, but I can find out. Anyway, nobody notices little kids. I was even able to follow them to their hideout without them noticing. They're there now. That's why I was late."
Bobby explained that Tom had shared the necessary contact information with him in case anything happened to Tom. I asked Bobby where the two cops were now, but he said he would have to show me because I would never find it by myself. I thought that was bullshit, but I couldn't convince him to let me have the address even after I tried to bribe him with a double eagle. I finally gave up.
"Let's go then," I said. I was dressed as a coolie again which wasn't much of a disguise, but I was armed to the teeth. Bobby told me he lived with his mother and sister. Lately, he had been living on the streets and fending for himself because there often wasn't enough to eat at home. He also told me what he had learned from Sam Butler's former neighbors.
"Slip this inside your pocket," I said and handed him the double eagle.
"Do you have something smaller?" Bobby responded. "My mother will think I robbed a bank and people will try to take it away from me the minute I try to use it."
"You're pretty smart for a ten-year-old. I'll have to get you the small change later."
"Thanks. Uh, are you going to kill those two lawmen?"
"Yes," I said simply.
"Good. I want to see those two bilge-rats dead. Tom was my friend."
"Please don't talk like he's dead. He might still be alive. Please find out. I'll pay for whatever medical care he needs."
We finally came to a narrow alley off Pacific Avenue in the heart of the Barbary Coast. Bobby pointed at a single window on the top floor of a two-story building. There was an outside staircase leading up to the second floor.
"They're still up there," Bobby said. "You can shoot them when they come out."
"How do you know they're still there?"
"I set up a trap on the stairs. One of them would have tripped and broke his neck maybe."
"I like your initiative," I responded. Bobby had set up a trip wire about halfway up the stairs. However I did point out that starting a gunfight in the open would only draw attention I didn't want. The obvious thing for me to do would be to climb to the roof of the adjacent building and ambush the two bad cops when they left that room they were in. I wondered if that was where they were stashing the money extorted from the area businessmen. The money would stay hidden forever if I couldn't question them before their executions. Torture wouldn't be out of order. I made a few mental notes of what I saw and decided what I was going to do.
I climbed up on the roof of a nearby building, not more than ten feet from the door the two cops were behind. I had a clear shot. I had my escape route worked out. Of course I'd have to make sure they came out at the same time. That's why Bobby was going to create a diversion to draw them out. His job was to throw a rock through the window and then run away like crazy. I could either shoot the bastards outright or get creative, depending on the outcome of our little diversion, always assuming Murphy's Law was in full effect.
I signaled to Bobby and ducked down. I heard the sound of breaking glass and a door opening. I chanced a peek over the ledge and saw a gun barrel sticking out. That wasn't going to help me. I had to be patient. Finally I saw a head emerge from the doorway: Mike Peters. I silently cheered Bobby. I saw other movement at the window, but it was too dark to identify anyone. I assumed it was Sam Butler. Peters crept down the stairs keeping his eyes on the mouth of the alleyway. I heard a cry of alarm and a big thump followed by nonstop cursing. Mike Peters discovered the tripwire a bit too late. Unfortunately, it wasn't fatal. The commotion drew Sam Butler out, but Mike Peters had the presence of mind to warn his partner about the tripwire. I had both of my targets in my sights now. Do I do the deed or wait? I decided to wait.
I watched as Sergeant Butler helped his partner back up the stairs. They were through the door when I made my move. I jumped onto the landing right behind them and cocked my Peacemaker. "Freeze, motherfuckers!" I ordered. The pair were so startled that they really did freeze for an instant. Mike Peters pushed away from Sam Butler and went for his gun. I shot him in the belly. A gunshot or two in this area isn't even noticed unless somebody is lying in the street. I closed the door to make sure.
"The bitch shot me!" the man screamed in pain, music to my ears. Butler was the smarter of the two. He already had his hands up.
"You gut-shot him," Butler said looking down at his partner.
"So, what? It couldn't have happened to a more deserving bastard except maybe you."
"He won't stop screaming until his last breath. I get the feeling you want to talk. Why don't you put poor Michael out of his misery so we don't have to shout over his screams?"
The man did have a point even though I would have liked Officer Peters to suffer a lot more. I pulled my derringer and fired a round into his chest. The screaming ceased. The man's bowels voided, creating an awful stench.
"Satisfied?" I asked.
"Not really, but you have a gun pointed at me."
"That's right," I responded. "Well, to business." After he disarmed, I pointed at a safe I saw in a corner of the room. "I would appreciate it if you opened up that safe so I can take a look inside."
"Why should I? You're going to kill me anyway so why reward you?" I shrugged my shoulders. I guess I would have reacted the same way.
"I suppose I could make a deal with you." The man laughed.
"Let me guess what kind of deal you are going to offer me. You'll let me go if I open the safe? I'm not going to fall for that one."
"That's the last thing I'd offer you," I responded. "As far as I'm concerned, you're a dead man whether or not you open that safe. I was thinking along the lines of leaving your wife and children alone."
"It just so happens my wife and children no longer reside in the city and I am not about to tell you where they are now." Sam Butler sounded grim now. I had touched on a sensitive subject; no surprise there.
"That was my fault, I suppose." I giggled just hoping to get his goat. "I shouldn't have stolen that picture off your side table and sent it back to you marked up."
"That was you?" Sam Butler normally had a ruddy complexion, but he was now deathly pale in comparison.
"That was me," I said. "It was also me that caused George's death although it was his own fault falling off that scaffold. The gun I'm holding belonged to him. That money he was collecting for the police widows' and orphans' fund has come in handy, by the way. I also killed Abe Slocum and Gus Brandt. As soon as I kill you I'm going after Sally Collins."
You might know her better as Madame Bordeaux. Louie Fung told me her real name right before I killed him. I can only claim assists for killing two of his henchmen, but who's counting?"
"You'll never get away with it." I almost burst out laughing. God! How original!
"As long as the brothel bitch gets it, I don't much care what happens to me after that. Now, do you open the safe or do I go after your family? Maybe I'll kidnap and sell all three to a brothel. Your wife and daughter are very pretty. So is your son, as a matter of fact. Did you know there are men who like to bugger little boys?"
"They're safe far away from here and I'm not telling you where."
"Santa Rosa isn't so far." The man literally staggered. "Surprised? Apparently your daughter wrote a note to a little friend inviting her to visit them in Santa Rosa. Well, the little friend's mother read the note and after that it was general neighborhood gossip."
"How do I know you'll keep your promise?"
"You don't." I was really enjoying goading the man and I knew he was liable to do something desperate. Still, I squeaked in fear and surprise when Butler made a rush for me. The only thing that saved me was that I had my pistol cocked. The gun discharged as he tackled me and shoved me against the wall. I was stunned and in pain. The man was lying half on top of me, trying to throttle me even with a bullet hole in his body. I was able to pull away from his hands and regain my senses. Sam lay on his side, blood seeping steadily from his wound.
"So, the money was more important to you than your family," I said.
"The combination is in my right boot," Sam whispered. "Don't touch them for the love of God. Please!"
I thought of all kinds of cruel responses to tell the man in his last moments of life. I shook my head as if to clear it. That wasn't me.
"They were always safe from me," I said. "I don't make war on innocents."
Butler nodded and smiled. His last breath left him and there was silence except for my own breathing. I didn't get away unscathed. I twisted my back during the brief struggle with the crooked cop and I was in pain. My revenge was almost complete, though. Now I just had to hunt down and kill Madame Bordeaux. I looted the bodies and found the safe combination. The safe was loaded with bags of gold coins, but I wasn't in any condition to carry away even a single bag. I would have to return for the loot if that was possible. Did anyone else know about this? I locked the door behind me with a key I found on the dead police sergeant. There wasn't any way I could dispose of the bodies. They would have to remain where they lay until I could clean out the safe. Hopefully, the stench of decaying bodies wouldn't attract attention for a couple of days. I spotted Bobby peeking from around the corner as I hobbled down the stairs and waved to him. He hurried over.
"Are you all right?" I nodded.
"I'll live, but I'm a bit sore."
"Are they dead?"
"They're dead all right." I told him what happened and what I still needed to do, but I needed a day or two to recover.
"I know people who can take care of the bodies so they'll never be found," Bobby said. "They'll do it for a couple of dollars each...if you trust me."
"I trust you, but I would be worried about your safety. People will kill to get the money that's in that safe and I already have Tom on my conscience. I don't want anything to happen to you, too."
"Don't worry. I'll move the money before I even talk to those men. The only thing they'll see is an empty safe with the door wide open." Don't worry he says. That made me worry all the more. It wasn't about the money. The money wasn't that important to me. Fuck it! I handed Bobby the key to the office and the safe combination along with the money I looted from the bodies. If I never saw Bobby again, I hoped it was because he was enjoying being the richest ten-year-old in San Francisco and not lying dead in some back alley.
I still had to get back to Maggie's. She was probably worried sick about me. Nothing had been planned for tonight save for the scheduled meeting with Tom. I wished I had something for the pain. It was going to be a long and slow walk home. I arranged a meeting with Bobby for two days later, reminded him to dismantle the tripwire and left him to his tasks which included getting news about Tom Logan.
I had barely walked two blocks when two pairs of hands grabbed my arms and found myself propelled forward between two Chinese men. "We have been looking for you," one of them said in English. I tried wrenching my arm free so I could draw my gun, but they were too strong. I was helpless unless I could break their hold and draw my gun. Trying to scream would only get me gagged. Darn it! Why did everything have to happen to me? A man in the shadows stepped in front of us and blocked the way.
"What are you Chinese doing in this neighborhood?" he demanded.
"This Chinese girl is a runaway and we are merely returning her to her master," said the spokesman. "We are leaving now."
"Then be off with you," the shadowy man replied. Shit! I couldn't see his face, but I knew that voice.
"No man is my master and I'm as Irish as you, Brian O'Hara," I yelled. "Help me!"
"Curly?" The huge man didn't wait for a reply. He roared in anger and grabbed the men, one in each hand. I heard a loud clonk as two skulls made contact and both men slumped to the ground. My captors might have had a chance of escaping or defending themselves except they were unwilling to let go of me. Well, tough shit for them.
"I might have hit them too hard," Brian muttered as he dragged the bodies further into the darkness. I sure hoped so, I thought as I followed him.
"Thank you, my hero."
"You're welcome. Say, did that Chinaman say you're a lass?"
"I confess. I'm a lass, not a lad." I bent down and felt for pulses. The two men were still breathing. Not for long. I drew my knife and slit their throats, unnoticed by my rescuer. Two fewer thugs looking for me. I was becoming quite the killer. The body count was climbing.
"Well, I'll be damned," Brian responded. "I thought you were a bit pretty for a lad and I got to be worrying about myself. 'Brian,' I said to myself, 'it's a desperate man that's attracted to a lad. It's time you found yourself a woman to marry even if you have to go back to Ireland to find her'."
"You don't have to return to Ireland to find your woman to marry. She's right here in San Francisco and you have already met her. She likes you a lot, too."
"And who might that be?"
"Emma Crabtree likes me?"
"She does indeed," I responded. "Of course, you would have to prove your worth to her or she would definitely change her mind. Since she's a widow, you already know she is no blushing virgin. But Emma Crabtree is smart and attractive with a heart of pure gold. I sincerely doubt if you could marry a better woman than Emma and more likely you would marry a worse one, Brian O'Hara."
Brian didn't respond to that, but I know I'd gotten him to thinking. I needed to get a message to Maggie and a safe haven to rest. We gravitated to Mrs. Crabtree's saloon and entered through the back door. I slipped into a storage area and waited while Brian went to get Emma.
"Thank God you're safe," Emma declared when she saw me and took me in her arms. "You're hurt," she gasped when I winced in pain. "What happened?"
"A couple of men grabbed me and I hurt my back in the struggle. It was Brian here who came to my rescue. He was very brave."
"Thank you for saving my friend Jennifer, Mr. O'Hara," Emma said and favored him with a smile. Brian removed his hat and started blushing like a schoolboy.
"It was nothing. Those Chinese will wake up with giant headaches. Uh, Jennifer? I thought he was a lad named Curly. Now she's a lass and her name is Jennifer."
"Never mind that. Go get yourself a drink. It's on the house."
"Uh, thanks. Uh, Mrs. Crabtree, I was wondering if...uh."
"What were you wondering, Mr. O'Hara? Speak up." Brian looked for the exits and I knew it was my turn to come to his rescue.
"I believe Mr. O'Hara wants to seek permission to begin courting you with the prospect of matrimony in the near future."
"Is that what you’re hemming and hawing about, Mr. O'Hara?"
"Uh...yeah, what Curly...I mean Jennifer said."
"Then the answer is yes," Emma responded. "You may call on me at a more convenient time. Now leave. I need to talk to my friend alone." After Brian left, she said, "Was that your doing?"
"I plead guilty. I hope you don't mind. I think you two could really hit it off together."
"We'll see," she said with a smile.
Emma's saloon had a second floor, which was unused. It was originally a brothel, but after her husband's death Emma decided to close it down; less revenue, but fewer problems. She said I could rest and recover up there, but I wasn't going to rest very long. I had to get a message to Maggie Hooper. I had to find out if Tom Logan was alive or dead. Would I ever hear from young Bobby again? Oh, I almost forgot. I had to plan my next murder.
I recruited Brian to get my letter to Maggie. I knew I was giving up the location of my hiding place, but it couldn't be helped and I did trust the man. He must have delivered the message before dawn because Maggie showed up around noon and she already had had a busy morning.
"I had just about given up hope when your friend delivered the message. It was very cryptic so I assumed Mr. O'Hara isn't privy to anything, but it assured me you were safe." I nodded in agreement.
"Mrs. Crabtree doesn't know anything either," I responded.
"What happened last night?" After I gave Maggie a rundown of the evening's events she said, "I have good news on my side, too. Tom Logan is alive."
"He has been unconscious since he was brought in, but they say he must have a strong constitution and a thick skull. I had him removed from the charity ward and into better accommodations. I also engaged a highly recommended physician to examine and treat him."
"Thank you for doing that. I'll pay all his bills."
"I also met your new friend Bobby. He was claiming to be Tom Logan's grandson. He told me to let Olive Oyl know that everything has been taken care of and he'll be there to meet her tomorrow night at the same time. I assume you're Olive Oyl?"
"That's me," I responded with a giggle.
With the exception of worrying about Tom's recovery, I figured I could relax for the rest of the day. I slept mostly. The morning newspaper mentioned a couple of Chinese men found dead with their throats cut, but nothing about dead or missing police officers. I guess the men Bobby hired to dispose of the dead cops knew their work.
I met with Bobby the following evening and arranged for picking up the loot, but this time I had Brian along as a bodyguard. He stayed a discreet distance so I could talk to Bobby in private. I tried to get Bobby to take some of the gold, but he just said that having that much money sitting around would get him into trouble. So I put him on the payroll for two bits a day. He was happy with that, but I planned to do much more for him and his family. Of course, part of the treasure belonged to Tom. Still, there was quite a bit to spread around.
With my knowledge of the future, I wrote out an investment plan. I knew which stocks to pick and hold for long term appreciation. I knew which investments to avoid and which were plain scams. I didn't know which banks would fail, but I did know which banks would survive and prosper into the 21st century. Also how to weather panics, recessions and depressions. If I followed all those rules we would have quite a nest egg. I gave a copy of the plan to Maggie for her to follow in case anything happened to me.
"You're going to be around for a heck of a lot longer than me," Maggie said.
"We don't know that," I responded. "I don't know how much longer my luck will hold. I'm going after Madame Bordeaux next."
"Perhaps you can retire after you kill that bitch?"
"I plan to." After killing the old whore, my revenge would be complete.
Bobby, my new top spy, reported that there was an armed guard posted at the door of Madame Bordeaux's parlor-house 24 hours a day. That was a new addition from what I had been told by Tom. The whore must have been feeling paranoid. I wonder why. I didn't think there was any way I could storm the place. I didn't think there was any way I could sneak in either. Or was there? After all, I had sneaked out of the place. I'd had Chen to help me of course. I would definitely need help to sneak in. I knew of one possibility. I hoped Sarah still worked for the parlor house. I described the woman to Bobby.
"I talked to Sarah away from the whore house just like you told me to," Bobby said a couple of days later. "I told her a gentleman was interested in meeting her, but it couldn't be at Madame Bordeaux's since he didn't want to risk his reputation. She was nervous about it, but when I showed her an eagle piece and said she wouldn't have to share it with Madame Bordeaux or anybody, she said she would do it."
"When is the meeting set for?"
The boy grinned and said, "Right now."
"What?" Bobby led me to what looked like a shabby apartment building. "This is where my mother and sister live," Bobby explained. "I live here too when there's enough food. They're out shopping with the money I gave them. I figure you have a half hour for your meeting."
"I'm surprised you arranged the meeting so quickly. I'm impressed."
"I just told her she had to decide fast 'cuz you were leaving town soon. Didn't give her time to think about anything except the money." I entered the dark, dingy apartment. Sarah gasped when she saw me and stood up from a simple wood chair.
"Jennifer? You're alive? You're not a ghost?"
"I'm alive, Sarah. I'm not a ghost." We embraced like long lost friends even though my previous acquaintance with her probably totaled less than ten minutes.
"Madame Bordeaux told us you and Sammy were both dead. I'm so glad she was wrong. Is Sammy around?"
"Madame Bordeaux was right about Sammy. Gus Brandt shot Sammy on the bitch's orders." I wanted to cry again just saying the words. Sarah sensed that and held me even closer.
"I'm so sorry. I really liked that man. So did all the girls. I heard Gus Brandt got his though. Somebody blew off his head with a shotgun blast."
"That was me," I said.
"You?" I nodded. Sarah looked surprised, doubtful and then fearful in a matter of seconds. "Oh my god."
"I want to do the same thing to that bitch you work for. That's why I wanted to talk to you. I need your help to get back inside. I'll pay you well."
"I don't how I could help you. I would if I could. The boss has been acting real nervous lately, never going out and now I know why. She has gunmen hanging around at all hours. Anybody entering the house gets a real close looking at now. Besides, you already know what a coward I am."
"I'm not asking you to be brave, honey. All I want you to do is for you to keep the window open to your room and then take a small holiday. I'll pay for the holiday and no one will suspect you."
"It won't work," the young prostitute said. "They tore my room apart trying to figure out how you escaped and they found the loose window bars. It's already fixed." Shit! Chen told me he had figured out three or four ways he could enter or exit the house unseen, but he hadn't shared the methods with me. I wasn't interested in knowing them at the time. I thought I had seen the last of that place.
"I guess I'll have to find some other way to get in." I handed Sarah a double eagle. "Thanks for your time. I would appreciate it if you kept quiet about this meeting." The woman was staring at the coin in her palm and I wasn't sure if she even heard me.
"I never expected this," Sarah said as if in shock. "Just how much money do you have?" Sarah's rude question annoyed me. It was none of her business. I remained silent and just stared at her. The woman blushed.
"I have a reason for asking."
"There's more where that came from," I responded.
"There is this woman who might be able to help you, but I'm not sure."
"Tell me," I said.
Sarah gave me the background on the woman she wanted to me to meet. I would have to arrange to meet her myself. Later that same day, I spotted the woman as she left her place of employment and made her way home toward Chinatown. She was elderly and easy to shadow. I had my own shadow in the form of Brian O'Hara. The woman stopped to rest a bit and I took the opportunity to talk to her.
"Good evening," I said. Sarah told me she spoke English.
"Good evening," she returned.
"May I talk to you for a few moments?"
"About what?" She appeared tired and impatient. I couldn't blame her. She had been working for twelve straight hours. Okay, no pleasantries. Get to business.
"I understand the smugglers have been pressuring your family for payment with regard to sneaking your grandson into the country. A hundred dollars, I'm told?"
"A little less now, but not much less. They want my grandson to work in a cigar factory sixteen hours a day to work off debt."
"What would you do for the money to pay off that debt in full?"
"Anything," the woman said immediately. "But I have nothing to offer."
"You work for Madame Bordeaux's parlor house as a maid?"
"I need to get into that place undetected." The old woman looked at me hard.
"I know who you are," she said. "You must be that girl who ran away with Sammy. I thought you were dead."
"Sammy is dead and it was at Madame Bordeaux's instigation. I need to avenge his death." Now that I had been outed would the woman hold me up for more money? Would she betray me to Madame Bordeaux?
"I should do it for free," the woman said.
"Madame always cheating me of pay. When Sammy ran away, Madame cut my pay in half because I am Chinese also. Dared me to quit. She knows I cannot. But since you offered me money to pay off smugglers, I accept your offer." She offered me an almost toothless grin. I grinned in return and slipped five double eagles into her outstretched palm. That sealed the deal.
Mary (her English name) said she didn't know of any of the secret entrances to Madame Bordeaux's parlor house that Chen mentioned, but I might be able to get in if I was heavily disguised. Mary had recently injured her hand and she had asked the madam if she could bring in someone else to help while her hand healed. The brothel owner said okay, but she was only paying for one person. I was going to be Mary's temporary help. We arranged to meet and I went back to Maggie's farm to prepare my disguise.
I had had some experience in doing my own stage makeup in high school productions, but this had to be an award-winning job. I still had Chen's makeup kit. I decided to go as an elderly woman or an old crone if you will. Maggie helped me with the wrinkles. Hands and feet were aged. My teeth looked too good so I colored them up with mashed up beets so I looked like a betel nut user. We even rigged up a little hump for my back. Twine looped around my neck and tied to my waist kept me in a stooped position. Baggy trousers hid my weapons. Maggie thought I could pass. I looked in the mirror and hoped it would be enough. It was show time.
My first test was with Mary. Would she recognize me? I stood nearby her for almost for a full minute before I revealed myself. She was impressed.
On the way to the parlor house, she told me how happy her family was to get the smugglers off their backs, but now they were curious and worried about what she had promised in return for the money.
"I told them not to worry and it was none of their business what I promised," she said. "I told them if I die tomorrow, I will die happy."
"I don't want you to get hurt," I responded. "If trouble starts, I want you to leave and go straight home." I didn't want to be worrying about anyone's safety. I didn't know if I was going come out of this alive, but I didn't really care as long as Madame Bordeaux died before me and at my hands. That got me to thinking about Sarah and the other women in the house. They were all innocents in their way. Well, I couldn't think of everything.
Mary told me no one was allowed to use the secondary doors to the building. They were locked and barred. Everyone had to enter and exit through the front door and past the guard. I asked about the bouncer. I had a score to settle with him, too.
"Different one," Mary said. "Jake was friends with Sammy and quit when he heard how Sammy died." That revelation surprised me. How could Chen have been friends with a man like Jake? But then again, why not? No one in this world is perfect. I decided to forgive Jake. My husband would have wanted me to. However, I doubted whether Jake would ever change his ways. One less clown to worry about.
"Good morning, grandma," the armed man said when he opened the door to Mary's knock. "Who's your friend?"
"This is Olive. She help today. Madame say okay." I looked up at him and smiled with my stained teeth and gums.
I mumbled, "Good morning, fuckhead," in Mandarin.
"She say you cute," Mary translated. The man flinched and waved us through.
Madame Bordeaux was a late riser. She wouldn't make an appearance until mid morning at the earliest. It was still plenty early and I made myself useful helping Mary with her chores. The girls who worked there started wandering through in various states of undress. I was told the first clients didn't show until early afternoon. Then the girls had to look their best. I finally saw Sarah. She was staring at me trying to figure out if it was me. I smiled and winked at her. Sarah blushed and looked away. I worked my way over to where she was standing.
I whispered in a low tone of voice. "If Hell breaks loose, you get yourself and the others out of here fast, do you understand?" She nodded and I slipped her some more double eagles.
"This is too much," Sarah whispered back.
"I can't spend it where I'm going."
"Who are you and what the hell are you doing here?" Madam Bordeaux demanded. Sarah and I jumped. We didn't notice her arrival.
"This woman help me today," Mary said. "You say okay. Her name Olive."
I just stood there grinning like an idiot. Enjoy your last hours among the living, bitch! If Madame Bordeaux had seen through my disguise, I just would have pulled my knife and stabbed her in the throat. But I wanted to get her alone with less chance of an innocent being hurt or killed.
"I don't care what her name is," the brothel owner responded. "I saw her hand something to you. What was it?" Now she was talking to Sarah.
"This woman found a double eagle on the floor. She gave it to me." She held up one of the gold coins that I had just given her. "That was very honest of her, wasn't it?" Sarah was a quick thinker.
"Anything left behind belongs to me. You know that."
"I wasn't going to keep it," Sarah protested. She handed the money to her boss.
"No, of course you weren't," the evil woman sneered. "If you find any more money you bring it directly to me. Do you understand?"
Mary rattled off something in Cantonese. I nodded my head and kept grinning.
"She understand now, Madame," Mary said.
"Good. I don't pay you to stand around. Now get back to work and remember I'm only paying for one of you."
"Yes, Madame." The bitch walked to a door, unlocked it and disappeared inside; her office. All three of us breathed a sigh of relief. Sarah gave a little wave and retreated upstairs.
"If I survive this day, I will not be returning," Mary whispered as we returned to our chores.
"You never know. The new owner might be easier to work for," I whispered back. I held out my palm. "Oh, looky here. I found some more money. I should take it to Madame Bordeaux right away."
"Wait until the guard goes to relieve himself," Mary said. "He drinks a lot of coffee to keep awake and he goes a lot. The next guard isn't due for another two hours." It didn't take long for the guard to feel the urge and he disappeared downstairs where the staff commode was situated. I took a deep breath, put on my grin and knocked on the door. I heard the madam say something and I opened the door.
"What the hell do you want?" Madame Bordeaux demanded. I showed her another double eagle. That got her attention and a big smile on her face. "Bring it here." I closed the door and as I did so I dropped the coin along with two more of like value. She gasped and stared as I picked the up the coins. She didn't notice that I threw the bolt. I brought the coins over to the bitch sitting at her roll top desk. A big safe sat to her left.
"Well," the brothel madame gloated, "you must be my good luck charm."
"I don't think so," I said and stuck my pistol in her face. "I think I am more like your worst fucking nightmare, Sally Collins." I pocketed the coins again. The woman's face turned sheet white.
There was a knock on the door and the bitch screamed. The doorknob turned and when it didn't open there was more pounding. So much for my plan for doing a Bond villain type monologue before executing her. Fuck it! I fired two shots at the door. It was a solid oak door and I don't even think the rounds penetrated. Still, it stopped the pounding. I fired high because I didn't know who was on the other side. Even if it was the guard, I knew he was just doing his job. It couldn't have taken more than a second, but the brothel madame was already out of her chair and dashing through a doorway hidden by a curtain. I fired as the door closed. The bullet ricocheted. The door must have been made out of steel.
"Bullet proof," the bitch called out. "I'm not coming out until you're dead. For sure this time." She cackled like the witch she was. There was no way I was going to get through that door short of using dynamite and I didn't have any. I was fucked. Or maybe not. Someone started firing on the lock on the office door, but I wasn't worried yet. It was a sturdy lock and a sturdy door. I knocked away the glass chimney from a gas lamp and touched the wall curtain to the open flame. It ignited nicely. I pulled the curtain down around the door, protecting my prey, and then shoved the desk against the door so it would act as kindling and prevent the bitch from escaping. I was trying to turn her safe room into a death oven.
The office door started to give and I fired a couple more rounds to discourage them and using the safe as cover. I was feeling the heat and Sally must have been feeling it, too. "What are you doing?" she cried.
"Roasting some pig," I called back.
"Let me out of here!"
"I'm not stopping you."
"The door is stuck and it's hot."
"Tough shit, bitch!"
"I can't breathe!" She started screaming and I stopped paying attention. My revenge would be complete in a matter of moments. I wouldn't survive to see it, but that didn't matter to me now. If there were such a thing as an afterlife, perhaps I would be reunited with Chen. I could hear men yelling and women screaming. I hoped everyone was getting out okay. I was having trouble breathing, too. The fire-weakened floor combined with the weight of the safe collapsed the floor beneath me and I felt myself falling to my death.
At least I thought it was my death.
I certainly never expected to survive.
I heard voices. Was this the afterlife? I opened my eyes.
"She's conscious," someone said.
I found myself surrounded by paramedics, firefighters and my crew-members. I was strapped to a gurney with my head immobilized. There was a needle in my arm with a tube leading to an I.V. bag.
"How long have I been out?"
"Not long. Fifteen minutes or so," was the answer. It had all been a vivid dream. I chalked it up to something I ate the night before. I was taken to the hospital for observation and treated for concussion and various bumps and bruises. Things got weird after that. Looking in the mirror while washing up, I found I had a scar on my left cheek. It was the scar I suffered when Madame Bordeaux cut me. How could that have happened? It was just a dream.
Then I was told I was pregnant. I hadn't had sexual relations with anyone in months except in my dream. In my dream I missed my period just after Chen's death. No other symptoms so I just blamed it on stress. This was impossible.
I finally got released two days later. They had me sign a release for the return of my valuables. I didn't realize I had any valuables to get returned. In the envelope I found three double eagles, my wedding ring, and my gold locket with Chen's portrait inside. I knew I was going insane. I started crying.
"Would you like to talk to a counselor?" the clerk asked.
"No, thank you." I took a flight home to L.A.
My parents were thrilled to learn my career as a stunt performer was probably over. They were not thrilled to hear I was pregnant and downright hostile when I told them I was going through with the pregnancy and raising the baby on my own since the father was dead. I just knew in my heart that I was carrying Chen's child.
"How long are you going to continue shaming your family?" my mother asked.
"I will stop immediately," I said. I packed my bags and moved in with a girlfriend. I started burning through my savings fairly quickly. I sold the double eagles to a collector. There was no way in hell I was going to part with my ring or locket. I was resigned to becoming a welfare mother. Then I received an envelope full of cash from Mom. "Don't tell your father," she wrote. A week later, I received another envelope full of cash from Dad. "Don't tell your mother," he wrote. A while later, I received some more cash from my brother and sister. "Don't tell Mom or Dad," they wrote. I was happy to know my family still loved me despite the heartache I brought them. The money came in handy.
I gave birth to a son. I named him Chen after his father. He looks just like his father. I sent his baby picture to my family. That brought more gifts of cash and an invitation to move back home. All was not forgiven, but they still wanted me to go back to school and make something of myself since I now had a child to raise. I told them I would think about it and let them know.
A couple of days later, I answered a knock at my door. A well-dressed Asian man was standing there.
"May I help you?" I asked. He just stared at me until I started feeling uncomfortable. "Is something wrong?"
"Please excuse me for staring," the man replied and handed me a business card. It introduced Harvey Wong, an attorney.
"I have no need for an attorney," I said. "The studio paid for my hospitalization and I have no complaint."
"I am not a personal injury attorney. This is rather confidential. May I come in and speak with you?" Why not? I nodded and allowed him to enter. I showed him a chair and offered him a refreshment. He declined.
"My room-mate is out and the baby is asleep. We shouldn't be disturbed unless he wakes up."
"Your baby?" I nodded.
"His name is Chen after his father."
"That is who I represent, or rather his estate."
"There must be some mistake. The only Chen I know of is Lee Chen. He was shot to death in 1882 and left no estate."
"On the contrary. He survived that shooting and lived until 1940."
"That's impossible! I was there when he was shot. He fell in the water. I...I tried to save him." I was sobbing and shouting. I wasn't thinking about waking the baby. "I don't understand. If he survived, why did he allow me to believe he was dead?" I couldn't believe Chen could be so cruel.
"He was picked up near death by a merchant ship in the bay already heading out to sea. It was a mainly Chinese crew, so I guess they felt sorry for him and nursed him back to health. He was out of touch for three full months. By the time he was able to cable Maggie Hooper and let her know he was alive, the incident at Madame Bordeaux's parlor house had occurred and you had already disappeared."
I finally calmed down and nodded. It was a satisfactory explanation. Chen would have let me know he was alive had he been able. I was happy he survived yet sad that I had gone on my killing spree and missed spending the rest our lives together.
"You must think me mad talking like I was there and yet you sound like you believe me or at least you are humoring me?"
"I would never try to prove it in a court of law, but yes I believe you were there. How else can I explain these photographs?" He displayed photographs of Chen and me taken by Maggie. Mr. Wong also displayed a copy of my investment instructions I gave to Maggie. He said it matched handwriting samples from an essay I wrote in school. I wondered how they got a hold of that.
"Thank you for coming here to tell me my husband survived," I said. "I feel much better for it. Is there anything else you wish to tell me?" I could hear my baby stirring. He would need changing and feeding. I was too shy to breastfeed in front of strangers. I wished Chen would have been able to hold his son in his arms.
"Yes, your husband made a great fortune following your investment instructions with the money you left to Miss Hooper. He took part of the money and established a trust in your name in the hopes you survived the conflagration at Madame Bordeaux's and returned to your own time. The trust's present value is 3.6 billion dollars. If you are able to live on the interest without touching the principal, your son's grandchildren will be reaping the benefits.
I gaped at the attorney. "I can do that."
Well, I was able to decline my parents' invitation to move back home. I bought a home of my own and I am able to be a full time mother to my son. We live modestly. There's no sense stirring up curiosity or resentment. I learned that from Chen.
Chen didn't just leave me money. He left me hundreds of love letters in the hopes that I might someday read them. I'm reading them now. He also left a journal of how he helped all the people who helped us in our adventure. I hope you have enjoyed my tale.
Rating: 90%, Read 14000 times, Posted Jan 16, 2015