Xao Fe was trapped. For weeks, ever since the death of their son, his wife had been too ill to work and his wages from the cannery simply couldn’t cover the medicines she needed whilst the white doctor had been out of town. On top of that he had to find the money to bury what was left of his son; Xan had converted and out of love Xao had followed her, but despite her devotion to the faith, the local church still saw them as outsiders, untrustworthy and beneath them, and insisted upon payment in advance. He briefly considered asking his sister, but the shame of asking her coupled with the shame of admitting how she earnt her money in the employ of the Dragon Lady ensured that it was but a brief consideration.
So Xao did what he’d never done before; he took a gamble. His wife’s brother was out at sea fishing with Captain Williams and when he returned Xao was sure he would help out, meaning that Xao only had to find enough money to cover the funeral and Xan’s medicines for a week, maybe two. With this to steady his nerves, he had approached the Tong for a loan. Sure the interest was high, but Chi would be back in a week and he could pay it off and Xan could have the medicines she needed.
Only Chi never made it home. He had been killed and any wages on him had been stolen, taking with them any hope Xao had of paying the Tong. The Tong did not take such matters lightly, in fact it was known that several of the more violent thugs in the Tong’s employ relished the non-payers as it gave them something to do with their knives and clubs. Xao was, he believed, a condemned man when the money lender sidled up to him at the cutting table. But instead of threatening to cut off his fingers one by one, the shark offered him a simple, one-off job to repay the debt. All he had to do was make a delivery, just that, nothing more, just simply row over to the sampan lagoon below the Dragon Lands hotel and hand a package over to a contact and his debt would be cleared. Xao didn’t believe that last part for one second, but what could he do? He was trapped.
The journey across Shanghai bay in the early hours of the morning was uneventful, yet Xao couldn’t shake the feeling he would be caught at any minute. He glanced down over and over again at bulging tarpaulin in the middle of the boat, beneath it lay the wooden crate he was to hand over. He pulled into the lagoon and moored up. There was no one about and only the soft lapping of the waters against the boats moored around him broke the dead silence. Again and again he found his gaze wandering down to the box. What was in it? What if it were drugs? Or worse, guns? He could turn a blind eye to smuggling, he could ignore many things the Tong did, but the thought that he might be involved in gun running horrified him. He had to look, he had to know.
With a final check that no one, most of all his Tong contact, was around Xao pulled back the tarp and opened the box. His eye grew wide with horror! In the box lay three sticks of dynamite connected to a ticking clock: a bomb!
As his mind raced with the realisation of what he had uncovered, he heard footsteps on the path leading to the hotel above him. Looking up he could see the retinue of the Dragon Lady leaving the building and making their way down to the lagoon where he and the bomb lay in wait. This, he realised, was no smuggling operation but a cold-blooded assassination and he was the expendable fool the Tong were using to kill their greatest rival! He looked back at the bomb and then again to the small group coming down the path. The Dragon Lady was there, hidden from view beneath an exquisite parasol of red embroidered silk tumbling to the ground all around her to ensure no human eye ever saw her. Around her a small knot of serving girls held the shade in place, with two burly armed guards, one in front and one behind, providing security. But Xao’s eyes ignored them all save one of the girls holding the silk. It was Meili, his sister. In an instant he knew he couldn’t allow her to be hurt. He shouted a warning at the retinue which stopped in its tracks. The lead guard barked orders and his comrade began to pull and push the girls and his mistress back up the steps to the hotel. Xao shouted at them all to keep back, that there was a bomb on the boat and when he saw Meili being ushered back to safety he bent to grab the device so he could throw it into the lagoon.
He had no way of knowing about the wire-bound trigger at its base. As he lifted it out of the boat a pin was pulled out and a short-fused detonator was armed. Xao manged to roll it overboard, but before it had time to even hit the water the dynamite exploded and the lagoon was filled with sound and fury…
High above them all, she watched the explosion with a wry smile on her face. As the caboose keeled over and smashed through the wooden bridge and fell into the lagoon, she was already planning her retaliation…
To be continued…
Links to other blogs and stories:
1) All my “Mutations” posts can be read on my blog here
2) In Shanghai, a lone Yakuza eyes this development with interest. Read more here
3) All my “Steal Head” posts can be read on my blog here