“Well my dear, when they said you were beautiful I had no idea just how beautiful,” Meili watched the corrupt old man leer at her with sightless eyes from across the room and her skin crawled. Behind her the only door out of the room was blocked by the man who had grabbed her as she went to see Rynhold. Between her and the old man stood a large table with several chairs around two of which were occupied, one by a small evil looking man and the another by a tall, stoney faced giant.
“My my, such fear. I can smell it from here, my dear but please, you have nothing to fear here,” the old man said his croaking voice dripping with false charm. The small man snorted a cruel laugh and shot a look across the table to his tall companion. She had heard of The Voice and Han Hong, who in the slums hadn’t. These men, these… monsters were responsible for nearly all the misery and squalor in her life, all the lost friends and family, all the fear and despair, all could be traced back in lines of tears and blood to the hands of these animals. They were evil spirits, ever hungry, ever greedy, remorselessly swallowing up everyone and everything and their desire to own and control and kill and hurt was without limit. She thought of the people she had grown up with, the good, decent families who had worked and lived and died in this rancid part of a hateful town in a country that barley tolerated their Chinese feet upon its soil, and she saw they were trapped with these devils forever. Just by being born, an act she had no say in or control over, her life had been forfeit, gifted to the Tong, wrapped up and presented to this disgusting old man and there was nothing she or anyone could do. With sudden clarity she marvelled at the sheer godless nature of her life, of all life. She hardly mattered to the people in this room, beyond a desire for the sort of pleasure a cat would extract from toying with a wounded mouse, so it hardly seemed likely she would rank highly in a Divine Being’s thoughts and actions. She was a speck of nothing in an eternity of nothing and she would die here, tonight, and her whole life would have amounted to nothing. Yet… yet she accepted that. She opened her heart and let it in. She meant nothing, so what.
But not Li Fe, not little Li Fe her beautiful nephew. His life meant something.It meant something to her and it had been stolen from her. He had been taken and murdered alone and in the dark by a monster. And for what reason? For nothing? That was something she couldn’t accept, something she wouldn’t accept. She turned to look at the man who had kidnapped her and then back round at the two generals sat at the table. Their faces were hard and their eyes cruel and she hated them with every drop of her soul. She looked up and glared into the blind eyes of the wizened old man who ran the Tong “Yes,” she said in but strong voice, “I am scared of you, but I also pity you.”
The nasty smile on Voice’s face fell like a collapsing building “Pity?” he hissed, “Pity? You stupid… “ The boss silenced him raised hand, “Your pity is as misplaced as your courage my dear. There is only one you should feel any pity for tonight. Come here and I will show you who. Come.”
Meili looked him unable to move, silently suspecting he would kill her here and now “No, I do not mean you, silly girl,” he laughed “Come here and will show you the only soul in Shanghai in need of your pity.” He smiled a thin, empty smile and moved to the window that overlooked the wharves outside. Slowly, glancing at the men sat at the table, she moved towards the old man. He held out his hands and took her by the wrists, his grip firm and as cold as ice as he pulled her to the window. “Here,” his voice dripped with vile false charm ”look across the water and tell me what you see.”
For a second or two she was unsure of what she was supposed to be looking for, the night was dark and the snow storm obscured all but the far lights of the round houses and hotel. The hotel! She span round to look at the old man, her eyes wide with fear and he took hold of her chin and forced her face back to the window, “Keep looking my dear, I wouldn’t want you to miss the fate of the more worthy recipient of your pity. Look closely, can you see my men?” Indeed she could see small groups of bobbing lights, lanterns carried in the darkness by Tong and they were slowly converging upon the hotel. She had to get free, she had to warn her Lady, she had to…
“You can do nothing my dear,” the boss purred, “Nothing but watch as the I finally rid myself of your precious Lady.” He turned her face back to his, “Once she has been dealt with, we will be free to discuss your feelings toward me further. And if you should find you still harbour even the smallest hint of pity then I’m sure The Voice would help with a quiet word in your ear after which I can assure you that you will feel whatever I want you to feel for as long as I want you to feel it.”
Her blood ran cold, she had imagined they were going to kill her but now the full horror of her fate revealed itself to her. She was to become the willing plaything of this corrupt old monster! “Nothing to say now, my dear?” the boss let go of her face and whispered in her ear, “No brave insults? No clever observations?”
She turned to look out at the bobbing lights in the darkness of the storm, each one a stone tied to her ankles dragging her down to the bottom of an ocean whose depths she dare not contemplate. And suddenly the ropes were cut “No,” she said quietly, “Nothing… nothing except…”
His eyes burned into her, “Except?” his voice was diamond hard.
“Why are your men running away from the hotel?” she smiled.