Mutations

Gang Wars: End Game – Part 1

Beck came round slumped on the floor. He was cold, it was dark and someone was talking nearby “… must have watched her come up the stairs…followed her…” he pulled his eyes open only to find he couldn’t see “…the retinas may be detached… could be temporary, could be permanent…” the voice said “…no idea how many… or where they took her…” Beck managed to sit up but decided not to try and stand until the world stopped spinning. He felt stone beneath his hands and wood behind his back, the strong odour of fish was all around him “…must have be in a room somewhere near the docks…most likely the cannery…that means the Tong took us…” It began to dawn on him that it was his voice, slurring and mumbling to himself, trying to work out what had happened, trying to talk himself round.

His head ached and his face felt swollen and tender to the touch. Whoever had hit him had done a good job. He opened his eyes again and this time found the darkness speckled and shot through with grey patches, light crept in to his inky prison from all around and his eyes, far from being blind, were merely taking their time adjusting until he could eventually make out his surroundings. He was in a small, dark room filled with crates and shelving, the air was frigid and the only light came from under what he guessed was the door and from between ill-fitting wooden planks in the walls. He was in a cannery cold store, he fancied, and alone at that for there was no sign of Meili being in the small room with him. Fear and anger rose in his belly as his mind raced with terrible visions of her fate at the hands of these animals. He struggled to his feet and staggered over to the door. Locked! He banged his fists as against it and and shouted as loud as he could muster until there was a sudden hard thump from the other side.

“You shut up!” a Chinese man shouted.

“Where is Meili? Tell me where the girl is!” Beck bellowed back.

The voice on the other side laughed cruelly “She with boss. She have good time. Pretty girl, eh? Boss like pretty girls.”

Beck threw himself at the door, battering it with his shoulder, hurling insults and curses through it until he used up what meager energy he had left and felt himself slide slowly to the floor. Outside his tormentor shouted back “You no worry. You next, OK? Boys see you good, OK?” he cackled and banged on the door. “You go in cans, doctor, understand? You go in cans.” The laughter moved aways from the door and footsteps tramped off away into the cannery leaving Beck alone in the darkness once more.

“Hi Doc,” came a voice from the shadows.

Beck’s froze as he felt hot breath on his neck, skin almost touching his own, “Who’s there?” he whispered quietly into the dark.

“They’ve got her, Doc, they’ve got our girl. You let them walk in and you let them take her and now I’m going to have to get her back, aren’t I?”

Beck was holding his breath, afraid to move or make a sound.

“Well? Aren’t I?”

Beck nodded, a small, jerky movement laced with fear.

“Then I best get started, eh?”

The shadows rippled as Jonny O stepped out from the darkness and smiled a smile full of venom and murder.

To be continued…
All the “Gang War” posts can be read on my blog here and over on the Steelhead Ning here.

*****{*}*****

From the Journal of Dr Rynhold Beck

Chang is dead. It was on a night such as this a mere six weeks ago that as I sat in this very chair and wrote in this very journal the bastard kicked in not only my door but very nearly my ribs as well, and now he lies here dead. And I say good. Damn my oath, he and his filthy Tong a disease eating away at this place. They are aggressive parasites bent on devouring their host, thy suck the blood, the very life itself out of the people here. And now one of them lays dead on my operating table. Again I say good. I don’t know who did it, maybe Chang’s killer is a thug every bit as cruel and vile as Chang himself, but tonight there is one less brute loose on the streets to prey upon the poor and weak and vulnerable.

One thing I will say about whoever did do this to Chang, he must have been very strong indeed for from the state of Chang I’d say that with Chang holding a knife, the killer grabbed his forearm and quite literally snapped the bones in two before twisting the ruined limb around and stabbing Chang with the knife he still held. It was a single, deliberate wound and the knife was buried up to its hilt in his chest where, whether by luck or design, the knife did not pierce the heart and kill him immediately, but rather sliced open a ventricle and caused the chest cavity to flood.. The pressure of the blood around the lungs was sufficient to stop them from expanding thereby causing Chang to die of asphyxiation as well as massive blood loss. A nasty, brutal and unpleasant death but, and may God forgive me for what I am about to write, one I’m almost happy to have befallen one such as Chang.

Still, I think I may well have rather bigger issues to ask God for forgiveness for, wouldn’t you agree? Oh I know I stopped believing a long time ago, but does one ever truly stop believing or is it closer to the truth to state that what drives non-believers such as myself is a desperate and furious need not to believe. After all, once life turns against you and conspires to present you with an event of such magnitude that the love you once had for the notion of a Creator laying behind all of life’s joy and happiness lies shattered in the deepest pits of your heart, do you really have any choice but to turn away from the face of cruel, uncaring God in disgust and hatred?

In truth I do not know the answer to this, but I feel sure that were God to exist my actions of late would have pushed me as far from him as Hell is deep. Suicide is said to be a mortal sin (although I’ve seen enough in my forty years to convince me it is, at times, a necessary one) but what then is reckoned of un-death? If taking one’s life is to steal from God, then is snatching it back from his capricious embrace yet another crime against him?

When I… well, when I did what I did two nights ago I wanted nothing more than the peace and silence of not being, but where I found myself afterwards was far worse than anything I have experienced anywhere on any version of Earth. The rage and the anger that lay on the other side from this world were a terrible thing to behold, indeed I scarcely even now bring myself to think about them, let alone put them down on paper. And yet despite that I can feel no joy at Miss Belfire’s actions, however well intentioned they were. To use such arcane knowledge, such hellish methods and dark secrets to pluck me from the grasp of the Reaper can not come without a price and I fear that price may yet prove to be very indeed.

To be continued…

*****{*}*****

Links to other blogs and stories:
1) All Dr Beck’s Journal Entries can be read here.
2) All the “Gang War” posts can be read on my blog here and over on the Steelhead Ning here.
3) The latest “Gang Wars” Story So Far recap can be found here.
4) All my “Mutations” posts can be read here.
5) Chang was first encountered in Dr Beck’s surgery here.

Gang Wars: The Story In Full (part 1)…

The roots of the Gang Wars story lie back in the many other stories written in Steelhead. From the kindap & murder of poor Li Fe in ”Creaky Gloom” to the assassination attempt on the Dragon Lady in ”Steal Head” the criminal gangs (or, more importantly, their corrosive effect on the communities of Shanghai) have been evident. I invented the Tong as a foil for my Dr Beck stories, a boogieman to provide him with something to fight against in his efforts to help the poor of Shamian Alley. I always hoped they would be used by other writers and storytellers to add colour to the city but I couldn’t have hoped for the interest that led to the Gang Wars story.

Although the Tong first made an appearance in my darkly comic & noir-esque tale Goodunnit where a Tong fence meets a very nasty end at the hands, or rather the mouth, of the Tong’s most feared killer The Voice it wasn’t until Darien Mason had them meet an angel one dark night that I began to hope they would have a life beyond my own scribblings…

The Tong

*****{*}*****

The Yakuza

*****{*}*****

Gang Wars

*****{*}*****

Useful Links:

All the “Gang War” posts can be read on my blog here and over on the Steelhead Ning here.

*****{*}*****

Gang Wars: Chang Draws A Crowd

The dockside was surprisingly full when Beck arrived at where the body was being guarded by Sister Jones and an older nun he did not recognise. Around them a small crowd had gathered jostling, eager to see the dead enforcer for themselves and Beck had to squeeze and push his way through. “Quite a gathering, Sisters,” he huffed as he broke through, “Can’t you move them on?”

“We’ve tried, doctor,” the older nun replied, “but they just come back. It’s odd really, the Chinese here usually wouldn’t be seen gawping like this, but don’t detect much respect for this one,” she nodded to the canvas covered body on the quay. Beck bent and pulled back the sheet and the crowd surged forward as one for a better view, Sister Jones moved to push them back as Beck looked at the big, cruel face of the man who had kicked him around his surgery a few weeks earlier and felt a moment of shame at the prick of sour joy in his heart. “No, they wouldn’t have,” he said.

The nun looked at him quizzically. “His name is, was, Chang. He was an enforcer for the Bong Kong Tong and responsible for a great deal of misery in these people’s lives,” Beck looked around at the wall of faces, “Extortion, robbery, kidnapping, murder, even the odd spot of torture just for fun. No, I dare say the only people who will miss him are the rest of the cockroaches in the Tong.”

“So a list of suspects shouldn’t be too hard to produce then,” the sister said with a wicked edge of sarcasm that Beck found refreshing.

“Hah,” he laughed softly, “I would imagine the Sheriff…”

“Marshall,” the nun corrected him.

“Sorry?”

“Promotion. It’s Marshall Ortega now, Doctor.”

Beck smiled, “Well in that case I would imagine the good Marshall could throw a handful of rocks around here and hit a dozen people who wouldn’t shed a tear at Chang’s passing,” the nun nodded in agreement, “But wanting a thug like Chang dead and going up against the Tong to kill a thug like Chang are very different things. I can’t imagine any of these poor devils would risk the retribution on their communities, their families.”

“Then who?”

Beck sighed, “Another gang? The Dragon Tong? Maybe the Fox Battalion?”

“Who?”

Beck pulled the canvas sheet back over Chang and stood up, the sister followed and he pointed at a hand-bill pasted onto a nearby mooring post, “The Fox Battalion. It seems we are to get our very own vigilante force.”

The nun read it silently before shaking her head, “I’ll have to tell the Marshall about this, such a call to criminality can not be tolerated,” she said quietly.

Beck raised an eyebrow in mock-surprise, “Well given how lawless things have become in this part of town, it was bound to happen sooner or later.”

“Surely you don’t approve, doctor?” she asked.

Beck stared at the poster for a second before answering wearily “No, not really, just no longer surprised,” Whoever was setting themselves up to fight the Tong would no doubt end up in his surgery, as would many others if the Tong decided to discourage any further attempts at standing up to them in their usual fashion.

She nodded and a moment of silence hung between them as they considered the ramifications of the poster and its message. “Well I must get back to the Town Hall and inform the Marshall of developments here. Sister Jones will stay with the body,” behind her the young nun smiled meekly at him, “and two porters have been hired to take the body to your surgery. When can he expect your report?”

Beck looked down at the body and ran his fingers through his whiskers in thought, “Tell him I’ll drop it off tonight, I have my rounds to do along with some chores to catch up on, but I’ll get it to him tonight.”

She nodded again and moved to turn away, Beck stopped her with a polite “Excuse me.” When she turned back he said, “You must excuse my manners Sister, but I neglected to ask your name.”

She smiled warmly and said “Sister Mary Eunice Agatha Arcadia Edwards, but you can call me Mary. Except when Mother Superior is around, then you’d be wise to call me Sister Arcadia; I’m afraid the Mother Superior has a rather jaded view of you Doctor. I don’t believe a word of it of course,” her smile became mischievous, her eyes twinkling, “The Marshall says you just have some bad habits, that’s all.”

Beck felt his cheeks redden as, with another quick smile she turned and pushed her way through the crowd. He moved back to the body and was busy collecting his thoughts when the chatter of the crowd was a brief cry followed by a loud splash. Looking over the edge of the quay he saw a Caledonian sailor splashing about and blustering about a broken arm to a rather shocked looking colleague who was rushing down the nearest steps to reach him. Beck turned to the now silent crowd to see what had happened and saw that everyone was staring at a huge Japanese man dressed entirely in black and with very conspicuous pair of swords. As impressive as he was, what caught Beck’s eye was the small, beautiful Japanese woman stood in front and slightly to one side of him. Jet black hair intricately framed her fine-boned face and seemed to blend into her silk kimono. Behind her two impressive black wings rippled and quivered in the breeze and in her hand she held the poster Beck had shown Sister Arcadia only moments before. For a moment their eyes met and Beck found himself wondering what her interest in the Fox Battalion could be before she turned and, along with her mountainous companion, walked off through the crowd as it parted to let them pass.

Beck watched her leave and stood staring long after the crowd had dispersed and the dunked sailor, fished out by his smirking companion, had returned to his ship.

“Doctor…?” Sister Jones’ voice broke him from his thoughts, “the porters are here.”

****{}****

To be continued…
All the “Gang War” posts can be read on my blog here and over on the Steelhead Ning here.

*****{*}*****

Links to other blogs and stories:
1) Chang was first encountered in Dr Beck’s surgery here.
2) The Fox Batallion’s notice was posted to the Ning here.
3) Aoi sees Beck here.

Gang Wars: The Fox Battalion

The morning air was harsh on his face, the light strong and somehow alien in nature. This, Beck thought, is what it must feel like to be a ghost, one of the deceased walking among the living in a world they no longer belonged to. Except he was not a ghost, he was not deceased and, despite the fact that every fibre of his body seemed to be screaming that the very opposite was true, he was very much alive. Only he wasn’t, was he. Was he?

“Doctor!” a strong hand clasped his arm and he spun round to find himself staring into the deep, grey eyes of Captain Williams, skipper of one of the fishing boats that worked out of Shanghai, “The harbour…”

“Hmmm?” Beck stared at the man from somewhere very far away.

“The harbour, you nearly waked off the edge!”

Beck looked down and with a start saw his feet were mere inches from the sheer drop of the stone harbour edge, the waves rolling and crashing against the wall a dozen feet below him. He stepped back, shocked at such a total lapse in his concentration.

“Ye Gods and little fishes, Doctor, pay more heed to your path, sir!” warned Williams.

“Yes… yes of course,” blustered Beck, “I… I’m a little distracted this morning, I fear. A body has been found by some of the night fishermen, you see.”

Williams let go of Beck’s arm and looked into the man’s eyes. He’d heard about his kidnapping at the hands of the devil from the sea and the state the rescuers had found him in and yet here he was, a mere two days later, up and about and tending to his patients. “I’d venture you have good reason to be, sir, good reason indeed but I’d be sorely grieved to hear of your untimely passing lest I am to add your name to the Roll of The Lost at Chapel, sir.”

Beck looked again at the drop into the sea, “Of course, sorry, yes. I’ll be more careful, Captain.”

“See that you do sir, the people here about need you whole and in once piece. One of my crew, an Oriental convert of good standing, told me how much you have done for his family and how grateful his people are, you should be proud Doctor, you should be very proud indeed.”

Beck had no words, nothing to offer the man back so he just nodded slightly and started towards where Sister Jones waited for him with the body dredged from the ocean.

“I shouldn’t worry too much about that body Doctor,” Williams said. Beck stopped and looked back at the Captain. “From what I hear the departed was one of the Tong’s thugs, a nasty piece of work by the name of Chang. It seems that the escalation in hostilities has claimed another victim, although I doubt many will mourn this one. Still, it will only serve to anger the Tong and that is never good for the poor, honest folks around here is it?”

Chang. The name rang like a bell in Beck’s mind and he found his fingers moving to his eye involuntarily. How long ago was it? A month? Six weeks? Something else the old seaman said caught Beck’s attention, “Escalation? You mean between the gangs?”

“Indeed I do sir, indeed I do. These past few weeks have seen an out-break of violence the likes of which, well suffice to say that in my sixty years I have never seen before. Warehouses razed to the ground, explosions felling buildings, murders in the streets, shipping and trade threatened and robbed on every side! The law seems powerless to intervene even as outsiders come in and commit the most heinous crimes imaginable at will. Is it any wonder the folks around here are turning to vigilantism? Why, I shouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t this Fox Battalion that took the law in to their own hands with this heathen brute.”

“I’m sorry, the fox who?” Beck’s mind was spinning with all the new information but he felt better for it, he was feeling grounded for the first time in two days. Here was something he could understand, here was something he could do somethings about. No monsters, no ghosts of the mind, battles between light and dark, just people, people being people.

Williams lifted his hand and pointed to a poster stuck to the side of a tall mooring pole, “The Fox Battalion. I can’t say I approve of their message or intent for as the Good Book says…”

Beck didn’t listen to the bible lesson, instead his attention switched to the bill and its very direct message conveyed in one short paragraph written in, of all things, Latin:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Greetings,

We, the repressed and downtrodden members of society call on the name of justice to take up arms to fight back by any means, against the scum and terror who would defile and cause depravity by selling opium and illicit goods, take our families in the dead of night to be sold on the slave markets, bring thugs into our cities to threaten, steal, and kill for their selfish goals. And what is the Military doing about this, The US Navy and coast guard has it’s hands tied, the English Navy is spread too thin, the US Military and Canadian Mounties are too busy with their own agendas, even the Steelhead Militia force cannot act! That is where we come in, and that is where we ask you, the lawful and honest Individual who wishes to see justice done, come to us, and seek us out if you are interested in joining our cause. Let me be clear, if you are some miscreant, lawless, or have your own agenda, do not bother to apply, for we want loyal, just, honest, law abiding, hard working, and hard fighting individuals, of any sex, species, or race. Break the binds of fear the criminals would shackle us with, and fight for your rights of freedom and justice! Contact Me by leaving a message at the predetermined location if you are interested.

Lt. H
Fox Battalion
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Well… things certainly had become more complicated since he’d left for Babbage six weeks ago…

****{}****

To be continued…
All the “Gang War” posts can be read on my blog here and over on the Steelhead Ning here.

*****{*}*****

Links to other blogs and stories:
1) Chang was first encountered in Dr Beck’s surgery here.
2) The Fox Batallion’s notice was posted to the Ning here.

Mutations – Chapter 14: A Morning Caller

Sister Ascenza Kathleen Rose-of-Lima Jones was still a novice in Steelhead’s famous SWAT nuns and as such always drew the short straw when it came to visiting the slums to call on the services of Dr Beck. It wasn’t that she felt in danger in the slums, after all she was a SWAT nun and perfectly capable of protecting herself as well as meting out some divine justice to any miscreants that crossed her path. No, it was more the doctor himself who made her uneasy. Something in the way he looked at her seemed awfully un-doctorly and the way it made her feel was very, very un-nun-like. Ever since the murders in Port Harbour and Boomtown months before she had kept away and said extra rosaries whenever his blue eyes and chiseled cheek-bones popped into her thoughts, not to mention his… no! She shook her head in annoyance and silently began a round of three Ave Marias until she was sure all un-worthy thoughts of him were driven from her mind. She strode on through the docks and towards the surgery.

The taste of salt from the waves crashing against the harbour was sharp in the air as she reached the half-decaying pile where the doctor held his free surgeries for the poor immigrants & sailors who called this squalid and libidinous place their home. The smell of fish mixed with the smoke from the blacksmiths and the odour of death from the butchers, yet behind it all lurked the scent of human filth and waste. When, she wondered, were the Town council going to get some running water and sanitation out here to these poor people? She put such un-godly thoughts of local politics aside and concentrated on her reason for visiting the oddly handsome (she paused for two Lord’s prayers) Dr Beck. A short rap on the door brought no reply. Another, longer and louder, was no more successful. Nervously she pulled at the door and it opened easily, obviously unlocked. She peered into the gloom and quietly called out “Dr Beck? Dr Beck? Are you in?” She received no reply save a slow drip from a water faucet somewhere in the room.

Except… except there was no running water in the slums.

Sister Ascenza gasped out loud as she saw the source of the slow, rhythmic dripping sound. A large patch of what looked very much like blood had soaked through the ceiling and was dripping to a glistening pool on the surgery floor. There was, to the best of her knowledge, only one room above and it belonged to Dr Beck…

She ran up the rickety wooden steps to the rotting balcony outside his door and peered through the grimy window into his small room. At first she couldn’t see him, just small knots of his belongings; a small folding table with books and plates gathered around a microscope, a wash basin covered in red-stained cloths, a small un-made bed (she ran through a quick Memorare), before she found him. At the foot of a battered armchair facing away from her and towards a glowing fire, the floor glistened wetly and she felt her heart skip a beat as she saw, draped over the side of the chair, the unmistakable shape of a man’s arm.

Fearing the worst and not knowing what else to do she began to rap hard on the window. With a jolt the figure in the chair shot up and spun round. Sister Ascenza let out a small scream of surprise and jumped backwards, tripping over a bucket of fish that had been left standing by the door. She crashed to the balcony in a pool of icy water and flailing limbs just as the door opened and the horrified face of Dr Beck leant out to stare down at her. “Sister…?” he said, his croaky voice questioning.

She looked up at him, her cheeks glowing red, “Dr. I’m sorry… I thought…” she began to struggle to her feet and he reached down to help her. Mortified by her predicament she took his hand quickly and let him pull her up, as he did do she couldn’t help notice the edges of his white shirt cuffs stained a deep red.

“Good lord, you are soaking!” he exclaimed , “Come in! I’ll stoke the fire.”

“No, no I’m fine, she said, trying to regain some modicum of composure.

“Nonsense, you’ll catch your death out there like that, come in!” he moved into the room and went to stoke the fire, but as he reached the armchair he looked at the pool of liquid at its feet and paused. “I, er… I fell asleep in the chair I’m afraid. Knocked over a bottle of wine. Not the best I’ve tasted, but still… damn shame. Sorry, not damn. I didn’t mean damn,” he was flustered, looking around for a towel which he dropped on to the liquid before pulling the chair to cover it. “Come and dry yourself.”

With a slight hesitation, Sister Ascenza walked over to the fire as Dr Beck threw some kindling on, “Please, don’t go to any trouble for me, it’s just the edge of my habit, really it’s not as bad as it seems”

“Nonsense,” he said, “I can’t have one of Steelhead’s nuns falling ill can I? Now, what brings you out here to see me?” He smiled at her but to her he just looked tired. Tired and something else she couldn’t quite put her finger on.

“It’s a body. There’s a body in the docks.”

**{}**

A few minutes later, as Sister Ascenza Kathleen Rose-of-Lima Jones hurried off towards the docks on her own, Amarantis Belfire swung down from her vantage point on Beck’s roof to the balcony where she pushed open the door and walked in. Beck was scrabbling about about trying to tidy himself and find clean clothes, but he paused to look around at her, “I have to go,” he said, “I can’t stay, there’s a body and they need me there.”

“I know. I heard,” Amarantis, “but it’s a mistake. What we did…”

“WHAT YOU DID!” Beck shouted back. He looked shocked at his own outburst and fought to control his voice, “What you did, not me,” he said sharply, “Don’t tar me with that brush.”

Her alien eyes bored into him, “Yes, well what I did,” she said slowly, “means we have no way of knowing what… side-effects there might be.”

Beck, wearing a clean shirt and with his face washed clean, pulled on his great coat, “Well it’s too bloody late for that now, isn’t it?” he hissed as he pushed past her and strode out into the slums.

****{}****

To be continued…

All my “Mutations” posts can be read on my blog here
All the “Gang War” posts can be read on my blog here and over on the Steelhead Ning here.

*****{*}*****

Links to other blogs and stories:
1) This tale follows on from the end of “Steal Head” here & Amarantis’ post here.

Gang Wars: Jonny O Comes To Town

Meili closed the door of the empty house behind her for what she knew would be the last time. Her entire family were gone now, first Li Fe then Chi Yun, Xao and now dear Xan. Only she remained, alone after even the doctor had spurned her, turned her away, thrown her out. She found herself with nothing and no one. no one except her employer. She had feared her plea for help would go unheeded, maybe even drawing punishment down upon her , after all had it not been her brother Xao who had tried to kill the Lady (and if Meile hadn’t have been in the retinue that morning, he probably would have succeeded)? But in the end her fears were unfounded; the Dragon Lady had been kind, had held her hand and spoken softly as Meili wept for her lost family, had granted her a small room in the hotel. As Meili left to gather the last of her things from her old house in Shamian’s slums, the Lady had looked strangely at her and said “Do not weep too deeply my child. Time, though ever hungry, is not as powerful as it thinks.” When Meili had begged forgiveness for not understanding these words, the Lady merely smiled sweetly and said “Hurry back, my dear there’s a storm coming and I would hate to see you caught up in it.”

And so Meili, the few possessions she owned packed into two cotton bags, closed the door on her old life once and for all and set off to cross the squalor of Shanghai’s slums for what she hoped would be the last time. She looked up at the only shard of sky she could make out between the crowded roof-lines that ran through the slums like a jagged tear; twilight was creeping in (night always seem to come to the slums faster than the rest of Shanghai and it never seemed too quick to leave come morning) but there was no sign of a storm, the Lady must have been mista…

“Hello pretty one,” the man’s voice stopped her thoughts dead and she looked sharply around to see who it belonged to. In the gloom of a doorway a cigarette crackled and its glowing tip lit up the face of a young Chinese man, handsome she thought, but dangerous. The cigarette dimmed and his face vanished back into the shadows, only the red tattoo of a dragon that crawled across he cheek seemed to remain glowing in the darkness.

“I… You… you startled me, sir,” Meili said trying to sound braver than she felt. Her eyes never left the shadows he inhabited, but her mind raced as she calculated all the possible exits and escape points from the alleyway.

The man smiled, his teeth a white flash in the approaching night, “Who? Little old me?” his Mandarin was strange she noted, perfect in some ways but she found it hard to place, as though he belonged to no where in particular. He stepped out of the shadows into the sliver of light. He was dressed like an American, she noticed, like one of the gamblers who drank in the bar above her Lady’s den. The tattoo on his cheek was exquisite but largely hidden by the long hair that hung loose, rather than in a braid she thought, from under a strange hat. He took another draw on his cigarette as he walked in a slow arc in front of her, his movements as graceful as a dancer, before tossing it into the mud and flashing her another wide smile, his eyes (blue she fancied but couldn’t be sure) twinkling mischievously.

“What… what do you want?” she asked, backing away slowly.

“Me? I only want the best things in life. Smiling children, peace between brothers, wonderful food,” he turned, taking his arc back the way he’d come rather than carrying on to circle her, all the while staying in her field of view, “and, of course, a beautiful woman to share it all with. Isn’t that what all men want, princess?”

Her mind flashed back to the previous morning, how he had all but thrown her out of his home, his life. “No,” she said, “not all men. Now if you excuse me sir…”

“Oh don’t leave!” he span on his heel, turning round and round on the spot three times before he stopped with a flourish and held out a single red rose. Meili looked at the dead flower with horror and the stranger’s smile faltered a little before suddenly snapping back, “Ahh, how foolish of me,” he threw the rose up into the air and grabbed at it and held out not a rose but a beautiful silk belt embroidered with red roses, “I’m sure these blooms are more to your taste, no?”

“Who are you to offer me such an impudent gift!” Meili demanded, her cheeks flushing hot.

“Just a passing fool captivated by the beauty of a goddess amongst mortals,” the stranger replied with a wolfish grin as he bowed low in the manner of a European. Meili took her chance and bolted down a narrow gap between ramshackle houses. “Beautiful lady!” laughed the stranger mockingly, “was it something I said?” She turned this way and that, between houses and down alleys, always heading towards the bridge that crossed to her Lady’s territory, but always sticking to the most indirect route she could think of until, with a start, she tumbled out into a wide alley near the warehouses at the water’s edge. From here she would be able to walk the around the edge of Shamian and to the bridge without having to pass the Bing Kong cannery. Of the stranger there was no sign, indeed there was no sound save that of her own laboured breathing. She took a moment to gather herself and check her two bags before setting off around the rear of the nearest warehouse.

The hands that grabbed her were large and strong. She tried to scream but a rough paw covered her mouth and she was pulled into the darkness of the warehouse. Inside she saw two shocked workers staring at her, “You two,” the voice behind her was cruel and, she recognised, belonged to Chang the ruthless Bing Kong enforcer, “get out and stay out if you want to live. My business is with this whore.” Her eyes were wide, imploring them to help but they lowered their gazes and ran away leaving her alone with the monster. He span her around, his hands gripping her shoulders, fingers digging into her slender arms as though he were trying to crush them, “You made a bad choice working for that bitch across the water. The boss don’t like his people working for his enemies. He don’t like traitors. Traitors like that stupid peasant brother of yours. Traitors like you.”

Meili was too scared to reply, to fight back. She looked up at the big, cruel face of Chang and felt tears of despair welling up. Chang smiled a broad, nasty smile and let his eyes play over his captive. “Boss wants you dead alright, but he never said I couldn’t have some fun first… this is my lucky day,” he sneered.

“I can see what you’d think that,” a man’s voice, playful and mocking, echoed from somewhere inside the dark warehouse. Meili’s eyes widened as Chang spun to look for its owner, “Who’s there?” he shouted “I told you two to piss off. This is Tong business. You better leave now, eh. Before you get hurt, eh.”

“No, no, really. Honestly I can see how you’d think that,” the mocking voice continued, dancing around and impossible for Meili to locate, “I can see how you would look back at the dishonourable stain you call your life and, finding yourself faced with this beautiful princess here, think ‘This is my lucky day’ but do you know what Chang?”

Chang, scanning the room for any movement, had released his grip on Meili to reach into his belt and with a sudden thrust flung Meili backwards and swung a huge curved knife around, stabbing at shadows. Meili hit a stack of crates and fell to the ground where boxes of folded cloth and canvas toppled on top of her. From beneath the pile she pulled at the material until she could see what was happening and saw Chang slicing wildly around. A subtle movement caught her eyes and she watched with mute fear as the owner of the mysterious voice silently appeared out of the shadows behind Chang, it was the stranger from the alleyway! With the stealth and grace of a cat, he moved up behind the Tong killer and hissed in his ear “The truth is Chang, it’s mine.”

Chang span round but the stranger moved and swerved, ducking under his high swipe, spinning on his heel and dancing around. Chang swung again but this time the stranger did not move and instead caught his arm and stopped it dead. There was a brief moment when both men were still and Meili, holding her breath in the quiet of the struggle, found herself willing on the stranger with all her might. Chang grunted once then screamed briefly as, with a sickening crunch the stranger bent his arm backwards and snapped the bones as if they were twigs. Chang staggered back but the stranger stayed with him and, with a deft twist, brought the ruined arm around with the speed of a mountain lion and buried the long knife hilt deep into the big man’s chest.

For a second or two Chang hung motionless as the stranger smiled his wide, white smile, his dragon tattoo almost burning like fire etched into his cheek. Meili didn’t dare move, didn’t dare make a sound. As the tong killer slipped to the floor, the stranger checked the fall, slowing it so he could more easily bend down close to the dying man’s face where he growled “Look at me Chang, you bastard. Look at my face. I know that tall freak will see this so look at me. I want him see me. I want him to tell your boss. Tell him freak. Tell him Jonny O’s in town. Tell him Jonny O’s coming for him. Jonny O’s coming for you all.”

And then he let go and, as though melting back into the darkness, he was gone. Long seconds stretched out before Meili dared move again and began to dig herself from under the pile of cloth and wood. When she was free she circled around the body of Chang, a dark pool of blood slowly seeping and spreading around him, the knife jammed into his ribcage like some strange growth, until he was no longer between her and the door. When she was clear she bolted, running outside into the dark alleyway, her heart pounding, her mind racing.

“Your bags, princess,” the stranger stood against the far wall holding her two bags out and smiling his wide, wicked smile.

She stood still, fear in her eyes, “Who… who are you? What do you want with me?”

The stranger didn’t move, just stood there holding her bags, “You asked me that before princess; children, peace, food and a beautiful woman to share it all with, remember?” he grinned, “As for who I am? Well you know that too now, but allow me to introduce myself. Jonny O at your service.” Again he bowed as though mocking the formal style of a European.

“Chang…” she said, glancing back at the door.

“Dead. And the world will sleep safer and happier tonight, don’t you agree?” He walked towards her slowly, confident but not, she thought, threateningly, and held out her bags. She took them mutely as he smiled and walked on by, back into the slums whistling a silly tune as he went. She stood, waiting for her breathing and heart to slow before she set off once more for the safety of her Lady’s domain.

“By the way,” she froze on the spot, he was as close to her as he had been to Chang when he killed him and she could feel his hot breath of her neck, “you have a nasty cut on your head. I’d say you should see a doctor, but given the fool we have maybe not, mmm?”

And then he was gone, his whistling echoing through the alleyways as she ran all the way to the hotel as though all the demons of the mountains were pursuing at her heels. A peel of thunder cracked through the night as dark clouds rolled in and started to pour big, heavy rain drops on the city below…

****{}****

To be continued…
All the “Gang War” posts can be read on my blog here and over on the Steelhead Ning here.

*****{*}*****

Links to other blogs and stories:
1) Chang was first encountered in Dr Beck’s surgery here.

Gang Wars: A Meeting Of Gentlemen…

In the cannery the rhythmic clattering of cans rushing along to the hissing, breathing steam-cooker drowned out any hope of conversation between the gutters and packers who toiled away day and night to feed the world’s seemingly insatiable desire for Steelhead’s finest tinned salmon, yet even had the machines stood silent there would be no chatter between the workers less the three Tong thugs who were striding through the factory heard and meted out one of their feared beatings.

Normally the three brutes would have taken great pleasure in watching the workers shrink back from their approach in evident fear, but today they had other things on their mind. Today they had been called to see the boss and if the boss was here so were They; his generals.. As they approached the door to the meeting room Chang looked at Shayu and they booth looked at Fan, their unspoken leader. He looked nervous and that made them doubly so. Fan raised his hand to the door but the unmistakable voice of the boss said “Enter” before he had chance to knock, an unnerving trick at the best of times but even more so considering the boss was said to be stone deaf. Fan swallowed hard, beads of sweat forming down his spine as he pushed open the door and walked in.

The dark, smoky room wasn’t large, not really. Nor was it grand. The boss hated the small of fish so didn’t spend much time here, leaving the running of the crews to his two most trusted men, his generals; The Voice and Han Hong, the Korean Swan. These two most feared men stood either side of the boss who remained seated behind the simple table reading a slip of paper. Moments stretched out into forever as the three summoned enforcers nervously tried not to shift uncomfortably or in any way draw attention to themselves. Eventually the boss looked up and gazed at them with a look so inscrutable all three men felt their skin grow cold. “Report,” he said simply “What is happening outside in the harbour?”

Chang and Shayu glanced quickly at one another as Fan swallowed and started, “The demon seems to be dead, boss. The airship piloted by the robot sent troops into its lair, into the Dragon’s old railway car we blew up. The fight took the car into the harbour but the demon seems dead. I think the patrols will stop soon.”

“Hmmm, yes… the patrols. Despite their presence everywhere of late, the Dragon still manages to strike at our operations whilst our attacks go awry, is that not so?”

Fan’s eyes darted between the two generals behind the boss before returning to the old man himself, “Boss?”

The boss put the papers down and looked Fan directly in the face, “Let me put it this way. We have lost two warehouses, the ships no longer dock here and the merchants are beginning to think we are a toothless snake. Meanwhile the Dragon Lady suffers no such losses. Her dens are full, her clients many, her purse rattling. You were charged with killing her and look what that brought us, a head stealing-demon and so many Jager patrols we can’t even piss in the gutter without three green-skinned dogs watching us.”

Fan could feel the blood draining from his face.

“Now, before I ask The Voice to give you a very special message, I would like to hear what exactly went wrong with the bomb and what has been going wrong since. You have two minutes exactly and if I do not like what I hear by minute three you will be laying on the gutting tables happily ordering those peasants out there to skin you alive, do I make myself clear?”

Had the man stood in front of the boss been Chang there would be no doubt that the cannery boning knives would have been busy before the two minutes were up. Even Shayu, who was many times smarter than Chang, would have struggled to keep his composure. But the man in front of the boss was not Chang or Shayu but Fan and Fan may have been many things but one thing he was not was stupid, “I don’t think it’s a spy, boss. I’ve thought a lot about it but it doesn’t fit. The Dragon didn’t know about the bomb, she wasn’t warned. Shayu was watching and it was Xan himself who warned her. He shouted out at the last minute and tried to disarm the bomb. It seems he had a family member with the Dragon, working for her, and he moved to save her.”

“And the warehouses? The shipping?”

“That’s different boss. There’s someone new in town. No one knows who, but I think the Dragon has hired someone. She is keeping her distance yet attacking at the same time. I’ve been asking boss, Chang’s been banging heads, we’ve tried everyone but no one knows anything. And it’s not that they are scared boss, they just don’t know.”

“What about the steamer and the log? An accident?”

“No boss. No accident that’s for sure. I went up river to the burnt cowboy’s lumber yard and saw the chains for myself. They were cut with bolt cutters.”

“Does he have anything to do with it? Was he involved? Paid to look the other way maybe?”

“It’s possible but I’ll need to speak to him to be sure.”

The boss looked at him through the smoke, narrow eyes and unreadable face glowering out of the gloom. Fan’s heart was pumping like piston. Everything came down to this moment. If the boss believed him he’d live, if not… well not even running would help, not now, not with Han and The Voice here.

“Well done Fan,” the boss said. Fan felt the relief swell inside him but daren’t for one second let it show. “You’ve confirmed what we know and suspect. The Dragon bitch has hired some foreign scum to do her dirty work. I want you to go and find out who they are and I want you to introduce them to my generals, do I make myself clear?”

“Yes boss,” Fan had no idea the hell how he’d achieve this. They’d lent on everyone, broken bones, cut off fingers. No one knew anything.

“Someone knows, mark my words. You just haven’t found them yet,” the boss said. Fan’s eyes widened in fear – could the old bas… the boss read his thoughts?

“Have Chang here find that peasant’s relative, the one who works for the Dragon. Have Chang show these people what happens when they side with the Dragon. And Shayu, have him visit the logger and find out what he knows.”

“And if he knows nothing, boss?”

The old man smiled, a thin cruel smile like a razor slicing through old leather, “Logging is a dangerous business don’t you think, accidents happen all the time. You have your orders. Report back in two days. Go.”

Fan nodded, quickly eyed the generals and spun on his heel to leave, “And Fan,” the boss said behind him, “If you disappoint me I shall have you climb into the steam cooker and boil yourself alive, do you understand?”

“Yes boss.”

Fan, Chang ans Shayu made their way out of the cannery as quickly as they could and with only a knowing look shared between them they set off on their errands aware of just how much was at stake should they fail.

****{}****

To be continued…
All the “Gang Wars” posts can be read on my blog here and over on the Steelhead Ning here.

*****{*}*****

Links to other blogs and stories:
1) All my “Steal Head” posts can be read on my blog here and on the Steelhead Ning here.
2) All my “Mutations” posts can be read here.

Mutations: Chapter 13 – Stolen From Time

Fire! Fire raging! Fire leaping and running and burning and screaming the scream of Time being pulled being torn being denied.

Screaming and screaming and screaming and screaming and screaming as the fire raged and roared.

Pain beyond and throughout and forever as Time screamed and fire raged.

And then

it

stopped.

****{}****

To be continued…

Links to other blogs and stories:
1) All my “Mutations” posts can be read here.

Come visit Steal Head’s Lair (before I delete it!)

Hi all – I don’t know how many of you managed to see the Lair I set up in Gia’s fallen rail car, but as I’ll be deleting the content in a week or so I thought you might like to visit – maybe even post your pictures over on the Ning in my “I’ve Seen Steal Head’s Lair!” thread?

Anyhoo, here’s the SLURL (http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Steelhead%20Shanghai/163/86/28) so get your Sunday best on, polish off your box brownie and head on over to Shangahi – watch out for all the gory heads when you swim through the submerged entrance!

Ya Yiwamas Lair_002

p.s. A HUGE thanks to Gia for allowing it to stay this long and for her kind help ‘destroying’ her gorgeous rail car just for the storyline.
p.p.s. You can read the whole Stead Head Tale here, Mutations here & Gang Wars here.