Inside the seedy den Beck sat in a filthy, flea-ridden cot and drew deeply on the pipe until he fell backwards through the smoke and into the swirling winds of frozen memory. The winds were white (they were always white, they would always be white) but this time there seemed to be a strange, unsettling green tinge to them, an odd note of venom in the air that whipped around him and stung his nose with its queer and acrid odour. Through the blinding snow and above the howling winds he thought he saw and heard someone, someone watching him, moving around him, circling him. Beck turned, trying to see who, or what, was out there. He began backing away but something brushed his shoulder and he spun round, swinging a fist into the storm. Another touch and he span again with a punch. Again and again until he was turning and whirling like a dervish, shadow-boxing nothing but snow and wind, until the very storm seem to be full of ghosts and monsters mocking and laughing at his terror.
Back in the den rough hands pulled him from the cot and dragged his wildly twitching, shouting body to the door, “Get the crazy lofan out of here,” a woman said in Mandarin, “dump him well away, we don’t want any trouble from those damn jade dogs!”. Two male voices, complaining as they man-handled him, dragged his drugged and struggling body out into the squalid alleyways of the slums and towards a dark, shadowy yard behind a butcher’s shop. As the first flakes of snow fell from the storm-laden skies above, they threw his body into a pile of roting offal and off-cuts causing a small army of mice to squeal angrily and skitter away as he continued to twitch and rant in his opium-fulled delirium.
Unseen by all but the rats and mice who stopped their squeals and quickly vanished into the night, blue eyes glinted in the shadows, watching the proceedings with naked hunger and anticipation.
One of the men turned to leave but the other stopped him. “What?” said the first, the second smirked and nodded at the prone shape in the gloom, “Oh man,” moaned the first “you really want to roll him? Look at him, he’s a bum, he’s got nothing.”
“Let’s see,” grinned the second.
The second gave him a dismissive wave, “Go ahead, It’s too damn cold to be out here. I’m going to get back before the old hag docks my wages again,” he said and walked off into the snowy night.
The remaining man, looking down at the crumpled shape led on the shadowed floor, licked his lips and bent towards it, “At least the stupid smoke-head has stopped twitching,” he thought, “this will be an easy few dolla….” A hand shot from the inky black and grabbed his wrist with a grip of steel that shot pain deep into his shoulder as he felt the bones in his hand crack and snap, “You should have left with your friend, friend.” hissed a voice.
The first man was only two alleys away when he heard the screams and he pounded back through the piling snow & ice-cold mire to the butcher’s yard with all the speed he could manage. He found his companion sprawled face down in the filth sobbing and clasping his arm to his chest to protect a broken wrist whose hand jutted out at a sickening angle. Standing over him a young Chinese man dressed like a riverboat gambler and with a scarlet dragon tattooed across his face snarled at them both, “Get your filthy hands off him, do you hear me? He’s mine! You!” he addressed the the first, “take your stupid, thieving friend here and get back to the cesspit you crawled out of before I really loose my temper.” The men, too terrified to react, didn’t move at first “NOW!” the stranger bellowed and they jumped into life, pulling and scrabbling backwards away from him as fast as the snowy ground would let them. “Tell everyone,” the stranger shouted after them, “Tell them all. The Doctor is off limits! The Doctor is mine! The Doctor belongs to Jonny O! TELL THEM ALL!”
As their panicked footfalls vanished into the night, Jonny O smiled cruelly to himself. The Doc was safe, he’d hidden him away from prying eyes somewhere he could sleep the opium off. Well, almost all prying eyes… He pounced into the alleyway that cut away from the butcher’s yard and pulled a bundle of squealing rags from behind a rain barrel. The bundle wriggled and kicked and punched and spat and bit but he didn’t let go, instead he waited until the struggling stopped and two eyes, wide with fear, stared at him from the rags and muck. Jonny turned the scamp this way and that, it was dirty, smelly and crawling with fleas, “What does the fool see in you?” he asked out loud in perfect English.
“Wot?” the child asked back, defiance even in the face of fear.
“Hmm? Nothing you grubby little creature, merely thinking out loud,” Jonny replied.
“Ere? ‘Ow come youse is talkin American now but Chinesey befor’?” the child asked.
“None of your beeswax, boy. Or girl. Lord it’s hard to tell, you could be half-polecat for all I can tell, doesn’t your mistress ever give you lot baths?”
“I ‘aint ‘aving no bloody baff, mister! Not from ‘er or you or any bugger! I ‘ATES baffs!” the scamp was incensed and even raised its fists like a boxer in a sideshow poster.
Jonny laughed, maybe the Doc had a point about these brats after all, “Well, when you see your mistress shortly, tell her I think she should put you all through the flea dip once in a while.”
“Not that I’m sayin’ there is a mistress, right,” the scamp’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “but ‘ow do youse know about the mistress? An’ wot ifen I’m nots seein’ ‘er, eh? ‘Av you fought abouts that?”
Jonny lowered the scamp to the floor, “Oh you’ll see her alright. You’ll want to tell her about me like a good little messenger boy. Girl. Polecat. You’ll want your shiny coin and your sweet treats. And when you see her, make sure you tell her that Jonny O has a date. Remember this. Remember these words. Jonny O has a date with a shark in a tunnel.”
“A shark? I fink you must be tapped in the ‘ead, mister cos that don’t make no sense.” the scamp said.
Jonny laughed, “Oh it will to your mistress, but you make sure to tell her exactly that.”
“O I will, mister, I will,” the scamp stood there for a second as the snow fell silently around them..
“Well child, what are you waiting for?” Jonny asked.
“Well, uh, this!” the scamp aimed a good solid kick at Jonny and caught him on the shin before running off into the night. Jonny hopped up and down swearing loudly in Mandarin and English until he could stand on the throbbing leg again. “So that’s what he sees in the little animals,” he thought to himself as he hobbled off through the alleys of Shamian towards the bridge that would lead him to the St Helen’s tunnel and his date with Shayu…
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) Aoi hears about Shayu and draws up her plans for the Dragon Landshere.