Bing Kong Tong

Gang Wars: Tipping Points

“You are sure?” the boss asked in a quiet voice. The sun had only begun to rise on this miserable day and already his generals brought him more bad news.

“Yes, positive,” replied The Voice, fury burning in every syllable.

“And you are sure about our source?”

“Yes. He’s one of the runners, young and stupid but no fool. He says the man, this Jonny O,” he virtually spat the name out, “walked right up to him and told him where to find Shayu.”

“Walked right up to him…” the old man stood by the window and gazed with sightless eyes across the canal to where the Dragon Lady’s hotel sat amid the swirling snow and wind and looked down on Shanghai Boardwalk and the Shamian slums as if mocking the Bing Kong’s lowly status and peasant roots. “Walked right up to him and told him what he’d done…”

It wasn’t a question, but The Voice answered anyway “Yes. And then he laughed. He laughed and swaggered off into the slums.”

The room was silent except for the boss’ quiet, rhythmic breathing and the sound of The Voice squeezing and releasing his small hands into tight fists. Eventually the boss broke the silence, “And Shayu?”

“Han went as soon as the runner told him but the Jager patrol were already there. He’s dead though, Han saw him hanging in front of the tunnel that leads to the forests where that logger lives.”

The boss turned and fixed his milky, un-seeing eyes on pint-sized his right-hand man, “And do we thing he had anything to do with it? I ask as I’d like to know before I have Han burn him alive anyway?”

The Voice sneered cruelly, “I doubt it, that whole area is cut off by this damn storm.”

“So, just this Jonny O then. And what has Fan discovered about him?”

Han looked across at his small colleague and raised an inscrutable eyebrow at him. “Nothing,” The Voice said coolly.

“Nothing?” the boss roared, smashing both fists down onto the table which all but exploded into matchwood at his touch. He flung a chair against the wall and threw a chest of drawers after it. He stood for a while, his chest rising and falling in ragged, angry breaths until he regained his composure, “Are you telling me that still all we know comes from this one man this morning, am I right? No one else has seen this bastard and no one has been able to make the pigs here squeal?”

The Voice nodded.

“And the runner says this Jonny O has a red dragon tattooed on his face?”

Another nod, “Yes.”

The old man, once more calm, turned back to the window and looked up at the hotel, the home of his enemy, the symbol of all that he hated, all that he wanted, and said, “Then if she sends out assassins to kill us one by one, we will send out an army and kill her once and for all.” He turned back to look at his generals, “Tonight. I don’t care how. Do you understand?”

The two generals nodded and turned to leave.

“Voice?” the boss called quietly. The Voice turned round, the boss was staring out of the window again, “Bring me Fan. I wish to discuss his failure in this matter.”

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Only a stupid man would think everything was going well. Only a stupid man would imagine loyalty counted for more than failure to the Tong. Only a stupid man would say that after Chang and Shayu he would not be next. Fan was many things, but stupid was not amongst them. He had heard that the Tong had set their dogs running for him and he’d spent the whole day scuttling from one hiding place to another. Someone would sell him out, someone would give him up. This was his last safe place, beneath the wharves of Shanghai, in the filth and stench. No one would find him here and that gave him time to think.

What he needed was a sign, a gesture that not only demonstrated that his loyalty was beyond question, but that he had not failed the Tong. Jonny O’s head would be good, but Fan had a decidedly realistic view on success of such a venture. No, what Fan needed was something that struck at the heart of the boss, something that would stop the old bastard feeding him to his generals. His life depended on his next move, but what that move was he had no idea. That is, until fate brought him a small water taxi.

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Meili had tried to concentrate all day, but her heart and mind had not been on her work and she made too many mistakes. Yet instead of the Yan, the den’s doorman, shouting at her, she received a visit from her Lady. “Go child,” her Lady had said, “go and see him. But do not hurry back, the storm breaks tonight after all.” She had given Meili some money and even walked her out to a waiting water taxi, “Take her to Shamian Alley,” she had said and smiled the strangest smile as the boat rowed Meili out into the approaching twilight.

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

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1) This post follows on from Aoi’s 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…

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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

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The Yakuza

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Gang Wars

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Useful Links:

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

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Gang Wars: “Lose the body…”

Han Hong looked down at The Voice busily examining the body of Chang and, as ever, said nothing. No one knew if Han Hong was actually mute or simply chose not to talk but no one in the Tong had ever heard him say a word and not even the boss or his colleague, currently sniffing the handle of the knife jutting from Chang’s chest, had heard him utter anything above a small sigh but then even a sigh from a giant can have the desired effect, and Han Hong was by any measure a giant. Standing well over eight and a half feet tall and with a slight stoop forwards, everything about the Korean Goose was huge, from his leering moon face and barrel-chest, to his shovel-hands and massive feet he towered over most people, but next to him the already diminutive figure of The Voice seemed impossibly small.

The Voice, apparently finished with the corpse, looked up at Han and shock his head, “Chang may have been a smart as a boulder, but he was as tough as one too. Whoever did this was good. Strong. Fast. Would you be so good as to take a look and see if our mystery man was kind enough to leave us with a view of his soon to be dead face?” Han nodded slowly, a small solemn motion which gave the impression of a funeral director being asked to close a casket for the final time by a grieving widow, before kneeling next to the body and taking Chang’s head in his hands. His huge thumbs pulled back the corpse’s eyelids and the silent giant began to stare intently into the glassy, dead orbs.

Minutes passed.

Some of the younger Tong members shuffled, bored. The Voice looked up and scowled. To a man they stopped, tightly holding their breath less they incur his wrath and cause him to give them a message.

Minutes passed.

The silence was suddenly broken as Chang’s skull bounced dully off the wooden floor. Han stood up, unfolding his giant frame like some form of complicated origami structure, and looked down at his small companion.

“See him?” The Voice asked. Han nodded once and pulled a sketch book and pencil from his coat pocket. Drawing quickly with a practiced and skillful hand., he sketched out the final thing Chang ever saw – the tattooed man who had killed him. Under the picture he wrote out, word for word, the last words Chang heard. The Voice scanned them slowly. He looked up at Han, fury burning behind his eyes, “We need to see the boss and we need to see him now!” he hissed through gritted teeth. Han nodded slowly and turned to walk out of the warehouse back to the cannery. The Voice paused to take one last look at Chang before following. As he left he barked an order at the young foot soldiers “Lose the body then get the word out – we are looking for someone called Jonny O. I want him. I want him alive. Alive, you hear!” The young thug gulped and nodded quickly as The Voice stalked out into the night.

“What should we do with him?” one asked.

“The pigs?” another answered.

“Not the pigs, man. Too slow. How about the river?” a third said.

“How about the sea?” said the fourth.

They looked at each other and smiled. “I’ll get a boat, you guys get some rope and weights.”

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Later, as dawn broke over Steelhead and the first of the large fishing trawlers set off out of Shanghai’s harbour into the open ocean, a small boy sat watching the lines trailing out behind his fathers skiff. His father had rowed them out as the sun had set and they had spent the whole night moon fishing, although for very little reward as the all but empty baskets testified. Suddenly the bells began to ring, not just one or two, but all of them as all the lines went taut and the boat tipped slightly in the water. The boy looked at his father and the father looked back. Whatever they had snagged it was big…

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

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Links to other blogs and stories:
1) Chang was first encountered in Dr Beck’s surgery here.
2) The Voice was first encountered in the tale “Goodunnit” 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…

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

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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.

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

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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 9 – Trapped…

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.

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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.
Shanghai Explosion_010

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!
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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…
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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…

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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

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Mutations: Chapter 5 – Night Callers

Hard at work into the night_001

Night had long ago set over Shanghai but Dr Beck had hardly noticed, engrossed as he was with the results of his latest tests. He sat at his surgery desk and scribbled hurried notes into his journal…

So busy. The fever is spreading through Shamian’s slums and I can’t stop it. I’ve looked at the slides, I’ve been out to the houses, I’ve done everything I can think of but I’m stumped, and whilst I sit here scratching my stupid head people – good people – are dying. I don’t know what to

Beck’s train of thought was violently derailed as the surgery door burst open, kicked almost of its hinges by a tong thug, “What is the meaning of this?” Beck shouted rising to his feet.

“You doctor, you fix!” the tong ordered with a wild look in his eyes. Behind him a second thug sporting a broken arm dragged a third whose flattened nose poured blood.

Beck hated the tong almost more than the Mechs, they were predators feeding off the misery of their own, condemning decent people to a life of fear and servitude. He didn’t care a jot about his oath, these animals didn’t deserve any help and he’d be dammed if he’d be bullied into giving them any. He stepped up to the thug, looked him straight in the eye and said “I will do no such thing, now get ou…”

The punch to his stomach smashed the breath right out of his body and he doubled over and fell to the ground, his mind spinning with nausea. “You fix bastard! You fix or kill you!”

“No,” Beck wheezed. The kick lifted him off the floor.

“Fix!”

“Nnnn” he managed to say, the pain was blinding. Another kick.

“You fix or we burn!”

“No. No fix, get out!” Beck hissed through gritted teeth.

The tong animal was wild with fury. He kicked over the desk, threw supplies across the room, tore a cabinet off the wall until the one with the broken nose spoke, his voice thick and pained. He spoke in mandarin and whatever he said had an immediate effect on the wild one who calmed down and turned back to the figure curled on the floor, “You fix or we burn family, understand? We burn Chinese.”

Beck looked up at the tong and knew from his eyes that he meant it, “You bastard,” he croaked, he had no choice and he hated it.

“You fix!”

Beck struggled to his feet, “Yes, I fix, I damn well fix,” he said, “and then you get the hell out of my surgery.”

Broken nose made a strange choking sound and it took a while for Beck to realise he was laughing, “You find something funny?” he asked, furious.

“This our town” the bleeding tong said spitting a wad of blood on the floor, “Mean this place ours too. Now fix or Chang start many fire, you understand Doctor Beck.”

It was not a question. Beck nodded sharply once and reached for his leather bag…

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To be continued…
All the “Mutations” posts can be read here.

Links to other blogs and stories:
1) The mysterious callers hail from Darien’s blog here.

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Goodunnit: Chapter 11 – The Dead End

It was the day after the day after and I still felt like I’d done three rounds with moose, I just hoped the creature felt as bad as I did. After I’d left Ho Ping’s I spent the rest of the day recovering from my trip to see the Dragonlady, which was the only polite way I knew of saying I had been out of my mind on opium. Downstairs, the body of Ho Ping had been delivered to my surgery so I could perform my post mortem. I’d set to it in the morning and it had been a predictably gruesome task. It had been a relief to get out on my rounds, until I found half a dozen cases of what looked like something I needed to worry about spreading in amongst the denizens of the slum.

I was checking some samples under the battered old microscope on my table upstairs. It was night outside, the darkness laying across Shamian like an malevolent oil spill. The alleys and streets were cemetery quiet as families huddled together to watch not only over their children but their sick as well. Nothing for these poor sods was easy. Sometimes when I found myself wondering if giving up on God had been the right thing to do, I remembered times like this and realised he’d given up first.

I was busy contemplating the deep philosophical ramifications of punching the Almighty right in the kisser when a sudden knock on the door damn near handed me a chance to meet my maker face to face. I jumped and whirled round with my heart beating like an angry boxer. As I did my sleeve caught the microscope and flipped it on to the floor. I watched in mute horror as the most valuable thing I owned smashed and spilled its guts into a pile of shattered glass and dented metal.

Fuzz opened the door and peered in, “You ok, Doc?” I looked up, fury clear on my face. “Ah,” he said.

“Damn it! Not your fault. I… Oh damn it!”

“Expensive?” Fuzz asked as I stared at the shards of smashed optics and slides.

“No. Yes. No. It’s just… It’s all I had Fuzz. It was my father’s. It’s all I had left.”

“From England? Your England I mean?” Fuzz’s tone was soft, concerned. I’d almost forgotten I’d ever told anyone about my journey but Fuzz knew, as the sheriff he made it his business to know. I nodded . “Maybe it’s not too bad,” he said moving to the table and crouching down “Let me help you pick it up…”

“No!” I shouted and grabbed his hand, “don’t touch it!”

Fuzz pulled back, shocked “Easy doc, I’m only trying to help.”

“No,” my tone softer, “It’s not… I was looking at samples and they may be contagious.”

“Contagious?” he asked, all concerned sheriff again.

“Not sure yet, some of the Chinese workers are ill. I’m investigating. Well,” I looked at the broken microscope on the floor, “I was.”

“Anything I need to worry about?”

“Not sure yet, I needed my microscope to find out.”

“Hmm, ok,” said Fuzz thoughtfully, “I’ll let the Council know, maybe they will be able to help.”

“Really? I’d appreciate it, Fuzz.”

“Well I’m not making any promises, but…”

I smiled at him. “So, scaring me half to death aside, what did you call round for? The post-mortem?”

“Got it in one. What’s the word on old Ho Ping then?”

I reached for two mugs and some tea, “Sit down and I’ll make us a brew. This might take some time.”

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“So you are saying he was murdered, but he did it himself? You’re saying someone persuaded him to cut his own tongue out and slice his ears off, lay them on the floor by the stool he then used to stand on so he could put a noose around his neck?”

“Yes,” I said simply.

“Furthermore you say that when on the stool he gouged his own eyes out before kicking the stool away and hanging himself?”

“That’s what I’m telling you, yes.”

“Doc… That’s… That’s just not possible. No one can be told to do those things to themselves.”

“Well I’ve heard of drugs that can open a man’s mind to suggestion, hypnosis too, but this is extreme I’ll grant you. But…” I left it hanging like Ho Ping himself.

“But?” Fuzz asked, prodding the corpse.

“Well there is The Voice.”

“The voice? I’ve got a feeling I’m going to regret asking this but what is the voice?”

“Ah, not a what, but a who,” I said cryptically. Fuzz gave me a look. “Ok Ok,” I smiled, “truth is no one knows, but the word is he is the Tong’s main enforcer and he can kill by simply telling you to kill yourself.”

“Rubbish!” Fuzz blurted out.

“I’m just telling you what I’ve heard Fuzz,” I said with an exaggerated shrug, “I mean of course it could be so much guff, lies spread by the Tong to add an air of supernatural menace to their reputation, but what if it’s not?”

“Aw c’mon doc, you don’t seriously expect me to put an APB out for ‘some chump who can make you do anything with his voice’? Lunar will think I’ve gone mad and half the women in Steelhead will think it’s a lonely hearts advert!”

I couldn’t help smiling, “Look, I’m only telling you what I’ve heard. Ho Ping killed himself not only in a way no sane person ever would but also in a way that would indicate a punishment and a warning. My guess would be the Tong. The question is, what are you going to do about it, sheriff?”

Fuzz looked at me, his eyes searching mine, “I don’t know yet, doc, I really don’t,” he said eventually, “I can’t get anything to stick. People won’t talk and without evidence, well what do you want me to do? I can’t arrest every Chinese worker in Shanghai to make sure I get the Tong and unless someone comes forward I can’t identify the members. Even if I do get to the thugs on the street, they’re just foot soldiers – the top brass are never implicated. I’m sorry doc, but my hands are tied.”

I knew he was right, he was always right but I didn’t have to like it. I sat back in my worn armchair and drank my tea in silence until Fuzz piped up again, “Look, I’ll set the Sisters on it, OK doc? Maybe they can dig something up.”

I smiled at him, we both knew they wouldn’t but it was better than nothing. Time to move on, talk about something else. I searched for a new topic and failed entirely, “So what’s happening to Ho’s place? I guess the Tong will move someone new in.”

“No,” Fuzz said standing up. He drained the last of the tea and placed the cup on the table, “seems the shop is owned by an out of towner and the word is he’s moving in himself rather than rent out again. Seems Steelhead is to get a new resident doc.”

“Hell of a welcome he’ll be getting, don’t you think?”

“Mmmm, but at least with Ho Ping gone I think we’ve seen the last of these murders.”

“I hope so Fuzz, I would far rather my surgery be a surgery than a morgue,” I said heavily.

“Me too doc.,” He moved to the door, pulling his coat around him,” Now if you’ll excuse me, I want to go see Dr Alter tonight, give her the good news she’s off the hook.”

“Good luck with that,” I smiled.

“Thanks, but she’ll be easy compared to the heat I’ll be getting from the Pinkertons. Anyway, that’s my problem doc.” He opened the door and stared into the night, “Thanks for your help in all this, doc. I’ll speak to the council. I’ll see what I can do, ok?”

“Yeah, good luck with that too,” I said bitterly. Fuzz just looked back sadly for a second before walking out and closing the door behind him. In the silence of my room I stared at the door and wondered why every conversation we had seemed to end this way.

I turned to look at the broken microscope on the floor. How the hell was I going to discover what was wrong in the slums now?

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The End.
All the “Goodunnit? Murder in Steelhead!” posts can be read here.

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Links to other blogs and stories:
1) The murders were originally discussed at one of the weekly town hall meetings and recorded here.

Goodunnit: Chapter 10 – And One More Makes Three

As the sun rose over Polymath Tower, pouring its spiteful light down upon my pounding head, I was calculating whether or not my lungs would make the dash to the pawnshop or simply explode with the effort.

One of my neighbours, Miss Tornado who ran the flophouse at twenty, had found me slumped on her steps and woken me with a message “There’s an angry old nun looking for you, says you’re needed over at Ho Pings.” Angry old nun could only mean the fearsome Mother Supirior, a nun so tough I heard she’d once had a face off with the owl-eating demon from Boomtown and won. I wasn’t sure if it was a contest to see who had the scariest face, but old MS would have won that hands down anyway.

As I ran down the cobbled street, I caught my reflection in a window. Christ and all his angels! My clothes were rumpled to the point of disgrace, my hair and whiskers jutted out at all angles and my face, oh god my face! I looked like a half-starved, half-crazed, half-burst scarecrow running round a field shrieking at birds! And judging by the smell, it was manure spreading time. I hoped to God Sister Sweetchecks didn’t see me like this.

Fuzz was stood with Mother Supierior outside the gawdy pawnbrokers and he gasped in shock as I came to a halt heaving and wheezing, “Gods Alive! Beck you look worse than the stiff!”. Old MS shot him a withering glare, he smiled slightly and added a hasty “well, almost.”

I grunted and self-consciously tried to run my fingers through my matted hair. It didn’t help. “You called?” my voice sounded as if my mouth was made from worn-out carpet, which given the taste it may have been.

“Hmmm not sure I did the right thing…”

“Can it Fuzz,” I snapped, “just tell me what you want.”

The sheriff just glared at me for what felt like an age, his face a mixture of anger and pity that made my skin crawl with shame, “I’m… I’m sorry Fuzz…” I started to say before the wolverine in a wimple cut me dead.

“And so you should be! You sir are a mess. A mess! You come here reeking of that vile smoke and sweat and cheap perfume,” I looked at Fuzz, shocked. He stepped back out of her eyeline and flashed me a slight sardonic smile that said “You’re on your own, pal.”

“I… I…” I stammered.

“I have not finished, Dr Beck,” she said, her tone brooking no discussion on the matter. I shut my trap and held on tight, something told me this was going to be a bumpy ride. “How dare you speak to the sheriff like that! How dare you! He called you into this – against my better judgement I may add,” Fuzz nodded, his smile all Chesire Cat, “and you arrive not only late and resembling something dredged up from the harbour, but with an attitude to match your odour – foul! Well it is not good enough sir! It is simply not good enough! And another thing…” She stopped as Fuzz stepped forward again, all faux gravitas, “I think that’s enough Mother Superior, I think Dr Beck has got the message loud and clear, haven’t you Doc.”

I was stunned. It felt like I’d been drop-kicked by my granny and then made to dress up as her poodle, “I… Well, yes. I’m sorry Sister,” “Mother Superior!” she corrected. “Mother Superior, of course, I’m sorry.”

“Yes, well, see you buck your ideas up, young man. See you buck them right up. Now if you excuse me, I think I need some fresh air!” and she stomped off like a monochrome thundercloud looking for someone to smite with lightning.

I looked at Fuzz, too stunned to speak. Fuzz grinned at me, “What can I say, doc? She’s one tough Mother.”

I nodded sagely, like Canute agreeing with someone lecturing on water’s ability to drown people, “Well, I’m sorry Fuzz, how about I go get straightened out and then come back, huh?”

“Nah, you’re here now, aren’t you? Let me show you the new stiff.”

“Another John Doe or old man Ping?” I asked, wondering what the hell was going on in Steelhead. So many murders could only point one way – the tong.

“Yup, Ho Ping, the questionable owner of this questionable establishment,” Fuzz stared at the model flamingoes by the door and sighed. Ho Ping, a tong fence who always managed to stay just on the right side of the law, ran a pawnshop where he ran a nice sideline in bleeding the poor Chinese workers dry. Like the rot eating away at the foundations of the harbour, Ping was a cancer gnawing away at the people of Shamain. Somehow I doubted they’d miss him much. But who killed him? Ping was deep with the Tong after all. Was this some kind of turf war? I’d not heard about a new gang trying to muscle in, though. Maybe some poor sap in hock to him finally snapped and cashed Ho Ping’s cheque in, but this didn’t seem likely as the repercusions for their family both here and back home would be terrible. There was one other explanation, one that made more sense than rival tongs or rogue borrowers. “Let me see the body,” I said already walking into the shop…

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To be continued…
All the “Goodunnit? Murder in Steelhead!” posts can be read here.

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Links to other blogs and stories:
1) The start of this case was discussed at this weekly town hall meeting here.