Jonny O

Gang Wars: The Doctor Belongs To Me!

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.

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Links to other blogs and stories:
1) Aoi hears about Shayu and draws up her plans for the Dragon Landshere.

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.