Dragon Lands Hotel

Gang Wars: Kidnapped

The knock roused Beck away from the cold meal he’d been pushing around the plate for the last fifteen minutes. For a moment he wondered who it could be, the snow storm blowing in over the hills from from St Helens had driven everyone inside seeking warmth, but he supposed it was a patient looking for him to make a house call. With a sigh he dropped his fork into the congealed gravy and went to open the door.

Meili stood, her jet black hair speckled with fat snowflakes, staring at him mutely with wide, tear-streaked eyes. He barely knew what to think, what to say. After everything they had said to each other, after everything he had done, he thought he had lost her forever. “Meili,” his voice sounded small and breathless, “you came…”

The fist came from behind her and caught him full in the face. His world went black and he fell backwards into an abyss that had no bottom.

***{}***

Fan had to work hard not to grin from ear to ear as he pulled the burlap-covered handcart through the open cannery doors. Workers looked up nervously as startled the Tong guards, young arrogant men left behind as the older gang members prepared for evening’s attack on the Dragon Lady, sprang to attention and ran to grab him, He shrugged them off angrily “Get your hands off me,” he hissed. To a man they backed away half a step, unsure of what to do – being told to take down Fan was one thing, actually taking down one of the most dangerous soldiers in the Tong was another. Fan sniffed haughtily, smoothing his clothes for effect, “It would be wise for you all to treat me with more respect that that,” he said to them.

One spat on the floor at his feet, “Huh, why? The boss has put the word out on you Fan. He has a message waiting for you, I hear,” a ripple of laughter ran through the men.

Fan stared back at the youth who had dared speak to him is such a manner, committing his face to memory; if his plan went well he’d need someone to make an example of to re-establish his authority and he would do nicely. “I think the boss will change his mind once he sees what I’ve brought him,” Fan said calmly. All eyes turned to the cart as, with a cruel smile, Fan pulled back the burlap to reveal a terrified Chinese woman laying bound and gagged next to an unconscious white man, “Tell the boss I’ve brought him a gift…”

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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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.

***{}***

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.

Gang Wars: Visiting Meili

The bike ride through the dark, quiet city was a sobering affair. After the storm of the previous night, the air had turned cold and the edge of a bitter wind knifed through the streets and alleys. Even the old statues look perished, thought Beck as he left the Town Hall and headed back to Shanghai. He had the curious feeling of being watched and turned back to see the young novice who had called upon him that morning staring back from one of the cells. She was a strange one, he thought, so quiet and shy it hardly seemed possible she was being trained as one of the Perpetual Vigilance’s most deadly weapons. Still, young women in these parts were hardy and knew their own minds and he was sure that under the stewardship of that old battle-axe, the Mother Superior, she’d flourish. As he passed out of sight of the Town Hall and headed east across the city gardens and towards Shanghai’s western-most windmill gate, his attention shifted to another young woman, one he’d said some harsh things to, things he didn’t mean, things he had to try and make right. He had to see Meili at the hotel.

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“Ahh, Dr Beck,” the usual oily welcome from the host set Beck’s teeth on edge but he just grunted and pushed on past both him and the hired muscle behind him. Straining his eyes through the thick smoke until he saw her bending by the cots, tending to the pipes of the dreaming customers. He wove his way through the room and reached out through the opium haze to touch her shoulder gently. She turned with a smile that fell from her face as she saw him, “Doctor…” she started.

“Meili,” he replied, searching her face for some sign of welcome and finding none “I… That is…”

“Why have you come here?” her voice was low and she busied around him as if her were her customer.

“Meili. What I said… I want to explain,” he was whispering too, the bruiser by the door was watching them, looking for the first sign of trouble, “Please, can we go somewhere? I need to talk to you, I need to explain.”

Meili glanced at the doorman and gave him a barely perceptible shake of her head. He instantly relaxed and stepped back slightly, although his eyes remained on Beck, “You made it clear what you thought,” she replied, a cold, hurt edge to her voice, “What is there to explain?”

“Please… I wasn’t myself… if you would just grant me a few moments to explain,” he tried hard not to plead, “Is… is there somewhere we could talk?”

She looked up at him, her brilliant emerald eyes searching his face, “Follow me,” she sighed and led him through the deep red silk curtains behind the cots to the deeper, more private places hidden below the hotel. The sickly odour of opium smoke mingled with other less exotic yet infinitely more illicit scents – rich perfumes curled around him, sweet flowers of sweat bloomed from doorways full of shadows and sighs. This was the arena of angels, the temple in which they visited their gifts upon mortal men. Despite himself, he found his heart racing as she led him to a small, private room and shut the door behind him. Again she fixed him with her green eyes, “I can not be long,” she said cooly.

“Meili, please,” he said, “when you came to me, when we met, I mean to say after I was… rescued I wasn’t in my right mind and I said things I shouldn’t have…”

“You threw me out!” she hissed, “you told me you never wanted to see me again, you told me I was cursed!”

Tears welled in her eyes and the shame of his words stung him. “But what I said, I meant to protect you…”

“Protect me?” she repeated, her voice dripping with incredulity, “Protect me from what?”

He looked her, memories of his wife’s snarling face burned brightly in his mind, an arctic wind bit at his skin and images of lost children, his own and poor little Li Fe, danced behind his eyes. He didn’t want to give voice to the truth of his failings, his sins, but he needed her to understand, “Please… I have no excuses…”

“Protect me from what,” she asked again, her anger raw and brittle.

“I was out of my mind. The creature, it did something…”

“Protect me from what!” she snapped.

He looked into her perfect green eyes, tears rolling from them down her cheeks, and knew he was lost. He’d said both too much and not enough. How could he tell her now? How could he tell her what he’d done to his family, how he’d let down every member of hers? He was right, she was cursed, cursed to have ever met him. He turned and opened the door before looking back at Meili, “From me,” he said simply and walked out.

The night was cold but he didn’t feel it, after all he’d been to far colder places than this. His lungs itched and gnawed away inside him, his mind twisted and turned, nagging and pleading with him.. He needed to loose himself in the smoke and as the hotel was no longer an option he headed into the slums.

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Even at this late hour eyes watched him from the darkness. Not just him of course, these eyes, small eager eyes, watched all that happened in Shanghai day and night, but because these eyes were set in the grubby little faces of the street children, no one paid them any attention. Scamps were invisible to all but a few and although on any other day Beck would have noticed them, his opium-hunger blinded him to all but his path through the filthy back streets of Shamian and towards the seedy dens hidden in the deepest, darkest parts of the slums.

The eyes also saw another figure walking through the dark streets, this time heading out of Shanghai and towards the tunnel to St Helens. The eyes had much to report back to their mistress, the pretty lady who paid them and fed them, the doctor was up to his old tricks and a nasty Tong bully was heading into the forests…

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) Dr Beck hurt Meili in the epilogue to “Steal Head” here.

Mutations: Chapter 10 – The Creeping Darkness…

Beck drew the sheet over what remained of Xan Fe, the explosion that had torn through stone and timber in the sampan lagoon had done far worse to the flesh and bone of Li Fe’s father. Rising Beck felt as if the weight of the fallen rail car was on him; one by one, person by person Li Fe’s family was being torn apart and he was powerless to stop it. He grunted vague agreements to the nun asking for a report for the sheriff, but in reality all he could think about was the poor woman he now had to go and see. How the hell could he tell someone who’d lost everything that the cruel, godless universe had seen fit to take away still more?

Not for the first time today that morning, he found himself replaying the terrible events of his journey through the northern ice-flows that brought him here. The bleak white forever and the two small black stains fading into the distance. As he climbed wearily on to his bicycle and headed off along the wharf towards Shamian, he felt the dark eyes of the hotel above boring into him, seeking out his weaknesses, staring into the emptiness rotting away in his gut and smiling. He hated himself, he wanted to be stronger, to tell himself he wouldn’t give in but he knew he’d be back later, once the dark night had crept over the city and could hide his shame.

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Hours later, in the dead of night and as Beck sank deep into the smoke of the Dragon Lady’s lair, an ancient evil crawled out of the waves and on to the streets of Steelhead city. His heart was blacker than pitch brimming over with the desire to kill…

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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) All my “Steal Head” posts can be read on my blog here and on the Steelhead Ning here.
3) A “Steal Head” Story So Far recap can be found here.

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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.

**{}**

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!
Shanghai Explosion_011

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…
Shanghai Explosion_005

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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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