hanging

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 9 – His Master’s Voice

Ho Pings Pawnbrokers in Steelhead Shanghai_001

Ho Ping wanted to run, he really did, but he was far too scared to even try. It wasn’t just the four tong thugs lounging about his shop blocking the exits like jackals waiting for their turn at the corpse, but He was here too. The goons he could cope with, but Him? Ho Ping’s stomach was doing its level best to get out of his body by any means possible and many of his other organs were considering joining it when a slight cough from Him caused his bladder to open.

For a while no one said a word, the silence of the room broken only by the gentle hiss, until the goons broke into peels of cruel laughter and cat-calls.

“Enough!” The word cracked through the air like thunder. The Voice had spoken and all four thugs instantly fell silent and lowered their gaze.

The Voice was a small figure people often mistook for a child. That was until they saw His face. Some said it was a cruel trick of nature, others a curse laid upon Him as a child. Others still said that when he had begun to age past his fifteenth year, he had cut the head of a younger boy and had his own stitched on and that this practice had continued ever since for a very long time indeed. Whatever the truth, the sight of a sixty year old face atop the body of a young boy made people feel somewhat uncomfortable. Not as uncomfortable as finding their lungs falling out of hole where their intestines used to be, which was something The Voice could quite easily arrange .

“Please understand,” The Voice said, “that your actions in this affair have left us with no other course of action” It was a voice of reason. Reason wrapped around a fist made of granite and decorated with brass knuckles and razor blades. “Did you think a Pinkerton wouldn’t be missed? Did you think accelerating our plans for Dr Alter’s pet would go unnoticed?”

“But…” Ho Ping blurted out.

“SILENCE!” roared the dimunative figure and the shopkeeper’s voice died in his throat, his lips sealing tight against his will. He was on the road to death, he knew that now, but if he angered The Voice it might take a while to get there and be a very unpleasant journey. “You have disappointed, Ho Ping,” The Voice growled, “but more than that you have endangered us. For that I bring you what the Tong bring all who disappoint them. I bring you a message.” Ho Ping’s eyes grew wide, terror twisting his face as his small captor walked slowly and deliberately towards him like some hideous giant spider moving in on its prey. He wanted to run, get away from what he knew was coming, away from the horror The Voice would bring. He turned and bolted for the door but one of the young tong foot-soilders blocked his way. For a fraction of a second he contemplated the window, but hands grabbed and held him fast. He was spun back around and forced to his knees. The Voice crept close, his lined face inches away, his dry lips pushing up against Ho Ping’s ear.

He paused.

The room held its breath.

The night stopped.

And then, slowly, deliberately, The Voice whispered His message to Ho Ping.

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To be continued…

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

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Goodunnit: Chapter 8 – Death Calls Twice!

Dr Ryne Beck Gravatar “But not stabbed again?” Fuzz paced the room as I sat in front of his desk watching him. He reminded me of a little wooden figure going in and out of a clock, a really angry little wooden figure with claws and fangs.

“Nope. The hanging killed him for sure and he was beaten up pretty badly before that, but no stab wounds,” I replied. “Sit down Fuzz, you’re making me nervous.”

He waved my request aside and continued his pacing, “And apart from the leaflet about Dr Alter’s businesses, there was nothing to link the two deaths?” The swinging stiff had nothing on him apart from a dog-eared three-fold leaflet extolling the virtues of Dr A’s wares, all of them with innocent sounding descriptions dreamt up by some marketing type to distract from the fact that the “super powerful lighthouse beam alternative to normal bulbs” was actually a death ray capable of sinking several of O’Toole’s Ironclads in one go. The little cartoon logo of Dr Alter herself was mighty cute though…

“Er, I guess not…” I was halfway through a reply before I realised it wasn’t a question.

“But then two deaths in two days is a mighty big coincidence.”

“Well the first guy had only been dead for twelve hours or so, this new one had been hanging at least a week. Different MO, different location, different times.”

“Which could be worse!” Fuzz said running his fingers through his hair. Or fur. I was never quite sure.

“How so?” I asked.

“Two killers instead of one. And if John Doe was killed whilst investigating smugglers then I doubt the general populace is in danger, whereas if we have a different killer on the loose then who knows? It ain’t good doc, that’s for sure.”

I pushed my chair away and got to my feet, “Well if I can do anything Fuzz, you know where I am, but I have to get back to the slums.”

“Hmmm,” he was distracted, “Oh yes, your patients. You get back to them, doc, they’ll be missing you.”

“It’s more than that Fuzz,” I replied.

He looked at me, concern evident on his face, “All ok over there? I know it’s a bit wild…”

“Ha! It’s more than wild Fuzz, as you and the Council know. But it ain’t the tong this time, some Chinese kids came to my place after your nun left this morning, seems there’s a fever spreading.”

“A fever? Is it dangerous? Should I let the Council know?” Fuzz knew as well as I that the slums were a breeding ground for all manner of nasties and it bordered on some of the finest real estate in the city.

“Worried about property prices, Fuzz? We can’t have the great and the good cancelling their balls due to projectile vomiting now, can we?” I shouldn’t have said it but I said it all the same. Sometimes my mouth opens wide enough to take both of my feet in at once and right now I was knee deep in gums.

“Hey! That’s not fair doc and you know it!” Fuzz looked hurt and I felt lower than a worm’s beard.

“Yeah, sorry Fuzz, but well you know what I think about the slums and the council…” I trailed off.

“I know doc, I know. Look, get back there and find out what’s going on. Let me know and if it needs to go to the council I’ll do my best for you, fair enough?” he said with a small smile.

I smiled back “Fair enough,” and began to head for the door leaving the city’s sheriff to solve two grizzly murders in my wake.

“Doc,” Fuzz’s voice stopped me as I grasped the handle, “stay out of the dens, eh?” My shoulders went rigid and I stood stock still for long seconds before I slowly opened the door and left without saying one more goddam lousy word.

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

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Links to other blogs and stories:
1) The murders are discussed at the weekly town hall meeting here.
2) Dr Alter discovers she’s not only in the frame again, but seems to have a publicity department she was previously unaware of here.

Goodunnit: Chapter 7 – In the arms of a Dragon…

Dr Ryne Beck Gravatar “Ahh Doctor, come in come in.” The small Chinese guy at the door was paid not to know me and I shot him a glance to remind him of that fact, “So sorry, Mister Smith.” His wide, thin smile was as genuine as could be expected for a low paid goon in the drugs trade who thought he was worth more than being nice to the smoke-fiends. I’d let the Dragon Lady know, let’s see how he smiled after she’d booted him down to gutting fish in the cannery for a month. His smile twitched cruelly as he opened the door for me and I crossed the threshold between worlds.

I followed the curved path down to where a darkly translucent curtain divided me from my goal ahead. I could feel the tendrils of desire creeping around it, wafting towards me, and all the nuns in Steelhead couldn’t stop me now. I breathed the thick air in deep and pushed through the curtain to a room of cots and smoke and beautiful women.

They pamper you there. They guide you, help you, lose you and leave you.

I was in the smoke. With the Dragon lady. In the curls of her hair. Wrapped in the folds of her dress. I was far gone. I was with them again. Back with my family. Back with my wife.

Goodunnit

**{}**

Through the darkness of impossible dreams hands found me. Strong hands. Cold hands, cold like metal. I was lifted up, borne aloft to fly safe from harm. Somewhere, in the night, someone was sawing a double bass in half. What a strange thing to do.

**{}**

The knock on the door was almost as unwelcome as the bright morning light assaulting my eyes. I stood, naked to the waist and with the face of a dead dog, and wobbled my way to the door. “Sister Sweetcheeks,” I growled at the shocked nun. Someone had replaced my throat with a bag of gravel and every word hurt like a punch in the tonsils, “to what do I owe this very great pleasure?”

The young nun tried to stop her eyes skiing down my chest and failed, she gulped hard and spun around to look out across the harbour, her face even prettier with some colour in it, “Another murder, doctor!”

Another? Once more she provided the slap I needed to wake up. When I had time, I’d like to think about that some more, but right now I had questions looking for answers, “Who? Where? Was it Dr Alter’s squid again?”

“No,” she replied not turning around but sneaking a sideways glance at me, “In the old tunnels, some poor wretch has been found hung! Sheriff Ortega has arranged for the body to be taken to your temporary morgue in the naval offices. He asks if you can get a report to him right away.”

“Does he now? Well tell him I’ll get on it right away, but I’ll be calling in these favours from the city soon enough.”

“Favours?” Sister Sweetcheeks looked round at me, her eyes alive with curiosity. God but they were beautiful eyes.

“You tell him Sis, the city owes Beck some overtime,” I smiled into her eyes, “and I intend to collect that cheque.”

Goodunnit

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

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

Links to other blogs and stories:
1) The murders are discussed at the weekly town hall meeting here.
2) Dr Alter discovers she’s not only in the frame again, but seems to have a publicity department she was previously unaware of here.