The Voice

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: “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.”

**{}**

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: 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.

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.”

**{}**

“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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