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Authors: Victoria Thompson

Murder In Chinatown

BOOK: Murder In Chinatown
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M
URDER IN
C
HINATOWN
Gaslight Mysteries by Victoria Thompson

MURDER ON ASTOR PLACE

MURDER ON ST. MARK’S PLACE

MURDER ON GRAMERCY PARK

MURDER ON WASHINGTON SQUARE

MURDER ON MULBERRY BEND

MURDER ON MARBLE ROW

MURDER ON LENOX HILL

MURDER IN LITTLE ITALY

MURDER IN CHINATOWN

M
URDER IN
C
HINATOWN

A Gaslight Mystery

Victoria Thompson

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
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(a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)
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(a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

Copyright © 2007 by Victoria Thompson.
The Edgar® name is a registered service mark of the Mystery Writers of America, Inc.

All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
The name BERKLEY PRIME CRIME and the BERKLEY PRIME CRIME design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Thompson, Victoria (Victoria E.)
Murder in Chinatown / Victoria Thompson.—1st ed.
p. cm.—(Gaslight mysteries)
ISBN: 9781101406076
1. Brandt, Sarah (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Women detectives—New York (State)—
New York—Fiction. 3. Malloy, Frank (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 4. Police—New York
(State)—New York—Fiction. 5. Midwives—Fiction. 6. Racially mixed children—Fiction. 7.
Chinatown (New York, N.Y.)—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3570.H6442M864 2007
813'.54—dc22
2006052669

To my mother for being my biggest fan!

 

M
URDER IN
C
HINATOWN
1


I
’M NOT IN LABOR, AM
I?” C
ORA
L
EE ASKED.

Midwife Sarah Brandt shook her head. “I’m afraid not.” She’d been sitting in Cora’s comfortable parlor for over an hour, her hand on Cora’s swollen stomach while they waited for the labor pains to come and go. “Real labor pains get stronger and closer together. These are…” Sarah shrugged apologetically.

“I know,” Cora sighed. “They stopped completely. But I was so sure!”

“False labor can feel like the real thing,” Sarah assured her. “Especially when it’s your first baby, and you don’t know what they’re supposed to feel like.”

Cora groaned dramatically and let her head fall back against the well-stuffed sofa. She was a strapping Irish girl whose generous curves had been enhanced by pregnancy. Although she would never be termed pretty, her condition gave her a glow that surpassed beauty. Even her untamed russet curls seemed deliberately disheveled.

“Don’t be too disappointed,” Sarah said. “You aren’t even due for two more weeks yet.”

“Thirteen days,” Cora corrected her. “And you said the baby might come two weeks
early
.”

“What I
actually
said,” Sarah corrected her right back, “is that the due date is just an estimate. The baby could come as much as two weeks earlier or two weeks
later.

Sarah smiled when Cora groaned again. “I can’t last four more weeks. I can hardly get out of a chair as it is!”

“You might try some ginger tea,” Sarah suggested.

“Does that work?” Cora asked hopefully.

“Sometimes,” Sarah said. “And sometimes not. Babies come when they’re ready, and there’s not much we can do to hurry them along.”

“I just want to see him,” Cora complained, lovingly massaging her stomach. “I’ve been waiting so long!”

“I know, it always seems like forever, but believe me, babies are a lot less trouble when they’re inside than they are when they’re outside.”

“I won’t mind!”

“I’ll remind you of that when your baby keeps you awake all night,” Sarah said with a smile. She rose from where she’d been sitting beside Cora and began to gather up her things. She certainly wasn’t needed here, so she might as well be on her way. “Is your husband getting anxious, too?”

“Oh, yes. I think he’s more excited than I am.”

Before Sarah could respond, the door to Cora’s flat burst open, and a girl rushed into the room.

“Auntie Cora, you have to help me!” the girl cried.

“Help you do what?” Cora asked in surprise as the girl practically threw herself at Cora’s feet and clasped her aunt’s knees.

“I won’t marry him! He’s old and ugly, and he doesn’t even speak English!” She gazed up at Cora with pleading eyes.

Sarah stared at her in surprise. She looked far too young to be marrying anyone at all. She still wore her long, raven hair in pigtails, and her clothes were that of a schoolgirl. Sarah guessed her age at not more than fourteen.

“What on earth are you talking about, Angel?” Cora asked, affectionately stroking stray wisps of hair away from the girl’s flushed face.

“Mr. Wong, the one who owns the restaurants,” she said, near tears. “Papa wants me to marry him!”

“Angel,”
a voice chided from the doorway. “I told you not to bother Auntie Cora.”

Sarah looked over and saw a well-dressed woman entering the door that the girl had left hanging open. Like Cora, she was Irish, and older than Cora by at least a decade. Her red hair was starting to fade, but it still betrayed her heritage.

“She’s not bothering me, Minnie,” Cora assured her.

The woman took a few more steps into the room and stopped when she noticed Sarah. Her eyes widened in alarm. “You’re the midwife, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am,” Sarah said.

Her gaze went back to Cora hopefully. “Is it time?”

“No, it’s not,” Cora said, not bothering to hide her disappointment. “I called poor Mrs. Brandt out for nothing. The pains stopped.”

The moment Sarah had spoken, the girl had jumped to her feet, looking chagrined at having behaved so emotionally in front of a stranger. Now Sarah could see her face clearly. Her eyes were only slightly turned up, but like her hair, they were black and shining. In another part of town, Sarah might not have even noticed, but
here
there could be only one explanation for her exotic beauty. Like so many children in this neighborhood, she was half-Chinese.

Minnie, like Cora and many other Irish women, had married a Chinese man.

“Are you sure you’re not in labor?” Minnie asked.

“Very sure,” Cora said. “Aren’t we, Mrs. Brandt?”

“I’m afraid so,” Sarah said.

“Oh, where are my manners?” Cora asked of no one in particular. “Mrs. Brandt, this is my mother-in-law, Minnie Mae Lee, and her daughter, Angel.”

The two women exchanged sly grins, telling Sarah they shared a secret joke.

“Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Lee,” Sarah said.

“Likewise,” Minnie Mae Lee said. “But don’t pay Cora no mind. I’m only her ‘paper’ mother-in-law.”

“Paper?” Sarah echoed.

“Minnie thinks she’s too young to be my mother-in-law,” Cora explained, still grinning.

“I
am
too young,” Minnie insisted good-naturedly. “George is only eight years younger than me!”

“But Georgie son of wifey number one in Chin-ee,” Cora said with a grin, using the sing-song cadence that mimicked a Chinese accent.

“Papa only has one wife,” Angel insisted indignantly. “And she’s my mama!”

“Of course she is, dear,” Cora said. “We’re just teasing poor Mrs. Brandt.”

“And George isn’t really my papa’s son,” Angel informed Sarah.

“Don’t let the immigration people hear you say that,” her mother warned, still teasing.

Angel didn’t seem to realize her mother wasn’t serious. She clapped a hand over her mouth, then lowered it slowly. “Would they send George back to China?” she asked, horrified.

“They could,” Minnie said. Then she noticed Sarah’s confused frown. “Don’t mind us, Mrs. Brandt. You see, George—Cora’s husband—couldn’t get into America because of the Exclusion Act.”

“That’s a law that says nobody from China can come to America,” Angel explained quickly, equally proud that she knew and outraged that such a law existed.

“They passed it back in ’eighty-two,” Cora added.

“How awful,” Sarah said. She had no reason to be familiar with the Chinese immigration laws, but she shouldn’t have been surprised that they were harsh. She knew how much most white people hated the Chinese in New York. It must be the same all over the country.

“The Chinese found a way around it, though,” Minnie said with a trace of pride. “Turns out that if a man who was already here had children back in China, they could come over and join him.”

“So Charlie—that’s Minnie’s husband—he sort of adopted George so he could get in,” Cora explained.

“Oh,” Sarah said, finally understanding. “So George is Charlie’s son
on paper.

“That’s right,” Cora said. “A paper son.”

“Which makes me a paper mother-in-law,” Minnie said with a laugh.

“Lots of people claimed they had children in China when they didn’t, even though it’s against the law,” Angel offered defensively. “It was the only way they could come over. And why would you stay in China if you could come to America?”

A very good question, Sarah thought, and one she couldn’t answer. “I’m sure you’re glad your father came over,” she said diplomatically.

To her surprise, Angel’s lovely face collapsed into tears.

“I’m sorry!” Sarah exclaimed in dismay. “I didn’t mean…”

But no one was paying her any attention.

“I won’t marry him! He’s old and he’s ugly and he doesn’t speak English!” Angel was crying again.

Minnie wrapped her arms around her daughter, who began to sob against her ample bosom. “He speaks perfectly good English,” Minnie said, patting the girl on the back.

“He’s still old!” the girl wailed.

“Now’s not the time to talk about this,” Minnie said meaningfully. “Mrs. Brandt doesn’t care nothing about our troubles.”

“I was just leaving,” Sarah said, not wanting to intrude in a family argument. She turned to Cora. “Don’t be too discouraged. You still might go into labor today.”

“Or in four weeks,” Cora said darkly.

Sarah tried an encouraging smile. “Whenever it is, send for me.”

The women wished her farewell as Sarah took her leave. Angel looked up long enough to bid her good-bye before returning to the comfort of her mother’s bosom to bewail her fate.

As Sarah made her way out of the building and onto the street, she considered the lives these women had chosen. Most of the white people she knew would despise them for marrying Chinese men. Prejudice ran high against many ethnic groups, of course, and the Irish had certainly suffered their share, but the Chinese experienced a special kind of hatred because they were truly a different race. They also had the effrontery to worship different gods, eat strange food, wear strange clothing, and use a language with letters that bore no resemblance to “real” writing.

Unlike European immigrants, who could learn English and wear American clothing and eventually fit in, the Chinese were forever marked as foreigners by their slanted eyes and yellow skin. White women who married them had to endure discrimination and ostracism, even from their own families.

On the other hand, Sarah thought as she looked up at the building she’d just left, how many Irish women lived in such a comfortable flat with lace curtains at the windows and carpets on the floor? Chinese men who could afford to marry had worked hard and provided well for their families. Perhaps Cora and Minnie’s decisions to marry Chinese men hadn’t been so remarkable after all.

Sarah couldn’t help wondering what Irish
men
thought of their women taking up with the Chinese, though. She knew one Irish man she could ask, although she was pretty sure she knew what he would say. His job as a New York City police detective brought him into contact with the worst elements of every ethnic group in the city. Frank Malloy would never see how well men like George and Charlie Lee provided for their families. He would know only the hopheads in the opium dens and the criminal element who happened to cross his path.

Still, she felt a strong urge to discuss the matter with him. During the year that she’d known him, they’d talked over many serious issues, including issues of life and death. Sometimes she’d changed his views, and sometimes he’d changed hers. They probably wouldn’t discuss his thoughts on this matter, though. Not unless somebody in Chinatown happened to get murdered.

 

D
ETECTIVE
S
ERGEANT
F
RANK
M
ALLOY HAD BEEN BONE
tired when he entered the building where he lived. He’d been chasing down the members of a pesky gang of the homeless children known as street Arabs all day, crawling through drainage pipes and lumbering down alleys and even climbing a fence or two. The gang members were as smart and evil as adults when it came to committing crimes, but their criminal minds still lived in children’s bodies. Those young and agile bodies were a definite advantage when trying to elude a police force composed entirely of adults. Frank was getting much too old for that kind of work.

As he started up the stairs to his second-floor flat, however, he heard a door open and the clatter of small feet, and his weariness dropped away. When he looked up, he saw his son Brian fairly flying down the stairs to meet him. The boy probably would have cried “Papa!” in his joyous excitement, but he couldn’t speak. He’d never be able to speak, at least with his voice. Born deaf, he was also mute, except for the incomprehensible sounds he made without realizing it. In his excitement at seeing his father, he was making them now.

Brian flung himself into Frank’s arms, nearly knocking his father off his feet. Frank gave him a fierce hug. Not too long ago, he’d never expected to see his son walk, much less run. He had Sarah Brandt to thank for that. She’d sent him to her friend, a surgeon who had fixed the boy’s club foot.

After returning his father’s hug, Brian pushed himself back so he could see Frank’s face, or rather so Frank could see his hands. Then Brian began moving those little hands rapidly, speaking in a language Frank couldn’t understand. For too many years, he’d believed that his son’s silence was a defect of his mind and not his ears. Watching him now, as he demonstrated what he’d learned at the School for the Deaf, Frank understood just how wrong he’d been. Brian’s mind was as quick as any child’s.

“Wait,” Frank said with a grin, knowing Brian couldn’t hear him but unable to stop himself from speaking to his deaf son. He set the boy on his feet a few steps above him so they were almost eye to eye. “I need your granny to tell me what you’re saying,” he explained, making the sign that represented his mother. It was one of the very few Frank knew.

Brian nodded vigorously and grabbed Frank’s hand, urging him to climb the stairs more quickly. When they reached the landing, they found Frank’s mother standing in the doorway, waiting for them.

BOOK: Murder In Chinatown
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