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Authors: Mingmei Yip

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Skeleton Women (23 page)

BOOK: Skeleton Women
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Of course, it was also possible that the widower, instead of killing Lung, would be spotted and killed himself. But the worst scenario would be that Lung’s men would capture and torture him until he confessed. That would definitely be the end of me.
Feeling a headache coming on, I focused myself, feigning excitement now that we had arrived at Hermès. “Master Lung, here it is!”
Gao opened the door for us, while his three underlings remained outside to guard the entrance. To my relief, the store was not crowded, making for a cleaner shot for the assassin. In one corner a uniformed salesgirl was helping an elderly, elegant lady choose an evening purse. A wealthy-looking, gray-haired couple impatiently moved clothes on a rack, making unpleasant scratching sounds.
I stayed at the front, looking through piles of accessories like gloves, belts, and scarves but in fact glancing around to see if the assassin had arrived. From the corner of my eye I spotted him lurking right across the street. To me it seemed that he was being too obvious. But, fortunately, since he was disguised as an old man and acting feeble, no one seemed to be paying him any attention.
As planned, I told my patron, “Master Lung, I know this is boring for you. Why don’t you smoke your cigarette by the window and look at the pretty French girls while I look around?”
Jinying moved his head as he walked away, signaling me to join him at a far corner of the store so we could talk.
But his father was already speaking. “That’s what I’m about to do. Camilla, how come you always know what’s on my mind?”
Lung smiled happily, gave my bottom a squeeze, then sat down on a bench against the window.
Zhu immediately sat down next to his boss. “I’ll smoke with you, Master Lung.”
So far, so good.
The evil duo lit their cigarettes and began to puff and gaze at the passersby outside. Just then I noticed that the widower was already in front of the store, studying some wallets in the shop window.
My heart almost jumped out of my throat. To distract Lung, I picked up a scarf and thrust it under his eyes. “Master Lung, what do you think of this?”
“Camilla, don’t make me look at all this stuff. Just get whatever you want, and I’ll pay for it. Make it simple for me, won’t you? Men don’t care what women put on, only when they take them off! Ha-ha!” He burst out laughing, then turned to Zhu. “Right?”
His right-hand man responded emphatically. “Exactly, Master Lung. That’s women’s heavenly duty, to please men and bear them children!”
The old French couple lifted their heads and looked at us with disgust, probably horrified by the duo’s loud voices and vulgar manner. Zhu returned them a murderous look, but to my utter trepidation, the widower was now entering the store. As I watched, the assassin reached into his pocket. Just then I felt my whole being enveloped by total darkness as my legs gave out. I had no idea what happened next, but when I recovered my senses, I was being fussed over by Lung’s entourage. Around us, shoppers and staff were gesticulating wildly as they shouted at one another in French.
Lung was unhurt, and the widower was nowhere to be seen.
It was obvious that because of my fainting, Wang’s assassin hadn’t done his job. But why hadn’t he just shot Lung dead on the spot? The only reason I could think of was that he might have misinterpreted my fainting as a sign to tell him to abandon the mission.
I was helped to sit in a chair. Then I heard Lung bark to his men, “What happened to Camilla? Someone better tell me!”
The French staff and customers all stood around, gesturing wildly and jabbering intensely in a language none of us understood.
Lung shouted in his broken English, “Go away! Things good! No problem!”
Although the French might not understand Lung’s English, they did get the message from his angry tone and backed away to let his men tend to me. Both the young master and Gao studied me with great concern, but only Jinying had some idea of my recent mental state, though nothing about its cause.
He said to his old man, “Father, I think it’s time for us to go back to Shanghai. Camilla must be homesick.”
Homesick? Go home?
I wished I had a real home I could feel sick to go back to!
I overheard Lung’s whisper to his son, “Poor girl. Maybe I should have her live with me so my people can take better care of her.”
Then Jinying’s voice, in a tone of suppressed anger, snaked into my ears. “Father, let’s take her home first. Camilla must need rest.”
Gao piped up out of the blue. “Master Lung, should I carry Miss Camilla back to the hotel?”
Lung’s answer was “Of course, that’s what I hired you for!”
Gao scooped me up like a sick kitten as Zhu opened the door for us. Amid the boisterous commotion among the shocked customers and sales assistants, Gao lowered his head and asked, his voice almost inaudible, “You all right, Camilla? If you need help, I’m all yours. I beg you, please let me know what’s been bothering you.”
From the corner of my eye I saw Jinying’s jealous but helpless expression. But of course he couldn’t possibly offer to carry me, could he?
22
Magic and Flying Knives
T
he rest of our Paris stay passed uneventfully. I finally did do some shopping but felt restless because Lung’s men were on full alert, and the “widower” was nowhere to be found. Lung decided to cut short our “vacation,” and so after more weeks at sea I found myself back in Shanghai. Given the failure of the elaborately planned assassination, I braced myself for a severe reprimand from Big Brother Wang.
As usual, I had to speak with him on the phone, as he always feared Lung’s men would spot us together and spoil his many years of planning.
“If there’s another mishap, your pretty little neck will be snapped with a loud
crack
—you got that?”
“Yes, Big Brother Wang.”
Even through the telephone wires I could feel my boss’s anger as strongly as if his voice was pressing a sharp knife against my chest. Though I tried to keep my answers as terse as possible, lest I provoke more anger, the knife kept digging and twisting in all of the four inauspicious directions.
“Fainted? Was your training flushed down the toilet? How many times we warn you not to lose your calm under any circumstances? Even if your mother is shot right next to you and her brain splashes all over your face, you must act like you’re watching a movie. You’d say, ‘Isn’t that wonderful?’ You got that, eh?”
“Yes.”
“You almost got two of my people killed. You are aware of the consequences?”
“I’m so sorry, Big Brother Wang.”
“Hmm ...” His anger seemed to abate. “I’ll forgive you this time. At least you didn’t lie to me.”
I couldn’t lie to him, of course; the assassin, having witnessed my fainting, would certainly report back to Wang. Besides, having blacked out, I didn’t know what had actually happened.
But in a few seconds my boss’s anger flared anew. “What’s wrong with you, Camilla? You don’t like living?”
“I’m sorry, it won’t happen again. I swear on my parents’ graves.” But my parents had no graves that I knew of, so I guessed the swearing didn’t count.
“It better not. Otherwise I can’t guarantee if your pretty head will continue to rest on your shoulders. I’m not kidding!”
“Certainly it won’t happen again, Big Brother Wang.”
He was silent for a while, then said, “Since we’ve failed to kill Lung so many times, his lucky star must be shining really strong now. So I think we should wait for a while until his star shifts and leaves him unprotected.”
“I think you’re right, Big Brother Wang.”
“All right, then continue to sing at Bright Moon and charm him into giving up some secrets.” He paused, then added, “What about that magician, Shadow? Is she still in the news these days? Is she going to get in your way with Lung, now that you’re both back in Shanghai?”
“I don’t know; I was away and didn’t have a chance to read the newspapers.”
“I don’t give a damn about a magician, but you’d better keep an eye on her if she poses a threat.”
“I’ll be sure to do that, Big Brother Wang.”
After I hung up the phone, I felt as if a huge stone had been lifted from my chest. Now I could breathe normally for a while before Wang would ask me to strike again. But what was this about Shadow?
 
The next day, I picked up the
Leisure News
and saw Rainbow Chang’s column.
Will the Magician Shadow Succeed in Capturing Master Lung?
Rumor goes that because of some mishaps during Master Lung’s Paris vacation, he now seriously considers shifting his love interest to our other up-and-coming skeleton woman, Shadow, the magician. We heard that Shadow invited Lung and a few special guests to her private show. And since then Master Lung has been completely fascinated by this beautiful magician and her shadowy illusions.
Now our question is: What will happen to our beloved Heavenly Songbird? Will Lung leave her for Shadow?
Two ravishing skeleton women competing for the most powerful man in Shanghai! Who will capture Lung? Place your bets now!
If I were betting today, I would put my money on Camilla, because she possesses a unique secret weapon. But of course Shadow also has her tricks. Like we Chinese say “You walk your own road; I’ll cross my own bridge.”
What about you, my dear readers—who will get your bet?
I love Camilla’s sweet voice, delicate face, and twenty-one-inch waist. Who wouldn’t desire a woman like her? Magic tricks the eyes; singing tricks the heart. Especially the heart of a man with as many bills in his pocket as he has romance in his heart.
 
More to follow ...
Rainbow Chang
Was this rumor about Shadow true or just made up by the gossip columnist so
Leisure News
would sell more copies? My intuition told me it was made up, for I didn’t have any sense that Lung was getting tired of me. Not yet. Nor was there any sign that he was attracted to Shadow. On the contrary, he seemed more and more addicted to my contortionist sex, doubtless the “secret weapon” Rainbow had alluded to. Fortunately I still had more contortions that he had ever seen. So even if he had the energy to try out a new position every week, it would be a long time before he’d tried them all.
However, as the Chinese say about men, “No cat doesn’t like the smell of fish.” No matter how much a man is enamored of or even in love with a woman, he will always be tempted by another he hasn’t yet tried out. To put it another way, while a man is chewing, his eyes do not stop gawking at the other dishes.
Therefore, I needed to act fast in case Shadow’s charm could outdo mine. Because now I was the fish in Lung’s mouth, while she was the one on the table.
For the moment I was somewhat comforted by Jinying’s concern. Although I refused to see him, I did take a few of his calls; after all, he’d saved my life. I had accepted his flowers and other gifts. He asked me to promise him over and over not to do anything rash, but I still insisted that I had really just slipped and fallen into the river. He had no choice but to accept my explanation, no matter how unconvincing. As for myself, I did not have the luxury of dwelling on my mistakes or other miseries, because to stay alive, like a shark, I needed to keep moving.
Fortunately Lung had been traveling a lot lately, and his schedule only allowed us to meet about once a week, sometimes only every two weeks. I heard that recently he’d been asked to solve a problem for a banker’s married son. The young man had had an affair with a dancing girl, who was demanding a huge sum of money, threatening to leak their affair to the newspapers. Worse, she was now carrying his baby. But the man adamantly refused to take responsibility and had paid Lung to intervene. Lung ended the whole sexual saga by simply having the woman dumped into the Huangpu River.
My life would have been made simpler if that woman were Shadow!
But since she was still very much alive, I needed to move fast.
 
I again invited the magician to my place, this time to discuss our show. After dinner, at which I again served the finest food and the most expensive wine, we went to the study to continue chatting.
Nursing a glass of wine, I asked, “Shadow, when are you going to have your next show?”
“I’m always ready. I just need a sponsor.”
“What about Master Lung?” I inquired.
She didn’t answer me directly but said, “Since you’re my friend, Camilla, let me be honest with you. I’ve run out of money.” She sipped her wine, then added, “In fact, my shows so far have left me in debt.”
Of course, she also had to bed Ciro Nightclub’s manager and the Customs House’s guard to let her perform in their places.
“Shadow, maybe I can be your sponsor... .”
She looked stunned. I was not sure if it was by my money or by my sudden generosity.
“Actually, I mentioned that we should do a show together the last time we met, remember?”
She thought for a while. “But ... why would you want to help me?”
“Because we’re friends now.” I was tacitly reminding her about having “saved” her from being robbed. “Also because I struggled and endured many hardships before I got famous. I believe in helping others, so I can continue to generate good karma for myself.” The “generate good karmas for myself” was to rid her of suspicion, because of course I was not suggesting this to be nice to her but for my own benefit.
Moments passed, and I added, “Besides, you’re a magician, and I do something totally different, so we are not competing.”
“But I do magic, and you sing. How can we cooperate onstage?”
“The show would debut my knife-throwing and contortion talents to the Shanghainese. Tickets will sell out quickly when people learn they will see your incredible magic and also hear me sing, throw knives, and contort, all in the same show. So, will you do this with me?”
She answered quickly. “Of course!”
“Good. But there is one condition.”
She took a big gulp of her wine. “I’m listening.”
“Onstage, you’ll be strapped onto a revolving board, while I throw knives to land all around you.”
Wine sloshed over the edge of her glass as a cloud of suspicion crossed her face. She was now in a dilemma. If she said yes, her life would be at risk if I made a wrong move, whether intentional or not. But if she said no, she might offend me, because that meant she doubted my skill, even though she’d witnessed it with her own eyes.
Worse, this opportunity would slip through the cracks of her fingers.
I put on the sweetest smile I could muster. “Shadow, think about it, all the attention that we can get. And all the money we’ll make.”
She still looked puzzled as well as a little drunk.
I went on, “You must have heard the saying, ‘One hand clapping fails to emit a sound.’ That’s why we can help each other. Remember, if this show is hugely successful—and I don’t see any reason it won’t be—then you’ll be free to do whatever you want.”
Finally a happy smile bloomed on her face. She gulped down her wine and put the glass down with a sharp click. “All right, I’ll do it.”
“Good, then I’ll send you a contract soon.”
After that, I filled her glass with more of my expensive wine. “To our cooperation and success!”
She responded by tapping her glass against mine so vehemently that I was surprised her glass didn’t fall and shatter like the last time.
After she left, I realized she’d not mentioned the jade ring I had put on her pinky during our last meeting.
An encouraging sign.
Greed.
 
The following week I fine-tuned my plan and had a lawyer draw up a contract. Just when everything seemed to be smooth sailing, suddenly the current shifted against me. I was thrust into a situation like someone whose mother and father have fallen into the sea and who cannot decide whom to save first.
I realized I was pregnant.
The first thing that entered my mind was to get rid of the baby. But to do that would not be so simple. I would have to ask my driver, Ah Wen, to take me to see a Western doctor, or to see a Chinese doctor to get the right herbs, then ask my amah, Ah Fong, to decoct them for me. That meant at least three people would know my secret. Of course I could try to do all this by myself, but I didn’t know any doctors or the right herbs. That meant I had to ask around for a doctor who did abortions, then risk my pregnancy becoming fodder for gossip in Rainbow Chang’s column or any of the many other scandal sheets:
Flower Moon News, Flower Heaven Daily, Idleness News, Pleasure Talk News.
Then I thought, maybe I
can
find a way to get rid of the baby myself. I read somewhere that taking herbs like moschus, musk, safflower, angelica rhizome, and ox knee root will do the job. Some of these, if mixed with cat’s urine and rotten petals, could cause miscarriage just by the woman’s inhaling the horrible odor. However, I also read that one time a girl had done this, but the herbs were so effective that she was found dead, drowned in her own blood.
Besides, I had also heard numerous horrible stories about self-induced abortions. A young maid, raped and impregnated by her master, stuck a chopstick into her vagina and pushed vigorously until the fetus flew out in a mess of bloody fluid. Yes, she got rid of the baby, but she soon died of an infected uterus. Her master, unwilling to pay for a proper burial, asked the servant to wrap her body in a thin bamboo mat, then drop it into an abandoned well. It was not until weeks later that a homeless person discovered her decaying corpse. The police tracked down her family, and her mother was only able to identify the daughter by a big, heart-shaped mole between her breasts.
Another case was of a teenage girl whose marriage had been arranged but who got pregnant by her married schoolteacher. In desperation, the girl went around to ancestral temples to collect ashes from their incense burners, mixed them in
maotai,
and swallowed it all in one big gulp. After she died, her face and body were said to be the same color as the month-old ashes.
BOOK: Skeleton Women
5.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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