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Authors: Mingmei Yip

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BOOK: Skeleton Women
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How complicated this could turn out to be. I was bedding the father, while the son wanted me in
bed? When father and son competed for the same woman, would they destroy each other? Or would one step aside? If so, which one? That would be interesting to know. If Lung found out about his son’s advances, would he get rid of him? What if instead Lung thought I had seduced his innocent son—would this be the end of me?
Now my mission to eliminate Lung faced two obstacles instead of one: Shadow and now the young master. But was Jinying really an obstacle or just a nuisance? Perhaps he could be distracted ... by Shadow?
Conveniently, Master Lung told me he’d be out of town with Mr. Zhu for a meeting. I grabbed the chance to invite both Shadow and young Master Lung to my show at Bright Moon. But I couldn’t invite the son without the father’s suspicion.
So I told Lung, “I’m very disappointed. I’m going to debut a few new songs, and I really want you to hear them!”
“But you can sing them for me when I’m back, right?”
“Of course, but that won’t be the same.”
“How come?”
“Because this is the premier, and your presence gives me lots of face!”
“All right, all right... .” He paused to think, then cooed, “What if I send my son to represent me?”
That evening onstage, I followed Madame Lewinsky’s advice to pick one person in the audience to focus on. To my alarm, my eyes, with wills of their own, went straight to meet Jinying’s. Just then the pianist hit the first note for “Nighttime Shanghai
” Throughout my whole performance, the gangster’s son’s eyes never left me. Not even to appreciate the sensuous Shadow sitting right next to him.
After finishing my act, I went to sit at their table. The young master poured me Champagne. I took a delicate sip, appreciating my two handsome guests.
“I hope you two have been getting to know each other?”
Shadow smiled. “We were too busy watching you and listening to your music.”
Jinying nodded.
“Young Master—”
“Please call me Jinying.”
“Jinying, have you been making conversation with our beautiful Miss Shadow?”
“Yes, we’ve been discussing your wonderful voice.” He sipped his Champagne and went on. “Camilla, when you sing, you are so spontaneous, hitting those high notes so effortlessly.” He eyes searched mine like a miner looking for gold. “I know how hard you must work to achieve this.”
I sighed inside. The last thing I needed was for Lung’s son, of all people, to have a crush on me. If only he would switch his infatuation to Shadow. But my idea of getting him and Shadow together looked to be a bust.
What to do? All I could think was to try one last time.
I raised my glass, and we all toasted to one another. After that, I said to the magician, “Shadow, when you have your next show, please let me know, and I’ll definitely go.” Then I turned to Lung’s son. “Jinying, you will be stunned by Shadow’s impossible magic.”
He smiled politely at the magician, then turned to me. “Sure, Camilla. Let me know, and you and I can go together.”
It was hopeless. Didn’t he worry that his father would discover his feelings for me? Surely he did not imagine that his father would be willing to share his mistress. I really didn’t need this; my life was complicated enough. But how could I get rid of him?
Just then I felt a pat on my shoulder. I turned and saw, to my surprise, Madame Lewinsky’s kind face smiling down at me.
Before I had a chance to say anything, my teacher was already speaking. “My darling Camilla”—she winked at me, tilting her head toward Jinying—“congratulations. Your singing has improved so much!” She leaned toward me and whispered into my ear, “I can feel your genuine emotion now.”
I asked, “You think so?”
She nodded. “Absolutely. I’m a woman, I can tell you’re in love.”
“No, I’m not. No, no.” My voice rose.
She smiled tenderly, like a mother at her daughter. “Camilla, trust me. I know these things. You’re fighting it, but you don’t need to. Just relax, and give yourself some time, won’t you, my darling? Love is the most wonderful thing that can happen to a woman. If you want to talk about it, I’m all ears. Just pay me a visit.”
I paused before I said, changing the topic, “Madame Lewinsky, why didn’t you tell me you’d be here, so I could have sent you a ticket in advance? Please sit down and chat with us for a while.”
She shook her head. “I’ve got to go, but nice to meet you and your friends.” Eyes sparkling with mischief, she again whispered into my ear, her head nodding toward Jinying, “He’s a really nice young man, and I can tell he’s madly in love with you. Remember, once your bird of youth has flown, it will never come back.”
After that, she cast another appreciative look at Jinying, turned back to wink at me, and left.
Jinying poured more Champagne into my glass. “Who was that lady?”
“My singing teacher.”
“Then you should have introduced her to us.”
I explained that she was in a hurry, but the young master continued. “Maybe I should also take lessons from her.”
Alarmed, I exclaimed, “Oh, no, I am sure she is all booked!”
Life Between the Two Gangs
mong the city’s numerous black societies, the two most powerful, headed respectively by the warlords Master Lung and Big Brother Wang, were the Flying Dragons and the Red Demons. However, the Flying Dragons were always a few steps ahead of the Red Demons in their various “business enterprises”—gambling, prostitution, opium, “protection,” kidnapping, loan-sharking, as well as smuggling guns, gold, US dollars and medicines in, and national treasures out. Ironically, as the two gangs competed in illegal dealings, they also vied in doing charitable works.
My boss, Big Brother Wang’s, lifelong obsession was to destroy Lung so he could replace him not only as the richest and most feared boss of the Shanghai underworld but also as its most respected philanthropist.
That was how I came onto the scene—a minuscule screw wriggling between the city’s two most powerful machines.
Wang’s plan was to apply the famous
meiren ji,
beauty strategy, or honey trap, one of the
Thirty-Six Stratagems
. Simple in principle and timeless in effectiveness, it involved sending beautiful women to eliminate anyone from lord to emperor. Twenty-five hundred years ago, during the chaotic era known as the Warring States, King Goujian of Yue used it to defeat King Fuchai of the State of Wu.
King Wu won the first battle, and so King Yue sent him ten carts of priceless treasures as tribute. But cleverly he also included eight of the most beautiful women in his state as peace offerings. As intended, King Wu and his ministers became so immersed in dalliance that they neglected state affairs. Tipped off by his spies, King Yue sent his army and easily defeated King Wu. Though Wu offered Yue his country and all its treasures, the victor was merciless. Wu was ordered to commit suicide in front of the very women who had brought about his ruin.
Even the most cunning man becomes a fool for a beautiful woman. Friends’ warnings fall on deaf ears. Men blind themselves to the schemes behind the pretty face and the poisons in the beloved heart. When clothes come off, thinking stops.
My job was simple in principle, though not in operation. It was to win Lung’s complete love and trust, then lure him to a place where the Red Demons gang could assassinate him. Of course I’d been told to do the murdering myself should the right situation arise. But this was really
chiren shuomeng,
crazy dreaming—pure wishful thinking on their part.
Because every time before I was allowed inside Lung’s bedroom or hotel room, I’d be stripped naked and searched thoroughly by Gao, his head bodyguard. I was even asked to jump up and down in case a weapon—small knife, razor, poisonous pill—had been hidden inside my vagina. Of course he’d also scrape my mouth for possible pills wedged between my teeth. Was I humiliated? No, because acquiring a thick skin was part of my training. I had learned not to be distracted by pointless feelings such as humiliation or embarrassment. These things were just part of the job, along with the singing and dancing, except that this part was in private, with only one admirer instead of a hall filled with them. But it was boring, not to mention tedious.
Whenever I came out of Lung’s room, Gao would look flushed and embarrassed. His eyes would be filled with bitterness or sadness, depending on what he’d heard—cow-slaughtering cries or puppy-beating whimpers—from my fake orgasm. Like the young master, the head bodyguard seemed to have stepped onto a dangerous path by falling for a woman he’d be better off pretending not to notice.
Anyway, even a beggar on the street in Shanghai would know that to assassinate Lung would be as difficult as to get a virgin pregnant. Lung, Zhu, and all the bodyguards were extremely cautious. Gao, though, might be different, because of his crush on me. Sometimes I wondered, if I became his lover, would he kill Lung for me? But to imagine this was pointless; to seduce the bodyguard under Zhu’s sharp eyes was as likely as a baby crawling out from a virgin’s narrow gate.
Warlords, though powerful, were not invulnerable, since many ended up being assassinated. Some, however, managed to live to die in bed. But survival required constant vigilance. It was rumored that Lung had a double who would travel in his limousine, while the boss himself was going by another route. So to eliminate Lung was no simple matter. It was rumored that Lung wouldn’t trust any Chinese tailor for fear that he might be an assassin in disguise. Scissors in the back during a fitting were not unknown in Shanghai.
I was Wang’s means to discover his rival’s defense tactics, his daily routine, where he entered and exited, his secret hiding places, who of his guards were the most formidable. And the grand prize: Lung’s bank account.
Most of spying is not exciting but tedious, though still very dangerous. I was supposed to put together a complete list of Lung’s contacts: his close friends, relatives, and all who worked for him or did business with him. Not only those in the underworld but those supposedly above it. This also included a list of the spies who worked for Lung and who, ironically, might turn out to be my boss, Big Brother Wang’s, most trusted men!
Like Lung, Wang always had an ominous feeling that he was marked for assassination. Of course the most likely source would be the Flying Dragons. So I was to try to find out who was on Lung’s assassination list and how high Wang was on it. Eliminating Lung had been Wang’s goal from the moment he became a gang head. He just hadn’t yet figured out a good plan—until his underling Mr. Ho had discovered me in the orphanage.
After winning the title of Heavenly Songbird last year, I was given a luxury apartment inside the French Concession. This included a maid and a driver, but I knew full well that their real jobs were to keep track of me for Wang. I made good money, but unfortunately Wang took half and most of the rest for “safekeeping.” He knew that if I had my own money, his hold on me would be weakened. Though I was free to go places within Shanghai, I couldn’t just disappear. Wang repeatedly warned me that his gang men were everywhere, so he would know everywhere I went and everything I did.
Yet life as a nightclub singer was incomparably better than in the orphanage. I now had a comfortable apartment, which was decorated in a mixture of Chinese and Western styles. The Chinese elements—calligraphy, landscape paintings, antique furniture and vases—were there to impress people, especially the refined ones, that I was not just a singer but one steeped in traditional culture and taste, perhaps from a prominent family. The Western décor—velvet curtains, soft sofas with silky coverings, a gilded and latticework clock, and oil paintings showing classical scenes—was to show that I was also cosmopolitan.
To others I was the beautiful, sophisticated woman who had it all. But I was well aware that Big Brother Wang didn’t pay my rent because he liked my singing, but to keep me under his control. My amah and cook, Ah Fong, and driver, Ah Wen, who did almost everything for me, were also his spies. The best I could do about this was, from day one, to tip them generously, hoping they would avert their eyes or keep mum when I needed them to.
Unlike most gangsters, Lung favored talented women. With me it was singing; before it might have been speaking a foreign language, horseback-riding, or even flying a plane. For him, women like us were like a rare Ming vase, while others were but ordinary kitchenware. No doubt this was Lung’s way to compensate for starting out as a shoe-shine boy.
Now that Lung had finally fallen for me, I had to work steadily to complete my mission, because the boss of the Flying Dragons gang would not stay long with any woman. No flower blooms all year long. No matter how enamored he was with her, Lung believed that any woman who’d warm his bed for too long would bring bad luck, polluting his bedchamber and harming his business. That was why the sudden appearance of Shadow worried me. I did not want him to be thinking of her as my successor.
But with or without Shadow, my situation would likely be lose-lose. Mission successfully completed, I’d have served my purpose. And as in the Chinese saying, “After the rabbits are caught, the hounds will be cooked.”
That was the inevitable fate of spies. I had read that in China’s Harbin province, one time the Japanese sent a prostitute-spy to seduce a Russian general so as to steal his map. On this map were marked the soldiers’ positions, their planned route of attack, and their supply lines. Succeeding in stealing the map, she was able to send it to the Japanese embassy. But the Japanese never sent anyone to rescue her. Instead, they referred to her as “the sakura blossom without root” and abandoned her to die alone in a prison in Siberia.
If I did not begin to plan for my escape, I was sure to end up being another sakura blossom without root, if not in Siberia, then in my own homeland. Not in a prison but sprawled in a back alley, bobbing in the Huangpu River, or rotting in a well. Or, as the story was told of one of Lung’s former mistresses, fed to tigers ...
Someday, probably soon, I would need to escape. I would need a plan, and I would need money. So I tried my best to save. Although I didn’t get to keep much from the nightclub, I got expensive gifts from admirers, most generously from Master Lung, who had been pampering me with American gold pieces, fur coats, and lavish jewelry. Of course my boss, Wang, knew about the gifts, but he could not take away those from Lung, who might notice that they were missing. Meanwhile, I tried to waste as little as possible on frivolities like the theater, movies, high tea, or amusement parks.
However, even if I had the money to escape, where would I go? I had neither relatives nor real friends. I knew great danger was approaching, but all I could do was wait for the right moment to act. As the sages tell us in the three-thousand-year-old
Book of Changes,
“If you step on the tail of a tiger but use extreme caution, you will be fortunate in the end.”
When you first glimpsed him, Lung looked quite ordinary. This was in fact a gift from heaven that enabled him to conceal his astute mind and scheming heart. But, despite his small stature, Lung could inspire fear. His dealings were of extreme complexity, but, unfortunately for me, he seemed to keep everything in his head. No one had any idea of his many business dealings. His routes were untraceable, his hiding places unfindable, and even his facial expressions gave away nothing.
Lung’s gang, the Flying Dragons, took its name from the
Book of Changes
. The name was appropriate because Lung himself was like a dragon, whose body is always half revealed and half hidden by clouds. Lung heeded well the advice of
The Art of War,
“See all, but stay hidden.” According to the
Book of Changes,
there are three kinds of dragons. One soars to heaven and leads the world; one hides in the field and waits for the auspicious moment to act; one becomes arrogant and ends up in bitter failure. The first one is the leader, the second the sage, the third the loser.
Master Lung was already a leader, would never be a sage, and was certainly arrogant. So he was ripe for being overthrown. The moment would come when he would relax his vigilance, but I would not relax mine. The Chinese say,
congming yishi, benzai yishi
, “Smart for your whole life, stupid for a moment.” All I needed was for Lung to be careless for one moment.
And that would be the moment when I would act. Because no matter how brilliantly cunning Lung was, he did have a weakness—his infatuation with beautiful, classy women. But most mistresses are enjoyed for a brief time, then cast away. Infatuation by itself is not enough. Most women did not understand that to bewitch a man, sex is only the beginning. After you have captured his heart, you must also capture his mind.
If Lung really had a heart—or even if I had one. But we both had minds—scheming ones.
BOOK: Skeleton Women
11.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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