But it's too late--the clomping of the policemen's boots is getting louder. A traitor had already led them to this underground female slave auction. Ah Ding had strangled the baby hardenough to kill the real traitor. Ah Ding never let off anyone who betrayed his own.
With an expression as innocent as the baby girl's, you ask me about Ah Ding. Wait a minute while I find a description of him in this pile of histories. Well, it looks like that was wishful thinking. The books talk about dozens of Chinatown kingpins, but only as stereotypes. Ah Ding has been omitted entirely. I can bring him to light though. I am the only one who can give you a clear picture of this good-looking man with the mane. He has the beauty of an animal. When you saw him examining you from behind the flame, he looked just like a panther.
As the match crept steadily up your leg, you noticed his face illuminated by the flame. You couldn't interpret the infatuation in his arched eyebrow. The same infatuation clutches him when he comes across a find in a dark pawn shop.
When the flame licked your face, you smiled. You didn't duck away. You knew it was no use. Escape was out of the question for you, just as it was for the baby. Your smile was the sudden, unconscious, simpleminded smile of a lamb at slaughter.
To me, your smile took on the slack-jawed, glassy-eyed expression of the dead baby.
Unfortunately, Ah Ding thought your smile was meant for him.
The rings on his fingers could split skin during a fistfight. You saw the metallic sheen of his forehead and his queue coiled like an ancient vine.
And you saw all the murders on his hands.
You didn't know what he was looking at as the tromping of the policemen's boots came closer. Maybe the way your feet seemed too small for your body? Perhaps he thought the same things about Chinese prostitutes as foreign johns, who wrote in their books: "Their deformed feet and unique gait influence the development of their bodies in many significant ways, one of which is the abnormally crooked pelvic and vaginal cavities. This is where the mystique of the Oriental woman is to be found. Just as this race excels at the art of potted landscape, these deformed female bodies offer an enjoyment that defies description.'
As Ah Ding lifted the flame to your face, he seemed obsessed by the proportion between your feet and body, oblivious to the fact that the police were at that very moment turning the place out.\
The news of the night raid on the underground auction on Jackson Street made the morning papers.
It was said the police first arrived on horseback, but found only four men playing mahjong and two others singing Cantonese opera. The police went to the corner, tethered their horses, and then came back and surrounded the place on foot. When they broke down the door, half of the two dozen people had just emerged from the hidden passage.
It was said that the mahjong players put out all the lights, so the police had to check their flintlocks and switch to nightsticks.
It was said that Ah Ding single-handedly held the police at bay while everyone else got away through the doors and routes they knew so well.
It was said that Ah Ding didn't throw a single dagger, but ended up breaking two rings punching cops. He came running out at four in the morning with his queue clamped between his teeth, a cop missing an eye hot on his heels. Chased to the coast, Ah Ding, who had already taken a couple of bullets, turned to face the cop and opened his jacket. As soon as the cop saw the daggers, he knew who this was. So many stories of the gangster with the daggers had circulated among whites that he may as well have been the devil. The daggers were supposedly dipped in poison, a secret potion three thousand years old. In short, the cop flung himself to the ground, and by the time he crawled up, Ah Ding had jumped into the sea and disappeared.
From The Lost Daughter of Happiness, copyright (c) 2001, Hyperion Press. Reproduced with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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