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“So, who was it?”
“I dunno,” Silas said. “The cops let him go before I got out.”
“And this is important to us, why?” Hannah asked.
“The stuff he was saying, Lucretia. It wasn’t your average drunk talk.”
“You spend a lot of time listening to drunks?”
“I didn’t get this far by ignoring them.”
“You should’ve heard the nut I met at the station,” Hannah said.
Silas stopped marching down the street and turned back. “What nut?”
Hannah shrugged. “Homeless guy next to me on the bench. Said something like, ‘You’re the one’ and ‘We’re coming for you.’ I don’t remember exactly.”
“Why didn’t tell me sooner?” he asked.
“He was just a homeless guy. I didn’t think it was important.”
“He was drunk?” Silas asked.
“McClelland threw him in the drunk tank,” she said.
“You knew him?”
“Yes, I’m popular among the homeless,” Hannah said. “He was crazy.”
“Of course, he was,” Silas said. “But just what kind of crazy was he?” He looked away. “Could it have been the same man? Must have been, right?”
“Excuse me, who are you talking to?”
“And you’re sure he was homeless?” he asked.
“He was dressed in newspapers,” Hannah said.
“There’s something there,” Silas said. “I just can’t see it.”
“Does this have anything to do with our case?” Hannah asked.
Silas said something, but it was lost in a blare of car horns. He was crossing the street, ignoring the red light. Hannah ran after him, flipping off an irate driver. Street vendors leaned over their tables, waving cheap-looking merchandise. Once or twice Silas stopped and looked them over. After talking with the seller for a few seconds, he would move on.
“Is this really the best way?” Hannah asked. “Checking every street vendor?”
“I’m being selective,” Silas said. “Focusing on the ones with authentic-looking stuff.”
“You think we’re gonna whoever sold Emily her fetish?” Hannah asked.
“Like I said before: it’s Chinatown.”
Hannah did her best to keep up with the detective. Silas moved through the neighborhood as if a map of it was tattooed on his hand. She wanted to ask him if he spent a lot of time there, but he wouldn’t slow down. The locals answered for him. A man popped out from a kiosk and offered Silas a free trout. As they passed a table full of toys, someone shouted. Hannah looked back to see a teenage girl take a picture of Silas’s back.
He reached the corner of a busy intersection and stopped. Eventually, Hannah caught up.
“Why don’t we check in there?” she asked, pointing to the store beside them.
Silas looked through the window. “I see some antiques. Mostly Buddhas, but we could get lucky. Do you speak Chinese?”
“Then we’ll wing it.”
It was one of many shops they would end up visiting. They were all the same, colorful merchandise crowded on shelves and countertops. Silas looked over several hundred Buddhas and he didn’t know how many Lucky Cats. Mixed in with the traditional merch were posters of pop stars and knock-off Keurig machines. But nothing close to Emily’s fetish. Silas attempted to squeeze information from the store owners. When they pleaded ignorance, he pressed harder. This usually got them thrown out.
“How many stores to go?” Hannah asked as they hit the curb for the umpteenth time.
Silas sighed and scratched his head. He looked over the myriad storefronts that were visible from just that corner of Chinatown. The reality of their situation was setting in.
“Lemme make a call.” He pulled out his phone and started dialing.
“A call?” Hannah said. “Is there someone that can help us?”
He shrugged as he put the phone to his ear. “I know someone in the neighborhood.”
“We’ve been scouring Chinatown all morning when you had a friend this whole time?”
“I wouldn’t call her a friend,” he said. “She’s not answering.”
Another local recognized him. The man grabbed the detective’s hand and shook it vigorously. He spouted off a series of questions in Chinese. Smiling, Silas pushed the man away.
“Are you famous or something?” Hannah asked.
“Don’t be silly,” he said.
“People recognize you.”
“They’ve never seen a man so handsome in a greatcoat,” Silas said.
“Yeah, that must be it.”
He put the phone back to his ear. A voicemail message was playing. Silas waited for the beep.
“It’s me, Silas. We need to talk. You’re not answering your phone, as usual. I’m just gonna stop by.”
“A bit frosty,” Hannah said.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“What, is she an ex or something?”
The horrified look on Silas’s face was answer enough. “Let’s get going. It’s a few minutes away.”
A few blocks later, Hannah got her answer. Nestled between a florist and a used video game store was a tea shop. A purple awning, adorned with Chinese characters, spanned the entrance. In the front window, a sign read, “Mei-Ling’s Tea Room.” Silas pulled open the door and they stepped inside. It was a small room, lined with shelves. There were a few tables and a counter. On a stool beside the register sat a young woman. She watched them.
“Welcome,” she said with a smile. “How may I help you?”
“We’re not here for tea, Lien,” Silas said. “Although, I think I’m out of oolong.” He looked at Hannah. “Do you like oolong? Cuz I can get some.”
“Do I know you?” the clerk asked.
Silas turned back to her. “You probably don’t remember me. Haven’t been around in a while. My name’s Silas Black. I’m here to see Mei-Ling.”
A look of skepticism came over Lien’s face. “I don’t think she’s taking visitors today.”
“May and I go back a ways,” he said. “She’ll be happy to see me.”
Lien hesitated, but finally nodded and left the counter. Silas watched as she walked to the back of the shop and disappeared through a curtain. He leaned on the counter as they waited, drumming his fingers on the glass.
“Seriously, if you have any tea preferences let me know,” he said. “I’m partial to oolong, but green is fine.”
The clerk quickly returned. She looked uncomfortable.
“Yin Mei-Ling does not wish to see you,” she said.
“Did you give her my name?” Silas asked.
“And she doesn’t want to see me?”
Silas expelled an annoyed breath. The wheels of his mind were turning. “All right, we’ll have some tea.”
“This is a tea room, isn’t it?” he said. “We would like some of your delicious tea.”
Lien studied Silas for a moment. She put on her most professional face and escorted them to a table. Silas and Hannah sat down and she stood over them, waiting. The detective picked up a paper menu and took his time looking at it.
“I think we’ll start with a pot of oolong, please.”
He looked over at Hannah for confirmation.
“Got any coffee?” A foot connected with her shin. “Ow, dammit!”
“Oolong is fine,” Silas said.
He watched Lien as she left the room. Hannah kicked him back.
“Ow, I didn’t kick you that hard,” he said.
“Why does it feel like there’s more going on than I know about?” she asked.
“Because, there is, Watson.”
“I’m guessing this woman doesn’t want to see you,” she said. “Why don’t we try somewhere else?”
“Mei-Ling is our best shot,” Silas said. “If there are fetishes in Chinatown, she’ll know, or be able to find out.”
“Because it’s in her best interest too,” he said.
Lien returned with a teapot and two porcelain cups. Silas thanked her and poured himself a cup, making a show of relishing his first sip. The clerk watched him for a moment, before returning to the counter. Silas nodded at Hannah to try some. She poured herself a cup and took a tentative sip. She sputtered most of it out.
“God, this is terrible,” she said.
“It’s stale,” Silas said.
“Then send it back,” Hannah said.
“It’s all stale,” he said. “This isn’t a real tea shop.”
Hannah was mopping her face with a napkin. “What are you talking about?”
Silas looked above Hannah’s head. He saluted, leaning back in his chair. Hannah turned around and spotted the surveillance camera in the corner. It was pointed at them. She heard the rustle of paper and looked back at Silas. He was studying the menu.
“Does anything look good to you?” he said. “I, for one, am famished. These dumplings look amazing. How about we split the soy milk quiche?”
He looked back up at the camera and smiled. A phone at the counter ran. Lien spoke in a quick, low voice, glancing at Silas and Hannah. Eventually, she hung up and walked over.
“Now, we’re getting somewhere,” Silas said.
“Mei-Ling wants you to leave,” Lien said. “Or she will call the police.”
Silas laughed. “Like she’d ever call the cops.”
“Not your police,” the shopkeeper said.
“Interference!” Silas jumped from the table and grabbed Lien. He threw her into Hannah and made for the curtain. Hannah watched the terrified shopkeeper tumble into her. Instinctively, Hannah wrapped her arms around the woman. Lien screamed as they both hit the ground.
Silas passed through the curtained doorway. There was the sound of something heavy being moved. Lien wrestled with Hannah. She rolled over the journalist’s arm. Hannah let go and the clerk was on her feet. Hannah chased after her into the back room. A hotplate and a few dishes were on the floor. The wall was open, revealing a flight of steps.
Lien shouted in Chinese and ran down the steps. Hannah followed. The stairs descended a long passage, eventually opening onto a warehouse. Workers in cleanroom suits were meticulously unpacking crates marked with an electronic company logo. Inside, though, were paintings, vases, and other priceless works of Asian art.
Silas charged through the warehouse toward a door on the other side. Lien reached the bottom of the stairs and shouted at the workers. They stopped at once and looked at Silas. The ones closest to him pounced. He managed to shake off a few as they slipped in their cleanroom suits. Enough of the workers piled on and pinned him to the ground.
Hannah stayed by the stairs. She wasn’t about to get into a fight with an army of what appeared to be antique smugglers. The room echoed with the sound of two dozen people shouting. A single voice rose above them. Immediately, the workers let go of Silas and returned to their stations. The detective was sprawled across the floor. Hannah ran over and helped him up. Getting to his feet, he wiped some blood from his face and smiled.
Marching towards Silas from the back of the warehouse was an imposing figure. She was tall, with a lean, hard frame. Her long hair was braided, revealing smooth skin and piercing green eyes. Over her blouse and jeans, she wore a brightly colored robe. The woman was gesturing at Silas furiously, shouting in her native tongue. She didn’t need to be translated.
“Calm down, Mei-Ling, you know I have trouble with Mandarin.”
“How dare you enter where you do not belong.” Silas could almost taste the venom in her voice.
“Not the first time,” he said.
“I told you I did not wish to see you,” she said. “Are you incapable of listening?”
“No, I just ignored you,” Silas said. “It’s been a long time. A visit was in order.”
“You are a mule,” Mei-Ling said.
“I’ve been called worse,” Silas said.
“You must leave,” she said, casting a glance at Hannah. “With your concubine.”
“Never been called that,” Hannah said.
“Please listen to me, Mei-Ling,” Silas said. “After everything we’ve been through, you at least owe me five minutes.”
“You are disrupting my business,” she said. “This a delicate operation. Your commotion might draw the attention of the police. It always does.”
“It would serve you right, Mei-Ling,” he said. “I mean, honestly, smuggling goods from your homeland? When we first met, you were doing good in this town.”
“I was robbing the Triads,” Mei-Ling said.
“Good times,” Silas said. “And I always helped you when things got hairy. Remember Fai Hai, the demon monk? Remember the jumping vampires?”
“That does not justify what you have been up to lately,” she said.
“What are you talking about?”
“You’ve been using my name around town.”
Silas paused. “You saw the fliers?”
“Yes I saw the fliers,” she said. “You have become quite popular around here.”
He snapped his fingers and pointed at Hannah. “That explains it. Funny, nobody’s called for an appointment.”
Mei-Ling smiled bitterly. “They are not interested in your help. They think you are funny.”
“Huh,” he said. “Be that as it may, I only mentioned you to prove my track record. We made a good team, May.”
“You did not stop to think how it could harm me?” she asked. “My rivals will try to use any information to make me look weak.”
“I didn’t know you had rivals,” Silas said.
“Everyone has rivals, Silas. Even you.”
“If you had problems with rivals, I could have helped you.”
She placed her hands on her hips. “I want you to leave.”
“This is important, May,” he said. “Lives are at stake.”
“Why do you think I care?” she asked.
“Because despite this crime boss schtick you’re trying to affect, I know you’re still that girl from Canal Street, stealing cash to feed her family. An enormous family, I may add. Does your uncle still eat like a horse?”
A shadow of a smile crossed her lips. “He is on a diet.”
“That’s a weight off my mind. Will you listen?”
“I will consider it,” Mei-Ling said slowly, “if you help me first.”
“Quid pro quo. That’s the Mei-Ling I know. Name it.”
Mei-Ling looked passed Silas and Hannah. Lien was still standing there, looking incredulous. Her boss spoke to her in Chinese and nodded to the stairs. Bowing, Lien flew like a dart back up to the tea room. Mei-Ling leveled her eyes at Silas and Hannah. She gestured for them to follow her as she marched to her office door. Hannah looked at Silas.
“You’ve certainly got a way with women,” she said.
“She agreed to talk, didn’t she?”
They passed through an office, through a door into an alleyway. Mei-Ling led them across the narrow space between the buildings, to a door opposite the one they just left. She unlocked it and entered the empty apartment building. They reached the second floor and Mei-Ling stopped beside an open door. She waited outside as the other two went in.
It was a one-room apartment, empty save for an antiquated coal stove. Soot on the walls let Silas know it had been used regularly. Windows looked out onto the street below. Greasy beams of light cast shadows on the floor. Silas walked into the center of the room. Hannah stayed by the door.
“All right Ms. Yin, Whaddaya got for me?” he asked.
“I bought this building,” Mei-Ling said. “But a spirit haunts this room. Its wails can be heard throughout the apartments. I cannot have people living here unless it is gone.”
Silas looked over at Hannah. “You finally get to see a ghost.”
“Oh, joy,” Hannah said.
Silas rubbed his hands on the walls, getting covered in soot. Scooping up a handful of dust he tossed it into the air. It showered down, covering–among other things–Silas’s head and shoulders. He watched as it floated to the floor.
“Should have called me sooner,” Silas said. “Something strong in here.” He pointed at nothing in particular. “Do you see that, Hannah?”
“The dust is moving slower right here. It’s a cold spot. The moisture in the air is almost frozen.”
Silas turned to Mei-Ling. “How often does it appear?”
“Wow. Do you think we’ll have to wait lo–“
A scream rattled the windows. Silas was thrown into the wall. The air was knocked out of his chest as he slumped to the floor. It was a minute before he moved again. He opened his eyes to see a pale image of a man standing over him. It vanished quickly.
“Okay,” he said, taking a deep breath as he stood. “It’s angry. That much we know.”
He found Hannah in a corner. Her head was between her knees. Silas ran over and forced her to stand.
“On your feet, soldier,” he said.
Hannah looked at him dumbly. “What the hell was that?” she asked.
“What do you think, Einstein? A ghost.”
“Enough with the nicknames, okay? I’m getting sick of ’em.”
“I know you’re just saying that because you’re scared,” he said.
Silas took out his compass and started moving through the room. “But seriously, ghosts are a piece of cake.”
Hannah tried to regain composure by taking deep, cleansing breaths. She got a lung full of dust. “How is this a piece of cake?” she asked between coughs. “It threw you into the wall.”
“It’s all relative,” he said. “When a person dies, sometimes a fragment of their consciousness is left behind. That is a ghost. All it wants is release. If we can help this ghost, it should depart.”
“Good luck with that,” she said.
“It’s the easiest thing in the world. Right May?”
The doorway was empty.
Silas snorted. “Typical. We need to communicate with the ghost.”
“How are you going to do that?” Hannah asked.
Cupping his hands around his mouth, Silas shouted. His voice bounced off the walls. He whistled, first random notes, then something like the Oriental Riff. There was no answer. Silas lowered his hands.
“A ghost this angry should be easy to conjure. Maybe…”
He turned to Hannah. She was white.
“Are you okay?” he asked. “Cuz you look sick. Please don’t throw up on me.”
She pointed behind him. Silas turned around. The pale man was inches from his face. It wore a long, tattered shirt down to its knees. The rest of its form faded into nothingness. Taking a step back, Silas raised his hand.
“We come in peace,” he said in a clear, loud voice. “Tell me your name. I can help you.”
The ghost spoke. Its voice was cold as glass.
“What’s he saying?” Hannah asked.
“I dunno. He’s Italian.”
“Italian? This is Chinatown,” she said.
“Used to be Little Italy.”
“Why don’t you speak Italian?” she asked.
“Because there are only so many hours in the day.”
The ghost screamed. The noise shook them from the inside out. Hannah covered her ears. It did little help. Silas reached into his coat and took out a white pebble. Holding it between his thumb and forefinger he pointed it at the ghost. A ray of light shot struck the ghost. It moved away, wailing as if in pain.
Silas pressed at it. The ghost shrunk down into a point of light and disappeared through the ceiling. The room calmed. Silas dropped the pebble and shook out his hand. The stone sizzled as it rolled across the floor.
“Man, almost had it.”
Hannah uncovered her ears. “Is it gone?”
“What’s that?” she asked, pointing at the stone. It had come to rest in a crook by the wall.
“A quantum siphon,” he said, crushing it with a foot. “Also known as a soul stone. It can absorb the psychic energy that makes up a ghost. They’re extremely rare and expensive. And only work once.”
“Why didn’t it work?”
“Emotions are like fuel for a ghost,” Silas said. “The stronger the emotions, the greater its bond to our world. Our Italian ghost like a ball of hate.”
Silas groaned as he stretched his neck out. “Try the diplomatic route, I guess.”
He threw open a window and looked out. Cold air poured in as he climbed onto the fire escape. Looking back, he extended a hand to Hannah.
“Come on, I’ll explain on the way.”
Hannah took his hand and mounted the rickety apparatus.
“If we can figure out this ghost’s unfinished business, perhaps it’ll depart on its own.”
“Why are we on the fire escape?” she asked, following Silas.
“Didn’t you see? It went through the ceiling. Angry or not, it’s leading us to something.”
Passing the other floors, they reached the roof. Silas helped Hannah over the lip, being the one most experienced in scaling buildings. The roof was bare. Tar paper stuck to their shoes as they walked around.
“Why the roof?” Hannah said.
“I like to start on the roof,” Silas said. “Get some fresh air, take in the view. Although we’re a bit too low to see anything.”
Silas ran over to a network of cardboard lean-tos. He pulled them apart, finding only the remains of a shanty town. He rapped on the air conditioning ducts, listening to reverberations.
“So, where do ghosts go, after you help them out?” Hannah asked.
“They don’t go anywhere. Ghosts are just pent-up energy. Like static electricity when you walk across a carpet.”
“Is that all that’s left of us when we die?” Hannah said.
“You’re missing the point,” he said. “Ghosts aren’t people. Where the real person went, who can say?”
“Don’t you believe in an afterlife?” she asked. “I’d imagine, you of all people…”
“With everything you’ve claimed to see, you don’t know?”
“It’s a big universe,” Silas said. “Maybe we go to another dimension after we leave this one. Most people don’t create ghosts when they die. Where does their energy go?”
Tucked in a far corner of the roof was a utility shed.
“That’s odd,” he said as he tried the door.
“Why would someone put a work shed up on the roof? You’d have to come all the way up here every time you needed your tools.”
“Ah, I see.”
“Got a crowbar?” he asked.
“Of course not,” Hannah said.
“Then we’re doing this.” Silas threw his shoulder into the door. The wood only buckled. Through a tirade of curses, he slammed into the door until it reluctantly yielded. Silas caressed his shoulder as stepped inside. Immediately, he jumped back out and beckoned for Hannah to come over.
“I need your help with the trunk,” he said.
He walked back into the shed and climbed over the box.
“Looks like one of your trunks,” she said.
“No this is a Woolworth’s,” Silas said. “Mine are mostly Macy’s. Help me bring it into the light.”
“You can’t lift it yourself?” she asked.
“I would, but I think I broke my sternum.”
“That’s in your chest.”
“You’re a doctor, now? Just pull.”
Hannah pulled as Silas pushed with his good arm. The piece of luggage groaned as it slid across the tar paper.
“My mom used to keep Christmas decorations in a trunk like this,” Hannah said.
“I doubt that’s what’s in here,” Silas said.
Once the trunk was clear of the shed, Hannah let it go. Silas studied the clasp.
“Could use that crowbar,” he said.
“A crowbar always comes in handy,” Silas said.
“Then why didn’t you bring one.”
He pointed at her. “Touché. How are we going to get this open?”
“Move.” Hannah pushed Silas back and shoved the heel of her boot into the lock. It broke off with a snap. She smiled at the detective.
“Could have done that myself,” he said. He grabbed the lid with both hands.
“Wait,” she said. “I don’t want to see this.”
“We’ve come all this way,” he said. “You don’t want to see?”
“It could be awful, right?”
“I’m not ready for that.”
She walked a few paces away. Silas waited until she was safely beside the air ducts, before returning to the trunk. He flipped up the lid, releasing a cloud of dust. Coughing, Silas waved it away and looked inside. Nodding to himself, he straightened up.
Curiosity gnawed at Hannah. “So?”
“Now, you want to know?”
“Just tell me.”
“You’re gonna have to see for yourself,” he said.
Hannah marched back to the trunk. She looked inside. Dead bodies look worse than anything in movies and television. They don’t rot evenly; even a bare skeleton might have pieces of dried flesh still clinging to the bone. And there’s hair, the long, scraggly hair that keeps growing for a while. Of course, the smell is beyond description. It was too much for the reporter.
She took a few uneasy steps away and threw her breakfast up on the tar paper.
“Are you all right?” Silas asked.
“Ugg mumm mum.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have seen that,” he said.
She made a few choice hand gestures at him and walked back to the fire escape. “Good idea,” he said after her. “Tell Mei-Ling what we found.”
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