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Edge of Midnight Monday: Enter the Tong Torturer

by Azrael

Case One – The Death of Harry Fontaine

Chapter Eight – Enter the Tong Torturer

Late Evening, 29th October, 1949

I ain’t proud of it, but during my breathing days there were plenty of times I woke up after a night with too many whiskeys in it with a nasty taste in my mouth, like metal, vinegar and bile. This case is beginning to taste like that, sour like old pennies soaked in vomit.

Shirley doesn’t know who to trust any more, and she made the mistake of telling Jake about her doubts. The tension between the two of ‘em is like a gathering storm, and when it breaks I don’t know who’s going to come off worst. Doubt and suspicion are contagious, and Jake’s beginning to wonder if maybe the Pattersons really are involved in my death, somehow. The evidence is certainly sending mixed signals, and it’s getting to the stage where Jake isn’t even sure if he can trust his own boss.

Meanwhile, Shirley’s schmoozing with the kind of slime who wouldn’t think twice about blackmailing a teenage kid, if it’s what he was paid to do. Maybe it’s a backlash against Jake’s sudden aggression, leaping into the arms of the first guy who looks at her like a human being instead of a commodity, but I can’t help but wonder if it ain’t gonna come back and bite Shirley in the ass. She’s a player, but so’s he – and the first rule is you never try and play a player, in case you end up being played for a fool yourself.

If Jake and Shirley are struggling in the swamp of conflicting information, they’re getting off easy compared to James. The poor guy didn’t know what hit him. One minute he was trying to get his car key out of his pocket, the next he was being stunned by a hard blow to the back of his neck before being smothered with a chloroform-soaked cloth.

The thing I don’t get is, how did James’s attacker know where he’d be? Unless he was being tailed unnoticed, someone must’ve dropped a tip to the Tong about where he’d be. The question is, who?

I’ve got a bad feeling about this one. Nobody knows where James is, or that he’s even missing, and all likelihood is that he’s fallen into the hands of so-called Mr. G, the notorious Tong torturer for the Black Chrysanthemums.

Can James hold out under Tong interrogation, or will he squeal like a piglet? And even if he talks, what are they going to do with him afterwards? I can’t help but wish he never met me, if it’s going to come to this. Tortured to death by the Tong before being dumped in a watery grave? Nobody deserves to go like that.

Still, where there’s life, there’s hope…

POV: Jake Bullet

I wake up, having had a disturbed night. My injuries aren’t really causing me any problems any more, it’s more my thoughts that are keeping me from peaceful sleep. I can’t stop the thoughts racing through my mind that there might be Patterson collectors working for the Tongs.

I step out into the main room, and both Rocky and Leo are fast asleep. I don’t know if that’s because I’ve been setting a bad example with my late mornings the past few days while recovering from my injuries, or if it’s because they’ve been making extra efforts to stay awake through the night on guard. Either way to have them both fast asleep at this time of the morning isn’t a good idea.

I wake Rocky, letting him handle the business of waking Leo and fetching the morning coffee and doughnuts while I step into the bathroom. I look down at the shivering and fearful Tong prisoner, and I pull the shower curtain across the bath so I can go to the toilet with some sort of privacy. I sit there listening to the young man’s whimpering and shivering, and resolve myself for the day’s actions.

I return to the main room to find Rocky has returned with breakfast, taking a cup of coffee I step back into the bathroom and then carefully feed the hot drink to the Tong, letting him drink at his own pace. Only when he is done do I fetch him a blanket and throw it over him. I have further uses for him, and it wouldn’t do any good for him to freeze to death.

I look between Rocky and Leo, trying to work out which of the two would come in most handy for today’s activities. It’s a difficult choice, but I decide Rocky’s muscle just outbids Leo’s skill with firearms for what I have planned.

I tell Rocky that he’s coming with me, and tell Leo that he’s to stay and guard the prisoner. Neither of them ask questions. Rocky’s quite content to sit in the car while I drive and find out what he has to do when i’m ready to tell him. That’s what I like about Rocky, he doesn’t spend any unnecessary time thinking about what I tell him.

I drive on over to Sammy’s place. I’m not expecting him to be there, but I’m betting that someone there might know where I might be able to find one of Jimmy, Stew, Mac, and Donnie. I’m right, I name drop to Sammy’s father, and he knows exactly who I’m talking about. I might have dropped Sammy into trouble, suggesting that these people might interact with Sammy, but I get an address for Donnie. I try to reassure Sammy’s dad that I’ll emphasise to Sammy that he should stay away from these guys, but I don’t know how good a job I do. I take my leave and I head out to see if I can find Donnie.

I pull-up about 50 metres away from Donnie’s place and tell Rocky to stay in the car while I take a look. I look around to see if anyone’s watching, and then I peek in at the windows. I can’t see anyone, but I can hear some activity coming from one of the back rooms. Having made my decision to act I return to the car and fetch Rocky, telling him to only do what I tell him, and to keep very quiet.

I lead Rocky up to the front door, and get him to watch my back as I start picking the lock. Having him there is certainly less of a distraction than I’m used to in recent days when lock picking, and the door clicks open in less than a minute. Indicating that Rocky should step just inside the doorway and wait, covering me, I creep down the hallway towards the back room where I can hear the radio playing. The door is ajar, and peering carefully around it I can see a middle-aged woman doing the ironing. This isn’t Donnie, but it could be his mother. I stop and think. Snatching his mother won’t be much use, and I can hardly wait around for Donnie to get back. I’m creeping back down the hallway when I hear a soft sound behind one of the other doors. I freeze and stop breathing, putting an ear to the door. it could just be the sound of someone sleeping.

I ready my gun and open the door carefully, quickly getting my bearings and aiming the gun at the head of the sleeping figure. I push the door mostly closed behind me and take careful steps forward. Too young to be Donnie’s dad. Best bet is that this is Donnie himself. I pause for a moment, thinking, and then make my mind up. I’m going to take him. One of Donnie’s hands is under the covers, and I can’t take the chance that he has a weapon under there, so I’m careful. I have a hand ready to grab his if he wakes and tries to move, while my gun moves to just an inch away from his mouth. With one movement I drop my hand and arm over Donnie’s head to pin him down while covering his eyes, while the gun moves forward to press into Donnie’s startled and opening mouth.

I hiss, “Don’t move, or I kill you and then your mother.”

This seems to have the desired results and Donnie doesn’t move except from a tremble that he just can’t suppress. I carefully instruct Donnie to get out of bed and onto his knees, facing away from me, repositioning the gun to the back of his head. It’s just a matter of moments before his hands are tied behind his back, and strips of scattered clothing become a blindfold and a gag. I explain how he isn’t going to make a sound unless he wants me to go and blow his mother’s brains out. He seems quite ready to co-operate. I sneak him down the hallway towards Rocky, and then quietly instruct Rocky to carry our fresh prisoner to the car. While Rocky’s doing that I carefully close and lock the door behind us.

I get to the car and open the trunk for Rocky to throw Donnie into, then we leave the area and return home. I arrive back in front of my place only to see a car waiting outside. Worse than that, it’s a car with a Gaunt sitting in it. Well I can’t be having this, I head on over to the Gaunt and start quizzing him as to why he’s sitting outside my place. I’m quite ready to pull my gun and teach him the error of his ways when a familiar presence makes itself known behind me. I don’t know if it’s the cadence of her footsteps, or the familiar unique scent, but I know it’s Shirley before she speaks, before I turn around.

She says she wants to talk, but after yesterday I’m not clear on what she’ll be wanting to talk about. Her bringing along a Gaunt is a bad sign. I tell her we can talk inside, and then turn my back on the Gaunt and head into my place, almost bumping into Leo who’s blurting out something about the Tong before he sees that it’s me. His smooth correction is suspicious, I’ll have words with him later.

Shirley steps in through the doorway, and then stands in front of the open door, refusing to come in any further, refusing to even close the door behind her. Her stance and even her tone are confrontational. She tells me about James going missing, and wanting information from my captive Tong. Leo interrupts, explaining that Shirley had asked him to ask the Tong a few questions… that he didn’t think it would hurt, but that the Tong doesn’t know anything. I wave away Leo’s words while staring at Shirley. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I’m angry and want to lash out.

I tell Leo to bring the Tong kid out, sitting him at the table. I’m watching Shirley as I start talking to the kid, explaining about one of my friends going missing, that I want him to give me information on where he might have been taken. I lift the tool box up onto the table, watching Shirley’s face as the kid starts going frantic, desperate to tell me anything he can. I want to show her I’m not a man to be messed with, that I’m a man who gets answers when he wants them, that means business when he’s crossed.

I’m not getting any good information, the kid really doesn’t know what’s happened to James, and there’s no reason why he should. I reach into the tool box and get out a nail – and the kid goes to pieces. He tells me that the Tong sometimes disappear people down at some fish packing place; that they pack people in ice and ship them out, dump them at sea. But he doesn’t know the name of any place. I believe him and have Leo throw the kid back in the bath, pleased with myself for having been able to get at least some form of an answer out of the kid, wanting to see even the slightest look of gratitude from Shirley. But I get none.

“If you need some help finding James, I could come along” I offer, trying to make a gesture, only to have it thrown in my face. “Bill can drive for me” she says, in a ‘no thank you very much’ tone of voice.

I narrow my eyes slightly. If that’s how she’s going to play things, then fine.

“You should let the boss go with… you shouldn’t let some argument get in the way of helping James… put aside your differences…” starts Leo, trying to persuade Shirley.

But I wave him down before he can finish, “It doesn’t matter Leo, drop it.” He does.

With nothing left to say I push past Shirley, and in a final gesture I wait until she’s sitting in the car watching, before I instruct Rocky to grab Donnie from the trunk and take him inside. Watching Shirley as I wordlessly press the point home that I’m really not a guy to mess with.

I follow Rocky down the steps, stopping in the doorway to turn and watch Shirley and the Gaunt drive off. I slam the door shut behind me and turn to Rocky and Leo. With a finger to my lips I gesture for them to be quiet. I don’t want to give our blindfolded prisoner any information that will help him assess where he is. I lean back against the door and start trying to focus on what to do next.

POV: Shirley Holmes

I woke up on the cool, silky sheets, and for a brief moment wondered where I was. The recollections of the previous day suddenly came tumbling back and I realised why I was waking up here. I caught a whiff of the fine smoke characteristic of the French brand Benton smoked. Looking around I saw him on the balcony, I picked up his discarded shirt from the back of the chair and slid it on as I wandered over to join him. He smiled at me as I approached and then leant over and kissed me softly, soft like the quality cotton which caressed my skin.

“Do you have any plans for today?” He asked me.

“A few phone calls to make and meetings to arrange” I answered.

Benton then invited me to stay for breakfast, suggesting a delicious menu. I agreed, and he suggested I follow him to the kitchen after making a phone call. I thanked him as he gestured to the horn in his room and headed out. I dialled the number James had given me for the museum, which was eventually answered by the curator. Despite the slurring and confused mumbling I gathered James hadn’t arrived at work yet. After not getting an answer at his home phone I guessed that he must have gotten caught in traffic on his way into work and decided to try again later.

Heading towards the sound of cooking I followed Benton to the kitchen. He wasn’t so much cooking as supervising his housekeeper. Either way I was presented with a delicious plate of eggs Benedict. After Benton dismissed Maggie O’Hallaran he offered seconds… in bed.

Somehow I couldn’t vocalise any of the reasons why I shouldn’t accept.

When it came around to the time Benton had to head to his offices he dressed in a natty suit and told me to make myself at home before departing. I lay back on his sumptuous pillows and took a deep breath. My head was spinning at the recent events and things hadn’t even started to sink in yet. I was hoping for some time to make sense of it, but my thoughts kept returning to the all too recent memories of my time spent with Benton; his gentle touch on my skin, the tender way he’d stroked me… my musings were interrupted after only a few minutes however, when Maggie barged in, wondering if I needed anything. I turned down her offer, hoping she’d leave me be for a while; she did, but not until after she’d ranted on about how Benton should find himself a nice honest woman, called me a hussy and implied I was something Benton had picked up off the street. I was horrified and shocked, but couldn’t reply as she bustled out again, continuing to mutter under her breath.

Realising that I’d outstayed my welcome I climbed hastily out of bed, and with the slim hope that the evidence against Sammy was here rather than in his office I started to have a quick rummage through Benton’s drawers. However “O’Harridian” returned, and clearly didn’t trust that I was looking for something legitimate. She stood sternly in the centre of the room, her arms folded, glaring at me. As I clearly wasn’t going to get any privacy now I gathered up my clothes and stepped into the bathroom. I couldn’t help but notice that it was a lot nicer than the one I’d gotten dressed in the previous day.

On returning to the room I saw that O’Harridian wasn’t there and decided to quickly try the museum again to contact James. However, like a good servant Maggie had anticipated my needs, as when I listened at the receiver I could hear her breathing, and even her mumbling about my charging a call to Stockwell. I hung up and decided to find a pay phone outside. I was ‘shown out’ by O’Harridan, which meant her following me again reminding me as to how Benton deserved better. Her shrill voice was so piercing it elicited at least one sympathetic look from a passer by.

I didn’t have to go far until I found a horn. Slipping in a quarter I dialled the museum again. The even more unintelligible curator barely seemed to remember who James was, let alone put me through to his office. Fortunately I somehow got Bill on the other end. He was concerned at James’ absence, I admitted that I hadn’t seen him since he left the bar and I assumed he’d headed for home. I arranged to meet Bill a block away from James’ apartment so we could look into things ourselves. I hopped in a taxi and directed the driver towards that part of Gateway. I hoped that there was a nice, simple explanation; maybe he’d decided to stay in a hotel after all the bourbon we’d drank and forgotten to ask for a wake up call. However, given the Tong interest in him recently I shared Bill’s concern.

Arriving at the set landmark I didn’t have to wait long for the gaunt to turn up. As we headed to the apartment block I updated Bill as to where I’d last seen James, and we shared our concerns. His flat hadn’t been broken into, but given that I couldn’t find a spare key outside that was about to change. Removing a hair pin I teased the lock until it sprung. The papers and letters were still on the doormat, and there weren’t any signs of a struggle. I checked upstairs, no James, but his bed hadn’t been used last night. Given that there was no sign of him or any clue to his whereabouts I suggested that we looked at James’ last known location; The Gumshoe.

Bill drove us there in his car. My fears grew, and I just kept on hoping James was all right and he hadn’t gotten himself in too deep by looking into Harry’s death. Jake was in a line of work which put him in danger on a daily basis; I had my persuasive skills and, failing that, a Webley and Scott to get me out of any situations that arose. Giles was creepy enough that trouble would actively avoid him and Ruby… well… there wasn’t any problem that Ruby couldn’t solve by throwing enough money at it. James was just a scholar though, someone who saw far more dust than fights. He carried an umbrella rather than a piece. Bill and I seemed to have every reason to be worried.

Pulling up at The Gumshoe I wanted to check if James’ car was still parked where he’d left it last night. I walked with Bill around the block, never more aware of the nervous glances the gaunt attracted than now, possibly because this was familiar territory to me and I hadn’t felt this self conscious here for a long time. It was certainly different having someone next to me drawing more stares, but being so tall Bill loomed without even trying. We rounded the corner, Petunia was clearly absent. My heart sank, if James had left we had no idea where he was. I continued walking to the spot in disbelief – if I could have made the car reappear by sheer force of will I would have done so.

“This is where he left his car” I said morosely to Bill, “I’m sure of it”.

However as I continued to stare at the empty patch something caught my eye, a glinting that caught a brief ray of sunlight. Looking closely I spotted a few pieces of broken glass, there wasn’t much, perhaps enough for a small vial. Picking up a piece I detected a chemically smell, not being able to identify it I passed it to Bill who recognised it as chloroform. That confirmed something untoward had happened to James, and time was against us to find out what. Suddenly alert I started looking for more clues… I spotted a footprint, definitely a man’s shoe, of average size. Although that didn’t tell me much the glint of silver embedded in it did. Turned out they were fish scales, implying that whoever chloroformed James had come from the docks, and if they’d returned there we had a way to find him.

Having met him the previous day Bill suggested asking Jake for assistance with finding James. I felt myself cringe slightly at the mention of his name.

“I’m not sure how much he’ll want to help us” I said to Bill, “he’s not so keen on investigating anything connected with my case any more.”

“It won’t hurt to ask…” Bill pointed out.

Well, I could think of ways in which it would; both my pride and in whatever way Jake decided he wanted the favour returned. I sighed. I looked at Bill and saw his concern for James, there didn’t seem a way I could explain that to him though that wouldn’t seem selfish or prideful.

“Okay,” I concede, “we’ll ask.”

Bill seemed to brighten up at that, and I steeled myself for the return to Jake’s office.

As Bill pulled up outside I felt a cold knot tighten in my stomach. I stepped hesitantly out of the car and forced myself to put one foot in front of another down to Jake’s door. Taking a deep breath I knocked on the heavy door. It was answered by Leo. I forced a bright smile,

“Hi Leo, is Jake here?”

When he answered negatively I felt myself relax and my smile become more natural. I summed up to Leo what had happened and asked if he could get the Tong I’d last seen in the bathtub to tell us anything about Black Chrysanthemum locations at the dockside end of Eastowne. Leo agreed to do so, but wanted a favour in return. I was slightly taken aback, and worried momentarily as to what he had in mind. However my offer of a delivery of coffee and doughnuts was accepted, and he returned inside to ‘talk’ to the Tong. I waited outside and began to fish around in my purse for a cigarette. I was just about to light it when I noticed another car park outside the office. My heart sank as I recognised Jake’s ‘borrowed’ Buick.

“So you’re back” I said as he exited the car.

I guess he didn’t spot me, or deliberately ignored me in order to deal with something else he spotted, namely Bill the Gaunt in the other car. Knowing Jake’s feelings towards gaunts I headed to the car after Jake. I saw Bill wind down the window and greet Jake as he approached. Jake did not look happy and gruffly asked Bill what he was doing there. Bill calmly explained that he’d driven me around here to talk to Jake, and nodded with his head towards me. At that Jake turned and saw me, causing my breath to catch as his hard eyes caught mine. There was a long pause, broken by Leo stepping out of Jake’s office. He began saying something to me but changed it as he noticed Jake standing nearby.

“Oh, hey boss” he finished lamely.

Jake gave him a suspecting look, but simply asked if there were any more doughnuts left and went head inside. When Leo added in the affirmative Jake invited me in for coffee. I declined, this wasn’t a social call – I just wanted to get in and out as soon as I could. Jake gave a ‘suit yourself’ half shrug and went inside. I had half a mind to give up there, but this was my best chance to get a lead on where James was.

Reluctantly I followed Jake inside his front door. I took one step to the side once I crossed the threshold and waited while Jake poured himself some coffee. He turned and faced me as he stirred, one eyebrow raised – almost in an amused way at the awkward way I was standing. I spoke up, my voice dripping with disdain, “Bill wanted me to ask you for help with locating James.”

“How do you need my help, exactly?” Jake asked, sounding annoyed at my presumptuousness.

I went on to explain about James’ disappearance and the clues I’d found. The corner of his lips raised, I guessed he enjoyed having me in need of his assistance, whether he liked the thought of making me grovel or needing a favour from him, I don’t know.

“And so I asked Leo to find out from the Tong where the black chrysanthemums might be…” I finished weakly under his steely gaze.

Jake shot Leo a brief look indicating that he would be spoken to later. He considered something momentarily before looking back at me.

“Take a seat”, he gestured to a chair.

“I’m fine” I replied, coldly.

“Well, at least close the door” he ordered.

I looked sideways nervously. I couldn’t bring myself to shut myself in and continued to hover by the exit.

“I’d rather not” I replied, noting with annoyance how my voice quivered slightly.

“Suit yourself” Jake said indifferently.

“Rocky, bring our Tong guest out.”

“Sure, boss” he replied before hauling out the golden adolescent.

The boy was clearly scared and cringed as he was unceremoniously dumped onto the table. Jake asked him about known black chrysanthemum locations around the docks. The Tong cried that he didn’t know anything, that it wasn’t near the area where he worked. After setting down his coffee Jake slowly and deliberately reached into a toolbox and pulled out a hammer and some large nails. The tong started whimpering. Jake asked the question again as he approached the table. The boy’s eyes widened in fear. I glanced at his crudely bandaged hand, whatever had been done to him earlier it had been traumatic as he suddenly started blabbing about the Tongs taking people to a fish packing factory before dumping them out at sea. When his sobs became too severe for him to speak Jake nodded to Rocky, signalling him to return the Tong to the bathroom. There was a heavy pause, broken by wails. Jake looked back towards me, our eyes meeting. That contact which had once given me butterflies in my stomach now sent a cold shiver.

“Shall I come with you to help find him?” Jake offered.

The thought of having to spend a prolonged time with him almost made me baulk.

“It’s okay, I’ve got Bill with me to drive” I said, trying to make my excuse sound nonchalant.

Jake gave a half shrug and said grumpily, “fine, if that’s how you want it to be…”

I was about to leave when Leo piped up.

“Hey Shirley, James is in danger, you shouldn’t risk his life just because you and the boss have had a falling out.”

I was about to point out that Jake’s disinterest in the case meant I wasn’t going to waste my time pleading with him, but Jake waved him silent and shook his head, gesturing to Leo to drop it. Having ended the discussion he strode towards the door, I stepped back to avoid him pushing past me as he exited. I sighed and caught Leo giving me a sympathetic look. Shaking my head slightly I followed Jake out and headed towards Bill’s car. I had a few clues from the Tong and time was getting short for James, I wasn’t going to waste it pandering to Jake’s self-importance. As I got back into Bill’s car Jake opened up the trunk of his. With a smirk he reached in and hauled out a limp and tied up body. As he put it over his shoulder I saw it was a scruffily dressed young man, scrawny, and not much younger than me.

As Jake carried him towards his office I muttered to Bill, “drive on to the factories at the docks, James is likely to have been taken to one of those.”

Bill nodded and pulled away.

A short while later the invasive odour of fish assailed us as we drove along the seafood packing area of the docks. As we cruised down a man looking out of place caught my eye, not only was he larger than most of the golden types around us, but the white suit he wore stood out against the grime of the area. He matched James’ description of the man we assumed to be Mr G. He was standing in front of the ‘Red Tuna’ packing warehouse. As Bill slowed down I noticed tyre tracks in the road leading out of it which had been made recently. As Bill turned to follow them I noticed that we were being watched by Mr G. It didn’t bode well, but I could only hope he didn’t recognise either of us.

We followed the tracks out of the packing district and on up a road leading to the top of the cliffs. Originally put there so people could do some sightseeing the spot was now notorious for other reasons. As we rounded a bend we could see Petunia ahead of us, a slumped figure in the front. I suddenly realised there was a gaunt actually trying to push James’ car off the edge of the cliff, and as we got closer we spotted another Tong goon standing by, Tommy gun at the ready.

We hadn’t arrived a moment too soon, I just hope we weren’t there too late…

Originally authored by: Alice, Azrael, & Skimble

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