My name is Jennifer Yang. I was your typical Asian-American princess born and raised in southern California. I was attending UCLA majoring in business, intent on professional success and marrying well. But then I fell in with a bad crowd (according to my parents) and everything changed. They were Hollywood types; stuntmen to be specific.
A stuntman stands in for the actor when the script calls for a risky or dangerous action: fights, falls, car crashes, the whole bit. They taught me a lot and helped me get my first jobs, which qualified me for my SAG-AFTRA card. My years of ballet, gymnastics and martial arts lessons were paying off. I had excellent balance and I was unafraid of heights. Also I was stage struck. I guess I'd always had a secret hankering for show business. I took drama and joined the chorus in high school. I studied music and could play the piano and violin decently. I even took up tap and step dancing in college to keep in shape.
Because of my small stature (4'9" and 85 lbs.) as well as an almost nonexistent bust line, I stood in for child actors; nothing spectacular but it gave me great experience. I quit school. My family and friends were scandalized and my parents were threatening to disown me, but I wouldn't be intimidated.
After a few months of being persistent and knocking on doors, I gradually expanded my contacts within the industry. On one of the jobs, I was hired to go to the Alabama Hills for some location work with a second unit team. The Alabama Hills aren't in Alabama. They're not even named after the state of Alabama. They were named for the CSS Alabama, a British-built Confederate warship, by local miners who sympathized with the Confederate cause. The CSS Alabama captured or sank dozens of Union military and civilian ships from 1862 until 1864, when it was itself sunk in a battle off the coast of France.
The Hills lie alongside the eastern edge of California's Sierra Nevada mountain range near the town of Lone Pine, just off US route 395. This area has been used as a film location for almost as long as the film industry has been in Hollywood. This area has seen tons of feature films and television episodes shot here, mostly westerns but has also substituted for other parts of the world and even other planets. My so-called stunt consisted of clambering up a couple of large rocks and running into a cave entrance. It wasn't any big deal, but the director was pleased and it was a lot of fun.
My next job for the same production sent me to San Francisco, one of my favorite cities in the whole world. Founded in 1776 by Spanish settlers, it is pretty small compared to the other great cities of the world. Still, San Francisco is first class all the way. We were filming some scenes at a vacant and abandoned hotel that was scheduled to be torn down and replaced with an office building.
I was rehearsing my stunt with a couple of the other crew-members when the floor where I was standing collapsed with a thunderous crack. The next thing I knew, I was falling. I squeaked in surprise and tried to grab onto something solid, but the only thing I grabbed was air.
I heard a woman's scream when I hit bottom, but then lost consciousness from the impact. When I came to, this middle-aged man started speaking Chinese to me in a dialect I didn't understand. Then this older woman started yelling, "You speakee English? You speakee English?"
"I speak English," I finally said and tried to clear my head. I was sore all over, but I didn't think I had broken anything. That definitely was not the stunt I was hired to perform. "Where am I?"
"You are in Madame Bordeaux's, the most exclusive parlor house in San Francisco and most probably anywhere west of the Mississippi in these United States. I am Madame Bordeaux. I want to know how you got in here and why you attacked one of my girls."
"I didn't attack anyone." I began to wonder where my fellow crew-members were. I didn't know these people. I was lying on a bed in a small room lighted by a gas lamp surrounded by men and women dressed in period costume, late 19th century was my guess. There weren't any location shoots scheduled that day so I couldn't understand why they were dressed that way. There were even more people peering through the open doorway, all strangers.
"That's not what Sarah said," Madame Bordeaux responded.
"Sarah also said it was a seven foot tall Chinese giant with fangs, claws and armed with a hatchet. It looks like the only thing she got right was that she is Chinese all right," another man said. The woman nodded.
"Did you check her for weapons?"
"I checked every square inch of her body for weapons," he said. "At first I thought it was a boy with her short hair and wearin' trousers and all, but she is all girl." The man grinned and leered at me. I felt my face burning from the shame and humiliation from having been told I'd been groped while I was unconscious. I was going to go straight to the police once I got out of this place and swear out a sexual assault complaint against this bastard.
"I still want to know how you got in here."
"I was on an upper floor when it gave away and I fell," I explained. Everyone looked up so I looked, too. There was a solid ceiling above me.
"There is no upper floor above us, only the roof. There is no hole either."
"I don't understand," I whispered.
"I don't either," the woman said, "but I intend to."
"She's probably a runaway from one of the Chinatown crib houses," someone else said. "She's cute for a China girl. I wouldn't mind trying her out." My anger and confusion was giving way to just plain fear. Did these people think I was a prostitute?
"Look," I said. "I'm sorry I trespassed. It was unintentional and there doesn't appear to have been any damage done. If you think I've done something wrong, you can call the police and have me arrested." I'd feel safer in the hands of the police than with this group of people. I could call my boss and he would bail me out of jail.
"We need a little variety around here," the woman said. "I think we'll keep you around for a while."
"Will someone please call the police for me?" My request only got a laugh from the assembled crowd. I didn't understand what was so funny.
"Did someone call for the police?" A well-dressed middle aged man stepped forward. "Sergeant Sam Butler of the San Francisco Police Department at your service." the man declared. He wasn't in uniform, but I had to assume he was telling the truth.
"Please take me out of here," I begged.
"Certainly, my dear," he responded. "All in good time. Let's get acquainted first." He handed the woman a coin. She smiled and nodded. I realized I had just been sold to this so-called officer of the law.
"I'm not going to do anything with you," I shouted.
"I took his token so you don't have any choice," said the bitch.
"You took his token so why don't you do whatever he wants with him?" Madame Bordeaux slapped me in the face. I pulled my leg back to kick her in the throat, but the Chinese man grabbed me from behind and pulled me back. I was helpless, so I spat at her landing some spittle on her chin. She slapped me again. The ring she was wearing cut my cheek that time. It stung like crazy and my own tears made it feel like a burning acid was being poured onto the wound.
"They will beat you if you continue to resist," the Chinese man whispered in my ear. "Let them do as they will." I ignored him and still struggled.
"I can give her a little something to calm her down a bit," the madam told the cop.
"No, I like my whores to have a little spirit," Sergeant Butler said. "Of course, if she gets too spirited, I'll just beat the shit out of her until she starts cooperating. Do we understand each other little China girl?" I gave him the evil eye stare, willing him to collapse right there and die in excruciating pain. Unfortunately he still lived, but I must have communicated something because he said, "Maybe your boy should continue restraining her or perhaps you can chain her to the bed. Hey, better yet Mike, George? Stay here and we'll make a party out of it. One of you take the Chinaman's place."
"That will be two more tokens if you please," said the brothel keeper.
"I am sorry," the Asian man whispered as he relinquished his grip on me to another man who took his place. Yeah, someday I'd make sure he was as sorry as the rest of them were going to be. I just wasn't sure how I was going to do that.
I shook my head and tried another tack. "Please don't do this," I begged. My tears were flowing freely. I prayed that this was just a nightmare and I would wake up safe and sound in my own bed. It all seemed so real, but it couldn't be, could it? Maybe my brain had been scrambled in the fall and I was hallucinating being trapped in a nineteenth century bordello. Where were my crew-mates? Why hadn't they come to rescue me?
"Strip her," Madame Bordeaux ordered.
"Don't!" I cried as two women started grabbing and pulling off my jeans and top. I tried flailing my arms and legs, but it didn't even slow them down. The crowd watching was a bunch of grinning idiots.
"She hardly has any pussy hair," one of them said. "Hardly any teats neither."
"That doesn't matter to me," said Butler. "The rest of you are welcome to watch, but it'll cost you."
"I just want to make sure I get my turn at her," said someone.
"Me too," said someone else.
"Come see me downstairs," said the brothel owner. "You can all have a turn." She turned to me. "I'm now kind of glad that you dropped in on us." People around her thought that remark was clever and laughed.
"I'll make sure you live to regret it," I hissed with as much venom as I could generate. "I swear it. That goes for anyone who so much as touches me."
The bitch yawned theatrically. "I can't tell you how many times I've heard that same phrase before." She exited the room with the crowd following her. I was now alone with the cop and his two buddies.
"I hope for your sake that you have calmed down a bit. Biting, scratching, kicking, hitting, spitting or other such thing will just get you hurt or killed." The cop might have been talking about the weather for all the emotion he put into his warning, but I could tell he meant every word. "Are you a virgin?" I closed my eyes and shook my head. The only man I had been intimate with was the man I thought I was going to marry. We broke up when I quit school. I was resigned now to being raped. There wouldn't be any cavalry riding in to rescue me at the last moment. I could hear the rustle of clothes as the man disrobed. The man holding me started playing with my boobs. I was actually grateful because that always started me lubricating down there. I'd been afraid I'd be dry when he penetrated me.
"Well, that is a disappointment, but we can't have everything, can we?" Butler's weight made the bed creak as he got on and I whimpered when he touched me. He thrust into me without protection and I was filled. Pain and discomfort followed.
I lay as passive as I could, hoping he wouldn't be getting any pleasure from raping me. He didn't seem to mind. The bastards started chatting with each other as if this was something they did routinely. I prayed I wouldn't become pregnant. I was on the pill, but that isn't 100% effective. Another worry was the possibility of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Lying there like a lump was just prolonging things so I decided to try to hurry things along if I could. I could fake an orgasm as well as any woman. I also had excellent muscle control. I started grunting, "Unh! Unh! Unh!" -and then, "Oh yeah! Oh yeah! Oh yeah! You're fucking me good! You're fucking me so good! Keep it up!"
I chanced a peek at his face and Butler looked very pleased with himself. I let out a screech and clamped my vaginal muscles down on his dick. It worked. The man grunted and spewed his seed into me. I was so disgusted, I wanted to puke. Instead I smiled for him.
"That was a lot better than it started out," said Butler. "I think you have found your calling in life." Butler was immediately replaced by George and then by Mike. I followed the same game plan as best I could even though I felt nothing, but pain and humiliation. That trio left and not more than a few minutes had passed before another man walked in. They were not going to give me a break. I stifled a sob and spread my legs, resigning myself to servicing him also. I had two more "customers" after that guy before I finally got a break. A woman came in with a bucket of water and dumped some into a basin. She gave me a cloth and I was allowed to clean up some. She didn't look too happy with me so I had an idea who my chamber maid might be.
"Are you Sarah?" I asked.
She looked surprised and said, "That's right."
"I can't say it's a pleasure," Sarah responded. "First you just about scare the life out of me and now you're stopping me from earning a living. This is my room."
"I'm sorry," I said and meaning it. "You can have whatever I earned. I'm getting the hell out of here anyway."
The woman giggled like a little girl. "For one thing, Madame Bordeaux thinks of you as found money. You or I won't be seeing a penny of it. For another thing, the only way you're getting out of here is when you're dead and then they'll just dump your body in the bay. That can be sooner or later depending on how well you behave and how much money you're earning for the house."
"Help me escape from here, Sarah. Please," I begged.
Sarah shook her head, looking scared. "I don't want to wind up at the bottom of the bay with you. Sorry."
"I understand," I said. Sarah handed me a thin cotton shift that hid absolutely nothing and told me there was a chamber pot underneath the bed. She also told me the door locked from the outside plus there was a guard on duty. The guard also acted as a bouncer for unruly customers. I would be moved to my own room in the morning. The young prostitute seemed ready to leave.
"May I ask you one more question, Sarah?"
"I'll answer it if I can," the woman responded.
"What year is it?"
"That's a strange question," Sarah said, "but easy enough to answer. The year is 1882. March is the month."
"Thank you." Sarah nodded and left. I briefly saw the guard at the door before it closed. He was the same man who said he had groped me. Being groped didn't seem so bad now after everything else that had happened to me in the last hours. I heard the door lock engaged and sat down to ponder what I had just been told. I had been thrown back in time 131 years before I started. No wonder no one I knew had come to my rescue after I had fallen. They hadn't even been born yet. For that matter neither had I. This was impossible!
Okay, I told myself. None of this real. You're lying unconscious on a hospital bed. This is just a weird dream caused by injuries suffered in your fall. When you wake up you're going to be surrounded by family members with your parents saying things like, "We told you so. We knew this would happen. Have you learned your lesson?" The trouble was that everything felt real right then. I was especially sore between my legs. A small hand mirror showed the cut I suffered just below my left eye was going to scar. There wasn't a lot of swelling.
The window had bars on it that I wouldn't be able to slip between even with my small frame. Yelling for help or screaming was probably a waste of time. I'd probably just attract the guard. It was dark out and a cold fog was rolling in. I was scared, lonely and tired. I needed some sleep. I would be able to think better and plan my escape. But where would I go even if I did escape? I didn't have any friends or family to rely on. I knew from personal experience I couldn't depend on the police. And who would believe my story? Excuse me, I'm from the future, the year 2013 to be specific. I need to get back to my own time. Can you help me? Yeah, they'd help me, right into a loony bin. It didn't seem like I was going to get any more customers they wanted me to service so I decided to try to get some sleep. I did fall asleep, but not without shedding a lot more tears.
I was awakened by knocking at the door and the sound of sing-song pidgin English. The door opened and the middle aged Chinese guy from the night before walked in holding a tray and wearing a big grin. "You eat," he said. "You have big day today."
"I'm not hungry," I responded. Actually I was starving. I wanted so badly to smash my fist into that guy's teeth. I noted the difference from the way he spoke the night before and this morning. He spoke fluently when he was whispering to me. This morning he sounded like he had only an elementary grasp of English. I wondered why he was putting on an act. He asked me something in that Chinese dialect I didn't understand. I responded in the Mandarin dialect that his mother was a dog turd.
"You must eat," he insisted loudly while shaking his head 'no'. He dropped something from beneath his tunic and kicked it underneath the bed. I almost didn't see him do it.
"Your ugly face is spoiling my appetite, whatever your name is," I responded just as loudly. "I'll eat after you leave. Now get the hell out of here, you slant-eyed motherfucker." I heard a muffled guffaw from somewhere and I knew we were being spied on. The man frowned and then returned to grinning.
"My name Sammy, but okey dokey," the man replied. "I go." He knocked on the door and someone let him out. I examined my breakfast tray. It was a bowl of mush, a dry piece of toast and a cup of water. A wooden spoon was my sole dining implement, nothing I could use as a weapon. The meal looked pretty unappetizing, but I was ravenous. On the other hand, I had been warned against eating any of it, hadn't I?
I pulled out the chamber pot and started to piddle. While I was doing that, I tried to examine whatever the man left behind as surreptitiously as I could manage. It was some rolled up clothing with a short note wedged beneath string holding the pack together. 'Food and water drugged. Madame sold you to tong. Pretend to eat then sleep. When you hear tower clock bell strike nine times, change clothes. Two bars on left side of window move easily from bottom. Not too far to drop. Be brave.' I shuddered when I read that I had been sold to a tong. Tongs were organizations in the United States and Canada that were associated with the Chinese criminal underworld. What did they want with me? Duh! The answer was obvious. I was a commodity. Madame Bordeaux sold me to one of them for some quick money. They would most probably be selling my body in a Chinatown brothel.
I rinsed my hands in the water still in the basin and then walked to the window. I took a look at the bars, but nothing seemed different about them. I didn't want to try moving them in case I was still under observation. I imagined that this might be a cruel joke, but what did I have to lose? I had to trust Sammy. I returned to my breakfast tray and pretended to eat and drink. Most all of it wound up in the chamber pot. I stretched and yawned. Then I lay down and feigned sleep. That was difficult to do with my nerves on edge just waiting for the signal to move. My body twitched involuntarily when I heard a bell begin to toll and I cursed myself. Nine bells, I thought, or was it only eight? Fuck it! I couldn't even count anymore.
My shift was off in one motion. The clothes consisted of black pants, black tunic, black cap and a pair of sandals. I was dressed like a coolie, a Chinese laborer. The cap even had a fake queue, the pigtail hairstyle Chinese men were required to have as a sign of loyalty to the Qing dynasty emperors. I crept to the window and peered out. There was no one in sight. I took a deep breath and tried to move the loose bars. There was some play in the bars, but moving them wasn't nearly as easy as Sammy let on. After a few seconds or so of resistance, the bars began to move, but more noisily than I would have liked. I slipped through. So far so good. I wanted to create confusion as to how I escaped so I moved the loose bars back into place while hanging onto a stable window bar, not a problem given my physical conditioning. There was an old cushion below me; small, but adequate to break my fall. The height wasn't a problem. A second after I was on the ground, I was stashing the cushion under a pile of leaves.
"Good thinking," a voice said behind me. I whirled and assumed a defensive stance. It was Sammy. "You are more athletic than I had hoped. Let's go. I know a safe place nearby." I nodded and followed. We turned a corner and ran straight into Sarah, apparently out for a stroll. We all gasped and stared at each other. I about peed in my pants.
"How did you-" Sarah began then said, "Never mind. I don't want to know. I just hope I don't get any of the blame."
"Blame me," said Sammy. "Sammy not go back."
Sarah nodded and smiled. "They'll be looking for you both. Just don't get caught. Good luck."
"Thank you, Sarah," I said. "I won't forget your kindness."
"Just don't get caught," the young prostitute repeated and then walked on without looking back.
"Stop gawking," Sammy urged me. "We are in a hurry. Our lives are in danger." I nodded, but continued gawking. The San Francisco I knew was gone. No skyscrapers. No Golden Gate Bridge. The fog had cleared so I could see the harbor: three-masted schooners, steamships blasting black smoke out of their stacks, side paddle wheelers. Most of the streets were dirt, or mud I should say, since it had recently rained. Still, the streets were crowded with people on foot, horseback and horse drawn carriages. Freight wagons with workmen loading and unloading goods added to the chaos around us. I was hopeful I could get lost and forgotten in this chaos. I was less hopeful of ever returning home to my own time. We ducked into a narrow alley behind a livery stable and entered a barn through some loosened boards in the back. Once I got used to the dim light, I could tell it was used to store a couple of carriages. There was a small pile of hay with a sleeping mat on it.
"We'll be safe here and then we'll have to move again after dark," Sammy said.
"What happens after that?"
"I get you out of San Francisco and then you get yourself as far away from here as possible, preferably where there are no tongs."
"No thanks," I said. "I have unfinished business here."
"May I ask what unfinished business you have that is so important you would risk your freedom and possibly your life?"
"I am going to kill Madame Bordeaux and those men who raped me." Sammy stared at me goggled-eyed and uttered something in Chinese.
"A little girl is going to kill a brothel owner, three policemen, a judge and two prominent businessmen." He shook his head in disbelief. "Not that you do not have reason to seek vengeance, but I think it's more likely you will get yourself killed going after just one of them."
"It's possible," I conceded. "But I'll do it or die trying."
"I risked my life and ruined my plans for a lunatic."
"You don't even know the half of it," I responded. "I am from the twenty-first century, the year 2013 to be exact. I don't know how, but I got sent back in time to 1882. I was in an old hotel that was scheduled to be demolished. I believe the hotel is or will be in the exact location where that brothel now stands. The floor collapsed and I fell. Apparently, there was a time anomaly that I fell through and I landed in Sarah's bed."
Sammy stared hard at me. I think he was tired of shaking his head. "You belong in an asylum."
"You think so? You might be right. I'm finding it hard to believe. I certainly don't expect you to believe any of it." I fully expected the man to cut his losses and walk away. He started pacing up and down the small space we were in.
"Perhaps the fall injured your brain and you are imagining all this."
"I have thought of that," I said. "I have also thought that I might be experiencing a vivid nightmare. But the nightmare part is being 131 years in the past, not knowing how it happened and not knowing how to get back."
"I don't like being in your nightmare."
"I don't blame you," I responded and giggled. Sammy responded with his own smile.
"Would you agree that you and I are in the present?"
"I do agree with you."
"Would you also agree the future is yet to be seen and unforeseeable?"
"That's true as far as I know."
"Then you would have to agree that no one can travel to the future and take a look around." Sammy nodded his head as if prompting me to agree with him.
"Except your present is my past and my present is your future," I said.
"That statement makes absolutely no sense."
"You're right and I know I can't prove it to you. I'm still going to kill that bitch and those rapists." Sammy was back to shaking his head. I was afraid he was going to strain his neck muscles if he kept on doing that.
"Very well, miss."
"My name is Jennifer. Please call me Jennifer. Please don't call me Jenny. I don't like that name. May I call you Sammy?"
The man shook his head. "Sammy must disappear forever. I must choose a different English name soon. My Chinese name is Lee Chen. Please call me Chen when we are alone."
"Chen," I said. I liked his name.
"Very well, Jennifer. Let's assume I accept everything you just told me. You're from some time in the future. You were thrust into the past by unknown means and you have no idea how to get back. For all you know, you're going to be staying in this time period for the rest of your life. Am I correct so far?"
"It's fair to say that," I responded. Contemplating that possibility made me feel sad that I wouldn't be seeing my family and friends any more.
"Given that possibility, shouldn't you learn how to live in this present?"
"You're absolutely right, Chen," I declared.
"Yes, I am right." Chen put on a big grin. I think he was happy because I was agreeing with him.
"I'll do that just as soon as those bastards are dead." He stopped grinning.
"Jennifer, I don't know where you come from, but in California it is a very bad idea for a Chinese to even defend himself much less seek revenge for wrongs done to him. It is impossible for a Chinese to obtain justice in either the criminal or civil courts when the adversary is a white man. You will only succeed in getting yourself hanged if you insist on carrying through with your plans. You will also give people an excuse to retaliate against other Chinese people. Is that what you want?"
"Of course I don't want that," I responded. "That just means I'll have to be very careful to not get caught and make sure there are no witnesses."
Chen started mumbling in Chinese again. He sounded exasperated. "Why don't you listen to the advice I give you? It is very good advice. It will help to keep you safe and among the living."
"I have been listening to your advice," I said. "And I agree that it's very good advice. You have given me much food for thought. And speaking of food, it has been about 24 hours since I last ate, give or take 131 years. I'm very hungry and thirsty. Is there any place nearby where we can grab something to eat?"
"It will be safer to wait until after dark," Chen said. I nodded. I had been thinking with my stomach and not my brain. I didn't think it was even noon yet. I don't think I had ever missed a meal in my entire life before yesterday. My stomach growled, or rather roared, in complaint causing the man to smile.
"I need to go out and listen to gossip and rumors. Some of that idle talk might be about us. I need to find out how badly we are wanted. I suppose I could purchase a small meal for you while I am out."
"You said it won't be safe until after dark," I protested. "You might be recognized if you go out now." All of a sudden I was feeling rather foolish and guilty for asking this man to risk his life so that I might not miss another meal.
"You are right, of course." He pulled aside a loose board, reached in and pulled out a small carpet bag. He applied a fluid from a bottle he had uncorked to a rag and began removing makeup from his face? He was wearing a disguise! It was fascinating to watch as Chen removed lines and years from his face. His mustache came off, and even the pockmarks on his cheeks disappeared. He removed a bit of padding from around his waist and his paunch disappeared. He even seemed to gain a couple inches in height even though still being short at around 5'5". That still towered over me.
"How do I look?"
"I'm impressed," I said. Even his tone of voice was different. I realized he wasn't much older than me and handsome to boot.
"Pretty good for a slant-eyed motherfucker?"
I felt my cheeks heat up. "When I called you that, you were on my list of people I was going to do horrible things to like break your arms off or something like that. You're safe from me now."
"I feel relieved," he responded with a smile. It was such a charming smile, I felt myself moistening up between my legs. Yeah, I can think slutty thoughts just as much as any woman. I just don't like sex forced on me, okay?
"I'm also sorry I messed up your plans, whatever those were." That was an invitation for him to tell me what those plans were, but he ignored it.
"It doesn't matter." He told me to stay put and he was gone in the next minute promising only that he would be back as soon as possible and he would have something for me to eat.
There wasn't anything to do hiding in the dim light of my 'den' except think. I spent the time waiting for Chen by doing exactly that. Mostly my thoughts were about the talk I just had with my new friend. I decided he was right and I was wrong. I mean, what did I have to gain by risking my life by seeking revenge? I would most likely get caught or killed. When Chen returned, he brought with him a couple of metal containers full of rice and tea. He handed me a pair of chopsticks and I started gobbling the rice down without so much as a thank you to him.
"It is as I feared," the man said after watching me eat for a bit. "Madame Bordeaux wants me dead and she wants you returned to her. She has backed up her words with money. The tongs know about your escape and any one of them would love to get their hands on you without having to pay the Madame anything. They are also offering money for you to be delivered to one of them."
I sipped some tea. "How many tongs are there in San Francisco?"
"There are four main tongs in the city plus several minor ones," Chen said. "All of them have their eyes and ears open both day and night so now you understand the necessity of getting you out of the city."
"So, I leave San Francisco," I said. "What then? I don't have family or friends. I don't have any money. I would rather take my chances here with you. The city is plenty large. I think I could get lost here quite easy."
"The city is indeed large," the man said. "In fact, it is one of the largest cities in the United States with about a quarter million inhabitants. But the Chinese make up only about 10% of that total with the vast majority of them males. U.S. authorities suspended Chinese immigration a couple of years ago and the only ones getting in are smuggled in at great expense. Can you see why a young and pretty Chinese girl generates so much interest?"
"I guess so," I allowed.
"I am not certain when legal immigration will be resumed."
"It won't be," I said remembering the Chinese experience in the U.S. from a history text I read. "The Chinese Exclusion Act was ... uh ... will be passed by Congress and signed into law this year, I think." I had to remind myself I was speaking of future history.
"You know this for certain?" Chen seemed skeptical.
"Uh huh." I took another sip of tea. "The Chinese Exclusion Act is supposed to be effective for ten years. But it will be renewed in 1892 and made permanent in 1902. It won't be repealed until World War Two when the U.S. and China are allies in a war against Japan and her allies."
Anti-Chinese feelings among the white settlers were very strong in California from their first arrival during gold rush days. Various laws were passed aimed directly against the Chinese immigrant. They were forced from their mining claims, their homes and businesses. Those who chose to remain in California were required to live in specified areas of the city otherwise known as ghettos. The ghettos eventually came to be known as Chinatowns, the largest being in San Francisco. Comparisons could be made with the persecution of the Jews in Europe and the freed slaves with the Jim Crow laws in the former Confederate states.
Big business had no problem tapping this labor source when it was to their advantage. The Chinese were a source of cheap labor during the building of the transcontinental railroad and were blamed for taking away jobs from more deserving white people and for holding wages down during a post Civil War economic recession.
"World War Two? There will be a World War One?"
"Yes," I said. "That will last from 1914 to 1918. The people at the time will call it the 'Great War' or 'The war to end all wars'. They didn't know what they were talking about. Millions will die and just set the stage for an even bigger war twenty years later."
"I find myself starting to believe your story," Chen said, "even as the rational part of my mind says I should not. And yet, nothing you say can help me protect you from those who would prey upon you. I have a little money saved, but it won't last long if I remain jobless."
"I'll get a job and help contribute," I offered.
"Jobs are not easy to come by even if you're not Chinese," Chen said. "Also, you would be spotted in a matter of minutes by a tong agent or one of the madame's people."
"I guess I'll just have to become a boy."
"That's right. I've done plenty of acting, as boys as well as girls." That was an outright lie, but I didn't want the man to abandon me. "A little of your makeup magic and no one will recognize me and everyone will think I'm a boy. I can even pee standing up."
Chen laughed and then looked long and hard at me. He started frowning.
"What? Is there a problem?"
"Your hair," Chen said. "It's too feminine even cut short as it is."
"Let's cut it off," I responded.
"We might have to shave it off."
"Not a problem." I'm not without vanity, but that would have to take a back seat to survival.
Chen told me he was from a coastal Chinese city and the dialect he spoke was closely related to Cantonese. His father had purchased passage to San Francisco, but he died suddenly and Chen took his place even though he was just twelve years old. Much to his surprise, the job Chen was counting on didn't exist. It was just a scam to collect fees without getting anything in return. Eventually he got a job as 'Monkey Boy' in a traveling carnival. That's where he learned makeup. He already knew English from a missionary school he attended in China, but one of the carnies helped him improve his reading and writing in English. The carnival folded a couple of years later somewhere near Sacramento and that was the end of that career. Chen worked his way back to San Francisco and had been doing various odd jobs over the years, which he admitted included some criminal activity, but never wanted to get involved with the tongs.
"I'm glad for that!"
"I'm glad, too," Chen responded. I found myself being more and more attracted to this man, but he was nothing if not traditional. I shouldn't have been surprised by that observation with me being in the 19th century. But this 21st century woman wanted to let him know I wanted him without pussyfooting around. I wasn't interested in acting shy and demure and just hoped he might feel the same way about me. But I was afraid of showing my feelings for fear of seeming too forward, which would definitely scare him away or make him think I was a loose woman. Well, I guess I was a loose woman by 19th century standards.
I told him about my job as a stunt double, which he found amusing, but I had the hardest time explaining motion pictures. Those hadn't been invented yet.
"I knew you were very athletic from the way you climbed out of the window," Chen said. "You didn't show a bit of apprehension when you dropped to the ground. I did many of the same things you describe learning how to become a decent 'Monkey Boy'."
"Perhaps we can team up and become a monkey duo?"
"Perhaps," Chen responded. "It is dark enough now with the fog rolling in. It is time to leave." We made our way to the Chinatown area, giving everyone along our path a wide berth while trying not to be obvious about it. Chen's room was a small room attached to a restaurant. It had a measure of privacy for which he paid a little higher rent to the landlord. It hosted a small bed, table and chair. It was lighted with a kerosene lamp.
"I am afraid I only have this small bed. I don't recommend sleeping on the floor. A rodent and a cockroach or two might crawl in with you during the night. At least I don't have bedbugs." I think Chen blushed when he told me this, but I couldn't really tell because of the poor light. He must not have been certain on how I would react.
I smiled and bowed low. "If that is the case, I hope you don't mind me sharing your bed with you. I'm bigger than a bed bug, but at least I won't bite. I pray that I will be pleasing to you tonight and for many nights to come." That statement took Chen by surprise. I wasn't being shy or reticent. I was offering to be the man's fuck buddy in return for his protection; a stone age marriage proposal so to speak. Chen didn't speak right away and I was beginning to wonder if I'd blown it. I think he was weighing the risks and benefits of having me around on a permanent basis. I only thing I had to offer was my body. Was it enough? I didn't want to be an albatross around the man's neck and I did have some bad people looking for me. Looking for him, too, for that matter. I sighed with relief when Chen smiled and nodded.
I was conscious of our gender roles and waited passively while Chen straightened the bed. It didn't need straightening, but I think he was as nervous as I was. The lamp was turned down and we were plunged into darkness. I could hear the rustle of clothing and so I stripped down to my birthday suit.
"Are you ready?" Chen was trying to be considerate and I loved him for it.