|Anna May Wong.|
Imagine Blade Runner meets The Maltese Falcon and you will get a sense of the tone I am striving to achieve.
This brief extract from the novel is from the end of Chapter Three.
Sam Edmunds, a ne'er-do-well adventurer just arrived in London from New York, has found himself caught up in gunfire at an illicit drinking club run by a powerfully self-made and self-defined Chinese woman, Lady Shao (based on an amalgam of various real-life women of the period, including the wonderful Anna May Wong) - a woman branded in reality by the sensationalist pictorial press of the day, "The Madonna of the Underworld."
Both Sam and Lady Shao have been interviewed by the police, but now they are back at Lady Shao's club, The Six, at the end of a very long night.
I hope you enjoy this extract from the book and, if you can, that you will contribute to the Kickstarter campaign for Chinatown Nights. Please either see the blog post directly below this one - or click on this Kickstarter link.
Please also "Like" the Facebook page for Chinatown Nights, which has additional extracts from the book, images and other background information.
Chinatown Nights - Chapter Three (extract)
The music had ended and been replaced by the insistent crackle of the phonograph needle skipping repeatedly across the center of the disk, but Lady Shao made no move to stop it as she picked up the ear-piece of the elegant telephone on her desk and listened for an operator.
Even with the promise of further contact tonight, I felt isolated again – almost as isolated as I had while waiting endlessly in the office of Detective Moil.
The crackle was melancholy, or perhaps my own spirits were sinking under the weight of a long and debilitating night. Everything began to blur once more and to skip like the gramophone needle, so that in one instant we were sitting waiting with no promise of further conversation between us – and then we were walking through the phantasmal shadows of the dance floor to climb the stairs and see if my taxi had arrived.
▪ ▪ ▪
Except that at some point before we left her office, she wound the Victrola once more and set the same oriental jazz tune playing, so that as we passed the club’s small bandstand with its ghostly-quiet drum set and piano, and she stumbled, I could hear the phonograph’s jaunty-sad melody stirring the stale tobacco-tainted air of the Six and almost share its effect on her.
“It’s my heel,” she said, shivering as she took off the shoe she had damaged earlier. “I think it’s completely broken.”
She reached down to remove her other shoe, and as she did, she brushed against me – and I felt another electrical jolt to my system, like the rush of primal energy when we had practically collided on this very spot as Mullin’s shots rang out six or more long hours before.
The difference now was that I felt exposed and open and involved in a way that I never could have imagined, as if she meant far more to me than could be explained simply by my desire for her or by the situation or the few details we had exchanged about each other’s lives.
Curiously, the broken heel or perhaps the shock of the cold floor on her bare feet seemed to lift her spirits. She dumped her shoes on a table and walked upstairs with me, smiling again, even swaying her head wistfully to the distant echo of the music from her office.
“You must take your coat this time,” she told me, venturing behind the counter of the cloakroom to fetch it for me. “And don’t worry about your passport, we’ll get it back, I promise.”
She led me to the door, her entire being filled with confidence again, as though her fears about Mullin had not merely been banished but replaced by a newer, tougher skin.
I could see the strength in her, and when her lips brushed my cheek to kiss me goodbye, I knew that I was drowning in her world, breathing now only as directed by her – that here at last was a woman truly worth taking chances for.
“Get some sleep,” she said. “If you can.”
An Arctic blast through the open door shocked me as I stepped outside to my taxi, its driver grumbling, its motor cranking unevenly, its exhaust poisoning the air. The Madonna remained on the step.
“Whatever else happens today,” she called encouragingly, “tonight may come as a surprise.”
Then she was gone. The door to The Six was closed before my cab began to move, and I could only peer back through the vehicle’s frosty rear window and reflect on where I was and whom I’d met and how everything, even the nature of time itself, seemed different in London from New York.
And wonder, too, how this woman might – if my intelligence were to be trusted any more than my baser monkey instincts – make this silent, slumbering city as vital to me as Manhattan had always been.
Copyright 2012 Alexander Stuart.