Jimmie Bleed’s habitual sneer twisted more deeply. “Why the fuck should I care?” He snapped. “Nobody stuck up for me! Nobody did anything when those fuckers were spitting on me and slamming my head into walls. They can fucking burn.”
I nodded. I said, “That’s reasonable Jimmie. They are not people for whom I have any affection. But the Shrall will not stop with them. They will spread until they encounter an opposing force. The longer they have to grow, the larger the force will need to be to push them back. Would you rather be on the front line with a chance of winning or running for cover when they are a relentless tsunami?”
“You’re mixing your fucking metaphors,” he said. The corners of his lips were straight rather than down turned. It was almost a smile.
Taylor LaSalle raised his arms dramatically, intoning, “Satan will tear you apart! I am his hand in this world and he has granted me great and terrible powers!”
I resisted rolling my eyes. I said, “There is no Satan, LaSalle. Nor any God in Heaven. I’m not sure from who your powers come but it is not the Devil. You are being used.”
Taylor flexed his fingers and sparks like electric charges danced between the tips. He said, “Oh course I am being used! We all serve a Master! I have chosen the Lord of Hell and he has rewarded me for my service.”
I rolled my eyes.
Inspector Glass scrutinized me. “You haven’t changed a bit, Rose,” he said.
I smiled despite my exhaustion. It was only polite. I said, “Ten years isn’t that long, Ira.”
He ran a hand through his hair and said, “It’s long enough for the shingles to start falling off. But you haven’t a wrinkle.”
I patted his shoulder. I said, “Your flattery needs work. Now tell me how a rich man drowned in Golden Gate Park.”
I did not need to open the closet to see how the rat had gained access. After the beast had gnawed through the wall at the back of the closet it had proceeded to chew through the door as well. I found myself briefly wondering why it had come in through the closet. If it could chew through the wall it could simply have come directly into the bedroom. To need to take the extra step of chewing through the door seemed wasteful and excessive. I shook my head as if to clear out my ridiculous thoughts.
“I did not come to excavate family history. I have not spoken to my sisters in more than a century and, Great Mother willing, I may never speak to them again. That we are no doubt related is mere unfortunate coincidence. I have sought you out for different reasons of common experience.”
I yawned. “Will this common experience require me to rush out into the night moments from now? Or do we have time for tea?”
The specter glided over the uneven stones like a leaf across the surface of a still pond. I followed as quickly as I could but darkness and treacherous rocks slowed my passage. I looked down to be sure I was placing my feet safely and, when I looked up, I could not longer see her.
I stopped. I heard the breakers far below. I felt a slight chill of a wind blowing south. I smelled the tang and fishiness of the Pacific. A wail of despair tore the air.
Mr. Chin lit his pipe and inhaled. The rank smell of cheap, too wet tobacco filled the room. He exhaled slowly and the small room seemed to grow more confined. He said, “I do not know who allowed the devil into this world. I do know what it wants and where it will strike next.”
After he had not spoken for a few minutes I nudged Littlefield. “Pay him,” I said.
Chang continued ironing shirts as if I had not spoken. I leaned over the counter so that he could not help seeing my face. I said, “I understand that you don’t wish to be seen talking to me. I know that you want that even less than to actually talk to me. I shall make this easy for you. I shall get very upset. I will shout and holler and behave like an angry African. I will say, in words loud enough for your neighbors to hear, that you are a stupid stubborn Chinaman and that you deserve to have a demon eat your soul. I will stop out of your shop, slam your door behind me and walk out of Chinatown without looking back. Then, at midnight tonight, I will be waiting on the roof of your building. No one will see me arrive. I will be there for fifteen minutes. If luck finds you there at the same time, perhaps you can answer one or two of my questions.”
Chang made eye contact with me for, perhaps, a second.