Chapter Five

One of the advantages of the Palace Hotel was its location: Market Street was already one of the primary northeast-southwest avenues of the city, leading up from the Ferry Building, and would be one of the five great radials running to the new City Plaza once the Plan was complete. That made it a natural for the parade, and the hotel had second-story windows that gave you an unrivaled view, above the crush but close enough to see and hear everything. Some of the rooms behind them could be discreetly reserved, if you were a guest… most particularly if you were a guest in an exceedingly expensive suite on the top floors, much like the ones where some of the very wealthy lived year-round in this sort of hotel in any American city. And when you had hinted at further business if your visit went off well. Even reserving two rooms, as she had, wasn’t impossible.

“Joan! So good to see you again!” Luz said, sincerely, and in English, as they grasped hands and brushed cheeks in greeting at the hallway door, American-style, or at least in the more or less European manner that women of the American upper classes used, and which came even more naturally to their Mexican equivalents.

David Yuen’s wife Joan was about her own age, the daughter of another of the wealthy Chinatown merchants—but American-born, and educated rather expensively here. Luz’ judgment was that she was extremely smart, but didn’t advertise it. She wore something very fashionable, in fact ultra-new, but new in a Chinese fashion just arrived from the coastal cities of that country, where dress customs were in upheaval along with everything else since the 1911 Revolution: a long silk chángshān, or cheongsam as they said in Canton, a Manchu-style quipo of pale blue silk falling to the lower calf, with decorative lace edging but sleeveless and split on each side to knee-height, defying the old rules on what Han (and women) could wear, with a high collar open at the front, a blouse and sheer silk hose beneath… and presumably knickers. It had an exotic cachet here, but closely matched the slim up-and-down silhouette of postwar American fashion.

And with leather shoes on her feet; unbound feet, of course, though her mother might well have followed that Old Country custom. It had died out among the Chinese immigrant community here far faster than in the homeland. She had also bobbed her hair to about halfway to her shoulders.

All that was common now among affluent younger Chinese women who supported the radical, Republican Kuomintang…

I don’t think her father-in-law particularly likes it. Not at all, she thought as she greeted him and his son, this time shaking hands with the younger man as well. Kuomintang political symbolism or no.

The elder Mr. Yuen was a widower, perhaps fortunately for Joan, from what Susan Zhou had told her about Chinese mothers-in-law—she’d been married and still referred to her deceased husband’s equally deceased mother as ‘that evil old bái gû guí’, which meant white-bone demon. Yuen the elder had several married daughters, but David was an only son. The three children Joan shepherded in, with their amah—nursemaid—following behind, included two grandsons, one five and another three and a bit, and a granddaughter about two and a half.

Their grandfather beamed openly at them and their delight at the upcoming treat. Taking them into consideration for this occasion went a little beyond business for Luz’ cover identity, and helped establish bona fides, plus being genuinely pleasurable.

“Thank you so much for inviting the children over to see the parade, Cayetana,” Joan said warmly.

De nada, mi amiga,” Luz said. “I’m a mother too, after all, and I know how much children love this sort of show!”

She’d had the Yuens, father and son and daughter-in-law, to a private supper several nights ago in her rooms on the top floor; the suite had a small but sumptuously appointed dining room as well as a sitting room for a separate table for her children and theirs, besides the four ensuite-equipped bedrooms.

Our daughters aren’t even five yet and they’re already working for the Chamber… as camouflage, she thought.

The main courtyard dining area of the Palace Hotel down on the ground floor had the brazen magnificence and stained-glass elevated ceiling you’d expect here, and having the adult Yuens as her guests there would have been perfectly possible… money worked wonders, and this wasn’t Mississippi. But while the staff would have been impeccably polite, not all the other diners could be absolutely relied on for that. People would have stared at Mr. Yuen senior, at the least.

Inviting the Yuen children to meet hers made an even more impeccably tactful excuse for keeping things private, then and today. Luz thought that Joan had appreciated both the tact and the dinner invitation, and even more that for her children today. It had thawed the younger Mr. Yuen a bit, too, and she suspected him of a generalized dislike-on-principle of white Westerners for their treatment of China and of the emigrants here. She’d had Ciara greet them at the entrance and escort them upstairs both times, also appreciated.

And her husband and father-in-law told Joan I’m a Kuomintang sympathizer, Luz thought. Which is even true, in a detached abstract in-an-ideal-world sense. And Joan is a bit of a suffragist… what they’re calling a feminist these days… and a lady of advanced opinions who approves of an independent businesswoman. Which I think I can tell her father-in-law does not, though he doesn’t let that get in the way of his business. Unlike her menfolk, I think she picked up on Ciara and me too, judging from a few very subtle things—

It had been simpler to make that relationship a very discreet part of the cover identity too; that way possible slip-ups would just be part of the manufactured identity, not jarring breaks. Ciara had giggled helplessly about being supposedly a wealthy sapphic businesswoman’s secretary-mistress and they’d done some rather amusing little ‘training exercises’ in private with a steno pad and lap-sitting and various entertaining parodies on the theme of ‘taking dictation’.

—but it doesn’t seem to bother Joan. I like her and wish her well. As long as it doesn’t get in the way of… business… which shouldn’t be a problem. No reason to expect anything drastic here and I’ll make sure the firm of Yuen doesn’t come out a loser in the whole thing. Shanghai will be a different matter. It’s a rough old town, from all accounts, more wide-open than San Francisco ever was, even during the Gold Rush days.

The hotel staff had left a buffet-style collation for the adults and another for the children in the next room. Luz’ daughters came out and greeted the Yuen children with the slight wariness of youngsters their age who’d met the other children only once before, soon fading off into their usual brassy self-confidence; the lordly five-year-old Yuen boy was disappointed at having to spend an afternoon with mere girls and babies, but so excited at the prospect of the parade that he got over it quickly; the younger two simply wanted to play and didn’t much care with who.

The children all pitched into the ice-cream and other treats in the other room, though; those included some Cantonese-style egg tarts and banana rolls with sweet red-bean paste filling she’d had catered. The elder Mr. Yuen was ensconced in a comfortable arm-chair by the central window in this room with a glass of very nice port and a selection of canapes on a table at his elbow. She’d chosen some like shrimp on crackers that were likely to appeal to him; the buffet had a nice selection of pâtes and open-faced sandwiches and petite-fours and small jewel-like pastries that his son and daughter-in-law accepted with pleasure, even the ones that contained cheese, which Susan had told Luz she and most Chinese found loathsome. The younger man took a glass of wine, while his wife stuck to tea and lemonade.

Susan and the Taguchis were once more mostly managing the children along with the plain, competent and dumpy middle-aged amah the Yuens had brought along, though quietly circulating through often enough to keep up with anything said. Big Ox remained in the corridor outside. Plenty of the working staff of the hotel were Chinese, and the rest seemed sensible enough to leave him severely alone, or had been tipped off.

Luz thought that the Yuen menfolk were itching to tell her something, but the parade started first, the roar of the crowd and the grinding of machinery coming clearly through the open windows. She strolled over to one with David and Joan, taking her plate and glass with her. Squeals of excitement came from all seven children, until the eldest Yuen grandson remembered the gravity of his position and helped the adults shush his younger siblings; Luz’ children fell silent too, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, craning to see from the helpfully-provided wooden steps with a number of vigilant eyes to keep them safe.

A big Marine marching band in smart dress blues and billed saucer hats came first at a brisk pace, with none other than John Philip Sousa leading it and leading the music—albeit from a sort of motorized conductor’s stand on a tricycle arrangement with a driver, in recognition of his advanced years—he was in his sixties and had a snow-white mustache. And of his exalted rank, currently Lieutenant-Colonel.

Uncle Teddy knows he’s worth a division or more for his effect on morale, Luz thought with amusement.

The brassy, bracing notes of The Battle Hymn of the Republic floated out, played with snap and panache. The dense crowds on either side fortunately didn’t try to sing it, despite that tune being the official national anthem for the past seven years, but they did perform the Bellamy Salute en masse. That had started as the way children did the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag at school every morning, but had spread widely as a patriotic gesture by civilian adults on public occasions like this over the last decade: stand to attention, eyes front, put the right hand over the heart, and then extend that arm stiffly at a forty-five degree angle, palm up.

During the Great War failure to do it when the flag went by had led to a number of cases of death by mob violence, and while the passions had subsided—a bit—the habit had stuck. A forest of arms rose on both sides of the street; she hoped the knocking-off of hats was kept to a minimum.

At least that was the way ordinary people used it. Party zealots had a tendency to employ the Salute on small provocation or none whenever anything remotely flag-like was involved or even just evoked by association.

The arms stayed up as a massed display of flags went by, including the California state flag but mostly Old Glory—or New Glory, aka Teddy’s Constellation, as the wits were calling the sixty-one-star model now official as of this spring when Iceland and Alaska had joined Hawaii and the Canadian ex-provinces and Newfoundland on top of 1912’s forty-eight. Most of them were carried by flag parties from each service, Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marines and the Army Air Corps and its naval equivalent, but also by representatives of the people who’d be marching behind the military.

Then the cheers rose to a series of surging, deafening roars, each louder than the last as the open-topped touring cars went by. The first held the Mayor of San Francisco, “Sunny Jim” Rolph, who’d been in office since the epoch-making year of 1912, a figurehead now that City Managers ran major urban areas, but a well-liked one; the second Vice-President Hiram Johnson, the former State governor; then came General Roosevelt—Ted Jr.—on his way to take up his post as Governor-General of the Philippines, and his wife and children, all waving.

The Secret Service guards in their trademark conservative dark suits walked beside the cars with Thompson guns cradled in their arms and expressions of well-concealed frustration which Luz understood with professional sympathy: this was an impossible position for them, if anyone made a serious assassination attempt, although she knew there were others with scope-sighted Sharpshooters on rooftops along the route.

Each cheer was louder, but a full-throated bellow rattled the windows at the sight of the President and First Lady in the fourth limousine.

It broke into a chant, an undertone at first and then a surging call that had resounded everywhere across America more and more often since 1912:

“Ted-dy! Ted-dy! Ted-dy!”

Edith Roosevelt gave a genteel wave and a slightly strained smile; Luz knew she found public occasions like this a burden. Uncle Teddy didn’t. He was waving his top-hat, and showing every single square tooth in the grin that had been famous and the delight of cartoonists since the 1890’s—you just had to sketch a pince-nez and a set of choppers like that, and everyone knew who you meant. He swelled visibly at the cheers, as if at an influx of sorcerous energy, and Luz could almost feel some sort of magnetic current flowing between him the people.


Luz grinned to herself; her daughters called him Uncle Teddy, as she had, and frequently boasted that he came to play with them… and it was entirely safe, because half the children in America had that particular fantasy.

A minor irony struck her and broadened the smile. Luz knew that Theodore Roosevelt had never liked the nickname Teddy—especially from other adults; she herself got a pass because she’d started using it over twenty years ago. During the four years of the Taft Interregnum he’d tried to insist on ‘Colonel Roosevelt’ from everyone but intimates. For once, the public who adored him had completely ignored his wishes.

The limousines went forward at a walking pace, on their way to the City Plaza-to-be. It was a vast muddiness now, but open enough for the President to review the marchers and give his speech from a flag-draped podium run up for the occasion.

The chant ran up the street at the same speed as the limousines, fading a little as distance attenuated it:


Next came the Navy in a coastal town like this, and several hundred bluejackets from the cruiser Constitution doing a creditable job of marching, followed by a company of Marines and their marching band doing a much better one, and looking far more at home with the rifles over their shoulders. Then another bunch of flags—more Bellamy Salutes from the crowd—and a crack regiment from the local military conscription district strutting past, bayonets rippling in the sun like a dragon’s spine, thousands of feet in polished gaitered boots hitting the pavement in massive unison, an earthquake sound that hammered like the beat of a giant’s heart through all the other noises.

Next year the lower enlisted ranks will all be men who’ve been called up since the Armistice, Luz realized.

The peacetime term of service was three years with the colors, with no exceptions apart from the sort of disability that got the Department of Public Health and Eugenics’ gimlet eye moving your way.

The others will have gone into the Reserves, or been promoted.

It was an odd thought for someone her age, whose adult life had been dominated by the Great War and its world-shaking aftermath for so long.

Then came waves of tanks four abreast, seeming endless but actually about a hundred of them, the clanking of their treads and engine-roar loud but almost drowned by the enthusiastic cheers for this American invention. Luz hoped they weren’t chewing up the pavement too badly; the latest model at least had hard rubber pads bonded into the cleats.

She also doubted that even in Berlin a load of V-gas shells would get the same reception, though technically they were both capital-S Science applied to war. These machines looked different from the Great War models she’d first seen years ago when they were a deeply secret weapon. They had the same combination of turret and treads and hull, but all of it lower and squatter and less angular and smoother-skinned, without the patterns of domed rivet-heads holding the plates together.

Ciara bent a knowledgeable eye on them, which was in accord with her cover identity’s two-year higher-vocational-school background as well as her own interests. Whether their primary field was arts or sciences, the younger educated crowd tended to follow technological innovations the way baseball fans did their teams, complete with statistics.

To Luz it was an alien approach, and a little like the first, faint, far-off intimations of fuddy-duddy-dom.

Lobos,” Ciara said. “The Mark IV—brand-new, just being issued to the elite front-line units. Twenty-nine tons, welded armor instead of riveted, four hundred horsepower… that’s a de-rated Liberty V-12 aircraft engine—and the main gun is a modified 14-pounder, the light three-inch field-piece we copied from the British back in 1913. One coaxial Browning, the new .50 heavy model, and a .30 caliber one in the hull front in that thing that looks like a ball in a socket. Because it is a ball in a socket.”

Joan and David Yuen both nodded to her. The elder Mr. Yuen ignored the comment, but he was watching carefully through well-worn opera-glasses. His neighborhood had a lively theater and opera scene of its own, featuring Chinese material, of course, and his file said he both enjoyed it and provided venues and paid for imported troupes from China to perform the classics.

Everyone was silent for a moment, as flight after flight of sleek Puma fighting-scouts—or just fighters, in the post-war parlance—went by above in a roar of engines that made the tanks seem silent as so many streetcars by comparison, keeping formation until they reached the slopes of the Twin Peaks, then climbing in a fan suddenly traced by white smoke released from their spatted undercarriages, then up and over in showy Immelmann turns until they were flying back in the direction they’d come… with every second plane upside-down until they pivoted with a unified ripple.

The cheers for the tanks were nothing compared to the way the crowd went wild for the aeroplanes, the incarnation of Progress. Shrill cries of wonder came from the children’s room as well as the endless parade of squadrons thundered by a few hundred feet up.

“Puma VI’s, the naval version,” Ciara said—much louder, to be heard over the roar of machines and human voices, though it was quieter here than it would be down on the sidewalk. “Six hundred horsepower radial engine and top speed in a dive pushing two hundred miles an hour, monocoque fuselages and wings, a combination of duralumin and spruce plywood… no fabric any more… with light armor around the pilot’s seat. And four of the new Browning .50’s—two in a fairing over the engine, two built into the roots of the lower wing, all with Mr. Tesla’s latest electro-synchronization gear. Really very clever!”

And she remembered not to call him ‘N’, Luz thought; that was the code-name the Chamber used for the head of the Technical Section.

They’d both learned how to fly over the past few years; it had become much easier to disguise things like that now that aeroplanes were so much more common and so many women wanted to add aviatrix to their resumes, with its overtones of modernity and glamor. Luz had found it entrancing, and so did her partner, though she suspected that Ciara’s pleasure in it was more intellectual. The Chamber always encouraged operatives to add a new skill, on the theory that you could never tell what would come in useful.

Though handling a hot fighter like the Puma VI could be a little alarming—they were designed to be very maneuverable, which translated as radically unstable. The Air Corps joked that the Mk. VI had a turning circle so tight it could kiss its own ass, and learning how to pull one out of a flat spin had given endless amusement to the sadistic instructor and made what military slang called the barf bag very necessary.

Luciana dashed in and shouted: “Mommy, what’s a Puma?

Luz answered: “It’s a big fierce cat, darling. A mountain lion, some say.”

“Like Safira?”

“Even bigger and even fiercer, mi pequeña.”

“¡Gracias, Mami!” she said, and dashed back.

More tracked vehicles passed, modified versions that pulled heavy guns or mounted antiaircraft weapons or that carried squads of special assault infantry, the troops standing in the hatches with their faces grim under their beetling turtle-shaped helmets, submachine-guns slung across their chests.

The last strictly military part of the parade was heavy six-wheel White motor-trucks mounting launch ramps and sky-torpedoes. The sound from the crowd was less of a cheer and more of a massed angry growl this time. These wouldn’t be loaded, but everyone knew that they could be, and loaded with V-gas at that. The Germans boasted that they’d invented the infernal things, which was true; they also claimed that theirs were better than the cheap American copies, which was still slightly true—German engineering and the electro-mechanical controls from Siemens and AEG were second to none, though they built on the American invention of the gyrocompass.

What Germany couldn’t really match was American industrial depth and capacity to mass-produce; the Oceanian alliance had more of the flying bombs than the Central Powers did, and Japan was just getting started. Thousands in Britain, on mobile or hardened launchers—hence the wags rechristening the United Kingdom as Airbase One—and hundreds in Corsica and the Philippines. Thousands more on bombardment ships and special submarines, prowling around the maritime borders of the enemy blocs. Miniature versions that could be slung under bomber aeroplanes and dropped in mid-air twenty miles from a target were being developed… though only for really big targets, say an army-group headquarters or important set of factories. They weren’t precision weapons.

Keeping the peace, and ready to destroy civilization if things go wrong, Luz thought. Well, it’s the Chamber’s job to ensure that they don’t go wrong—and that the V-gas doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, either. Even more wrong hands than it already has.

“The Japanese have nothing like this,” David Yuen said grimly and quietly, after they had passed, and Joan Yuen nodded.

Her husband continued: “America is united under a great leader, a man of power who is also a man with brains, who knows how to pick others with brains too and make everyone work together for the common good. That makes her strong and modern. Nobody dares to humiliate or rob or threaten her!”

And you wish China had the same, Luz thought.

That was the unspoken under-message of his impeccably correct statement, which otherwise might have come from a Party press-release.

Well, fortune’s wheel never stops turning, my friend… but it turns slowly, and right now it’s grinding the home of your ancestors into the dirt, she thought. You might want to start thinking of yourself as more American, however much the gwáilóu here don’t want you to, for the sake of your children’s children if not your own. There was a time when being called O’Malley in Boston meant being treated like apes and scum too, not just a little irritating social snobbery the way it is now. People were burned alive in their homes and churches over that minions of the Pope nonsense by the Know-Nothings in my grandfather’s time; and some people still think that way about Italians and Jews. Dago and kike aren’t compliments either, nor is spic.

After the military came the Party-affiliated organizations… and the Party absolutely adored organizing people. Veterans who’d joined chapters of the new American Legion marched first, the ones sometimes known as Ted Junior’s Blackjacks. A lot them were notably hard-faced; and they all knew how to march. They had a female chapter for those who’d gone through the WAC, typing and driving ambulances and motor-trucks and managing telephone networks, following along behind.

Boy and Girl Scouts came by, looking both solemn and bright-eyed at the same time, with their lemon-squeezer hats and badge-bedecked sashes and khaki uniforms and scarves, shorts or knee-length pleated skirts, and the taller forms of the Scoutmasters and Scoutmistresses among them. Everyone had to be a Scout these days, but they’d obviously selected a picked group for this. Newsreel cameramen were on platforms scattered along the route, and cranking away.

Athletic and gymnastic and sporting and hiking and hunting clubs followed, committed to the strenuous life Uncle Teddy had long advocated, some of them doing acrobatics or forming momentary human pyramids as they moved past the crowds, much to the loud delight of the children… and the crowds below, for that matter.

The civilian marchers and Scouts were getting friendly hat-waves and blown kisses from women spectators as well as cheering, being the neighbors and children of the people on the sidewalks, after all.

Lots and lots and lots of trade-union delegations too, from the schoolteachers to the Amalgamated Chicken-Pluckers. San Francisco had always been a strong union town, and the Party heartily approved of labor unions, as long as they were safely Party-affiliated.

The International Workers of the World hadn’t been. The Wobblies had tried to call strikes during what they called the capitalist-imperialist Great War. Many of the Wobbly leaders and militants had been summarily shot in the back of the head for that under the Espionage Act, as de facto enemy agents, so established in nice fair fifteen-minute executive-court hearings. Others had been lynched by local patriots on a free-enterprise basis; one group had been locked in boxcars and left in the Arizona desert to die of thirst and heatstroke just to drive home the neighbors’ disapproval.

Most of the remainder were still repenting their sins in Federal Bureau of Security corrective-labor camps in very remote places doing very hard work for very long days in very unpleasant climates on a diet of just enough scientifically enriched and fortified corn-and-soy-meal mush to keep them going; it was also scientifically designed to be absolutely tasteless. You didn’t die of starvation on that, or of scurvy or pellagra, and the profoundly unsympathetic FBS guards didn’t beat you to death with their lead-weighted rubber truncheons or shoot you or lock you in a small iron box to broil or freeze… unless you tried to escape or shirked or disobeyed orders… but after a while you might not want to live very much.

Other organizations followed the unions, with banners proclaiming who they were and what they stood for, besides loyalty to Uncle Teddy and the Party and bands thumping out a variety of tunes—the organizers had coordinated those, but not everyone was exactly in synch. Many were ethnic societies like the Ancient Order of Hibernians who went by to a hearty whoop from Ciara Whelan—aka Josephine O’Shea—as she leaned out the window to wave.

Or the Knights of Columbus or the Saint Wenceslas Society or the Young Men’s Hebrew Association and many more, all with appropriate clergy to bless them and selected youths and maidens in Old Country costume on flower-decked floats waving to the crowd. Though they carefully avoided hyphenation, since the Party and the President abominated anything but the 100% Americanism inscribed and claimed on many banners. She heard a shout of:

Shaw them whit a braw piper can dae, Ronald!” from directly below as the Caledonian Club went by in a skirl of bagpipes playing Scotland the Brave.

Uncle Teddy, and hence the party, had no problem with pride in Old Country ancestry or religion or harmless traditions—on instructions from higher up, local Party meetings often featured Melting Pot Potlucks to drive that message home, with every cuisine under the sun blithely annexed to America and celebrated as red-white-and-blue. Pasta and borscht and kielbasa and tamales and perogies were now officially as American as shoo-fly pies and casseroles and hot dogs with sauerkraut and mustard…

All three of which were German originally, and Germans are the largest single ingredient in our national dish of Melting Pot, not that you’d know it from the parade. A lot of them changed their names during the Great War, and I doubt they’ll be changing them back. Who’s to tell if the Farmer family were called Bauer one year ago, one generation ago, or four, as long as they salute the flag… probably with a toast in that so-Yankee beverage, lager beer?

Uncle Teddy himself boasted of being a purebred American mongrel descended from five or six different nationalities and trotted each one out as needed depending on the audience… though he also bluntly told the gatherings that they should expect their own grandchildren to be just as mongrelized as he was, or more.

Luz found the last two groups of marchers interesting. One was the NAACP, striding along briskly with starry flags and huge cloth posters of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, the late Booker T. Washington—who Uncle Teddy had invited to dinner at the White House in his first administration early in the century, the very first man of visibly African descent ever to dine there as a guest amid a tremendous hullabaloo—and the very much living W.E.B. du Bois. The Negro leaders’ portraits flanked even bigger ones of Abraham Lincoln and Uncle Teddy himself, that one with slogans above and below:


– and:


The noise level dropped off for them; still loud, but a bit pro-forma as if most of those cheering knew they should, didn’t really want to do it, but did it anyway. How could you not cheer Teddy, or Lincoln, whose portrait and bust Teddy kept in every office he worked in—or the reminder that the Republicans had originally been founded to fight the Slave Power amid the savage sectional quarrels just before the Civil War?

The Party had done a very great deal for the Negro in Jim Crow’s redoubts over the last few years, but that was as much because of the mutual hatred between them and the Southern Democrats as any sympathy for the afflicted and oppressed Negroes. Not many Party members and voters elsewhere cared much about them as such, many still thoroughly disliked and despised them, and a solid majority just wished from the bottom of their hearts that they weren’t there at all. But since they were, all shades of Party opinion were perfectly happy to use them as a convenient political baseball-bat to crack the bones of their enemies away down south in Dixie-land.

And happy to make them happier in the South, so they won’t want to move to Chicago or Cleveland… or San Francisco… instead. But it’s what you do that matters, not why, Luz thought.

Behind them, and just ahead of the last entrants—the San Francisco Police Association’s delegation, doing double duty as participants and managers, along with follow-up squads of Scouts administering first-aid and helping the lost and motor-ambulances manned by Party militants with American-flag armbands bringing up the rear—were the League of American Citizens of Chinese Blood.

Their banners were very succinct, besides the national flags and Presidential portraits. One showed a wiry Chinese laborer in pigtail and conical straw hat, stripped to the waist and swinging a sledgehammer in the Sierras to crack the mountain ramparts for the transcontinental railroad back in the 60’s. The other had an Asian-featured soldier in modern uniform with a red-soaked bandage across his forehead and streaks trickling down his snarling face, firing a blazing Thompson gun off into presumed Germans with a fallen and conspicuously blond comrade at his feet.

The first had a Party slogan blazed across the top:


The second did too:


The volume really fell off for them, picking up again only when the tough and largely Irish mugs of the SFPD went by under their blue caps. Back in the 70’s and 80’s rioting mobs of desperate and hungry unemployed workingmen in this city—mostly immigrants and a lot of them Irish—had kicked Chinese to death in the streets and hung them from lampposts, and made deadly serious threats to do the same to politicians to get the Exclusion Act passed.

Still, it’s a start, Luz thought.

The Yuens were all expressionless for a moment, lost in their various thoughts.

The children were brought out, still jumping with excitement, and then shepherded upstairs by the Taguchis and the Yuen amah; Susan and Daniu stood outside the door in the corridor… and Joan Yuen remained inside rather than heading for the Smith suite with the children, which surprised Luz a little. The noise from the outside died down a bit, and the elder Yuen came to sit with them around a small table once the windows were closed and conversation was possible again.

“This invitation was an excellent distraction… who notes a family taking their infants to see a parade? Besides a treat for my grandchildren, for which I thank you,” he said.

“And I,” David said, and Joan murmured agreement.

De nada,” Luz said with a gracious gesture. “And as for distractions… I presume some of your local competitors keep an eye on you.”

It wasn’t a question; David Yuen smiled, and his father chuckled.

“You are a new element in our rivalries,” the father said. “They will be watching you, too, Mrs. Smith. They will rack their brains and scramble for every clue as to why you consult with me, what deals may be boiling in the pot, and how they may wring an advantage out of it. Restaurants and telephone lines will bubble and smoke with the gossip and speculation.”

Luz nodded without speaking, being receptive and waiting for information to roll downhill towards her. Father and son exchanged glances; Luz was fairly sure that Joan tapped a foot on her husband’s under the table—there was a characteristic interplay of stance and expression when people did that, even if they tried to conceal it, which she did.

David Yuen took up the tale, in his perfect English: “There is a businessman who operates out of San Francisco… not really a rival of ours… who goes by the name of Joseph Chen, or Chen Mingyi…”

“Or as he would pronounce it, Tan Beng-gi,” his father said dryly.

“His family are Christians. He was born here sixty years ago, among the first generation, but his father was from Foochow.”

Luz nodded to convey that she knew where that was, a seaport in the impoverished, overcrowded and mountainous coastal province of Fukien, northeast of Canton. Many overseas Chinese came from there, but more in the millions-strong populations in southeast Asia and the Philippines than this smaller outlier of that migration in California.

“He is not of my circle,” the elder Yuen said. “His grandson… his son died in the war, in Paris… is at Harvard, and his daughter-in-law and grandchildren live in Boston also.”

David Yuen took up the story: “He mostly trades in furniture and textiles, and in many different parts of America. Of high quality, but those goods still move in far greater bulk than ours. And I think in the last ten years he has acquired interests in textile factories in China—in Shanghai. There is some overlap with our business, some competition: usually not very much.”

“But…” Luz said.

“But in the last year to eighteen months, he has made a number of private sales of antiquities. Furniture and tapestries, items of the sort he generally deals in, except for the great age and very high quality.”

“¡Aja! This is promising! How many sales?” Luz asked.

“Four substantial ones, I think… in various cities. Not San Francisco, which is why we don’t know the details. Chicago and St. Louis and perhaps Boston too. Abroad, possibly, in Singapore, and perhaps in other British possessions—I would be less likely to know about those, but on an American passport he could travel easily there these days.”

His father nodded. “This was why I mentioned to you that I had heard rumors of a new source of ancient art. I did not care to be more specific until I had more definite information.”

“And he has come to you?” Luz said, leaning forward slightly and schooling her face not to wolf-grin in satisfaction.

Yuen senior caught it in her eyes and nodded gravely before he replied:

“As soon as he heard we were making inquiries about… ah, the phrasing we used was a new source of valuable Song dynasty antiquities of all types.”

His son steepled his fingers. “He says… says, I emphasize… that he was in Shanghai at the beginning of the month… and that he went from there to Hong Kong by fast steamer; from there to Manila by British Imperial Airships, and from Manila to San Francisco by American National Airways.”

Luz noted the details mentally; that would be easy enough for the Black Chamber’s station here in San Francisco and the one in Manila to check. The consulates in Singapore and Hong Kong and Shanghai also had Chamber operatives under diplomatic cover.

Aloud she said: “That would be quite expensive,” she said. “Not just in the tickets, though those would cost several thousands.”

They were talking well over a year’s income for an average person, even in America.


She made that thumb-and-fingers gesture again, and all three of the Yuens nodded; it would require hefty bribes for an anonymous Chinese to get to the head of the line that way, even with an American passport… though possession of that would be crucial too, since there were things no amount of cash could buy.

“He is… apprehensive,” the senior Yuen said.

“He’s terrified,” David Yuen said. “He’s in hiding in a roominghouse under a false name… for now.”

Luz made a gesture of agreement: understood. Chinatown’s limited size and crowding would make hiding difficult, particularly from other Chinese.

Or people other Chinese would talk to, she noted: it didn’t do to become too wedded to one theory.

“And he wants protection as well as money. He’s ready to cut his ties here and run.”

“And he came to you because you are a prominent businessman of this city?” Luz said to Yuen le père.

She didn’t say prominent citizen because he wasn’t and couldn’t be. Chinese immigrants weren’t allowed to naturalize under the Exclusion Acts. Though of course their children born on American soil, like the younger Yuen and his wife, were citizens. Even the Acts hadn’t been able to overturn that, given the Fourteenth Amendment—the Supreme Court had settled that in United States v. Wong Kim Ark a generation ago, in the same year that Uncle Teddy formed the Rough Riders.

Yuen made a wry gesture. “Influence? I have influence with the Zhōnghuá huìguǎn,” he said.

That meant the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, also known as the Six Companies, an organization of the locally wealthy which acted as the de facto government of Chinatown and its intermediary with the American authorities.

“And the Six Companies have some influence with the city government. A little with the State, but virtually nothing on a Federal level. Not nearly enough for me to get Mr. Chen that which he demands. Money, yes… you provided more than he asks for, and I of course will match any cash contribution to buying his cooperation.”

“I provided the funds for exactly this sort of eventuality,” Luz said. “Though it is a stroke of luck to find one so soon.”

“Just so, Mrs. Smith. But it will not buy protection for himself and his family, not of the sort he wants. At least not in the time left to him, he thinks.”

Which was true. Even corruption required a degree of fellow-feeling and trust to work smoothly, which the unfortunate Mr. Chen would be hard-pressed to find.

“This affair is starting to brush the edges of politics,” the older Yuen said. “I thought it might, but it still does not fill me with joy.”

Luz frowned in thought for a few moments, marshaling credible arguments for the Smith identity. Then she went on slowly:

“My husband was closely involved with the Protectorate authorities early in the Intervention in 1913. We were very helpful in restoring peace and order in Colima, and it is remembered in official circles; and we became Party members then, too. We made useful contacts… and I have maintained them… with the Protectorate authorities there and in Mexico City. And many of my blood relatives are men of some prominence, who would be willing to contribute influence.”

Hacendado clans and their camarillas didn’t run Mexico just as they pleased any more, the way they had under Porfirio Diaz’ long dictatorship. But the ones who’d thrown in their lot with the Americans still had a fair amount of pull, enough to make someone like her cover identity getting a favor like this quite credible.

“I might… I could probably… secure official protection for a man and his family… in a semi-official way, you understand…”

All three of the Yuens nodded to show they did; the importance of connections was a universal constant.

“…provided he was willing to relocate to Colima and live there quietly. By calling in favors, you understand.”

Another nod; one hand washing the other was also something that translated easily across all borders.

As Senior Executive Field Operative Luz O’Malley she could arrange that easily, and anywhere in the US and its possessions through the Chamber, with new papers and homes and names. Or with a little time for liaison work, refuge in the British Empire or Overseas France. A new life was often bestowed to reward allies and informants, and to protect them from retribution; her own domestic staff had mostly gotten to the US in arrangements like that.

But it was important not to give ‘Mrs. Smith’ a suspicious excess of power.

The sort the Black Chamber is known to have, for instance. Not if I want to continue using this cover and build it up for use in Shanghai.

“I think he would be willing to relocate to the Sixth Court of Hell and throw himself on the mercy of King Biancheng,” David Yuen said with a grim smile, and his father nodded gravely.

That was a part of the Chinese folk-Buddhist concept of the afterlife. The Courts of Hell, Diyu, were not a very nice place at all; they differed from the Christian or Muslim concept mainly in that you eventually expiated your sins and were reborn rather than being stuck there for all eternity.

“And he claims to have the information we seek,” the elder Yuen said. “Even with what he requires in the way of cash, this would save us much time, effort, uncertainty and money trying to deal at a distance with people in Shanghai. However, I am only willing to offer him protection if there is a good prospect of actually securing it.”

That meant he’d cut all connection with her if the man was promised something she couldn’t really furnish. From the sound of it, for honor’s sake and the value of his pledged word, not because he cared anything for this man in himself—he took mercantile morals seriously. Yuen didn’t insult her by saying so in so many words, of course, but she gave him a firm nod to make sure he knew she’d grasped what he was saying. Susan Zhou had told her… politely… that Chinese in general thought Westerners thick-witted at picking up on verbal subtleties, though probably that was mostly due to language barriers and differences of custom.

“And I judge he is not willing to wait long before he simply tries to disappear himself,” David Yuen put in. “It is mainly concern for his grandson and his great-grandchildren that has made him wait this long, I think.”

“I can call long-distance to Mexico City immediately, since we need to move quickly,” Luz said. “I should be able to get through to the people I need if I push—I don’t bother them for minor things. You could call me later this evening? And arrange a meeting, if not today, then tomorrow?”

The three Yuens shared a glance. “If we can arrange a meeting for tonight, it will be late anyway. More probably tomorrow or the day after, also at a late hour. Chen will not risk one in daytime. He demands confirmation from his grandson that the young man and his wife and children are safe.”

“A telegram,” Luz said thoughtfully. “Presumably Chen and his grandson have some private means of confirming it is genuine.”

Most family businesses in this line had at least elementary in-house codes; they needed to be able to communicate securely.

“I do have a few contacts in Boston I could mobilize as well—there are many collectors there, and my husband’s family had relatives in New England.”

And since her fictional husband was supposed to be of missionary stock, a New England background was highly credible, and it was a major market for antiquities, second only to New York.

The Yuens nodded. The son went on:

“It would mean you coming personally to Chinatown very late, since he insists on dealing with the one who can make a concrete offer of protection, and I cannot deny there will be an element of risk.”

“Chen would not be so frightened otherwise,” the Yuen patriarch said. “He is… immediately frightened, if you understand me. He thinks those pursuing him might attack him at any moment.”

“Which means that merely being near him is dangerous. But… nothing ventured, nothing gained,” Luz replied.


Copyright © 2020-2021 by S.M. Stirling