The Fat Man was finishing a meal and licking his fingers when Willie parted the curtains for Langton to enter. Langton declined the offer to partake. He didn't make anything of the Chinaman's morbid obesity. He knew corpulence among these people represented power and authority, and demanded a certain respect.
Wang Lien wasted no time coming to the point.
« You big gunfighter, Misser Langton? You shoot many men? »
Langton said nothing, but made a nearly imperceptible nod.
« Good, good. You shoot women too? »
Again Langton remained silent. Only a slight creasing of his forehead and a twitch of his eyebrows betrayed his reaction.
Wang laid out his problem. His business interests depended on a steady flow of women and opium from the Chinese importers in Frisco, to run his cribs and dens throughout the Southwest. His last two shipments into Tombstone, stagecoach runs in from the railhead a hundred miles north in Bisbee, had gone missing along the way. No trace of the drugs, the women or the drivers had been found, until the body of the driver of the first coach turned up in a most unlikely place.
It was lying swollen and bent-legged on the heap of bodies in the alley behind the opium den run by the Dragon Lady, below the Lotus Flower. It was among the other corpses of the unfortunates who had drawn their last breath from the pipe, and were thrown out and left to rot.
It was common knowledge that few men made it out of the opium dens alive. Once their money was gone, they were given the golden bowl … a hit of pure China white that sent them off on a voyage of no return.
Normally, the corpses were picked up sporadically by the local undertaker for a token fee and buried in a pit behind town, but Wang often sent a beggar to check the corpse pile in case any of his clan or tong ended up there. The body of the driver got thrown into the pit before Wang had a chance to see it.
When the body of the second driver was thrown onto the heap, Wang had it brought to him before the undertaker made his rounds. There were ligature marks on the neck, ankles and wrists, and the corpse stank not only of death, but of opium as well. Both feet were swollen, and the soles burnt red and black.
So the rumors about the torture chambers in Chinatown may be true after all, thought Langton.
The supply interruption hadn't been good for the Fat Man's business. Without a dependable source of opium, men were leaving his dens and getting their fixes in the competition's operations. More houses were opening all the time, with more and purer dope, while Wang was forced to cut his dwindling supply thinner every day.
Women were a problem too. There would always be clients for his women, miners between shifts and roustabouts in town for a drunken spree, but they never had much money. Besides, they often beat the women up, usually so bad they couldn't get back on their backs for several days or even longer.
Wang needed fresher, younger girls, who would command higher prices and cater to more discerning, less bruising customers. He couldn't match the entertainments of his competitors. He wasn't sure how much longer he could stay in business.
Wang was fairly sure his women were ending up across town at the Lotus Flower, and that his drugs were being sold all over town, he told Langton. But he couldn't prove it. He didn't see his women before they were delivered to him, so how could he know what they looked like. Same with his drugs … all he knew was that even though his shipment never arrived, the town was awash with opium. It had to be his that everyone was smoking .... everyone that is, except his own usual customers.
« I want you to find out what's happening to my shipments, Langton. I want you to meet the next one at the station in Bisbee, watch my man, make sure it arrives here intact. »
« What's in it for me, Wang? »
Langton didn't much care where the money came from, cash was king, after all. Wang offered him drugs and women, all he could handle, but Langton demurred. First the cash, then he would be free to choose his own pleasures as he wished. It didn't take long for them to settle on a mutually acceptable fee for services rendered … if Langton could fulfill the terms of the arrangement..
« I've got five women and a load of opium coming in on the Bisbee train in three days, Langton. I need you to ride with my man on the coach into Tombstone. I want you to guard the shipment until it comes directly to me. »
« Why did you send me to the Lotus Flower, Wang? »
« I wanted you to get a feel for the competition, to see if you could find anything out on your own first, » said Wang.
It was only the softest rustle and the slightest tremor of the curtains in the far corner of the room, but Langton sensed that someone was lurking behind, listening to their conversation. He briefly debated going over to the corner and pulling the curtains apart to expose the eavesdropper, but decided against it. He knew there was no such thing as a secret in Chinatown.