The brief excursion had been surprisingly uplifting. Marta was amazed at how enjoyable it was to ride in such a fine vehicle, although she knew much of the pleasure came from the company seated across from her. Still, she saw how easily one could become accustomed to such luxury, and this insight surprised her. Not that she had any need to worry about falling into such a trap. She would never possess that kind of money, and if Samuel were not more responsible, she might end up with none at all.
“We will go on foot from here. The police captain who works this precinct will guide us.” Byron’s announcement interrupted her thoughts, and she looked up, startled that they had arrived so quickly. No sooner had he helped her down, then a man in a black suit with a handlebar mustache approached them.
“Afternoon, Mr. Wagner,” he said with a tip of his bowler hat. His eyes swung to Marta. “Didn’t know you were bringing a lass. Might be better if you wait here, miss.”
“Captain O’Connor, meet Marta Baldwin. Don’t worry about her. She has more backbone than most men I know.”
Marta blushed openly at Byron’s compliment and nodded. “Pleased to meet you.” The officer’s confident demeanor impressed her. Here was a man who got things done, she thought. Here was an officer to whom she could turn if the police at the station failed to find the hypnotist. She would keep him in mind.
The captain gave her a frank appraisal. “We don’t get many women coming down here, but the place is safe enough during the day. Just don’t come wandering around here after dark. It’s a bit different then.” With that, he led the way and they started their adventurous journey into Chinatown.
At first, they entered broader streets congested with throngs of people. The men wore black jackets, trousers, and bowler hats and shuffled along in thick-soled shoes. By contrast, the women wore pantaloons beneath black gowns, large jade earrings, and high rocker shoes. Gold clasps held the women’s hair in neat buns at the back of their heads, but Marta was amazed to see pigtails dangling from under the men’s hats. Curiosity at the presence of three “foreigners” was evident in their quick glances. If Marta stared directly at someone, either man or woman, they instantly looked away. A small girl with silver bracelets on her ankles held the hand of her mother as they passed. She peeked out from under her mother’s arm with a tentative smile. A withered, old man leaned on a cane and peered out from under a black skull cap at the three of them. Everywhere she looked, she saw scenes she had never witnessed before.
Shops offered everything from dried lizards to opium pipes, and an endless selection of restaurants crowded the busy sidewalks. Sing-song voices filled the air, which was thick with smoke from dozens of chimneys and braziers. The smoke cast an eerie fog that dimmed the light and heightened the quarter’s sense of mystery.
The Hypnotist - Excerpt
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