“Poxie! Chou biaozi!” cursed the naked man as he punched and kicked the prostitute. “Ni ge jianbi! Ni die wo yijing ba ni bi cao lan le!”
“Bie da wo le!” she begged him.
Malmquist was just as startled by his sudden appearance in the attic brothel as they were, but he recognized the man and the man him. Dispensing with formalties, he knocked the wind out of the man with his fist, put his head in an armlock and bashed his face against the wall until he grew limp.
“Shenme yisi?” said the startled proprietor as Malmquist dashed down the ladder and out of the eatery.
The prostitute appeared on the steps to announce while pointing at Malmquist, “Nage nanren feichang ouda keren le. Kuailai ba!”
He had already disappeared down the lanes across the Palatine in the direction of the Circus Maximus.
At Zhang’s domus, he knocked on the door and was let in. Zhang stepped backward. Lounging in the atrium were three Chinese police officers. They too were surprised to see Malmqist.
“Jiu shi ta ma?” one asked Zhang.
“Shi de.” To Malmquist she said, “You came back.”
“Yes, I’m back. They’re here for me?”
The officers exchanged more words with Zhang in Mandarin. They seemed in no hurry, regarding Malmquist with contemplative expressions.
“They want to know about the poison you put in big bath,” Zhang said to him.
“You mean the drug? It’s not poison. It’s a hallucinogen. It bends your mind but is physically harmless. It got into my tunic in Ancient Rome and it was an accident.”
“They say you no cooperate, you can be executed.”
“How can I cooperate?”
“They want more.”
“I don’t know. But you get more drug, you not executed. How you can get more?”
“It’s in the tunic I gave to Delilah, and she’s back in the US.”
“Yeah, how you know that?”
“They told me. I told you I’m from there.”
“Where you get the drug before you put in tunic? You got from there?”
“It’s from here.” He pointed to Zhang’s groin.
“What? Why you talk nonsense?”
“That’s where the drug comes from.”
“Ta shuo shenme?” another officer asked.
“Wo ye bu zhidao. No time for nonsense,” she reiterated to Malmquist.
“Let me try, okay? I can’t promise it will work. And if it doesn’t work, I have to go back to ancient Rome to try to get it.”
“Old Rome? No more old Rome. You crazy? Ta shuo ta dei qu guluoma zhaodao dupin.”
“Shenjingbing,” said the third officer scornfully.
“You say drug in my pussy, then you say in old Rome. What’s the matter with you? You took the drug now?”
“If it doesn’t work with either of you, I will need a woman in Ancient Rome, maybe the same woman I originally got it from there. Let’s try first with Giulia.”
He removed his message tunic and lay it on the floor and motioned her to the couch. Putting his arm around her, he said, “Giulia, do you want to go back to your origin, your roots?”
“Real Rome. Roma.”
“She go with you to old Rome?” said Zhang.
“We’ll bring back some Roman coins as proof.”
He lifted up her tunic over her hips, shifted her thigh onto his lap and began tugging at her pubic hair and teasing her labia.
“Ah? Cosa fai? Non capisco,” she protested.
Malmquist paused to mime his intended actions. He drew his hand from her groin over to the tunic on the floor as if drawing something out of her. With his fingertips he wrote the word “Roma” just over the tunic without touching it. Standing up he warned her, “Don’t breathe in the fumes.”
“Cosa?” said Giulia.
He moved his hand upward from the tunic toward his nose, shaking his head with a “No!”
“Ta juede wode weidao buhao, wo hui dedao nage changpao zang?” she asked Zhang.
“She think you criticize her body smell.”
“No, not at all. Explain to her the tunic can release the drug if I write on it with her pussy juice. But it’s very important not to breathe in the fumes or the drug will get into her brain.”
Zhang relayed this to Giulia, who complained, “Wo buneng fangsong.” Glancing at the officers she then said to Malmquist, “Non riesco a rilassarmi.”
He ran his nose over her hair, arms, breasts, belly, and pussy with devotion, inhaling her smell, as he worked his fingers into her vagina. She rocked her hips, slowly at first, her face scrunched in concentration. Before long she suddenly grew very wet. Malmquist took his dripping fingers and wrote on the tunic.
But there was no smoke. No chemical reaction.
“Non riesco ancora a capire cosa diavolo sta succedendo,” she said blankly.
“Well, time for Plan B.” He grabbed the tunic off the floor and put it on over his travel tunic. From his pocket he handed Giulia the other travel tunic. “Take yours off and just wear this one. I want to make sure it works.”
As she pulled her tunic off her upper body her breasts flopped out. There was no display of self-consciousness, yet she answered the officers’ gaze with a noble posture, as if they could hardly boast anything better.
“Now write the word ‘Roma’ here,” he said, once she had the travel tunic on.
As she wrote on Malmquist’s chest he held her other hand. They vanished.
“Ta yiqian zuoguo,” Zhang told the stunned police officers.
There was a knock at the front door. Zhang went to open it. “Dilaila! Why you come back?”
“Hi, Ms. Zhang. Can we come in?”
“And who is this? Ni shi nawei a?” Zhang said to the Chinese woman accompanying Delilah.
“Gwai sing aa?” she said to Zhang.
“Yueyu a! Xianggangren?”
“Nei hai bindou lei gaa?”
“She speaks Yueyu, you know?” Zhang said to Delilah. “Hong Kong Chinese. I only understand little.”
“You can’t understand each other?”
“We speak correct Chinese here, Putonghua. She speaks dialect, almost different language. Who is she?”
“Um, she’s a police officer.”
Wingyee entered the domus and starting looking around.
“Nihao,” the officers addressed her.
“Neihou,” she replied.
Zhang escorted Delilah by the arm over to the officers and said, “Ta shi wode meiguo pengyou.” Pointing to Wingyee she added, “Ta shuo ta shi jingcha.”
The officers burst out laughing. “Ta shi ge jingcha?” one said, his jaw agape.
Wingyee approached the officers with a steely gaze. “Ngo jan cyunjyut sihung dou zeleoi cung 2115 nin dik sihau.”
“Shenfende zhengming?” one of them asked.
“Zingming?” She took off her tunic. She was naked underneath except for double-harness shoulder holsters, one with a Bowie knife and the other with a sleek unidentifiable gun. The holsters were joined in front by a belt under her breasts, in the center of which a badge with her photo and identification in Chinese characters was affixed.
“Wasai!” the officers said, as they came up to examine her identification. “Shi 2115 nian! Zenme keneng? Ni jiao Yuan Yongyi shi ba?” they asked her, reading out her name.
One of the cops stuck out his hand toward Wingyee’s gun, requesting it. She avoided him and walked over to the veranda facing the Circus Maximus, presently resounding with a chariot race. Pointing at the race she asked, “Gogo hai me?”
“Xiaojie,” said the cop, gesturing again at her gun, “Gei wo qiang.”
“Bit haaujim ngo,” she responded sternly.
“Ni shuo shenme?” he asked, not comprehending.
She wrote out the words she had just spoken in the air.
“A, mingbaile. Bie kaoyan ta,” the cop said with a smirk, repeating Wingyee’s remark in Mandarin to his partner.
“What’s going on?” asked Delilah.
“She draw the characters with her finger, make them understand. Chinese characters same for all Chinese people,” said Zhang.
“What are they talking about?”
The cops got up and approached Wingyee. Thereupon she aimed her gun at the Circus Maximus, lowered it and placed it back in her holster. The crowd’s roar suddenly hushed. All except Wingyee looked out the veranda.
“Oh, my god!” exclaimed Zhang. “Fangjianbei bei cuihuile. Qiao, shangban bufen yijing meile, quandou sui bei cheng zhale.”
“What happened?” said Delilah.
“The tower—what you call fangjianbei?—is destroyed. See, in the center, like the same tall tower at the end.”
“You mean that obelisk?”
The chariots were unaffected and kept their course, but there was commotion around the collapsed obelisk. The cop took advantage of the moment to make a move on Wingyee’s gun. To get at it he grabbed her breast, which was draped over the gun. He found himself flipped upside down, his back slammed against the marble floor and her knife against his throat. He stretched out his arms in surrender. She dropped the rest of him on the floor, aimed the gun at the Circus again and back at the cops. “Zezi coeng deoi zezo taap zouliu neje, to wui deoi neimun!”
“Her gun destroyed that obelisk? No way,” said Delilah.
“Buhui ba!” Zhang said to Wingyee. “Ni qiangle qiang ma?”
“Gikgwong coeng makmakdeng jikgik.”
“Jiguang qiang ya! How do you call, electric gun?”
“A laser gun? But there was no beam.”
“She fired it. No sound gun. You can’t see or hear.” Then turning to everyone Zhang clapped, “Hao ba! Women dou shi pengyou. Wo qing dajia yiqi chifan. We will have a meal together now.”
Everyone sat down on the Roman-style sofas, Wingyee included, her tunic now back in place, while the servants got to work preparing the meal. The cop who had made contact with the floor was rubbing his shoulder in discomfort.
“Nei mouje me?” Wingyee asked him.
Zhang ordered a female slave to massage the cop. The slave straddled his lap and pulled off her tunic. “Bu yongle ba,” he said, dismissing her. He said to Wingyee, “Ni weishenme lai zheli?”
“Ng hiu,” she said, uncomprehending.
“He wants to know where she come from. Where you find her? Why you bring her here?” Zhang asked Delilah.
“It’s a missing person case, and the suspect was last seen here.”
“Who is missing person?”
“You? What you mean, you?”
“They’re looking for me when I was 72 years old.”
“What kind of nonsense you talking? You just like Jiefu. Always talk nonsense.”
“You saw her police identification. We just came from the year 2115. I was 72 then. I mean I will be 72 then.”
“So now you should be—17. What’s the problem?”
“The problem is they think I got lost in the past—now, that is. We’re trying to find me here when I was 72.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I don’t either, frankly.”
“Who is suspect?”
“Jeff. Jeff Malmquist.”
“Jiefu? I know he suspect. That’s why they are here,” Zhang said, pointing to the cops.
“I don’t mean that case. He’s a suspect in my case. Even if we can’t find me, we can question him when we get back to New Gary.”
“He’s in US? No. He just here but he left with Zhuliya. They went to old Rome.”
“Ancient Rome? No, he just came from there. He brought a Roman woman named Attica with him to New Gary. It was his idea to send me to Chicago in the future. But I didn’t know he was a suspect in my disappearance until Wingyee told me. So we came here first to see if I’m here.”
“No old lady like you here. Maybe you go check old Rome too.”
“Non capisco cosa sia successo,” said Giulia as she mashed the warm loaf of bread in her mouth while staring wide-eyed at Malmquist. “Cosa sta succedendo!”
“Relax. We’re in the past, Giulia. Roma. Your roots.”
“Delizioso,” she said to the baker.
“Scilicet,” he smiled. “Celebre sumus.”
“In pistrino eum ventus imperatoris.”
“Dell’imperatore? Non capisco.”
“Unde venistis? Daciam?”
“Panis est bonum?”
“Il pane è buono? Molto bene!”
“You can understand each other?” asked Malmquist.
Syria, who had just approached from across the street, landed Malmquist a mild smack on the face. “Redisti!” she said, while staring at Giulia. “Oramus, si forte non molestum est, demonstres ubi fuerint tuae tenebrae. Argi nempe soles subire Letum? Et ea? Unde nanciscere haec puella pulchra?”
“This is Giulia. She’s visiting from China, but she’s actually from Italy. From here. Rome. She knows her way around.”
“Julia. Veni, Julia.” Syria led Giulia and Malmquist into the brothel.
“Wait, I didn’t bring her here to work for you.”
Syria lifted Giulia’s tunic and cast scintillating eyes over what she saw. “Pulcherrimae papillae quidem,” she said, tweaking a nipple and stroking her hair. “Facies et ingenue.”
“È un bordello? No, non lavoro come prostituta,” retorted Giulia.
“Unde venisti, carissima?”
“Vengo? Vengo dal futuro.”
“She comes from the future, like me,” said Malmquist, pointing at Syria’s sundial watch.
“Vobis ab posteris? Incredibili.”
“Et est etiam ab extremis terræ?” said Attica, joining them.
“Sì, veniamo dalle estremità della terra – dalla Cina.”
“Volo ire est.”
“Hey, why don’t you two guys switch? Giulia, you stay here and you can explore the real Rome, and I can take Attica to Chinese Rome, which she’ll find just as fascinating. No, wait. We’ll have to take a detour first.” Turning to Syria, he said, “I promise I’ll show Attica Chinese Rome and eventually get her back here safe and sound. You take care of Giulia in the meantime. Be nice to her.”
“Quid dicis? Non capio.”
“Anche io non capisco,” said Giulia, also at a loss.
“Trust me. Giulia, give Attica your tunic and put on her body necklace. Oh, wait. I almost forgot. We need to try the drug thing.”
“Voglio ancora un po ‘di questo pane,” said Giulia.
“Panem. Et magis volt panem,” chimed in Attica.
“Oh, you want more of this bread. I don’t have any Roman coins with me now,” said Malmquist, feeling in his tunic pockets. “Must have lost them.”
“Posso usare questo denaro?” asked Giulia, producing a coin of Chinese Rome.
“Quid est quod pecuniam? Non est denarius,” said Syria. “Sestertius?”
“Hic nummus est plane rotundus. Est magicus!” said Attica, fingering the coin. “Volo ire ad hoc dicitur quod terra ‘Futurum.’”
“The coin is newly minted. See the year 2060? Oh, what would that be in Roman numerals?…MMLX? Yeah, that’s it.” Malmquist wrote out the numerals with the dust on the floor and repeated to Syria and Attica: “Me. Her. A.D. MMLX. I remember that much Latin at least. You understand A.D., don’t you, Anno Domini?”
“Anno domini?” said Syria.
“Vestri imperator est hoc?”
“Non l’anno dell’Imperatore, ma l’anno di Dio,” Giulia clarified to them.
“Vestri imperator deo est?”
“No. Il nostro imperatore non è un dio.”
“Ah! Intelligo,” exclaimed Attica. “Vestri imperator magus est. Magus potest facere nisi ex nummo plane rotundum.”
“They’re talking about magic?” asked Malmquist.
“Pensa che il nostro imperatore sia un mago perché solo un mago potrebbe rendere questa moneta perfettamente rotunda,” said Giulia, running her finger around the coin’s edge.
“Oh, I get it. They think your leader is a god because only a god could make the coin perfectly round.”
Attica ran across to the bakery and back with another loaf of bread for Giulia. Malmquist then got Attica to lie back on the bed and placed his outer tunic between her legs. He instructed Giulia to stimulate her. As both were already experienced at this, Attica quickly came and squirted onto the tunic. The fabric smoked and crackled. “Great, it works. Stand back.”
He grabbed the tunic and patted it on the floor upside down to stop the burning, covering his mouth to avoid the fumes, and then fanned it in the air outside before putting it back on. Giulia was too curious about her new environment to put up any protest as Attica guided the tangle of gold chains around her limbs, like some exquisite shackles. As soon as Attica had worked Giulia’s tunic over her hefty hips, Malmquist grabbed her hand, wrote the words “New Gary” on his own tunic, and they were gone.
* * *
Forthcoming January 2018:
The Kitchens of Canton, a novel