Zhang opened her front door to discover two bruised women holding rags to their breasts. “Dilaila! What happened to you? Who is this?”
Delilah burst out crying as soon as they stepped inside.
“What’s the matter, baobei?”
“A cop attacked us and beat us.”
“Oh, look at you.” Zhang touched Attica’s swelling eye. “Where you find her?”
“She’s from Ancient Rome.”
“Guluoma? What is ‘cop’?”
“Chicago. The Chief of police.”
“Why he beat you?”
“I don’t know. He went crazy. He threw me down and my hand is hurt from landing on the floor. Has my nose stopped bleeding?”
Attica was likewise caressing Zhang on the eye. “Peregrino est. Ex quo est? Ab Oriente?”
“No bleeding. Who this beautiful woman?”
“Atika? — Dai zhang yiliaoxiang!” Zhang ordered a servant. “Where is Zhuliya? Why you not bring her back?”
“She didn’t want to come back. Attica came in her place and she can take over Giulia’s job.”
Attica had forgotten about her developing black eye and walked spellbound around Zhang’s house. “Haec domus est quasi Roma?”
“What she speaking, Italy language?”
“Oh, old Italy language. Ladingyu. So what happened to the policeman? He was caught? How you escape to here? Anyway, you safe here. Why don’t you live here all the time? No more America problems for you. We heard big trouble there now.”
“The policeman? Where?”
“I don’t know. He stripped us naked in the Chicago police station and was beating us. Attica got a piece of our tunics around his neck and started strangling him. I managed to write out the Chinese words on the tunic in time to teleport us. But he got sent with us! We found ourselves in a dark room with a lot of young men. We thought they could rescue us and Attica released him. When he got his breath back he started screaming and attacking everyone. There was a struggle and the door opened and more people rushed in. We took advantage of the confusion and escaped. It was a big rich house like yours but bigger. But we ran out and just ran. I don’t even know where we were running. Then I recognized a street and found where you live.”
“Oh, this a problem. Big problem. You must remember where he is. We need to stop things now before police involved. Otherwise no end to trouble. Think. We go there now.”
The servants attended to the girls’ injuries and dressed them in fresh tunics. They were hungry and a quick meal of Chinese stir-fry was dished up. Attica was confounded by the chopsticks and stabbed the bits of meat and vegetables with their ends before using her fingers to scoop up the food. She was given a spoon.
The three of them departed and traced their way back along the streets whence they came, until Delilah stopped. “I can’t remember which way now.”
Attica pulled them along. “Scio ubi ire.”
“She know the way?”
“She must. When we escaped that house she was looking all around and asking me lots of questions. She wanted to take me somewhere else but then I saw how to get to your place. There, that’s the house,” said Delilah.
“I know this place,” said Zhang. “This Zhuliya’s old house! Okay, let me take care of it. You two go to that restaurant and wait.”
“Oh, no, the restaurant where they kept me as a prostitute? I don’t want to go back there. They’ll recognize me.”
“No worry about that.”
Zhang escorted them there herself and the staff needed no explaining. She then retreated up the street to the old eunuch’s domus. A few minutes later she was back. “He no longer there. They threw him out.”
“Where did he go?”
“They said someone maybe took him to police in Subula.”
“Where is that?”
They descended the Palatine Hill and crossed the Forum.
“Subura!” exclaimed Attica as they walked down the Argiletum. Further on, she stared perplexed at the spot where her brothel should have been, now a shop selling sports shoes. “Noster lupanar est in hoc via, autem iam abiit.”
There was a brothel across the street. A public slave with a snake tattooed around her thigh and mons pubis parted the hanging beads in the doorway and locked eyes with Attica, who pointed and said, “Lupanar.” Then she walked up to the woman. “Quanta pecunia meres?”
“Mi stai chiedendo quanti soldi guadagno? Almeno quanto te,” the prostitute replied with arched eyebrows.
They entered the police station, where the US Embassy was hosted. As they passed through the lobby they were greeted by a familiar voice. “Aa haai, nei faanlei laa, hailaa?”
“Wingyee! What are you doing here?”
“She here a lot. She meet with police about Jiefu’s case,” said Zhang.
She spoke to Wingyee in Mandarin concerning the bizarre events with the Chicago cop. Wingyee answered in Cantonese. As they scarcely got the gist of each other’s speech, Wingyee fetched a male interpreter who had been assigned to her. Surnamed Xu, he had a typical southern Chinese face with wide-set, downward-slanted eyes and upturned nose, much like Wingyee’s herself but lacking her sultry eyebrows. The latest information was recapped and clarified.
“So strange,” Zhang announced to Delilah. “No more American Embassy.”
“What happened to it?”
“Closed. Shut down.”
“They don’t know. Government shut it down.”
“Where was the Embassy?”
“In this police station?”
“Did they move it somewhere else?”
“No more American Embassy in China. They said big White man in your country’s police uniform brought here short time ago by servant from that house. But they leave when they see Embassy gone.”
“No one knows where they went?”
“No. But I have idea. Let’s go.”
“Ngo soeng jatzi heoi,” said Wingyee, who invited herself and Xu to join them.
The five entered a small building nearby. A blast of hot steamy air greeted them inside.
“Balneum!” exclaimed Attica.
“Yeah, bathhouse,” said Zhang. “This where I first met Jiefu. He found massage job here.”
She and the proprietor exchanged words. He shook his head. She then announced, “Okay, we try big bath now. I don’t know other place to look. Unless he wandering around no direction.”
They headed toward the Diocletian Baths. When they arrived at the gates, Attica gazed in confusion at the bath block. “Thermae Antoninianae? Locus est falsus. Ego non somnio? Roma enim mutatus est.”
“Nigo heoi kamkam ge dengfong haime?” a stunned Wingyee chimed in.
“Daikelixian wenquan. Wenquan,” said Zhang, writing the characters in the air.
“Aa, wancyun. Gam taai?”
The first stop was the gift shop. “You need new writing tunic,” Zhang told Delilah. “Maybe you can use to talk to your police station, where they took me. What his name?”
“”You mean Inspector Melynchuk?”
“Yeah. He the one who beat you?”
“No, he’s the New Gary police. The man who beat us was the Chicago police.”
“You put this on later when we leave. We go to women’s changing hall now.”
Wingyee was highly reluctant to part with her weapons as they disrobed, and it took Zhang some effort to convince her the locker was secure. The naked women met up with Xu in the foyer and they entered the huge natatio. Zhang instructed them to keep their eyes out for a suspicious-looking Caucasian fitting Delilah’s description among the thousands of bathers ambling about or immersed in the pools. “He will be alone, no master with him. No tunic.”
“By the way, why wasn’t he arrested at the police station? Didn’t Wingyee notice him?” asked Delilah.
After querying the interpreter Zhang said, “She doesn’t know why. Because she was in inside room didn’t see him. They only talk with servant. They thought it’s servant’s master business. If master’s own business, no crime.”
They quickly realized there were far too many people to even attempt to scan the premises. They got dressed and Wingyee and the interpreter used their credentials to get access to the complex’s security department, where they explained what they were looking for. The stray slave who had the nerve to wear tight black clothes with ridiculous insignia had been noticed as soon as he had entered the complex, it turned out. So had the Chinese “tongzhi” by the name of “Youliwusi” who befriended him in the sauna.
“Youliwusi?” asked Zhang. “I remember that name. Where I remember that name?”
“Youliwusi Kaisa. Ta shi ge boli. Jilao. Tongxinglian,” said security.
“Aa, geilou,” said Wingyee.
“They saw him on camera,” Zhang explained. “He leave bath together with Chinese homosexual man. This man name himself Roman Emperor, Youliwusi Kaisa.”
Delilah processed that for a second. “Oh, Julius Caesar?”
“Gaius Julius Caesar?” said Attica.
“How do they know he’s homosexual?”
“He famous. How you say ‘bad famous’ in English?”
“You mean infamous? Notorious?”
“They say slaves who go with him never come back. Never seen again.”
“Why didn’t they do anything?”
“They left before they do anything.”
“I mean why don’t they do anything about him? Why don’t they investigate this Chinese guy?”
“Something happen to slave, no crime. But I tell them we must find them. They know where homosexual man live. We go there now.”
Meanwhile Delilah had written to Melynchuk on her new tunic to get an update and received a response:
THE CHICAGO POLICE CHIEF
WAS ALREADY REPLACED
BY CHINESE POLICE CHIEF
It was the next, final line of the message that shocked Delilah as it rolled across her tunic:
BEFORE YOUR ASSAULT
“WHAT?!” she wrote back.
Accompanied by two of the baths’ security officers, the group headed out of the Diocletian grounds and arrived at Julius Caesar’s a few minutes away on foot. Like most of the city’s residential buildings, it was a replica of an Ancient Roman low-rise apartment block of five stories, with street-front shops occupying the ground level. Julius lived in a modest one-bedroom flat on the second floor. He invited them in. Wingyee explored the bedroom and then exited the flat, as if looking for something. Julius shook his head at the officers and their inquiries. They seemed displeased with his response. They sat down and waited for him to divulge more. One of them got up and walked around, picking up and examining various objects, before he drilled his eyes into Julius and said, “Women dui ni hen liaojie.”
In the ensuing silence Zhang whispered, “He said he brought stranger up here but he left as soon as Julius wanted sex. They say they know everything about him.”
Gesturing scornfully at the apartment, Attica exclaimed, “Qualis hic locus? Vere parva. Angustus. Haec insula pecuniam habet.” Pointing to Julius and rubbing her fingertips together she said, “Is pecuniam habet. Dives est!”
They grasped her bafflement over the smallness of the flat. She got her exact meaning across by drawing the building with her finger on the tabletop, starting with the row of shops the floor below. Then she outlined three apartment units on the present floor, twice as many on the floor above, and twice as many again on the next.
“Oh, I get it,” said Delilah. “The apartments get smaller and cheaper each floor up. There are only three apartments on this floor. His should be big and luxurious but it’s cramped and tiny. It should be taking up a lot more space.”
Wingyee had already been nosing around the long hallway and re-entered just as the others went out to have a look. The three apartments were spaced a good distance from each other. The security cops went back in to grill Julius. He continued to offer little information and was poker-faced, though beads of sweat were forming on his brow. “Ni chengren ba!” they urged him.
“Ah? He says neighbors and landlord never there. They tell him they know who landlord is and it’s him. He is landlord! He owns building. But he won’t admit,” said Zhang.
“Aa! Jatbin. Lei nidou!” yelled Wingyee from the bedroom.
They ran in. She had found a secret set of doors and knocked them open with her laser gun and was illuminating what was on the other side with the gun’s torch. Hundreds of naked slaves were revealed in the pitch darkness shielding their eyes from the bright beam. A vast pool was also visible. The building’s entire second floor save Julius’ flat had been turned into a bath; the pool descended into much of the first floor as well. When the captives realized they were being rescued, a clamor broke out. “Bangzhu women! Rang women likai zheli!” they shouted.
The officers called the municipal police, secured Julius and asked him to turn on the lights in the bath.
“Meiyou deng,” he said.
“Oh, my god,” said Zhang. “He keeps the slaves in darkness whole time! He says no lights in bath.”
“No way!” said Delilah.
“Oh, am I glad to hear a voice in English,” said one of the slaves. He came up.
“He’s the Chicago cop!” said Delilah. “He’s the one who beat us.”
The police told the captives to wait and they would soon be released. They appeared extremely disoriented by the light and shrunk back in any case. They were asked how long they’d been held. Weeks, months, years, they variously said. How were they fed? Through a trough where stir-fried rice was dumped every day, the same trough they relieved themselves in. It wasn’t quite as horrible as that — water was regularly passed through to clear its contents — yet Zhang, Xu and the cops gasped.
Then pulled the Chief inside. Attica slapped him hard on the face. He buckled to his knees. “Please get me out of here and help me get back to Chicago. Please. I’ll do anything,” he sobbed.
“How long were you in there?” asked Delilah.
“I don’t know. A few hours. I lost sense of time. Has it been longer? It’s completely dark in there. You can’t see your own hands. I didn’t know there was a pool and fell in. The water is dirty, with urine and feces I think. Oh, it was awful. They were all speaking Italian. Why are they speaking Italian?”
“What happened? How did he get you in there?”
“I don’t know. I was sitting with him on the couch. He was chatting and turned the TV on, a holographic TV. I don’t what happened. The next thing I know I woke up in pitch darkness. I must have been gassed or something. He started speaking to me really slowly. Maybe he hypnotized me.”
“Where’s your uniform?”
“I don’t know.”
Julius was forced to reveal where he kept the captives’ clothes. He opened a large closet with numerous shelves neatly stacked with folded tunics, each coded with a number. The cop’s uniform was retrieved and he put it on. Wingyee stared hard at the police badge and yanked it off his chest. “Ngo jingceot zo keoi gingfai. Hai Zigaago colou!”
“She says it’s Chicago police logo,” said Zhang.
Wingyee pulled up her tunic and showed him her own police badge, which though altered somewhat still resembled the Chief’s five-pointed star design.
“What’s going on? What is she doing?” he asked.
“She’s also Chicago police,” said Delilah.
“Are you kidding me? This exhibitionist?”
Wingyee didn’t like his attitude and grabbed his uniform in her fist under his chin. “Ngo saudou fung nei zoengdi jyuzi ge fongsik. Ngo ng zungji. Jigu nei jan ngo ge syutwaa. Jyugu ng hai, ngo zoeng daai nei heoi meiloi ge Zigaago!”
“She tell him he don’t listen to her, she take him to future Chicago,” said Zhang.
“She really is from the future. And she still has her job. You don’t,” said Delilah.
“I know,” said the Chief mournfully, who was staring at Delilah’s tunic, which had received a new message from Melynchuk:
MARTIAL LAW JUST
* * *
Forthcoming February 2018:
The Kitchens of Canton, a novel