The dress the shop owner revealed by removing the top from the box that had come from Boston almost made William Liddell cry. But he didn't cry.
"Thousands come to California for gold," he said. "Never prospected, but reckon I found something more precious."
"She's a gem."
Liddell stroked the silk.
"Be a son of a gun to clean."
"What Chinamen are for, Mr. Liddell," the shop owner laughed.
"Been wondering," Liddell said. "If you can't trust a Chinaman, why trust one with your laundry?"
"Fabric against your flesh. Well that's mainly undergarments, but you put it close. Possibilities for mischief."
They were alone. Horace Stanley didn't lower his voice.
"Heard tell of Chinamen been known to poison clothes brought to be laundered."
"You don't say."
"Heard tell of an acid, put it on clothes and eats holes in the body."
"Case of a woman," Stanley grinned, "not the same as the hole she's got."
Liddell's look melted Stanley's grin.
"Hear you're a frequent visitor to Madam Liu Li's establishment, Mr. Stanley. That how Liu Li's girls got their holes?"
Liddell took the box.
"Not like they're good Christian women, Mr. Liddell."
"Not here long enough to know better, Mr. Stanley. You give them time among good Christians. But then what would you do for amusement till you married one?"
"Forgot I have a wife?" Stanley snapped.
"Think you forgot."
"Not about forgetting. Ida's a good Christian woman. Got certain . . . inhibitions."
"Horace Stanley hitched to one of Liu Li's girls," Liddell laughed. "I'd sit in the front pew for that."
He turned to leave.
"Time comes, Stanley, Mrs. Liddell and I will take our chances with a Chinaman to launder that dress."
Stanley felt obliged to strike back.
"When's the great day?" he said.
"Ain't decided. Miss Emma has to get here and it's a treacherous journey."
"Unnecessary too, you ask me. Should of stayed here with her future husband stead of gallivanting off to lecture congressmen. They're wondering why she ain't at home, why she got a future husband stead of already got one and why she ain't home with him. And while I'm at it, Mr. Liddell, not saying I'm a slavery man but don't see how minding other folks' business makes things better."
Liddell was done with the fool.
"What Miss Emma thinks too, Stanley," he sighed. "But she says owning folks like they was property is minding other folks' business."
He shut the door and headed for a quick one at the Old Ship. But you can't tell with juries, he thought, and Emma's last letter had mentioned his drinking. Best get back to the courtroom. He turned around.
When he arrived he had to make his way through the crowd coming the other way. The faces announced the verdict: mostly happy white faces and all unhappy Chinese ones meant acquittal. Sam Granger, the accused—Innocent my foot, Liddell thought—was with three or four friends. One fired his gun into the air and the crowd scattered.
"No more," Granger laughed, taking the barrel in his hand and lowering it. "Can use the others on Chinamen."
Granger noticed Liddell.
"Or Chinamen-lovers," he said. "Character witness for a Chinaman: makes you blind, Liddell."
Liddell shouldered past Granger and brushed off the hand that the gunman put on his arm.
"Leave it," he heard Granger say. "Let him lick his wounds."
Only the reporter from the Alta remained in the courtroom.
"What happened, Edgar? Two eye-witnesses!"
"Judge's instructions, Bill," said Edgar Pratt, not looking up from his notes. "Don't think he was happy about it, but after you left—hope you gave my regards at the Old Ship—he was brought a cable. California Supreme Court has disqualified the testimony of Chinamen, so Morgan told the jury their hands was tied."
Liddell's big frame sprawled on the bench next to Pratt.
"What's in the box?"
"What I wrote," Pratt said, "most likely not getting every word exact, is that Chinamen make up, and I quote, a 'distinct people in our community, recognizing no laws of this state, except through necessity, bringing with them prejudices and natural feuds, in which they indulge in violation of the law; whose mendaciousness is proverbial; a people marked by nature as inferior, incapable of intellectual progress.'"
"More or less, Bill. Conviction in the case of People versus George W. Hall overturned courtesy of the wisdom of the Honorable Hugh Campbell Murray, Honorable Solomon Heydenfield concurring."
"Not disposing him to sympathy for another persecuted race."
"Shit," Liddell repeated.
He opened his box. Pratt emitted a whistle.
"Business good, Bill?"
"Don't know how much more prospecting equipment I can sell," Liddell shrugged. "Gold running low I expect. But some of the folks done with mining want a more genteel life. And their ladies. Doing well selling this new machine for washing crockery and other articles of table furniture, come from New York."
"Thought a woman's hands was for that," Pratt said. "Dress for Emma?"
"No, Edgar, for Liu Li. To give to the girl it fits best."
"Which is none since Emma's a head taller than them all. So maybe give it to Emma for a hand-me-down."
"Open season on Chinamen now? Hunt them like deer?"
"That would imply what gentlemen of great legal acumen call a broad interpretation," Pratt said. "Seems to me one such gentleman, theHonorable Justice Murray, hasn't said Chinamen are so mendacious, inferior, and intellectually debased that a white man can't testify their behalf."
Liddell massaged his face.
"So a white eye-witness could have nailed Granger's ass to the gallows," he said.
"Thereby preventing the abrupt plunge of the body of which said ass is but a part to its demise, although, yes, making allowances for the metaphor, a white witness would have nailed Sam Granger's ass for good."
Pratt removed his Bowler. He scratched his head.
"Think you got no hair because the heat from your brain killed it?" Liddell said. "Might be there's one more thought than you needed in that sentence."
Liddell continued massaging.
"Didn't see Ma Long coming out," he said. "Or the witnesses."
"Left soon as the bad news was delivered. Don't suppose they wanted to mix it up with Granger's gang."
"Most likely won't see them in these parts again."
"Thing called prudence," Pratt said, "which even a people marked by incapacity for intellectual progress can understand."
He lit a cheroot.
"I'd offer you one, but . . . "
"On your salary," Liddell said. "And given the cost of whisky."
"Ma Long leaves you need a new cook. Find another that good and that cheap?"
"Hire Chinese again."
"You ain't opposed," Pratt said.
"Not saying a Chinaman can do everything a white man can, but . . . Well, don't see the harm in them not being as clever and doing their jabbering."
Pratt studied his shoes.
"You think a Chinaman can do everything a white man can?"
"What I think?" Pratt said. "My job's to report what other folks think and do."
Pratt got up from the bench.
"Old Ship, Bill? Drown your anger?"
Liddell took his hand away from his face. Should get a shave, he thought.
"Drown by your lonesome, Edgar. Been considering Emma's wise counsel regarding my health. So for today I'm converted to Baptist."
"Then for today we ain't on speaking terms," Pratt grinned. "But while you ain't drinking or speaking to me you'll pray for a second trial?"
"Second trial?" Liddell said as he stood up to stretch. "Constitution get amended while I was collecting this dress for Liu Li's girls? Right to bear arms taken away too?"
"Was counting Granger's eggs for him before they's hatched, Bill. Should have told you Morgan declared a mistrial. Thought Granger's lawyer would have conniptions, said If there's one fool of a holdout juror even though there's no evidence you got to direct a verdict of innocence, but old Morgan said I know how to run my courtroom."
"Never know what he's thinking. Technicality, though, good as innocent. But if a Baptist like yourself is keen to pray you could pray for a second trial. Good a way as any to waste precious drinking time. You sure?"
"Not today, Edgar."
Pratt tipped his hat and left. William Liddell thought that before he got a shave he ought to pay a visit to the second most famous Chinese madam in San Francisco for the first time since he'd made the acquaintance of Miss Emma Winters.
* * *
When Liu Li opened her place of business on Clay Street, around the corner from Ah Toy's Pike Street brothel, she had insisted that she didn't plan to compete with Ah Toy. Liu Li believed that despite Ah Toy's great success she wasn't satisfying the demand. Having seen clients walk into Ah Toy's and then walk out, she'd concluded that a nearby business offering a product nearly identical to Ah Toy's would do fine. Duplicating Ah Toy's product entailed charging the same, one ounce of gold, for a mere look. Between lookers and actors and those compelled to act after looking, Liu Li had soon found herself with an income if not a reputation comparable to Ah Toy's.
William Liddell paused to admire the young woman sitting in Liu Li's front window. He thought that with her rice-powdered cheeks, chignon so shiny and smooth that it could have been lacquered, pink satin jacket, and lime-green pantaloons, she looked pretty enough for a museum. Her eyes closed and opened and closed again and her head bobbed. Liddell realized that she was struggling to stay awake. Liu Li won't like that, he thought, so he tapped on the window. The young woman's eyes opened. She smiled and beckoned to Liddell. He smiled back but shook his head and went in the door. He'd saved the girl from disciplinary measures: Liu Li was entering her greeting room from the hallway that went past where her girls met clients.
"Mr. Bill," she said in her loud voice. "Your pretty Miss Emma away too long, you need pretty friend. Guo Shanshan very pretty, happy to make you happy."
She rested a hand on Guo Shanshan's shoulder.
"Ain't why I'm here, Liu Li. Need privacy with you."
"That part of Liu Li tired, Mr. Bill," she said, pretending to misunderstand. "Not good anymore for what you need, Liu Li executive now." She laughed at her own joke.
"You come my office."
For an afternoon, business was good. Liddell tried not to listen as he followed Liu Li to the farthest room, not along the sides of the hallway but straight back. It was marked OFFICE in gilded letters. He listened carefully once they'd gone inside. Both adjacent rooms seemed unused.
She sat behind her desk and offered a cigarette.
"That case real gold?" he said, shaking his head.
"Gold flow like water here."
"But maybe flow getting slow now, best times in past for Liu Li, Ah Toy."
Liddell cleared his throat.
"Come to talk about another reason your good times might be ending," he said.
Liu Li was well covered. Someone who didn't know better might have thought she was a schoolteacher. Liddell tried not to recall from before the moment when his first glimpse of Miss Emma Winters changed his life the look or the feel of Liu Li's small, firm body. Couldn't hold a candle to the beauteous Ah Toy, but she'd been pretty enough. Still was. That body had served Liu Li and her clients well. But it had served too much and Liddell was pleased she was an executive now.
"All men equal here," she said.
The desk concealed the reach of her hand. Liddell knew it had gone between her legs and his efforts not to recall the look or feel of her body were defeated.
"But judge say black man, mulatto man, Indian man not equal up here," she said as she moved her hand to her head. "Now judge say Chinese man like them. But Chen Wen, Lin Han not write book. See Mr. Sam shoot Hu Long like dog."
"Because Granger wanted Guo Shanshan right away," Liddell sighed. "Fool couldn't wait ten minutes for Hu Long to finish."
"Hard to wait for Guo Shanshan, she prettiest, best girl. But better wait than shoot Hu Long like dog."
"Yes, Liu. And it's a simple thing like any black or mulatto could see. Or Chinaman. But—"
"White man like all man, care more than anything about here," she said, again thrusting her hand beneath the desk. "Or Liu Li still work Chinese laundry, not rich lady live in grand house. Take judge's head away he think don't need head, still have this so still man."
"Judge lie with Guo Shanshan, he forget he have head."
Her smile faded.
"Mr. Horace he forget he have head every day."
"Mrs. Stanley not make him forget. He need Liu Li's girls. But say he can't stand up in court or Mrs. Stanley see."
Son of a bitch, Liddell thought.
"You take next five dresses no cost Liu Li, he say. I think no problem, Chinese witnesses enough. Have one dress already: silk."
"Give the dress back, Liu. That ease your conscience, you can say Stanley was there."
She picked up the gold cigarette case.
"Chinese tobacco good like Chinese silk," she said, and he shook his head again. "No? Why judge listen to Liu Li say Mr. Horace see? Judge not listen to Chinese man."
She took a cigarette.
"But Mr. Horace listen to Chinese lady say she tell Mrs. Stanley his name on every page of her books, Chinese lady's girls say how they make him forget he have head every day. Paint pretty picture of him not wearing those fine clothes."
Liddell decided to take a cigarette after all.
"But he tell judge he see Mr. Sam shoot Hu Long like dog, not self-defense, Liu Li tell different story. Say Mr. Horace good Christian man bringing Liu Li dress, he standing by innocent when Mr. Sam shoot Hu Long."
Liddell touched the tip of his unlit cigarette to the tip of her lit one.
"Thanks for thinking of what I wanted to think of before I did."
He made the grimace that helped him pronounce the Chinese word:
"Welcome," she said.
She blew a cloud of smoke toward the ceiling. The patch of yellow above the desk told Liddell she'd blown many clouds of smoke.
"All the times you lie with Liu Li you learn one Chinese word. But you more wise than black man, Chinese man? How many Chinese words wise judge know?"
She smiled. Liddell noticed that her teeth were yellow like the ceiling.
"You tell Liu Li xiexie many times. You always welcome."
* * *
That evening the outcome of a chance encounter in Barry and Patten's saloon, at Montgomery and Sacramento, would obviate the need to persuade Horace Stanley to testify in Sam Granger's retrial. The drunken brawl in which Lin Han, who had proffered inadmissible eye-witness testimony against Granger for the murder of Hu Long, died at Granger's hand resulted also in the death of Granger himself.
As a hedge against the likelihood that Justice Murray's ruling in People v. Hall would exacerbate the risks borne by Chinese immigrants involved in high-profile enterprises like prostitution, Liu Li opened a Chinese laundry. It flourished. In time, like the more celebrated Ah Toy, Liu Li would withdraw from the prostitution business.
Some weeks after Justice Murray's ruling, Emma Winters returned to San Francisco to marry William Liddell. They lived thereafter for many years in reasonable happiness. Emma would always regret that she and the other women with whom she'd traveled to Washington did not succeed in persuading the United States Congress to abolish slavery.