Joanne Shaughnessy’s latest, ah, business venture has taken her some very strange places so far – and in Part II of Ian Smith’s Trace, things are just about to get stranger.
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Ming’s door opened to emit a curl of dense white smoke. Ming beckoned her in, her head tilted to one side. “I did not expect you back so soon, nu. You have another treat for me?” She gave a slow smile, showing her tiny round teeth. A towering glass hookah stood on the little altar, emitting a lazy stream of smoke, with more collected at the ceiling.
“I think so.”
“Well, well, youfu shu. Come let me see.” She was more languid and sly than Joanne had ever seen her – she began to wonder if it was shisha or hashish in the water pipe.
She knelt and withdrew the bent and blackened spoon, once again feeling its pull, its promise. With an effort she opened her hand and let it rest on display in her palm.
Ming stared at it for a moment, her face neutral, then her eyes widened. “Ah, Jia-en! You have found another – I can feel Aunt Xiulan waking to its presence. Where did this come from?”
Joanne shrugged. “Belltown. I was just walking by and I felt something in the alley.”
Ming reached out and took it, then held it up to the light as though it were made of crystal instead charred metal. “Mmm. It is very strong. Very strong. You did good. From an alley you say? You are a great wu. A blessed one.”
Ming’s eyes unfocused for a second, and she was lost within her thoughts. Joanne shifted her weight, uncomfortable that she was not holding the spoon. She had to fight the urge to snatch it back. The yawning chasm was opening in her gut again, and seeing Ming toy with was a maddening tease. At the same time, she alarmed and disgusted by these feelings. It was a just a dirty spoon – a filthy little bit of metal that had been the focus of some poor bastard’s life. She did not want it. She did want the five hundred dollars it represented.
She had a pang of guilt that she had blown off Teo for this. Though she had already probably scared him off with her alley antics. She wondered if she left now if she could get back to the Rendezvous before the last set finished. That would be difficult to explain.
At some point, Ming had returned from her reverie and was now staring intently at Joanne.
The two women looked at each other for a long moment before Ming whispered, “Xiulan is worried about you. She says you feel too much. Too soon. She says you will need help.”
“I…what? What kind of help”
Ming snorted. “Fuck. I don’t know. I will ask around.”
She turned and poked at the bowl atop the glass pipe, ensuring the coals were stoked before unwinding the hose from its cradle and taking a long, deep pull. She closed her eyes, and let the smoke drift from her open mouth for a moment, little ephemeral tentacles crawling from her lips, searching the contours of her face. She the exhaled a direct stream at the portrait of Xiulan, creating a roiling cloud around her ancestor’s sepia visage. Ming opened her eyes again, seemed mildly surprised at Joanne’s presence. “Did you want to smoke?” She pointed the hose in Joanne’s direction, her thumb clamped over the mouthpiece.
“I’ll pass. Thanks.”
“Then the fuck are you still here for?” She looked suddenly cross.
The scowl vanished from her face, and she gave Joanne a knowing wink. “Ah yes, the money. Get me the box, would you, nu?” She kicked at the cabinet door under the pipe with a stockinged foot.
Joanne opened the door, slid out the little lockbox, and handed it to Ming. It took her considerably longer to open it tonight, but eventually it popped open and she spun it to face Joanne. She leaned back against the headboard, eyes closed. “Count them out.”
A haystack of twenties occupied most of the box, and barricaded on one side by two rolled bales of what looked to be fifties and hundreds. Joanne scooped up an unwieldy handful of the loose bills and shook them into a stack. She counted out loud, grouping the bills into five piles of five as she had seen Ming do last time. The old woman didn’t even crack an eye open. “There you go, sorceress! Take your riches, and your youth! Leave an old woman be!”
She collected her money into her purse and relocked the box next to Ming. Joanne turned to leave and felt a grasping pull at her nonhand, coupled with a reverberant yearning filling her core. She had lost something important – a sugary giggling orgasmic plunge into the supermind – she had lost it, but it could be found. Found in the spoon, the fire, the magic, the needle. It wasn’t too late. It could be hers.
Joanne wrenched her body, shaking free of the whispering need. She looked at Ming, who reclined on the bed, elbow cocked over her eyes, and worried for her. “Be careful with that thing, Ming.”
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