The Sampei Siamese Jade Dragon Key
A tale of dark deeds on even darker streets.
by David D. Wronski
by David D. Wronski
Sampei, What a Town
That derelict town was a smoky hell hole if ever a place on this side of God’s creation did exist. The worst of it, that dank waterfront in old Sampei was no place to find yourself at any hour; but, to venture out after the sun was down in the dark of night you were either up to no good, or looking for it.
Not the least for the predictable nightly fog that hurriedly rolled in from the sea like a love starved sailor coming into port from a voyage long looking for warm comfort in some arms for rent. Under cover of that fog the most unspeakable of darkest dastards prowled those oily streets looking for what to do, for who knows and why.
And that fog was as reliable as the bell in the old church that rang the midnight toll. Church, hah! No one was fooled. God had left those premises. Now, a liquor joint, probably the worst in this God-forsaken town. Oh, there was worship there, alright. And, the devil got his due.
That key. It came to be known as the Sampei Siamese Jade Dragon Key. When he stumbled upon it the key had spent who knows how long lodged between blackened cobblestones in the Chinatown quarter. What for the inexorable shifting of those steel hard stones the key worked its way ever so slightly to stick out enough to call attention to itself should a passerby step on it. Why he looked down when he felt the sharp edge of the key break the sensuous smooth pattern of the cobblestones is any body's guess. But he did. His curiosity would not be rewarded on that fateful night. Though he could be up for whatever the Fates dealt to his hand, he was not one to court unnecessary doings. That notwithstanding, his Fates did seem to have a rather reliable way of thrusting him into unexpected and highly complicated situations. So, as he was wont to do, he bent low and carefully worked the key free from between the two stones it had kept company with for those so many years. For who knows how long, really.
The ancient mystery that key would reveal would have better been left to keep. But, it wasn't in the cards.
Wait, we're getting ahead of ourselves.
Just how he came to be there that night itself is a story all its own. He was a Caucasian orphan left with missionaries. The precocious and exuberant boy was too much for those starchy Presbyterians, and they soon shuttled him off to a nearby monastery where to put his wild spirit in order he was schooled with extreme discipline in books and the practical stuff of living; and fighting and dying. Let's just say he could take care of himself. And, he looked it.
In spite of the years of discipline and schooling the boy who became the man had enough with ways that by plain genetic disposition felt not his own. He had round eyes and yearned for a round eyed world. He took his proper leave and hitched a ride on a riverboat laden with silks from the North. In Sampei he planned to catch a ship going anywhere, anywhere but here.
Why he wandered into that saloon right after his ship came in is anyone's wonder. It was the brightest spot on the docks. The only bright spot to be seen. Called "The Dragon Nest", its sign lit up the otherwise gloomy street in a garish mish-mash of shouting neon colors. It beckoned like a proverbial flame to the moth. The name was fitting.
The Dragon Nest was the kind of place that most folks would steer clear of for fear of going in and never coming out. The bar was long and the counter encrusted with gold coins; real gold coins. The house rule was, "No loitering at the bar. Take your drink and get the hell away, pronto." This rule had two purposes, it made sure that only paying customers would belly up. And, it kept the bartender free to pour his libations and not babysit a menagerie of losers with broken hearts and tales to tell. Just to take a gander at that king's ransom in gold coins was the draw itself. The thirst for gold and the thirst for surcease. Let's just say that joint did some business.
And, speaking of business . . . she was there too. The kind of gal any man would be happy just to find himself next to. All yin, to any man's yang. The intoxicating refined features of the Orient blended with traces of a lineage from the West. To catch her gaze was to fall in love. To feel her touch, to melt. To be in her arms downstairs at a table, a month's pay. To experience alone with her the warm tenderness of her most intimate embrace, that would cost you a fortune. Plus the cost of the room. And, then only, if she liked you. But, she had to really like you.
She hadn't seen a man she really liked in a while. Until he showed up. His chiseled movie star handsome occidental features shook the foundations of her half-breed soul. Without any thought her rose petal tongue lavishly moistened her ruby lips. She quickly dabbed her glistening lips lest her lust show itself and reveal her undeniable vulnerability. She was moist alright. And ready. Oh, yes. But, she knew the score. This game had some rules. First things first.
They both played it cool. But, like strangers who know love at first sight all too well know, he knew and she knew. And he knew that she knew, and she . . . well, you get the drift. They fixed their stance near to each other anchored like magnets feeling that gravitational pull, only held back by circumstances that for such an anything-goes kind of joint could only be called ironic decorum. Otherwise, should they have chosen to give in to their throbbing impulses, they could just as easily be on the floor in an instant at each other thrashing in reckless and unselfconscious abandon like two fish fighting for their lives caught together in a net. They would have their time, alright. But it could wait. Yes he was that good. And, she was his match. Business before pleasure. Perhaps that sea voyage would have to wait.
Business? When two fated souls such as these meet they see their karmic agenda laid bare for both to see. Without thinking, he whipped it out, presenting it to her like a fine jewel before a queen. She didn't budge, and showed nary a sign of reaction. Except for those flared nostrils. That was her
give away. What she saw made her body groan in yearning and anticipation.
That key! She had never seen it before, but somehow it was as familiar to her as those smooth thighs and tapered calves she lotioned every night religiously. It was hers, and she knew it. Now, how to purloin that mysterious artifact from this devilishly handsome stranger. He held the key she coveted. And, perhaps the key to her heart?
A Walk in the Dark
With barely a nod and a quick darting of her deep luxurious eyes she gestured for him to follow her up the staircase to her most private sanctum. He obeyed like a puppy dog. Behind closed doors she finally showed herself. As she draped her graceful lily white body across those satin sheets her robe came undone. He could barely contain himself. Oh, he wanted her alright. But the key had its own allure, and it spoke of an even greater mystery to both of them. He lay the key obediently on her heaving bosom and she swiftly snatched it up in her lotus petal hand. Quickly sitting up she raised it overhead revealing the most exquisite silhouette of her most female form, but somehow masterfully keeping the focus on the key itself. Just as quickly she draped her loveliness and walked to a door on the other side of the room. Like a bull moose in rut he followed her down the secret back stairway and out to the street. The key clutched in her most beautiful tender soft delicate hand knew its destination and they followed. Still not saying a word but saying everything with her eyes, they walked together in the dark, the fog folding around them like a love potion whose chemical effect kept them in thrall of one another as they walked arm in arm for how long and to where, who knows?
In each other's company for them time stood still. They walked silently content and aimless like young lovers for a long while tracing a twisting and turning path among the dark streets of the dockside Old Chinatown quarter. At a crossing something made them stop and look down the narrowest of streets. There at the end of what turned out to be a cul de sac was a small storefront with windows showing only the slightest trace of a yellow bulb light glowing deep inside. As they approached they could make out the gilt lettered name, "Long's Time Antiquities". It was the kind of store you don't much see anymore in any of the Chinatowns of the world. Intricately framed tall Victorian style bay windows open to the street view with a forest of plants flourishing just inside, each specimen in a beautiful glazed pottery planter. One couldn't see inside much at all for the plants and the thick mist draping the windows, suggesting a hot meal recently prepared and welcoming, or a pot of water on the boil for some rare and exotic black China tea. They went inside.
The door tripped a sleigh bell announcing their entry. A fat drowsy cat was first to greet them. As they approached that mouser slowly rose and sauntered off to find a more private spot. Soon from behind a beaded curtain an exquisitely old Chinese man appeared. Graceful and thin, with a bearing suggesting many a year well lived. A Westerner new to the Oriental culture could easily make the mistake that people from that part of the world are all imbued with the wisdom of the ages. In truth, fools thrive all over the world, and appearances can be deceiving. Not so with this ancient gentleman. He radiated strength and understanding. You just new. Not so much by how he looked — though, he indeed looked the part — but by how his very presence resonated within you. Oh, you would know my friend. You would most certainly know. He was the real deal. Enough said.
He greeted them with the slightest most graceful bow. And gestured them to sit at the table set in the center of the room. Situated around it were pieces of antiquated furniture and large artworks, placed like sentinels each one guarding its own feudal kingdom. Beyond in dark wood framed beveled glass showcases items of remarkable workmanship; and farther still, against the walls, shelves covered with the same darkened wood panelling and glass inserts. The smallest articles were kept there, each sat majestic and silent, and each a treasure of wonderful imaginings and story.
As if on cue a graceful silk robed young girl came into the room through that beaded curtain carrying a tray with a huge pot of China black tea and three thin porcelain cups. Clearly, it was an unspoken invitation to stay a while. Over tea the couple told their stories. The old man patiently listened, but he instinctively knew the purpose of their visit, and after they were finished with their little stories, he gestured as if to say, ". . . And?"
She retrieved the key secreted in the silk wrapping around her soft warm bosom and forthrightly placed in on the table in front of the old man. He signalled to the young girl and without a word or hesitation she brought a lacquered tray with a fine thin silk cushion fit in the center. He gestured to place the key on the silk cushion. Then the three of them simply sat there looking at the key and sipping their aromatic cups of tea. The young girl vanished, having done her duty. Not far away should she be needed, but out of sight, out of mind. Everything in its place.
When the old man spoke he spoke in measured, quiet tones. Not a breath wasted. He asked where did this key come from, and our fellow flatly stated that he found it. Purely by accident, in the street, not all that far away. Well enough. No need to get melodramatic about finding a key, even a key which the old man without a doubt knew could open a world of mysteries . . . and, troubles, should it get in the wrong hands.
For every key born there is a lock. And most keys and their mated locks stay close. It may be a cliché but this key and the lock it fit, a holy alliance? Or, unholy? The world, my friend, is as you may see it. The answer lies in your own heart, and what you value. As was suggested, the contents that key unlocked could be a blessing, or a curse. It's all in how you hold it.
The old man sat silently slowly sipping at his teacup for a long time. Just looking at the key. That key with its delicate jade finial spoke its own truth. Not to be forced, and with the greatest respect. This key opened a treasure.
Suddenly from behind the beaded curtain an old woman materialized and plodded silently toward the table where the three of them were held silent in the aura of the jade key. She brought with her an old box, of age who knows. The box was set with a brass lock with a menacing dragon face jade surround. Open at your own peril could be one way to interpret its unspoken message. Or, rich rewards to the fearless interloper. You tell me. Only one way to tell for sure. Yes, open it.
With all this mystery it was rather surprising how the old man so swiftly and unceremoniously took the jade key and opened the box. At a certain age one opts for economy over theatrics. Though the casual observer would expect to see some outward show of respect confronting such a mystery, the old man had earned his chops; respect was his ground of being. The box opened, and yet another key. This one rugged iron, and large. The kind of key you would expect would open a big and ancient door.
The old man deftly picked up the key and handed it to the monkey on his shoulder. Did I mention there was a monkey on his shoulder? No matter. The monkey held the key, knowingly. With ferocious tenacity, in fact. Then, he tucked it securely into his belt. Did I mention the monkey was dressed in a costume, like some kind of fine gentleman.
The old man whispered something silently into the monkey's ear and that little simian beast seemed to nod as if to signify understanding. Then the old man said to go with the monkey and seek out the door that belonged to that cold hard key. But, important, don't touch the monkey! Nobody touches the monkey. The creature would recognize the door and would turn over the key without fail in due time. Meanwhile, the monkey would guard the key should anyone attempt a street mugging. A very likely turn of events at such an hour, on such streets.
Just as unceremoniously, the old man stood up and showed them the door. The monkey dutifully followed behind, and off they went into the dark, fog shrouded night. As they left the shop and its only light on that street, the road ahead darkened and once again they came to that intersection where every option was as dark as the next, maybe except for a small crack of light coming from a shuttered window here and there, or a quick play of light and shadow cast by the light of the moon running among the clouds.
From here on out it was all feel your way by instinct. But, the keyholder monkey had instincts as well. It struck out ahead of them on the street off to the right, and they obediently followed. Imagine, he thought to himself, in the middle of nowhere with a smoking hot dame in the dead of night following some overdressed monkey. To what? Why? Best not to look for answers to some questions. The answers will come after the deed is done. Maybe not the answer one would want, but the hard true answer nonetheless. They pressed on.
The Sampei Gate
After not too long a time they came to the gate. It was a huge double affair, maybe ten or more feet wide and double that in height. They wouldn't have stopped except for the monkey. It stopped and simply stood there staring at that gate. The gate surround and walls stretching far on either side were made of ancient massive stones. Square cut at their fitment sides, but rough hewn to the outside. Those stones looked like they were set there centuries ago, and would stay there centuries more. And, those massive walls were topped with huge stone spikes with menacing gargoyles placed shoulder to shoulder all along the length under them. No one was going in except through that gate. Or, out.
The thing is that it was so dark at night in those precincts that you wouldn't even notice that structure there, again save for the gesturing monkey. And, funny, the lady herself knew those streets well enough by day, so well she could at any time in the daylight accurately place herself in relation to the rest of the local terrain. But, she never saw those ramparts with the gateway ever before in all her travels in the light of day around that godforsaken town. Yet, there it was. Barely visible except for moments of moonlight granted by the chance of an occasional cloud parting.
That gate. Age darkened wood timbers framing more wood timbers mortised in among a square lattice grid design. Crude and heavy wrought iron hardware with a shiny black patina speaking to years of careful attention. Half round iron bolt heads as big as a fist studded everywhere holding all that wood in place. And, in the center, the keyhole opening to the lock box. So small, almost too easy to miss for all the outsized scale of all of it. But for the monkey, gesturing as if to say, "Here dummy, that's where you put the key." Never underestimate the value of a smart monkey.
They took a long silent look of one another, the key their common bond. And maybe too the irresistible animal magnetism vibrating in their bones. She nodded assent, and he let the key into the small slot. It entered smoothly with a feel of an accurate tolerance. When he turned it, it also moved so easily, noiselessly. She breathed a sigh; of relief? (With a babe like that the context could easily shift. She had it going on, for sure.) Except for, after a few moments, the sound of a huge clockwork of grindings, bashings, turnings, squealings, and clashings screamed out from the lock box of the gate, shattering the dead silence of the gloomy street. It's no wonder that the entire neighborhood wasn't awakened by that monstrous, ecstatic noise.
Then the gate silently swung open. Not enough to take in whatever view there was to be had of the inside, but just enough for a person to shimmy through. Again, they stood there looking at one another. The key in his slack armed hand. That gave the monkey its opening and the little bugger snatched it back and was off down the street and gone before you barely knew what happened.
Alone together they approached the gate opening. He went first. Once he was in and out of sight, he offered her an inviting hand. She trustingly accepted and followed. Then as she stepped inside the gate, just as silently it closed and there they were together alone, their fate sealed, so to speak. Nothing more. The story now is theirs to tell; if they will. If they can.
Just to say in closing there are locks which only appear when the key is in hand. You won't even know if a key will be granted. But, if it is, the choice is not whether to turn the key, but when. And, where.
Happy trails, friend.
©Copyright David D. Wronski 2013