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The Search
Missing: September 1870 – Chinese Mail Order Bride, Mei Ling. Last seen boarding a train to San Francisco, California…
Hasn’t been seen since.
Rain Deerfield, free-born woman, half-breed tracker for the missing minority
class and bounty hunter for the United States Militia is on a search
that hits close to home. Her childhood friend, Mei Ling, is among the
hundreds of missing in the San Francisco territory. Could it be a
coincidence or was all the missing somehow connected?
After advertising and paying for a mail order bride, handsome Dr. Wen Da
Yang’s potential “wife,” Mei Ling, never arrives to his home, Alcatraz,
“Island of the Pelicans.” Feeling he was duped of a bridal trousseau
and train fare, Wen gives up on the idea of a wife and instead searches
for the perfect domestic.
Miss Rain Deerfield embarks on the old abandoned military fortress and none too soon in Wen’s opinion. With the arrival of his new housekeeper, his serene world as he has known it is turned completely upside down with intrigue as one unexplained
ghostly encounter after another occurs.
Is Dr. Yang’s island home truly inhabited by ghosts or is there something more sinister going on?
The Search

CHAPTER ONE

Never drop yah gun to hug a grizzly...
 
Cole Town, San Francisco, California
April 3, 1870
 
The train stilled with a loud hiss and squeal of steel.  Steam spewed from it, as Rain Deerfield, sitting in the back of the train, was one of the last to disembark.
Dressed in her usual traveling gear of men’s clothing, she stepped off the train while placing the hat atop her head.  She was happy to be standing on solid ground again.  She hated the claustrophobic traveling of the train car but traveling in the confines of a stage coach as she had in the past was much worse because they would force the colored people to ride atop or on the back, open to the dust and elements.
The first thing that hit Rain upon stepping off the train was the noise of the street vendors coming from all directions.
“Blaaaaaackberrrrrrrries! Fresh apples!  Raaaaaaaspberrrrrrries!”  One called out to her in passing.
“Over ‘ere’s yer lily-white hot corn!  Get yah piping hot corn!”  Another bellowed over the first.
A short distant from the White peddlers, a lone Negro woman hawks her stew from a huge black kettle hanging over a burning pit.  “Yeddy go, pepperpot, righthot!  Makee warm!  Fiiiiive cents!  Two penny bowls fo’ the po’.”
Rain felt the type of weariness that settles about a soul that has been sitting too long.  It wasn’t that the journey was extraordinarily long.  It was the cramped accommodations she was forced to ride in because of the color of her skin.
With a burgundy velvet carryall in hand filled with the necessities for overnight, Rain made her way to the porter and made arrangements for her luggage to be delivered to the inn at which she had a reservation.  She would like to have been surprised to see that because the town was larger than most, she wouldn’t get the usual welcoming; but she saw things remained the same no matter how big the population was.
“Luke Cole, territorial sheriff and founding family member of this here town.  You got some business around here Gal or are yah just passin’ through?” 
She looked up into piercing blue eyes in a moon shaped unshaven face.  The sheriff took off his hat, wiped his brow and replaced it on his balding head.  With a resigned sigh, she stood and found herself a head taller than the potbelly sheriff that had been standing over her.
“I’m looking for this young woman, maybe you’ve seen her.”  Reaching into the inside coat pocket of her dusty brown traveling coat, Rain removed and unfolded a penciled likeness of the woman that had brought her to Cole Town. 
The sheriff was too busy studying her face with open lewd interest to spare the paper she held out to him a glance.
“Are yah a Mulatto or Squaw?”  He inquired with a bushy raised eyebrow.
Rain released a long sigh.  Her hand dropped back to her side taking care to not to crunch the paper in her fingers as she felt added tension in her neck and shoulders.
She hated being asked this question; especially when whoever dared to ask never liked the answer she gave them.  Be it White, Indian, Black, or Chinese...they all treated people like her as if she was an abomination to God.  The one thing she noticed about people in her travels was they hated the thought that there may come a day people like her would dominate over all others because if that happened, people wouldn’t be able to isolate everyone to the little group they thought they belong in.
She must have hesitated too long for he took a step closer until his fetid tobacco breath blew on her face as he leaned in towards her and sneered, sneered low enough for only her to hear, “Listen hea’ Gal, yah can either answer my questions or I can march yah down to the jailhouse and interrogate yah right and proper with the help of my boys.”
Rain flinched when he spit a stream of dark brown mucus to the ground and some of the mucus splattered across the toe of one of her boots.
“Cole, I don’t see how anything about me has to do with my search for this missing woman.”  Rain swallowed and forged ahead.  “Nor do I see why it would warrant a visit to the jailhouse, Sheriff.  I haven’t broken any laws and I assure you the moment I find out if this woman is here or not, I will be moving on.”
“Now, I’m sure I can make up some kind of law yah broken.”  He made a sucking sound against his teeth.  “Trust me, if I a mind to lock yah up, who in this town do yah think would believe yah ova’ me?”
He was right and Rain knew it.  Resigned, she answered.  “My mother is Negro and my father is Comanche,” Rain answered.   “Satisfied?”
“Not yet.”
“Then please ask another question, Sheriff.  I’m currently it seems...at your disposal,” her lips pulled into a tight smile.
“If’n yah ma was a Negress and your pappy was White, yah’d be one of them there...Mulatto.  And if’n your ma was an Injun and your paw was White, yah’d be one of those Half-breeds.  So...I reckon yah aint nothin’ but...a Mongrel.  A damned nigger injun mutt,” he said, snickering at his own tasteless humor. 
Rain’s serene expression slipped, but only a bit.  “If that will be all—"  She moved to pass the man but he stepped in front of her once again.  Her eyes stared stonily into his.  She refused to allow him to think he was intimidating her.
“Now hold up,” he told her.  “I like to know as much about yah as I can.”
“Is that really necessary?  I’m probably just passing through,” Rain spoke in a clipped tone. 
“Well, for instance if yah were to get killed, who would I notify of yah passin’,” he said with a wink.  “But you can keep it all to yahself if you just turn right back around and get yah self back on that there train and let it take you to the next town.”
“I don’t mean to be rude, Sheriff Cole.  It’s just that I would like to have an idea of my destination before nightfall.  I’m sure you understand,” Rain ended with a contritely expression that spoke nothing of the rage she felt inside.
“And I’m sure yah understand I have a job to do to protect the good White folks of Cole Town.”  He chewed and moved the wad of tobacco to the opposite cheek and spit out the excess spittle before demanding, “Now first tell me where yah learn to talk all proper like yah do?”
There was no use of her arguing her point any longer.  If she didn’t know before, she now knew she was embarked in a pissing contest and the sheriff was determined she fully knew who would come out the winner in this town.  The more she resisted, the more suspicious he would become of her and the harder it would be to get his cooperation in her searching around his town for her missing friend.
“My parents were very versatile people.  During my formative years my parents were indentured servants to a wealthy and well-educated household.  Their employers were settlers from Europe that had relocated to Texas and very liberal in their beliefs that all people deserved a basic education.”  
“It’s folks like them foreign do-gooders that educated yah who caused the Whites folks to be killing each other in what they is callin’ the Civil War.”  He spit out the wad of tobacco.  “Before me and my kinfolk were forced to run for our lives when the northerners took over our plantation, home life was good,” Sheriff Cole ranted.  He drew in a deep breath before continuing, “What did your folk do for these foreigners to want to bother educating you?”
“My mother was the cook and my father a master horseman,” Rain answered truthfully, “Up until they died of a cholera outbreak.”  Her dark eyes dropped to the ground as she fought back the tears that threatened to spill when she spoke of her parents. 
“Do yah have any kin folks that would be worried about yah if yah come up missin’ like this woman yah lookin’ fer?”
“Sheriff Cole?” Rain asked, her gaze lifting to piercing him with a cold glare as she bombarded him with a question before she could answer the last, “I’m about to think you’re sure I’m going to come up missing.  Do women of color come up missing in your territory often?”
“Well, fer one thang, yah not just a nigger woman.  You’re a nigger woman wearing men’s clothin’ with a damn pistol on yah hips--”
“Carrying a gun is not a crime, Sheriff,” she argued.
“One of your kind with a gun used to be a good enough reason for a hangin’ where I come from,” He spit once more, this time missing her boot and hitting the wooden train station walkway.
“I’m sure if we were where you come from, there wouldn’t be a need for this conversation because I wouldn’t have the rightfulness to be riding on that train,” she nodded toward the train she just disembarked from.  “And you wouldn’t be here gracing me with your pleasant company.”  Rain couldn’t hold back the sarcasm in her words.
“Yah got that right,” he sneered.  “But seein’ how yah are here and standin’ in my town like all yah please...let me warn yah how things work around hea’.”  His azure gaze narrowed until he looked like a napping frog.  “There are some people around hea’ that will not think twice at shootin’ yah where yah stand and there isn’t one goddamn thing anyone will do about it.”
“And if I manage to get the draw on them first?”  Her eyebrow arched in question.
“Then there will be enough eyewitness account to make sure yah hang for it; not ‘cause yah necessarily guilty mind ya, but because they don’t like the fact yah a nigger and a woman with a gun.”
Rain bit back the angry retort that was about to spill out of her mouth.  Instead she took in a deep breath through her flared nostrils and blew it out through her lips.  Anger only created a bigger mess.  She was in a new place in a town named after a family that probably wrote their own laws to suit their needs.
She wasn’t a stranger to enemies or injustices.  Since she got in the business of searching for missing family loved ones, there could be any number of criminal elements itching for an excuse to kill her.  She had been thrown in jail for interfering in White folks business by stealing back the females they saw as their property. 
No matter what, she wasn’t going to stop what she was doing.  Rain searched for missing women and children because she had a lot of guilt to make up for.  Rain knew she would never get a peaceful night’s sleep until she reached an adequate number of self-imposed penances.  
“I’m not here to cause trouble, Sheriff Cole,” she said firmly.  “I respect the laws of the territories I visit.  Your territory is no exception.”
“That’s good to hear,” Luke said smugly.
 “However...I’m also not a fool to walk around in a strange town without the ability to protect myself; so if you’re asking me to hand over my gun, I must politely decline,” Rain stated plainly.
“What if I was not askin’, but insistin’?”
“Then you and I are going to have a problem,” Rain answered honestly.  Her hand instinctively rested on the hilt of her gun. 
“I wouldn’t do nothin’ foolish if I was you,” Sheriff Cole murmured.
Raising her chin, she assumed all the dignity she could muster.  Rain stated, “That’s the crux of the matter, Sheriff.  You’re not me.  You’re not a woman and you’re not a Black.”
“My town is safe enough that no women need to carry a gun,” he barked defensively.  “Yah best leave the protectin’ up to your men folks.”
“Just ten miles before I reached San Francisco Sheriff...”  Rain’s hand bunched into a fist at her side.  “...a naked Black woman was swinging from a tree.  Why didn’t you ‘men folk’ protect her?”
“Listen here...”  His mottled complexion grew an even more unbecoming shade of purple.  “...we have no right to stop slave owners from trackin’ down and meetin’ out justice on their runaway slaves.”
“Slavery has been abolished,” she reminded.
“Change is a slow process when everyone ain’t in agreeance,” he grumbled.  “Also what if’n the gal committed a crime?  Like...like what if she stole somethin’ or...or...killed some White person?”  Sheriff Cole defended.  “Things ain’t always what they seem.”
“Sounds like to me because things aren’t always what they seem, it is only wise I have the right to carry a gun to protect myself, just in case someone gets it in their mind to hang me before I get a fair trial.” 
“I reckon that’s true,” the sheriff nodded dubiously.  “I can’t argue that point.  Everyone has the right to have their say before man and the Lord Almighty.”
Rain visibly relaxed.  Her hand fell away from her gun.  “Then we have an understanding?”  She tipped her face to the sun.  “If there isn’t any trouble, there won’t be any trouble.”
Luke gave her a grudging nod.  “I hope for yah sake there won’t be no trouble,” Luke replied. 
“You have my word I will try and stay out of trouble while I’m here,” she said smoothly, with no expression on her face.
“Now yah can tell me why yah lookin’ for this Chink woman in the poster?  Is she wanted by the law?”  I’m just sayin’ if’n there’s a reward for her, I should get half the reward money if yah find her in my jurisdiction.”
“It’s nothing like that.  Her name is Mei Ling.  She is a seamstress by trade so she could be working in one of the shops around here if this housekeeper position noted in the paper had already been filled by the time she got here.”
“Housekeeper, yah say?”  The look of doubt was all over his face and stance as he shifted from one booted foot to the other.  “A Chink woman coming to San Francisco as a housekeeper could be just a ruse to get the gal to come here for somethin’ else.”
“It’s a possibility,” Rain said, handing over the yellowing clipping that had been cut from the San Francisco Daily Union that was found in Mei Ling’s room.  “I was thinking of checking at the newspaper office to see the archived copy of this particular date.”
“Yah a stranger and you look like a Negress.  They won’t help the likes of yah at the post office.  Hell gal, yah probably don’t even have proper credentials on yah as proof yah who yah say you are,” Sheriff Cole remarked not even looking at the clipping he now held.  He transferred the wad of tobacco to the opposite cheek and spit out the excess saliva.  “Are yah detecting for the Pinkertons?”
“I’m independent,” Rain answered honestly.  “I do have proof of my identity if that is at question.”
She could have lied about the detective agency and would have if it had been beneficial to her cause, but anyone could easily find out soon enough that she would be lying.  It was a known fact Pinkerton hires men only.  White men in particular.  So more likely than not, Sheriff Cole was testing her.
“I’m supposin’ not being employed by the Pinkertons make things harder for yah,” the sheriff stated the obvious.
“It’s their loss.  My father was one of the best trackers this side of the Canadian borders and I owe everything I know to him.  I’m good at what I do,” Rain shrugged.  “However, I decided it was for the best because now I’m helping the people Pinkerton won’t give the time of day.”
“Smart thinkin’,” the sheriff said with an approving grunt.  “I’m sure other folks sides White folks have a need of help findin’ someone.”
Was that a hint of grudgingly respect she heard in his gruff voice?
“Indeed,” she nodded.  “There are a lot families that were separated before, during and after the war between the North and South.”
 “I know we lost a lot,” he nodded.  “Those were some hell times.
Sheriff, it’s your town,” Rain said.  Her angular features softened into a smile.  “It would be helpful it you could suggest a good place to start.” 
To her surprise, he actually seemed to be considering her request.  Maybe the sheriff wasn’t a complete hopeless case.  The more involved she made him feel in her investigation; the more forthcoming he probably would be if she were to need his help during her stay.
“Seeing how this here clipping says: Single affluent Chinese doctor looking for a live-in housekeeper.”  He read aloud as he perused the clipping. “Odd, I don’t see a name or address.”
“The name and address I assumed was torn from the bottom of the clipping.  She must have brought it with her to find the place.  This was all that was left behind and if it hadn’t had the name of the paper it came from, I would not have known to start here,” Rain filled in.
“There’s only one affluent Chink family in these parts and that’s the Yang family.  Old man Yang died a few months back, and then there’s his brother and wife.  I know they have no children to speak of in these parts,” Sheriff Cole answered with a thoughtful frown.  “Trust me; if the girl went there, she’s as good as gone.”
 “What do you mean...gone?”  Rain couldn’t stamp down the feeling of dread that tightened in the pit of her stomach.  “And who is this family?”
“The Yang family lives over there on Pelican’s Island,” the sheriff said scratching his scruffy unshaved cheek.  “They are bad news.”
“Then again, the marriage offer could be a ruse.  She might be workin’ in one of those bawdy houses in that there Chink town.”
“They call it Chink town?”
“Well, they call it Chinatown.”
She thought not.  Why would the Chinese people want to degrade themselves when just like with the Blacks and the Indians, there were so many others to do it for them.
The sheriff also stated what Rain had already imagined.  She just didn’t want to consider it being the case.  She couldn’t imagine the delicate, chaste, soft-spoken Mei Ling being beaten or drugged.  It was common knowledge that women from all backgrounds were being forced to service countless strangers until they died of syphilis or were murdered by a vicious customer; then there were those that held them captive once the women were no longer of use to them.
There was a huge reflux of Chinese immigrant women being shipped in from China because the need for them was great.  Most were born to be indentured servants to the wealthy men of China; concubines taught to pleasure their masters since early childhood.  They came here expecting to find better opportunities, only to end up doing the same or worse than they did in their own country.  Slavery in any form was a way those who have kept those who were needy bound to their whims.  Rain silently wondered would such atrocities ever cease.
Rain was fortunate to have been born to the most extraordinary situations for a Colored woman; spending her formative years with a traveling circus made up of people from every walk of life.  Living like Gypsies with only each other to rely on had been hard, but for Rain it had been the happiest time of her life.  She missed the circus life and the freedom of feeling like she was equal to everyone else that it afforded her and her parents.  
Although her parents told her they were leaving the circus life because they were tired of not having a place to call home, Rain was sure her wild hoyden ways was a deciding factor for her mother who was born free to a mother who had been the daughter of a wealthy Irish sharecropper.
Her mother had told her that unlike her older sisters who had a different Pappy, her skin was too dark for any of the masters to find her desirable.  So while her sisters found wealthy caretakers that bought them homes, jewels and gave them nearly White babies to raise, her mother had been sent to a convent to learn the skills of a domestic and help take care of all the little bastard children the masters left in their lustful wake.
It was there her mother met her father when the circus came through.  He was doing horse tricks bareback and half naked and she found him to be the most handsome man she’d ever seen. 
“Did yah hear what I said, Gal?”
Bringing her wandering thoughts back to the present, Rain said, “I’m sorry.  I was distracted for a moment.”
“I was sayin’, them there China people over in Chinatown may not be any more forthcomin’ with a stranger than White folks.”
“You just point the way and I will figure out how to get the information I need,” Rain said in a more clipped tone than intended.  But by God she had wasted enough time already and she hadn’t even made it out of the train station yet.  “So how far is this Pelican’s Island from here?  Do they have a decent place to stay over there?”
  “Pelican’s Island is just a couple of miles or less across the water from here.  Yah can see it from here when it’s clear.  Otherwise on a foggy evenin,’ yah would run into it before yah knew it was there,” the sheriff answered.  “I couldn’t tell yah if it’s decent or if’n yah even be welcomed.  No God fearin’ folks set foot on the cursed place.”
“Cursed?”
“Heard it’s full of the devil’s work going on over there.”  He spat onto the ground and crossed himself.  “Hear tell it the Indians say it’s haunted and that’s why that Chink bought it up.  No decent White folks would take it off that Mexican feller’s hand when he was ready to bolt out of there.”
“I don’t fear the dead, Sheriff,” Rain said with a soft chuckle.  “How does one get to this island?”
“No one gets to that island without an invite,” Sheriff Cole replied.
“I suppose I wouldn’t be able to expect an invitation by simply asking,” Rain asked hopefully already knowing the answer.
“I reckon not,” he said sucking on his tobacco stained teeth.  “Maybe if yah were a Chinawoman.  They always seem to be looking for a few of those over there.”
“I see,” her dark eyes narrowed thoughtfully.  “I knew it wouldn’t be easy but I didn’t expect that it would be impossible.  You can’t accidentally run into someone that lives on an island, can you?”
“If he came here, say to get supplies or somethin’ yah just might.”
Suspicious that the sheriff would throw her a bone, she looked at him out of the corner of her eye.  “Do you know how this accidental meeting might happen?  Let’s say I happen to be browsing around this supply store on the day they stop in?”
“Yup, let’s say that’s what happens.”
“Who will I be looking for and where do they buy their supplies?”
“Well, nothin’ in life is free, Gal.  Didn’t yah Negress Ma ever tell ya that?”
“Unfortunately, I seem to keep learning the hard way,” Rain said sarcastically.  “Okay, Sheriff, how much is it going to cost me?”
He eyed her from head to toe and back up again before a big grin appeared on his face.  Rain didn’t think she liked the meaning and she wasn’t willing to go that far for some information that may lead her to nowhere.
“Don’t be gettin’ no ideas, Gal.  I can get all the Coon and Squaw puss I want at the bawdy house down the way for free cause I keep the Pale Riders from burning crucifixes and such on their land.”
“Then what do you want, Sheriff?  I have too many uncertain days ahead of me to part with my money,” Rain said.
“Well, I was thinking...if yah part with that fancy hat yah wearin’ I just might tell yah who can help yah get over to that there island,” he winked.
Damn.  Not this hat.
“Only if you make it worth my while,” Rain conceded.
“I can get yah over to that island,” the Sheriff said sucking loudly on his teeth.  “But there’s somethin’ else yah have to do.”
Oh double damn.  The nasty son-of-a-bitch probably expects her to suck his cock and give him her hat.
“What?” She said with a sigh.  Her head cocked to the side in question as she sarcastically asked, “Would you be wanting the boots my momma gave me too?”
“They look like they might fit my daughter, but yah might need them.  They says some of the ground over there isn’t fit for wearing them soft women shoes.”
“Then what else, Sheriff?”
“You’ll need to wear a dress if yah going to get them to take yah in as domestic help.”
“Domestic help?”  Rain asked bewildered.
Sheriff Cole nodded.  “Yup.”
“Why must I pretend to be a servant when all I want to do is ask them some questions and leave?”
“First, yah think those Chinks going to tell yah anything?  They tighter lipped than a virgin’s openin’,” he said with a chuckle.
Rain failed to see the humor and let the sheriff know by not wavering while staring at him sternly.
He cleared his throat and continued.  “Secondly, there’s only two sorts that are allowed on that there island.”  He spit what was left of the mutilated tobacco to the ground, washing over his mouth with his nubby fingers. 
“Such as?”
“Members of their own kind or Negro servants to work for ‘em.”  He harked up phlegm but instead of spitting it out he swallowed. 
Rain swallowed down the salty tasting warmness that filled her mouth and prayed she wouldn’t throw up all over his boots like he had managed to spit on one of hers.  She looked away from him towards the horizon until she felt the compulsion ease. 
“Gal,” he continued.  She looked at him once more.  “The elder Yangs don’t take kindly to strangers.  I reckon that’s why they separated themselves from the rest of the town folks and that Chinatown wasn’t good enough for the likes of them.”
“I don’t think I could get away as a member of the family member do you?”
“I reckon not.”  He shook his head.  “The younger Yang feller is purdy decent.  He does some doctoring for his own so we see him about town more than the others.  He’s a bit concerting though,” Sheriff Cole finished with frown.
“Why is that?”  Rain asked.
“Well, if’n yah were to close yah eyes while he’s speakin’...yah swear all means yah were talkin’ to a White man.”
“I see,” Rain refrained from rolling her eyes at his deduction.  “It stands to reason if the man is a doctor he would have had some formal education, doesn’t it?”
“I reckon that makes sense, but most of us here think he’s some kind of devilment.  He’s ‘bout as bad as some of those redskins and their wacky weed remedies.”  He released a loud gut splitting guff of laughter.
“Sheriff?”  Rain arched a brow letting him know her patience was wearing thin.
“Err...yup...well now, a deal’s a deal.”  Sheriff Cole scratched his chin.  “So we can get started when yah hand over that fancy black hat.”
With reluctance, Rain removed the hat from her head revealing dark hair that had been braided and wrapped into a knot at the nape of her neck.
“Take good care of that hat, Sheriff,” Rain murmured.  “It...it was my father’s.”
“Will do...will do,” he grinned turning the black hat with its turquoise decorated headband over in his beefy hands.  “I guess we best get started.  Looks like a storm’s brewing.”
Rain eyes lingered on her hat.  A feeling of remorse caused her shoulder to droop.  It was as if someone had taken her “lucky charm” away from her.  The way he was revering a certain piece of item on the hat made her even more anxious. 
“One more thing Sheriff Cole,” she called in a voice that caused him to look up from the hat to her face.  Rain took a step closer and leaned over close to his ear. 
“Heh heh...yah wantin’ to trade something sides this here hat?”  Sheriff Cole licked his tobacco juice covered lips with a chuckle.
The musky smell, mixed with cheap rock-gut whisky, and pungent tobacco was overpowering but Rain decided the less who heard what she wanted to say to him the more he wouldn’t feel the need publicly exert his lawful position over her.
“Sheriff, if you’re purposely starting on the wrong path, I will be wanting my hat back.”  She stepped on the toe of one of his boots and he grunted but didn’t stumble back or push her away.  “My father taught me more than knowing how to track a man down.  He also taught me how to make one disappear without a trace.”
“Gal, I warn yah to threaten me.”
“Not a threat at all.”  Rain removed her foot from his.  “I’m just saying, those turquoise stones you’re fingering...” she nodded at the hat.
“Yah?”
“They better still be attached to that hat just in case I come back for it.”
“Err...a deals a deal.”
“Most of the time,” Rain countered.  “However, in the past I have found that when it comes to some White people, Sheriff, they don’t think striking a bargain with someone such as myself is expected to be honored.”
“I...I can see that happenin’,” he sputtered his heavy jowls quivered.
“So, I’m just making myself very clear Sheriff Cole.  If I go over to this island and find out you’ve sent me on a fool’s errand for some reason unbeknownst to me...you’re going to find that I’m as much trouble as you assumed me to be when I stepped off that train.”
She saw him swallow deeply and knew if he hadn’t taken anything about her serious before, he certainly did now.
“Come on Gal,” the sheriff said gruffly, taking a few steps back from her.  He scratched his temple anxiously.  “While you get what you need at the general store in Chinatown, we can also ask if they’ve seen yah missing China gal just to be sure.”
 
 
2
 
 
Welcome to Pelican’s Island...
San Francisco Harbor, California
Wen Yang stared across the horizon from his art studio at the top of the lighthouse as a shadow of an evening storm was floating in off the bay bedims the last rays of sun.
A resigned sigh escaped his lips.  He might as well stop right here.   Once he lost the bright sunlight, it made blending the watercolors to emulate the natural scene before him all the more difficult.
Picking up the soiled artist brushes, he placed them in a pan to soak and walked over to the sink to pump water into a face bowl and wash his hands.  He didn’t think he would ever grow tired of the view from here. 
When his father died, he had every intention to sell his share of this island to his uncle who was interested in purchasing his share from him.  Of course Wen seriously thought about his offer; after all, he never wanted to live out here in this remoteness.  He had a lucrative medical practice in Chinatown and when his father asked him to move to the island with him, he wasn’t in the least interested. 
The island held a concrete mausoleum of a fort that used to house prisoners accused of military crimes.  His father told him it was perfect to house the Chinese made products he and his uncle imported from China.  Wen didn’t know what these products were. 
Wen’s father left him a wealthy man but he loved working with his hands as an artist and as a doctor.  He had no interest in taking his father’s place in the family business.  He also had no interest in the island until he came here to bury his father and saw the lighthouse up close.  He knew he had to have it.
The lighthouse itself was fifty-foot high and white like the two-story caretaker cottage with black trim.  He happily sold his share of his father’s business to his uncle and his wife.  They respected his space and he theirs.   The one thing they never had much of was visitors.  So he could only assume the dark cloaked figure he saw the boatman drop off at the dock was his new live-in housekeeper.
He couldn’t make out any of her features from where he stood looking down but he could tell it was indeed a woman.  Bushes caught at her full skirt and the wind tugged at her dark cloak as she made her way up the well-worn path leading from the docks.  In each hand she held what looked to be clothing satchels, so he saw that as a good sign she had come to stay.
This would be his sixth housekeeper since he moved out to the island six months ago.  He couldn’t keep help because of claims that the island grounds were haunted.  Because of his American upbringing, his mentality was broadened with western religious beliefs and scientific facts, but he also suspected there was more.  How could he not believe that there was more?  His Chinese immigrant parents took pride in their ancient philosophical beliefs and reverently paid homage during the Chinese ghost month that occurred on the fourteenth or fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month.
These same superstitious beliefs made it difficult to find domestic help amongst the few Chinese immigrants that were here. Finding local Chinese domestic help was impossible because of all the lies and rumors about the island.  Wen had no choice but to telegraph his request for domestic help beyond the small town’s subdivisions that made up the San Francisco territory.
The last woman he corresponded with was Chinese and had shown promise and interest.  From her letters, he would have thought she would have been the last one to accept the train ticket cost on good faith and not show up, nor did she return his money or answer the last letter he posted as to her whereabouts. 
Wen realized he wouldn’t become poor if he continued to give money away to some person in need who was desperate enough to swindle him out of his money instead of doing an honest days’ work like he was offering.  However, giving away money wasn’t taking care of his need for full time help here at the cottage. 
He was busy and sometimes he would forget to eat because he didn’t have time to throw a meal together.  He’d already worn out his Aunt’s kindness because she was leaving meals for him.  But more times than not, the food would spoil because he didn’t make it home from Chinatown due to medical emergencies, bad weather, or just to make the trip.
Wen shook his head with a soft chuckle as he thought about Sheriff Cole’s last visit to his clinic in Chinatown.  The man was such a racist pig it was almost intolerable to be in the same room with him at times.  He wasn’t use to being kind to a patient that didn’t realize he was being insulting when he said things like, “If yah weren’t a Chink doctor, I would recommend yah to all the folks at my church.”
The humor in that statement to Wen was sure because he was already seeing a lot of the people from the White church in the Cole Town community.  Most of them like the sheriff were coming to him to be treated for the venereal diseases they didn’t want their White doctor knowing about.  His treatments didn’t do any good if they weren’t telling their wives so they could be treated also.
As backwards as the sheriff was, he would have to thank him for suggesting he venture out to hiring one of the many Black women looking for housework.  It never crossed his mind that these women would even consider working for him much less come across the water to do so.  He was surprised to find so many of the Blacks he’d come across had a great fear of the water except those working on the cargo ships.  He suspected it’s because most of them never had the opportunity to learn how to swim.
Wen just hoped the Black women the Sheriff would be sending didn’t see him the same way the White folks saw the Chinese.  He would never forget the first year he went to school and a White girl screamed when he passed by her to go to his seat at the back of the class.  Apparently her parents had told her the reason his eyes were this way was because all Chinese people were children of the devil just like the Negros.  Wen had refused to go back to that school and began attending the Catholic missionary programs with the Indian children where the church was trying to “whitewash” them into being less “savage” and fit into daily society by teaching them about GOD.
He didn’t know why all of this had crossed his mind now.  Maybe it was because he had been surprised that Sheriff Cole had kept his word by sending him a housekeeper.  It was a good thing the woman had arrived because if the sheriff hadn’t kept his word, Wen would have been out of another hundred dollars, which was a year’s wages to some people around here. 
Hurrying out the door of the lighthouse lookout tower, Wen took the numerous winding steps down fifty feet by taking two at a time.  He had to get to the woman before she made the mistake of stopping by his uncle and aunt’s place which had once been the fort officers’ residential area for their family. 
With the storm rolling in, his uncle and aunt would be at the fort where Yang Imports held their entire inventory.  It wouldn’t be a good beginning as her employer to have her catch a cold from standing out in the rain.  Then again it was lax of the sheriff not to let him know that she would be coming today. 
Grabbing the black cloak from the coat tree by the lighthouse entrance, Wei threw it over his shoulders as he rushed out the door of the lighthouse.  The wind howled and felt as if it was trying to rip the clothing off him. 
The storms seemed to be more violent out here on the island.  During the really bad storms, it wasn’t unusual for the surge to rise as high as the lowest point of the island and flood that end.  The queue of hair flew over his shoulder like braided whipcord and went unchecked as he ran to the stable.  His Hessian boots click clacked loudly against the cobblestone path as he headed to the stable. 
Guiding the gelding from its stall, he threw on a blanket and saddle.  He would have preferred the carryall in case she had more luggage that needed to be loaded at the dock, but in this wind there was a risk of the carriage being blown over onto its side.  Placing his foot in the stirrup, he pulled himself up easily.  Yanking the hood of the cloak over his head Wen urged the gelding forward.
 
***
A thin fog with condensation of fine salt water was twiddling up from the pitching foaming bay, clinging to her clothing.   It hadn’t begun to rain and she already felt damp.  Rain yanked the cloak she wore over her simple grey calico dress.  When her foot slipped on the rocks, she was thankful she traded her boots for a reliable pair of thick sole brogans and a pair of woolen stockings.  Even though it was midsummer, there was a nippy chill in the air that she hadn’t felt until she reached the island.
Island?  If one could call it that; it was more like a hulking monstrosity of rock with scattering vegetation and floral paradise, steep cliffs and sloping trails, stone and brick, steel and wood rising from the bay like an albatross of contradictions blocking an otherwise beautiful flawless bay view from the mainland.
She also knew how it probably got the name “Pelicans Island.”  Although she saw no signs of the pelicans, it was apparent something had left it’s bemire gray and white validation of its existence over every lantern, stone walkway, ornamental chimneys, asymmetrical gabled rooftops and outside brick walls.
Rain wasn’t sure where she was expected to reside but she had no desire to live in the fort itself.  Something about it was too cold and too unforgiving.  Maybe it was the overwhelming size, or maybe it was the thought of it being a place that was built to hold cannons and military prisoners, mostly men who realized killing and being killed wasn’t as heroic as it sounded when they first enlisted. 
Would Mei Ling truly come to a place like this?  Once she actually stepped upon it, would she have stayed?  Or worse yet, what if she wanted to leave and couldn’t?  That was why she was here; to find the answers to all the questions she had muddling about in her head.
Lightening streaked across the sky like the branches of a looming oak tree followed by a deafening boom of thunder.  She picked up her pace hoping to make it to the first building before the rain started.
Then there it was like a specter from hell towering down upon her...a black cloaked figure on a black horse; its shroud billowing behind it like a giant swooping raven on horseback.  Rain released a nervous giggle at the image that came to mind.  As it closed in on her and the black hood blew back off its face, she felt terribly silly at having such a flight of fancy.  She could blame Sheriff Cole and his diatribe of tales about this island that he had heard from the town people over the years.
The horseman came to a stop before her and she had to take a step back just to look up at his smiling face.  This man was obviously not a wraith from hell unless he was the devil himself because he was handsome in the most striking way.  His skin was pulled taut over the elegant ridge of his cheekbones but it was his humorous kindly mouth with its generous lips that drew the eyes and held them. 
“Welcome to Pelican’s Island,” he yelled at her over the gust of wind.  “I’m Dr. Wen Yang.”  He reached out with what looked like a paint-stained hand to her; masculine hands lined with defined veins and lovely long fingers with square tipped nails.  He had the hands of an artist.  “You must be the new housekeeper.”
Surprised at first that he was the first Chinese person besides Mei Ling that spoke English without a thick foreign accent, she wondered if he had been born in America as Mei Ling had been.
“Hello Dr. Yang, I’m Rain Deerfield,” she announced and reached out to shake his hand even though she was amazed that he would want to shake the hand of a woman.  Men, no matter what color they were, didn’t shake a woman’s hand, but maybe things were different in these parts.
            “No, your satchels,” he said with a nod towards her maroon velvet floral print carryall she still held in her other hand.
Rain grinned sheepishly and wordlessly handed him one satchel at a time as he turned on the saddle and strapped the bags on top of each other with a leather strap pulled through the handles and secured them.
“Thank you, Dr. Yang.  It will make for a quicker walk if I don’t have to carry my bags,” her voice was apologetic. How could she think this man would want to touch her hand? 
From the few Chinese she come in contact with since leaving the ones she grew up around in the traveling sideshow, she realized they looked down their noses at her as much as the White people do.  They just were more polite about it by speaking to each other in hushed tones in a language they assumed she didn’t understand. 
The first time the sideshow traveled through the south, all of them with brown to black skin had to remain hidden inside the covered wagons.  Rain had been five or six at the time and she was peeping outside the tent when a little girl spotted her and ran over to the tent.  Rain handed her one of her momma’s homemade tea biscuits not seeing any harm when the little girl’s mother spotted the little girl taking the biscuit and rubbed her wet finger across the back of Rain’s hand and ask her if the dirt would rub off.
It was the first time Rain had heard the word Nigger and it was the first time she saw someone being chastised for touching her.  Confused, she wondered if it because they were show performers the little girl and woman thought her dirty.  It was the first time her momma and papa had the conversation with her about how people like them had to “know their place” in order to survive in this world, especially down in the South.
“Miss Deerfield?”  The doctor called out to her and she looked at his hand that was outstretched again.  “It is Miss Deerfield, is it not?”
“Yes,” she replied with a nod wondering what he was holding his hand out for this time.  “Those are all the bags I brought with me.”
“Give me your hand so I can help you up,” he muttered hastily.  His eyes were focused on the clouds overhead.
Rain hesitated before saying, “I believe it’s best if I walk.  Thank you kindly.”
His dark gaze dropped from the sky to look down at her.  “It’s too far in this weather.  I live all the way at the top of the cliff.”
“You live in the old fort?”  Her eyes grew wide and she cleared her throat when she realized she let her mortification at the thought that her dislike of the fortress building could have him sending her back across the bay as soon as the weather cleared. 
To her silent surprise, he chuckled. “No, I dislike the place too much to enter it much less reside in it.”
“Thank goodness,” she blew out her breath in relief.  “For a minute I thought you were going to tell me I was expected to live in and clean that place.”  She fanned herself with her hand.  “I was about to turn around and swim back to San Francisco,” she joked knowing that wasn’t about to happen.
Dr. Yang laughed aloud and Rain found it infectious and found herself laughing with him.  She decided she was going to like the doctor until he gave her reason not to and that reason would be his having something to do with Mei Ling’s disappearance.  She couldn’t completely rule anyone out yet.
 “I live in the place that used to be my father’s.  It’s a dwelling that was originally built for the commander of this fort.”  He stretched his hand out again.  “Now dawdle no more and please give me your hand.  I would like to be well enclosed when the worse of this blasted storm hits us.”
Thunder sounded and echoed like a cannon boom causing the horse to rise onto its hind legs.  It took both of the doctor’s hands on the reins to try and get the horse in control.  Even though the gelding was rearing up on his hindquarters, it still pranced and sidestepped.  His huge marble-like eyes rolled wildly in distress.
Rain eased close to the neighing beast.
“Wait!”  The doctor called out to her.  “Stay back until I get him under control or he will hurt you!”
This was something she had no fears about.  She continued closer until she grabbed close to the bit with one hand and ran her other hand over its powerful shoulder and along the length of its neck all the while chanting soft soothing words over and over again until she was close enough to give a tug on the bit so the gelding would drop its muzzle close to her face.
“It’s okay.  It’s okay,” Rain spoke in a soothing sing-song tone as she continuously ran her hand along the length of its coal-black shiny neck and noting the gelding’s coat was the same color as his master’s hair.
Softly she blew in its flared nostril as she continuously stroked the gelding.  The horse eased to an occasional step-step until he became still and bent its head to nuzzle her shoulder.
“How did you do that?”  Dr. Yang asked her.  His voice held a rasp of amazement.          “It is quite impressive.”
“It’s nothing.  My papa trained horses amongst other things.” Rain shrugged her shoulder.  “I suppose I learned a trick or two.”
“Beauty tames the savage beast,” he teased.
Their eyes caught and held.  The first drops of rain pelted both their faces.
“Come, give over your hand,” he ordered.  She hesitated once again and stared at his outstretched palm.  “What?  The paint has dried,” He smiled and when she still didn’t take his hand, his smile faded.  “Miss Deerfield, are you afraid my ‘yellow skin’ is going to rub off on you?  That is how everyone refers to us, is it not?”
“No, I--”
“The Yellow-man with the devil eyes?” Dr. Yang interrupted continuing his bitter tirade.  “Or maybe you prefer to call me a ‘Chink?’  Are you bold enough to say it to my face or will you say it behind my back?” 
The resentment he was feeling matched her own at the use of such words.  She remembered well the first time she was racially insulted by that little golden-haired girl’s mother.  She and Dr. Wen Yang had at least this in common.  He’s experienced the same rejection she has for something that could not be changed even if they had wanted to do so just to make life easier.
“No insult was intended.  I never...ever would think of you in either term and I apologize if I gave you that impression,” she shouted over the rain that was now pelting her in her upturned face.  “It’s just lately I haven’t had too much kindness thrown my way and there are some men who would let me fall flat on my face before they touch me to save me from the fall.”
As quick as his anger came, it subsided and the hard lines of his face softened once more.  “I am the one who should apologize for misjudging you, Miss Deerfield.  My intentions are truly honorable, I assure you.”  He held out his hand to her once more.
She did so and with more ease than she expected, he pulled her up until he managed to get his arm under hers.  She grabbed the pummel and helped pull herself up to sit sidesaddle in front of him.  Rain sat as if a fireplace poker had been trust up her bottom into her spine.  It was downright uncomfortable but anything else was surely out of the question.
Hands were one thing but her back to a man’s front was truly crossing not only the racial lines of “knowing her place,” but most certainly the line of social decorum.  Inwardly Rain rolled her eyes heavenward.  Of all the times, her mother’s teachings come back to haunt her...
“Rain, when you wear breeches like your papa, you can be his son.  But when you wear a dress, you act like a lady.  I won’t have people saying Ivy Deerfield’s daughter hasn’t been raised properly”...
“Miss Deerfield?  Miss Deerfield?”
“I apologize, my thoughts keep wandering off.  It has been a long day.”
“Of course.  I understand,” Dr. Yang nodded.  “Another reason why I was saying you can’t possibly be comfortable sitting the way you are.  If you would lean back you would be--”
“No,” Rain interrupted.  “I’m quite alright.  Thank you.”
“Well, I’m not,” he countered to her surprise.
“Pardon me?”
“Unless you can horse whisper my gelding into turning about without my help, then I need you to lean back please.”
A lady.  She paused and thought.  What would a lady say in this situation?  She knew what she would say if she had her breeches on, “Give me the reins Doc and you sidesaddle with the saddle horn close to your puckered pride!”  Yep, her mother would be quite mortified. 
Instead, Rain said, “It will be out of keeping for me to do so, Dr. Yang.”
“Nonsense,” the doctor released a long agitated sigh.  As if the weather agreed with him, lightening lit up the darkening sky and thunder boomed in its wake causing the gelding to neigh and step nearly unseating them both. 
“I see your point,” she mumbled.  “Maybe I can lean back a little.” 
“More, please.”
Rain scooted back—just a little more.  She could feel the heat of his body and the combining scent of male, spices and paint.  Or maybe it was the raindrops on the heated stone walkway throwing off steam.  Either way it was close enough.
“Just a little more.”
“Why don’t you give me the reins and I can turn the gelding about and guide it myself,” she huffed.
“Alright.”
That was easy, she thought.  Too easy.
“Mind you Miss Deerfield, riding thus would be awkward to do so the way you are sitting right now.”  She gasped hearing his whisper close to her ear.  She could feel his chest against her shoulders.  “You would have to lift those pretty skirts of yours letting the world see that frilly white lace that I see peeking out from beneath to properly straddle this gelding.” 
Rain swallowed deeply, her mouth going dry. The good doctor was really being too forward.  Was he going to be the type of employer that thought his female staff was fair game to slate his lust upon?
“Then I must wrap my arms about your waist,” he moved his arms around her waist.
Rain gasped and let out a surprised yelp as she felt herself being dragged back until she was across his lap, her back pressed against his arm and her nose touching his unshaven chin, one of the few places he looked as if he could grow hair on an otherwise smooth face.  However, she liked that he didn’t wear the beard and mustache so many men wore today.
“So I can keep us both from falling off,” he finished with a grin.  “Now see, isn’t this more comfortable for the both of us?”
Before she could get her tongue unglued from the roof of her mouth, they had turned and were heading back in the direction he came.   She thought it best not to say anything at all considering she had no idea what to say in this situation. 
Rain had never felt such an awareness of a man before.  Heck, no man ever cradled her like this except for her Papa and that was before her “mosquito bumps” turned into breasts and her menses started.  It all seemed to happen around the same time her mom started telling her she needed to start acting more like a lady and stop being a ruffian before she attracted the wrong type of man.
“It will be over soon,” the doctor’s soothing deep voice she felt rumble from his chest.
Refusing to look up into his face, she stayed focused on his chin.  “What will be over soon?” she asked.
“This ride,” Dr. Yang answered.  “I’m sorry if I make you feel uncomfortable, it is not my intent to do so.  I suppose my profession leads me into being too forward and familiar without forethought.”
“I am not one of your patients,” she reminded.
“Indeed and I don’t drag my patients across my lap.  However, I have lifted and carried a few patients unable to care for themselves.”
“I can care for myself.”
“I believe that, Miss Deerfield, but it’s my intent to get us inside and settled before the downpour,” he commented as if the reason were obvious.
“Still, I don’t like to be manhandled...” she broke off then with an apology.  “No, I’m the one that should apologize for showing up without more notice and for also choosing such a bad day to do so, but I didn’t find the welcoming in Cole Town to be so...welcoming, if you know what I mean.”  She  looked up observing him through lowered lashes.
“Unfortunately, I do,” his gaze lowered as did his voice as he appeared to study her face with his enigmatic gaze for an extra beat before he cast his eyes upward and urged the gelding up the cliff at a quicker pace as the heavens’ rolling clouds of thunder released a blinding downpour.
Helping her to slide down off the horse, Dr. Yang told her to go on inside the two floor white cottage house with its black trim.  He was going to take care of the horse and would bring her bags back with him.
Rain stood under the dryness of the front porch shaking her damp skirt out and ran a hand to push behind her ear the wavy locks of hair that had escaped the bun at the nape of her neck.  She waited for the doctor to join her.  She didn’t feel comfortable entering the doctor’s home for the first time without him accompanying her even though he gave his permission. 
While waiting, she looked around at her surroundings and wondered where she would begin.  If Mei Ling was on this island, there were so many places she could be; but if she was working here for someone surely now that she worked here, they would cross paths.
Rain gazed up at the looming brick fortress that might have once been white like the other structures on the island but now the paint has started to peel with dark red brick walls bleeding through the white like patches of blood.  There was something dark and foreboding. 
She raised her eyes to see a barred window.  No one there.  A woman in white appeared, her dark hair flowing about her face and shoulders.  From this distance she could be Mei Ling, but it was hard to tell in the downpour.  All she could truly make out was a stark white face against a backdrop of long black hair.  Either way it was nice to know for sure there was at least one more woman on the island besides Dr. Yang’s aunt.
Rain raised her hand to wave and the smile on her lips froze and slowly faded as the woman disappeared from the barred window as quickly as she had appeared.  She rubbed her arms, fighting off a sudden chill. 
 
 
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