Home > Our Violent Ends (These Violent Delights #2)

Our Violent Ends (These Violent Delights #2)
Author: Chloe Gong

 


One

January 1927

 

 

The New Year in Shanghai passed with such fanfare that a sense of party still permeated the city a week later. It was the way the people moved about—the extra bounce in their toes and the twinkle in their eye as they leaned over the seats of the Grand Theatre to whisper to their companion. It was loud jazz music audible from the cabaret across the street, the cool air of handheld bamboo fans waving about in rapid color, the smell of something fried smuggled into the viewing room despite Screen One’s strict rules. Marking the first day of the Gregorian calendar as a time for celebration was a Western matter, but the West had long stuck its roots into this city.

The madness in Shanghai was gone. The streets had been lulled back into uproarious decadence and nights that went on and on—like this one, where theatergoers could watch a picture and then saunter along the Huangpu River until sunrise. After all, there was no monster lurking in the waters anymore. It had been four months since the monster of Shanghai died, shot to death and left to rot on a wharf by the Bund. Now the only thing civilians needed to worry about were gangsters . . . and the increasing number of bullet-hole-ridden corpses showing up on the streets.

Juliette Cai peered over the railing, squinting down at the ground level of Screen One. From her vantage point, she could see almost everything below, could pick out every minuscule detail among the chaos broiling under the golden light fixtures. Unfortunately, it would have been more useful if she were actually down there herself, mingling with the merchant she had been sent here for, rather than staring at him from high above. Their seats tonight were the best that she could do; the assignment had been given far too last minute for Juliette to finagle something good in the thick of the socializing sphere.

“Are you going to be pulling that face all night?”

Juliette swiveled around, narrowing her eyes at her cousin. Kathleen Lang was trailing close, her mouth set in a grimace while the people around them searched for their seats before the picture started.

“Yes,” Juliette grumbled. “I have so many better things to be doing right now.”

Kathleen rolled her eyes, then wordlessly pointed ahead, having spotted the seats marked on their tickets. The stubs in her hands were ripped poorly after the uniformed ticket boy at the door got his top hat knocked into his eyes by the crowd surging into the portico. He had hardly a moment to recover before more tickets were waved in his face, foreigners and rich Chinese alike sniffing their noses at the slow speed. In places like these, better service was expected. Ticket prices were sky-high to make the Grand Theatre an experience, what with its arched ceiling beams and wrought-iron railings, its Italian marble and delicate doorway lettering—only in English, no Chinese to be found.

“What could possibly be more important than this?” Kathleen asked. They took their seats: the front-most row by the second-level railing, a perfect view of both the screen and all the people beneath. “Staring angrily at your bedroom wall, as you have been doing these few months?”

Juliette frowned. “I have not been doing merely that.”

“Oh, pardon me. How could I forget screaming at politicians?”

Huffing, Juliette leaned back into her seat. She crossed her arms tightly over her chest, the beads along her sleeves clinking loudly against the beads dangling from her front. Grating as the sound was, it contributed only a small fraction to the general bedlam of the theater.

“Bàba is already giving me enough grief for upsetting that Nationalist,” Juliette grumbled. She started to take inventory of the crowd below, mentally assigning names to faces and keeping track of who might notice that she was here. “Don’t you get on my case too.”

Kathleen tutted, setting her elbow onto the armrest between them. “I’m only concerned, biǎomèi.”

“Concerned about what? I’m always screaming at people.”

“Lord Cai doesn’t reprimand you often. I think that might be an indicator of—”

Juliette lurched forward. Out of sheer instinct, a gasp rose in her throat, but she refused to let it out, and instead the sound lodged itself tightly in place, an ice-cold sensation pressed up against the back of her tongue. Kathleen immediately jerked to attention too, searching the floor below for whatever it was that had drained Juliette’s face utterly of blood.

“What?” Kathleen demanded. “What is it? Do I call for backup?”

“No,” Juliette whispered, swallowing hard. The theater dimmed. Taking their cue, the ticket boys started to walk the aisles, forcing the crowd to settle for the picture. “It is only a small hiccup.”

Her cousin’s brows were furrowed, still searching. “What is it?” Kathleen repeated.

Juliette simply pointed. She watched as Kathleen followed the direction in which she was indicating, watched as the realization set in when they were both looking at one figure pushing his way through the crowd.

“It would appear we were not the only ones sent here for a task.”

Because down on the ground level, looking like he had not a care in the world, Roma Montagov smiled and stopped in front of the merchant they were after, extending his hand for the merchant to shake.

Juliette curled her fists tightly into her lap.

She had not seen Roma since October, since the first protests in Nanshi shook the city and set the precedent for those that were to follow when winter swept into Shanghai. She had not seen his physical person, but she had felt his presence everywhere: in the corpses littered across the city with lily-white flowers clutched in their stiff hands; in the business partners disappearing out of the blue with nary a message or explanation; in the blood feud making its mark. Ever since the city caught wind of a confrontation between Roma Montagov and Tyler Cai, the blood feud had shot back into its most terrible heights. Neither gang needed to worry about their numbers being picked off by the madness anymore. Instead their thoughts circled retribution, and honor, and as different mouths ran different accounts of what had happened between the inner circles of the Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers that day, the only definitive truths that came out were this: in a tiny hospital along the edges of Shanghai, Roma Montagov had shot at Tyler Cai, and to protect her cousin, Juliette Cai had killed Marshall Seo in cold blood.

Now both sides were vengeful. Now the White Flowers were pressing down on the Scarlet Gang with a renewed urgency, and the Scarlet Gang were fighting back just as hard. They had to. No matter how carefully the Scarlets cooperated with the Nationalists, every single person in this city could feel something shifting, could see the gatherings grow larger and larger each time the Communists attempted a strike. The political landscape was soon to change, soon to swallow up this way of lawlessness, and for both gangs currently ruling this city with an iron fist, it was either to be violent now and secure their holdings, or regret it later should a greater power swoop in when there was no way to win territory back.

“Juliette,” Kathleen said softly. Her cousin’s eyes shifted back and forth between her and Roma. “What happened between you two?”

Juliette didn’t have an answer to give, just as she hadn’t had an answer all the other times she was asked this question. Kathleen deserved a better explanation, deserved to know why the city was saying Juliette had shot Marshall Seo point-blank when she had once been so friendly with him, why Roma Montagov was dropping flowers everywhere he went in mockery of the feud’s victims when he had once been so gentle with Juliette. But one more person in on the secret was one more person dragged down into the mess. One more target for Tyler’s scrutiny—one more target for Tyler’s gun.

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