Chinawoman's Chance

By: James Musgrave

“Whereas, in the opinion of the Government of the United States, the coming of Chinese laborers to this country endangers the good order of certain localities within the territory thereof. (Sec.1)” Chinese Exclusion Act, 1882.

Chapter 1: Flayed

Jenny Lind City Hall, Police Department, Detectives Office, Kearny Street, San Francisco. February 12, 1884

“I tell you, Captain, she was flayed like a dressed deer. Clean down to the bone.”

Detective Sergeant Eduard Vanderheiden, or “Dutch” as his peers called him, was a tall, thin, bald, and agitated man with thick, auburn mustaches that curled on the ends like charmed snakes and flaming red chin whiskers. He also had a constant wink in his right eye. This nervous tic would often garner Dutch a drunken swing from a jealous husband’s fist if he were seated within arm’s reach of the Dutchman’s chin. At age forty-nine, Dutch was never afraid to gawk at a pretty lady. That was his problem.

Captain of Detectives, Isaiah Lees, was seated, manning the telegraph machine that connected each of the three San Francisco districts. Lees wore a brown frock coat and vest with checkered pants and spit-shined Oxfords. His face had the jowly redness of his fifty-four years, his hazel eyes were deep-set, and his brow was almost always in a contemplative frown. His graying goatee and full head of curly-brown hair were well groomed. His one affectation was to wear a cape whenever he was on a case, and, as a result, many of the beat cops referred to him as “Sherlock.” Captain Lees, after all, was born in England.

“Now that makes sense. Tongs use very sharp hatchets to enforce their will. I would wager she was probably keeping money from her handler, or else it was retribution for some other financial transaction. My twenty years working Chinatown have taught me that money is most likely at the bottom of these murders.” Lees stood up.

The First District of the San Francisco Police Department, with its station house at First and Mission Streets in Happy Valley, extended from California Street to Rincon Point. There was also a little lock-up or "calaboose" located in the First District station house. The Second District, with its station housed at City Hall at Pacific and Kearny, where Captain Lees and Detective Vanderheiden were now, was inside the former Jenny Lind Hotel, and it embraced the main business district. The Third District, with a station on Ohio Street, covered the area from Pacific Avenue north to North Beach.

Whenever a major crime was committed, the uniformed officer would send a message back to the Detectives’ Office on Kearny, the Second District, and a detective would be dispatched to the scene. When arrests were made, the offenders were taken to the main jail on Kearny.

“But she weren’t no Tong girl. She was working at 814 Sacramento, next-door to the rooming house. A white working girl. You know, most of the Tongs got their Chinawomen working over on Sullivan’s Alley or Bartlett’s.” Vanderheiden pointed to a location on a large map hanging on the wall in back of the telegraph machine.

“Those girls sometimes work alone. Who’s at the crime scene?” Lees picked up his holstered Colt .45 and buckled it around his waist. He felt for his Bowie knife behind his vest and attached his Captain’s badge to his cape, which was draped over the back of the swivel chair.

“Cameron was first on scene. Oh, and don’t be surprised if Cook shows up. Cameron knows to notify the Chinatown Squad when there’s a ruckus. This ain’t no ruckus, but we know Tongs can start a war over much less.” Dutch winked at Lees. He followed the captain out the door, and they rode the elevator from the third-floor office down to the street.

Inside the elevator, Lees scowled up at the taller detective, whom he had known for twenty years on the force. They had both been beat policemen after the Civil War and earned their detective appointments through hard work and many arrests.

“Jesse Brown Cook and his band of holy rollers don’t understand how it is now that they passed the Exclusion Act. These Asiatics had no rights to begin with, and now that they can’t get over here by boat, the competition between these men has escalated. I’m not surprised by this murder, and there will probably be a Chinaman behind it. But kid Cook gets his marching orders from Sheriff Connolly,” Lees said.

“I seen Connolly call out the health team to fumigate every blasted gambling parlor, opium den, and hooker house in Chinatown. The mayor blames the chinks for every outbreak of typhus, malaria, and plague. But Connolly will poison the Chinatown rooms when the white kids in San Francisco so much as get the measles!” Dutch punched into the air with his fist.

Lees smiled. “You know how the excrement rolls downhill? Leland Stanford, the pope of the bluebloods, says the Chinese are inferior humans. He never liked it when the coolies defended themselves against the Irish workers who attacked them while working on Stanford’s railroad. And Stanford testified to Congress to get the Exclusion Act passed. He hand-picked Connolly, the Irishman, and Connolly picked Cook, the holy joe. The three of them think they’re saving Christian America from the Yellow Peril. America’s not supposed to exclude. It’s supposed to include. Everybody!”