The Barbary Coast

The Barbary Coast, San Francisco, 1897

The night air was thick and moist, the smell of pork and opium wafted from the lower rooms. Ah Toy stood looking out toward the wharf. She checked her bejeweled watch; she had been pacing the floor waiting on the ship barring her cargo. Her man in China had written her to expect one hundred young girls her had procured, most of them unsuspected until the voyage was underway.  Her business was booming now that she had bought this place on Pacific Avenue. She had rooms for the prostitutes to serve her clients, the stage and bar downstairs, a private opium den and some of San Francisco’s Knob Hill society could be unseen visiting. A knock on the door startled her, “Who is it?” she shouted at the intrusion. “A meek barely clad young girl entered bowing from her waist, “What is it Mi Li?” Ah hissed at the girl. “So sorry Madame Toy, but your man is below. He asked me to tell you. The girl dared to look up at Ah Toy. “Get back to work!” snarled Ah Toy at the girl, who bowed deeper as she left the room. Ah checked her image in the standing mirror, which reflected a slim, striking woman in a red silk dress, with rouged lips, kohl lined eyes and black hair pulled back tightly. The mirror reflected and outer beauty as no inner heart was burning. She was a hard like alabaster and just as cold.

Ah had very large and well paid guards to protect her and her interest. Her guards were a couple of very large brothers, Mick and Mike from Sydney; the pair were brutal and soulless. This pleased Ah Toy greatly as they had no problem executing any order she gave them. The wharf docks were particularly dangerous and she had employed extra men to escort her human cargo back to The Lotus Flower. Ah Toy laughed to herself at the irony of the name of her salon. “Evening Madame Toy,” says Mick removing his hat. Madame Toy merely nodded, “Are all the men in place?” she asked while putting on her gloves. “Yes Mam, Mike here got twelve of his best, meanest guys.” Mike holding his hat on his chest tilted his chin but stayed mute. The carriage pulled up to the steps and Mick opened the door. “One minute,” she said sternly and turned and went back inside. From outside the brothers her Madame Toy shouting loudly that everyone best stay in line and obey her head man Chow, while she was out, or there would be hell to pay. Mike gave Mick a look indicating his healthy respect for his boss, a dangerous woman.

Ah Toy was known as the Dragon Lady in San Francisco society and on Knob Hill. She was infamous, feared and respected. Politicians looked away in return for favors, they were given some of her rejects as indentured servants, nanny’s, maids and field workers. Some of the society men had a certain sexual perversity that brought them to her salon, brothel or opium den. Chow opened the door and stood there as Madame Toy descended the stairs, he bowed deeply as she turned back before entering the carriage assisted by Mick. She pulled a silk handkerchief from her bag and held it to her nose. Mick came inside the carriage, while Mike rode shotgun with the driver. The carriage jolted forward along the rutted road toward the docks.

(Excerpt from The Question)

Written by: Sindy (Me)

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