Men Not Afraid: King Solomin’s Mines

  1. Chapter 8: The Spoils of War
  2. Men Not Afraid
  3. Chapter 10: Camp Hayes

The smoke in Madame Zhuong’s danced with a will of its own. The haze that filled the room seemed as a light frost on a window: Sam and Laura felt all they needed to do was wipe the glass and vision would clear. The Curio Shoppe was filled with statues and religious items of Oriental origin, all worked in terra cotta, bronze, jade, or bone, or weaved in tapestry, or painted on silk or paper. The intrigues of China played out in the Shoppe: statues of the Buddha sat serene next to Dao and Confucian epigrams; all watched over by the Celestial Bureaucracy.

A young Asian woman dusted vase and statue at one end of the room. Thought she did not acknowledge the twins, she did seem to be choosing items to clean that brought her closer to, rather than away from, Sam and Laura. Laura stepped towards the girl, but was stopped short by a woman’s voice from the haze.

“Miss Smith,” came the voice, hazy enough on its own and more so in the Curio Shoppe. It was a deep voice, smooth as silk and hard as jade. The haze swirled and the owner of the mystery voice stepped from a dark hallway.

“Madame Zhuong,” said Laura, and bowed slightly.

“Follow me,” said Madame Zhuong, and they did, following not so much her as her embroidered robe rustling down the hallway. They walked out of the haze, through an old yellow-flaked door and into a tiny office.

“We appreciate your help, Madame,” said Laura. “And as a token of our gratitude we bring you this gift.”

Laura unfolded the Oriental robe which she had earlier enspelled.

“You may obscure anything up to the size of a large book within its folds and pockets,” said Laura. “And what you place inside, only you may retrieve.”

“How do I use it?” asked Madame Zhuong.

“You place things into it, and you take them out,” replied Laura. “And you may use it in any manner you desire: good, or evil, or not.”

“I have lost faith in good and evil,” said Madame Zhuong. “Did you meet the young woman at the front?”

“Yes,” said Sam.

“She is my granddaughter,” said Madame Zhuong. “Her mother remains in Solomin’s mines.”

“Yes,” she continued. “My daughter remains in the mines! I want desperately to free her. Sometimes I think I would give up, and then I would return to the mines to be with her. But I do not know where she is, and with this I intend to find out.”

“You think the Indian Bureau knows?” asked Sam.

“They claim to keep records,” said Madame Zhuong. “But who knows? I shall discover if they lie in this manner or not.”

“What is your daughter’s name, if I may ask,” said Sam. Laura looked at her as if trying to read her mind. What was Sam up to now?

“Kwong Mai,” replied Madame Zhuong, looking down at her hands. “Her husband is dead.”

“Come, Sam,” said Laura. “I think it is time we left.”

“Sure,” said Sam, and then to Madame Zhuong, “I thank you, this has been a highly informative meeting.”

Madame Zhuong bowed slightly. Sam and Laura did so in turn. They walked out of the tiny office, back past the curios and religious items, and into the open air.

“So what was the interrogation about,” Laura asked Sam. “Why did you need that information?”

“Well, it makes more sense to know what you’re looking for, doesn’t it? I feel like a trip to California is in order today.”

Laura just rolled her eyes.

“One moment, I need one of those Buddhas her granddaughter was diligently dusting.”

Sam retrieved her Buddha.

“What’s next, Sam,” asked Laura.

“Rest,” said Sam. “And wait.”

“This I can live with,” Laura replied.

The celebrations died down within a few days. A formal declaration of war was held, on both sides. Sam had never liked wars in which both sides planned it. Those she left to the professionals when she could. To spare the local government the embarassment of trying to commandeer her ship, she ordered the Horn hidden at one of the many islands off the Florida Keys. From there, she, Laura, and the crew took off once again for France to deliver the original cargo still held in the ship’s hold. This time they met no magical storms or Spanish fleets: they went by air, and the entire round trip took two days to complete.

“This new route could make us a lot of money,” said Laura.

“It could make us more than that,” said Sam. “But we’ll need be careful also: it this gets out it will make flyers all the more desirable.”

Their King’s Inn rooms awaited them. And also awaiting Captain Samantha Smith of the Athena’s Horn was a message from the hostess, relayed from a “kuon may”. Sam opened it, and smiled.

“Time to go already,” Laura guessed, sighing.

“And we’re taking the long way,” said Sam.

“The long way where?”

“Solomin’s Mines,” Sam replied. “St. James: San Diego.”

“So how, may I ask,” said Laura, “did you get a letter from Kwong Mai?”

“I didn’t,” replied Sam. “This is from her daughter, Madame Zhuong’s granddaughter. I asked her to find out what her grandmother found out and to let us know: that we would try to find her mother before she lost her grandmother as well.”

“Well, at least it willn’t take us long to get there,” said Laura.

“No longer, nor shorter, than normal, I think,” said Sam. “I don’t want to use our new route. If we do it too often someone is going to start asking questions. I’m unsure on letting the world in on this secret at this time.”

The next morning the Athena’s Horn set sail around the straights of Florida: and then above the Florida Keys. They flew halfway across the Gulf of Mexico. The air this mid-May was warm, and damp. New Orleans, to the north, was obscured, and soon Florida as well. Eight hours later they set down in the waters of the gulf. They continued sailing as night came on, and the mountains of Mexico drew steadily nearer. The sun set like fire behind them.

They reached the shore of Mexico towards mid-morning the next day. Then they unfurled their wings again and set sail into the air, flying over the brilliantly green forest of the Sierra Madre. They flew across the inland deserts and across, again, the western Sierra Madres and by early evening were at the mouth of the California Gulf. They sailed up the gulf through the night. The air this side of Mexico was clear. The stars shone brilliantly above the waves.

When morning came and their flyer rested, they once more took to the air. By late afternoon they crossed Tijuana and landed just outside of the San Diego port. They sailed in.

“This looks like Hong Kong,” said Laura.

Most of the ships were tiny sailboats, “held together by tape and Poseidon alone,” Sam described it. The rest were gambling boats, lights strewn in many colors from the masts and round the rails. Music came from these, and, if they came close enough, yells and whoops and arguments. Other ships were hotels, and there were ladies-of-the-night, and merchants doing all of their business from sea: fish markets, trinkets, fruits and vegetables and spices from all ports. And all were painted and lit to attract the most attention. The Athena’s Horn sailed in unpainted, unlit, and practically invisible.

“Rest,” Sam told Laura. “And prepare for stealth. Tomorrow we head into the mines.”

“Have I ever told you I am claustrophobic?” said Laura.

“Many times, and you’ve always lied,” said Sam.

“I’m going to work on that.”

Come morning, Sam and Laura set out alone for the shore.

“Take the Horn out to sea,” Sam told Roger, “or at least away from this mess. The whole thing reminds me too much of Hong Kong, as Laura mentioned when we sailed in. Keep a good watch on and your weapons ready. I’d rather not lose the ship again as we did in Hong Kong.”

“Aye, Captain,” the First Officer replied.

“Let the men go into shore for R&R in groups of three or four as they desire. But tell them to be careful: this is the wild west. It is not home. And I want you to meet us at the market this afternoon. We’ll know better what we’re going to do then. And bring my rifle and the Incan.”

Laura, for her part, packed her magical supplies into a neat box, and asked Roger to bring them in with Sam’s equipment. Into the box she placed the spellings needed for casting spells, and a scroll case inscribed with hieroglyphics. Her fan she brought with her: it passed quite well as a normal fan, as long as she didn’t use it.

And with that they were off. As Sam and Laura rowed away from the Horn, the Horn sailed away from them.

“We need to find Camp Hayes,” Sam told Laura. “That’s where the Indian Bureau in Florida thinks Kuong Mai is.”

They docked their dinghy at the docks; after haggling, the fee was half what they were asked but still twice what they would have preferred. It took them quite a while to find the Indian Bureau office for San Diego. No one seemed to have heard of it. When they finally found it, it was a hastily-constructed wooden building up the beach overlooking the ocean, but far from the port.

The bureau chief’s office was hot. There was a map of the region on one wall, the border with Mexico clearly marked, though no doubt different than if the map had been created on the other side of that border. The window on the other wall looked out over sand and cactus. The bureau chief sat behind a desk. His assistant stood next to a pile of boxes and papers.

“Welcome to San Diego, though I doubt you’ll find it interesting,” said the bureau chief. “I’m Harvey Lancaster, this is Assistant Bureau Chief Michael Cox. At least,” he continued, “I’m assuming you ladies ain’t from around here.”

“Yes, we’re from a newspaper back east: the Miami Herald,” said Sam. “We’re doing a bit of research on the ki mining operations. We’re looking for Camp Hayes, in particular; we need information on Jack Solomin’s mines. He seems to be the big man in ki mining down here.”

The man wiped his brow and waved them off.

“Can’t help you, miss,” he said. “Go back home to your newspaper.” Then to his assistant, “What the hell newspaper hires women reporters?”

“The Miami Herald,” said Laura, sweetly. “And you can help us, can’t you? Camp Hayes?”

“Yes,” he said, absent-mindedly, “that’s one of the reservations serviced by ‘King’ Solomin. You’ll find mostly chinks there.”

Laura smiled.

“And where can we find this camp? Where do the ‘chink Indians’ keep their tents?”

“No tents”, he replied. “That’s not an outdoor camp. It’s a mine. You’ll find it out in Solomin’s claims.”

“Harv?” asked Mike incredulously.

Laura guided the bureau chief to the map on the wall.

“And that would be?”

“Right here, I think,” he said, pointing out a location on the map. “Mike, isn’t this Camp Hayes right here?”

“I… are you sure you want to tell them this, sir?”

“Do not worry about it none,” said Laura calmly. “Why, you just forget it all happened.”

She waved her hand.

“Well,” she said angrily, “if you all can’t help us none, we’ll have to be on our way, won’t we?”

And so they were. They left immediately and went down to the beach.

“I don’t ever want to get you angry at me, Laura,” said Sam.

“No, you don’t,” she replied sweetly.

  1. Chapter 8: The Spoils of War
  2. Men Not Afraid
  3. Chapter 10: Camp Hayes