The Sword of Saladin – Short Story by Charlie Chin
by Charlie Chin. Posted December 12, 2021.
Newspaper man Doug Chiang and New York City Detective Nick Morales return with another deliciously twisted tale from New York Chinatown. Who doesn’t love a mystery? If you enjoyed, Chin’s “Big Bob” posted in East Wind ezine in October 2021, you will be intrigued by this murder in the Lower East Side.
The receptionist was heading home. As a low end community newspaper we didn’t have the resources to pay for overtime and she knew it. As she buttoned her coat, she announced,
“Someone to see you Mr. Chiang,” and was gone. A very attractive Asian woman walked into the office, saw me, and walked over. She was nicely dressed and a scent of lavender preceded her. I stood up at my desk,
“Hello, my name is Doug Chiang, how can I help you?” I motioned her towards a chair as I sat down.
“Hello Mr. Chiang. My name is Susan Wong. You don’t know me but I got your name from a mutual friend, a Mr. Victor Huey.” She took out a little handkerchief and politely blew her nose. It looked like he had been crying a lot.
“Yeah Vic is an old friend. What can I do for you” This Susan Wong looked as if she wasn’t sure how to start. I smiled,
“Please, just start from the beginning.” She seemed relieved,
New York Chinatown street scene. Photo by Eddie Wong.
“Well, it’s my sister. We live in Boston Mr. Chiang, I work as a nurse at Boston General, and my father has a small antique business in the Chinatown there. Some time ago, a man named Roscoe Baker started to come by on a regular basis. Nobody in the family liked him. He didn’t seem to have a profession or a job, and apparently depended on his cheap good looks to get by. He tried to flirt with me and my sister. But I saw through his little game, unfortunately Gladys, my sister, is young, and she’s not very used to attention. She became infatuated with him. He started to come by when she was behind the counter of Dad’s antique store just to talk to her. I thought it was just a flimsy excuse to spend time with her but things became a little strange as he kept pressing her about an item my father had in his collection, called the “Sword of Saladin.” A gaudy over decorated thing, more like a dagger really.
My father usually has it on display in the window in a locked glass case, mostly to draw window shoppers I suppose. He had a little card next to it that explained that it was the “Sword of Saladin.” The legend claimed it was given as a gift by Sultan Saladin the Great to Richard the First during the Crusades. There’s a long story about it being stolen by pirates, sold to the Czar of Russia, and then stolen again. It supposedly disappeared for a couple hundred years until it showed up in a street bazaar in Egypt twenty years ago. Dad was very proud of it, kept it locked in the display case, and never let anybody touch it. He often commented he would never have to work again if he could find a buyer for the sword.
Anyway, about a week ago, Gladys and the sword disappeared. We were frantic. We found a note saying that she was with Mr. Baker and they were taking a trip to New York City. Mr. Chiang, she’s so young and doesn’t know anybody in New York.” Susan started crying and couldn’t finish.
I wasn’t sure what to do,
“I sympathize with your problem Miss Wong, but I’m not sure if I can help, I’m only a local newspaper reporter.” She blew her nose one more time and explained,
“I was told you have many connections in Chinatown, of all sorts. You see, Gladys is such a child. She doesn’t know anybody in New York City but we’re sure she’ll end up coming to Chinatown to visit or to eat. I thought of going to the police but I don’t think they would make it a priority. I thought a local person who knows the area might be better. I know this unconventional but we’re willing to pay whatever it costs.” She showed me photographs of a gawky teenage girl, holding a soccer ball, and smiling.
“These were taken last year. Perhaps they’ll help.” I inspected them. The kid was only about sixteen or seventeen. Susan’s voice interrupted my thoughts.
“Shall I give you a retainer?” Before I could answer either way, she had pulled out a check book and quickly wrote a check for five thousand dollars. When she passed it to me, I must have had a stunned look on my face,
“Is that enough? I’m not sure how one does this.” I took the check, folded it and put in in my desk drawer. I took a ballpoint pen and asked,
“What do you know about this Mr. Roscoe Baker? Tell me everything.” She spent a twenty minutes recounting what she knew. At the end, I walked her to the door and assured her,
“I’m taking this on personally. Here is my card. I have contacts with the local merchants and police, so there should be some information very soon. In the meantime, where can I contact you?” She put a piece of paper in my palm, and then squeezed my hand a few seconds too long.
“Oh you’re such a God send. You can reach me at this telephone number. I’ll be staying at the Windsor Hotel midtown. I can’t thank you enough Mr. Chiang.” With that she turned to walk down the stairs and out to the street, leaving me alone in a cloud of lavender scent.
New York Chinatown street scene. Photo by Eddie Wong.
I took stock of what I had. A young run away Chinese American girl with a guy name Roscoe Baker. Well, one, they had to stay someplace, and two, where would they try to sell the item? It was too late to begin anything, so I got a good night’s sleep. The first thing in the morning, I went back to the office. I sat down at my desk and began the process. There was no Mr. Roscoe Baker with or without a wife, registered in any hotel of the city. Figuring out where he would try to sell the item was obvious. The Diamond district and the high end antique stores. I started alphabetically and two hours later I had gotten as far as the R’s when I got a call from my buddy Detective Nick Morales. He was brief.
“Hola Doug, you know anything about a Roscoe Baker? Homicide found a stiff in an alley way in Tribeca with his I.D and your card in his pocket.”
“How did he die?”
“He was shot, once in the chest, looks professional.”
“Naw, he was alone. We figure maybe a mugging gone wrong. This area is a checker board of old places and new money. Anything you can add?” I thought about it for a minute and answered,
“Not right now. But I’ll come over in a few minutes to take a look. I’m on Walker Street and Canal.” A short cab ride and I was at the yellow crime scene tape. I tipped the cabbie and walked over to the cluster of uniforms and overcoats. Somebody started to hold up his hand to stop me, but Nick’s voice called out,
“Let him through. He’s with me. Come on in Doug.” I nodded at the other faces that I knew.
The body was lying on its back, a clean hit. Somebody deliberately aimed a little to his left to hit his heart. This was the work of an expert.
A small crowd of curious people had started to gather and I noticed somebody at the edge of it. A young Asian girl in jeans with a back pack, whose frighten look told me she was Gladys Wong. I strode over to where she was and asked,
“Are you alright Gladys?” She startled and turned to get a way. I called out,
“Your sister Susan is here in New York looking for you. Do you want to see her?” The girl stopped turned around and looked confused,
“Susan’s here? How do you know her? Who are you?”
“I’m just a friend. Susan asked me to find you. I can take you to her.” As if relieved, her shoulders relaxed and she waited while I hailed a cab. We got in and I barked at the cabbie,
“The Windsor Hotel midtown.” He weaved his way uptown to the front of the Windsor. We got there and I led a very quiet Gladys into the lobby. I asked the desk man for to call up to Miss Susan Wong and tell her that Mr. Chiang and her sister were down in the lobby. He did so and then said that we were to take the elevator up to room, 614.
Decorative street sign, New York Chinatown. Photo by Eddie Wong.
When we got out, Susan was standing at the open door of her room. The sisters hugged politely for a second before we all went in. Susan took her sisters hand as they sat on the couch and asked,
“Why did you run away? Why didn’t you tell us that you wanted to leave?” Gladys confessed.
“We were in love. Roscoe said Dad would never let us marry. So we ran away.”
“How were you going to live? Neither one of you has a job.” Gladys pulled out a wrapped object from her back pack. She gently peeled back the paper cover to reveal a sparkling dagger. Its handle appeared to be cast in gold and encrusted with precious gems”
“We were going to sell this.”
“My God, the Sword of Saladin. You can’t be serious.”
“Roscoe said it’s worth a fortune. We could live on the money and he could get away from you.” By the tone of her voice I realized something was going on. Susan Wong began to shout,
“You don’t understand. You’re only a child, he didn’t love you.” The sisters separated with a shove and stood up. Susan viciously slapped her sister Gladys across the face. Gladys fell back on the couch holding her cheek.
“Yes he did love me. He wanted me. Not you, you’re old. We were going to start over in New York. He told you what he had to, so you wouldn’t get in our way.” Susan started crying again,
“Gladys, you silly little fool. He tried to get me to steal the sword but I didn’t trust him so he turned to you. I came to New York yesterday and confronted him. I gave him Mr. Chiang card and I warned him I had people watching him. He laughed and said he didn’t need me anymore. I waited all night across from the hotel. In the morning I followed him and when he turned down an alley, I used Dad’s pistol. The one he kept behind the counter. Well, I fixed Roscoe and now I’ll take care of you.”
Susan reached over to get her bag. I knew what she was going to do. As she pulled out the gun, I slapped it out of her hand and pushed her back onto the couch. I picked up the pistol, made sure the safety was on, and pocketed it. Both the sisters were on the couch sobbing. I used my phone to punch a familiar number. A voice on the other end asked,
“Detective Morales, what’s up?” I surveyed the room. The girls were still on the couch, I was between them and the door.
“Nick, it’s Doug Chiang. Bring a couple of uniforms, a matron, and get over to the Windsor Hotel, room 614. I have the answer to the homicide in Tribeca.” While I was waiting for Nick, I picked up the dagger from the table and inspected it. It was lighter than it looked. I pulled the blade out and it glistened brightly in the light. Looking closely I could just make out at the base of the sword hilt that there were some tiny etched letters. I put on my reading glasses and held it up close. It read, “The Sword of Saladin. Made in USA.”
Author’s Bio: Charlie Chin is an author, singer/songwriter, and master storyteller. He served as the Community Education Director at the Museum of Chinese in America in New York City and as Artist-in-Residence at the Chinese Historical Society of America in San Francisco. He is the author of several children’s books, including China’s Bravest Girl (1992) and Clever Bird (1996).