So she stood there, trying to decide what to do next in the dim greyish light leaking from the end of the street. This might have been the city that never slept, but that didnt mean an arm or a leg didnt occasionally take a cat-nap, and Chinatown looked deserted.
Figures turned the corner behind her, and she turned around. She could tell from the echoing clops that they were hooved definitely Changed but beyond that, it was impossible to tell who
Oh, yeah, girl, you go! said one, and that helped nail them down a little better. She had a very solid New York accent. So is he gonna
The other one then said something softly.
What you mean hes not gonna girl, listen, if I had your looks Id be goin after Jared or Billy Lee. Dont you sell yourself as less than all that. Id go up to him and be all like mhm and hed be damn, woman, and Id be like oh yeah, you know it. Give that man a piece o yo mind.
The other one said something else.
What? How you think you gonna catch a piece of that pie if you dont hold on, girlfriend, I gotta stop. Yo, who you?
One of the figures pointed at Caitlyn. The figures were still shrouded in shadows in the dim lighting, but to her eyes, they looked like they looked like centaurs.
Hi, uh, Im Caitlyn. Is is this Yu Sangs Deli?
Girl, you can see the sign, said the one figure.
Yeah, I know, um... when will it open?
What? Just cuz you a horse dont mean you gotta eat like one, said the girl, her hands on her hips. You can wait yo fat ass until we open in the mornin like everybody else. Dayumn.
Caitlyn shook her head. No, no, Im looking for somebody.
Well, you found her, girl, said her rival.
You dont understand
I understand damn well, she said. You come here in the middle o the night, prolly high as a kite, to rob my aunt? No way, girl. You can kiss my yellow ass before I let you in.
Kim began the other figure beside her. By her voice, she was female, but she sounded a lot more timid.
No, no, Im looking for Yu Ji-Cheng, said Caitlyn.
There was a long pause.
Kim said the other girl again.
Where you hear that name? said the first girl. There aint no Yu Ji-Cheng.
Please, cried Caitlyn. I dont know what else to do! There are these weird people after me I dont know who they are theyre chasing me with dogs please this voice came out of the trees and told me to come to Yu-Sangs Deli and ask for Yu Ji-Cheng because whoever that is would put me in his safe house because nowhere else is safe. I dont know what else to do. She buried her face in her hands.
There was another long pause, as Caitlyn gently snuffled into her hands.
Damn, girl, who are you? said Kim softly. She turned to her friend. May, you go home. This aint gonna be an easy night, and you dont want no part of it.
The frizzy-haired May nodded, turned, and left. Good luck, she said back over her shoulder.
Kim stepped closer, and in the dim light, Caitlyn could now see what she looked like, a little. She was a short, pretty Asian girl, perhaps in her early twenties, with long, straight hair, and she was definitely a centaur, half horse, half human. Her naturally-black hair had been dyed vaguely blond-ish in streaks to match her palomino coat, and she was wearing a tiny halter top, outlandishly-oversized gold earrings, and a gaudy blue belt. She looked like shed been clubbing, and her breath stank of rainbow-colored mixed drinks.
Im Yu Kim-Na, she said. Yu Sangs my aunt. You call me Kim. Aint no sha-na-na in my name, you understand?
She walked up the steps, unlocked the door, and motioned for Caitlyn to come inside. But the bigger question is, who are you? You better be for real, girl, or my aunts gonna get all Hun on your ass and you gonna wish you was dead.
* * *
They went inside, and Caitlyn stood in the middle of the deli as Kim disappeared up the steps in the back. She could hear Kim shout, and there was a muffled response, and then a short argument followed. Finally there were footsteps and there was some shuffling, and Kim came back down the steps, awkwardly, and positioned herself in the corner of the store, her arms folded. Caitlyn noticed to her dismay that the girl was now holding a small shiny silver pistol in her right hand as well.
My aunt will be down in a moment, she said.
The light from the staircase framed a figure coming down the steps, a middle-aged female human in a robe and carrying a shotgun. She stopped on the bottom step. Who are you and what do you want? she asked in a mild Asian accent.
Caitlyn took a deep breath.
I was sent here by well, somebody, I dont know who. There are people chasing me. He told me you have a safe house and said to ask for Yu Ji-Cheng. Im supposed to say, uh, that Im having an interesting life, whatever that means.
She couldnt see the woman on the steps, but somehow, she could tell that the woman blanched hearing it. There was a long pause before the woman responded.
What what is your name? Who are you that you know that?
Caitlyn shrugged. Im nobody, thats the thing. My names Caitlyn Camberley. Im just a secretary, barely even. My degrees in illustration.
There was another long pause, and she wondered what was going to happen. The other two didnt move; Kim was simply waiting for the woman to give instructions, and the woman wasnt moving.
At last, she spoke. Caitlyn Camberley, she said. Well... I never thought I see the day. Kim, guard the door. I must take Miss Cam Miss Camberley upstairs.
Aw, auntie, I gotta sleep! groaned Kim. You know I need my beau
The figure on the steps glared at her, and she stopped.
Alright, alright, goddamn stupid girl, youd better be worth my nights sleep, she said.
Im sorry, said Caitlyn. Really, I
Are you coming or not? asked the woman on the steps.
Im coming, she said, and followed.
* * *
The woman led her up the steps, around the corner, and up the steps again to the third floor. They went down a short hallway, and into a dusty back room. The woman reached up and pulled on a cord hanging from the ceiling, and a bare light bulb lit up on an old storage room, filled with dusty chests and boxes and an old cracked silvery mirror tilted back on its hinges.
As the light dangled back and forth on its cord, Caitlyn got her first good look at Yu Sang. She was an Asian woman in her fifties, and had probably once been very pretty, but time had eaten away as it does with everyone, leaving Sang a little more stout and round-faced than she looked like she preferred. Her hair was black and cut short, and she wore a cheap purple fuzzy western-style robe and pink bunny slippers, and smelled faintly of peppermint.
She lowered the shotgun until it pointed directly at Caitlyns chest.
You will swear, she said, to tell no-one of what you see.
Yes, of course, she said. Whats going on here? Do you know who
Questions lead to knowledge, said Sang, but not always to wisdom. Your questions will be answered in time.
Caitlyn nodded silently, and Sang gently bent down and set the shotgun on the floor. She stood back up.
Now then: Can you make yourself human?
Good. You will not fit as you are.
Sang walked to the back of the room and moved aside a bookcase. There was a small panel there, and she grabbed the bottom and slid it open.
This dumbwaiter leads to the basement. It is the only way in or out. You will climb in, and I will lower you. You will speak nothing of what you see there.
Caitlyn swallowed hard and nodded.
Sang walked over to an old dresser. Do you have pants or a skirt? she asked, and Caitlyn shook her head: Wils hadnt let her bring any of those tonight for fear she might panic and want to hide her true self of course, that dinner seemed like it was ages ago now.
Sang reached into the dresser and took out a piece of soft patterned cloth and handed it to Caitlyn. This will do then.
Caitlyn held it up. It was a pretty black sari with flower patterns on it. Shed never worn such a thing, but it looked like she was going to have to get used to it. She quickly wrapped it over her shoulders, leaned against the wall, and then winced as she began to squeeze her lower half down, down, smaller and smaller until that horses body was somehow compacted to fit inside human-shaped legs.
Sang shook her head, watching. I have never seen anyone do that before, she said. Kim does not change herself back, though I know she can.
Its not all its cracked up to be, said Caitlyn, standing herself back upright. But Id give my right arm to stay like this.
Sang nodded. It is not easy to wear a false face, she said, but some are more difficult than others. She waved at the dumbwaiter. Now then, off with you. Say hello to Ji-Cheng for me.