Dean Barrett


Click on cover for larger picture

11 January 1857, Sunday Afternoon

"HAVE you been having an affair with Daffany Tarrant?!"

Even in the dim light of the prison's reception room, Adams could tell that Anne had been crying. Her eyes were swollen and red and her nose was red and her voice was scratchy. She sat stiffly behind the room's heavy wooden table as if to ensure that he would not be able to get close to her. She held one gloved hand on the fringed white parasol folded on the table and one in her lap.

Adams glanced at her leghorn bonnet with its colorful silks and ribbons and flowers and reminded himself to look for an opportunity to tell her how beautiful she looked in it. He didn't know much about women but he knew that if even a woman warrior like Duck Foot enjoyed compliments on her appearance, then a man would be a fool not to compliment every woman on her appearance.

Adams glanced at the jailer slumped in his chair just outside the room's door, then sat in the chair facing her across the table and lowered his voice. "Anne, I-"

As she interrupted, Anne raised her own voice and spoke with a cold, hard anger Adams had not heard before. "How long has it been going on?"

Adams decided to answer the first question as a possible means of sidestepping the second and also because it was inevitable that he would have to answer it. It was not that he ever wanted to lie to her but to respond to her questions implied she had the right to interrogate him. Their own affair had been open enough so that until now neither had ever accused the other of infidelity. Vagueness had its virtue but the truth was that he didn't know if she had always taken his faithfulness for granted or that his faithlessness had been tolerated as long as it had been discreet and private.

Whatever the case, until this moment, they had always seen the wisdom of never defining the parameters of their affair. Now, with each question and response, Adams knew their affair was being defined after the fact and that he would be found guilty of having betrayed unspoken rules of a tacit understanding.

"Yes. I was having an affair with Daffany." Once he'd spoken, Adams understood that using only her first name made it sound as if he were very intimate with her; he wanted to add her last name but it was too late.

Anne reached up with the hand from her lap and adjusted the fringe of her black velvet mantelet. Adams could not see that anything needed adjusting. In any case, the beads made a slight rustling sound which seemed to closely resemble a murmur of disapproval. As she asked her question, her gaze darted from his face and back again as if lingering for more than an instant on his features would cause her too much anguish. "Did you kill her husband?"

"No. I did not kill her husband." Adams reflected on the nature of female logic and the criteria a woman-in-love employed to determine the magnitude of significant events - The most important things first: Is the man she loves an adulterer? And less important things last: Is the man she loves a murderer? But Adams decided Anne deserved to have her questions answered more fully. He never wanted to hurt her and he knew, whether she had a right to be or not, she was now terribly hurt. "I went there because I had a note from Daffany telling me to meet her there; that something urgent had come up."

Despite her swollen eyes, Anne looked especially beautiful in her black silk crinoline with red velvet trimming and Adams wished he could tell her that. But nothing was more clear to him than his knowledge that anything he said now would be exactly the wrong thing. In fact, to Adams, the predominantly black shades of Anne's outfit made her look as if she were a beautiful woman in mourning. Perhaps for what was about to happen to him at Hangman's Point; more likely for the death of their own lives together. "Look, Anne-"

"You found his body on the chop?"

He noticed that at least temporarily a dash of genuine curiosity had pushed its way past the hurt and anger. "The chop was empty. I found blood and hair and all the signs that someone had been murdered. I thought I heard something but before I could turn around, someone knocked me over the head."

As several Chinese assistants from the cookhouse passed by, the pungent smell of salted fish assailed his nostrils. When Anne remained silent, Adams continued. "I had no reason to kill him."

Anne reached into her purse and brought out a handkerchief. She spoke as she dabbed at her eyes. "You weren't in love with her?"

"In love with her?!" Adams couldn't understand how she could infer such an absurd conclusion simply because he had bedded her. "Of course I wasn't in love with her."

"Then why..." Anne's hand returned to her lap and she stared at the table as if the answers to what was puzzling her could be found in the wood's chips and cracks and dry rot. Several initials with dates had been carved into the oak; above one of the dates was the carving of a gallows. The carving was unfinished.

Angry voices followed by furious shouting and turnkeys' whistles came from the direction of the airing room. As the noises subsided, Adams reached out and placed his hand on the hand holding the parasol. What he wanted to say was that she seemed to be forgetting that he would soon be on trial for his life and he didn't see why he had to face this trial as well. What was about to happen to him as a suspect in a murder case was far more important than what he had done as an unfaithful lover although he began to realize that Anne didn't see it that way. "I don't know why."

She inhaled deeply and stared somewhere over his head but she left her hand where it was. "Where did you meet her?"

He decided he might as well slip in the information as to when he had met her as well. "A few months ago. She was riding her horse at East Point and it started bucking. I think some Chinamen were planning to make a grab at her. When they saw me they ran; I grabbed the reins and quieted the horse. That's all."

Anne was allowing her gaze to focus more frequently on his face. Adams wasn't sure if this was a good sign or not. "You must have made quite an impression on her."

"If she'd been thrown she could have been hurt. I just-"

"It wouldn't surprise me if the bitch hired the celestials to scare her horse so she could meet you."

Not very likely, but Adams began to entertain the hope that Anne's anger would be transferred onto Daffany Tarrant; the vicious, manipulative hussy who had ensnared and entrapped her innocent, well-meaning and, in the absence of temptation, generally faithful man. He tried to lift her white kidskin glove to his mouth to kiss it. No such luck. It may as well have been glued to the table.

"She spoke to me."

"Daffany Tarrant spoke to you? When?"

"In the millinery shop you left me in. It must have been not long before you went to the chop. At first she snubbed me, then after her servant came in, she chatted me up for several minutes. About fashion. I didn't understand why. I still don't."

Adams remembered the man he had glimpsed entering the servants' quarters of the chop boat on two occasions. The same man who had handed him Daffany's note after the Triad ceremony. His question might underscore to Anne his familiarity with his place of assignation thereby setting her off, but he had to ask it. "Was the servant broad-shouldered, evil-eyed and about 40?"

Anne nodded. Adams was beginning to like his predicament less and less. He would have to analyze every move he had made and why; but right now he had to deal with the immediate crisis. He managed to lift her gloved hand to his lips. He spoke while kissing her hand. "I've never seen you look so clipper-rigged before. Something about that bonnet makes you more desirable than ever."

She looked directly into his eyes with an unwavering gaze. "You are a faithless, untrustworthy son-of-a-bitch but I am going to try to get you a lawyer."

He noticed her eyes well with tears once again. Teardrops rolled down her rouged cheeks. He squeezed her hand. "Anne, there isn't any lawyer in Hong Kong who would want-"

"I will not let them hang you."

It was a simple statement of fact and it touched Adams deeply. He reached across the desk with his other hand and now held her hand in both of his. "Anne-"

"Because I want the pleasure of killing you myself."

"Anne, sweetheart-"

"I want..."

As Anne broke down into a convulsion of sobs and half-spoken accusations, Adams - blatantly disregarding prison regulations - quickly rounded the desk, gripped her shoulders and gently lifted her to her feet. As he hugged her and kissed her face he spoke soothingly. Even as she insisted that she hated him more than any person alive, Adams could feel her responding to his entreaties. Soon they were locked in a sensuous, passionate embrace which ended only when the turnkey rapped on the door.

"Sweetheart, I've got to get back to the cell now. Are you all right?"

Anne reached up and placed her gloved hands just below both of his ears. She grasped his thin ring beard and moved her hands along his beard to under his chin. She wished to God she wasn't so madly in love with him and could find the strength to simply stay away. Ever since he'd been arrested she had tried to do exactly that. But in the Bee Hive, she had overheard some merchant seamen joking about the Yank standing on a gallows at Hangman's Point with a rope around his neck, and she had angrily thrown them out of the tavern. She could not bear to think of living without a man she both loved and hated as much as she loved and hated Andrew Adams. "Yes. James Hull is living in the storeroom and helping out in the tavern. And Ian McKenna is helping too."

Adams wasn't sure how much help either of them would be: a man afraid of his own shadow and a concertina player always on the lookout for a free drink. Still, at least someone was watching over her. He walked with her to the door, took her hand in both of his and kissed her fingers, then turned away.

Anne watched Adams follow the turnkey down the hallway back to his cell, then turned to leave. As she passed through the outer gateway of the prison, she felt the lustful eyes of the guards upon her and heard herself referred to as a "nice piece of stuff" and as a "chippy in full feather in need of a chippy-chaser." Flattery in its most base form. She might hate Andrew Adams as much as she loved him but she had no intention of living without him. Daffany Tarrant wouldn't have him nor would the executioner at Hangman's Point.