The Remembering Scarf and Other Curious Tales

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Then a friend told her of a more lucrative opportunity, to be found along 40th Road. The understanding of her parents and brother was that Song Yang worked in reflexology. They knew that gifts arrived from New York. That she called regularly for video chats while sitting in a black office chair, sometimes eating a bowl of porridge. That she seemed happy, mostly. But there was that time when she refused to video-chat for several days, after which she explained that a man had beaten her about the face. And that other time, when she revealed that a man — a law-enforcement officer, she said — had held a gun to her head while forcing her to perform oral sex.

Family members reassured her: She had no choice. Song Yang told her family last fall that she had booked a flight to China for December, and was looking forward to meeting her nephew for the first time. So far she had connected with him only online, through the popular WeChat app, where her avatar sometimes featured a butterfly. What kind of present do you want Gugu to bring home? In the 19th century it had a volunteer firehouse, a nursery and residents with Irish surnames. It is all long gone, replaced by ginger duck rice casserole and a shaved ice treat called red bean baobing.

The 40th Road of today is almost entirely Chinese, its restaurant signs often featuring no English at all — one more reminder that the only New York constant is change. Narrow and claustrophobic, they loom like set pieces for a film noir. The one-way street itself always feels like a wrong turn, an obstacle course of idling delivery trucks and construction equipment.

One end elbows past a small playground; the other runs into the ever-clogged Main Street intersection, where plainclothes police officers can often be seen sitting in an unmarked vehicle in an attempt to deter quality-of-life crimes. Up and down the block, the earthy aromas of produce stands and restaurant waste commingle with the classical Chinese instrumental music emanating from a soup-dumpling restaurant. And here, beside the upturned fruit crates and the overloaded garbage bags, stand the women of the massage parlors.

In their 40s and 50s, mostly, they check their cellphones, drag on untaxed Korean cigarettes bought in bulk, and chat, but with eyes scanning for unattached men lacking a law-enforcement vibe. The offer is understood, if not explicit. If the man consents, he is led up the stairs of one of the dull buildings, where massage operations are often crammed amid barbershops, driving schools and employment agencies. Massage parlors offering sex are hardly a recent phenomenon, and business models vary. But the trade along 40th Road is especially audacious.

The women stand on both sides of the street — five, 10, a dozen at a time — as ubiquitous as the delivery trucks. In the merciless heat and cold, they sweat and shiver on staked ground, prompting resentful neighborhood complaints about lost business and children exposed to the seamy daily spectacle. But the bosses provide no meaningful protection.


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The women are at the mercy of the street, where they have been robbed, beaten, raped, thrown down stairs. The surveillance cameras nearly always present are intended less for security, perhaps, than to provide the boss with a way to count the clients who walk through the door. Over several months, the women along 40th Road shared in Mandarin the stories of how they came to be standing here, offering sex to strangers.

They use names like masks. Some have chosen Americanized names — Jenny, for example — while others have been rechristened by bosses with nicknames that sound like Lala, or Kiki, or Yoyo. They came from all over China, and from myriad backgrounds. One woman said she used to clean houses.

Another said she was a former reporter who covered Chinese real estate. Several described the circumstances that left them in economic straits: a failed bus company, a bankrupt jade dealership, a gambling-addicted husband. One woman often positions herself near a standpipe at the corner of Main Street, so as to be the first to approach any man venturing west.

She is in her 60s, small-framed and usually dressed in layers, with long hair dyed black. She said in a raspy voice that she was from the southeastern Chinese province of Jiangxi, and that she was trying to pay off a debt incurred by her adult son in a business deal gone wrong. She had visited two job agencies on 40th Road, looking for work as a nanny, but nothing panned out. Another woman, who gave her name as Xiao Li — or Little Li — said she was from the city of Dexing, in Jiangxi Province, home to a well-known copper mine, where she once was a welder.

Back she came to 40th Road. Li, 50, said. Others were even more expansive, including a stocky, ish woman with cropped black hair and a lazy eye who called herself Rachel.

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Eating a sweet baked potato at a dumpling stall on Main Street, she recalled that while working at a job she loathed — waitressing at a Chinese restaurant in Seattle — she began hunting through WeChat forums for leads on other work, and came across an offer that she recalled saying:. Rachel called the number to ask what the job entailed. The boss replied: Everything. Michael Chu, the longtime neighborhood advocate, has befriended some of the women who stand outside his building on 40th Road, and occasionally offers them assistance with police matters.

His office, where an old dog named Scout is usually napping on some cardboard, is furnished with desks left behind by an accountant who moved rather than work beside a massage parlor. A bespectacled man of 65, Mr. The hopes they harbor for permanent residence, for having enough money, for finally not doing this. Chu said. The man spotted her on the street one night after stopping at a 40th Road restaurant known for its cheap and plentiful food.

She was pretty, younger than the other women and conversant in English, so he paid for a session. She said her name was SiSi. His was Paul Hayes. Single, in his early 40s and living in Queens, he carried himself with a seen-it-all air — but she beguiled him. They gradually became lovers, then good friends with vague plans to rekindle their romance someday.

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But she lived with her husband in an apartment a block away. It was complicated. She also confided about the dangers and vagaries of her work life. Even so, Song Yang established herself as a fierce competitor in the circumscribed world of 40th Road. Fueled by coffee and Red Bull, she toiled nearly nonstop, as if facing some self-imposed deadline. Word was that she was trying to save up to open her own Vietnamese restaurant, or to buy a house in New York for her aging parents, or to just move on. Her sharp elbows and inexhaustible style irked some of the other women, leading to arguments, shoves and occasional hair pulling.

One competitor recalled that if a man chose another masseuse, Song Yang would tease the client about preferring older women. But another woman remembered a gentler, more generous Song Yang. She said that when she arrived at 40th Road, Song Yang insisted that she accept several pairs of pants to ward against winter. The apartment door faced a boiler room and a makeshift gate that was intended to keep vagrants from sleeping on the roof, but also to protect the hot pepper plants nurtured there by the aged custodian.

The building was constructed in by Jentai Tsai, 85, a prominent, even revered, banker in Flushing, and is owned by a real estate company overseen by his son, Eugene Morimoto Tsai. In a brief conversation last month, the younger Tsai, 42, said that he did not know that a woman had fallen from his building last year, or that his building had long been a hub of illicit massage activity. Outside his office around the corner, Mr.

A man identifying himself as the boss of the first-floor restaurant began to shout when asked about the tenants upstairs.

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But the particulars of his subleasing arrangements are as difficult to pin down as he is. One spring midnight, Lao Li made a rare appearance on 40th Road to mediate a dispute over clients that had erupted among the women. When a reporter approached and called him by name, Lao Li looked up — and bolted. He dashed east down the center of 40th Road, dodging cars, before vanishing into the dark Flushing night. Although Song Yang and other women often quarreled, they occasionally gathered with Lao Li at the restaurant downstairs, or at a nearby karaoke bar.

At the Chinese New Year, he would hand out red envelopes containing small cash gifts. In cellphone videos and photographs of these get-togethers, the participants could easily be mistaken for co-workers at an accounting firm, making a night of it. Arrest attracted unwelcome attention. It jeopardized applications for permanent residency. It magnified the humiliation. Established nearly 15 years ago, the court set out to treat women in the commercial sex trade less as accused criminals than as victims of trafficking and exploitation. They are told that charges will be dismissed and records sealed if they complete several individualized counseling sessions — focused, say, on job training, or education — with Garden of Hope, Restore NYC, Womankind or another outreach organization.

A group called Sanctuary for Families is also on hand to provide immigration services. Song Yang went through this process more than once. In addition to expunging the arrests from her record, these court appearances provided pause, forcing her to confront the consequences of her work life. In the summer of , Song Yang began frequent WeChat dialogues with a Flushing lawyer, Chen Mingli, that at first focused on acquiring permanent residency — a process that he repeatedly told her could take months and months.

Still, she fretted that her arrest history would thwart her application for a green card. Gradually, though, their conversations came to reflect the darker realities of her 40th Road realm, with sobbing emoticons peppering her messages. Good morning, Lawyer Chen, she wrote in mid-October A police officer put a gun to my head today and forced me to perform oral sex. At the insistence of a friend, she had filed a complaint with the th Precinct.

Chen assured her that the matter would not affect the status of her immigration case, and implored her to cooperate with the police. But her intense desire to avoid attention, coupled with fear of retaliation from her attacker, overshadowed everything. The police circulated a wanted poster based on a hazy photograph of the man lifted from the surveillance video. A retired United States Marshal, who surrendered after someone mentioned him as a possible suspect, participated in a lineup. But Song Yang identified another man, wrongly, as her attacker.

The case was eventually closed. Several months later, in late September , she was arrested a third time on a prostitution charge. Handcuffed, led away from 40th Road, held overnight. She explained that she had been forced to make hard decisions and that it had been difficult to suppress her feelings while married to a much older man who seemed increasingly removed from her day-to-day life.

Chen was never formally hired by Song Yang, but now his central role seemed to be to buoy her spirits. Without purpose, without direction, what meaning is there to keep on living? I used to be a woman who was very strong in her life. I strove for perfection in everything I did. I never thought that my life would turn out this way. At the end of October, Song Yang made one last visit to Mr. She confided that another client had badly beaten her a couple of weeks earlier — an assault she had not reported to the police — and showed him photographs of her bruised and swollen face.

The tip hardly came as a revelation, since shady activities at this address had generated scores of calls over the years. To some, the building even had the aura of being cursed, following a horrific crime in , in which a deranged stalker stabbed a woman in the second-floor hallway and removed her heart and lungs. Forty-three arrests had taken place in the building over the last decade, more than a few sex-related, the most recent that of Song Yang.

Her case, which had prompted those despairing messages to the lawyer Mr. Chen, was one of 91 massage-parlor-related arrests in the th Precinct in , and one of six along 40th Road. According to court records, none of those arrests were for pimping, solicitation or operating an unlicensed massage parlor. A few nights after the anonymous complaint, a sergeant and a detective ended a brief surveillance by venturing into the notorious building.

The only thing they found suspicious was a handwritten sign in Chinese on the second floor, which they believed to say, in effect, There are no girls on this floor; please go to the third floor. An undercover officer then telephoned a woman associated with the building who was known as SiSi. They arranged an appointment for the next evening, Saturday, Nov.

On the appointed day, members of the Queens North Vice Enforcement Squad met at their base in College Point to discuss the seven locations they planned to hit that night. The closest target became the first: the bleak building at 40th Road. The vice officers went over their safety plan. They chose their identifying color of the day.

Now they were ready. The member team headed out into the evening, unseasonably mild for late November. They parked along Prince Street, across from the White Bear dumpling place and just short of where the one-way street bends east to become 40th Road. The team leader and two arresting officers sat in the first car, with two more arresting officers in the second car.

For his lap. He tries it for a minute and then flips it to the side. Brad and Leo, what attracted you to these roles? If I understand correctly, you are two of the only people who have read the entire script. Quentin Tarantino: There was only one copy! BP: I went back weeks later and there was, like, a collection of more stains. The stains had been building on the page. LD: Well, first off, the chance to work with Mr. And certainly this time period was fascinating.

It was this homage to Hollywood. I loved the idea of taking on this struggling actor who is trying to find his footing in this new world. It was captivating when I first read it. I feel very connected to that fifteen-year-old kid who got his first movie. Beyond any of my understanding. Even the title, Once Upon a Time MH: Quentin, what are you saying with this title? On one hand, it evokes a fairy tale. On the other hand, it echoes a Sergio Leone western or a gangster movie. QT: Well, there is a fairy-tale aspect, so the title fits pretty good. But this is a memory piece also.

It is a Hollywood of reality—but a Hollywood of the mind at the same time. I was so happy with the title, but I was afraid to put it into the atmosphere. Whenever I referred to this project, I referred to it as Magnum Opus. A movie came out two years ago called Once Upon a Time in Venice. BP: Certainly the period is great fun. QT is the last purveyor of cool.

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Quentin gives you these speeches, the kind that you wished you had said on the drive home, that you think of a day later. I mean, we know Quentin Tarantino as an auteur sending film in a singular, original direction. But I found this an evolution—and an amalgamation of what we loved about his other eight films.

BP: And doing this with Leo was really cool and a rare opportunity. Then there was just the whole thing, where we all grew up with the lore of the lead actor and his stuntman.

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That relationship and craft. I mean, there are epic stories of these duos: Burt Reynolds had Hal Needham.

Steve McQueen had Bud Ekins. Kurt Russell had his guy. Harrison Ford had his. These guys were partners for decades. Through thick and thin. And then this Manson stuff is happening around us. The Polanski—Tate story. MH: Brad, how was working with Quentin on this different from working with him on Inglourious Basterds? BP: It felt like walking right back in. You know, we all kind of came of age in this industry about the same time. BP: We all speak the same language and understand the same seismic events or minor events in our community. All three of you have been on top in Hollywood for a quarter century now.

The first script I wrote! And he almost steals the show in the third act. Offering their services, just to be a part of this thing, even just for a day. MH: Quentin, anyone I talk to tells me how joyful your sets are. LD: His sets are so magnetic. Quentin puts a tremendous amount of thought into making these characters come to life, making the authenticity of the period come to life.

And that is: taking the time to fucking Get. At all costs. QT: Quite a bit. Brad was already aware of the history of different actor-stuntman teams. QT: [ Laughs. We follow Sharon, who is truly living the Hollywood life. Then Cliff represents a guy who has dedicated his entire life to this industry and has nothing to show for it.

Make no mistake: Hollywood is his life, but he is not a citizen. These three social strata are important to the story. In , we were both five, six years old. We both remember the shows that were on TV and what was on the radio. BP : Yeah, those remakes should have stopped there. Brad, what did you pull from your life? BP: I had growing-up flashbacks, because the flavors were all there. For instance, in the movie, Cliff lives next door to a drive-in theater. Surely it must. A little older. Some of the struggles I immediately recognized—the search for your own identity and the search for success in an industry that rejects 99 percent of actors from this elite class of being able to choose your own work.

I have many friends in that situation. They all love moviemaking, but do a lot of them feel like they belong to the club? Rick, his whole life is wanting to belong to that club.


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  • Almost had that one shot where, if things would have played correctly. LD: Oh, yes. Because through all of this, they are like a family. The layers. I mean, this is a story about guys who act in westerns, at a time when the western—which has always been a metaphor for American manhood and the idea of the rugged individual—is totally changing. Look at the different versions of westerns that came out in , and what they say about manhood and how we see America: True Grit.

    Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Easy Rider. Midnight Cowboy. The Wild Bunch. And here you are, Rick and Cliff, in a period piece that riffs on an essential dynamic of the western: the duo. The buddies. I brought up—I think I can say this—. As we were talking, it occurred to us that because of that show, it was the first time he and I had ever heard of suicide. In real life, Pete Duel, who played Hannibal Heyes, killed himself.

    And I remember walking into a dark bedroom. It was a little tiny house. I went into the bedroom where it was dark and I burst into tears. I was so upset. LD: I remember your conversation that day. I had no idea about the show and the actors, but you both said you had that exact same reaction.

    QT: The fact that we both learned about suicide because of Pete Duel at age eight or whatever was. LD: For me, that made it this really strong reality. For this town. And having also seen that happen with some of my contemporaries in the industry, how that wear and tear and constant disappointment can lead to that. I really wanted to infuse at least the feeling for the audience that suicide is an absolute possibility for Rick. QT: From us talking about it, we realized why Pete Duel did it. In retrospect, he was bipolar. He was drinking to self-medicate. I was strongly opposed to the Sacrament, but I was pressured by the others and had no choice.

    As for the actions of Alabaster… I sincerely apologize. Did Stephan have a run in with the thresher again? I have them both down there waiting for you. The leader gave a hearty laugh. Almost as mischievous as I was when I was a little boy! Get some rest. Both the leader and the woman walked out of the room and shut the door on their way out, leaving only silence in their wake. My head felt heavy and I decided to take my new friend's advice and rest my eyes.

    I awoke in what looked like early morning to see Lombard sitting at the desk at the edge of my room. Have something to eat! I was able to pull myself up from the bed. My legs were sore and my knees locked up but I hobbled my way to the desk and sat down. I began to sample the meal. I have gotten it approved with The Circle I shall give you a tour of the house and the grounds around three today.

    So, try and get those legs working by then. Lombard gave a quick wave of his hand as he left the room like wind blowing through the woods. I had finished my odd-tasting dish after a few minutes. I sat for the remainder of the time stretching out my tired legs while looking out of the window.


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    • The full day of bed rest and the struggle against whatever held me to the ground had left them aching and weakened. An expanse of farmland spread out in front of me, ending at a dense forest, the single dirt road lined with torches leading up to the house. I assumed that somewhere in the woods there was the picnic table and the altar, and beyond that, the cornfield where I had met my guide and somewhere beyond that was Elizabeth.

      I sighed. I jumped with surprise as Lombard broke the silence in the room. Time had passed faster than I had expected. I made uneasy strides out into a foyer with a painting of another goat-headed man, a massive chandelier lighting the room below and the rows of rooms lining the walls. It is not used very often. It overlooks the entrance room, which we will visit later. What a great man!

      I wish I could have known him in person. We made our way downstairs, wandering through the entrance room and the living room and the sitting room. I asked him about the double doors at the end of the entrance room only to receive a response that I should not go in there as I do not have high enough clearance to enter yet. We walked outside and we explored the grounds. From the outside the house was massive. It was clearly some kind of old farmhouse. We made a left turn around the house to find three buildings off in the distance. I asked Lombard what they were for. He said one of them was the chapel, now dilapidated and unused, a small building used for a school, and a smaller concrete building used for storage.

      I shrugged plainly and we moved on. Lombard stopped mid-walk to contemplate my question. I am many things… Judge, principal, father, doctor. Lots of things, friend. We walked back up to my room and Lombard instructed me that now that I know where I am I can move about the property at will, but only during the day, at night I was confined to my room. Seeing as the sun was descending below the horizon, I went off to bed. I spent the next few days wandering the grounds while getting my bearings with the area and get a sense of location.

      After speaking with some of the other followers of Lombard, I noticed a constant theme. They never broke eye contact and they spoke in a very calm manner. Regardless of age, they would find a clever way to avoid any of my questions, specifically ones involving Lombard, the concrete building, or what happens in the grand hall. Seeing that I would never find anything out from the members, I decided to go answer hunting myself.

      Making my way out to the structure, which was about a football field's length from the house I decided to carefully inspect it. The building had no windows and a single iron door secured with a large padlock. I was going to investigate it further, but before I could find a way to open the lock, the sun began to set and I reluctantly returned to the house.

      A couple of weeks of fruitless investigation passed until I was finally returned to my full healthy state. Feeling my strength returning, I began my morning with a quick workout. Lombard entered mid push-up. I walked up to the goat-headed giant, looked him in the eye like he had done to me so many times before, and smiled.

      That night, just before sundown, Lombard drifted once more into my room. He spoke in a much more serious tone than before, and his posture created an imposing aura about him. I require that you. Disrupt it. Please stay in this room until my return. I had not been truly honest with my host during my stay in the house. For every act of hospitality, he offered there was an event or element that would cause a pang of distrust in my mind.

      One moment, Lombard would provide me with food and I would see him teaching the children like a loving relative, but the next I would notice the concrete shack or remember what had happened in the woods weeks ago. The loving kindness of the members juxtaposed with their unnervingly smooth speech and piercing stares.

      Every impulse in my mind told me to run, but I knew I would never make it far before I was captured - or worse. This mysterious decree had brought my curiosity to its breaking point, and that night I made my decision. As soon as the house fell silent I removed my heavy work boots, slid the door open, and stepped into the dark abyss.

      After making my way down the stairs, through the foyer and out of the door without so much as a sound, I was impressed with my sneaking abilities. I ran around to the side of the hall and began my ascension.

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      The climb was easy enough; several chunks were missing from the old bricks, creating excellent handholds. From the inside, I could hear the same droning sound that I had heard my night in the woods. I desperately searched for a way inside when I came upon a small hatch that led to a ladder that dropped off in a kind of storage attic. Hunkering in next to some old boxes I was able to hear and see the events unfolding below me with startling clarity.

      A crooked grin grew across my face as I anticipated the truth. The droning of the hooded worshippers hushed, and the mammoth Lombard took the stage next to an eerily familiar altar. He raised his hands like the night we first met as he spoke with gusto. I gather you once again to bring praise to Sekra! And to celebrate the presence of The Pale, whose life shall meet its beautiful end on the eve of this coming Sunday! The audience erupted into a shower of boos and shouting.

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      The Remembering Scarf and Other Curious Tales

      I have planned a… rehearsal of sorts, to show you all how we shall deal with the wretched Pale and drive this scourge from our beautiful order. I present to you, the man who is to blame for the delay, Brother Alabaster! I felt my dinner rise in my throat. Alabaster was sobbing with fear and his pleads for help became incoherent screams as his limbs were restrained until one of the men in red wrapped a piece of cloth over his mouth to silence him.

      Lombard spun around at lightning speed and raised a shimmering dagger above his head. We give an offering to you, Almighty Sekra! An offering of flesh and blood! The crowd lurched forward with anticipation, licking their lips with bloodlust in their eyes. For the glory of the Mother, he gives his life. The headmaster made a long cut up the stomach. I could hear bones cracking and flesh ripping as the man moaned in agony. Lombard tossed the bloodied knife aside. He then plunged his hands into Alabaster's twitching body and wrenched his arms upward several times until what appeared to be a liver was ripped away.

      I nearly vomited. The crowd cheered with jubilation at the unholy sight. The corpse was unbound and dragged off into a side room. I was frozen, unblinking, as my past feelings for my seemingly kind friend shattered. Before I could process what was going on I heard Lombard address the members.

      With my heart thundering, I bolted back to the roof as fast as lightning and hurled myself from the roof. Using my prior climbing skills I tucked my legs in and rolled across the grass. I only sustained few minor bruises. I ran around the side of the house, up the stairs, and back into my room just as I heard the great hall open.

      I had a strange nightmare. Really messed with my head… How did your ritual go? Enjoy your rest, friend. Lombard shut the door as I heard the rest of the worshipers coming into the entrance hall. I sat and pondered my situation. I was trapped in this God-forsaken place for one more week until they had decided to kill me I had one week to discover what was really going on here and seven short days to plan my escape. The next morning I woke up early and ran off to the library, thinking that would be a good place to learn some information.

      I wandered the endless shelves until I reached the back corner of the room. All that sat on the last dusty shelf was an old book with a leather cover. Remembering the mysterious name from the horror of last night, I snatched up the scripture and scurried out of the library unnoticed. I sat at the desk in my room and flung open the ancient volume. Before me sprawled mounds of text in old English.

      Though it was in English it was still difficult to understand as I trudged through chapters of sacrifice and lore. I found not much beyond useless gibberish about ceremonies a few of which I recognized the method in which one is to fasten a goat's head to their own and a full page print of a slender woman sitting on a throne with what looked like blood spattered around her mouth.

      I returned the book to the library and decided to scour the grounds. Seeing as there was no way I could budge the padlock on the concrete shack, I instead made my way to the chapel. The door slid open easily enough, and inside was what appeared to be a graveyard of old boxes and furniture. After searching for a few hours I found nothing of interest amongst the stacks of rotting wood.

      The school house next door yielded similar results. Nothing else. Feeling defeated I emerged from the building when something caught my eye. In the grass at the door of the concrete building sat a shining padlock. My heart leaped into my throat and I sprinted toward the shack. I reached for the iron handle of the door when it suddenly sprang open.

      A short stubby man emerged quickly, shutting the door, he noticed me and pushed his back against the door and spoke. This place is not for the outsiders! Turn back around, boy!