Rolling back into the couch, the cushions conveyed him gently to rest. A girl, one of Henry Ying’s, gracefully scooped the pipe out of his hands and passed it to his lady patron for the evening.
Tonight he was her “sport”. A rich lady’s escort to the dark side, a partner to share in the unseemly and illicit that was an opium den. And maybe more than that, if she saw fit to pay. A good looking man always had means to make the rent, after all.
Lying there, his senses felt depressed, clogged with tar. A thick, warm, delicious tar; sticky and black like the opium in his pipe. It felt amazing.
When he saw the uniformed police barge in he began to laugh uncontrollably. And when they shoved Ying to the ground he laughed even harder.
He’d been through this before. Opium wasn’t illegal, but the police didn’t like it. The important people, like his honored lady, would be let go. He and the Chinese would end up in jail for most of the next day, probably cut loose tomorrow night.
Just in time for Mister Henry Ying’s Chinese Laundry to open up for the regular hours business.
You know, for some reason I would’ve thought that the opium craze would’ve skipped by Memphis. We just didn’t seem like that cosmopolitan of a city in the latter quarter of the 1800s. But, sure enough, I’ve found references to a half dozen opium dens hiding behind the guise of a Chinese laundry in Memphis history. And around them, a bizarre culture of not male abuse of the drug, but female abuse of it, and the rise of gigolos to go along with it. For all intents and purposes, in Memphis, opium dens were the lady’s nights of their days.