When Jealousy Rears Her Lovely Head
The Adventures of Wu Hsing Jade
© 2014 by Richard Messer
It had been over two months since the femmes’ adventure in Siam that there had been a change in the household of Wu Hsing Yun’s apothecary. Aunt Yun noticed the change in the attitude of the young rat woman she had brought home five years before. Gone was the quiet subservient creature the Asian rabbit doe and her niece had nursed back to health. In her place was the self-assured young woman who no longer jumped to the elder’s beck and call so readily.
When the pair had returned to their shop and home after an afternoon of shopping they had been greeted by a slightly disheveled Yun in the kitchen. They had sat down to tea and almond cookies when Wu Hsing Yun picked up her brass-bowl pipe and began to fill it from a small jar on the table. Imagine her surprise when Ming Xue took out her own pipe and began filling it as well. When all three were enjoying their individual smokes, the older doe began asking questions about the two younger femmes’ trip. Thus the two regaled the owner of the apothecary about everything that had happened to them, and their involvement in the raid on the wat being used by the Japanese.
<And did you find your mother and father? > Wu Hsing Yun asked in an offhanded manner.
Wu Hsing Jade fixed her aunt with a steady gaze and informed her of the meeting with the shades of her departed parents and what they had said before releasing them from this world. Mistiness slowly filled the older doe’s eyes before dripping down her cheeks. Jade slipped from her chair to kneel before her only close relative on the Spontoon Islands, taking the older femme into her arms as the crying began. The young rat woman then joined them in the hug as Yun bawled her eyes out. It was after several minutes of the jag that they separated, leaving the older rabbit doe to hiccup the last of her sorrow. And from that moment on there was a closer bond between the three femmes, including the startling revelation of Ming Xue’s past and skills. It was later in the afternoon that a telephone call brought the lorry once more to the store where the crates and luggage were unloaded.
Staring in surprise and wonder Wu Hsing Yun could not believe what she was seeing being brought into the light. And these items were gifts sent by Grandmother Tang and her friends as rewards for the efforts the two young furry women had performed during the two weeks in Bangkok, Siam. Jade’s aunt chose a few of the dresses, jackets and skirts, as well as a couple of pipes from the collection. She passed on the musical instruments, saying she was satisfied with her old lute. Jade herself took a couple of the cheongsams with Sue picking a couple for herself. And the young Eurasian doe selected a few of the cigarette holders though she was still partial to the plain black one that had been her mother’s. Whatever of the gifts was left over were repacked for storage upstairs in a spare bedroom. But it was a few days later that another surprise came knocking on their shop door.
A special courier came to the store, delivering a long cylindrical package. When it was examined the femmes saw that it was postmarked from Pearl Harbor Naval Base in Hawaii. The contents turned out to be a samurai’s katana and a pair of fans with glyphs worked into the black silk with silver thread. A brief note signed by Lieutenant Commander Abbot Briggs said that these ‘gifts’ were his department’s way of saying ‘thank you’ for the effort the two femmes contributed in the destruction of that secret medical operation deep within the Siamese wilderness. The postscript mentioned that these had been the property of a certain Japanese army officer they had dealt with at the compound. The doe and rat femme looked at each other before bursting into laughter. This confused Wu Hsing Yun who asked for an explanation. And one was given, such that the older woman could only stare in quiet disbelief. Afterwards Jade and Sue took these three items and hung them over the shop door for their customers to see. And when asked where they had come from, the two would say that ‘they had been picked up in Siam during their visit’ while keeping from laughing.
The abacus became silent as the dark furred rat woman gave the final tally to her Eurasian friend and lover. Jade looked at the list and was satisfied that the numbers matched.
“We made about an extra SI£500 this month, Sue. That should make Aunt Yun happy.”
“Good,” was Ming Xue’s replied as she knocked the dottle from her pipe into the ashtray then setting it aside. “She’d been worried that she was losing money while we were gone to Siam.”
The rodent femme combed her fingers through her shoulder length black hair. Jade had promised that she would help the other with growing her hair out from its usual bob style. On a regimen of herbal extracts with her meals and washing her hair with a special compound that the rabbit woman had concocted, Ming Xue’s hair did start growing at an accelerated rate. And the two of them had figured that Sue’s hair would reach her hips by Christmas.
“I want it long enough to sit on,” was the rat femme’s pledge, and the other made sure that it would happen.
The bell over the door sounded. Both looked up to see an elderly canine enter the shop.
<Is my medicine ready? > she asked in Cantonese.
<Yes, Mrs. Zong, > answered the doe. Reaching under the counter Jade pulled out a small packet of folded brown paper tied with a string. This she laid on the countertop as the dog femme set the payment down beside it.
<Oh, by the way, > said Mrs. Zong, <have you read the newspaper this morning? >
Jade and Sue looked at each other before turning back to their customer.
<Er, no, we haven’t, > said Ming Xue, concern on her face. <Been busy with settling the accounts for the month. What’s happened? >
The older femme tucked the packet into her purse. <It appears that some young fur was killed over on Kami Island last night. The police are calling it a murder. >
The Eurasian doe cocked an eyebrow over her eye patch. <How was he murdered? >
Mrs. Zong had walked to the door before turning back, hand on the knob.
<Why, they say that he had been crushed to death. > The bell sounded again as she stepped out.
* * * * * * *
Detective Sergeant Graeme Hargreaves stood under the picnic shelter that the young furs had spent the prior evening enjoying dinner. The middle-age boxer watched the gaggle of constables beat around the bushes and trees of the diminutive island. It was a vain hope of finding some shred of evidence as to who the perpetrator was and how they had gotten onto Kami Island. Reaching into his summer-weight jacket the canine drew out a cigar and shoved it into the corner of his black muzzle.
When he got the telephone call early that morning at home, Hargreaves believed it would have been a routine homicide and that it would be quickly wrapped up in about a week. But when he got to his office at the precinct on Meeting Island, the follow-up handed down by the Detective Inspector was anything but routine.
“Crushed to death?” The tall boxer squinted at the horse behind his desk in disbelief. Detective Inspector Trevor Hix could only spread his thick-fingered hands in a gesture of ‘that’s the way it is’.
“Seems some employees from The Great Pagoda restaurant were enjoying their night off with a late night party on Kami Island. A way of unwinding from the hectic time of Speed Week.”
Hargreaves merely nodded, his way of asking the other to continue.
“They were young furs; two couples in fact, bringing along leftovers from the restaurant, then separating into the underbrush for ‘desert’.”
The Detective Sergeant rolled his eyes at his superior’s attempt at a little joke.
The palomino shook his head when the humor failed before continuing. Hix adjusted the glasses on his long nose while picking up a sheet of paper.
“Teng Ningfu, twenty-four years of age, typical black and gray tabby markings, worked as a baker making pastries and cakes at the restaurant.” Then the D.I. picked up some photos and passed them to the canine. A quick glance told Hargreaves that this death wasn’t intended to be pretty. The one image that was the most disturbing gave the impression that a very large and very heavy pipe had been brought down with considerable force along the front of the unfortunate feline’s body.
The equine picked up a pipe and tamped the bowl with a finger. After lighting it the horse blew smoke before picking up his narrative.
“And the kicker is there were no footprints at the scene of the murder other than those four kids.”
The boxer looked up. “No footprints?” he repeated.
Setting the pipe into the corner of his mouth Hix nodded as he leaned back in his swivel chair.
“None whatsoever,” he said around the stem. “The only evidence of anything else being there was what appeared to have been something that was dragged through the sand.”
Thumbing his hat back the boxer dropped the pictures back on the other’s desk.
“What, like a body?”
Spreading his hands and giving a shrug the palomino indicated that there wasn’t a clue as to what it had been, or might have been. And Hargreaves felt that was what his superior wanted him to find out.
So now he was out on this miniscule strip of land, trying to find whatever shred of evidence possible that might point him in the right direction. The boxer detective gave a deep sigh and lit his cigar. Taking a deep drag Hargreaves turned to the one figure that had stood quietly behind him all this time.
A middle age chestnut mare waited patiently for the detective’s attention. She had a pleasant smile on her muzzle; tranquility suffusing her being as the boxer blew smoke into the air. The femme wore a straw hat over her long braided mane, a necklace of shells and beads, and a skirt woven from palm fronds. Out of the back of the skirt stuck her tail that was also done in long braids. And her bare breasts weren’t helping his concentration.
“I’ll leave the place to you, now,” he said tiredly as he moved by towards the patrol boat. “Maybe you’ll have some luck in finding whatever happened here last night.” The boxer gave a salute with his cigar before calling on the corporal in charge of the other constables to head the group towards the boat.
When the sound of the police cruiser faded away Sari Aha slowly made her way to the shelter and seated herself at a bench. Removing the hat she set it down beside her then stared out across the water towards the mountain fastness that was Main Island.
It had started with a dream the night before. Sari Aha’s slumber had been rudely jumbled by images of snakes and the death of a young fur. And there had been another young fur present but only in a vague manner. Breakfast did not sit well with the mare, nor was the visit from Missy Pohovic. This gray mare lived in a village on the north side of Main Island and had been sent by Saimmi Hoeli’toemi, the High Priestess.
“Saimmi needs of you to go to Kami Island. The spirits are disturbed by an event that occurred there last night.”
The older mare nodded. “My dreams were intruded by strong images that involved snakes and a death.”
Missy Pohovic nodded in return. “Then her calling upon you was indeed fortuitous. She has also received a message from the constables on Meeting Island who are investigating a murder that occurred there last night. There could be a relationship of one with the other.”
Sari Aha cocked her head. “So the Kami were disturbed! And on their very gate to this world!” She squeezed her eyes shut and gave a deep sigh. “And who in the constabulary will I need to meet with?”
“ A Detective Sergeant Graeme Hargreaves.”
“Anything I should be aware of about this furson?”
The other mare shook her head, the long braided tresses of her dark hair brushing her bare shoulders. “I have never met this one.”
The first mare muttered something under her breath but was not heard by Missy Pohovic. Sari Aha looked the other in the eye. “Then I should be there in an hour or two.”
The mare priestess made her goodbyes and left Sari Aha’s bungalow. The chestnut equine stood at the door and watch the other follow the path along the edge of the river delta towards the village on the rail line. With another sigh the priestess began gathering what she needed for the task ahead.
Now the brown mare sat on the bench and stared off at the mountains overlooking the sacred Crater Lake only a couple of miles away. Sometimes, when the wind was right, she could catch snatches of voices of those who lived and worked on Main Island. And the occasional rattle of the narrow-gauge train that moved along the coastline. Sari Aha should feel honored in being chosen in helping solve this unexpected death here on this tiny sliver of land in the bay. But something still didn’t sit well with her being; a nagging encroachment of something dark and sinister into the waking world.
With a sigh the mare turned around to face the table. From the shoulder bag woven from palm fronds Sari Aha withdrew the things she needed to contact the Kami and learn what has upset them so. A few items of stone, shell, bone, and wood were set across the smooth surface in a pattern that the mare priestess found useful in contacting the spirits. She would have preferred to have done this in the evening hours when the world was quieter. When everything was laid out to her satisfaction, Sari Aha stared at the pattern and began singing softly to herself. This was the way she used in summoning a spirit and communicate with it.
Several minutes passed and nothing had happened. In the back of her mind Sari Aha began to worry that whatever had occurred the night before may have spooked the Kami to stay in hiding. The singing faded away and the mare closed her eyes from the ache of staring too long. Maybe she’ll take a rest and try once again later.
Out of the corner of her eye the priestess notice what appeared to be a faint spot of light in the corner of the roof. Slowly Sari Aha turned her head in that direction, making sure not to make any sudden movement that might scare away whatever it was. The light remained motionless for less than a minute before it slowly descended to hover before the mare’s muzzle.
As the priestess watched the light brighten some before it elongated to about six inches. Sari Aha’s brown eyes widen a little as the stretched light coalesced into a vaguely humanoid form. There were two brighter pinpoints of light within the figure: One in its head and the other where the heart would be.
The figure floated there about a foot from the mare’s nostrils, slowly bobbing up and down. As Sari Aha stared at this strange creature she began to feel a tickling between her large brown eyes.
*A great distress has disturbed us!*
It was a faint, high-pitched voice that seemed to speak within her mind.
“What distress?” the mare asked quietly lest she scared off the Kami or blew it away with her breath.
The light-thing flew backwards from the priestess. Sari Aha pressed her fingers to her lips and hunched her shoulders in alarm. Composing herself once more she tried forming the question in her mind.
Hesitantly, the Kami drifted forward, wary of the great creature sitting before it. When it stopped a little farther away than before it resumed its bobbing.
*Dark creature comes, brings much pain and hate to this place!*
The equine priestess cocked her head. *What pain? What hate?*
The little glowing spirit drifted closer until it was almost touching the velvet nose of the mare.
*Pain from rejection! Hate from rejection!*
Then the Kami vanished in a rainbow spray that left the priestess staring out across the underbrush and rocks on the far side of the picnic grounds. Feeling like her mind had been rung out like a dish towel Sari Aha sat back and took several deep breaths to calm her heart and mind.
Pain and hate from rejection? The thought caused the mare priestess’ mind to whirl. Gathering her objects from the table Sari Aha carefully packed them away. Then from another pocket in the shoulder bag she brought out a pipe made of stone and bone and an embroidered leather bag. She packed the bowl with tobacco and set a match to it. Puffing calmly the priestess began a soft chant she had learned on Rain Island as an acolyte before coming to the Spontoon Islands.
Blowing a long streamer of smoke into the air, Sari Aha began organizing her thoughts into what she would report to Missy Pohovic. The mare knew that the Kami were sometimes vague in their answers, and it would require a few other priestesses to try to ponder a reason for this strange revelation. In the mean time the chestnut mare would enjoy this private smoke before searching for the telephone in its weather-tight box to call for a water taxi to take her back to the island.
* * * * * * *
“And that was all it said?”
Sari Aha only nodded. The other mare priestess sat back in her chair and stared at her tea. When the chestnut mare had returned to Main Island she called Missy Prohovic and asked for a meeting to share her information. Now they sat at an outside table of a tea shop trying to determine the gist of what the Kami was trying to impart. Passing villagers barely noticed the near nakedness of the pair, knowing them to be priestesses.
“’Pain from rejection, hate from rejection’” mused Missy Prohovic. Her chin was being propped on her right hand while her left hand supported the right elbow. She glanced up at the other mare.
“And we have no idea what this ‘dark creature’ might be?”
“Can’t begin to guess,” said the other, reaching for her cup. The thick-fingered hand paused as Sari Aha looked up. “Unless it has something to do with my dreams.”
The other priestess frowned slightly. “How so?”
After taking a sip then refilling her cup the chestnut mare looked into the green liquid within before speaking.
“I recall images of a snake, a very large snake, and the death of a young fur involving this snake.” Dark brows furrowed as if trying to recall something else. “And there was another young fur as well. Not as clear as the first, though it had some involvement with this snake.”
“Involvement? In what way?” Missy Prohovic took a sip of her tea.
The older priestess shrugged. “Can’t truly say, there was no clear image.”
As the two lapsed into silence an elderly Chinese canine femme emerged from the shop.
“More tea, ladies?” She held up another pot.
Missy Prohovic looked up. “Ah, Mrs. Zong, that would be lovely.”
The older femme exchanged the pots then noted the pensive looks on her equine customers.
“It appears you two are dealing with some troubles with the Kami, yes?”
Sari Aha nodded. “There had been a death on Kami Island last night and the spirits are much agitated by this.”
Pulling up a spare chair Mrs. Zong sat between the mares. “Yes, the young fellow who works at the Great Pagoda restaurant. It was in the newspaper this morning.”
Taking a cup from her apron pocket she poured herself some tea. “A most bizarre death from what I understand of it.” Mrs. Zong took a sip and relished it then glanced at the pair. “Any idea of what is involved?”
The two priestesses could only shake their heads.
“Possibly something to do with snakes,” said Sari Aha after taking a sip of her own. “A very big snake.”
The canine’s eyes narrowed slightly at this. “A big snake, eh?” She tapped the rim of her cup with a fingertip. “I think I know of someone who could help in clearing up this mystery.”
“Who?” sounded both mares.
“Over on Casino Island, in the Chinese district, is a young femme whose said to be a Taoist master and demon hunter. She arrived on the islands a few years ago from Shanghai, I believe, and is currently working at Wu Hsing Yun’s apothecary,”
Missy Prohovic leaned forward slightly. “And what is this young femme’s name?”
“ 'Ming Xue!' ”