When Jealousy Rears Her Lovely Head
The Adventures of Wu Hsing Jade
© 2014 by Richard Messer
The streets shown wet from the light shower that ended a half hour before. Rain glistened on the sidewalks, grass and cars parked along the street. The buildings here were old but kept in good shape, being boardinghouses for the most part in this part of Casino Island’s Chinatown.
A taxi pulled up behind a police car parked in front of one such building. The dark-furred rodent femme stepped out then turned to the driver’s window. A quick conversation in Cantonese, money handed over, and the vehicle pulled away afterwards. Ming Xue looked at the cruiser then up at the two-story structure rising up before her.
After the incident at Kami Island the day before the two mare priestesses went along with their companion’s suggestion that she should continue on her own with the police. Sue could always refer to Sari Aha and Missy Prohovic as they had contacted her about looking into this event. The chestnut mare said that Detective Sergeant Hargreave could be a bit of a stickler over whoever would want to look into his investigation. And should this occur then Ming Xue could have the boxer get in touch with them.
With a sigh the young rat woman stepped up to the low stoop and through the screen door. Inside was a short hallway to the ground floor rooms and the dining room in back of the house. A set of stairs to the left went up to the next floor. At the head of the stairs stood a frog with corporal stripes on the short sleeves of his khaki uniform. Turning his broad head at the sound of the door he saw a young mammal, with gray-brown fur and slender naked tail, dressed in a light-brown skirt-suit and matching narrow-brimmed hat. As the femme reached the last step the amphibian stepped forward to intercept.
“Sorry, miss, but there’s a police investigation being conducted and civilians are not allowed in,” he croaked
Ming Xue stopped and stared at the constable. “That is understandable, sir, and that is why I wish to speak to Detective Sergeant Hargreave.”
There came the sound of heavy footfalls as a boxer in a rumpled brown suit stepped out onto the landing.
“Say what you have to say then move along, young lady,” was the gruff comment from the detective.
Squaring her shoulders Ming Xue fixed the canine with a stern eye. “What I have to say is in regard to the death of Teng Ningfu and how he was killed. And if you don’t believe me, then call on Sari Aha and Missy Prohovic for they had asked me to look into this unwarranted death as well.”
The detective stared down at the femme, his fingers drumming the railing before giving a curt nod. Ming Xue nodded in return and made her way up passed the constable. Hargreave stood at a narrow doorway in a narrow hall. And a glance into the room caused the rat femme’s black eyes to widen in surprise.
It looked as if a bomb had gone off within the confines of the small room. The narrow bed in the corner had been upended, a table and two chairs by the window smashed into kindling, and anything breakable was reduced to shards across the floor. Even the curtains had been shredded. But what perplexed the young demon hunter was that the windows themselves had not been shattered.
“Must have been a terrible fight,” was all the femme said as she stepped gingerly around the wreckage.
The boxer shook his head. “No sign of blood anywhere. She may have had a fit over being dumped by Teng Ningfu and decided to destroy the place.”
Ming Xue said nothing to this, carefully studying the devastation. She reached into a jacket pocket and pulled out a pipe. The detective narrowed his eyes at seeing this. The bowl was of a dark reddish wood that bore gold and silver glyphs inlaid into it as well as a slender bamboo stem that was curved. Setting this into the corner of her mouth the rodent femme took a deeper investigation into the room.
With careful steps the young rat woman studied the damage to the furnishings. Whoever this Cong Zhoma was, she wouldn’t have had the physical strength to break up this wooden furniture. Nor could she have tossed the bed. Still, the windows being intact only deepened the mystery. With a few murmured words that the boxer barely heard, Ming Xue drew softly on her pipe. Presently a curl of smoke arose from the bowl as she blew a thin stream of blue-gray smoke into the air.
“How the hell did you do that?” asked a perplexed Graeme Hargreave.
A grin of satisfaction graced the young femme’s dark face as she continued to look at the floor.
“Comes from being a demon hunter, detective.”
The boxer gave a puzzled look. “A demon hunter? What the hell’s that?”
Ming Xue didn’t answer, squatting for a better look at the floor. There was something odd about parts of the wooden surface. Taking the pipe from her mouth the rat femme leaned down till the side of her face nearly touched the floor. Then she stroked the worn wooden flooring.
“This is interesting,” Ming Xue said while staring intently at a spot on the floor.
His curiosity piqued, the canine detective got down on his hands and knees to look at the same place.
The smell of cigars on his breath tickled Ming Xue’s nose but she didn’t say anything as she pointed out a thin gouge in the wood. There was a slight curvature to the mark that was about a hand’s breath long. Then she indicated another gouge that was three finger’s width before it, and another and another . . .
The young rat woman turned her blacks eyes on the canine. “Look familiar?”
Detective Sergeant Hargreave turned his head this way and that, the black jowls of his muzzle flapping around his mouth, as he studied these strange marks that he had initially missed. He looked up into the smiling gray-brown face close to his.
“Vaguely, but I can’t say for sure where,” he drawled, not wanting to look like a complete fool to this upstart femme who had walked into his investigation.
“It’s the type of marking a snake makes across the ground.”
The boxer fixed his brown eyes on the femme. “A snake? You’ve got to be kidding me!”
Standing up, Sue set the pipe back into the corner of her mouth while brushing her hands together.
“Not in the least bit, sir,” she said around the bit. “I found vague impressions in the island sands yesterday when the priestesses took me there. Also, one of the Kami showed up in an agitated state.” Sue took a draw on her pipe and blew a thick stream of fragrant smoke into the air. “It kept saying that what had killed Teng Ningfu was ‘a fur, but not fur. A snake, but not snake’.”
Feeling that he was being left out, Hargreave lit up one of his cigars. He mulled over what this rat femme had said but it made no sense to his detective’s mind.
“Okay, I’ll bite. What was it trying to say?”
Giving the canine a sidelong glance Ming Xue said, “What we’re dealing with is a lamia.”
There was a pregnant pause as the detective thought over what was said. And it still made no sense.
“Okay, what the hell’s a lamia?”
Still looking at the destruction of the bedroom the young femme studied every square inch of the floor for something that might provide a clue.
“In mythology the lamia is a creature with the upper body of a fur or feather, while from the waist down it is a snake. A common being in Chinese and Indian tales.”
“Never heard of it!”
Ming Xue gave a sad shake of her head at this Occidental’s lack of education. “There might be some mention in European myths, but that’s not the point. Teng Ningfu was killed by one, using one of its favorite tricks.”
Cocking an eyebrow Hargreave asked, “And what’s that?”
“If the lamia has the element of surprise it will rear up on its tail and allow its weight and mass to crash down on its victim.
The canine detective nodded. It made sense from the pictures taken at the scene. “It did look like someone had hit him with a large pipe.”
The femme nodded, taking the pipe from her mouth. “A most modern day impression, no pun intended, detective. But the true question remains as to how this Cong Zhoma acquired this special ability to change into a lamia. Such a transformation requires great knowledge and skill. Or an artifact to assist in the transformation.”
Once more the two of them scoured the floor for clues. They looked under the ruins of the bed and among the shattered furniture but found nothing helpful. Standing up to relieve the kink in her back Ming Xue stood quietly puffing her pipe. There had to be something she and the detective had overlooked. Then it slowly dawned on her. There had been an absence of a family photograph! She turned to the boxer as he stood and dusted his hands.
“Detective Hargreave, do you have any description of this furson we’re looking for?”
Sparing the rat femme a glance the canine pulled a small notebook from the inside of his jacket. Thumbing through the worn pages he found the notations he needed.
“According to the other young people at Kami Island, and the staff at The Golden Pagoda, Cong Zhoma is from Siam. She has black fur and hair, with a white patch over the left eye.” He looked up, a puzzled expression on his black and brown countenance. “I never heard of a
Siamese that wasn’t a tawny color and had a black face and hands.”
Ming Xue nodded, popping out little puffs of smoke. “Only the upper class of citizens are like that; those with the pale lilac points are of the royal family. Having been in Siam myself two months ago I had seen those of the lower classes with the familiar triangular heads and long slender ears. What separates them from the ‘favored ones’ is their fur coloring.”
With a pencil Hargreave added the information to his notebook before tucking it away. “I guess there’s not much more to do here. I’ll have the landlady lock up so no one can mess with this scene.”
Once again the young rat femme nodded, taking the pipe out of her mouth and tapping the bit against an incisor. Somehow there was something missing here in this room that she couldn’t put her finger on. It wasn’t the family portrait, something to remind the missing woman of familial ties to the old country. Sue slowly scoured the room with her eyes, trying to think of what could be missing when a thought came to her.
“Did you find any luggage here?”
The detective looked up, blowing cigar smoke to the ceiling. “No, now that you mentioned it. There were none anywhere in this room.”
A slow smile graced the femme’s lips. “She knew that she couldn’t stay here after affecting the transformation into a lamia. It makes sense for her to leave to someplace else. Either she has a new flat to work out of, or Cong Zhoma has all her belongings in storage so as not to worry about them.”
Hargreave smiled in return. “You’d make a good detective with your way of thinking.”
“Comes from experience. But I’ll leave you to finish up here while I head back to Wu Hsing Yun’s apothecary, where I live and work at. Should you find anything else, please let me know.”
With that Ming Xue made her way out of the boarding house to the street below. Knocking the dottle from her pipe against a shoe she pocketed it before heading up the street. To the young femme the canine detective didn’t seem as difficult as she had expected. But this was their first meeting and cooperation had a way of changing when one least expect it. Still, he seemed to have welcomed her knowledge less known to the general public and didn’t quiz her about this ‘demon hunter’ business the boxer was dubious of. And that brought a broad grin to a gray-brown muzzle.