When Jealousy Rears Her Lovely Head
The Adventures of Wu Hsing Jade
© 2014 by Richard Messer
Wu Hsing Yun stared at Ming Xue with disbelief as the elder rabbit femme finished packing the bowl of her new pipe. Her eyes narrowed a little afterwards before striking a match and applying the flame to the herbal mixture.
It was after breakfast the following day when the femme trio of rat and rabbit were finishing their tea and having a smoke before going to work. Yun’s niece, Jade, had just fitted a cigarette to her black holder and leaned forward to get a light from her aunt. The young gray-brown-furred rat woman was just setting the lid on the tobacco jar and reaching for a match.
“That’s what all signs indicate from the damage in that flat. And what I found the day before at Kami Island reinforces my assumption that we’re dealing with a creature of mythology. How this Cong Zhoma was able to make this change is still a mystery.”
Refilling her cup Yun asked, “How can she accomplish this trick?”
Ming Xue waved the match out before breaking it in half and tossing the remains into the brass ashtray. Blowing a streamer of smoke towards the ceiling she replied, “Either one of two ways. She could be a gifted sorceress and used a summoning spell to call up the creature to do her bidding. Or have an item of great power that would let her become the lamia.”
The older lepine could only shake her head. “I never thought I would see the day when what was left in Siam would follow me here.”
Jade turned her good eye on her aunt. “How do you mean?”
Wu Hsing Yun sat quietly puffing her pipe before answering. “Such things would sometimes show up on your grandmother’s doorsteps, and your mother and I had to help in dealing with it.” Giving her niece a sidelong glance the older rabbit woman added, “Now all that has come home to roost.” She looked to Ming Xue. “Think you can handle this kind of danger?”
The dark-furred femme chuckled. “After dispatching an ogre in a wat in Siam and an imp in Grandmother Tang’s shop I believe I should be able to face a lamia on my own here on the islands.”
Picking up her cup Yun toasted the younger femme. “If Guan Yin wills it.”
The other two followed suit and all drained their cups. When the table was cleared and the dishes washed all headed into the apothecary and the start of a new business day. With all three working together the orders were quickly filled and new supplies stored away. It was about mid-morning and Ming Xue was bringing in a tray of cups and a fresh pot of tea that the telephone rang. Wu Hsing Jade picked up the black candlestick instrument.
“Good morning, Wu Hsing Apothecary!” She listened for a moment before looking to Sue. “It’s for you. Says his name is Graeme Hargreave and that he’s a detective with the police.”
After setting down the tray on the counter the rat femme took the phone from Jade.
“Yes, this is Ming Xue. What? They did? Was there anything else found in the flat? Yes, yes, I understand. I’ll try to be there before noon. Thank you for calling, bye.”
Hanging the receiver into the cradle the young rodent woman turned to the others.
“That was Detective Hargreave with the Main Island constabulary. He’s the one investigating the murder on Kami Island. He said that some items were found in Cong Zhoma’s flat and wants me to come look at them. Said they might help with his investigation.”
Pouring herself a cup of tea Yun took a sip before looking to Ming Xue.
“Will you be gone all day?”
The rat femme could only shrug. “I can not say, mistress. All that depends on what the detective has in mind.”
The older lepine woman nodded. As far as she knew Yun was the only one that Ming Xue still addressed as ‘mistress’. She also knew that the relationship between the younger woman and her niece had gotten closer since their return from Siam two months ago, as Sue no longer called Jade by that title. Still, the young rodent femme she had rescued five years ago was still respectful of her elders and mindful of the business being run.
“Should you have any problem in getting home then give us a call and let us know, please.”
Ming Xue bowed. “Yes, mistress.” So saying she left the shop and headed upstairs to change into her street clothing. Wu Hsing Yun shook her head slightly and allowed her long ears to dip a little.
“She’s no longer the skittish little thing anymore, Jade. She must have grown some while the two of you were away visiting your grandmother.”
Looking up from an order the younger tawny-furred doe glanced at her aunt.
“Yes, she has. I had feared the first couple of days in Bangkok over the rising anger within Sue at the treatment of our people there. But whenever a hand was raised against us Sue stood her ground and fought valiantly. And our journey to that palace with Grandmother Tang’s people finally broke her out of whatever shell she had been living in from Shanghai to now. I do believe she has, at last, reached her maturity.”
The elder rabbit woman gave a knowing smile before taking a sip of tea. She was about to respond to her niece’s observation when the subject of discussion was heard coming down the stairs. Ming Xue had exchanged her black jacket and trousers for a dark blue skirt and embroidered jacket of bright colors. She even drew the hair on the sides of her head up into a small bun on her crown and pierced it with a pair of long decorative wooden pins.
“I will call at noon to apprise you of my situation with the police. My hope is to be home after lunch, but all depends on the will of the gods.”
So saying Sue leaned over the counter and surprised Jade with a kiss. When she came to Wu Hsing Yun she paused and gave a bow. As her head came up a hand reached out to take hold of a rodent chin and draw the surprised face in to a bespectacled lepine’s quick kiss.
“I deserved a kiss, too,” was the amused statement from a smiling Yun. “Now be off with you, demon hunter.”
Bowing once more to hide the embarrassment reddening the inside of round rat ears Ming Xue left the shop. Turning to a startled niece the older lepine smiled over her pince-nez glasses as she started to take another sip of tea.
“Well, I am entitled to a kiss, am I not?”
* * * * * * *
It was her first time to Meeting Island since coming to the Spontoon Islands over five years ago. The conical island rose green and white from the blue-green of the bay; the gleaming government buildings clinging to the slope of the dead volcano with trees intermingled among the structures.
Ming Xue hadn’t waited long at the taxi station before being picked up. It was a quick trip to a water taxi pier along the north edge of Casino Island and taking the first boat available. On the way over she drew out her mystic pipe and began to smoke. Others in the boat glanced at her but didn’t say anything about a young Asian rat femme who could light a pipe without a match.
Stumped as to what the detective might have found in Cong’s flat, the young demon hunter didn’t try to speculate over it. Sue would wait until she was informed by the boxer and proceed from there.
The taxi curved around to the west side of Meeting Island, jockeying its way through other water taxis, small fishing boats, and a few pleasure craft. A large seaplane passed low overhead to touch down on the placid waters far to the east. At a taxi station the boat pulled in. The young rat woman allowed the others to depart before stepping off herself. Knocking the pipe clean Ming Xue set it back into her shoulder bag before setting off towards the large collection of colonial architecture farther up the hill.
After a block the young demon hunter asked a passing constable where the police station was located. When the canine had finished Sue thanked him with a bow before heading off in a new direction. At the end of the block she found a tall colonnaded structure that bore the sign ‘MEETING ISLAND POLICE HEADQUARTERS’.
A quick jog up the granite steps and through the double doors the rodent femme approached the watch desk and inquired of the squirrel sergeant the office of Detective Sergeant Hargreave.
“Up the stairs behind me, miss,” said the sergeant, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. “When you reach the next floor take a right and it will be the third door on your left.”
With a bow Ming Xue said, “Thank you so much, sir.” And with that the young femme was dashing up the marble stairway two at a time. The older rodent watched her departure then shook his red head. “Youth -- why is it wasted on someone so young?”
At the next floor Sue watched the uniformed and civilian fursons and feathers move by in their duties before stepping into the stream. Upon reaching the mentioned door she saw that it was open and made her way in. Immediately she was assailed by the rank odor of stale cigar smoke. The young femme paused to sneeze before heading for the desk and the boxer in shirt sleeves seated there. Despite the windows open and a breeze rustling the blinds a thin veil of smoke still lingered near the ceiling. Without being asked Ming Xue seated herself in the chair before the desk, took out her pipe and began filling the dark wood bowl as a means of self-defense.
Looking up from the paperwork spread across his desk Detective Sergeant Hargreave noted the rat femme seated before him.
“Glad you could make it, Miss Ming,” he said as he picked up a small square of paper from the rest and handed it to the rat woman.
Glancing at it Ming Xue realized it was a photograph. Within the staged setting were three figures: Two adult felines with a younger femme standing behind them, all in native dress. The picture appeared to have been crumpled then smoothed flat again, with a few tears along the edges. The demon hunter recognized the three as being Siamese from their facial structure and long tapering ears. But this family was from a lower social order as the markings in the black and white photo indicated. The father had a two color pattern that could be either black or grey and white while the mother looked to be of a tabby scheme. However, it was the daughter that caught Sue’s attention.
It was Cong Zhoma, and she was altogether black save for a large white patch over the left eye. And she bore the same stern intensity of gaze as her sire. And the more Xin Xue studied the picture the more she recognized certain aspects of father and daughter. She stood at his right shoulder, as far from her sad-eyed mother as if indicating she wanted nothing for do with her dam.
“Do you have a magnifier, sir?” Sue asked without taking her eyes from the photo. She heard a desk drawer scrape open and a slender handle thrust into her outstretched hand. Staring into the glass disk the rat femme looked closer at something in the picture that had caught her attention.
And there it was! Hanging from a heavy chain around his neck, the master of the Cong family wore a figurine, probably of cast gold, of a snake like nature against his quilted jacket. Adjusting the position of the magnifying lens Xin Xue could barely make out something different about that pendant than being just a snake. And what she saw made her sit up in disbelief!
A frown settled over the dark features of the detective. “Whadja find?” he asked, his curiosity piqued by the femme’s reaction.
Still somewhat shocked at her discovery, Sue said nothing but handed the picture and magnifier back to the canine. “Look at what the father is wearing around his neck.”
Somewhat puzzled the detective gazed through the looking glass at the photo in turn. After a moment he was about to say something when he paused and bent his head down for a better look.
“Looks like a snake or something,” he spoke to the desktop, “but I can’t get much detail out of this magnifier.” He looked up, lost in thought, before a smile stretched across his black muzzle. “But I know where we can find a better one.” With that he stood, straightened his tie, and proceeded out of his office with the picture in hand. The young rat woman leaped from her chair to catch up.
Quickly they skipped down the stairs past the main floor and to a lower level. Here Sue noticed that the people were more of the scientific type than clerical. Some wore long white lab coats and spoke in terms that baffled the demon hunter. At a door Hargreave stepped through. Sue could only follow.
In the large room were figures bent over microscopes, working at benches with a chemical nature about them, while others were taking measurements of items and jotting them down on notepads. The detective tapped an iguana on the shoulder and spoke briefly with it. The reptile pointed to a desk in the far corner. Soon the canine and rodent were seated at the desk and using a large lighted magnifier on a swivel arm. Holding the picture in one hand Hargreave switched on the light and manipulated the large glass to get a better look at the photograph. After a minute he was able to align both items for a clear view. It was then that he swore softly under his breath. Disbelief settled over his face as he handed both magnifier and picture to the curious young rat woman.
Taking time as the canine officer had, Sue concentrated on the pendant resting on the elder feline’s chest. This time it was her turn to swear, only in Cantonese. She had surmised that the configuration of the pendant had been generally serpentine, but on closer inspection it only confirmed her suspicion and fears. The lower half of the gold device was a snake. But the upper half was a mixture of feline with reptilian features!
Dropping the photograph on the desk the demon hunter sat back and closed her eyes. Her suspicions were correct: They were dealing with a lamia! And what was worse was the fact that Cong Zhoma and her family were demon-worshippers, and the father was the priest!
“Our problem is greater than we expected, Detective Hargreave. This picture only corroborates my suspicions and fears.”
Feeling a bit puzzled the canine asked the femme what this was about. And she told him in short and concise terms after opening her eyes, eyes that were filled with the fear that roiled in her stomach.
“Demon-worshippers? Listen, young lady, you’re starting to sound like a dime store pulp fiction story. In this day and age? Are you sure about this?”
The boxer tried to sound flippant to allay the uncomfortable feeling that was playing an icy finger along his spine. But the look this young Asian femme was giving him only heighten his own fears.
Glancing at the floor Hargreave tried to clear his mind to speak. But after a couple of failed attempts he looked up at Xin Xue. There was no doubt in her mind that they were facing something that was at best left unspoken to the general public and required subtlety and forehand knowledge shared with those she believed she could rely on.
After a minute of uncomfortable silence in an otherwise busy lab, Graeme Hargreave spoke low enough for only Xin Xue to hear.
“I’ll speak with my supervisor about putting out a notice to the other departments to keep an eye out for this Cong Zhoma and have a description of her passed along as well. In the meantime, you can talk to Sari Aha and Missy Pohovic about what we have discovered here. Maybe they can somehow track this person their own way, you know, and get the word out to the other priestesses on the islands here to watch for her.”
Sue could only nod. Oh, how she wished Master Tang was here now! He would know what to do! But he’s been dead and gone close to six years, and there was no one else to turn to, except maybe Wu Hsing Jade. But the realization of this was starting to leave a taste of ashes in her mouth. As she had told Wu Hsing Yun, the young rat femme had faced an ogre in the jungles of Siam. And such creatures were slow-witted and could be defeated through courage and perseverance. But to face a lamia, and beat it, was something entirely different. What was that phrase she once heard? ‘A horse of a different color’? But a horse doesn’t have the bag of tricks a lamia could use to destroy its enemies. The only horses she knew of at the moment were the priestesses that got her into this mess. Gods, why did she put on such a brave face before Wu Hsing Yun earlier?
With a sigh Xin Xue offered the detective a weak smile. “I’ll go talk with the ladies and see what can be done about spreading the word on this feline.”