When Jealousy Rears Her Lovely Head
The Adventures of Wu Hsing Jade
© 2014 by Richard Messer
The stone patio behind the police headquarters was sun-dappled and filled with tables and chairs for the constables, department heads, and other employees. Few were in evident at this time of day which is why the pair in the far corner wanted this privacy.
Detective Sergeant Graeme Hargreave was nursing a cup of coffee and a cigar. The Asian rodent femme in the colorful quilted jacket held a cup of tea in one hand and her pipe in the other. They had been sitting is silence for about ten minutes, lost in their own thoughts concerning what was found in the photograph.
Xin Xue was pretty much over her fright, but still felt a coldness in the pit of her belly. She took a sip of the tea before setting the bit of the pipe back into her mouth. The figures in the photograph and what they were, now changed everything that involved a lamia. She had thought that this Cong Zhoma was a straightforward lamia disguising itself as a furry, maybe wanting Teng Ningfu as an anchor in this world in order to exist. Now the rodent femme was facing a family of demon worshippers. But that still left unanswered why or how this young Siamese femme got ahold of that necklace that her father wore.
“Whatta we do now?” the boxer detective asked as he knocked ash into the ashtray between them.
The young rat woman blew smoke into the air and shrugged. “Your part in this tragedy is to find Teng’s girlfriend and find out if Cong Zhoma has made any attack against her. If not, then provide some protection, if possible, from any future attacks.”
Hargreave shook his head, his black jowls flapping. “Won’t be easy. Need the lieutenant’s approval for any police protection for this case.”
Knocking the dottle into the ashtray, Xin Xue pocketed her pipe and drained her cup before standing.
“Then there’s no time like the present, as I’ve often heard said."
She was heading for the door when the canine detective finished his coffee in a hurry and stubbed out the remains of his cigar. Inside the pair mounted the stairs and turned right at the head. But this time they walked further than the detective’s office until they reached a door labeled as DETECTIVE INSPECTOR TREVOR HIX. Inside a middle-aged palomino was getting water from a carboy dispenser when the pair walked in. The young femme paused to sniff the air and was pleased to find it aromatic with pipe tobacco.
“Graeme, what’s up?” the DI said as he sipped his water. “And who’s the young lady?”
“Skipper, this is Miss Ming Xue. She was recommended by Missy Pohovic as outside help on this Teng Ningfu case.”
The equine officer cocked an eyebrow. He crushed the paper cup before dropping it into the waste can as he headed back to his chair. Hix’s blue eyes settled on the rat femme in the colorful jacket. “And how can you help us?”
Sue stepped up to the desk and bowed. She noted the briar pipe, ashtray, and glass humidor set to one side of the desk. She smiled.
“I am, sir, a demon hunter.”
The palomino gave a short horse laugh. “A demon hunter? By god, Graeme, are you back on the sauce?”
Taking a chair before the desk the middle-aged boxer gave a deep sigh. “No, Skipper, I’m not. And that is no way to treat the offer of help from the priestesses. You threw this damn case on my lap and said solve it. Well, I’m solving it with what’s available.”
Hix sat up and leaned his bare arms on the desk. He was about to say something when he noticed his visitor was filling the bowl of a dark pipe set with silver Chinese inlays. Watching her careful preparation the Detective Inspector saw the dark furred femme mutter something under her breath when a curl of smoke arose from the pipe. She smiled as she set the bit into her muzzle and drew on it.
“How the hell did you do that?” came the whispered question from the palomino.
Seating herself in the other chair, Ming Xue blew smoke into the air before answering. “A simple cantrip, sir, made with these ideograms.” She pointed to the inlays. “By saying it forward, it lights the mixture in the bowl. But when you say it backwards, the fire goes out.’ So saying, the young rodent woman continued to puff.
Canine and equine stared at each other for a moment before Hix settled back in his chair, reaching for his own pipe. Hargreave countered with one of his cheroots. When everyone was smoking Hix settled back into his chair.
“Okay, Graeme, what’s the busy of bringing in a ‘demon hunter’?”
Tapping ash into the ash tray the boxer detective quickly gathered his thoughts. “Well, Skipper, it’s like this. When I went out to Kami Island yesterday I was met by one of the priestesses from Main Island, going by the name of Sari Aha. She told me that she had a dream that dealt with this murder because the Kami were up in arms over it happening on their island. When my people couldn’t come up with anything, I had the priestess looked into it. The message she got from the spirits involved something that was a fur and not a fur, as well as being a snake but not a snake.”
The palomino lieutenant leaned forward once more, his pipe dangling from the corner of his mouth.
“Sounds like something out of a myth, sergeant,” her said while trying to keep the humor out of his voice.
“It’s no myth, sir,” said Ming Xue, blowing smoke into the already thick atmosphere. “What this creature is is a lamia.”
“A lamia, huh?” The lieutenant leaned back into his chair, taking the pipe from his mouth and tapping the bit against his large incisors. He looked at the femme. “I seem to vaguely recall something about that from my college days. Mythology was never my strong suit, but I do recall this creature being half snake and half furry.”
The dark haired Asian rat femme nodded in agreement. “That is correct, sir. And a very dangerous beast it is, as well. I never met one when living in Shanghai, but Master Tang, my teacher, taught me that they were never to be treated lightly. He said should I ever encounter one that I’m to leave it alone until I can summon extra help in fighting it.”
Blue eyes narrowed as the equine officer regarded his visitor. “In Shanghai, eh? When were you living there?”
Sue didn’t respond for a moment, then taking the pipe from her lips she answered, “I was born on the streets there, sir, and was taken in by a Tao master at seven years of age. He raised me as his own daughter in his apothecary, and taught me how to fight the demons and monsters in the shadows and up from the sea. I only came to the islands five years ago to escape the gangs in the streets.”
The equine officer didn’t answer, digesting this new information as he studied his visitor. There wasn’t much to this rodent femme sitting across from him. She looked like she could easily break in two in a fight, or run away. But there was determination, and resolve, bright in her dark eyes as she calmly puffed her pipe. And that trick of lighting the pipe without match or lighter hinted at some hidden power she possessed. With a quiet nod Trevor Hix made a decision that he felt was correct with the current circumstance.
Blowing smoke rings towards the ceiling the detective inspector pulled out pencil and paper from a desk drawer and began making notes while asking key questions of his visitors. When he was finished he casually tossed the pencil on the desk and leaned back into his swivel chair.
“You said there was a photograph that was found at the flat, Graeme?”
The boxer detective nodded. “Yes, sir, among the remains of the bed. Along with a couple of other items.”
That brought Ming Xue sitting up straight in her chair, her attention on the canine now.
“That was correct in your telephone message to me earlier. You had shown the photograph but not the other items found.”
Hargreave blinked at her then swore softly under his breath. “Dammit, that’s right, I did.” He turned to his superior. “Excuse me a moment, Skipper, while I run back to my office to get ‘em!”
When the middle-aged canine left the office the equine turned his attention back to his visitor.
“So tell me, what is involved in this demon hunting?” He had settled back into his chair again, elbows on armrests as he steepled his fingers before his face.
Taking the pipe from her lips Sue blew smoke rings through smoke rings before answering.
“A considerable amount of time and effort expended in learning the types of demons, their nature, and how to deal with them. Some can be made to vanish with a brief spell, while others require a far greater amount of effort and energy to vanquish them. When I was in Siam two months ago I faced an ogre and had some difficulty in overcoming it. But I finally defeated it though at great cost to my health and well-being.”
Hix could only nod, his blond mane shaking across his shoulders. He was ready to dismiss it all as being pure fantasy. But the demeanor of this young rat woman, and the conviction in her voice, made the inspector pause in his thoughts as he reconsidered the possibility of a grain of truth was secreted in her tale. At that moment Hargreave returned, pausing at the desk to drop off a couple of items he held. One was the photograph that Hix picked up and studied. Another was what appeared to be a carbon copy of a sales receipt. But the last item caught the rat femme’s attention, as well as setting off alarms within her soul.
It was made of a dark red wood, like aged blood, the size of her forearm and covered with intricate carvings. And in the center of the lid was inlaid a narrow bronze plate. Ming Xue’s blood turned to ice water in her veins as she stared at this loathsome object. From numb fingers a forgotten pipe fell to the floor, ashes and embers spilling to the stone tiles.
Equine and canine detectives could only stare in disbelief at the young rat woman who sat stiffly in her chair, mouth hanging slack and eyes bulging in fear. The two officers glanced to each other.
“Ah, any idea?” the palomino asked.
The boxer could only shake his head, not taking his eyes off of their visitor. Then Hell erupted from the desk. From what the two detectives reported later, a figure that they best could describe as “being assembled from fractured smoke” arose from the bronze plate to survey the room. It was vaguely of a slender sinuous length uncoiling into the air, ending with thin arms and sharp claws as a sharply defined feline head swiveled to study the room’s other occupants.
Hix pushed his chair as far from this thing as possible. Blue eyes threaten to leap from the horse’s skull while beige fingers locked on the armrests in a death-grip. Graeme Hargreave cowered at the end of the desk. The ghostly figure ignored them, turning its attention to the frightened Asian rat femme in the colorful jacket. It leaned forward and issued a scream like sheet metal being torn in half. But it was enough to elicit action from Ming Xue.
The cry seemed to galvanize the young demon hunter. With a cry in a tongue other than Chinese Ming Xue leaped to her sandaled feet. The motion startled the smoky serpentine figure such that it reared back. And it was enough of a delay that Sue needed.
Kicking back her chair, the rodent dipped her right hand into her shoulder-bag, while whipping it off her shoulder with her left. Instantly two fans with steel-tipped ribs were snapped open in her hands and the young Asian began a rapid dance with the fans weaving a quick barrier before her, all the while a chant in an unknown language issued from her twisting lips.
A shield of silvery-white light materialized before the femme, intensifying in brilliance that caused all the others within the office to lean back from it. Then the fans were slammed together! A thunder clap rattled the objects on the desk and picture frames on the walls!
The light became a wave that washed over the ghost lamia, causing it to melt away with a piercing shriek. Horse and boxer slammed hands over their ears to block out the sound. An unearthly silence fell on the room. Trevor Hix drew in great draft of air where he sat paralyzed in his swivel chair. Graeme Hargreave still crouched by the desk, black jowls quivering as his dark brown eyes swept the room for any sign of the apparition. A soft scuff at the door caused the rat woman to spin on her toes, fans at the ready. There came a squeak of fear and several muffled curses as whoever had been peering in dashed out of sight.
Ming Xue straightened from her crouch, breathing deeply as she realized it was just the office staff looking in. Quietly folding her fans, the young demon hunter tucked them back into the bag. Grabbing her chair, she dragged it over by the desk, where she aided a much shaken boxer detective into it. Then reaching up to her head, Ming Xue pulled the decorative chopsticks from her hair, allowing the dark mass to fall about her gray-brown face to below her shoulders. Glancing down she spied her pipe. Reaching down Sue picked it up, then carefully knocked what remained of the contents into the ashtray on the desk. She pocketed the pipe as she stepped across the room to grab another chair and brought it over to the desk. Ming Xue glanced at the door again.
Several faces peered around the jamb as the owners tried to comprehend what had just happened. The rat femme noted a mouse femme clutching a sheaf of papers tightly to her breasts.
“Would you be so kind as to have a pot of tea and three cups brought to the office please?” Ming Xue added what she thought was a sweet smile to the request. The young femme merely nodded then dashed away.
The Asian looked to the two males as they tried to make sense of what had just happened moments ago. Their bodies shook with the tension draining away, leaving both to sag in on themselves. Ming Xue was about to sit down in the remaining seat when a thought came to mind. She stepped over to the jittery boxer, took his head in her arms, and stroked it while muttering in soft Cantonese. It seemed to have some effect as Hargreave became calm and his breathing grew steady. She did the same for the palomino. When both had been calmed the rat femme was returning to her chair when she slipped a hand into the detective’s jacket. From the inner pocket Ming Xue softly extracted one of his cheroots. She studied it while seating herself. It was longer than her middle finger and big around as her thumb; straight sided with both ends square cut. While holding it to her lips the demon hunter muttered some words around it. There was a brief flare of fire that caused the outer end to glow and the rat femme drew softly on her first cigar. The smoke was harsh compared to the herbal mixture she was used to in her pipe, but it didn’t have that bad of a flavor. Ming Xue blew the smoke into the air when she noticed the two detectives watching in dumb silence. She smiled to them.
“A victory smoke,” was all Sue said as she drew deeper on the cigar.