When Jealousy Rears Her Lovely Head
The Adventures of Wu Hsing Jade
© 2014 by Richard Messer
(1 hour later)
In a small conference room five figures were seated around a wooden table. Detective Sergeant Graeme Hargreave and Detective Inspector Trevor Hix sat on one side of the table. Ming Xue and a mouse stenographer were seated across from them. At the head of the table sat a middle-aged bulldog. This fellow looked haggard after learning what had happened a short while ago. And in deference to his request there was to be no smoking during this impromptu inquest.
Police Commissioner Charles Harland Stafford was still at a lost as to what had actually happened in Hix’ office. Despite the cluttered and jumbled hearsay from a dozen mouths who had, or had not, been there, the commissioner ordered those who had actually seen the event to seek medical help from the precinct physicians. Those who had not were reminded in no uncertain term to ‘button up their roaring cake holes’ and return to work under threat of immediate dismissal.
Wiping his wrinkled brow once more with a sodden kerchief, the senior canine officer stared briefly at the faces around the table before heaving a deep sigh.
“I won’t say that I understand the gist of what had happened in your office, Hix. However, the noise I heard all the way to my office, let alone the hubbub of the office staff afterwards, could not be ignored.”
The palomino could only nod in agreement. He glanced over at the Asian rat femme. Ming Xue’s attention was fixed on the commissioner. She was now calm after spending some time in getting horse and dog to overcome their fright of whatever it was that arose from that wooden box. Shaking his head he looked back to Stafford who was studying him. Swallowing quickly the equine launched into a hasty arranged thought.
“Well, sir, this all began about three days ago with the death of a young restaurant worker over on Kami Island. I had assigned Detective Sergeant Hargreave here to look into this apparent murder.”
“Murder? In what manner was this furson murdered?” Stafford asked, mopping his brow.
The boxer glanced up from where he was flexing his fingers. Not allowed to smoke was causing the canine to seek other means of keeping his hands busy. With a small shrug he began with recounting his findings on the island; his meeting with the priestesses who were sent to look into a disturbance among the kami; and his meeting with Ming Xue that led to her coming to the precinct and the major disturbance in Hix’ office.
“And how does all this have to do with a murdered furson?” Stafford’s wrinkled brow furrowed even further.
“Sir, all this revolves around a
femme by the name of Cong Zhoma. She is a member of a Siamese family
of demon worshippers who used an ancient artifact to exact her
revenge on Teng Ningfu and will most likely seek the life of this Hsu
Chuan who he had been seeing.”
All attention shifted to the rat femme who had just spoken. The canine commissioner acted as if he was seeing Ming Xue for the first time. The young Asian kept a level gaze on the older officer before continuing.
“I am Ming Xue and I’m a demon hunter from Shanghai, China. What Detective Hargreave and Inspector Hix have said is true. And whatever the photographer finds in the office should be the proof of what we are dealing with.”
The bulldog blinked. “A demon hunter?” He looked to his subordinates. “So all of this involves the kami and the priestesses of the island, as you have said. But now it calls into question a demon worshipper and a demon hunter?”
Boxer and palomino both nodded. Heaving a deep sigh once more Stafford was going to speak again when a knock at the door drew everyone’s attention in that direction. A nervous iguana was holding a large manila envelope, his eyes swiveling behind a pair of pince nez glasses.
“Ah, sir, I have that photo you requested?”
The commissioner frowned. “I didn’t call for a photograph.”
From the table arose the Asian femme who stepped up to the reptilian and held out a hand. The scaly head swiveled between her and the middle-aged canine seated at the head of the table. Stafford just nodded and the photographer handed the envelope to the femme. She bowed to him before opening the flap and taking the still damp sheet of paper out. Ming Xue studied it for a moment before giving a toothy grin. Then she passed it onto Hargreave. With Hix looking over his shoulder both gave wide-eyed stares at what they were seeing. Then the palomino handed it to his supervisor.
Making another swipe across his sweaty brow Charles Harland Stafford studied the picture for a moment before his jaw fell open and the sheet fell to the tabletop. In the photo was the far corner of Hix’ office with the desk at the forefront. But what stood out was the faint shadow spread across the walls and ceiling of a skeletal figure rearing up before the camera. Large claws were spread wide and an angular feline head thrust towards the ceiling. But what caught the viewer’s eye was the slender serpentine form that held the rest of the figure up!
* * * * * *
A taxi made its lazy way through China Town on Casino Island the next morning. The monkey driver was not the chatty kind which made the lone passenger thankful for this trip. Graeme Hargreave had been feeling a coldness in the pit of his stomach since yesterday after seeing that photograph. Police Commissioner Stafford had sat in his chair for five minutes, not speaking but simply staring at the photograph that rested on the tabletop. Ming Xue had quietly ushered the startled photographer out of the room and closed the door. From the other end of the table she stood, arms crossed, a knowing look on her gray-brown face as she stared at the confounded bulldog.
“Forgive me for requesting that photo, but evidence of an event needs to be recorded,” the femme said in a low even voice. “As I had been referred to as a demon hunter, this is my proof of an event that has occurred.” The rodent femme gave a slight bow before continuing.
“I am offering my services to the police force here in the Spontoon archipelago. Such events were common in Shanghai, and the police there knew when to call upon our services. And the priestesses here on the islands knew that this was beyond their capabilities to handle such a threat.”
The young rat femme glanced at everyone around the table; her gaze holding the attention of the mouse stenographer longer than the others. This femme’s ears burned slightly from the stare before she turned her attention back to her notepad.
“I am living and
working at Wu Hsing Yun’s apothecary on Casino Island,” stated
Ming Xue. “If I am needed for further services, I can be reached
there.” With that she bowed to all at the table, took up her
shoulder bag, and left the room.
Which is why the boxer detective was taking the taxi to that establishment that morning. As the car made the turn Hargreave saw the sign board over the front door of the two and a half story brick building. As the taxi stopped before the apothecary the big canine handed money to the driver then stepped out. When the vehicle pulled away the detective shrugged his jacket to try and straighten it out, pulled the brim of his battered fedora lower, and then mounted the three steps to the double doors.
The tinkle of bells over the door announced a customer. Three femmes behind the counter looked over to see a boxer in a rumpled brown suit walked in. Ming Xue blinked then smiled.
“Ah, Detective Hargreave, welcome to our humble shop.” She stepped out from behind the counter to stand and bow before the canine.
Feeling a bit embarrassed over this greeting he gave a weak smile as he pulled his hat off and offered a nod.
“Morning, Miss Ming. I know I should’ve called first, but Commissioner Stafford wanted me to get over here as soon as possible.”
Hargreave noted that this rat femme was dressed more as a Westerner now but had her hair drawn up into two buns wrapped in white silk handkerchiefs. But when he turned his attention to the others he felt his heart skip a beat. Two lepine femmes remained behind the counter; it was the taller and younger of the pair that made the boxer catch his breath.
She was as much West as she was East, a beautiful blend of a Eurasian. Her fur was a soft tawny color, her long braid of dark hair draped over her left shoulder. It was the green velvet patch over her left eye that left him a little uneasy. It was such a distraction on her lovely face. The other rabbit doe was shorter and older, though she didn’t show the usual signs of aging as in Western women.
“Forgive me, Detective Hargreave, for my lack of manners,” said Ming Xue, embarrassment coloring her large round ears. “May I introduce Wu Hsing Yun, the owner of this establishment and my employer.” The older femme bowed with a slight smile.
“And her niece, Wu Hsing Jade, also known as Jade Bannon.” The younger doe closed her good brown eye and bowed as well.
The canine reached into his jacket and removed a small leather wallet that he opened. It bore a card and a badge. “I am Detective Sergeant Graeme Hargreave of the Spontoon Island constabulary. I had been assigned to the murder case of Teng Ningfu. The priestesses of the islands were also called in as the kami on Kami Island were disturbed by this murder on their island.” He jerked his head towards the rat femme. “Miss Ming was also called in by the priestesses to help out. And her coming to the station yesterday proved to me, my supervisor, and the Police Commissioner himself, the seriousness of the problem that faces us.”
The older doe nodded. “Xue told us all about it at dinner yesterday evening. And it is well that she was there, from the point of view of this apparition appearing in your station to her dispatching it. Such manifestations I have witness in Siam when I was much younger.”
This caused the canine detective to blink in amazement. “You have seen this before?” It was in a hushed tone.
Wu Hsing Yun nodded once more as she stepped around the counter and made for the door to the kitchen.
“Our part of the world is far older than the oldest parts of Europe. Our stories are far older and much more colorful.” She opened the door and motioned for everyone to follow.
Once in the kitchen Graeme Hargreave noticed the odor of burned herbs underlying the usual smell of Chinese cooking. When he had seated himself the detective was surprised to see another odd looking pipe, with a black cigarette holder and a silver case lying by a brass ashtray in the center of the table. The elder Wu Hsing was busy making a pot of tea while the niece was gathering the cups and a plate of cookies to set on the table.
It was several minutes before everyone had gathered at the table, tea cups brimming and the cookies having been passed around. Wu Hsing Jade had taken a cigarette from the case and fitted it to the holder. Her Aunt Yun filled her pipe from the glass jar on the table and struck a match to the bowl. The detective watched the elder rabbit femme go through her ritual of filling and lighting. The odor of burning herbs told him about what these femmes smoked. Hargreave glanced at the younger doe, noting how she held her holder and blew smoke towards the ceiling. Only he and the young rat woman hadn’t joined it.
“Do you smoke, detective?” Wu Hsing Yun had asked the question around the brass bit of her kiseru.
“I do but feel that I shouldn’t in your place.” The canine reached into his jacket and pulled out a cheroot. That caused the two lepine femmes to wrinkle their button noses. But Ming Xue just gave a knowing smile. Hargreave gave a slight shake of his head and put the cigar away.
“Why I’m here is that Commissioner Stafford wanted another line of investigation started in regard to this incident yesterday in Hix’s office.” He turned his attention to Ming Xue. “One of the other items found in Cong Zhoma’s flat was a receipt that we suspect is the place she purchased that necklace from.”
“Do you have the name?” asked Wu Hsing Jade, knocking ash into the ashtray as she tilted her head back to blow smoke into the air.
With a nod the canine detective drew out a small notebook and opened it. After flipping through the pages he found what he was searching for.
“The place is called ‘Datchurio Emporium’, an import and export place, owned by one Jeneeni Datchurio. She is a third generation Spontooni whose family started with a rundown plantation on Main Island and turned it around into a successful cooperative with the locals.
“It seems she had a great aunt who started a small business of her own, selling locally made products to other islanders and visitors passing through the archipelagoes. From this humble beginning was born the emporium now run by Miss Datchurio.”
Putting away the notebook the canine detective looked at the femmes around the kitchen table.
“Have any one of you heard of or know of the business?”
Wu Hsing Yun reached over to the brass ashtray and knocked the dottle from the brass bowl of her pipe. “What you are looking for is about three blocks north of this place. A brisk walk will get you there in short order.”
Hargreave nodded at this. “Then I shall head that way.” He finished his tea and stood up, nodding to each in turn. “If you ladies will excuse me, and thank you for the tea.”
The rodent femme stood as well. “If you like, detective, I can take you there as I want to see what establishment would handle such dangerous artifacts.” Xue looked to her employer who simply nodded her agreement.
“Let me get my shoulder bag,” the young rat woman tossed over her shoulder as she left the kitchen.
The others stood and left as well. Once in the shop area the rabbit does went back to work behind the counter as the canine took time to look around the room at the glass jars and wooden bins holding the medicinal herbs. It was when he saw the sword and fans over the entrance that he stopped. The sword looked like one that a Japanese warrior would carry. It was the fans hanging to either side of the weapon that made him pause. They looked as old as the katana, but there was something sinister about the silver glyphs on black silk that left a finger of thrill running along his spine.
“Where did those come from?” Graeme Hargreave, pointing towards the items above the door.
Wu Hsing Jade smiled while looking over an order. Her one brown eye twinkled when she looked at the boxer. “Some ‘gifts’ we picked up in Siam about three months ago. Once belonged to a Japanese officer that we met there. Gave us some troubles while there, but we took care of it.”
“Oh, yes,” said Ming Xue as she reached the bottom of the stairs from the second floor. She walked up to the detective. “Not as bad as the ogre, though.” She smiled at that while making for the door. The boxer could only shake his head as the bell over the door announced their departure.