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|By Alan Jack Halverson||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
|More from Alan Jack Halverson||Mystery||PG-13||Here||No update page|
|A Trip to the Country|
May 11, 2016
The train platform was atrociously noisy as various vendors attempted to sell their wares and rich obnoxious passengers complained about the appalling service and the general bustle of everyone else filled the area with shouts and the clatter of luggage carts. Not to mention the noise emanating from the train itself as it sat idling on the tracks awaiting boarding. Li was waiting by a news stand while Qing Ru got their luggage checked and brought back the luggage tickets. As he stood, he decided to buy a newspaper to distract himself from the noise on the platform. He opened the paper to the front page and began to read through the articles of the morning. As he scanned through them, his eye caught a headline the piqued his interest.
"Prisoners Escape High Security Prisons, Avatar in Danger," he read aloud to himself. "Now that's a far better use of my time than riding a train to the country for a weekend with a cousin whom I barely know," he said to himself as he read through the article.
"Okay Li," Qing Ru shouted over the din as he approached his friend and handed him his luggage ticket. "Here's your luggage ticket and I just spoke with one of the conductors, he said they should be ready to board any minute now."
Li turned to him and spoke, "You know Qing Ru, I've decided I'm not going."
"Not going?" Qing Ru asked. "But I've just checked in your luggage."
"I know but I've decided that my time would be far better spent tracking down these criminals who just broke out of their prisons," he replied as he showed Qing Ru the article he had found. "Besides, I can do without the luggage I packed for a little while, I'll just wait for you and the train to arrive and then have you bring it back."
Qing Ru frowned, "Li, I'm your friend, business associate, and until recently roommate. I am not your pack animal and I will not retrieve your luggage for you so either you go or you forfeit your luggage. Besides, I'm certain the Avatar is in less danger than the article makes her out to be and you promised your cousin you'd accept her invitation if only to 'dissuade me from taking the opportunity to join high society,' your words to me exactly."
"Fine," Li relented as he looked up from his newspaper which he had resumed reading. "I'll come, but this means you have to follow me on my next case."
"This isn't a negotiation Li," Qing Ru began before being cut off by the calls of the numerous porters to board the train.
"Looks like we're up," Li said as he folded up his paper, grabbed his carryon, and strode up the platform to their car.
Qing Ru followed Li up the steps of their car and into their cabin where they stored their carryon bags above their seats. Although they took seats opposite each other in order for them to face each other, Li had no interest in conversing and merely unfolded his paper and began reading again.
Qing Ru decided to make an effort to get Li to converse. "So tell me about your cousin then, what's she like?"
"I thought I already told you," Li replied not looking up from his paper.
"No actually, ever since you got the invitation all you've done is grumbled and groaned, you've barely said anything intelligible."
"Well then," Li began, "I guess I had better give you the full description." He folded his paper again as more people streamed in through the doors. "She's basically a wealthy spoiled brat who really could care less for her relations outside of their utility in making her look good in public and fluffing up her reputation. She's extremely paranoid and can't seem to trust anybody."
"But I thought you said earlier that she was married," Qing Ru began. "Doesn't that mean that she has to trust him a little bit?"
"No, all her marriages have ended prematurely, her first two she divorced and her last three have all died in various accidents. Whenever she talks about them she says that they died because they were incompetent and couldn't be trusted with the simple tasks they were attempting at the times of their deaths. She looks on all of them with extreme distaste. Even her household employees have short lived employment as she often accuses them of attempting to steal this or that. On occasion I'll drop by just for a day or two to investigate her accusation and I invariably come to the conclusion that she's just being paranoid. The only exception to this is her butler Zhao who has been employed there since I was a child."
Although Li tried his best to hide his distaste for his cousin as he spoke, Qing Ru could tell that something lingered beneath his apparently blank visage. "Is there something that happened between you two that I should know about?" Qing Ru asked.
"What didn't happen?" Li mumbled to himself.
"Sorry, I didn't catch that," Qing Ru replied.
"It's none of your concern is what I said," Li said tersely as he unfolded his paper again and began reading leaving Qing Ru to sit silent as the last of the passengers boarded and the train lurched forward.
Li and Qing Ru were greeted at the train station by Li's cousin's chauffeur. Li and Qing Ru placed their baggage in the trunk of the vehicle that had been sent to them and seated themselves in the passenger cab. It was a relatively new Satomobile and showed little to no sign of wear and appeared as if it was cleaned daily or at the very least weekly. The vehicle started forward and drove through the small village in which the train station was located. They drove up a hill a ways before a large house could be seen in the distance. It possessed many of the classic characteristics of Fire Nation architecture such as the slanted rooftops which emulated those of pagodas and the red, black, and orange decor. But the mansion also possessed a more modern style that could be seen in the large marble pillars propping up the canopy over the wide front steps and driveway. The window design also resembled those of Republic City more than those of the old Fire Nation. The courtyard was also located in front of the house rather than shielded by its walls and grew grasses, trees, bushes, and flowers native to the Earth Kingdom rather than the traditional pond, flora, and fauna seen in Fire Nation homes.
As they pulled in under the canopy in front of the house, Qing Ru noticed a man coming to greet them. He was tall and wizened but still in good health. His hair was grey and he stood straight as a sword and carried himself with an air of dignity from an era long gone. He wore the traditional clothing of a Fire Nation footman who worked for the upper aristocracy. Li and Qing Ru stepped out of the car and began to remove their baggage from the trunk when the man finally met them and introduced himself.
"Good afternoon, I am Zhao, the mistress's butler, if you come with me I can show you to your rooms, I can also have the servants take your baggage if you like."
"No thank you," Li replied, "I can handle my own things."
Qing Ru, on the other hand, handed over his baggage to the servants. The Satomobile drove away slowly as the group walked up the steps to the large front doors of the now even more intimidating mansion.
Upon entering, Qing Ru was overwhelmed by the sheer spaciousness of the tile floored vestibule which featured a grand staircase leading to a foyer which was attached to two other staircases that led to the top floors. To either side of the vestibule was a long hallway which presumably led to rooms of untold purposes and with untold contents. The walls bore traditional Fire Nation paintings depicting the ancestors who previously owned the house as well as important events in Fire Nation history. Although there were aspects of traditional Fire Nation décor and architecture, there were also many differences on the inside. For instance, the tile on the floor was white marble as were the stairs in the grand staircase. The ceiling was held up by polished granite pillars and although traditional lamp emplacements were visible, it was obvious they had been replaced with electric lights.
Qing Ru and Li followed Zhao up the staircase and to their rooms on the upper floor. Once in their rooms Zhao spoke to Li and Qing Ru, "The mistress will meet you in the library in one hour." Zhao then left to return to his other duties.
Li and Qing Ru had adjoining rooms and so could speak to each other as they unpacked their things. "Li," Qing Ru began, "I'm afraid I don't know where the library is."
"I can show you when we go down, you can just follow me," Li replied.
"How do you know this house so well?" Qing Ru asked.
"I've been here several times before remember. My cousin has the paranoia issues and frequently asks me to come investigate this or that."
"How does she afford such a big house and all this staff all the time?"
"She has an inheritance and all her husbands have had good jobs and the ones that died had insurance policies as well as wills favorable to her."
"Seems a bit coincidental that she should get all that from her dead husbands."
Li didn't respond, he had gone off into the bathroom attached to his room and closed the door. Noticing this, Qing Ru chose to inspect his and discovered that the bathroom had indoor plumbing. This was unexpected considering the house was so far from the village and Qing Ru wondered where the wastewater went but he didn't have much time to think about it as Li came into his room and beckoned for him to follow him to the library.
Qing Ru followed Li down the stairs and down the main hallway and into the library. The library was tall and spacious and all the walls were lined with scrolls, most of which had obviously not been touched for a very long time. In the right-hand corner in the back of the room rested a massive globe depicting the four nations and in the left corner there was a map of the Republic. In the center were four massive armchairs and a sofa each with their own end table all surrounding a larger table. On the center table was a doily on top of which was a vase which at the moment was empty. To the right of the vase was a bowl of lychees and a carafe of water on a tray with four squat glasses. Qing Ru sat down while Li began perusing the library. Li found a scroll that interested him and sat down with it and began reading. They spent the next several minutes in silence waiting for their host to arrive.
Eventually, a tall slender woman in her late thirties entered the room. "I see you've made yourself at home Li, as usual," she said petulantly.
"And I see you're in a dour mood as usual Aimi," Li replied not looking up from the scroll he was reading.
Li's cousin gave no reply but simply turned to Qing Ru and smiled. Qing Ru could tell it was artificial and there was something unusual about her manner in general that put him off. "And you must be Qing Ru," she said, "Li's told me so much about you."
"Actually," Li interjected, "I haven't. She just likes to make herself appear personable, the reality is that she's much less personable than I am if you can imagine that."
"Be quiet Li! I didn't invite you here to vilify me in front of your friend-"
"Then you might as well throw me out now because I really don't want to be here," Li interrupted as he rose and rolled up the scroll he was reading. "There are only two reasons I came, the first was that you pleaded so much to have me come and the second was that my friend mistakenly believed it would benefit him to meet you."
Aimi strode toward Li who had now returned the scroll to its shelf of origin. "You see Li, this is always your problem, you just think you're so much better than everybody else just because you can solve a crime or two and you pulled yourself out of poverty by 'your own ability'. Well you know what, everything you've achieved you've achieved on the backs of others, you got out of poverty because others had to be trampled under your boots."
"Says the woman who violated her family's trust and took their house from them."
Aimi was silenced and trembling with anger.
"That's right, cousin, why don't you tell Qing Ru about how you, as a mere ten year old, engineered a takeover of the estate and family business by manipulating your parents into manipulating my all too trusting father. Now the real question comes, 'Who's the real monster?'."
In a very short period of time, the room had become so tense and silent that you could have heard a pin drop and at the moment it did, the whole room could have burst into such violent conflict that it could cave in. Li and his cousin glared at one another while Qing Ru simply sat petrified, staring at the spectacle before him.
Suddenly another man entered, "Hello Aimi, I've been looking for you." He then noticed Li and Qing Ru, "Oh, and who might you two be?" he asked.
"Damasu, this is my cousin Li, and his associate Qing Ru," Aimi said, quickly concealing her anger from moments before behind an insincere smile. "Qing Ru, Li, this is my husband Damasu."
Qing Ru shook Damasu's hand as he greeted him, "Nice to meet you."
"So, Aimi, Mrs. Wei said that dinner was about ready and so we could all sit down in the dining room while we wait for our other guests."
"Certainly darling," Aimi replied as she turned to her husband. "Come, I'll show you to the dining room."
Li and Qing Ru followed Aimi and Damasu to the dining room in near silence. Qing Ru leaned over to Li and whispered, "So I take it there's some bad history between you two."
"We can discuss it later," Li replied.
They turned left and entered the dining room. The table had already been set but none of the dishes were out yet. The glasses were filled with water and a bottle of sake sat at the far end of the long table. The table itself was made from oak as were the chairs of which there were ten. A crystal chandelier hung above the table and it had been refitted with electric lights.
The four of them sat near the far end with Aimi at the head of the table. They all sat and made conversation for a time with the exception of Li who sat silent and apart from the gaily conversing group. When he couldn't stand it anymore, Li rose and excused himself to go to the bathroom. He went back upstairs but instead of returning to his room so he could use the bathroom, he kept walking down the long hallway. Something of interest had caught his eye. There was a small table with a vase of fire-lilies. Under the tabletop was a small drawer that was slightly ajar. Once he reached it, Li further opened it and saw what he had suspected to be in there. A small black book that exactly matched the one he had removed from Kagaku's deceased business partner months before. He did not know why he had suspected there to be another book in that drawer, he could only chalk it up to intuition.
"Fool!" he scolded himself. He resented those who relied upon intuition, accidents, and gut feelings to make their lives and their successes. Li liked to think that everything he did was done rationally, intentionally, and with purpose. He seldom allowed himself to think and act on things such as intuition and when he did he scolded himself immediately afterwards.
Li suddenly heard the front doors open and the butler greet what sounded like two other people being allowed in. "They must be the other two guests," Li said to himself. He could hear them talking loudly and their voices echoed through the house. One sounded like a man, his deep voice booming every time he spoke. The other sounded like a woman, shrill and artificially gay. Neither enunciated well and their accent reflected that of the upper ring of Ba Sing Se, snooty, pompous, and annoying. Their speech patterns clearly revealed their unearned superiority complexes. No doubt the result of an aristocratic background.
Li decided he had better return to the dining room as dinner would undoubtedly start now that the remaining guests had arrived. Li made his way back downstairs and was right in front of the door to the dining room when the two new arrivals, still chatting loudly and complaining or commenting on this or that, cut in front of him without even noticing him. Li contained his annoyance and followed them in.
"Yin!" Aimi exclaimed as she rose to greet her friend.
Li quietly seated himself at the table as he and Qing Ru observed the ensuing chaos of chatting and exclaiming about this thing or that. Fortunately, it settled down in a few minutes and Aimi introduced Li and Qing Ru. Shortly thereafter, the butler and cook brought the dinner in and the six of them sat down to eat.
"So how have things been in Ba Sing Se?" Aimi asked Yin and her husband who was apparently named Jun.
Li didn't pay too much attention to the answer he simply took more mental notes of who the new guests were. His earlier assumptions about their home were confirmed by their way of interacting with Li and Qing Ru who they obviously perceived as inferior. He noticed that they behaved similarly toward Damasu who upon further analysis also presented himself as a "commoner" who had made his own way. He behaved very modestly and was quite polite but had an air of pride about him that suggested great achievement. Yin, Li noticed, was a little chubby and quite short while her husband was unusually tall and thin. Jun was clearly submissive to Yin. Neither of them had the same manners as Damasu and appeared to have the same amount of pride as Damasu but it was obviously a façade that they had erected to hide something. Not a dark secret, Li decided that they were the kind of people who would be destroyed by such a secret in very short order. They appeared to be hiding that they had nothing to be proud of. "A sad but unavoidable conclusion," thought Li.
He was suddenly brought back to the conversation by the voice of Yin explaining the hints of rebellion in the Earth Kingdom.
"Of course those rabble rousers are just causing us problems," Li caught Yin saying. "If those disgusting, indigent, commoners would stop being lazy and do their duty for the Earth Queen instead of rioting and robbing her they wouldn't have so many problems."
Li knew what was coming next.
Qing Ru spoke up, "Oh, and I suppose you earned all your wealth, and you did your duty to the Earth Queen."
"Well, well, well – " Yin stuttered.
"I used to be one of those disgusting commoners and let me tell you about the duty I did to the Earth Queen. I helped my village raise their crop yields, I kept them well, and still she raised taxes on us, and when we had enough she murdered everyone but me and then threw me in one of her Ba Sing Se prisons for three years. Tell me Yin, have you done your duty to your sovereign?"
Li sat silently and smiled to himself.
"I understand that you have had a hard life," Jun began, "but that doesn't justify rioting and robbing from the Kingdom."
"Robbing from the Kingdom?" Qing Ru asked incredulously, "Who do you think the 'Kingdom' robbed to begin with? It's called theft or extortion when it's in the 'private sector' and taxes in the public. Those 'disgusting commoners' have every right to riot against the Queen and to take back what she and her ancestors took from them, this isn't insurgence, it's justice and you'd either have to be blind or an idiot to not see that."
The whole dining room sat silent for a few awkward moments. Qing Ru's face was hard and angry, Li was quite obviously amused, Aimi sat terrified of what might happen next while Yin and her husband sat flabbergasted at the impudence of Li's companion. Damasu, appeared to be as amused as Li.
"Well," Aimi began timidly, "I suppose we should all go freshen up while we wait for dessert."
"I think you're right," Yin replied as she and her husband rose from the table.
Qing Ru left and went upstairs to his room while Damasu went to the library. Li attempted to follow Qing Ru but his cousin stopped him.
"I know you thought that was incredibly funny Li but next time control your friends," Aimi scolded.
Li's face became mockingly quizzical and then returned to his usual stoic visage as he replied, "I can't Aimi, because unlike you, I don't pretend to be able to legitimately force my 'friends' to do what I want them to." He turned away and started back up the stairs to meet Qing Ru.
"Don't you dare make me the bad guy here Li!" Aimi called after him.
"I don't have to," Li replied coolly. "You've already done that, a long time ago."
Li found Qing Ru in his room sulking.
"You shouldn't sulk Qing Ru," Li told him. "You just won a victory over stupidity."
Qing Ru didn't reply so Li just left and returned to his room where he used the bathroom. As he was washing his hands, he could hear Aimi and Damasu shouting at one another through the wall.
"Who is she?" Aimi shouted.
"Who is who?"
"You know, with your silly little code and your silly little book, you're behaving like a child!"
"Aimi, if anyone's being childish, it's you, that black book is not related to any affair."
"Lie all you want Damasu! But you're not fooling me! I know what you're up to and you'll pay!" Li heard something solid hit the ground as if it had been thrown and then he heard the door slam. Li poked his head out his door as Damasu opened the door and looked after his wife who had stormed back downstairs. Li noticed that he had the black book from the drawer his hand.
Suddenly there was a clap of thunder and it began to rain lightly on the mansion's roof. Li returned to his room and looked out the window, watching as the rain shower rapidly progressed into a storm. "The road will probably be washed out within the next few minutes," Li said to himself as the rain fell heavier and heavier.
A few minutes later the bell rang to call everyone down to dessert. As Li and Qing Ru descended the stairs they noticed Yin and her husband attempting to leave while Aimi attempted to stop them.
"Please at least stay for dessert, I promise it won't happen again," Aimi begged them.
"I'm sorry Aimi, but we can't abide the company you're keeping here tonight," Jun replied.
"You're going to have to" Damasu said as he hung up the telephone on the wall, "the road back to the village is washed out and it won't be repaired until tomorrow afternoon. Travel on the road between here and the village is certain death."
Yin scowled, though she didn't know who to blame, and eventually just resigned herself to spending the night.
As the six of them returned to the dining room for dessert, another flash of lightning and subsequent clap of thunder signaled an increase in precipitation although it was believed by all that more rain was quite impossible at this point.
Li looked out the dining room window as everyone else sat down to dessert and found that the setting sun had been obscured by the storm and the sky was prematurely darkened. He then seated himself at the awkwardly silent table and did not touch anything but his drink. He then took notice, almost as part of a habit, of everyone's dishes. Everyone had the same kind of dessert, egg custard, while their beverages were different. Li had water, everyone else but Damasu had tea. Damasu had a small glass of sake. Li thought he noticed a small hint of powder on the rim of the glass but he couldn't be sure.
"So do you do anything outside of solve crimes with Li, Qing Ru?" Damasu asked.
"Yes, actually," Qing Ru replied, "I practice medicine, in fact I just opened a formal office with some help from a friend we helped a few months ago."
"Medicine?" Aimi asked. "But you aren't a waterbender."
"You'd be surprised what the application of sciences such as botany and entomology can achieve. In fact, with what I know right now I could probably treat an ill person better than a skilled waterbender and I'm continuing to learn about human anatomy which will make my practice even more successful.
"So what do you do Damasu?" Qing Ru asked.
"I own a construction firm in the village. I started it up the last time it rained this badly except that time the whole village basically got washed away. I rebuilt everything, fixed the roads, the only thing that wasn't hit badly was the road leading to this house. It'll be my company that fixes that tomorrow."
"Now don't brag yourself up Damasu," Aimi chided her husband.
"I wasn't bragging, I just – ."
"You were bragging and that's the end of it," Aimi cut him off. She then rose, "I see everyone has finished dessert, I'll call the butler and maid to come clean the table up."
Li of course noticed that the only two people who had actually finished their dessert were Yin and her husband. Everyone rose from their seats and proceeded to their bedrooms as the house servants cleared the table.
Li changed into his pajamas and got in bed and drifted into an uneasy sleep.
It must have been around midnight when Li woke up. He was surprised he could hear the scream over the sound of the torrential rain but hear it he did. He put on his slippers so his feet wouldn't freeze on the tiled floors and went outside to see what the problem was. He noticed that the other guests had also awakened and were looking out into the hallway. The servants, who slept in the house, were standing, bleary eyed, at the head of the stairs. Li thus deduced that the scream had come from his cousin. He strode down the hallway to investigate and Qing Ru followed him.
Li opened the door to his cousin's room and found her sobbing over the corpse of Damasu.
All the guests, except Qing Ru, and servants were sitting at the dining table sipping their tea while Yin attempted to comfort Aimi whose sobbing, although diminished, was still as torrential as the rain falling on the house. Li sat pensive considering his options. Qing Ru entered the room, "I've just phoned the village police but they won't be able to get up here until after the road is fixed."
"What on Earth did you do that for?" Li asked.
"What do you mean?"
"The police here are worse than the ones in Republic City, if that's possible."
"Besides," Aimi gasped through sobs. "He caused his own death."
"Really?" Li asked, "How so?"
"There's this stimulant he uses, it was his only vice other than being a commoner," Yin replied.
Qing Ru obviously resented the last remark but held his tongue.
"And what is this stimulant?" Li asked.
"It's extracted from tea leaves and he gets it from the local apothecary who purifies it. It's primarily used for people with headaches, though it doesn't work all the time, but it has the side effect of being a stimulant," Zhao explained.
"You mean caffeine?" Qing Ru asked.
"I don't know if that's what it's called," Zhao replied, "but I think that might be it."
Li was confused and so turned to Qing Ru, the medical expert of the group. "Qing Ru," he began, "is it possible to die from caffeine?"
"I suppose, but you'd have to have a lot."
"What sort of death would it cause?"
"It would probably cause heart attack but I've never heard of anyone purifying caffeine and then overdosing on it so I don't know for sure."
"Go upstairs and inspect the body, see if you can identify the cause of death."
At that Aimi let out a shrill cry, almost like the whimper of a hurt dog. Yin spoke up, "Really Li, must you be so insensitive, your cousin's husband just died from caffeine use."
"Ms. Shusin, at this point in time I am endeavoring to find the truth more than I am endeavoring to be sensitive to a cousin who quite frankly couldn't care less about me," Li replied. "Now Aimi, I need you to tell me exactly how you discovered Damasu had died."
"Why?" Aimi replied angrily, her apparent sadness being replaced by anger toward her cousin.
"Because if you don't, you might be suspected of murder if the police, Qing Ru, or I should find anything out of place so you need to come forth and be completely honest."
Aimi relented and began to speak as her wretched visage softened. "Damasu snores you see, and it used to bother me but eventually it got to the point where it actually helped me sleep. So I heard him stop snoring and it woke me up. I looked over to make sure he was fine and when I moved him he did nothing and that's when I noticed he'd stopped breathing. His eyes were wide open and they were blank. I knew then he had died."
Li thought to himself a little longer. "How was your relationship with him?" Li asked.
"How do you mean?"
"Good, strained, falling ap – ."
"Good," Aimi interrupted. "We were living quite happily."
"Who does your finances?" Li asked.
"Damasu did them."
"And did he ever look concerned about them, did he ever discuss them?"
"No... But there was this one time where he remarked something about them and he looked like he was considerably stressed about them. You don't think he intentionally took too much caffeine do you?"
Li didn't answer but simply asked, "Do you mind if I see these finances?"
"Yes, I suppose," Aimi replied. "But you'll need the key, he keeps them locked up and the key's in our bedroom I can show you if need be."
"No, you can stay here and rest, I'll go get it." Li replied as he left the dining room and went up the stairs. On his way up, he caught Qing Ru and motioned to follow him.
Once they both entered the room Qing Ru spoke. "It looks like a heart attack sure enough and a pretty violent one at that, but I'm surprised there wasn't more commotion, the bed is still fairly in order, nothing's been knocked over, it's as if he was restrained."
Li turned to him, "I want you to check to see if he snored."
Qing Ru was puzzled by this, "You want me to see if he had sleep apnea?"
"Yes, and while you do that, I'll look for the key to their safe where they kept the finances."
"Why do you want to know if he snored?"
"It's to confirm a suspicion I have about Aimi's story. She says that she knew he was dead because he stopped snoring."
"Well, that story certainly doesn't check out, as violent as this man's heart attack was she would have felt him thrashing."
"And then called for help," Li said as he looked up from the drawer of Damasu's side table.
"Something wrong?" Qing Ru asked.
"Her story for one, and then the key isn't here."
"Why do you need to see their finances?"
"There was a possibility that Damasu committed suicide by caffeine but I'd need a motive, the finances would help give me that motive but I need a key because they're locked up. Aimi said the key was up here." Li then moved over to Aimi's end table and began looking through its drawers. "Qing Ru, I still want you to check for sleep apnea."
As Qing Ru did so, Li rummaged through Aimi's drawers until he found what he was looking for.
Qing Ru also looked up from his inspection. "As far as I can tell, there were no blockages that would have restricted breathing or caused snoring of any kind."
"Excellent," Li said, to both himself and to Qing Ru. "Now, down to the study." Li led the way, key in hand, to the study. He found the cabinet of concern and unlocked it.
"Now let's see what we have here," he said as he pulled out the most recent financial records of the house. He was instantly taken by surprise.
Qing Ru, who noticed Li's surprise, asked, "What is it?"
"This is in Aimi's handwriting, and it looks like she's been struggling to pay for the house and servants." Li turned to Qing Ru, "Hold this please."
He then looked through the cabinet for any financial records from Damasu's business. Upon finding some, he compared the handwriting and noticed that there was indeed a massive difference so that the two could not be easily mistaken. Li looked through the cabinet further to extract some older financial records relating to the house.
"Now what are you looking for?" Qing Ru asked.
"I want to see if she has records from the last few times her husbands have died," Li replied.
Sure enough, Li found what he was looking for. Every time one of her husbands had died, the financial state of the household had been in poor condition and the income from the insurance and wills had "saved" Aimi from her financial woes.
Li now thought back to all the other times her previous husbands had died and as best he could recreated the circumstances in his mind. Each time he concluded, that Aimi had probably been responsible.
Qing Ru had apparently been on the same track. "You don't think your cousin actually murdered her husbands."
"I think it's certainly possible that she murdered her previous husbands, but without having been there, it's impossible for me to prove. Damasu on the other hand, I'm almost certain she murdered him. We have a lot of evidence pointing to her as it is, but it's all circumstantial. We need a murder weapon."
"But Li, it was a heart attack, how are we going to prove that she gave him the caffeine?"
"Are you sure it was caffeine? We need to find out when he would have taken it and then find out if it was enough to kill him." Something else caught Li's eye again. He reached into the cabinet and removed a letter in a red envelope that simply said on the outside, "Master". Li opened the letter and read it.
"What is it?" Qing Ru asked.
"It's a letter from the Master to my cousin. He's promised to pay her a sum of one hundred million yuans if she killed Damasu for him," Li replied.
"You don't actually think she would do such a thing, just for money? I understand that she's paranoid and a little crazy but murder?"
"All the evidence thus far points to her but there's something that's not right, it's too clean and too obvious. If she wanted to kill Damasu, why do it now, when I'm around, and why leave all this evidence?"
"Maybe she just wasn't thinking," Qing Ru offered still uncertain about the whole situation.
"One way to be sure," Li said as he closed the cabinet and stood up with one of the financial records in his hand. This he folded and hid away in the pocket of his pajamas. "We must search the room again and see if we can find the poison."
Li and Qing Ru hurried back upstairs to the crime scene. "If we're going to find the poison we must first figure out what he was poisoned with," Li explained.
"You mean the caffeine?" Qing Ru asked.
"If it was caffeine," Li replied, "I want you to inspect the body again, see if you can find anything that might lead us to the poison or the method of delivery."
While Qing Ru inspected the body again Li noticed a small pile of vomit by Aimi's nightstand. When he inspected it further he concluded that it was abnormal. Not having the appropriate equipment to make a full analysis he could not pinpoint exactly what was odd about it but he noted that the smell was somewhat off. He took a small sample and placed it in a vial. "I knew these would come in handy someday," he muttered to himself. He looked up as he heard the clatter of footsteps coming up the stairs. "Wonderful, as if the remainder of the household had something to offer to the investigation."
"Li look here!" Qing Ru exclaimed.
Li stood up and looked over at what Qing Ru was pointing at.
"I didn't notice it last time because I was only inspecting his chest, neck, and head but I'm certain this is from a needle of some kind." Qing Ru was looking at a small red pinprick that sat right on the vein in Damasu's left arm.
"Isn't it a medical practice in some areas to use a syringe and hollowed out needle to administer medication?" Li asked.
"Yes, I've been experimenting with it myself, primarily on small rodents, stray animals –"
"Then we're looking for a syringe and needle," Li said cutting Qing Ru off in an attempt to arrest his musings.
The rest of the household had finally made it up the stairs and to the room. "What on Earth do you to think you're doing?" Yin asked more as a rhetorical question. "Your host has just died, and your hostess is distraught and here you are running about the house causing all sorts of noise, acting as if there's been a murder, and rifling through your hostess's rooms!"
Li was about to reply when Qing Ru called out. "Li, I've found it!"
Everyone stood silently as Qing Ru revealed a syringe and needle.
"Where did you find it?" Li asked.
"One of Aimi's dresses."
At that Aimi let out another wail and once again descended into sobbing while the butler gasped. "Our mistress... a murderer."
After that, no one spoke but Li's mind was racing. Thinking, "No, this is too simple, too clear, there's something you're missing."
The police came the following afternoon after the road had been fixed. Of course Yin tried to take all the credit for the fruits of the previous night's investigation but was unable to as the cook continuously protested. Li didn't mind, primarily because he was still unsatisfied with the way the evidence had fallen into place. The police of course didn't particularly care to investigate but rather carted off the body and its former spouse. It was at this time that Li noticed the butler had gone missing from the group. They had all stuck more or less together ever since Damasu had been discovered dead. Li then motioned for Qing Ru to follow him to help look for the missing footman. They ran into him just as he was leaving the kitchen.
"Good afternoon Zhao," Li greeted.
"Good afternoon sir," Zhao returned and then silently walked off.
Li waited for Zhao to disappear down the hallway before creeping into the kitchen.
"What are you looking for?" Qing Ru asked as he followed Li.
"I want to know why he's all of a sudden decided to depart from the 'investigation posse'," Li replied. He'd taken to calling the group that had been hounding him for answers about his investigations and following him all night the "investigation posse."
Li noticed that the stove had been recently used. He held his hand close and it was still hot. He carefully opened the door and noticed that it had been recently used. "It looks like there's bits of paper in here," Li remarked. He carefully reached in, trying not to burn himself and plucked a few charred scraps of paper from the charcoal remains in the stove. Once he got them out, he closed the stove and brushed the carbon residue from the surface of the papers. Just as Li had kept the vomit sample and financial record, he carefully folded the paper scraps and stored them in his pocket. He also noticed an unusual bottle sitting on one of the shelves. Li moved closer to inspect it, but found that it bore no labels.
"Qing Ru," he began, "I think it's time we pay the local apothecary a visit."
Qing Ru followed Li as he exited the kitchen. They were halted by a police officer, "I'm afraid you can't leave the village yet, you'll have to testify at the trial."
"Which is when?" Qing Ru asked.
"It begins today actually, as you might expect, crime isn't common here so we're not as backlogged as in Republic City."
"Can we at least leave the house?" Li asked.
"Certainly," the officer replied, just stay in the village until the trial's over.
Li and Qing Ru subsequently left the mansion and journeyed to the village. Upon their arrival, Li addressed the nearest villager, "Excuse me sir, we're new here, could you please direct us to the local apothecary?"
"Certainly," the villager replied, it's just down the street and then on your right.
Li looked in the direction the man was pointing.
"It's got a big sign above it, you can't miss it."
"Thank you," Qing Ru said in place of Li who had abruptly and rudely begun striding in the direction the man had pointed upon receiving the necessary information. Qing Ru then hurried after his companion.
Once Qing Ru had caught up to Li, he didn't have time to scold him as Li had already entered the apothecary's shop.
"What can I help you with?" asked the apothecary.
"I'm actually involved in the investigation of the murder at the Kuruoshi home and I believe that poison may have been involved I'd like to ask you a few questions and then borrow your laboratory if I may," Li replied.
"Oh, you're the detective from Republic City aren't you?" the man said as he pulled out a newspaper obviously headquartered in Republic City.
Li was taken aback and could only reply, "I'm a detective in Republic City yes."
"I read about you and I'm a big fan," the apothecary pointed out an article in the paper titled, "Republic City Super Sleuth Solves Banking Mystery". "Needless to say," the man continued, "I'd be glad to help you in any way I can. I was also friends with Damasu so I have a vested interest in finding whoever is responsible."
"Well... Thank you, I guess." Li had obviously never expected to become famous and he was struggling with the concept. Qing Ru couldn't help but smile at Li's discomfort. Li finally broke the awkward silence and began asking questions. "So, do you sell caffeine here?"
"How do you mean?" asked the apothecary.
"As in pure caffeine, extracted from tea leaves."
"Oh, yes, why?"
"How much did you sell to Damasu?"
"Oh, I can't remember off the top of my head, but it was quite a lot. Not all at once you understand though, he dropped by about once a week to replenish, he used it to help keep him up late when he needed to work."
"Do you think you sold him enough to kill him if he took it all at once?"
"How would I know? There really haven't been any tests on caffeine overdose because in the amounts that people normally take it in, the caffeine has almost no negative health effects, unless taken chronically. Very few people actually use the caffeine in its purified form. I had to figure out how to purify it just for Damasu. Anyways, Damasu never took more than a small amount in one sitting. I would know, remember, I was a close friend."
"I see," Li replied. "And do you sell any of these?" Li pulled out the syringe and needle apparatus and showed it to the apothecary.
"No, I must admit I don't," the man was marveling at the device. "It's ingenious though," he remarked. "I've heard of them, but I've never seen one."
"Do you know who might sell them?" Li asked.
"No one around here, they're generally shied away from because people have been having problems with heart attacks and people can't seem to figure out why."
"Wait heart attacks?" Li asked.
"Yes, something about it seems to cause heart attacks but it doesn't always happen –"
"Just frequently happens," Qing Ru interrupted.
The apothecary was taken aback and hadn't actually noticed Qing Ru until now.
"I think I figured it out though," Qing Ru began.
"And who are you?" asked the apothecary.
"This is my associate Qing Ru," Li explained, "He's a medical practitioner and researcher."
"Anyways," Qing Ru continued, "I think that the cause of the heart attacks is that if the syringe isn't properly filled, air gets trapped inside, and if enough air gets stuck in the bloodstream, it can obstruct the valves of the heart and stop it."
"And when were you going to reveal this?" Li asked indignantly.
"Well it hadn't occurred to me until now," Qing Ru replied innocently.
"So," Li turned back to the apothecary, "now that we know that, may we borrow your laboratory, I'd like to analyze some samples."
"Certainly." The man led them to the back of his shop and showed them his small laboratory. "It really isn't a laboratory so much as it is a workshop for producing chemicals from raw materials."
"It will do," Li replied.
He and Qing Ru then sat down to work, Qing Ru analyzing the syringe and Li analyzing the vomit sample he had taken. Qing Ru's work was finished much more quickly than Li's even though Qing Ru chose to double check his tests.
"Li," he began. Both Li and the apothecary came over to him, "there's nothing in this syringe."
"Nothing?" Li asked.
"Nothing, absolutely nothing. No poison, no blood." Qing Ru replied.
"You mean that there's no poison or anything to kill Damasu in their?" asked the apothecary.
Li and Qing Ru turned to look at him.
"I just deduced that you figured the murderer had used that to kill Damasu, that's how I know what it should have been for."
Qing Ru continued. "Maybe it's not empty, maybe, they did indeed use this to kill Damasu."
"With air," the realization was present and clear on Li's face. "Is there any way to verify this speculation?" Li asked.
"Yes, but we need to do a comprehensive inspection of the body, and that still doesn't clear up why there's no blood" Qing Ru replied.
"Maybe they cleaned it." Li then turned to the apothecary, "Can you direct us to the morgue?" Li asked.
"We don't have a morgue," he replied.
Qing Ru was suddenly concerned, "Where do you keep your dead?"
"Usually a cemetery but Damasu was a murder victim so he's probably in the evidence room," replied the apothecary.
"The evidence room!" Qing Ru exclaimed as he rose frantically. He turned to Li, "If I'm going to get there to examine the body before it spoils I have to leave now." Without waiting for a reply Qing Ru rushed out the door and down the street.
"Well, let's hope he has luck," Li said as he returned to his analysis which was almost finished.
"So what's so fascinating about that vomit?" asked the apothecary.
"I found it by my cousin's bed last night while I was inspecting the crime scene and it had a smell that wasn't quite right."
As the two watched the final results of Li's final test coming out, they both noted unusually high amounts of two chemicals. The one was a psychedelic, also found in analyses of the juice from certain cacti of the Si Won Desert. The other was a sedative with which the apothecary was quite familiar.
"Well you were right to look at the vomit, and in such high amounts, imagine how much actually made it into the system," the apothecary remarked.
"You don't sell either of these do you?" Li asked.
"Just the sedative," the apothecary replied. "And only in small amounts, it's used by many as a sleep aid, the dosage amounts are so small that it shouldn't register on any of these imprecise tests."
"So someone saved up the sedative, and got the cactus juice from somewhere else," Li said to himself.
"So it seems," the apothecary replied.
Li turned to him and asked, "Did anyone from the house come down and purchase the sedative from you?"
"Yes, actually. Zhao, the butler, came down quite frequently and purchased the mistress's sleep aid.
"Hold on, my cousin used sleep aids?" Li asked.
"She's your cousin?" the apothecary asked incredulously?
"Yes, I'm pretty sure I've said that already, now could you please answer my question?"
"As far as I know she did," replied the apothecary. "Though she never came down and purchased them herself."
"Sounds like her," Li said, again to himself. "But I didn't find any containers of sleep aid next to her bed. There's something else going on here."
"Sorry, what's that?" asked the apothecary.
"Thank you for your help sir, I may have to ask you to testify at the trial today, depending on what else my associate and I discover.
Li found Qing Ru sneaking out of the police station. "What did you find?" he asked.
"Sure enough, it was a gas embolism," Qing Ru replied.
"A what?" asked Li.
"An air bubble stopped his heart. The telltale signs were there and the bubble was quite large, judging by the damage done to the vessels and the heart. It's like the murderer filled up the whole syringe and put every last bit of it in Damasu's blood all at once."
"I take it you had to break into the evidence room," Li said.
"Well not exactly, I was able to reason with one of the policemen who snuck me into the room to see the body, he said that if I find anything and refer to him, he gets a promotion, but if I don't find anything, it can't be known that he was involved."
"I see," replied Li.
"Did you find anything?" asked Qing Ru.
"Yes actually, the vomit had high levels of sedative and a psychedelic from that cactus in the Si Wong Desert."
"Hallucinogens and sedatives, air bubbles, syringes, burnt papers, this murder gets more mysterious by the minute," Qing Ru mused.
"I beg to differ my friend," Li replied. "It's just starting to make sense, the vomit was by my cousin's bed and so presumably came from her, yet it's unlikely she took these chemicals herself as they would have incapacitated her quite quickly based on the quantities present in the sample leaving her unable to dispose of their containers. Yet her nightstand was bare but for the lamp. So someone gave this to her and then cleaned up the evidence, except, that she vomited after this person left. Why would they give this to her? That remains to be seen but I have a hunch. The syringe was used to inject an air bubble into Damasu and that's what caused the heart attack, not caffeine which he did not consume enough of in one sitting to cause problems. The burnt papers indicate that perhaps someone is trying to hide evidence. Yes the pieces are many and do not fall together quite completely, but they are indeed coming together."
Li hurried through the village and back up the mansion, with Qing Ru trailing after him. Once in the mansion, Li carefully looked around to make sure that no one was watching. He then snuck into the butler's room. At this point Qing Ru exclaimed in exasperation, "Honestly Li, you can't believe that the butler did it! I mean that's just –"
"Shhhhh!" Li exclaimed. "Not so loud."
Qing Ru quieted down, "That's just so cliché and has absolutely no rational backing."
"Au contraire," Li replied, "it is your dismissal that has no backing, just because it's overused in the common mystery tale doesn't mean that it's always going to be incorrect in real life."
Li resumed his search of Zhao's room. It was very neatly kept, but he noticed a few things that were cluttered. Cluttered, but intentionally so, Li figured this because in the rest of the room these areas were quite out of place. The clutter, he could also tell, wasn't really random clutter such as you might see in Li's own apartment. Rather it had been engineered so that to the untrained mind it would still seem out of place, but wouldn't register as altogether out of place. Li began to investigate these piles. One a pile of paper, the other a pile of clothes. The first pile was the one of paper. He inspected it and discovered that it was mostly envelopes, but most of them were empty and only two had any correspondence in them. It seemed that Zhao had created this façade to mislead the onlooker but to still leave his correspondence handy. This correspondence, he had consolidated and concealed in the two envelopes. Li opened the first and began to read. His face immediately lit up. "The Master again," Li remarked. "But a very different tale from the one our earlier finding told us."
"What does it say?" Qing Ru asked.
Li didn't answer, he simply pocketed the correspondence and moved onto the pile of clothes. It did not take long to discover that it concealed a trapdoor. It wasn't locked but it was well concealed except for the scuffing caused by the repeated opening and closing of the door.
"What on Earth?" Qing Ru asked.
"This old house was built with all sorts of secret passages and chambers to keep the marauding Harmony Restorers from getting the family and their associated treasures. When I was a child, before Aimi figured out how to defraud her parents and by extension my father, we explored all the secret passages. There was only one entrance we couldn't find, and it appears that we have just found it."
Qing Ru watched intently as Li felt around the trapdoor looking for the mechanism that would open it. Li finally found it and the trapdoor popped open. Li found a ladder and began to step down it. Qing Ru followed him down into a dark hallway. Which could be illuminated by kerosene lamps hanging from the wall. Li found the ignition switch and lit one. He took it off its hook and began to walk down the hall. The corridor eventually opened up into a chamber. A chamber illuminated by a single heat lamp powered by a Future Industries electrochemical cell. The lamp did not illuminate the entire room, but rather a single spot on a table that was littered with various kinds of equipment. Li set down the lamp on the table and remarked to himself, "I remember this place, but I can't believe we never found that hallway and trapdoor."
"Li," Qing Ru began, "I think I found our cactus."
Li looked over to the spot the lamp was illuminating and there was the cactus. Li then took note of the rest of the table and the equipment on it. "And this must be used to purify the hallucinogen." Li looked over and noticed a cage of rodents, many of which had apparently died quite painfully, although the cause was not obvious. Next to the cage was a syringe-needle apparatus. Li also saw a small box of papers under the table. He looked over the papers and noticed that it was more correspondence, but not just from the Master, also old correspondence of Aimi's and other papers where it was obvious forgery had been attempted. Li took out the financial record he had taken and compared it with various samples from the box. "This isn't actually Aimi's handwriting," Li remarked about the financial record. "Although it looks quite like it, it is in fact a forgery, there are a few things that are off." He then compared the papers from the box with some letters Zhao had written the Master. "I think we have the solution to our mystery," Li told Qing Ru.
"And just in time too Li," Qing Ru replied. "I think someone's coming."
Li looked up and sure enough someone was coming down the corridor. "Quick Qing Ru, grab the box and put out our oil lamp. This way."
As Qing Ru did as Li instructed Li rushed over to one of the walls and triggered another mechanism which opened yet another passage through which Li and Qing Ru passed. Li closed the passage almost completely but stayed behind to listen to whatever the person from the hallway was doing.
"I must of have just left the trapdoor open," the figure muttered to itself before turning away and going back down the hallway.
To Li's surprise the figure was too short to be Zhao and the voice too high pitched. Li finished closing the passage and rushed up the steps of the passage to meet Qing Ru who was stuck trying to figure out how to open the passage. Li did it for him and they exited into Aimi's room. "What took you so long?" Qing Ru asked.
"I wanted to see who followed us, I think it was the cook," Li replied.
"The cook?" Qing Ru was confused. "And this entire time I thought the butler did it."
"There's something else going on here," Li mumbled to himself. "Mrs. Wei's the cook, she's married to the groundskeeper."
"Shall we go talk to them?" Qing Ru asked.
"Yes, but we probably want to store the box first," Li replied.
"Oh, right," Qing Ru said as he remembered the heavy container he was carrying. He had gotten so caught up in the action that he forgot he had it. Qing Ru quickly dashed next door and hid the box in his room which he subsequently locked. He then met with Li at the top of the stairs and they proceeded down to the Weis' room. There they found Mr. Wei, apparently just in for a rest from working on the grounds.
"Hello gentlemen," he greeted them. "Terrible business isn't it."
"What is?" Li asked.
"The murder. You know, with the mistress being the culprit, and you, her cousin, being the one to catch her red handed," Mr. Wei replied.
"Actually, we didn't catch her 'red handed' as you say," Qing Ru replied, "and we're not altogether sure she actually did it."
"Oh? What makes you say that?" he asked.
"Where's Mrs. Wei," Li asked abruptly, not answering Mr. Wei's question.
"She just went to the kitchen to fetch me some ice."
Just at that moment Mrs. Wei entered carrying a bucket of ice. Mr. Wei then took his feet out of his shoes and put them in the bucket. "Oh, that feels good, thank you dear," he said.
"Not a problem," Mrs. Wei replied. She then turned to Li and Qing Ru, "How can I help you two?"
"We actually had a few questions for you," Li replied.
Li was struck by the strange colloquialism that had apparently become more popular and widespread in the Republic and the Earth Kingdom but he quickly dismissed it. "As I understand it Mrs. Wei, you're the cook correct?"
"Yes, I thought you would have deduced that by now."
Li took no notice of the insult. "How close are you with Zhao, the butler?"
"We're friends, just like everyone here."
"Are you from this village?"
"Yes, I was born here and lived here all my life."
"Any plans for the future?"
"My husband and I were thinking of moving to Ba Sing Se, I could start a restaurant and hopefully get to the Middle Ring where my husband could take care of people's lawns and courtyards."
"And when were you planning to do this?"
"Shortly actually, I've just been waiting for..."
"Waiting for what?"
Li could tell that Mrs. Wei had to think for a moment as if to conceal something, "I promised myself I wouldn't tell but I guess I've got no choice now. I have a benefactor who informed me he was going to give me his money I've just been waiting for it to arrive." She turned to her husband, "I was going to tell you after we got the money to surprise you but I guess I've spoiled it."
Mr. Wei, who had moments earlier been extremely and genuinely confused, was now quite happy. "No, you haven't spoiled anything. This means that we can fulfill our dreams of having our own businesses."
Li took note of the hesitation and unease in Mrs. Wei's expression as she hugged her husband. Li also took note of a book that was lying on the ground. The book was titled, "Botanical Chemistry 1st Edition" and the author was one Professor of Botany Yàojì Shī, Ba Sing Se University.
"Well thank you Mrs. Wei, I think that will be all," Li said as he left the room.
Qing Ru followed him, "What was that about, you didn't get anything."
"Of course I did," Li replied, still striding to the mansion door.
"But I didn't see anything."
"That's where you're wrong Qing Ru," Li said as he stopped at the front door and turned to face his friend. "You saw everything, you just failed to observe."
"And what did I fail to observe?" Qing Ru asked angrily.
"All in good time, but what I need right now is for you to gather everyone who was in the house last night in the library and then run down to the police station and have them bring Aimi up to the mansion as well as a couple of officers if it makes them feel better. Make sure they postpone the trial."
"Okay," Qing Ru acknowledged, "But where are you going?"
"To city hall!" Li called back as he ran out of the mansion.
They were all gathered in the library and still waiting for Li to return. Even Aimi and Qing Ru had gotten back before Li had. Yin and Jun were grumbling about the whole thing while the servants sat on the various chairs and couches arrayed around the library. Aimi had two police officers guarding her and the third officer was the one Qing Ru had convinced to sneak him into the evidence room.
"This detective friend of yours better get here soon or we're going back to the village and giving you a hefty fine," one of the police officers threatened Qing Ru.
"He'll be here," Qing Ru reassured him.
Suddenly one of the shelves of scrolls slid out of place and Li and the apothecary emerged from the newly apparent aperture. Li was carrying the box of papers with an additional stack of financial records placed on top of it along with the book from Mrs. Wei's room while the apothecary had the test results from his laboratory as well as the equipment and cactus from the secret chamber beneath the mansion.
"Glad to see we have everyone," Li began as he and the apothecary set down their things. "You have no doubt surmised why I gathered all of you here today and asked that the trial be postponed and that reason is to get to the bottom of this whole mystery once and for all."
"Well, get on with it," Jun commanded.
"I certainly shall," Li replied. "The first thing we must do is analyze the crime itself, the crime being the murder of the master of this house Damasu Kuruoshi. Of course when I first began this investigation, Qing Ru and I, as well as the others present, were led to believe that my cousin Aimi had committed the murder against her own husband for the sake of money. And why shouldn't we believe this? After all, the motive was clear as day. The financial records painted a picture of a household that was on the verge of bankruptcy and a lying mistress who would do anything to keep her prestige and property. A husband with a lucrative life insurance policy due to the nature of his occupation. A will that supposedly left everything of his to his wife, including the business which would be bled dry and then sold off. A secret correspondence from the one who calls himself the Master promising to pay a large sum of money to the one who killed Damasu, who was a member of a secret organization opposed to this Master. Evidence of this organization, this book." Li then took out the black book he had found earlier which he had also earlier heard his cousin and Damasu fighting about. "I believe that you thought this was a secret correspondence with a love interest Aimi, but you were incorrect, Damasu was an anarchist." Li once again changed gears and continued, "To make the motive story all the more convincing, we were led to believe that she had also killed her previous husbands in order to get a fresh influx of cash.
"The motive appeared to be there, the evidence that she did it also appeared to be there. Aimi was the only one in the room at the time of death. She invented the story of Damasu doing the finances as well as the story of Damasu snoring and the story of how she found him dead, or so they appeared to be her inventions. Of course, the final piece was the murder weapon and the confirmation of the cause of death by my friend Qing Ru.
"But in this, seemingly perfect open and shut case, there were a few problems. The first one that immediately struck me was that she had invited me on the night she had planned to kill her husband. My cousin may be a psychopathic paranoid, but she is certainly not stupid. She knows that even if she wanted to murder someone, she would wait until well after she had done the act to ever invite me over again. Another issue was the vomit I found by Aimi's bed. At the time I didn't know its significance, but it was out of place and so deserved further examination.
"With these in mind, I posited to myself that it was not Aimi who had committed the crime, but rather she had been framed. But by whom and for what ends, I was not certain, so I continued investigating.
"Among the things I investigated was Zhao's trip to the kitchen the next afternoon during which I discovered several unburnt scraps of paper that had intended to be disposed of by the flame of the kitchen stove. After further inspection I have concluded that these are pieces of financial records, for the household, and they are written in Damasu's handwriting. This led me to the inevitable conclusion that the ones I had found last night, were forgeries and served as substitutes for the originals to help frame Aimi. Another of the things I investigated was Damasu's use of caffeine which, as our good friend the apothecary told us, was not enough to cause death. I also investigated the vomit which I found to contain psychedelic compounds from a certain cactus that originates in the Si Wong Desert and a sleep aid. In combination, these two could be used to sedate and render a person prone to suggestion. It thus appeared that Aimi had not in fact invented the aforementioned tales but rather someone had invented them for her and she had merely parroted them after having them planted in her mind in an intoxicated stupor.
"It then occurred to me to ask who had purchased the sleep aid. It turned out that Zhao had done it. I thus, naturally, set my sights on Zhao and began to investigate his room. In it I found these letters, also coming from the Master but telling a different story from the original letter we had found. They are blackmail letters with but two demands. The first is a very large sum of money, the second, the death of Damasu. I also located the entrance to one of the house's secret passages within Zhao's room, very similar to the one I entered through. This passage led to a chamber I had been very familiar with as a child, a chamber that now contained a sort of miniature laboratory with all of the equipment you see before you, including the rodents, and the cactus. The chamber also contained this box of papers where it was obvious that someone had been attempting to forge Aimi's handwriting, that someone appearing to be Zhao.
"I of course thought I had wrapped up the entire mystery at that point but then something surprised me. As Qing Ru and I escaped the chamber by means of another passage that led to Aimi's room, I couldn't help but notice that the person who had now entered the chamber the way we had come, was not the tall and distinguished Zhao, but rather the diminutive Mrs. Wei. I thus had to question her and her husband and as I spoke with them and stood in their room, her part in this whole affair began to become obvious. Within her room was a book on biochemistry, presumably used to create the proper concoction of sedative and cactus juice, I also noticed when I asked her about her plans for the future, some hesitation, particularly with regards to some new money and her 'benefactor' who remained nameless. I then developed a hypothesis, one which I confirmed upon my visit to the local law office and the local orphanage. You see Mrs. Wei was an orphan but not because her parents died, no there was a different reason.
"The local law offices told me that not only had Damasu willed everything to Aimi, but that Aimi, had willed everything to Zhao and in the event that Aimi was convicted of murder and executed, her will would still be valid under the village's law. Zhao, had additionally willed everything to Mrs. Wei. But why? That's what the orphanage told me. You see, Zhao kept a closely guarded secret, this secret is what he was being blackmailed with, a secret that few knew. Not even Mrs. Wei knew until Zhao told her. Zhao is Mrs. Wei's father, the woman who ran the orphanage was the only one there who still knew this secret and agreed only to tell me if it was critical to this investigation. Of course the secret goes beyond being her father, indeed, her mother is just as important. Her mother was a vocal Harmony Restoration activist, not the kind that was violent fortunately but still very prominent. But Zhao, of the Fire Nation, falling in love with a leader of Harmony Restoration and then having a child out of wedlock, would of course stir up scandal. This of course, Zhao wanted to avoid and he was successful, up until the Master got hold of this information. Hence the motive appears.
"I realize this has been quite a lot for all of you to take in so I'll summarize. The Master begins blackmailing Zhao about his past, Zhao informs his daughter about his past in the hopes that she will not only understand that she will lose if the information becomes public, but that she will gain if she helps him. They work together to murder Damasu and to frame Aimi. They murder Damasu with the new device for injecting fluids into the bloodstream, except the only thing they inject into Damasu, is air, causing a gas embolism and a heart attack. But Aimi sleeps with him and so is bound to notice the foul play, unless they can sedate her, and plant the aforementioned falsehoods in her mind so that she will parrot them when she comes to. They then plant one of the murder devices on her clothing and move the key to the cabinet containing the finances to her drawer, from Damasu's. They also replace the original financial records with forgeries. But before they can dispose of the originals, Aimi awakens and with her, awakens the house. To avoid suspicion, the originals are hidden and Zhao and Mrs. Wei join the commotion. The following afternoon, Zhao burns the originals, but forgets to destroy the sedative which I found in the kitchen at the same time I found the paper remains. Zhao hopes he will be rewarded by his endeavors and waits."
Mrs. Wei spoke up, "It's all very fantastic, but you don't have any real, conclusive proof, you may have just invented all this nonsense."
"Including the forgeries, the correspondence, the vomit? What about the cactus, you can't just buy that at the village?"
It was Zhao's turn to speak. "Alright, I did it, for all those reasons."
"Why the sudden confession?" asked Aimi aghast that her most trusted staff would be the one to betray her.
"I'm too old," he replied, "my time has come, so I might as well confess now."
"And what about your daughter?" asked Li.
"She was being misled, you can't blame her, her whole life without a father and suddenly he turns out to be one of her coworkers, and he's asking her for help. How did you expect her to react?"
The police officer chimed in, "That's no justification, now you'll both have to come to the station with me, your trial will be set for tomorrow afternoon."
The murderer and his accomplice were thus taken away leaving the rest of the guests to sit silently shocked by the strange turn of events. Li beckoned for Qing Ru to follow him.
"What is it?" Qing Ru asked.
"We're leaving, I've already bought us tickets."
"Already?" Qing Ru asked as he followed Li back up to their rooms.
"Yes, our work here is done and I think you've probably got quite a lot of work to be doing back in Republic City, as have I so I think it's best we depart and let my cousin 'clean house' as it were."
"I suppose you're right" Qing Ru replied as they split off and went separately into their rooms.
As Li packed his bags, he had a hunch that the Master was going to start showing himself more frequently now that his existence had been finally exposed by the discovery of Zhao's plot. Li had only to assume that things would begin to heat up in Republic City. "I'm going to be very busy indeed," he said to himself as he closed his suitcase and marched out of his room, down the stairs, and out of the house. "Time to return home."
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