|By Alan Jack Halverson||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
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May 26, 2015
The wall before him was cluttered with newspaper headlines from multiple sources around the Republic. One read "Super Sleuth Solves Asphyxiation Murders" another read "P.I. Li Uncovers Plot to Assassinate Republic City Chief of Police". There were many more along the same lines with dates coming from all the way back to the beginning of the year.
"Sir, I've just received word that the Earth Queen has been assassinated."
"How unfortunate, deal with it, I can't be bothered by anything outside the Republic right now. Is she here?"
"You mean your agent?"
"She's waiting outside."
"See her in."
"As you wish."
The door opened and closed and a woman entered the room.
"You wanted to see me ahead of my scheduled report so I gather that there's something special about this meeting," she said.
"Do you know what this is," he said gesturing to a map laid out on the table centered in the room. On the map were numerous markers in the shape of standards.
"No, it was my map..." he paused. "Now it's his map!" he shouted as he threw all his markers in the Republic off the table. He abruptly turned to the woman, "Your job was to get close to him and end him and so far you've failed. Since you went on the job a month ago he's thwarted twenty of my plans."
"With respect sir, most of those were small I made sure to keep him away from as many of the big ones as possible."
"None of them are small! And your job isn't to impede him, it's to get him out of my way, I want Li dead! Now you failed to deliver in a timely fashion so I'm changing the terms of your employment, you kill him and I'll pay you half of the original promised value, you don't kill him and I'll end you and I don't mean the mundane murder either. I'm also putting other people on him so now you'll have competition for that bounty. Am I clear."
"Then go, we're done here."
"Yes, Master," the woman replied as she left the room.
The Master then turned to cleaning up the mess he'd made. "It's time to adjust our plans."
Li stepped through the charred remains of the small shop in downtown Republic City.
"It's lucky I wasn't here when the bomb went off," the shop owner said to Li as he examined the debris that had been scattered about. Charred remains of the flowers that once occupied the shop littered the floor.
Li took note that the structural integrity of the building didn't seem to have been hampered by the bomb. He bent down and took a closer look at the debris on the floor and the compared it with the building surrounding him. It seemed to consist of burnt paper, flowers, and wood. Li looked around further and observed that some steel beams had apparently fallen to the ground. Li walked into the back room of the shop and noticed that almost no damage had been done to this part of the building. There was a cupboard directly in front of him and he opened it to reveal an interesting array of chemicals.
Li walked back out of the room and addressed his client, "I don't think luck had anything to do with it," he replied to the florist's earlier comment.
"You mean that someone was trying to send me a message? But who would do such a thing?"
"That's not what I mean, I mean that you bombed your own flower shop with a fire-bomb and then inserted false debris to make it look like something more serious, probably for insurance fraud purposes."
"I'm afraid I don't know what you mean."
"Of course you do, there were steel beams in that room but this building is in one of the oldest parts of town so it doesn't have any steel in it, hence the steel beams were planted there. There's very little damage to your back room which is suggestive of a shaped charge but if it was a powerful enough to shake beams loose from their positions then surely your front desk, which is right in front of the blast source, would have been blown to bits, yet it's perfectly intact except for some charring. When I ventured into your back room, I found an array of chemicals in your cupboard all of which are used to produce firebombs but none of which would have any utility to a florist.
"I must say the one thing that perplexes me is the motive, if you wanted to destroy your shop to collect the insurance money, why bother preserving the structure at all certainly that and the planting of the steel would have been more expensive than it was--"
Li saw the reflection of an archer poised to strike him from behind in the window of a nearby shop. Thinking quickly Li ducked off to the side just as the archer loosed his arrow. The bolt shot straight past Li barely missing him and planting itself squarely in the florist's chest.
Li quickly drew his firearm and peaked around the corner of the burnt out shop he could just barely see the archer. He waited until right after the next bolt shot past him before jumping out and shooting his assailant right between the eyes. Li walked up to his attacker and inspected the deceased assassin, looking for any clues as to who sent him or why. "It's a shame I had to kill him," Li said to himself, "Now I can't interrogate him." Li continued to look around, no doubt the police had already been called, he would have a little explaining to do, fortunately, he wouldn't have to deal with Officer Shu since he had successfully gotten the officer dismissed from the force in his previous case by revealing his scandalous involvement with certain members of the Agni Kais. Li's inspection yielded little of use except that this was clearly a well organized assassination that would have succeeded had Li not caught the attacker in time. It was clear that whoever organized the attack didn't want it to be traced back to them should the mission fail.
When Li got back to his apartment he found Qing Ru and his newly married wife Ming-Hua were waiting. "We heard what happened," he opened, "are you okay?"
"Yes, I'm fine, I was able to kill him first but unfortunately that meant I couldn't find out who sent him," Li replied. "Also, how did you get in here? You don't live here anymore."
"I still have a key."
"You haven't made any copies have you?"
"I'd like it back if you don't mind, I'm afraid that someone might try to use it to get in here."
"I think you're starting to get paranoid Li," Qing Ru remarked as he handed his friend the apartment key.
"Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you and I think that someone is out to get me. The police were kind enough to identify my assailant for me, he was a former Yuyan Archer that was presumed missing in action some years ago. It appears now that he went rogue and started killing for hire. The fact that that was all we could find out about him shows that whoever sent him is very secretive. Additionally the bombed florist's shop was clearly a setup, someone likely paid off the shopkeeper to burn his own building and lure me there. Furthermore, this is the fourth attempt on my life in the past month. There have been two attempted stabbings, one attempt at bloodbending, fortunately without the benefit of a full moon, and now I've nearly had an arrow through my chest so you'll please excuse me if I think something's up. Next thing you know they'll be bomb..." Li trailed off.
"What?" Qing Ru asked.
Li shushed him and cocked his head to the side as if trying to hear something very faint. Shortly afterward Qing Ru caught on and could hear a faint ticking.
"You didn't buy a clock recently did you?" Ming-Hua asked.
"No," Li replied as he rapidly turned and led his friends out the door. "Get out of here, I'll pull the fire alarm, we need to get everyone out of this building now!"
Li quickly rushed over to the stairwell and pulled the lever to trigger the fire alarm. Almost instantly everyone in the apartment poked their heads out their doors to see what was up. "Don't just stand there gawking!" Li exclaimed. "Get out of the building!"
Not one second had passed after the building had been evacuated when the bomb that had been carefully hidden in Li's room detonated.
"Make that five attempts," Li said to his friend as the police arrived.
"Thank you for letting me stay here until I can find another place to live," Li said to Qing Ru as they sat drinking tea in 221 Zìyóu Street.
"It's not a problem, after all, I do kind of owe you for picking me up off the street when we first met," Qing Ru replied.
"So, as I was saying before we were unexpectedly bombed, I think it's now reasonable to assume that someone wants me dead and that they want it very badly. Judging by the secrecy of each attempted assassination and the resources that must have gone into the whole affair and the fact that whoever it is keeps trying I think we can narrow the list down to one individual in particular."
"You don't mean the Master?"
"Who else would have such a drive to kill me, even though I've only been able to hack at the fringes of his organization I've not doubt been causing him enough problems that he's made an economic calculation that he would be better off expending more resources on terminating me than just letting me be."
"And you're sure there aren't other people who would want you dead?" Ming-Hua asked.
"Of course there are, Shu for one would love nothing more than to end my life prematurely and to do it quite painfully, but he has neither the wits nor the resources, frankly it's something of a miracle that I've been able to escape all of the past attempts on my life, each time I've only barely survived by chance."
"Well if the Master is determined to kill you then your luck is going to run out at some point," Qing Ru remarked.
"Which is precisely why I have to redouble my efforts to find and bring the battle to him. The sooner the better. Which means that I should get on with it and start poking around Republic City a bit more."
"But you've only just arrived," Ming-Hua protested as Li rose to leave.
"And already I've lingered too long, I must make haste and find this Master."
Li and Ho Tin scoured the burnt out shop where he'd nearly been killed earlier that day. Li carefully observed the nature of the burn marks in the shop trying to discern what kind of device had created them. Li wiped his finger on one of them and pulled off some of the residue. He brought his index finger to his nose and sniffed.
"What on earth?" Li asked aloud.
"Did you find something?" Ho Tin asked as he rushed over to see Li.
"Smell that," Li held out his finger to his driver.
Ho Tin sniffed. "Why, it smells like peanut sauce."
Li stuck his finger in his mouth and waited a moment. "Definitely peanut sauce, this bomb was made from peanut sauce."
"But that's completely absurd."
"I would tend to agree with you but for the fact that the evidence lies before our very eyes, or noses as it were."
"But how on earth would you make peanut sauce into an explosive?"
"I'm not certain but do you remember the Legend of Aang? Supposedly a friend of the avatar's was attempting to design a bomb based on peanut sauce."
"Yeah, I seem to remember something about that but it's still just a legend from over seventy years ago."
"True, and as far as we know there's only one person who could really confirm it for us but she's all the way at the South Pole."
"You mean Katara?"
"Yes, and we certainly don't have time for a lengthy trip across the ocean. However, let's assume for the moment that someone did successfully make a peanut sauce bomb, why would they use peanut sauce, surely there are plenty of other materials that would be far better for burning out a simple flower shop."
"Unless they were too expensive, and it would be a lot more difficult to trace the source of the materials if it was something you could just buy in a grocery store or street market."
"The traceability is sound but the expense might not be. If we think about it then chances are that a simple florist didn't know how to convert peanut sauce into an effective explosive so he would have had to learn from someone."
"Or he could have figured it out himself."
"That's not likely, that would require quite a bit of research and experimentation, not only did our florist not have the money for such an endeavor, he clearly didn't have the intellect. If he had figured out the formula, that would have meant he would have had to plan this well ahead of time, but he did no such thing because if he had he would have done a more convincing job of bombing his shop and would have actually tried to convince me that he was a target of some sort neither of which can be said to be true since my encounter with him. So he must have learned how to make the peanut sauce bomb from someone who had already figured it out."
"So if we find the guy who knows how to make peanut sauce bombs, then we get that much closer to the Master."
"Correct," Li replied.
"But how do we find this person?"
"How indeed? I think it's time to pay my old friends the Triple Threats a visit."
Li sat in the dark alley concealed in a dark cloak. He saw three men dressed in foppish clothing start to come up the alley toward him. "Spare a Yuan for a weary traveller," he said to the men in his best Southern Water Tribe accent as he held out a tin cup.
"Get off the ground you maggot!" the waterbender shouted. "You can't stay on our turf without our say so."
"Please, I'm just trying to get back home, I've just escaped the Earth Queen's prisons thanks to those blessed revolutionaries."
"Quiet, did I say you could talk!" the firebender shouted.
"No," Li replied in his normal voice, "but I hardly think it will matter in a few seconds."
The three benders were confused for only a fraction of a second before realizing with whom they were speaking. Realizing that they'd been duped again by their greatest annoyance they quickly turned to anger and made to attack Li.
"You weren't so smart to come here all alone tonight Li," the earthbender said as he leveled a boulder at Li.
"Oh, but I'm not alone."
Suddenly three bolts of lightning shot from the roof of one of the nearby buildings. Each one made its mark and rendered Li's three assailants unconscious.
"Excellent work Ho Tin," Li called.
Ho Tin quickly made his way down from the roof with a newer version of Li's lightning projector.
"I see the improved design worked as expected," Li remarked.
"Indeed it did. So now what do we do?" Ho Tin asked.
"We tie them up and load them into the car. We should take them someplace secluded to interrogate them."
The two then proceeded to load up Li's assailants and vanished into the night without the rest of the triad being any wiser.
"They're starting to wake up," Ho Tin said to Li as the waterbender began to stir.
Li put down his newspaper and got up from his chair.
"Welcome back to the land of the living One Arm, long time no see eh?"
"Li, you scoundrel," he replied.
"No One Arm, you're the scoundrel, I just happen to have outsmarted you, again. You know, with the nitwits the organized crime around here employs I'm surprised the police force, as incompetent as they are, hasn't completely obliterated your organizations."
"You didn't kidnap me to insult me so just spit it out."
"You're right, I didn't kidnap you to insult you, I kidnapped you to ask you some questions in a place where I was sure I would be secure from any attacks you might like to throw at me."
"So ask away, I don't seem to have a lot of choice but to answer at the moment."
"I'm impressed, you seem to have gotten smarter since our last meeting. I'll be to the point then. I'm looking for an explosives expert."
"That's it? You could have just searched around town for one, you didn't have to kidnap us for that."
"No, because you see, this explosives expert is a special kind of expert. I'm looking for someone who has successfully weaponized peanut sauce. Now if I could just find him around town then I would have found him already but seeing as most of the world still thinks that the hopes for explosive peanut sauce went 'up in flames' on the Day of Black Sun, I've come to the conclusion that our explosives expert isn't exactly a legitimate businessman but would rather tiptoe around the black market looking for discrete buyers. Since you're organization is perhaps one of the most influential in organized crime, I thought you might point me in this person's direction."
"I don't know what you're talking about Li, you're starting to sound delusional."
"I can tell you're lying One Arm because, let's be honest, you're a terrible liar. The pitch of your voice has noticeably risen and you're trembling so much I can hear the chair rattling against the concrete floor of this warehouse. So tell me, where can I find him?"
One Arm sat trembling in silence afraid to say anything. Li turned to face him and noticed a bit of what looked like peanut sauce on his coat. "Now how did I miss that earlier?" Li stepped closer and sniffed the stain. "Sure enough, it's peanut sauce, even smells like the same brand used in the bomb." Li took a sample and licked it off his finger. "Definitely the same, but there are some compounds in it that I couldn't detect earlier through the charring. It tastes almost like weeds or grass, just simple plant material. I wonder..."
Li took out a small knife and cut off the section of the coat. "Hey that's mine!" One Arm shouted.
"First of all, if you'd just told me where to find this person, I wouldn't have to be doing my own experiments with the bomb material that's on your coat. Second of all, it's not really yours since you paid for it with money you extorted from poor shopkeepers." Li replied as he placed the fabric on the ground and pulled the fuel cell out of the lightning projector. In redesigning Mr. Wu's electrocutors, Li had discovered that the spirit vines Mr. Wu and Kagaku had been experimenting with could be used as a kind of energy source that although powerful, was extremely difficult to control. He realized, after watching the two perform experiment after experiment trying to destroy the vines that the results could be explosive and that the vines responded to electricity. Li touched the two contacts of the fuel cell to the residue on the cloth for a little while nothing happened but then the residue began to glow a kind of pinkish color before finally igniting and burning the scrap of cloth to ashes. Li knelt down by the scorch mark and gave it a sniff.
"Excellent. Well One Arm, it appears that I no longer need your information so we'll just put you back where we found you and be on our way." Li handed the fuel cell back to Ho Tin who placed it back into the lightning projector.
"Now wait just a minute, you don't mean to tell me that you figured out where to find him just from that?"
"Oh I know exactly where to find him, but no, not just from that. I know that he's using ground up spirit vines to ignite the bombs and that you've been to visit him recently since the residue was still moist. Judging by the soil on your shoes I'd say he came from somewhere around Kwong's Cuisine. Ho Tin, you know what to do."
With that Ho Tin shot One Arm with the lightning projector and the waterbender was once again unconscious. "We shouldn't forget to put the other two out again either."
"There must be twenty doors on this street, how do you know this is where our guy is?" Ho Tin asked Li.
"I don't know that it's this one but we must start somewhere and I do find this particular place suspicious. If you look, you'll see that whoever lives here regularly receives peanut sauce, you'll also notice that they haven't picked any of them up for a little while as there seem to be quite a few jars that haven't been picked up. Now don't you find it a bit odd that someone would not only need this much peanut sauce, but that they also wouldn't pick it up.
"A possible explanation for the peanut sauce could be that he's our bomb maker, a possible explanation for the pile up of orders is that something has happened to our bomb maker. While this certainly doesn't mean that behind this door is our peanut bomber, it gives us a better place to start than simply going door to door all night which might alert our suspect and give him time to flee."
"Fair enough, but how are we going to get in?"
"With this," Li said as he pulled out a small lock picking kit.
"You know we can't do this legally right?"
"Considering my life is in danger I don't particularly care at this point in time. And even though the police department's competence has improved since Shu's dismissal they still can't compete with me."
Li set to work on the lock and within three seconds he had the door open.
"I seem to be a bit out of practice," Li remarked as he put his kit away and opened the door.
The two stepped in the building to find all the lights were out and that the stench of death permeated the building.
"Judging by the smell it seems I was correct in assuming that something bad had happened to the resident. See if you can find him, I'll look for any indication of explosives manufacture."
"Sure thing," Ho Tin replied as he went off in search of the corpse that had been causing the stench.
No sooner had Li sent his friend away did Li find the bomb lab he had been looking for. Strewn about the floor of the room were empty jars of peanut sauce. On one table sat what appeared to be the equipment being used to make the bombs and on another sat the finished product. On the far end of the room there was a small freezer. Li opened it to investigate and within there were jars of ground up spirit vines. "It looks like this was our bomber after all," Li said to himself as he closed the freezer and left the room in search of his driver.
"I've found our bomb maker!" Ho Tin called.
Li went to the source of the voice and found what his friend was looking at. "Well, you've found what's left of her."
The sight was quite a gruesome one to behold and could really only be withstood by carefully turning off one's gag reflexes and amygdala. There was nothing left of their bomb maker but a bloodstained carpet and a torso. Whoever it had been, they had been dismembered and their torso had been left behind. On the wall was a message written in blood, presumably that of the victim. The message read "This is the consequence for treachery against the Agni Kais. If you do business with us, then you do business with us to the exclusion of others, no exceptions.."
"Well, I suppose we should inform the police of this so they can clean this up," Li spoke up after reading the wall.
"But then we'll have to tell them that we picked the lock."
"True, but we can claim we had probable cause as it smelled like there was a rotting corpse inside."
"Do you think that will fly?"
"Under Republic law it will so that's the story we're sticking to."
"I've just finished giving my statement to the police, they decided to release me since they didn't have anything to charge me with," Ho Tin told Li as he stepped out of the interrogation room.
"But they asked you to remain in Republic City in case they had more questions I assume," Li replied.
"Well, now that they're finished with their bureaucratic duties we can continue with the investigation."
"Where'll we start now though? Our lead's been offed by the Agni Kais so we don't have a lot of options."
"On the contrary, our lead was not 'offed' by the Agni Kais."
"Li, they left us a message in her blood."
"True, there was a message left in her blood, but it wasn't the Agni Kais that left it. If you think about the kind of people who work for most of these organized crime outfits, the 'enforcers' tend to be lower class, poorly educated, and fairly illiterate. Yet the grammar used in the message was impeccable and the vocabulary wide, indicating that our murderer was well educated. So it is unlikely that the murder was actually done by the Agni Kais as they generally reserve their educated employees for the white collar jobs like bookkeeping and management."
"So the conclusion is that this was carried out not by the Agni Kais but by someone else and was only made to look like the Agni Kais to the untrained eye. I suspect that this may have been the work of the Master as there are few outside the organized crime groups who would make use of illegal improvised explosives and so there would be even fewer who would know about our bombmaker. We know that the Master knew because he was responsible for last night's bombing.
"However, while this may be the Master's work, it's unlikely he would be so sloppy and the same goes for any other educated criminal so it's fairly safe to conclude that the Master knows we're on to him and that he wants us to know he knows."
"So we should get back to the crime scene as soon as possible?" Ho Tin asked.
"It won't do us any good now, generally when the police show up they muck up all the evidence and the crime scene becomes useless. It's always a good idea to get what you need from a crime scene before the police show up. Fortunately, I already got what I needed. He left us a note in the cupboard where he put the victim's head. He wants me to solve a mystery for him and he left me an address."
"So that's our next stop."
The door to the house was unlocked. It was somewhat rundown and located in an older part of Republic City. The building was unoccupied. On a small table in the center of the living room there was a telephone. Li walked up to it and picked up the mouthpiece and receiver and spoke into it.
"This is the private detective Li I assume?" the voice on the other end asked.
"Yes, and may I assume that this is the Master?"
"You may, but you would be incorrect to. I am one who speaks for the Master, you may think of me as a kind of ambassador."
"Very well Ambassador, why has the Master asked me here?"
"He wants you to solve a little mystery for him. It seems he has been double crossed by a former employee and that cannot stand, you'll find the full details in an envelope next to this phone."
"And why should I help you solve this mystery?"
"Because, if you do, we'll give you what you want."
"And what is it you think I want?"
"To finally meet the Master."
Li remained silent.
"I know what you're thinking, this could just be trap and that there's no guarantee that we'll make good on our promise, but keep in mind that you don't have a lot of options right now, our assassins will kill you eventually if you refuse us so it would wise to accept since there is at least a chance that you will meet the Master before your demise."
"Very well," Li replied as he picked up the aforementioned envelope, "I'll take your case."
"Until we speak again."
The man on the other end hung up the phone and Li did the same as he turned his full attention to the envelope in his hands. Li opened it and pulled out its contents. There was a paper on which the details of the case had been written and a few other items including photographs and correspondence. Li read through the paper. The person in question had been smuggler for the Master. One who dealt primarily in illegal alcohol. Both the smuggler and a large shipment of contraband had gone missing.
"So what now?" Ho Tin asked.
"Now, we investigate our smuggler and see if we can find him."
"I'm sorry, but we can't just give out that kind of information to just anyone, even prestigious PI's," the officer at the records desk told Li.
"I understand that, but in this case it would probably be wise to make an exception since I'm much better at this whole investigation thing than you lot are," Li returned.
"I cannot help you sir, now if you would please leave."
"Very well," Li replied. As he turned to leave, he surreptitiously took notice of the doors and locks that led to the back rooms of the police station and to his dismay, the security had been improved.
"So what did they say?" Ho Tin asked when Li got back in the car.
"They won't let us have it, and I've got no chance of breaking into the records room this time around as it seems they've improved their security significantly since I last snuck in."
"So we've hit a dead end then."
"Not quite, there's still one more person we can go to, I seem to recall our smuggler having been involved in a fight at a railway station several years ago. They didn't catch him but he was photographed, as I recall the official story was that it was a territorial dispute between some of the crime organizations in Republic City. There was a lot of collateral damage. The station was completely destroyed, ten died and twenty more were injured in the crossfire. If I remember correctly, Officer Shu was involved in the case so I think it's time we pay him a visit don't you?"
Shu rose from his chair as he heard the knock at the door. He opened it to reveal, to his unpleasant surprise, his longtime adversary Li. "What are you doing here?" he demanded.
"We've come to ask you for some information," Li replied coolly.
"Assuming that an incompetent former police officer like myself had any valuable information for such an intelligent investigator as yourself, why would I give you that information?"
"I understand that you've been unemployed since your dismissal, I imagine the bills must have started piling up by now, judging by the rather luxurious lifestyle you appear to have become accustomed to. We're willing to pay for the information, and keep in mind, if you didn't accept my money, I might become suspicious that you've fallen back into old corrupt habits, dealing with the crime organizations in the Republic. Perhaps this time, if I investigated, I'd be able to secure more than just a dismissal from the force. Perhaps, I could get you convicted."
"So you're going to blackmail me?"
"No, I'm going to pay you, if you catch my drift."
"Fine, what do you want?"
"We want everything you know about the smuggler Shi Yu Shun. He was involved in a gang fight some years ago that you investigated. Several innocents were caught in the crossfire, you might remember it."
"Yes, I remember it well. I'm afraid we didn't look much into the suspects. At the time the council wanted to keep it quiet so any investigation we did was small scale and it ended quickly."
"Do you have any information on this individual's usual routes, hideouts, etcetera?"
"Yes, actually, I do know a bit about that. But I'll need something in advance before I tell you anymore."
"Very well," Li said as he pulled out ten yuans and handed them to Shu.
"It'll cost you a bit more than that."
"I see. Well then, maybe I should turn you into the police now since you're clearly not going to be of anymore use."
"Turn me in! For what? You don't have anything on me."
"I know that you've been bootlegging, you have recent correspondence from the Agni Kais, written in their simplistic code, on your table, you haven't done a very good job of hiding the spoils from your last run, and this place reeks of adulterated alcohol. This time I don't think it'd take much to get you convicted of a crime."
"Fine! You've proved your point, I'll take the rest later."
"So, where can we find him?"
"I'll take you there if you've got a car."
The three of them got out of the car and Li began to take in the details of the abandoned warehouse before him. Unlike others in Republic City, the warehouse's walls were not brick and concrete but were made of corrugated steel which had corroded over time. The main sliding doors were made of wood which had begun to chip and splinter from exposure and lack of care. Everything about the building looked old, deserted, and rundown from its cracked foundation to its boarded up windows. The only thing that appeared new was the padlock that kept the main doors closed.
Li strode up to it with his Ho Tin and Shu trailing behind him.
"He used this as a base of operations around the time of the fight but he abandoned it before we could catch him here, he left whole trucks full of illegal alcohol, didn't even bother to take his money with him," Shu said. "And as you can see from the aging of the place, he hasn't been back since."
"As always Shu, your lack of observational skills amazes me. Even when the evidence that this place isn't as abandoned as it seems is right under your nose you fail to see it."
"What on earth are you blabbering about Li, just look at the place, the walls are rusted, the doors falling apart the windows are boarded up-"
"But the lock on the aforementioned doors is new," Li cut Shu off. "I'd say it was purchased about five or six years ago by the wear. Though it has been taken care of well so as to maintain its function the wear suggests about six years of use which would be about right. That would have been enough time for the police to stop watching the place before coming back to an apparently abandoned warehouse to resume operations." Li pulled out his lockpick kit and began to work on the padlock.
"Don't be ridiculous, your 'powers of observation' are no better than anyone else's. In fact I'd say they're-" Shu stopped as Li stood up and threw the sliding doors open to reveal a warehouse full of alcohol, trucks, and weapons.
"You were saying?" Ho Tin jabbed at Shu.
"Probably want to close your mouth Shu, you might catch a spiderfly," Li said as he walked into the warehouse.
Li pulled out his firearm as he began to look around the warehouse. Although the building had outwardly appeared abandoned, on the inside, the walls and doors were as good as new. Once Li was satisfied no one was around, he holstered his weapon and began to take a closer look at the contents of the warehouse.
He observed three large trucks each loaded with several barrels of untaxed sake. He also noticed a few crates of what he discovered was opium in one of the corners. He walked over to the lone desk in the warehouse and began rummaging through the papers.
"It appears that this organization has multiple employees to help drive the illicit merchandise around, we should make haste in departing before anyone decides to come back," Li said.
"But we haven't learned anything," Shu protested.
"On the contrary, I think we've learned a great deal, don't you Ho Tin?"
"Care to clue me in?" Shu asked indignantly.
"Would you like to do the honors?" Li asked his driver and protégé.
"Well," Ho Tin began. "There are currently three trucks each loaded with alcohol but there was a fourth that has since left here as you can tell by the tire tracks leaving the warehouse. Tire tracks which don't lead to any of the other vehicles and which only go in one direction, out. Each of the vehicles has bears a logo from a fairly prominent but also commonplace business within Republic City but the logos are all different, presumably to help conceal the operation from prying eyes."
"So we're just going to search every commercial truck in the city for illegal alcohol?"
"Not at all Shu," Li replied. "We just need to search for a commercial truck that's out of place. For example, one without a license plate, or a fake license plate, or perhaps one that has signs of having been stolen. Additionally, we don't need to search the entire city, just the places on this delivery schedule for vehicle number two," Li held up one of the papers he'd taken from the desk. "If you'll observe, each of the trucks has a number that has been placed inconspicuously in the wheelwell and vehicles one, three, and four are all present which means we're looking for vehicle number two."
"Here's our next stop," Li said to Ho Tin as they made a right onto South 22nd Street.
"It appears that we may have found our commercial truck," Shu said grudgingly as he pointed off to the right towards a truck bearing the Future Industries logo.
"Shall I pull in behind it?" Ho Tin asked.
"Yes, that'll do nicely," Li replied.
They all got out of the car and Li rushed to inspect the vehicle's wheelwells. "Sure enough," he called. "Vehicle number two. Now let's see what's inside." Li pulled out his lockpick kit and set to work on the lock to the cargo compartment of the truck. When he finished he pulled the door open to reveal an empty chamber. All that was present were some soil deposits that appeared to be from shoes of unknown make, likely custom made. Li got out and inspected the tires to find the same soil embedded in the tread. He went around to the front of the vehicle and investigated the cab. Here he found the same soil deposited on the gas and brake pedals as well as on the clutch.
"What's so fascinating about dirt?" Shu interjected. "It's literally everywhere."
"True enough, but not all dirt is created equal. In fact, had it not been for the fact that different places have different soil compositions I wouldn't have solved that case with the Bank of Republic City. I would have thought you'd have remembered that one well Shu since it really was the beginning of the end for your career, once it came to light that the man you'd endorsed was crooked and involved with a clandestine criminal organization that may very well span the globe."
"Why do you feel the need to pester me so Li? You seem to get boundless satisfaction from it."
"Why don't you use Iroh's Razor Shu. If I seem to get boundless satisfaction from pestering you it is probably because I do. I'd ask you why you seem to be so stupid but I understand that the reason you seem to be so stupid is that you are, in fact, a nitwit and I'd wager that the reason you're a nitwit is that rather than expanding your reasoning and observational skills you decided to play politics by using verbal abuse and physical coercion to get your way."
Ho Tin couldn't help but chuckle a little while Shu simply stood and fumed.
Li walked back to the car and opened the trunk to reveal a case which he promptly removed and brought back to the truck. "Based on visual observation, I have come to the conclusion that the soil in the back, cab, and on the tires is the same," he began as he opened the case to reveal well organized and labeled bottles, vials, and jars of various chemicals. "Now, I have only to determine the actual composition of the soil. If you'll excuse me for a moment gentlemen, I must now put my chemical knowledge to good use." Li thus began setting about collecting small samples of the soil and placing them in test dishes where he subsequently would add one chemical or another and observe the reactions.
"Well, I believe I know where this vehicle has been and it's well off the route it was supposed to take," Li said as he packed his case of chemicals up and stored it back in the trunk of his car.
"And where does your 'sorcery' tell you it's been?"
"Shu, sometimes it would be better if you kept your mouth shut as I do tire of your constant sarcasm. Contrary to what you tell yourself, it makes you sound less intelligent, not more. Ho Tin, we need to drive to the United Liberty Industries construction site just outside the city limits, do you know how to get there?"
"I do indeed sir."
"And what makes you so sure that this is where that truck has been?" Shu asked.
"It's quite simple really, my tests revealed to me the composition of the soil and showed that it was a mixture of the usual soil you would find in the hills surrounding Republic City, concrete dust, brick dust, mortar, and small quantities of steel such as you would find at a construction site. There are a number of construction sites around Republic City but only one where the soil has a particularly rare and troublesome kind of clay in addition to the other constituents found elsewhere. If you've read the papers, construction of the new ULI factory has been unexpectedly slowed by the very same kind of clay."
"Ah, you must be that famous private detective I've heard so much about!" the man exclaimed with a smile as he held out his hand to shake Li's. He was well dressed and had an air of confidence around him that Li had only seen in a few others. "I'm Mr. Fun Tang, the president and owner of ULI, how can I help you."
"We're investigating the theft of a large shipment of illegal alcohol and the disappearance of a smuggler who we believe is responsible for the theft as well as for the death of several innocent people in an organized crime conflict some years ago."
"I see, well I'd be happy to help in any way I can."
"I have reason to believe that the individual in question drove his vehicle here and then back to its originally intended destination before making off with the shipment. I was wondering if I may search the premises for any evidence of this."
"Absolutely, happy to help."
A Li walked past the fence and into the construction site he noticed a large pile of rubble and charred wood. "Do you mind if I ask what happened over there?" Li asked as he gestured toward the ruin.
"Oh that? Yes, our Site Office burned down a few nights ago. It was quite peculiar, we suspect arson but we're not certain. We've filed the insurance claim and I've personally hired an investigator to look into it."
"Interesting, was anyone hurt?"
"Yes, it appears that there was one person in it when it burned down we haven't been able to identify the body though, too badly burned."
"I see, I'd be happy to help you with it," Li replied as he strode over the spot.
"There's really no need, after all you've already got a more pressing case to deal with than a simple arsonist."
"Not at all, I often find that two cases that seem utterly unconnected are, in fact, intrinsically linked. Besides, if it was arson, then the arsonist is no mere arsonist but is also a murderer as someone died in the inferno.
"Out of curiousity Mr. Fun Tang, is there anyone who would have a particular interest in impeding your work on this project of yours?"
"I can think of a few. After all, what we plan to build here would have significant implications for the automobile market. Both Future Industries and the Cabbage Corp. would suffer significant losses. The vehicles we plan to build here are faster, safer, and more efficient than anything currently on the market. There are also several other businesses who might want to see us fail since we've done a pretty good job of poaching all the best engineers from around the world."
"I see," Li replied as they arrived at the spot. "Interesting," he remarked as he knelt down and picked up a small piece of glass from the wreckage.
"Did you store a lot of liquids in your site office?" Li asked.
"No, it was really just paperwork."
"I think you're right then, it was arson, but the intention may not have been to undermine your work here but to conceal another crime."
"What makes you say that?" Ho Tin asked.
"If you'll observe there's plenty of glass around here, but not flat like you'd expect from a window. No, this broken glass is nice and round and curved in a regular manner that is characteristic of a bottle, most likely a bottle of illegal alcohol."
"You mean to suggest Li that the smuggler stole his own alcohol and then burned it to cover it up?" Shu asked. "In what world does that make sense?"
"In none, but I think you're drawing the wrong conclusion Shu. It's more likely that our smuggler didn't even steal the alcohol to begin with. After all, the man did spend a significant portion of his life in organized crime, surely he would understand that he'd make far less money and have far less security if he tried to steal the alcohol for his own ends than if he continued to work for a vast and well managed criminal organization."
"You talk about this smuggler as if he's dead Li."
"Because I think he is dead Shu, I think he's the unidentified body from the fire. After all, it couldn't be one of ULI's employees, they're all accounted for, and it's unlikely to be the arsonist since it really isn't that difficult to burn a building down intentionally without being in it when the fire starts, let alone once it has blocked every avenue of escape leaving you to die in the inferno."
Li then turned to Fun Tang, "When did you say the fire started?" he asked.
"It three nights ago, around six in the evening, most of the workers had gone home by then."
"Who was here?"
"Well there was the night guard and a few other stragglers and then me, I'd come to see how the construction was progressing that evening. It was I who noticed the fire."
"Did anyone suspicious come in that night?"
"Yes, there was a delivery truck with the Future Industries logo on it. At the time the night guard's suspicions were allayed by the driver's explanation that the vehicle had been recently purchased by the company we use to deliver supplies and equipment to all our operations. The driver was able to produce apparently authentic documentation so he was let through. I came through shortly after he left which was when I noticed the fire."
"I assume what's left of the body was taken to the city morgue."
"Why wasn't this in any of the papers?"
"We've done our best to keep it quiet, if it got out we'd probably lose a significant portion of our investors in the project and then we'd have to shut down the whole operation."
"I see. Well thank you, you've been extremely helpful," Li replied as he stood up and made for the car.
"Is that all?" Mr. Fun Tang asked.
"For now, I may return if I find I need more information from this location but I think I've gotten all I need."
"Where are we going now Li?" Shu asked.
"We're going to the city morgue to see if I can get a hold of that body for Qing Ru to examine."
"There's not much I can tell you unfortunately," Qing Ru began as he put his examination equipment away and removed his protective clothing. "The body's been pretty badly burned. There's not much left of him but it does look like he had been severely beaten before he burned. He has a number of broken bones in places that you wouldn't expect to have broken based on where they found him in the ruins." "So you think he was beaten to keep him from fleeing the fire?" Li asked.
"No, this looks more like torture. There are too many breaks in too many places. If it had just been to keep him from leaving the burning building they wouldn't have wasted their time on breaking all those bones repeatedly, they'd have just taken out his legs so he couldn't walk and maybe his arms so he couldn't crawl. This man, however, has compound fractures in virtually every bone in his body that can have a compound fracture. It's like someone used him as a punching bag."
"Assuming this is our smuggler, isn't it possible that these are just old injuries?" Ho Tin asked. "I mean violence is kind of an occupational hazard in that line of work."
"No, old injuries would show signs of having healed at least partially these are all fresh, probably from within the past week or so."
"Since this body is now connected to our smuggler and a potential murder case, I was able to get the police to release what records they had on our smuggler. Apparently one of the metalbending police severely injured his hip some years ago, the report says that he had to be dragged off by his comrades. Is it safe to assume that evidence of such an injury would appear on him after all this time and being nearly burnt to a crisp?"
"Yes, actually, and I did find something. It seems that someone performed surgery on our victim's hip, there are several metal braces fastened to the bone, presumably to hold the fragments together to help the bone heal."
"So who had motive to kill him?"
"Any number of people I suppose, he undoubtedly made many enemies in his line of work."
"True, but he wasn't just killed, he was tortured, then killed. Whoever did this wanted him to suffer suggesting a personal motive which narrows our field a bit."
"I suppose you could start with the people involved in the fight."
"Yes, I've got a list of them here." Li began to read through the list and name off people who had either been severely injured in the crossfire or who had died. He then noticed three victims of interest. "Well that's interesting."
"What is?" Qing Ru asked.
"It seems I should pay Mr. Fun Tang another visit."
"And why's that?"
"It would appear that his wife and two children were killed in the incident."
"I'll admit that I did lose my family in the violence but that doesn't make me a criminal does it detective?" Mr. Fun Tang told Li.
"No, but it does give you motive for the torture and subsequent murder of the victim which makes you a suspect."
"If this man is who you say he is then he can hardly be said to be a victim. After all, he's undoubtedly responsible for the deaths of many more people than those who died that day."
"While that may be the case I have to get to the truth."
"Why? Why not leave it?"
"Because I could be wrong, he may not be our man, he may very well have been an innocent individual. Or discovery of the truth could give us further information about the organization he worked for which would put us in a position to stop further violence. But most of all, because it is my duty to discover the truth."
"Wasn't there a time when you not only didn't feel obligated to assist the government but rather had an entirely adversarial relationship with them detective?"
"Yes, and that time has not passed. You must understand that my duty isn't to the government force but rather to the truth itself."
"I see. Well detective, if there's nothing else you must excuse me, I have some rather pressing appointments to keep."
"Very well, thank you." As Li got up to leave he noticed some shoeprints on the floor. The soil appeared to match that of the construction site, which made sense, but what was even more intriguing, was the shape of the shoeprints.
"Out of curiosity, where do you get your shoes?" Li asked.
"My shoes? I have them custom made by a cobbler downtown why do you ask?"
"Well I've been thinking of getting some for myself would it be too much trouble to ask for an address?"
"Not at all, here let me write it down for you." Fun Tang pulled out a pen and small scrap of paper and scrawled an address on it and handed it to Li who thanked him as he left the office.
There was a knock at the door and Mr. Fun Tang slowly crept out of bed to answer it. "Yes?"
"Mr. Zhen Fun Tang," began the man, "I'm Officer Chen of the Republic City Police Department and I have a warrant to search your home for evidence regarding the murder of the unknown individual who was burned to death on ULI property four nights ago."
"So it was really him?" Qing Ru asked as he, his wife, Li, and Ho Tin all sat in the kitchen with their tea.
"It was indeed, I spoke to his shoemaker and he told me that the casts I'd made of the shoe prints in the truck perfectly matched Mr. Fun Tang's and that he hadn't made any other's like them. It was enough to get a warrant and it wasn't long before the police found the torture implements in his basement. He's facing the death penalty and is almost certain to be convicted. His lawyer will undoubtedly advise him to confess."
"So he didn't steal the alcohol and go on the run?"
"No, it seems he didn't and I've reported as much to the Master, we're now just awaiting his reply."
"You know, something's occurred to me," Ho Tin remarked.
"And what's that?" Li asked.
"The Master must have known that his man didn't steal anything. If he's smart and well informed enough to run a criminal organization that practically rules the world surely he'd know when he'd been stolen from."
Li sat in thought for a moment before realization dawned on him and his eyes grew wide. "Of course, we just played right into his hands. It was never the alcohol he wanted, it was always ULI, he knew what had happened, he probably even helped to arrange it in his own clandestine way."
"I don't understand," Qing Ru said. "How does this get him ULI?"
"Under Republic law, business owners convicted of a capital offense forfeit all their assets which are then sold off by the state to the highest bidder."
"Which, in this case, would be the Master," Qing Ru said.
"Exactly. ULI was working on revolutionary technologies and was an industry leader, owning that company would give the Master an incredible advantage over the world."
"Quite right Li," Shu called from behind him as he pressed the muzzle of a firearm against Li's head. "And don't even think about reaching for yours," Shu said as he took Li's firearm away.
"Interesting, may I ask how you came by one of those, they don't go into full production for another week."
"Let's just say that the Master has chosen the meeting place and I think it's a place you're quite familiar with. Although I would have thought you'd be more interested in how I got in."
"That was really quite simple. Qing Ru's wife got left the room approximately two minutes ago, it takes approximately one minute to go from here to the front door so one minute for her to let you in, one minute for you to come in. I also notice that she isn't present right now which indicates she also has business with the Master that kept her from returning with you. May I make just a simple inquiry though? Was she the one who bombed my flat?"
"She was indeed, I'm surprised you didn't notice sooner."
"Frankly so am I. So how are we going to do this Shu, are you going to take me away and shoot me in some ditch?"
"No, we're going to meet the Master now get up."
The three of them rose before Shu spoke again. "Not you two, just Li and if you try to follow or call the police it will only ensure that all of you die."
Qing Ru and Ho Tin sat back down as Shu led Li out of the house and into a waiting car.
"I take it then we're going to Mr. Wu's factory."
"Tell me, how did you manage to gain entry did you just break a window?"
"Something like that."
It wasn't too long before the car came to a stop and Li and Shu stepped out before the nearly finished factory that was intended to produce everything from Li's firearms and lightning projectors to pens and shoes.
Li walked in the building, still being driven from behind by Shu's pistol. They walked up several flights of stairs before finally entering a small office where they found a man in a trenchcoat with his back turned to them.
"Have you brought him Shu?" he asked.
"I have sir."
"Good," the man replied as he turned to face them, "Now I'm afraid I no longer require your services," the man said as he pulled out a firearm of his own and shot Shu twice.
Li looked at the man before speaking, "The Master I presume?"
"You presume correctly."
"May I ask why you shot him?"
"I shot him because he was troublesome, he had been compromised by you long ago but he insisted on remaining in the organization, he even threatened to expose us, so I let him stay for just as long as he was useful and then I shot him."
"I see. I must say that this meeting is somewhat anticlimactic."
"Agreed, so let's just cut to the chase, why did you want to meet me?"
"A number of reasons, I wanted to see the man who wanted me dead so badly he was willing to make countless attempts on my life, I wanted to see what kind of narcissist fancied himself ruler of the world, but finally, I wanted to see if I could somehow destroy your organization to eliminate a threat."
"A threat to whom, you friends the blackbookers?"
"I wouldn't say they're my friends per se."
"But you admit you have a close relationship with them, even if you don't share their political inclinations."
"That would be a fair assessment."
"Well, let me tell you this, I wouldn't bother trying to destroy my organization if I were you, I've created it with too much care, and I will forever rule the world from the shadows."
"I don't know, based on what I've learned about your organization it's pretty centrally controlled so much so that it would likely crumble if it's leader were to meet an untimely end."
"It's really rather pointless to threaten me Li, as you can tell, I have the upper hand as I am armed and you are not. Additionally, I have had my employees place several of those peanut bombs as well as canisters of blasting jelly around the factory all linked by radio to this device." The Master drew out a small stick with a button from his pocket the button was depressed by his thumb. "You see Li, this device is designed in such a way that if I were to remove pressure from this button, a signal would be sent to the detonators that would cause the destruction of this factory with you in it. So you can't kill me without killing yourself as well."
"I see. I assume then you're just going to kill me yourself."
"Considering every one of my assassins has failed thus far, I thought that it would be best to see it through myself."
"Speaking of assassins, how did you manage to get Qing Ru's wife to make an attempt on my life?"
"She'd been my employee all along, I intentionally snuck her into your life so as to make it easier to kill you, something she repeatedly failed to do. I of course just terminated her employment as well."
"Are you familiar with lightning projectors?"
"You mean those devices used to electrocute my water tribe assassin?"
"Not quite but close, they're an improved design, something that I created. They're going to be manufactured here in this factory but the equipment for doing so isn't completely in place yet and there are only a few prototypes."
"While this is fascinating, I am rather tired and I have an Earth Kingdom to repair thanks to that bothersome Red Lotus so if we could just get on with killing you that would be marvelous."
Li didn't take much note of the Master's offhand comment. "You see, these lightning projectors have a unique appearance that makes it difficult to recognize as a weapon and interestingly enough, Shu made just that mistake."
Before the Master could comprehend what Li had just said Li whipped out a lightning projector and shot the Master several times. The Master collapsed to the floor in spasms which worked to Li's advantage as it kept him from detonating the bombs placed throughout the factory.
Li quickly rushed down the stairs racing against time hoping that the spasms would continue long enough for him to get out of the building safely. Once on the ground floor, Li redoubled his efforts to escape in time and as he left the building, he didn't stop running until it exploded behind him and he felt something hard hit the back of his head and everything went black.
For the collective works of the author, go here.