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-1 (Blood & Steel)
Saturday, September 10, 2016
The following morning, Euryale pulled over on a road flanking the North Yue River. Once her dad's keys were secured in her belt pouch, she and Phorcys got out, anchored their lines against the guard rail, and repelled down the steep concrete bank to the river, where a morbid iceberg had wedged itself. She could see that other investigators were already swarming the scene, mostly blue-uniformed River Rescue units in motorboats. By waving their hands, they were able to break off discolored or misshapen chunks of ice. Possible evidence, which they inspected more closely.
"This looks like a Red Monsoon murder," Euryale commented as they reeled in their cables, "What do you think it has to do with our case?"
"I can't be sure," her father began, "But it's fairly odd for the Agni Kais to be this far into Monsoon territory. It's unusually aggressive."
"Just like our perp," his daughter said with a nod.
Phorcys strode to the bank and tapped his foot sharply, causing a section of the concrete wall to extend towards an idling motor boat. In it stood an officer with a bob of thick, dark curls, bearing 2 stars on her sleeve, who absent-mindedly tapped a monochrome megaphone against her knee. As Euryale and her father strode towards her, she turned her long lashes and aquamarine eyes on them.
"Good morning, Inspector Matsu," her dad said with a wave, prompting her razor-thin eyebrow to raise and her ruby lip to curl sourly.
"Are you trying to make a joke right now?" she asked.
"Uh—no, I assure you, that is not what I meant," Phorcys stammered awkwardly, running his hand through his hair anxiously. "Well—I guess I'll just cut right to the chase: My daughter and I are pursuing an Agni Kai case, and we're fresh out of leads."
"So you were hoping I'd have some fresh ones to give you," she assessed with a nod. "Well, I'm not sure if I have much to say. There's nothing particularly special about the few Agni Kai that we've managed to identify so far. They've been in and out of jail repeatedly, but don't seem to have many connections within the gang. The rest of them are unknowns, probably new to the gang."
"That actually sounds about like what we're looking for," he answered, "Are there any signs of why they were here, who ordered them to come, or why the Red Monsoons killed them?"
"We've found some stray speedboat debris in the river bed, obviously leftovers from attempts to clean out wrecks. There must've been half a dozen of them in the past month or so. We also found a few fake yuans, explaining why anyone would bother trying to clean it up."
"What does that mean?" Phorcys asked, turning back to his daughter.
"They were fighting over counterfeit money?"
"The Agni Kais have probably been attacking any shipments of illicit Monsoon goods," Inspector Matsu corrected. "But why do you think someone ordered this? Isn't the Agni Kai way usually to band together and vote on a job, so everyone has equal responsibility?"
"Give the Inspector your report, Officer Rakshashi."
"Yes, Sir!" she replied, saluting, before turning to Inspector Matsu. "Ma'am. Two days ago, we arrested an Agni Kai during a car chase, who claimed to have robbed a store. When no stores reported any thefts, we concluded that the stolen money must have come from the Triple Threats. 'Lightning Bolt' Zolt implied to us that he shook down a couple of Agni Kais who told him that someone within the gang was attempting to consolidate power. Unfortunately, when we went to investigate the lead, we found that the couple had already been executed, their bodies burnt to skeletal ash. When we heard about this attack, we thought it matched our unknown suspect's MO."
"Whoever it is seems to want to be the next Fire Lord," Phorcys added. "The Other Fire Lord," he clarified when Inspector Matsu squinted at him in confusion.
"I see," she said, her eyebrows slicing upward in surprise. "Just how strong is this Other-Fire-Lord-To-Be?"
"We don't know, but whoever it is seems to be capable of teaching both jet propulsion and lightning redirection, at the bare minimum."
"Then he could rival Zolt in power..." she trailed off, rubbing her chin as she gazed at nothing in particular, before focusing on the duo once more. "In that case, it's even more important to question Voland."
"Who's Voland?" Euryale asked, hand still held against her forehead.
"Nix Voland," answered the inspector. "He was arrested a long time ago for extortion. Officially, he acted alone and has been clean ever since he got out of prison. Today, he's the wealthy owner of an exclusive Waterbending Club. But we believe he took the fall for the Monsoons, and was rewarded with a promotion when he got out of jail. We suspect he is such a quote-unquote 'model citizen' because he now has cronies of his own to take the fall for him."
"So the club is a front for the Red Monsoons, but you don't have enough evidence for a warrant?" Euryale asked.
"Well—you can be at ease, by the way—that's mostly the theory. Every now and again, a club member will be arrested for doing business with a known Monsoon member, and we'll get a warrant to search the building. But we never find anything."
She turned, pointing up to a massive skyscraper of black stone, with a cerulean tiled roof brushing the belly of the clouds. "That's it over there. That's where we'll be going." She then looked down and to her left to address the blue-eyed young man driving the boat, or rather making sure it stayed steady. "Sobek, radio in for another inspector, so I can take these 2 along."
He nodded, shaggy black hair bouncing slightly as he reached for the radio. Soon enough, the Rakshashis were back in their car, following Matsu's own car down to the docks. As always, they were a flurry of sailors loading and unloading shipments. The sharp, salty sea breeze tickled their noses as they emerged, and they were serenaded by the harsh squawking of iguanagulls far overhead, the occasional toll of a buoy singing counterpoint.
Without preamble, they headed up the steps of the skyscraper, towards a set of revolving doors. A sign of frosty blue neon tubes curled overhead, scrawling out "Club Voland" in neat-but-slanted script.
"What seems to be the problem, officers?" asked a goateed and cobalt-clad doorman, part of a matched pair.
"We just want to ask Mr. Voland some questions about something that happened nearby in town," Inspector Matsu replied stiffly, "It's no cause for alarm."
"Proceed," his partner answered in a lower, gruffer voice, "But make sure you sign in at the front desk."
She nodded in answer. Inside was yet another pair of doormen, or rather door women, a tan brunette sporting her hair in a large pair of loops and her pale and raven-haired partner, with triple ponytails. Euryale earned their harsh glares by muttering that there were a lot of lookouts for a simple club, and she felt their eyes boring into her back until they had made their way up to the long reception desk. Made of the same stone as the building, it stood out in stark relief against the blue and white tiles upon which it sat.
As Inspector Matsu explained their purpose for being there to a young, perky receptionist with a bob on her head and a phone in her hand, Euryale took a casual look around. The space was beautifully decorated, with waterfall fountains set in each corner, and around them, oddly enough, exotic Fire Nation ferns and palm trees. Suppose there aren't too many plants in the Water Tribes.
She followed her superiors to the elevator, where there was yet another uniformed man, this time darker skinned with a few spit curls poking out from under his hat. He nodded curtly as he pulled the lever to take them up into the nest of vultures.
"Enter," Nix Voland said gruffly to a polite knocking at his jet black double doors.
The doors gently creaked open just a crack, a dark-skinned woman with a mess of brown curls poking her head in. "You have visitors, Mr. Voland. A pair of detectives and a rookie from the boars. One of the inspectors is from river patrol, while the others are metalbenders. They say they want to—"
"I know why they are here. If that is all, you are dismissed. You may let them in."
She nodded, backing out of the door, which sealed with a soft snap. Moments later, she appeared again, escorting the officers inside before leaving. The younger officer was stumbling slightly, and shaking off a look of sickness.
Euryale was surprised to see that, unlike the floor below, here they seemed to be standing on the edge of a lagoon—a sprawling mural of Tui's and La's oasis. The room was bathed in light from a large, frosted circular feature set in the ceiling, which could be mistaken for the northern sun. Potted plants scattered about and a waterfall fountain dominating the wall to her left completed the illusion. A series of cool blue armchairs and accompanying black end tables was littered about. Each chair bore seams and hanging tassels of dazzling, candy apple red, which gave her the uncomfortable impression of blood dripping into water.
One of these armchairs sat slightly higher than the rest, raised on a literal pedestal, with some slight design changes. The back of the headrest featured a gilded lion turtle head, growling menacingly at any who dared approach the man seated within. The "blood" of this chair dripped from its mane and the claws that adorned the armrests. Euryale could also see that, unlike the black rods below the other chairs, this one was supported by more sets of golden claws.
As for the man himself, he was heavily shrouded by the trees on either side of him—furthering the impression of a jungle predator stalking his prey—but Euryale could make out the gold chain of a watch embedded in the pocket of his steely suit, decorated with faint blue pinstripes and sporting a flared collar that exposed a blood red tie splattered against his white undershirt. Water Tribe emblems adorned his cuffs, and his legs terminated in boots that would be black as the night, if not for the fact that they were so shiny that Euryale could make out her reflection within even from 5 feet distant.
Nix Voland folded his hands in front of him, leaning forward to rest his chin, still rock-solid despite age having sapped the color from his neatly parted hair, on his broad and powerful knuckles. Despite this, he had the face of a scholar, with fine features spread across chiseled cheek bones, a high forehead, and a look of cunning in his brilliant blue eyes, which now narrowed at them.
"Mr. Voland," Phorcys began, confused as to why Inspector Matsu wasn't saying anything, only to look as if he had been slapped as Voland waved for him to be silent.
Euryale frowned at the inspector, swearing she had just muttered something like "so naïve," when Voland cleared his throat.
"My associates have yet to arrive," he explained, "I assume that you wish to say whatever it is you have to say to them as well. I can't imagine that you'd wish to repeat your story, and I certainly have no wish to hear you repeat it. So we wait." He inclined his head to the detective as he said the last word, sending a clear message that it was an order that he was daring the officer to defy.
Phorcys balled his fists, disguising his fury with a bow. "As you wish," he muttered before standing.
Moments passed in uncomfortable silence, save for the ticking of a golden clock contained within a glass dome, sitting on a table beside Voland's chair. Each motion of the second hand struck the floor like a hammer, the echo driving its vibrations deep inside of Euryale even without her seismic sense. She began to feel steamy under her armor, pressing her gauntlet to her forehead in a vain attempt to cool off. It took her a few seconds to notice when a new sound drifted in from the hall outside. A cocky, irritating sound.
"...and, to round off our lil' tour here, let's introduce the Big Man himself. Heeeeere's Voland!"
The doors blew open with a rush, propelled by the widespread arms of a white-suited man with a matching cape coat, who now grinned stupidly at them. Phorcys and Euryale stared equally vacuously at his eccentric appearance, complete with dyed straw blond hair.
For her part, Inspector Matsu merely shrugged and said, "Hello again, Netzach. Have you been a good boy?"
"'Course not, then I wouldn't get to be punished by you, and where's the fun in that? But, and no offense mind ya, I think I like the chassis on your new friend better. Reower...not the old guy, the bronze beauty...the female bronze beauty."
"She's too young for you," Phorcys growled threateningly, moving to stand in front of her.
"...How old do you think I am, exactly?" Netzach asked with equal fury, his eyes narrowing.
A slender, pretty woman with strings of pearls adorning her neck and ears broke the tension by shoving Netzach and pushing past him. "You're a pig," she complained, "Now move, I'd rather not stand here in case you 2 decide to start an amateur Pro-Bending match. Or in case testosterone poisoning is contagious." She then turned and reached back, holding her cerulean talons out invitingly. With a seductive roll behind her ruby lips, she added, "Come here, little man."
A young man stepped forward. Like Netzach, he was about Euryale's height and surprisingly slimmer, but unlike Netzach he was also similar in age and hair style. His clothes were blue like the woman's, but unsurprisingly not like the woman's sleeveless flapper dress and sheer, snowflake-patterned silk over coat. Instead, he wore a light blue suit of a design similar to Netzach's, accessorized with a navy duster and trilby hat, which he took off as he inclined his head slightly to the officers, before hanging them up on a clothing rack in the corner.
"You're not even going to blush at being called cutesy names by Little Water Tribe's most eligible bachelorette? Wow, kid, you've got nerves of steel."
She sat in the chair closest to Voland, crossing her bare legs. As his "associates" were bickering, Voland produced a bottle of red wine from a small ice box under his table, which he now poured into long-stemmed glasses procured from a drawer.
"Are you quite ready to meet with us now, Mr. Voland?" Phorcys asked with a twitch of his eye.
As the detective turned away from Netzach, the latter pulled his eyes open wide and stuck his tongue out at the back of the former's head, before striding past him. He caught Euryale's attention by pointing at her, then gave her a wink and a tongue click. When she wrinkled her face in revulsion, he added, "Eh, you'll change your mind. I grow on people like that."
"If you mean like a parasite, then that is accurate, yes," his female cohort shot at him, passing around the glasses that her father poured and handed to her. Nix himself looked inquiringly at the elder officers, but they waved him off, so he shut the drawer after pouring the 4th glass.
"I apologize for my companions," the younger man said with a twinkle in his eye, flashing a set of pearly whites at Euryale. "Especially Netzach, who can't seem to control himself in front of beautiful women. I'm Senthose," he added, holding out his hand. Without thinking, Euryale took it, suddenly feeling a flush that had nothing to do with the office's heat.
"Yes, I apologize as well," Voland said, "I thought my club members, especially my daughter, had better manners than this."
"I'm Selene," she said with a roll of her eyes, "It's very nice to meet you officers."
"This is Detective Phorcys Rakshashi and his daughter, Euryale Rakshashi," Inspector Matsu introduced, gesturing to each in turn. "And of course, you already know who I am."
"You gonna let go of the new kid any time soon?" Netzach asked from his chair, raising his eyebrow.
"Euryale, he's speaking to you," her father clarified.
"Wha—oh! I'm terribly sorry!" she exclaimed, awkwardly jerking her hand away.
"I regret nothing," Senthose said, nodding at her before taking his seat.
"Some-one's gooot a cruuu-ush!" Netzach swayed to the beat as he taunted in song, prompting Euryale to shoot a resentful look at his smug grin.
"Is everyone quite finished flirting with my daughter?" Phorcys grumbled in annoyance, turning to Selene, "Perhaps you'd like to go next?"
She waved him off. "Yeah, that's not really my cup of tea. Even if it was, I don't have the time of day for someone who reeks of poverty."
"I got more," Netzach chimed in helpfully, raising his finger.
"Enough!" Inspector Matsu ordered irritably, with a dramatic swipe of her hand, "We're here to discuss an important matter, not to listen to your improvised comedy! Now, what exactly do you know about the bodies found in the river early this morning?"
"Why would you presume that we know anything?" Voland asked coolly. As he drank, the other club members followed suit.
"Maybe it might jog your memory to hear that someone wants to be Fire Lord," Phorcys spat, "As in the Other Fire Lord." He nodded in satisfaction at seeing the Red Monsoons exchange shocked looks, all but Senthose, who raised an eyebrow in confusion.
"It's what they used to call the boss of the Agni Kais," Voland clarified for his benefit. "Back when there was a boss. That means those gangsters the cops found frozen in the river were prob'ly lookin' to burn out some Water Tribe citizens. And there'll be more where they came from."
"I see you have heard about this after all," Phorcys pressed.
"Only the stuff that's front page news," Voland countered, "The stuff everyone knows."
"So you can't give us any more leads than that?" the detective asked.
"And you don't know who murdered those men?" the inspector pressed.
Nix leaned to his left side, swirling the wine in his glass. "Word on the street is the Red Monsoons did the job, but of course we wouldn't know who they are in specific. Before you ask, there was a club meeting that night. Everyone in this building can confirm that all 4 of us were here. If that's not enough for you, I'm sure there are plenty of citizens in Little Water Tribe who saw us enter the building, and none who saw us leave until we went home."
"As far as leads go," Netzach said, he and Selene taking another drink, "If the Agni Kais came all this way, I bet they had a boat or a car or somethin'. If ya can't find it, it was prob'ly hocked for parts. You should try askin' some o' the local pawn shops if they got any new license plates."
The officers glanced at each other, before Inspector Matsu asked, "Of course, we would like to speak with each of you separately. Would you be willing to do that?"
"Of course," Voland answered, gesturing broadly to the other members of Club Voland, "Take anyone you want into the hall, and the rest can stay with the other officers to make sure we're not comparing notes."
"Good idea," she said, "Let's start with you."
He grimaced at her, but followed nonetheless. After several minutes, she had worked her way through most of them, leading Netzach back in, who gave Senthose a pair of thumbs up as he followed the Inspector outside. Once the door was shut, she immediately slammed her palm against the wall beside his head, causing him to flinch, his eyes widening.
"Explain this to me, Kid: What exactly is the difference between this room and the rest of the club?"
"There are, uh, different levels of membership," he said, adjusting his collar, "I'm being considered for a managerial position, based on how well I collect funds for the club."
"And how do you do that?" she grilled.
"Mostly by organizing charity Pai Sho games," he answered.
He shook his head. "What? No, of course not! People pay a flat fee to play a game, half of the proceeds go to the club, and the rest go to donations. If you'd like to see the receipts, then I'm sure that Mr. Voland would—"
"I already got them from him," she answered impatiently, "Just focus on your own problems. What exactly were you doing last night, during this meeting?"
"Well, we drank, we talked about our favorite Pro-Bending teams, and then we got down to discussing my hours and salary. Since I don't have a job, I'm pretty free and that didn't take long. We played Pai Sho for a bit, Mr. Voland winning most of the games, of course. At a little past midnight, things started winding down, and we all went home."
"And where do you live?"
"44 Pakku Street, ground floor on an apartment complex. The doorman can confirm my story; he goes by the name of Bao Su."
Having finished her questions, she motioned for him to follow her back inside, where the officers stiffly wished the club members a good day and headed out.
Once the cops had closed the door and their retreating footsteps were no longer audible, Netzach leaned towards Voland and asked, "So should we find this guy and take him out?"
The crime boss clicked his fingers against the right claw of his chair. "Well, we'll have to take some measures against his minions, of course. But for now, let's just see if the boars can snuff out this little flame for us."
"Okay," Phorcys announced, pulling his head out of his car, which his daughter was leaning against, "I've radioed HQ. Chan's on the phone, calling up every pawn shop in this part of town. He says he'll get back to me if he finds anything."
He turned to Inspector Matsu, who was leaning against her car with her arms crossed, brows creased in concentration.
"Well, I hope your case goes better than mine. They all told basically the same story, and I'll bet their alibis check out too. Without some more evidence, I can't bring them in on anything. Spirits, for all we know, they're telling us the unvarnished truth. Nix certainly has plenty of thugs to throw away on a hit job."
"No, they're not telling you the truth," Phorcys contradicted.
Her dazzling gemstone eyes snapped open. "You have truthseeing? Couldn't you have mentioned that earlier?"
"I don't, at least not really. Few, if any, have mastered the seismic sense the way that Toph Beifong did. But I can get a vague idea of a person's heart rate and breathing."
"I don't follow, you can't tell if people are lying, but you know they were lying?"
"They all had certain habits when they were being questioned. Nix has occasional arrhythmia. His heart's probably not so good at his age. Netzach sighs a lot, and Selene may look cool and collected, but her pulse just goes through the roof. I think those are signs of nervousness. But not necessarily lies."
"What about Senthose?" Euryale asked.
"That's just the thing," he answered, "I didn't feel a single change out of him. His heart and breathing rates stayed even the entire time. He didn't care about your questions, Inspector. He might as well have not even seen you."
"But he still put on that show," Inspector Matsu concluded, rubbing her chin, "Now that you mention it, I guess it does seem like he oversold it a bit. Like he just acts like how he's seen normal people act under stress. What a creepy kid."
"I thought he was really charming," Euryale noted in surprise.
"Yeah, he's a really good manipulator," her father conceded, "But right now he's fairly small time. Keep your eyes on the prize—and try not to fall for any more gangsters, alright?"
Euryale slipped slightly against the car, going uncharacteristically pale. "H—hey, I just found the compliment flattering, it's not like I agreed to date him, or anything!"
"That could be enough to color your perception of his stories, make you more likely to assume his innocence. You can't give these folks an inch, Euryale."
"Still," the inspector noted, rubbing her hands together, "Small time or not, a lead's a lead. It's not suspicious enough to book him, but it's something to follow up on. Who knows, he may even be willing to sell out his new so-called 'friends.' But first I'll wait a day or so for his guard to go down."
"HQ to Detective Rakshashi," a voice buzzed in over radio static, "I've got a lead, are you there?"
Instead of answering, he nodded to Euryale, who hastily jogged around him to duck inside and pull out the mouth piece. "Copy that, this is Euryale Rakshashi, answering under the detective's supervision."
"I can vouch for that," Phorcys added.
"I'll just need a second, please," Euryale requested, digging a pen and note pad out of a pouch on her belt, "Okay, I'm ready to take down those numbers." She cradled the earpiece against her shoulder and jotted down the numbers as Chan gave them, including notes based on what he'd found. When he announced that he was finished, she of course thanked him and put the earpiece back. Circling the top number, she turned to pass the notes onto her dad.
"Those are all of the license plates that were received between last night and today," she explained, "And the one I've circled, Chan says it's from a boat reported missing from a borough near the industrial sector."
"Very good, Euryale. I think we're finally getting closer."
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