|By Alan Jack Halverson||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
|More from Alan Jack Halverson||Mystery||PG-13||Here||No update page|
|Hold Your Breath|
May 13, 2016
Li knocked on the door and an elderly woman answered it. "Hello, now's not a really good time sir, I don't know what you're selling but you'll have to come back later." She evidently thought Li was a travelling salesman. "Someone's just died here and the police are coming by."
"I know," Li replied. He reached into his pocket and extracted an ID card and badge with his name and picture on it. "Inspector Li," he said, "Republic City Police, may I come in?"
"Oh certainly, I'm terribly sorry inspector I didn't think you'd be so quick."
"Well I was in the area so they assigned me to come in advance of the rest of the investigation team."
"Oh I see," the woman replied. "I must say though, you're not dressed like a policeman, you're not wearing a uniform or anything."
"No, I'm a bit unconventional, but they let me get away with it because I'm good at what I do, some even say I'm the best."
"So madam, could you please explain to me what happened?" Li asked.
"I just went out to do the shopping, we were low on groceries, I was only out for about an hour and a half. But when I got back, I found my husband sitting as he is now in his chair. I started conversing with him for a while before I realized that he wasn't talking back. So I asked if he was alright and there was no reply. I walked up to see him and that's when I noticed the expression on his face."
Li walked around to face the corpse as the woman told him her story. "Like he had been choked, or somehow deprived of air."
"Yes, it looked like he'd been gasping for air but couldn't get it."
"But he wasn't strangled."
"How can you tell?" the lady asked.
"There aren't any bruises on his neck," Li replied. "So what happened next?" Li asked.
"Well I checked to see if he was breathing and if his heart was beating, and then I called the police."
Li stood up straight and looked around the room. He walked around the house. "Has anything been taken?" he asked.
"Not that I know of," the lady replied.
Li looked around the relatively new house. "How new is your stainless sink?" Li asked.
The lady looked at her sink and replied, "Brand new, we've only just bought the house, the sink didn't look like that before I left."
The kitchen sink had been dented and scratched by something so that all the stainless steel had lost its reflective qualities and the sink was now dull and weathered.
Li headed to the bathroom. As he opened the door, before he turned on the light, he heard his boot crunch against something on the floor. Li turned on the light and opened the door completely and found the floor littered with broken glass. He looked up at the mirror and found that it and been shattered.
"It looks like there was a struggle," Li remarked to himself. "But there's a small problem."
"What's that?" the lady asked.
Li turned to her, surprised that she had been paying attention. "Who did the murderer struggle against? It can't have been your husband because he would have been cut and bruised, particularly if he had been in this room when the mirror shattered. If you look, the glass is everywhere as if it had been flung from the mirror violently, there would have been projectile glass that would have cut up anything in the room, like your shower curtain or towels for example," Li gestured to the curtain and towels to show that they had holes and glass embedded in them.
He walked back to the room where the lady's dead husband sat. Li looked him over further and noticed a small bulge in his pocket. He reached into the pocket and extracted a small black book. Li opened it and verified that it was indeed what he thought it was. Li placed the book back in the pocket exactly as he had found it.
"Well thank you for your time madam and I apologize for your loss. The rest of the police force ought to be here soon to wrap up but I must be leaving now, I have other issues to attend to, but rest assured, I will catch your killer."
Li departed the house shortly after that and strode down the street in search of another similar murder. He had left just in time too because just behind him the rest of the police had shown up.
Officer Shu got out of his car and knocked on the door. The lady answered it and let him in. He began looking around, barely listening to the lady who had let him and his officers in until she said, "Of course I've told this all to the other detective you sent around."
Officer Shu turned to look somewhat angrily but also confusedly at the woman. "What detective?"
"Li I believe his name was," the lady replied.
Now Shu was discernibly angry. "You dolt!" he shouted at her. "That wasn't one of our detectives! He's a busybody who fancies himself a detective!"
"And what would you call yourself sir?" Shu heard one of his officers mutter.
Shu whipped around to see who it was but couldn't figure out who'd said it. He spent the rest of his lackluster investigation fuming over the events that had just transpired.
Li was relieved that he had yet again escaped detection by Officer Shu but disappointed that he had been unable to take the body back to Qing Ru for a proper autopsy. The police had taken to using autopsies now but they were done at the hospital where the personnel had no idea how to properly perform the procedure that Qing Ru had invented and quite often, the results of the last string of murders had come back as simple asphyxia. Li of course knew there was more to the picture as the cause of the asphyxiation remained utterly unknown. Of course due to the autopsies, the police all believed the asphyxiations to be some kind of accidents. Li also noted that there were far too many such "asphyxiations" for them to simply be accidents and all those Li had been able to find thus far, had been blackbookers. Such odd trends led Li to begin his investigation of the situation unbidden by any third party as usually occurred.
Li pulled out his police scanner again and began listening in on the police communications hoping to catch another of these deaths before Officer Shu and his men could. As he carefully listened and scanned the various police frequencies, Li caught another one. "Time to go," Li said to himself as he rushed out into one of the main streets while stowing his scanner away in a pocket.
"Taxi!" he cried to the many passing cabs. In short order, one drove up and stopped by him. He climbed in and gave the driver the address and he was off.
Qing Ru sat in his chair as he listened to his latest patient list off his symptoms. Once the man had finished Qing Ru rose from his chair and spoke, "I see, it sounds like you may have an infection in your respiratory system. I'm inclined to think it's bacterial at this point, but I'll need to run some tests. My nurse will meet you shortly to give you a throat swab and the test results ought to be through in about a day or so when we'll call you with more information. Until then the only thing you can really do is drink lots of water and rest."
"If it is bacterial?" the man asked.
"Then we'll be able to treat it with a new chemical we've –" Qing Ru was interrupted as the door to the patient room burst open to reveal Li, carrying a corpse in his arms.
"My goodness Li!" Qing Ru exclaimed. "Can't you see I'm with a patient! If you need an autopsy you need to wait in the waiting room and ask to have the body frozen."
"No time Qing Ru, the police are after me and I need the autopsy done before they find out where I've taken it."
"That sounds like your problem, and until you leave this room and let me finish this it will continue to be your problem," Qing Ru replied with discernible anger.
Li paused briefly before turning around with the corpse still in his arms and leaving back the way he came.
Qing Ru turned back to his patient, "Sorry about that, he's just a friend of mine, he's a bit socially awkward. Anyways, the nurse will be here shortly and if you have further questions call us, we're open between eight A. M. and six P. M."
Qing Ru stood up and left the room after that. He met Li in the waiting room and beckoned for him to follow. They entered the lab and Qing Ru began to prepare for cutting open the corpse. Li sat at the side of the lab and watched as Qing Ru went back to work at the dissection method he had perfected.
"So who is she?" Qing Ru asked of the dead person he was currently cutting open and examining.
"A resident of the Crown Plaza Apartments in uptown Republic City. Unmarried, no family. She had parents in the Southern Water Tribe but they hadn't spoken in years. Her friend found her, they were supposed to 'go shopping' today. She was also a blackbooker."
Qing Ru looked up. "Is that significant?" he asked.
"Ordinarily no, because there would be a given probability that a blackbooker would die in Republic City, it's just that there have been a lot of blackbookers dying in Republic City lately, almost all of them under unusual circumstances."
"What circumstances," Qing Ru asked.
"It would appear that they have all been 'asphyxiated' or so the official reports go on this long string of deaths. There have also been signs of a struggle at each scene."
"The official reports reference the blackbookers? I thought they were a secret society."
"They are," Li replied. "I'm sorry if I was a bit imprecise. I meant to say that I find it likely that the asphyxiation reports are all blackbookers since all the asphyxiation cases I've investigated involve blackbookers and that's a fair number of these asphyxiations. Unfortunately I haven't been able to get to them all before the police impeded my investigation in some way. This is the first body I've actually gotten."
"I see," Qing Ru replied. "And you want me to investigate the cause of death and see if it really was asphyxiation."
"Yes, and there are a number of reasons I don't believe it's asphyxiation. The struggles, the fact they're almost all blackbookers, the fact there was no poison gas in the rooms they died in and the absence of bruises on the neck to name a few."
"Well Li, I think I can affirm that it's not just any asphyxiation," Qing Ru chimed in.
Li stood rapidly to get a look at what Qing Ru was talking about.
Qing Ru pointed to the lungs he had just uncovered. "The lungs haven't just been deprived of oxygen, they've been emptied of air and completely collapsed."
"What on earth could have emptied someone's lungs like that?" Li asked.
"My best guess would be some kind of machine, but there would be marks around the mouth and nose where the suction occurred."
At that moment, the doors burst open again and Officer Shu and a number of police officers appeared in the doorway. Qing Ru, once again angered by the uninvited and unannounced entry, snapped, "Would it hurt you to ask to come in, or at least knock on the door before barging into someone's private property!"
"Don't try and hide behind that veil of righteousness, we know you helped Li steal this body and the Republic City Police are going to press charges against both of you.
"Really?" Li asked incredulously. "Charge us with what?"
"Impeding an investigation," Officer Shu replied smugly.
"I suppose you could do that, but it would only demonstrate your incompetence further as Qing Ru and I are actually hastening this investigation, while it is you who is impeding the investigation."
Officer Shu fumed at the jab Li made and appeared ready to escalate the situation further.
"Tell you what," Li continued in an attempt to defuse the rising tension, "let's make a wager. I bet you that I can get this issue solved before you and catch the killer first."
"That's ridiculous, this is just a series of accidents, not of murders," Officer Shu retorted.
"Then why are you investigating it?" Li asked. "Besides, I've already got proof that there's more to the picture than meets the eye, proof that already puts me ahead of you in this wager I propose."
"And what proof is that?" Officer Shu asked.
"The real cause of death," Li replied matter-of-factly. "This woman wasn't asphyxiated, her lungs were completely evacuated of air."
Officer Shu thought for a moment and then spoke. "Okay, I'll take your bet, but what are the stakes?"
"If you get there first, you can charge me with impeding an investigation and I won't put up a defense," Li replied. "But if I get there first, you resign from the police force."
Officer Shu considered the stakes for a moment before replying, "Sounds like a deal."
"Very well," Li continued. "The clock is ticking Officer, you best do the same."
After Officer Shu turned and left the building Qing Ru spoke, "It's running Li, not ticking."
Li looked over at his associate and shrugged.
"So the nature of the death is unusual and likely not caused by something natural, am I right Qing Ru?"
"Yes, it was done deliberately, nothing just sucks the air out of someone's lungs for no reason."
"But you don't think a machine could have done it?" Li asked.
"No, there would have to be quite a seal around their faces in order to get any effective suction and the suction would have to be significant enough to fight back against their chest muscles efforts to keep their lungs inflated. Such a seal accompanied by such forces would leave marks on the face."
"Then how else could the air have been extracted?" Li asked.
"That's the problem," Qing Ru replied, "I don't know."
Li paused for a moment before continuing, "Then let's think about what we do know for a start."
"We know the cause of death... Sort of."
"Yes, but we also know some other things connecting the deaths. Remember, the broken glass and damaged metals, the fact all the victims appear to be blackbookers. That last seems to indicate that these killings are targeted and intentional, a kind of serial killer who has something against anarchists."
"That doesn't narrow it down much," Qing Ru remarked. "For all we know this is some kind of hitman hired by someone's government or anyone else, a lot of people don't like anarchists, especially if there are a lot of them and they're organized."
"Right," replied Li. "There's got to be something else. What about the mirrors, suggestive of a struggle."
"But there aren't any injuries on the victims besides having their lungs collapsed. If they'd been involved in the struggles they'd likely have bruises from the metals and cuts from the broken mirrors."
"There's something we're missing," Li said aloud before pausing to think again. Qing Ru watched as he stared into space pondering the mirrors and metals.
"You say all the victims had their mirrors broken and metal objects damaged?" Qing Ru asked.
"Then tell me, was it all metals, or just the reflective ones?"
"It was just," Li paused for a moment then continued, "the reflective ones."
"Then it seems to me whoever our killer is, he had a severe case of obsessive compulsive disorder."
"Of what?" Li asked.
"Mental medicine advanced much more quickly than my field has, they've diagnosed several different mental health disorders including obsessive compulsive disorder. The victim develops an obsession with something or another and then feels compelled to do something to relieve the obsessive anxiety. In this case he's probably obsessed with his reflection and so feels compelled to destroy anything that holds it."
"So what you're telling me is that our next place of investigation is a looney bin?" Li asked.
"They're mental hospitals Li, not cages or 'looney bins' and it's your next stop, not ours, I still have appointments to keep so if you'll excuse me, I must be off," with that, Qing Ru left for his next appointment with Li still sitting in the lab by himself.
Li strode out of the lab and down the hall to the lobby of his friend's medical practice and left the building. He hailed a cab to take him to his next destination.
Li grumbled as he gave the next cab driver his next destination. He'd just visited the fourth mental hospital on his list and he still hadn't any further leads. He'd also been annoyed with the number of cabs he'd had to hail, each time he arrived at a new destination, his old cab would move on and he'd have to wait to get another. "Maybe I should just hire a personal driver," he said aloud. "I can probably afford to now with all the cases I'm getting thanks to my newfound publicity." He then looked at the driver through the mirror and asked, "Perhaps you'd like to be my new driver?"
The driver glanced back, but didn't reply.
"No? I didn't think so," Li continued. "Oh well."
The cab stopped at the next mental hospital, "The Fan Institute for the Mentally Ill" it was called, and Li stepped out. Before he moved on he leaned in the cab driver's window and asked, "Would you mind waiting here until I get out?"
With that Li strode up the concrete stairs leading to the hospital's main entrance. Li pushed the front door open to reveal white walls sparsely populated with paintings, an immaculate front desk and polished marble floors. Li walked up to the front desk and spoke to the attendant, "Excuse me I'm investigating a series of murders and it is suspected that the perpetrator might have been mentally ill in some way, is there someone here I may speak with about your patient records, I wish to know whether or not the perpetrator may have come here for treatment in the past."
"I see," the attendant replied maintaining a countenance as blank as that of a marionette. "Wait here please sir and I'll call her down from her office." Subsequently the attendant picked up the phone and rang one of the offices within the building.
A few minutes later a well-dressed young woman with spectacles arrived at the front desk, presumably the aforementioned woman from upstairs.
"He's over there madam," the attendant said to the woman as he indicated Li's position.
The woman walked over to Li and they shook hands. "Hello, I'm Yu Tang I'm in charge of the records department, what can I help you with today?"
"I presume you've been told about the investigation I'm conducting?" Li asked.
"Yes I have, so what kind of information do you need specifically?"
"I need to know if you've ever had a patient in the past who suffered from a condition involving irrational obsessions and subsequent irrational compulsions, particularly regarding his or her reflection."
"Let me guess, they broke all the mirrors or anything else reflective at the crime scene," Yu said.
"Yes, so you've had a patient like that?" Li asked in return.
"Yes, he was only here for a short while when he was a child, that was about ten years ago. I wasn't a record keeper then, I was just a low ranking nurse, I helped the other nurses and doctors with him but he eventually had to be restricted because he became a danger to himself and others. He had nothing reflective in his room and we all wore safety equipment before interacting with him."
"About how old was he then?" Li asked.
"He was about ten."
"Which would make him about twenty by now. Tell me, what ever happened to him? I assume he was 'cured' otherwise he wouldn't have left correct?"
"No actually, he wasn't. He disappeared one night, we came in the morning to help continue his treatments, but he was gone."
"So he ran away?"
"Or was kidnapped, we're not certain we asked the police to assist but they said that very little could be done at that point."
"Was there any sign of a struggle when you found the empty room?"
"No, so he must have been let out somehow, in other words, someone forgot to lock his room or the kidnapper had keys.
"Interesting, well thank you for your time and contact me if you think of any other information that might be relevant."
As Li walked out of the mental hospital he saw a newspaper stand and purchased the Republic City Herald and took it back with him to the street. He was about hail another cab when he noticed the one that he had taken there to begin with. He strode over to the cab and opened the passenger door and sat down.
"Nice of you to wait, I assume you'll still be charging me for all the time I spent in there."
"No sir," the driver replied, "I shut off the engine and the meter and waited for you."
"Now why would you do that?" Li asked.
"Because I'm interested."
"In my musings? Well then, I guess you can consider it a job offer."
"Thank you sir," the driver replied. "Do you have a car that I'll be using to drive you around?"
"Not yet Li replied, but I think I'll soon purchase one. Your pay will be four hundred Yuans a week and you'll be able to make use of the extra room in my apartment so you'll be able to cut your current housing expenses."
"Thank you, when do I start?"
"Now," Li replied. "Also, may I ask your name, because it'd be kind of awkward and cumbersome to keep calling you driver every time I need to address you."
"The name's Ho Tin."
"Very well then Ho Tin, I think we should travel to the next mental hospital on our list."
"It would appear that we've only got the one lead I mentioned to you earlier," Li said to his driver after entering the car from his final visit to the mental hospitals of Republic City.
"So where to now?" Ho Tin asked.
"Back to the Fan Institute. I need to ask some more questions that I forgot earlier."
Ho Tin began driving again and Li waited until he saw the hospital in his window. Once the car had stopped Li got out and entered the building again.
"Excuse me," he said once at the front desk, "I'd like to speak with Yu Tang, head of the records department here."
In a few moments the head of the records department had returned to the waiting room and they greeted each other once again.
"I have more questions," Li started. "Primarily about the child's family and how I can get a hold of them."
"He had no family," Yu Tang replied. "He was an orphan."
"Can you tell me which orphanage he came from?" Li asked.
"It was an orphanage in the Earth Kingdom, they called us and asked if we could help him. They later just sent him here. I can give you the number," she said as she pulled out a pen and paper.
"That would be appreciated," Li replied. "And if it isn't too much trouble, I would like to use your phone as well."
"I suppose that wouldn't be a problem, just don't stay on for too long."
Li took the piece of paper the woman had handed to him and he turned to the phone at the front desk and picked it up. Shortly he was greeted by the voice of an elderly lady. "Kuei Orphanage, how may I help you?"
"I have a few questions about a boy you had there a little over ten years ago," Li replied.
"We don't just give out information about our children to any random caller. With whom am I speaking?" the lady demanded.
"I'm an investigator in Republic City investigating a series of murders and I believe the child in question is somehow connected to it. He was a ten year old boy you sent to the Fan Institute for the Mentally Ill because of his apparent obsession with his reflection."
"Yes I remember the boy, but I'm going to need more than your word that you're a legitimate investigator."
"Look, I just want to know if he ever went back to the orphanage after you sent him away, that's all I'm asking for."
"As a matter of fact he didn't," the lady replied angrily before hanging up.
Li likewise hung up the phone but a great deal more gently, "Well, that went well," he said to himself.
"So did he return?" Yu Tang, who had apparently been listening to at least part of the conversation, asked.
"No," Li replied as he turned to leave. He paused just as he was about to open the door and asked Yu Tang, "Do you happen to know where else he would have gone if he had run away?"
"The only other place I can think of is this old house in the middle of Yue Bay. It's built on a floating platform and anchored to the bottom of the bay. It's barely noticeable to most people but we discovered it when we were out one day before he got really bad."
"Thank you," Li replied as he left the building and walked back down the steps.
When Li got in the cab Ho Tin asked, "Find out anything useful?"
"Unfortunately no," Li replied, "at least not that I can think of yet. Let's just go home, I need to think, you're welcome to stop by wherever you live and grab your stuff and bring it back to your new apartment."
"Thank you sir," Ho Tin replied, "but where exactly is 'home'?"
Back in the apartment, Li sat reading the newspaper he'd picked up earlier that day but hadn't had a chance to read yet. The headline said, "Airbenders Rescued from Earth Queen" the article discussed the discovery that the Earth Queen had been kidnapping airbenders and trying to make them warriors and the subsequent rescue and political repercussions. As Li sat and read, Ho Tin played his tsungi horn. Li slowly lost focus on the paper he was reading as his eyes kept scanning over the same line over and over again and his mind wandered elsewhere.
Ho Tin continued to play his tsungi horn and was becoming quite involved in his music until Li unexpectedly rose and exclaimed, "We're going to Yue Bay!"
Startled, Ho Tin faltered and his music halted abruptly. "Why?" he asked.
"Because," Li replied, "that's the only place the boy would go besides the orphanage."
"But you already discussed this with me, he couldn't survive there on his own for the past ten years and he couldn't have gone to the orphanage because he'd be too likely to be kidnapped and killed and not likely enough to survive to present day."
"Correct, but he didn't have to survive on his own at the house on Yue Bay. Think about it, what if he was kidnapped, but not kidnapped?"
"That's a contradiction Li, and you said it yourself, 'There are no contradictions'."
"I know, it looks like a contradiction at first but if you think about the scenario you'll see it's anything but, it is in fact a clever crime. Think about it, we know the boy wanted to leave the hospital, especially after all that had happened to him there. But he couldn't break out himself and if he was simply kidnapped by force and taken away, there would have been a struggle but Yu Tang said that there were no signs of a struggle. So, assuming he was 'kidnapped,' the boy went willingly which means three things. First –"
"A kidnapping that isn't a kidnapping," Ho Tin interjected.
"Exactly, second, whomever took the boy must have promised him they'd go someplace he felt safe and free. Third and finally, it had to have been someone he trusted."
"And who's that?" Ho Tin asked.
"I don't know yet, I haven't thought about that part enough yet, but there'll be plenty of time on the way to Yue Bay. I think we should see if we can rent a boat to take us around the bay to see if we can find the house.
Li put on his coat and Ho Tin followed him out the door and to the car.
It was nearly sunrise and they hadn't found any sign of the house on the bay despite having scoured it in their rented speedboat. "I think this is a lost cause," Ho Tin shouted over the din of the engine.
"Agreed," replied Li. "We should return to the docks."
They had been out all night. They had already asked around the docks about a house on the bay but they hadn't gotten anything conclusive. "I think it would prudent to pay Ms. Tang another visit," Li mused as he steered the boat back to shore.
Ho Tin turned his head to take in the view around him when he noticed two other speedboats closing on them. "Li," he began, "what do you make of those two speedboats?"
Li turned to look in the direction that his new partner was indicating. He took note of the style and type of boats and as they drew closer, he took note of the attire of their drivers. "I think we had best make haste, and take cover," Li concluded as he put the boat at full power.
"Why?" Ho Tin asked.
"Because, judging by the design of the boats, they're military grade, used primarily by the United Forces, so they'll eventually outrun us, but the markings have been covered over and the boats are all black, perfect for stealth, at least in the night which it was while our pursuers were searching for us. Finally, I'm all too familiar with the drivers of those boats."
"Who are they?" Ho Tin asked.
"Triple threats," Li replied. "One of those Triple Threats is rather cross with me for cutting off his arm and I don't intend to verify my hypothesis that they've been sent here to kill us. Get down, I'm going to try some evasive maneuvers when they get closer."
"What do you mean when?" Ho Tin asked.
"Like I said, military grade boats, they're measurably faster than ours."
Li braced himself gripping the steering column of the boat tightly waiting for the inevitable encounter with his pursuers. Once the two black boats came within four yards of Li, he gathered all he could about his assailants and recalled One Arm's preferred method of attack. In the split second before One Arm began the assault, Li swerved sharply taking him closer to the other boat which had closed in on the other side of Li's boat. Li of course knew that One Arm would be able to compensate for this correction and was counting on it. When Li observed One Arm had begun to waterbend in his general direction and the firebender on the other boat had begun to do the same, Li cut his engines and watched the two other boats whiz in front of him. The attacks, as Li had guessed, struck the pursuing boats, rather than their intended target. The boats' drivers were then disoriented just enough to momentarily lose control of steering while the engines continued to propel the vessels at high speeds along courses that, while formerly intended to expediently intercept Li, now intersected with one another. What resulted was a spectacular crash and an explosion that through One Arm miles away into the middle of the bay.
Ho tin got up from his only somewhat protective cover in the boat just in time to observe the spectacle.
"Well," Li began, "now that that's over with, we can return to shore."
Once back on dry land, Li and Ho Tin made their way to the car and got in. Ho Tin started the engine and drove off to the mental hospital. Along the way they discussed the details of the case thus far.
"There are a number of reasons that we may not have found the house on the bay," Ho Tin offered. "For example, the house may have simply decayed over time and sunk into the bay or perhaps Ms. Tang misspoke when she said it was on the bay."
"Perhaps," Li replied. "But it's unlikely that she misspoke since she made certain to describe the details of the house. She specifically said that it was floating and anchored to the bottom of the bay, not resting on the shore. As to whether or not it simply decayed and sank, that's unlikely as we asked around the docks and people who've been working there for over twenty years have never seen any such house. Another troubling matter is that of our would be assassins."
"You think they're related to the case?" Ho Tin asked. "I thought they were just chasing you because the guy with the one arm had a grudge against you."
"One Arm does have a vendetta, but he's never acted on it before despite having ample opportunities because the Triple Threat Triad considers it more risk than it's worth to try to assassinate me since in their eyes I'm more of a nuisance than anything else. Since this case shouldn't even concern them, my attention to it shouldn't raise any red flags with them that would change their minds. Thus, the only logical reason they've changed their minds is that someone's made it worth their while."
"So you think that we're getting close, otherwise whoever's behind this wouldn't bother to try and kill us?"
"More than that, whoever wants us dead knew we'd be out on the bay last night, and there aren't many people who fit that bill."
"So you think Yu Tang might have something to do with this whole affair."
"Yes, and/or the secretary. The secretary at the front desk is the only other individual who might have heard anything about the investigation."
"Here we are," Ho Tin said as he pulled up to the mental hospital. "Shall I stay here?"
"No," Li said. "You might as well come in with me, I might need backup."
"Why?" asked Ho Tin. "Do you expect Yu Tang to become violent?"
"No," Li replied pointing to the line of vehicles parallel parked in front of them. "The police are here and as you might guess, I don't get along with them too well."
"The police?" Ho Tin asked before he turned to see that Li was pointing at the string of police vehicles. "Oh, I see."
The two then strode up the steps in front of the building and into the main lobby to find Officer Shu rudely interrogating Yu Tang. Shu turned and was a little surprised to see Li.
"I see you've finally figured out that our perpetrator was a nut. Interesting that it took you this long to figure out, perhaps you'll lose that bet."
"On the contrary Officer Shu," Li replied coolly, "I've already spoken with Ms. Tang and I daresay that my methods are far more effective and polite than yours."
Officer Shu frowned and grumbled, "Since you've already gotten to her, you wouldn't mind if I spent a little more time with her do you?"
"Not at all."
Officer Shu returned to his interrogation for another few minutes before leaving.
Li then walked over to Yu Tang. "What a rude police officer," she remarked.
"Indeed, he also happens to be quite incompetent," Li replied. "Ms. Tang, I would like you to meet my friend Ho Tin, he's begun assisting me with this investigation."
"Nice to meet you," Yu Tang said as she shook Ho Tin's hand.
"And you," Ho Tin replied.
"So I take it you have more questions for me."
"Yes we do," Li replied. "First, I've got a bit of a query concerning that house you told us about yesterday."
"The one on the beach?" Yu Tang asked in turn.
"Oh, is that where it is? I thought you said it was on the bay as in floating on the water."
"Did I? Well there must have been some misunderstanding, what I meant was on the bay as in on the shore by the bay."
"Oh, I see, well, that explains why we didn't find it last night, thank you for clearing that up. The other thing I wanted to ask about is who else took care of and treated the boy."
"Well, there were a few people let's see," Yu Tang began.
"Excuse me a moment," Li interrupted, "I should probably write these down," he said as he reached into his pocket to pull out a pad and paper. In the process of pulling out writing materials, a small black book fell out of Li's pocket and onto the floor in such a way that the pages were wide open for all to see. Li cursed under his breath as he bent down to pick up the book and stow it back in his pocket.
"Okay, sorry about that."
"Oh no, you're fine," Yu Tang replied as Li opened the pad and poised himself to start writing.
"So what were the names?"
"There were Doctors Feng and Chan and then Zhu Di was the other nurse who helped me. Outside of that no one really interacted with him much more than an occasional treatment or delivery of a meal. I could give you their names if you want though."
"That depends, did they have easy and regular access to his room at all times?"
"Okay, that'll do then, thank you." Li replied cheerfully as he closed his pad and stowed and the pen away in the same pocket.
"Again, just contact me if you have any more questions I'm happy to help in any way I can."
"Certainly," Li replied. "Just one last thing, may I borrow your phone again?"
"Excellent thank you."
Li picked up the phone and dialed Qing Ru's office number. "Future Care Medical Offices, how may I help you?"
"Hello, Kai Mei, it's Li, is Qing Ru busy?"
"Yes, he's in with a patient right now, can I take a message?"
"Sure, could you please tell him that I have new information for Mr. Wu regarding the asphyxiation investigation and that he should take extra precautions to protect himself and the new electrical generator plans. I'll tell him more when we meet at the construction site tomorrow evening."
As Li hung up the phone, he glanced toward Yu Tang to make sure she had been listening and she had indeed. He then motioned for his friend to follow him out of the building.
"What was that about?" Ho Tin asked.
"What was what about?"
"The whole dropping the book thing and the phone call."
"Let's put it this way," Li began after they had entered the car, "after last night's incident, as we were discussing, I came to suspect that either Yu Tang or the secretary, or perhaps both, were responsible for attempting to have us killed and possibly even the murders. I became even more convinced of Yu Tang's potential guilt after she said that there had just been a miscommunication about the location of that house when she had been very specific and detailed about it when she first informed me. I thus devised a test to see who was really guilty. As you know, I have come to the conclusion that whoever is arranging these murders is the same person who 'kidnapped' the boy. The motive for the murders, at least thus far, appears to have been to systematically eliminate blackbookers."
"So that was your test."
"Precisely. If either one of them was associated with the crimes, they would certainly recognize the black book as it fell out of my pocket. I also concluded that since I have only had some minor dealings with the organization of anarchists, most of which no one knows about, it would come as a surprise that I suddenly appeared to be counted among their number."
"And you noticed the surprise on one of their faces?"
"Yes, Yu Tang to be specific. Now, of course I can't be 100 percent certain that she is our culprit which was why I gave her a message via phone. When I called Qing Ru's office, I left a false message in the hopes that it would make Mr. Wu, a blackbooker appear to be a higher priority target than others, and to make the appearance of my membership among the blackbookers more compelling. If she is our culprit, then we'll know where to find the killer next since Mr. Wu would be the next victim. To further verify my hypothesis that Yu Tang is related to the murders and the kidnapping, I shall perform similar tests and interrogations of the others who could have kidnapped the boy and by process of elimination discover whether or not I was correct."
"Doesn't this put your friend's life in danger though?"
"His life is in danger by virtue of the fact he's a member of a secret society that wants to change the status quo of power arrangements, I've just changed his position on the hit list in the hopes of catching our killer and saving more lives. Besides, he'll be adequately protected. Now enough talk and dallying, we've got suspects to track down and question."
Qing Ru was startled but not surprised when he saw Li waiting for him in the lobby.
"Did you get my message?" Li asked as Qing Ru returned to locking the door to the back rooms of his clinic.
"Yes, what it meant on the other hand, escaped me. Mr. Wu didn't ask you to investigate and this talk about a generator was something I'd never even heard of."
"Fine, but did you inform Mr. Wu?"
"Yes but he's just as perplexed as I am, he should be here any minute, he said he'd come here before going to the construction site and that he'd like me to accompany him to the meeting."
"Good, we can all go together then."
"Li, would you mind letting me in on what's going on?"
At that moment the door opened and Mr. Wu entered the building. "I was just about to ask the same thing," he interjected.
"Good, everyone's here, come, we must make haste, I can fill you in on the way to our meeting," said Li.
"We're all here, why can't we just hold it right now?"
"Again, on the way to the construction site, you'll both have to trust me at least until we get into the car."
Qing Ru and Mr. Wu agreed and then followed Li to his car.
"Qing Ru, Mr. Wu, meet my new associate Ho Tin, Ho Tin, these are my old associates Mr. Wu and Qing Ru," Li introduced the three to each other. "Now that introductions are out of the way let's get to business, Ho Tin could you please take us to the construction site."
As the vehicle started forward Li began to give Qing Ru and Mr. Wu the short version of events. "As both of you know there's been a series of 'deaths by asphyxiation' according the the police and the papers. The reality, however, as Qing Ru and I have ascertained is that these were more likely murders due to the unusual cause of death, which was not simple asphyxiation but rather complete extraction of air and subsequent collapse of the lungs. However, until now I was unable to conceive of how it could have been done until I remembered reading about the sudden and mostly unexplained resurgence of airbenders. It's conceivable that our killer is an individual who has recently acquired airbending. But that theory aside, I have come to the conclusion that we have a killer in the employ of the notorious Master, a killer who is intent on exterminating blackbookers. I have just raised Mr. Wu to the top of their hit list in attempt to expedite the killer's capture and the resolution of this investigation."
"You did what!" Mr. Wu and Qing Ru exclaimed simultaneously.
"You've just put my life in danger!"
"On the contrary, your life was in danger long before this investigation started, I've just made sure I can capture our enemy and the way we do that is you and I will be bait while Qing Ru and Ho Tin will endeavor to incapacitate the bender and imprison him so I can resolve the case, and possibly get further into the intrigue the Master has laid before us all while possibly winning a bet with the police."
Suddenly the car stopped and Ho Tin called back from the driver's seat, "We're here."
"Excellent," Li replied. "Everyone take your positions, Qing Ru, I'll show you the armaments."
Everyone got out of the car and Li opened the trunk to reveal two strange devices. "These," Li began to explain as he pulled the devices out of the trunk, "are portable lightning bending. I took the liberty of modifying some of Mr. Wu's projectile electrocutors after my last encounter with them, or rather with their aftermath."
Suddenly realization dawned on Qing Ru, "So that's how our ex-con was killed. I thought you told me you hadn't solved that case, the one where the murder happened right across the street from me."
"I hadn't, because it wasn't a murder, it was attempted murder and the would be murderer got electrocuted by a rather ingeniously designed weapon. Unfortunately the originals are only designed for non-lethal applications so Mr. Wu and his friend had to improvise when they were assaulted, the overload destroyed that one. But I had access to many more and so developed these which don't require a projectile and can be either lethal or nonlethal. At present, however, they are one shot wonders not matter the setting."
"Wait, how many did you use in your experiments?" Mr. Wu asked. "And more importantly, how did you even get access to them."
"Mr. Wu you should really improve your security at your warehouses, while the common criminal might not be able to enter them, I am no common criminal and I have successfully divined the means by which Suǒ jī's locks may be fooled so either you find a new locksmith or you encourage him to improve his design. As for how many of your weapons I used in my experiments I lost count but it's been more than paid for since I left the blueprints for these prototypes in your safe at your office, blueprints which can be improved upon and which will turn much greater profits than those trinkets you started off with could. But that's all beside the point, we should hurry, Qing Ru, the operation is simple, just take aim at your target and pull this lever to fire, you and Ho Tin will take opposite ends of the construction site, Mr. Wu and I shall meet in the middle and begin feigning conversation and await our murderer."
With that, the four set off to their positions and the ruse began. It didn't take long for the murderer to arrive either. In short order a black clothed figure descended in a gust of wind carrying a staff that was obviously a replica of an Air Nomad's glider. Li and Mr. Wu stayed put and continued to feign conversation as their pursuer approached. Everyone waited for the killer to approach so as to be certain that they stunned who they meant to stun rather than some innocent who just happened upon the scene they were putting on.
As Li and Mr. Wu were "conversing" Li began having trouble speaking and his trouble quickly progressed to trouble breathing as air started being sucked out of his lungs, Mr. Wu was soon to follow and they both began to collapse to the ground.
As soon as the two collapsed, Ho Tin took the shot and a bolt of electricity shot out of the device he held in his hand and into the assailant who promptly collapsed and began seizing.
Li and Mr. Wu quickly recovered and as soon as Li caught his breath he called to his companions to come help him restrain the spasming serial killer so he couldn't bend. The four quickly got to work.
"What's the mask and oxygen gear for?" Qing Ru asked.
"It's so he can still breath and talk, but so he can't airbend at us using his own lungs," Li replied as he fastened the mask tightly around the restrained bender's face.
In a few more minutes the killer came to and was quite surprised and agitated, not least because of the highly reflective oxygen tank next to him.
"Good, you finally decided to join us," Li began as he surreptitiously started the recorder in his hand. "Now, I'm going to need you to ignore that oxygen tank for just a minute and focus on my questions."
"No!" the killer attempted to shout through his mask.
"Well, let's put it this way, if you cooperate, once I'm done with questions, I can have my friends here paint the tank black so you don't have to worry about your reflection any more. If, however, you refuse to cooperate, I will introduce more reflective things to our conversation and I won't take them away until you agree to cooperate."
"Li you can't!" Qing Ru interjected. "That's torture."
"No, it's psychological manipulation and even if it does qualify as torture I'm willing to cross that boundary if it means getting closer to the Master."
"So, let's start with that, are you connected to the Master?" Li asked their captive.
"She's not my master, she's my mother, she cares for me."
"Who is she?'
"The nurse from the hospital, Nurse Tang, she's always been nice to me, she's taken care of me."
"Tang, as in Yu Tang?"
The killer simply nodded his head as he began to grow more agitated and focused on the oxygen tank glimmering in the headlights of the car.
"So you're killing for Yu Tang?"
"No, I kill for my parents, to avenge them."
"I see, so Yu Tang isn't your biological mother, she just adopted you when she took you from the hospital."
"She freed me."
"Indeed, so could you please elaborate on why you're killing?"
The killer did not reply, he only fixated on the tank.
Li snapped in front of his face to get his attention, "Hey, hey, focus, why are you killing blackbookers?"
"Because I have to."
"Why do you have to?"
"I just have to!"
"Like you have to stop seeing your reflection?"
"Yes, yes, now stop it already." The killer then began to sob and wail.
"Come on, just a few more questions and we can be done here. How do you know who's a blackbooker and who isn't, that is, how do you know whom to kill?"
"Mother tells me when she's found one and where she thinks they'll be at a particular time."
"I see, Li replied. Okay, let's paint that tank over and load him into the car so we can deliver him to the police and then we can track down Yu Tang and turn her in as well. Then," Li said as he came back from the car with some paint, "I can collect on my bet with Officer Shu."
Once the tank had been painted Li, Mr. Wu, and Ho Tin began taking their equipment and materials back to the car while Qing Ru started carrying the killer over to the car to load him in. The killer closed his eyes as he was picked up and walked over to a back seat in Li's vehicle. Suddenly everyone found it was getting hard to breath and they began to collapse to the ground gasping for air. The killer had begun airbending with his mind. Li attempted to reach for his firearm but that only made their captive accelerate the process for him. With what strength he had left, Qing Ru fired off his prototype lightning weapon at maximum power, right into their captive's midsection.
The killer instantly fell over dead with a hole seared into his liver. Once Qing Ru had caught his breath, he noticed that his companions had all passed out from lack of oxygen. He quickly checked them to make sure they had not expired. He then finished loading their things into the trunk and he loaded his friends into Li's vehicle and started the engine.
Li woke up in an unfamiliar room completely disoriented. The sun was shining through the window onto the small cot he currently occupied. He turned to see that Ho Tin and Mr. Wu were asleep on similar cots in the same room. Li got up and walked to the window and noticed the street sign just down the street read "Zìyóu Street". "I must be in Qing Ru's house," Li said to himself, he must have stopped the killer somehow."
"Well it isn't just my house," Qing Ru said from the kitchen where Li could hear the sounds of cooking, "And you're welcome for saving your life."
Li walked into the kitchen to find Qing Ru and a woman whom he didn't recognize.
"I didn't realize you were married," Li said, sounding somewhat embarrassed for not having deduced sooner.
"Not yet, but soon," the woman replied.
"That's why I haven't been following you around Republic City as much as I used to, well that and the business. I can't afford to die before my marriage."
"Actually dying before the marriage is usually better because if it's after the marriage there's usually some spousal involvement in the death," Li replied.
"Don't be so cynical."
"So where's the killer and the evidence?"
"Well, the killer's been killed and I gave the body and the evidence to the police last night before I brought you guys back here. I also made sure to keep everything out of Shu's hands so he couldn't steal the credit for it. Though I doubt he'll make good on his deal with you."
"So that's it then?" Li asked.
"Unfortunately no, when the police came for Yu Tang, she was nowhere to be found until this morning when she was found stabbed in a particularly rancid smelling sewer."
"So we're no closer to finding the Master."
"Well thank you for your hospitality Qing Ru, but I should get back to my apartment, I'll wake Ho Tin."
"Why don't you stay for breakfast?" the woman offered.
"I'm afraid I can't, I've got work to do."
"Li, you've just been nearly suffocated by an obsessive compulsive airbender who was manipulated into killing people, I think you've earned a break."
"I may have earned a break, but taking one is impossible for me," he replied as he left the kitchen and woke Ho Tin.
"I've got a Master to catch," Li said to himself as he left his friend's home.
For the collective works of the author, go here.