When Kiyoshi is accused of the murder of Chin, Detective Sokka, Private Eye, is called in to investigate.
He was a short, scrawny little sonvabitch. The top of his head barely made it to the bottom of the sign on my door, and he didn't look like he could arm-wrestle a dying lemur. But I didn't let looks decieve me; His bald head and tattooed forehead proclaimed him to be part of the Air Gang. The Air Nomads had been all but wiped out by an ongoing turf war with the Fire Mafia, but as far as I was concerned that only made them more dangerous. A gang pushed up against the wall like that couldn't afford to forgive any slight, no matter how small or imaginary. Fortunately for me, I knew this member of the Air Gang from old times.
"Pull up a chair, Aang," I said in a grizzled voice, gesturing to the plush revolving chair that I had reserved for clients. My own chair was not half as comfortable, but that was the way I liked it. It made sure I was constantly on my toes. That split second of reaction time could mean the difference between life and death when a bunch of Fire Mafia goons broke down your door, guns waving wildly.
"Thank you," he said, pulling back the chair and sitting down in it. He swivelled back and forth for a moment, then asked, "How's business?"
"Shitty," I responded, pouring myself a glass of Cactus Juice brand bourbon. "Nobody wants to hire a tired old detective when they could just as easily go to their local Fire Mafia boss and get whatever they want done for cheaper, without having to worry about someone's pesky conscience getting in the way. You want a drink?"
"You know I don't."
"Right, right, old temperant Aang. 'Alcohol is the poison of the soul, degrader of the spirit' etcetra, etcetera. Of course, the Fire Mafia bosses are always as drunk as lords, so what does that tell you?"
"I'm not here to discuss the validity of my beliefs with you," Aang said through gritted teeth. "I am here to hire you."
"And what could the mighty and powerful boss of the Air Gang need my help with?" I asked, leaning backwards in my chair and bringing the glass up to my lips.
"You remember my grandmother?"
I certainly did. Kiyoshi was a tough old biddy. Born of a lowranking Earth Family boss and his trophy wife, Kiyoshi had clawed her way to the top with a calculating mind and a steady shot. Eventually, she'd split off from the four big gangs and formed her own little fiefdom at edge of Omashu City. Four square blocks of her own territory. Not even the cops would stand against her; inside her territory, you were safe even from the wrath of Don Ozai. Provided, of course, that you did nothing to anger Kiyoshi herself. God help you if you did.
Kiyoshi was old now, of course, but her personal army was still at the ready, and her son Roku had taken the reins. Nobody was eager to find out if Roku was as capable as his mother. The area of the city unofficially known as 'Kiyoshi Island' remained a safe haven.
Aang was Roku's son with an Air Gang prostitute. In a move that had puzzled gang leaders from across the city, instead of rejecting and vigorously denying the bastard like they were expecting, Roku took both the child and his mother into his care, and raised the child like any other.
Unfortunately, Aang had grown up-if you could call it that-to be a disappointment. Rather than staying at home and working to help preserve his family's neutrality, he had thrown in with the Air Gang at the first opportunity. He'd quickly risen through their ranks, but the higher he got, the lower the Gang fell. Aang was a nice kid, but he was an idiot at heart, and had no business running anything.
"How could I forget her?" I asked, taking another sip of my drink. Whatever Aang was about to put on my plate, I probably wouldn't be able to handle it completely sober. "She was a holy terror."
"The coppers think she killed some big hot-shot government official. Fellow by the name of Chin. They've got a case on her, and they're gonna try to put her away."
"Since when does Kiyoshi's family give a tin shit about what the coppers think?" I ask, genuinely puzzled. "Once you're inside Kiyoshi Island, you're untouchable. You should know that better than anyone."
"Untouchable to the local cops, maybe. But they've brought in the Feds. We can't keep them out, and if we try, they'll bring the hammer down on us, and hard. If we can't establish her innocence, within a week FBI spooks will be crawling all over Kiyoshi Island, turning over beds and digging up enough evidence to put an end to the Island forever."
"So whaddayou care? You turned your back on them years ago."
"Hey, I may no longer live in the Island, but my Grandma's my Grandma! I don't wanna see her in the joint. Unfortunately, my resources are a little depleted at the moment, so there's not much I can do. Hence, you."
I pulled out my pipe and sprinkled some tobacco into it. The pipe was one of my few luxuries. It was skillfully crafted in the shape of a dragon, with the smoke coming out of the mouth. Whenever I was thinking I would just pull it out and puff.
The bourbon was not a luxury. The bourbon was a necessity.
There was more at play here than was immediately obvious. Aang was an idiot, but even an idiot could see how his war with Don Ozai was going. He was looking for an out, and he needed it fast. Most likely figured he could get back in his family's good books by saving the Island's matriarch, and so ensure a safe place for himself when it all went down like a lead balloon with the Air Gang.
"Before I can take the job, I gotta ask you. Professional ethics and all. Did she do it?"
"I can't say for certain, but I don't think so."
"Of course you don't."
I blew three smoke rings, mulling it over in my mind. On the one hand, I would probably regret getting involved in the Kiyoshi family's trouble again. On the other, the rent and booze didn't pay for itself. I could hardly turn down a job at this point, especially not one that would pay as handsomely as this one likely would.
"All right, I'll do it. Where did it happen?"
Even before he opened his mouth, I knew I wouldn't like the answer.
The Haiku Club was a strange place. It easily won the dubious honor of Wierdest Brothel, which is an impressive feat in a city that is more or less built exclusively around sating all of mankind's base desires.
When you step over the threshold into the Haiku Club's interior, you may feel like you have just stepped into a first-year english class. All of the girls are trained to speak in verse. You can request a specific rhyming pattern or meter, if you like, but most people opt for the default haiku. Hearing a dame pillowtalk you in limerick gets irritating after a while.
I'd been to the place before, mostly for information. Mostly. I am rather proud of being the only person to earn myself a free night's stay by out-haikuing the owner.
Chin had arrived at the Club around ten o'clock PM. At eleven, Kiyoshi and some of her subordinates turned up for a meeting with the club's owner. The club was situated on the very edge of Kiyoshi turf, meaning that they paid a cut to Kiyoshi and were under her protection, but was less sure of that protection than most. Word on the street was they were meeting to discuss a solution to that problem.
At the stroke of midnight Chin, drunk as a judge's son, started getting rough with his girl. She screamed for security. Chin was uncooperative. Apparently he kicked up enough of a fuss that Kiyoshi left her meeting to investigate.
Chin was drunkenly ranting about how he was a powerful man in this town, he had friends in high places, he would see to it this club never ran again...the usual stuff. Kiyoshi told him to stop and get out. He ignored her.
Now, Kiyoshi wasn't just gonna sit still for that. Oh, no, not her. She was the lash, and she was the law. If you stirred the shitpot in her town, you had better be prepared to find yourself up shit creek, with your only paddle wedged in a highly uncomfortable part of your body.
She warned him once. He ignored her. She warned him again. He ignored her again. So she blew him away with her trademark sawn-off Earthbender Model 1901 shotgun.
That's the official story, anyways. That was last night, so by now the crime scene would have been dissassembled and cleaned up. Still, I hoped that I might find something the cops had missed.
No such luck. The whole room was bleached and polished until it hurt to look at. Whoever their cleaning company was, they were through. I might need to ask for their number on the way out. It would probably help business if my office was this clean.
The girls weren't saying a word to me, but I had not expected them to. I knew the drill; they would speak to the police, and nobody else. And when you consider the truthfulness of the stories they tell the cops, I think I came out ahead on that one.
I did manage to convince the owner to speak to me, but that wasn't very helpful either. All she would tell me was that Kiyoshi had been in for a meeting, and that Kiyoshi was currently in hiding. Not exactly the stuff of which great cases are made.
Just when I was thinking that the trip had been a total waste of time, though, she reached over the desk and handed me the card of the cop who had collected the crime scene evidence. My heart started pounding like a jackhammer at four in the morning. For the first time in weeks, something had finally gone my way.
"Come on, Katara, you know me. I won't touch anything I'm not supposed to."
"That's Officer Katara. And the answer is no. If I get caught letting you in to see the records of an ongoing investigation, my ass is on the line. My career is still recovering from the last time I gave you a hand."
"Just give me five minutes in there. Please."
Katara blew out her cigarette smoke. She was putting up a good fight, but I knew that if I kept the pressure up, she'd relent.
"Where have you been, anyways? None of the family have heard anything out of you since Yue-"
"I know I haven't been in touch," I said, cutting her off. Yue was a long time ago, but she was still a raw wound I didn't feel like rubbing right now. "I'm gonna try to do better. Just please, let me see the records."
"The kids are both wondering why they haven't seen the uncle Sokka in so long."
"I'll come down and play with them sometime."
I could see her resistance melting.
"Well...alright. Five minutes, and that's it. And then you come down and play with the kids next week. And a family dinner."
"Five minutes, though, and that's it."
My sister tries to act tough, but really she's a pushover. I got ten minutes.
Once I had the forensics in front of me, things started coming together. For starters, there was a bootprint in the blood that they claimed belonged to Kiyoshi, but any idiot could see that wasn't the case. The boot in the print was small and heeled. Kiyoshi was famous for her enormous boots. Those things were steel-toed, too. I'd once seen her kick a man to death with them, which was quite a sight. I'm telling you, you haven't lived until you've seen a geriatric patient kick a fully-grown man to death with steel-toed boots. Anyways, she wouldn't have worn heels if you'd put a gun to her head. That print did not belong to her.
Then I had a look at the witness statements, which I had hastily photocopied in the records room. I disregarded the staff's statements out of hand, but some of the club's patrons had stuck around to tell the police what they'd seen. As usual, the statements were varied, confused, and often contradictory. On top of that, whoever had typed them up was no great shakes with a keyboard. It was often hard to find meaning in the morass of typos and nonsensical sentences.
But all the accounts agreed that Chin had kicked up a fuss, Kiyoshi had come ou tto shut him up, Kiyoshi had pulled her gun, and then bang, Chin's on the ground, bleeding from a chest wound. I did notice, however, that only one of the witnesses had actually seen her fire the gun. All the rest saw her pull the gun, heard the bang, but had not seen her fire it. Interesting.
But the most significant bit of evidence the police collected from the crime scene was the photograph of the victim's body. The second I saw it, I knew that Kiyoshi was innocent. That gunshot wound wasn't cause by any Sawed-Off. The pattern was far too tight. The casual observer might be fooled, but I knew what I was looking at. If I was any judge, Chin had been shot with a Dum-Dum.
Dum-Dums are nasty little bullets with the point hollowed out. Instead of blasting right through a person, like a normal bullet, when they hit they flatten out, dealing a devastating amount of damage. To the untrained eye, a Dum-Dum wound can look an awful lot like a shotgun blast, but I knew better.
Of course, neither the boots nor bullets would be enough to sink the case against Kiyoshi. The cops could always claim that someone else had made the bootprint, and that she hadn't used her Sawed-Off Earthbender to kill Chin. But it was enough to convince me. Someone was trying to frame Kiyoshi. But who? And Why? Kiyoshi kept to herself, as long as you didn't try to start shit in her territory, and she was fairly well-liked in the Island. Who would try to send her to jail?
Maybe she wasn't the point, but someone wanted to off Chin and stick someone else with the blame. Kiyoshi was as likely as anybody.
Either way, I knew where my investigation would go next. Out of all the people in that club, only one claimed to have seen Kiyoshi fire. If she was being framed, then that person was almost certainly a plant.
A cabbage, to be precise.
Xu Lin was a down-on-his-luck entrepreneur. He'd come to the big city with a dream; he'd set up a store where he would sell all manner of Cabbage product. Cabbage juice, cabbage medicines, cabbage merchandise and, of course...cabbage.
He'd put the work in. He was passionate about the cabbage. It was a product that he believed in wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, he'd failed to take into account the fact that every single other person on earth hates cabbage. He couldn't move his stock. The he couldn't pay his rent. His whole operation was on the verge of collapsing. All of which makes him a prime candidate for some under-the-table dealings. If someone were to approach him and offer him a bid wad of cash in exchange for lying to the cops about Kiyoshi, it's hard to imagine him refusing.
As I stepped into his store, the first thing that struck me was the smell. It wasn't even the vile reek of boiled cabbage, or the opressively odorless smell of raw cabbage. It smelled like I'd just stepped into a cage that had far too many rabbits living in it.
"Can I help you?" the man behind the counter asked.
"Are you Xu Lin?"
"Detective Sokka, private investigator. I'd like to speak to you about a certain statement you made to the police-"
I stopped talking. Every hair on the back of my neck was standing up straight. THere's no real way I could have known, none at all, but somehow I did. Maybe it was the sudden screech of brakes, or perhaps I heard the sound of a clip being locked in place. If you survive long enough in this line of work, eventually you develop a sense for when you need to move, move right now, or you may never get to move again.
"Get down!" I shouted, tackling Xu Lin and pulling him to the floor. The merchant squawked in protest, then shut up as a wave of bullets flew through his front window.
Goddamit, I'm just a guy with a Boomerang .357 Magnum, I thought as I drew my revolver. I didn't ask for all these machine guns and gang warfare.
"My cabbages!" Xu Lin wailed as the assault rifle fire ripped his stock apart. I fired two rounds in the general direction of our attackers, and grabbed Xu Lin by the shoulder and pulled him away from the window, keeping us both low.
I grabbed Xu Lin by the shoulder and pulled him away from the window, keeping us both low.
"Out the back way," I shouted, dragging him through the hail of gunfire. The shop was exploding around us as round after round pounded into the shelves and merchendise. I burst through the back door, bringing my revolver upin case they had posted a rear guard. They had. My Boomerang spat another round before he could even turn around, and he fell to the ground, dead.
My mind instantly identified both his hat and his suit. Our attackers were members of the Dai Li, the Earth Triad underboss' personal army. What the hell were they doing here? The Earth Triads were generally on fairly good terms with Kiyoshi. They were perhaps the last people I would have expected to be trying to put her behind bars.
There was no time to think about it now. Even over the sound of the own gunfire, there was no way they would miss hearing a magnum round go off in the back alley, and I only had three bullets in my gun now. I'm a decent enough shot, but not so good that I would be willing to play those odds. I pulled Xu Lin through the alley towards where I'd parked my car.
"There they are!" called out a voice behind us, and then the sound of Tommy Guns started up again. Fortunately we were far enough away that only a few rounds came anywhere near me, but I still turned around and squeezed off two rounds at them. Both missed, but the Dai Li agents ducked out of sight around the corners for a moment. Nobody wants to make an obvious target of themselves when some idiot's waving a magnum around.
I pulled Xu Lin over to my car, and opened the door. "Get in!" I shouted, shoving him inside roughly. I slammed the door behind him, then ran around the car and got in on the driver's side. I could see the Dai Li running down the alley, Tommy Guns held at the ready. I started up the car and drove away as quickly as I could.
Breathing heavily, I pointed my revolver at Xu Lin as I drove.
"Now," I said, "you're going to start talking. And what you say had better be worth all the trouble you just put me through."
As it turns out, it was even better than I had hoped.
As I stepped into the Fire Mafia Princess' office, I heard two pistols being cocked on either side of my head.
"Hi there, cutie!" A sickeningly chipper and enthusiastic voice called out to my right.
"Don't move," said a painfully bored-sounding person to my left. I raised my hands slowly. I had deliberately left my revolver out in the car; it wouldn't do me any good here, and might get me killed.
"Ty Lee, search him," the figure behind the desk ordered coldly. The girl to my right giggled.
"Oh, I love this part!" she squealed as she holstered her gun and began patting me down, running her hands all over my body. She lingered a moment longer than necessary in a few places.
"He's clean," she declared, moving away from me and straightening up.
"You can put your weapons away then, girls. Mister Sokka is not about to try to hurt me anyways, is he?"
"I take it you remember me, then," I said, my heart sinking in my chest. I'd been hoping that she'd have forgotten the role I played in exposing her connections with the mayor. Fortunately, I hadn't been counting on it.
"Of course I remember you. You cost me a year's work and a not-insignificant amount of bribe money when you exposed my dealings with the mayor. Well, ex-mayor at this point. In any case, I never forget those who inconvenience me like that."
I was starting to worry that coming here had been a mistake, but she dismissed my concerns with a wave of her hand.
"Ah, well, that's all water under the bridge at this point, isn't it? There's a new mayor in town, and he was even easier to get my hooks into. I assume you came here because you want something from me, so how can I help you? Need some money laundered? Police problems that need disappearing? Need somebody erased? Hmm?"
I thought carefully before I spoke. Playing word games with the Fire Mafia Princess was risky at best. Even when she seemed polite and friendly, she was always just one badly thought-out comment away from ordering your heart torn out and fed to the dogs. She was Don Ozai's only daughter, and the most likely candidate to take over the organization when the old man finally keeled over, now that her older brother was out of favor with the family. Although technically her title was Underboss, everybody called her Princess-except to her face. She wasn't known to have any problems with the title, but with Underboss Azula you didn't want to take any chances.
"Well, actually, I was hoping you could give me some answers with regard to a certain cabbage merchent by the name of Xu Lin," I said, weighing my words carefully.
"Oh yes, I heard you were sniffing around about that," she said with a smirk. "What would you like to know?"
"Just two questions," I responded. "Why? And why the Dai Li?"
"Why, those questions are so simple that I'll give you the answers for free!" Azula said. "As for the Dai Li, they were involved because Long Feng has ambitions that extend far, far beyond those of the Earth Mob's incompetant Boss, and Long Feng commands the Dai Li. And as for my own reasons...Chin was a nuisance and a fool, and Kiyoshi dared to mock the Fire Mafia. Don Ozai's hated her for that for years. And I do so love to keep my daddy happy."
"And for that you killed Chin and framed Kiyoshi?"
"Of course. It was too easy, really. Bringing Chin to the Haiku Club was simplicity itself, and dear Mai can be very discreet with her weapons when she wants to be. One shot from across the room, and it's goodbye to two annoyances."
"And then you paid Xu Lin to be there and tell police that Kiyoshi fired the shot."
"I've gotten all I need here," I said, turning around. I felt a hand clap down on my shoulder and stopped.
"Azula hasn't dismissed you yet," Mai said, dispassionate as ever.
"Oh no, Mai, let him go," Azula said from her seat behind the desk. "I own the police too throughly for him to use what he learned today, and I want him to carry a message for me." She fixed me with a steely glare, and then said: "Crawl back to whoever hired you, and tell him that the Fire Mafia does not forget insults against it, nor forgive slights, no matter how small."
Mai's hand left my shoulder, and I walked out. As soon as I was out of sight of those three, my step developed an extra bounce. These people, I thought was a laugh. They'll pat you up and down for weapons, but they always forget to check the palm of your hand. I looked down at the tiny tape recorder that was hiding in my hand and laughed.
I fairly danced through the door of my office. It wasn't usually in my character to get so excited, but I had reason to celebrate: I was about to collect on a fairly large account. Admittedly it hadn't required that much detective work, but for the first time in weeks I was about to paid. This called for vices.
I threw my coat onto the chair, reached down into my minifridge and poured myself a glass of whiskey. I pulled out my pipe and started puffing. Then I sat down and turned on the television.
That last was a mistake.
"...In a shocking move today, famous Crime Boss Kiyoshi gave herself up to police at nine AM today, bringing an end to a weeklong manhunt. Kiyoshi was wanted in connection with a shooting that took place in a downtown club that killed-"
I turned the television off and scrambled for the phone, dialing Aang's number furiously. I could see half my commission vanishing in front of my eyes.
"Aang, Aang, what happened?" I asked, sligbhtly frantic.
"Kiyoshi turned herself in. She's trying to protect the Island by confessing and pleading guilty."
I could see what Kiyoshi had in mind. If the investigation continued, all sorts of dirt would turn up on the Island. If the feds kept looking, eventually the whole Island would be at risk. By turning herself in, Kiyoshi forced them to call off the investigation. Except...
"But, Aang, I can prove her innocence!"
"It's too late for that now. You know Kiyoshi when she's got a thought in her head."
Aang sounded so dejected. His one hope of getting back within the Island's safe confines had been dashed. Without Kiyoshi, Aang would have to appeal to his father, Roku...who was, if anything, even less forgiving than Kiyoshi had been, and more directly affected by Aang's actions. Aang's chances were slim. Even slimmer were his chances of survival sticking witht he Air Gang.
The poor guy sounded in such a bad way, I didn't have the heart to tell him that his bill was in the mail.