JUDGE DEE DISCOURSES ON TWO ATTEMPTED MURDERS; AN UNKNOWN WOMAN APPEARS BEFORE THE TRIBUNAL
IT was near midnight when Ma Joong and Chaio Tai came back to the tribunal. They had moored the Korean barge under the Rainbow Bridge, and told the guards of the east gate to put a few men on it to see that nothing was disturbed.
Judge Dee was still closeted in his private office with Sergeant Hoong. He looked up and stared amazed at the disheveled pair. But as Ma Joong told his story, his amazement changed into a deep anger. When Ma Joong had finished, the judge jumped up and started pacing the floor, his hands on his back.
"It's unbelievable!" he suddenly burst out. "Now this murderous attack on two officers of my tribunal, directly after the attempt at eliminating me!"
Ma Joong and Chiao Tai looked astonished at Hoong. He quickly told them in an undertone about the loose board in the bridge over the cleft. He left out the warning of the dead magistrate; he knew that the occult was the only thing in the world this formidable pair were really afraid of.
"Those dogsheads lay their traps well," Chiao Tai observed. "Also their attack on us had been cleverly arranged. That conversation in the Nine Flowers Orchard was a carefully rehearsed scene!"
Judge Dee had not been listening. Standing still, he said, "So it's gold they are smuggling! The rumors about the arms were just a hoax to divert my attention. But what would they smuggle gold to Korea for? I had always thought there was plenty of gold there." He angrily tugged at his beard. Sitting down behind his desk again, he resumed.
"Earlier tonight I had been discussing with Hoong why those rascals wanted me out of the way. We concluded that they must imagine that I know more about them than I actually do. But why murder you? The attack on the barge was evidently prepared after you had left Po Kai and Kim Sang. Try to remember whether during the meal you said something that might have given them cause for alarm."
Ma Joong frowned and thought deeply. Chiao Tai pensively fingered his small mustache. Then the latter said, "Well, there was the usual small talk, and quite a few jokes. But apart from that-" He shook his head disconsolately.
"I did say something about our going to that deserted temple," Ma Joong put in. "Since you had stated publicly during the session that you were going to have Ah Kwang arrested, I thought there was no harm in telling them that we got Ah Kwang there."
"Wasn't there something said also about those old staffs?" Sergeant Hoong asked.
"Yes, that's true!" Ma Joong said. "Kim Sang made a joke about it."
The judge hit his fist on the table.
"That must have been it!" he exclaimed. "For some reason or other those staffs are very important!"
He took his fan from his sleeve and started to fan himself vigorously. Then he said to Ma Joong and Chiao Tai, "Look here, couldn't you two be a bit more careful when you are tackling those rogues? Ah Kwang told us exactly what we wanted to know before he died, and those Korean boatmen probably only executed Kim Sang's orders, so with those it doesn't matter. But if you had caught Kim Sang alive, all our problems would probably have been solved!"
Chiao Tai scratched his head.
"Yes," he said ruefully, "come to think of it, it would have been nice if I had caught him alive. But it all happened rather quickly, you see. It was all over before I had realized that it had begun, so to speak!"
"Forget what I said," Judge Dee said with a smile. "I am being unreasonable. It is a pity, however, that Po Kai spied on you when you witnessed Kim Sang's death. That rascal now knows exactly what we know. If he hadn't been there, he would now be worrying himself to death whether Kim Sang betrayed the entire plot or not. And a worried criminal is liable to do foolish things and thereby give himself away."
"Couldn't we interrogate those shipowners Koo and Yee under torture?" Ma Joong asked hopefully. "After all it was their two managers who tried to murder Chiao Tai and me!"
"We haven't a shred of proof against Koo and Yee," the judge said. "The only thing we know is that Koreans play an important role in the criminal scheme, which is only to be expected since we knew now that they are smuggling gold to Korea. Magistrate Wang made an unfortunate choice when he selected that Korean girl to entrust his documents to. Evidently she showed the package to her friend Kim Sang, and he removed the incriminating papers from the lacquer box.
They didn't dare to destroy the box, because they feared that Magistrate Wang might have left a note among his papers stating that he gave that package to the girl; if she would be unable to produce it when asked for it, she would have been arrested as a suspect. Perhaps it was for that very reason that the dead magistrate's private papers were stolen from the Court's archives. The criminals must have a very large organization indeed; they have their agents even in our imperial capital! Somehow or other they must also be concerned in the disappearance of the woman on Fan's farm, and they must have some connection with that pompous fool, Dr. Tsao. We have a number of disconnected facts, but the key that would give sense to this confused pattern of suppositions and suspicions is lacking!"
Judge Dee heaved a deep sigh. Then he said, "Well, it is past midnight; you three had better retire now and have a good rest. On your way out, sergeant, you must rouse three or four clerks from their beds, and tell them to write out placards for the arrest of Po Kai, on the charge of atternpted murder, and giving his full description. Order the guards to nail those placards this very night on the gate of the tribunal, and on the big buildings all over the city, so that the people'll read them first thing in the morning. If we catch that elusive rascal, we'll probably make some headway."
The next morning when judge Dee was taking his breakfast in his private office, attended by Sergeant Hoong the headman came in and reported that the shipowners Koo and Yee requested an urgent interview with the magistrate.
"Tell them," the judge said curtly, "to appear at the morning session. They can say what they want to say in public."
Then Ma Joong and Chiao Tai came, followed by Tang. Tang was looking even worse than before, his face was ashen and he could hardly keep his hands still. lie stammered, "This… this is awful. Never in my whole life has such an outrage occurred in this district! An attack on two officers of the tribunal, I-"
"You needn't worry," Judge Dee said, interrupting his lamenta-tions. "My assistants can take care of themselves."
The two friends looked pleased. Ma Joong didn't wear the sling any more, and Chiao Tai's eye looked somewhat better, though it showed all the colors of the rainbow.
While the judge was wiping his face with a hot towel, the gong sounded. Hoong helped him to change; then all proceeded to the court hall.
Despite the early hour the hall was crowded. People living near the east gate had spread the news about a fight on a Korean barge, and the citizens had read the placards for the arrest of Po Kai.
While Judge Dee was calling the roll, he noticed Dr. Tsao, Yee Pen and Koo Meng-pin standing in the front row.
As soon as the judge had rapped his gavel, Dr. Tsao came forward, angrily swinging his beard. He knelt down and began excitedly.
"Your honor, last night a terrible thing happened! Late in the night my poor son Tsao Min was awakened by the neighing of our horses in the stable near the gatehouse. He went out there and found the horses very restive. He roused the gatekeeper, then took a sword and started to search among the trees round our house, thinking there might be a thief about. Then, suddenly, he felt a heavy weight falling on his back, claws dug into his shoulders. He was thrown head foremost to the ground, the last he heard was the snapping of teeth next to his neck. Then he became unconscious, because his head had struck a sharp stone. Fortunately the gatekeeper came rushing out just then with a torch; he saw a dark shape disappearing among the trees. We put our son to bed and dressed his wounds. The marks on his shoulders were not serious, but he had a gaping wound on his forehead. This morning he was conscious for a while, then he fell into del'irium. Dr. Shen came at dawn, and pronounced his condition serious.
"This person must insist, your honor, that the tribunal take appropriate measures to have that man-eating tiger that roams about in our district traced and killed without delay!"
A murmur of approval rose from the audience.
"This very morning," Judge Dee said, "the tribunal shall send out hunters to look for the animal."
As soon as Dr. Tsao had withdrawn to his former place in the front row, Yee Pen came forward and knelt before the bench. After he had formally stated his name and profession, he began.
"This person read this morning the placard concerning his business manager, Po Kai. It is rumored that the said Po Kai was involved in a brawl on a Korean barge. I wish to state that the said Po Kai is a man of erratic habits and I must decline all responsibility for whatever he has done outside his office hours."
"When and under what circumstances did you engage the man Po Kai?" Judge Dee asked.
"He came to see me about ten days ago, your honor," Yee Pen replied, "with a letter of introduction from the famous scholar Tsao Fen, in the capital, a cousin of my good friend Dr. Tsao Hohsien. Po Kai stated that he had divorced his wife and wanted to stay for some time far from the capital, where his former wife's family were causing him trouble. He proved a dissolute drunkard, but of extraordinary business ability. After I had read the placard, I summoned my steward and asked him when he had last seen Po Kai. He told me that the man had come back very late last night; he had gone to his room in the fourth courtyard of my mansion, and soon after had left again, carrying a flat box. Since my steward is familiar with Po Kai's irregular habits, he took no special notice, but it did strike him that the man seemed to be in a great hurry. Before proceeding to this tribunal I searched his room, and found nothing missing except a leather box he used to keep his papers in. All his clothes and personal belongings were still there."
He paused a moment, then concluded.
"I would like to have the statement about my not being responsible for Po Kai's unauthorized activities placed on record, your honor!"
"It shall be recorded," Judge Dee replied coldly, "but together with my comment, which you shall hear now. I don't accept that statement, and herewith declare that I do hold you fully responsible for all your manager did or did not do. He was in your service, and lived under your roof. He took part in a carefully prepared scheme to murder two of my assistants. It is up to you to prove that you were not concerned in that too!"
"How could I prove that, your honor?" Yee Pen wailed. "I don't know anything about it, your honor! I am a law-abiding citizen. Didn't I visit your honor the other day especially to report that-"
"That story was a deliberate lie!" Judge Dee interrupted him harshly. "Furthermore, it has been reported to me that queer things are going on in the vicinity of your mansion, near the second bridge over the canal. Until further notice you'll be under house arrest!"
Yee Pen started to protest but the headman growled at him to keep silent. Two constables led him away to the guardhouse, there to await judge Dee's further orders as to the degree to which the house arrest was to be enforced.
When Yee Pen had been led away, Koo Meng-Pin knelt down before the bench.
"This person," he said, "takes a slightly different attitude from that adopted by my friend and colleague Yee Pen. Inasmuch as his manager also, the Korean Kim Sang, was involved in the brawl on the barge, he wishes to state emphatically that he does feel that he bears the full responsibility for all activities of the said Kim Sang, including those he might engage in outside his office hours. I report to your honor that the Korean barge on which the outrage occurred was my property, and the three boatmen Korean sailors in my service. My foreman on the shipyard testified that last night, at the time of the evening meal, Kim Sang came to the wharf and ordered the barge to be rowed out, without mentioning its destination. Needless to say that he acted without my orders, and without my knowledge. But I shall personally investigate this outrage thoroughly, and I shall welcome the stationing of a few experienced men from this tribunal on the wharf and in my house, to supervise all my activities."
"This court," Judge Dee said, "appreciates Koo Meng-pin's cooperative attitude. As soon as the investigation of the brawl has been closed, the corpse of the said Kim Sang shall be transmitted to him for being conveyed to the next of kin, for burial."
The judge was about to close the session, when he noticed some commotion among the audience. A tall, coarse-faced woman in a black robe with a gaudy red pattern was pushing her way through the crowd, dragging along a veiled woman. While she knelt down, the veiled woman remained standing by her side, with bent head.
"This person," the kneeling woman said in a hoarse voice, "respectfully reports that she is Mrs. Liao, owner of the fifth flower boat, outside the east gate. She is bringing a criminal before your honor's tribunal."
The judge leaned forward and looked at the slender figure with the veil. He was rather astonished at what the woman said, for as a rule brothel owners were perfectly capable of dealing in their own way with offending prostitutes.
"What is the name of this girl," he asked, "and what is the charge you wish to bring against her?"
"She stubbornly refused to give her name, your honor!" the woman cried out, "and-"
"You ought to know," Judge Dee interrupted her sternly, "that you are not allowed to let a girl work in your establishment before you have ascertained her identity!"
The woman hurriedly knocked her forehead on the floor and wailed, "I beg your honor's pardon a thousand times! I should have begun by stating that I did not engage this girl as a prostitute. This is what happened, your honor, the complete truth! On the fifteenth, before dawn, Mr. Po Kai comes to my boat with this girl, clad in a monk's cowl. He says she is his new concubine, whom he brought home the evening before. His first wife wouldn't let her stay in the house, she ripped the girl's clothes to ribbons and insulted her and wouldn't listen to reason, although Mr. Po Kai argued with her till deep in the night. He says it'll take him a few days to talk his wife round, and that he wants to let the girl stay on my boat till he has fixed everything. He gives me some money, and tells me to get the girl a decent dress, for she has nothing on her but that cowl. Now Mr. Po Kai is a good customer, your honor, and he works for the shipowner Yee Pen, and the sailors are also such good customers, so what can a woman alone do but say yes, your honor! I give the chicken a nice dress, let her stay in a good cabin all by herself, and when my assistant says she might as well receive customers to keep in form, she won't dare to tell Mr. Po Kai anyway, I say at once no. I stand by my promises, your honor; that's the fixed policy of my house! But at the same time I always say, your honor, the law comes first! So when this morning the greengrocer's boat comes alongside and the vendor tells me that placards are up for the arrest of Po Kai, I say to my assistant, `If this wench is not a criminal herself, then she'll at least know where his excellency can find Po Kai. It's my duty to report her.' And thus I bring her here to the tribunal, your honor."
Judge Dee sat up in his chair. He spoke to the veiled woman. "Take your veil off, state your name, and describe your relations with the criminal Po Kai."